Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Graffiti Found Inside Tiny Chamber in Great Pyramid

From Past Horizons:

Researchers on the Djedi robot expedition have now obtained video images from a tiny chamber hidden at the end of one of the shafts leading from the Queen’s chamber. This tunnel is particularly hard to explore because it is extremely narrow (20cm x 20cm), it is built at angle of 40 degrees and has no outside exit.

The team overcame these practical difficulties by using a robot explorer that could climb up inside the walls of the shaft whilst carrying a miniature ‘micro snake’ camera that can see around corners.

The bendy camera (8 mm diameter) was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone ‘door’ at the end of the shaft, giving researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond.

The ‘micro snake’ camera’ allowed all walls of the camber to be carefully examined, revealing sights not seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid

[...]

When pieced together, the images gathered by Djedi revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint that team members suggest were made by workmen. Prior to this, researchers had only found hieroglyphs in the roof of the King’s Chamber, which lies some distance above the Queen’s Chamber.

“We believe that if these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built,” Dr Richardson said.

The full story includes photos.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Walk a Mile Underneath Jerusalem

Matti Friedman, writing for the AP, describes the various “underground tours” that are open to tourists in Jerusalem.  He also touches on the political and religious complications.

Underneath the crowded alleys and holy sites of old Jerusalem, hundreds of people are snaking at any given moment through tunnels, vaulted medieval chambers and Roman sewers in a rapidly expanding subterranean city invisible from the streets above.

At street level, the walled Old City is an energetic and fractious enclave with a physical landscape that is predominantly Islamic and a population that is mainly Arab.

Underground Jerusalem is different: Here the noise recedes, the fierce Middle Eastern sun disappears, and light comes from fluorescent bulbs. There is a smell of earth and mildew, and the geography recalls a Jewish city that existed 2,000 years ago.

Archaeological digs under the disputed Old City are a matter of immense sensitivity. For Israel, the tunnels are proof of the depth of Jewish roots here, and this has made the tunnels one of Jerusalem's main tourist draws: The number of visitors, mostly Jews and Christians, has risen dramatically in recent years to more than a million visitors in 2010.

But many Palestinians, who reject Israel's sovereignty in the city, see them as a threat to their own claims to Jerusalem. And some critics say they put an exaggerated focus on Jewish history.

The story continues here.  The underground “route” that Friedman describes begins with a walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (or its alternate, the Siloam Tunnel).  Then, later this summer, one will be able to enter the Roman drainage system and walk all the way to the Western Wall plaza.  In several years, a new route will take visitors on the first-century street beneath the prayer plaza.  That will link up with the Western Wall tunnels which run north along Herod’s well-preserved retaining wall.

For more of the political angle on the “Underground Jerusalem” excavations, see last month’s article in Haaretz (noted here).  For some additional photographs, see Leen Ritmeyer’s post.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Hasmonean channel, tb091802305

Western Wall tunnel: northern section through Hasmonean aqueduct

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ennion Glass Exhibit at Israel Museum

Ennion created some of the most beautiful pieces of glass of all time.  He was producing mold-blown glass in the years when Jesus lived in Galilee.  If Ennion worked in Sidon, as many suppose, Jesus may have passed by his shop (Matt 11:21; 15:21; Mark 7:31).  Such a large collection of Ennion’s works have never before been on display.

From Israel Museum’s facebook page:

Made by Ennion: Ancient Glass Treasures from the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection - on view through January 28, 2012.

The Israel Museum presents an exceptional group of ancient mold-blown glass vessels, many of them made by Ennion, a master glassworker who was the first to put his name on his art. Ancient glass bearing the name of the artist is exceedingly rare, and never before have so many examples been gathered in a single display. The exhibition brings together forty-three pieces, nine of them signed, including a number of pieces that rank among the highest achievements in glassworking of all time. Approximately half of the works are on loan from the rich collection of Shlomo Moussaieff and are exhibited to the public for the first time.

The J. Paul Getty Museum has a brief biography of Ennion.

Ennion worked as a glassmaker about 1 to 50 A.D. His signature is known from over thirty surviving pieces, and many other works are attributed to him on the basis of style. Ennion created the ground-breaking technique of blowing glass vessels into molds. This new process allowed the vessel and its decoration to be created at the same time and permitted the creation of multiple copies of the same vessel. Ennion's clear, precise designs distinguish his work; he also minimized the visibility of the lines caused by the seams in the mold.

The location of Ennion's workshop is debated, in part because his work is found throughout the Roman Empire. Some scholars believe he worked in Sidon in modern Lebanon, while others assert that he worked in northern Italy. The inscriptions he frequently used as decoration may provide a clue. Though his name may have been Semitic in origin, he signed it in Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean, not Italy. The city of Sidon, where he may have worked, had all the raw material for glass-making and extensive trade connections.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Aren Maeir has posted the schedule of the 31st Annual Conference of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University.

Gary Byers has a report on discoveries from the first week of excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has posted his review of “Archaeology in Israel Update—April 2011.”  He reviews the demonstrations over graves in Jaffa, Jordan’s demand for the return of fake metal codices, Jacobivici’s “Nails of the Cross,” and the politicization of the Kenyon Institute (formerly the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem).

The ASOR blog has several dozen links to news from the world of archaeology.

Israel is moving forward with plans to construct the largest desalination plant in the world.  When constructed, 65% of Israel’s water consumption will come from desalinated sources.

Kevin DeYoung’s post on “being better Bereans” is broader than the usual focus of this blog, but I suspect that many readers attracted to a blog like this one may be tempted to make some of the mistakes he describes.  I recommend it highly.

If you’ve been waiting to pick up the new book by Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David: Where Jerusalem's History Began, do so this weekend, while the price is knocked down from $50 to $30 at the Biblical Archaeology Society website.  They also have a good deal on Hershel Shanks, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.  And the third edition of Ancient Israel.  The sale ends at 11:59 pm on Monday.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Government to Invest $83 Million in Jerusalem

From the Prime Minister’s Office:

The Cabinet will, on Sunday, 29.5.11 [May 29, 2011], at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, hold a festive meeting to mark Jerusalem Day.  At this meeting, the Cabinet is due to approve the multi-year Merom Plan, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is advancing in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority.  The goal of the plan is to economically strengthen the capital city via two main growth engines. 

The first is to invest NIS 145.5 million [$41.9 million] in strengthening Jerusalem as a tourist city.  The second is to invest NIS 71.4 million [$20.5 million] in strengthening the city a center of research, development and bio-technology industry.  A further NIS 70.5 million [$20.3 million] will be invested in additional complementary measures to develop the city economically.  Thus, the budget for the 2011-2016 Merom Plan will stand at almost NIS 290 million [$83.6 million].  A designated budget will be approved each year by a steering committee in keeping with the pace of implementation, the budget law and the outline of the Plan.

In addition to the Merom Plan's budgetary framework, the Tourism Ministry will allocate NIS 75 million [$21.6 million] to encourage hotel construction in Jerusalem.  The goal is to increase the supply of hotel rooms in the capital and enable it to attract millions of tourists per annum.

The full press release is here.  I would note that building more hotel rooms may only decrease the quality of the experience of visiting Jerusalem.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

An Ancient Lego from the Island of Cos

Cos Asclepium temple ceiling fragment, tb062006547

The official Lego website claims that their special building blocks were first created in the year 1932. Evidence to the contrary comes from the island of Cos, where this object was uncovered in the temple of the Asclepium. One can only wonder if native son Hippocrates was the first inventor of these wonderful toys.

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The World’s Oldest Museum

The “world’s oldest known museum” was created by Princess Ennigaldi, the daughter of Nabonidus, king of Babylon from 555 to 539 BC.  The story of its discovery and significance is recounted by Alasdair Wilkins.

In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world's first museum.

It's easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history - Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That's part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it's also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.

The story continues here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Turkey Cancels Excavations of Foreign Countries

The New York Times reports on Turkey’s renewed demands that artifacts in museums around the world be given to them.

After years of pleading in vain for the return of Anatolia’s cultural treasures from Western museums, Turkey has started playing hardball. And it is starting to see some results.

This month, Germany reluctantly agreed to return a Hittite statue taken to Berlin by German archaeologists a century ago. “It was agreed that the statue will be handed over to Turkey as a voluntary gesture of friendship,” the German government said after weeks of negotiations between the countries’ foreign ministries.

Days later, Ankara announced it was stepping up a campaign to obtain a breakthrough in a similarly longstanding dispute with the Louvre in Paris over an Ottoman tile panel that went to France in 1895.

[...]

Although the Turkish cases for restitution of the sphinx and the tiles have always been more compelling than those for other treasures, like the Pergamon Altar, that were exported with permission of the Ottoman authorities, Ankara’s requests for their restitution went unanswered for years.

Then, Turkey changed tack. Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay announced earlier this year that he would kick German archaeologists out of the excavations at Hattusa, where they have been working for over a century, if the matter was not resolved. “I am determined not to renew the excavation license for Hattusa if the sphinx is not returned,” Mr. Gunay said in February.

[...]

In a first that rocked the archaeological world in Asia Minor, the digging licenses of two longstanding excavations conducted by German and French teams were revoked earlier this year.

[...]

The leader of the canceled German dig at Aizanoi, Ralf von den Hoff, said in an e-mail that his excavation had fallen victim to the ministry’s “extortionate demands” over the Hattusa sphinx.

[...]

But Germany says the return of the sphinx is a one-of-a-kind deal. “Both sides agreed that the sphinx is a singular case that is not comparable to other cases,” the German government said.

Turkey disagrees. “This is a revolution,” Mr. Gunay said last week about the agreement with the Germans. “This is a great development for the restitution of all our antique artifacts from abroad,” adding, “We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artifacts.”

[...]

Mr. Gunay said he foresaw a long struggle ahead, of a century or more, but added that he believed that “in the end Europe will return all of the cultural treasures that it has collected from all over the world.”

All governments take note.  Turkey’s goal is nothing less than that “all of the cultural treasures” be “returned.” 

The article has much more.  Is there any irony in the fact that in order to get some old artifacts returned Turkey would cancel excavations which would fill their museums with new discoveries?

HT: Jack Sasson

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AIA Newsletter: Finkelstein’s Redating

The Australian Institute of Archaeology produces a newsletter, the current edition of which is online (also in pdf). You may also subscribe by email request. Some items are specific to Australian readers, but other articles are of broader interest. For example, one item notes Israel Finkelstein’s revision of his Low Chronology to be closer to the mainstream position.

During his presentation [at SBL 2010], Israel Finkelstein revised his dating, and stated that he was now dating the transition from Iron Age I to IIA to about 950 BC. This was momentous. Based on their experiences in the Philistine areas and sites such as Lachish, Ussishkin and Finkelstein have been dating the start of Iron Age II to 920–900 BC and they, and many others, have used this dating to argue that David and Solomon did not exist. Archaeologists working elsewhere in the southern Levant have found the comparatively short period of Iron Age II problematic because it was difficult to compress their Iron Age II levels into it. While they mounted archaeological arguments to support an earlier start to Iron Age II they were normally accused of being ‘biblically biased’.

Now that Finkelstein is digging at Megiddo, where there is a significant depth of Iron Age II material, he realises that the period was longer and that an earlier date for the start of Iron Age II is necessary. There are numerous books written by Finkelstein arguing that there was no United Monarchy because Iron Age II began long after the time it was supposed to have existed. Unfortunately these books will continue to have influence for decades to come, although the core argument is no longer accepted. The change does not mean that the United Monarchy did exist; it simply removes one of the hypothesised impediments. It was interesting that in the presentations the only person to regularly refer to biblical texts was Finkelstein: for him, disproving the Old Testament appears to be a hobby-horse. Much of the scholarly world has been fixated on Finkelstein conveying his hypotheses as facts. It will be interesting to see if it now takes a less dogmatic stance.

The full text of the newsletter is here (also in pdf format). More information about the Australian Institute of Archaeology and how to become a member may be found here.

HT: James Lancaster

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

A plan by the Israeli government will save the southern end of the Dead Sea from rising waters by harvesting salt

Beersheba. Just say the name, and images come to mind of an old, crusty patriarch leaning on his staff in the dry winds of the wilderness.”

Leen Ritmeyer comments on the report that the temporary bridge to the Mughrabi Gate must be removed within two weeks.

The Bible Gateway Blog answers the question: “How should we respond to sensational archaeological claims?

A 39-year-old archaeology student was arrested for looting archaeological sites, including Tel Shikmona near Haifa.  He was caught by the IAA Theft Prevention Unit when he left his cell phone at the site.

The 4th meeting of the Forum for the Research of the Chalcolithic Period will be held on June 2, 2011, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The conference title: “50 Years of the Discovering of the Nahal Mishmar Treasure.”  A full schedule of the program is here.

Eric Meyers writes in The Jewish Week on the earliest synagogues known archaeologically.  He does not agree with those who wish to re-date many of these synagogues to the 4th-6th centuries.  Of the period immediately after AD 70, he writes:

In my view this period in the history of Judaism was as definitive as the period after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE when the exiled Judeans not only survived but managed to pray without the Temple and began the task of editing the books of Scripture that would help them maintain their identity and keep the traditions of former times. The first centuries after 70 CE also led to publication of the Mishnah by 200 CE and many of the early biblical commentaries. It is unimaginable that all of this literary creativity, along with the development of the synagogue liturgy, could have happened without a physical setting in which it could take shape. The most logical setting is the synagogue as a structure where the Torah was read, translated and interpreted; where homilies were given; and where the liturgy was sung and recited.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seven New Kingdom Tombs Opened in Saqqara

Egypt is looking to bring visitors back with the opening of seven new tombs 20 miles from Cairo. From the Jerusalem Post:

Egypt's antiquities ministry on Monday opened seven New Kingdom tombs that were previously unavailable to the public. The tombs include the final resting place of King Tutankhamen's treasurer as well as a general, Horemheb, who would later become king.

Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass announced the opening of the South Saqqara tombs on his website on May 22. The tombs are located about 30 kilometers south of Cairo and near Djoser's Step Pyramid. The seven tombs are from New Kingdom, a period that lasted from the 16th century to 11th century B.C.

The tomb of King Tut's treasurer, Maya, while unfinished, features images of Maya and his wife Merit. Maya helped Tutankhamen reopen temples in the then-capital Luxor, further south in Egypt, which had been abndoned during his father Akhenaton's rule for the site of Amarna. He helped Tutankhamen restore order in a country that had been disrupted by his father's drastic changes including the move of the capital and abolishing of the priestly order.

The full story is here. The story is also reported by the AP.  NTDTV has a four-minute video.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, told reporters:

We are opening this new cemetery today to tell the whole world that Egypt is safe and come to smell and to see the magic and the mystery of Egypt.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Lecture: Barkay on the Temple Mount

Gabriel Barkay will be lecturing on Wednesday, May 25, 7:30-8:30 p.m. at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.  The lecture title is “Ancient News from the Temple Mount,” and entrance is included with admission to museum.  Advance reservations may be made online or at the museum itself.

Barkay will likely be updating his audience with the latest discoveries from the Temple Mount Sifting Project which he co-directs.  For more about this work, see the following posts:

Archaeological Remains from the Temple Mount (March 2011)

Barkay on Claim to Temple Mount (May 2010)

Interviews with Monson and Barkay (March 2010)

Temple Mount Sifting Project: Support Needed (December 2009)

New Discoveries Related to Temple Mount (November 2009)

Gabriel Barkay Interviewed (November 2009)

Two Important Coins Found in Temple Mount Rubble (December 2008)

Temple Mount Sifting Project: Video (March 2008)

Excavation Opportunities in 2008 (January 2008)

Temple Mount “Excavation” Update (September 2007)

Finds from the Temple Mount (November 2006)

Temple Mount Debris Summary (October 2006)

Trash Worth Digging Through: The Dump on the Temple Mount (initial story written before blog began)

HT: Jack Sasson

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Roundup

David Hendin describes the conclusion of a two-week season of excavating at Sepphoris with Eric and Carol Meyers.

Israel’s water crisis is over, says the former head of the Water Authority.  No, it’s not, says the Authority’s spokesman.  “We will be under the red line this summer in all three main reserves.”

Giovanni Pettinato, well known for his work in translating the Ebla tablets, has passed away.

John Lund, a 70-year-old tour guide from Utah, was arrested this week in Israel for selling stolen antiquities.  He allegedly made $20,000 from recent sales, but only had to post bail of $7,500.  (Does that make sense to anyone else?)  James Davila faults the media for calling Dr. Lund an Egyptologist despite the fact that “he is a retired adjunct lecturer in areas that have nothing to do with ancient history.”  He concludes that, “it has become obvious that the media could not identify an Egyptologist if one rose up from an alabaster coffin in front of them”!

A number of interesting travel pieces have been written in the last week or two:

Ferrell Jenkins has located a portion of the Roman road in the eastern Galilee near the Golani Junction.

Jenkins also points out Carl Rasmussen’s photos that reveal just how oppressive a khamsin in Jerusalem is.

Shmuel Browns describes Mount Arbel and what you can see on a hike in the area.

Joe Yudin takes his readers to the places of Gideon’s life, including his hometown of Ophrah, the Hill of Moreh, and the Spring of Harod.

Wayne Stiles continues his weekly “Sights and Insights” column with a visit to Tel Arad’s Early Bronze and Iron Age cities.

Jonathan Goldstein investigates some of the more modern attractions in Nazareth.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Germany Agrees to Give Sphinx of Hattusa to Turkey

In February, A.D. Riddle wrote here about the Turkish government’s demands that Germany give them the Sphinx of Hattusa.  Turkey threatened to revoke the German license to excavate Hattusa, the capital of the Hittites.  The Germans have been excavating this site before the modern country of Turkey was even founded. 

Alexander Schick has informed us of an article in the German press that reports that Germany has surrendered to Turkish demands and will be sending the Sphinx to Istanbul (rough English translation here).  Schick has also sent along photographs of the artifact.  (Our previous post included only photos of the replica.)

Sphinx of Hattusa, photo by Alexander Schick

The Sphinx of Hattusa (circled in red) will be given to Turkey.  The replica is on the right.  Also on the right is a stela of Esarhaddon from Sam’al/Zincirli, from 671 BC.

Sphinx of Hattusa, photo by Alexander Schick

The Germans brought the Sphinx to Berlin in 1915 to restore it.  At the time Germany and the Ottoman Empire were allies as the First World War was beginning.

Sphinx of Hattusa, photo by Alexander Schick

If I was a German archaeologist working in Turkey, I’d plan to wrap my work up very soon.  Those who succeed in blackmail are not likely to change their ways.

All photos courtesy of Alexander Schick.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bible Exhibition in OKC

The “Passages” exhibit opened on Monday and runs through October 16 of this year.  It is hosted by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.  From explorepassages.com:

Passages is a 14,000-square-foot interactive, multimedia exhibition for all ages. It features some of the most exquisite and rare biblical manuscripts, printed Bibles, and historical items in the world. These cultural treasures include a Dead Sea Scroll text, ancient biblical papyri, beautifully illuminated manuscripts, early printed materials, including a portion of the Gutenberg Bible, and multiple first editions of the English Bible through the King James Version.

Visitors are immersed in a fascinating story that spans over two thousand years, winding through Judeo-Christian history, from an ancient synagogue to a modern excavation site where new discoveries are being made. Over 300 of the world’s rarest artifacts are presented in highly thematic settings which depict significant historical periods of time that are brought to life with animatronic historical figures, creative films and many interactive activities for both the young and old.

Each guest is provided with an iPod touch, at no additional charge, so they may travel through time with expert commentary on the artifacts by some of the world’s leading scholars. There is even a children’s listening track hosted by Louie the Lion.

Special effects and surprises are found throughout the exhibit so that guests can not only get a glimpse into history but also feel as if they are part of the translation and transmission of the Bible into English.

The self directed tour ends with an original film that capsulates this amazing story, shot on location throughout the world, with special narration by Wintley Phipps.

For more information, see the official website.  Tickets are $26 online.  The website suggests that the exhibit will be moving to the Vatican and to New York City in the future.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

The Israeli State Comptroller report released yesterday finds that the Muslim work in “Solomon’s Stables” was destructive and illegal.

It is dangerous to travel in the Middle East, but not because of war or terror.  You’re much more likely to die in a car accident.  The traffic fatality rate average is nearly three times that of Europe.

It is not only crazy drivers that one must fear in Israel, but rockslides.  A man driving on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway found his car destroyed when passing the Hemed Junction near Abu Gosh.

A new park near the Ben Gurion Airport will be three times the size of Central Park in New York City, built on top of a large garbage dump. 

The largest dish of hummus was created last year in Abu Gosh (and then again surpassed in Lebanon), but honors for the largest falafel ball go to a chef in Santa Clarita, California.  [What else do Abu Gosh and Santa Clarita have in common? Answer: Proximity to two campuses of one of the best educational institutions in the world.]

Israel received a lot of rainfall in April, but it’s not enough.  And the water level of the Dead Sea is now 1,358 feet (424.44 m) below sea level.

Dennis Dufrene looks back at the “discovery” of Noah’s Ark by the Hong Kong group last year and concludes that “All of these issues point to the fact that the NAMI find was most certainly a hoax.”

Abu Gosh from southeast, tb020305237

Abu Gosh, formerly home to the largest hummus dish and near location of recent rockslide. The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway cuts across the photo.  View from the southeast.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Verenna on the Lead Codices

Over at the Bible and Interpretation, Thomas S. Verenna has written an article entitled “Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History.”  This well-researched piece addresses the way news organizations failed to serve their readers in the recent “discovery” of the lead codices. 

I appreciated his conclusion, which begins (emphasis added):

What this treatment illustrates, more than the deception behind the lead codices, is the hijacking of history and the Bible by the media. This isn’t a new problem; it is one that has existed for decades. Some might say this problem dates back to the Roman period, wherein historians like Tacitus and Suetonius used the Acta Diurna which, as far as other sources are concerned, was not nearly as useful except perhaps for those who preferred gossip and rhetoric to factual information. But with the internet, the media has the ability to spread memes much more quickly than it had before and those memes are likely to last longer and remain available longer than inaccuracies presented in the past. While deceptive persons might try to pull the wool over the eyes of others, it is really the media that must be held accountable. It is accountable for giving these individuals a pedestal to stand on and an audience of eager readers who have no idea they are about to be conned into believing a false portrayal of the past.

More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking. These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”. At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”

The full article is worth reading, as are the comments (especially #3).

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Excavation Report of Omrit, 2009

The current issue of Hadashot Arkheologiyot includes a preliminary report of the 2009 excavations of Omrit.  Readers here may recall that Omrit is the location of a beautiful first-century temple, not far from Caesarea Philippi in the far north of modern Israel. 

The findings from the temple are described near the end of the report:

Space 5 (SP5 in Fig. 1), which corresponds to the area beneath the porch of the temple, is confined by the north, east, and south walls of the podium in Temple I and its cross wall, separating Space 4 from Space 5; it was partially excavated in 2006 and 2007 and the southeastern portion of Space 5 was investigated in 2009 (Fig. 6). Beneath several strata of dense fill associated with the construction of Temple II (late first century CE), the ashlar-built platform, partially exposed in 2007, was found to extend eastward where it abutted the door threshold of a temenos wall. The platform splays out at skewed angles from the Early Shrine’s ashlar steps. The platform was intended to connect the staircase with the doorway, but since the doorway does not fall on the long axis of the Early Shrine, the typical symmetry expected in temple and temenos design was discarded. About half way between the Shrine’s steps and the door threshold, two pedestals were built into the platform, opposite one another on the north and south sides. The pedestals were found in an excellent state of preservation with their original frescoes still intact. The pattern, a faux marble executed in ochre and red colors, has been found on some architectural blocks discovered in previous seasons. Some white plaster with a partially preserved circular lip or impression is preserved on the top surface of the south pedestal. Each pedestal probably supported a basin or statue with a circular base.

The report includes a plan of the site and five photographs.

Omrit temple from east, tb032905151 Omrit temple from the east

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Magdala Excavation to be Celebrated

From the Denver Post:

A Holy Land archaeological discovery will bring together some of Denver's biggest names in politics and religion for a Galilee Gala June 8 at The Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

A first-century synagogue, uncovered in 2009 in Magdala — Mary Magdalene's hometown in the region of Galilee — holds the oldest known depiction in stone of a menorah.

Jesus lived most of his life, conducted most of his ministry and performed most of his miracles in the region of Galilee. And so the area was chosen by the Legionaries of Christ, a Catholic order of priests seeking to promote Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land, as the site for a $100 million building project.

Plans encompass a 300-bed hotel, educational center dedicated to Jesus called "Walk With Me," and, acknowledging the Mary Magdalene connection, a cultural center for women.

The project began purchasing land in Magdala in 2006, eventually acquiring more than 20 acres on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

As providence would have it, project spokesman Father Eamon Kelly said, workers soon discovered, in the very footprint set aside for an ecumenical chapel for Christians, a 2,000-year-old Jewish place of worship.

An intricately carved stone table is its striking centerpiece.

The find seemed to be a sign that the center is meant to promote dialogue not only among Christians, but among Jews and Muslims as well, said the Jerusalem-based Kelly.

"This is the most beautiful synagogue in antiquity," Kelly said. "It's a magic place."

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has called it "the most important archaeological discovery ever related to the 2nd Temple."

As Paleojudaica notes, that last quotation is quite an overstatement.  The full story is here.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Photo of the Day: Sunset over the Judean Hills

Sunset over Mount of Olives, tb021107719

The sun sets over the Judean hills on a clear day in February.  The three towers of the Mount of Olives are visible on the horizon.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hinnom Valley Excavation Report

A year ago yesterday this blog noted the excavation of an arched bridge in the Hinnom Valley.  The current issue of Hadashot Arkheologiyot includes a final excavation report by Yehiel Zelinger.
The Sultan’s Pool, which was built in the upper part of the Ben-Hinnom Valley, is located in the lowest spot of the region and was therefore used as a reservoir for floodwater. To maintain the elevation of the aqueduct that passed through the pool, a bridge was constructed to support the aqueduct over the valley. The bridge is visible in photographs taken at the end of the nineteenth century (Fig. 2); however, it was covered over with alluvium during the twentieth century.

[…]

Conrad Schick was the first to describe the aqueduct and the bridge that carried it when he documented the Sultan’s Pool and its surroundings in 1898. The detailed plan and sections that accompany his article enabled the reconstruction of the aqueduct and the bridge; however, they are useless for dating the remains. The Lower Aqueduct provided water to Jerusalem as of the Hasmonean period and continued to function until the Ottoman period. Due to its prolonged use and the numerous repairs made to it, it is difficult to date the different phases. The method of construction in the southwestern section of the aqueduct is similar to sections of the aqueduct that were exposed in the past and were dated to the Early Roman period. The arch bridge, however, is dated to the Mamluk period, based on the dedicatory inscription from 1320 CE that was incorporated in it (it is visible in photographs but has not yet been exposed).

The report concludes:

The aqueduct was probably built originally in the Hasmonean period and crossed the channel in the Ben-Hinnom Valley on a bridge that was destroyed due to neglect or floods and a new bridge had replaced it in the Mamluk period.

The article includes five illustrations, including a plan and section of the excavation.

Jerusalem and Hinnom Valley from southwest, mat07473
The Hinnom Valley from the south, taken between 1907 and 1914.  The arched aqueduct passed through the area of the buildings and may have been visible when this photo was taken.  This photo is from the Jerusalem volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07473).

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

SourceFlix has a new five-minute video entitled “The Crags of the Wild Goats.”  The footage of the ibex in the mountains above En Gedi is much more than what the average visitor ever sees.

J.P. van de Giessen has begun a new group on Biblical Flora that you may want to join.

Rachel Hallote makes a case against the repatriation of archaeological artifacts in the current issue of BAR magazine.

Leen Ritmeyer has a brief review of Ronny Reich’s Excavating the City of David: Where Jerusalem’s History Began (previously mentioned here).

Robert Cargill provides more evidence that Simcha Jacobovici’s latest documentary on the crucifixion nails is “perhaps the weakest argument he has ever made—a dubious achievement” indeed.

In the end, Simcha Jacobovici’s claim that he has discovered the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion is a figment of his vivid imagination, lacking any evidence or basis in reality whatsoever. So, in an attempt to salvage his unsustainable theory, Simcha reaches for the age-old weapon used by all pseudo-scientists: the claim of conspiracy.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Shanks: The Significance of the Cuneiform Letter of Jerusalem

In the “Jerusalem Roundup” in the March/April 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks notes that the importance of the cuneiform tablet discovered last year in Jerusalem is not in the minimal writing preserved but in its very existence.

This tiny, fragmentary inscription from which we cannot really extract any literal meaning nevertheless has a broader significance.  It confirms evidence from the Amarna letters that Jerusalem was a thriving city in the Late Bronze Age, with scribes capable of writing cuneiform and with the governmental organization to employ them.  This must be our conclusion despite the fact that archaeologists have found little of surviving structures from this period.

Shanks then relates the situation in the fourteenth century to that of the time of David and Solomon.

This is similar to the situation in the tenth century B.C.E. when David and Solomon ruled.  Little from this time has been archaeologically recovered.  But, as the Amarna letters suggest and this little cuneiform inscription confirms, Jerusalem could have been an important city at that time, even though structurally little has survived.

Access to the article online requires a subscription.  Emphasis has been added to the quotations above. A similar point was made at greater length before the discovery of this fragment by Nadav Na’aman in “Cow Town or Royal Capital? Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 23/4 (July/Aug 1997): 43-47, 67 (online here).

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Well preserved remains of an ancient ship possibly from the first century has been found in the port that served ancient Rome.

Roman and Byzantine buildings have been discovered in Jiftlik, a Palestinian town near Alexandrium-Sartaba in the Jordan Valley.

“Geography and culture are important.”  Jim Elliff explains why in this bulletin insert that you can download and reproduce for your church.

Infanticide was apparently common in the Roman Empire.

The first phase of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation is scheduled to open next month.

The country of Turkey is starting to recognize the value of its Christian sites for bringing in tourists (NY Times).

The Alphabetical list of Open Access Journals in Ancient Studies surpassed 900 titles this week.

Wayne Stiles shares his thoughts (and video) on Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee (JPost).

Tour guide Joe Yudin describes his jeep tour of the Judean Desert in a new column at the Jerusalem Post.

As a follow-up to the list of finalists for the 2011 Christian Book Award, it may be noted that the winner in the Bible Reference Category is the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by John H. Walton.

Accordance is giving away a Bible a day (to one winner) and offering a big discount for all users, through the month of May.

ICEJ News reports on Israel’s plans to invest in Nazareth: On Wednesday, Israeli tourism minister Stas Meseznikov announced that the government is planning to invest more than NIS 12 million over the next four years in Israel's largest Arab city, Nazareth, which is also a major tourist attraction due to its status as the town where Jesus grew up, being visited by over 40% of the tourists who arrive in Israel every year. One of the strategies used in order to develop the city is to encourage local residents to open their own businesses, and grants of up to 30% of their start up investments are therefore offered.  "The program to boost development of the tourism industry in Nazareth is part of a 2010 government initiative to encourage development in the Arab sector," Meseznikov said.

HT: Paleojudaica, Jack Sasson

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Maximalists vs. Minimalists: A Good Survey

If you think that archaeology is boring, you should take thirty minutes this weekend and read Asaf Shtull-Trauring’s article in the Haaretz magazine.  This lengthy piece interviews the major players in the chief dispute in Israeli archaeology today.  Those familiar with the minimalist-maximalist debate over the United Kingdom of Israel will find a good bit that is new.  Those looking for an introduction to the conflict can hardly do better than start here.

If I had the time, I could interact extensively with this article.  Instead, I am going to choose a few items that caught my attention and provide my own (brief) commentary. 

Yosef Garfinkel on Khirbet Qeiyafa:

According to him, this site, which he has been excavating for the past four years, constitutes the definitive proof for the existence of a city that was part of the Kingdom of David in the 10th century BCE. "It is the first and last evidence," he says. "Until now nothing similar has been found anywhere in the country."

Beware of bold claims like this one.  Four years is hardly enough time to convince your skeptics, and even your friends should be suspicious.  It is no wonder that Garfinkel has won no one over to his side.

Eilat Mazar on Khirbet Qeiyafa:

"The site definitely reflects a capable government, which necessarily rested on a periphery," says Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University, one of the salient members of the school that theorizes the existence of a large developed kingdom. "In light of these ruins, is it possible to assume that no broad periphery exists? That is unthinkable," she insists.

This is a very important point that is not addressed by the minimalist camp in this article.

Garfinkel on his agenda:

"I did not come here to look for David. I had no opinion in those debates; I was tabula rasa," he says - a clean slate. After many of the previous generation of biblical archaeologists had retired, he says, his department looked for researchers to conduct excavations relating to the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Since Garfinkel claimed in his first year at the site that he had found the grand site of Azekah, I am very reluctant to believe that his first priority was something other than making a name for himself.  (He quickly abandoned that silly idea when he found something else he could talk to newspaper reporters about.)

Garfinkel on identifying Qeiyafa as Shaaraim:

"You won't find another city in Israel or Judah with two gates," he notes, and adds, "In the Bible, Sha'arayim is mentioned only in the Davidic period, in the region of Elah Valley: when David kills Goliath, the Philistines escape via Sha'arayim.”

Actually Shaaraim is mentioned in Joshua 15:36, hundreds of years before David’s time.  The context there argues against Garfinkel’s identification (but that’s another matter for another day).  But notice too, if the interviewer quoted Garfinkel correctly, that the archaeologist admits evidence that dooms his identification.  If the Philistines escape via Shaaraim (as they do; see 1 Sam 17:52), then Qeiyafa cannot be Shaaraim, unless you want to argue that the Philistines climbed up the hill to the city (Qeiyafa) as they were fleeing west to Gath.  Actually, nothing about the Shaaraim identification works.  As for whether Garfinkel found two gates, keep reading…

On the maximalist revival:

Thus, the proponents of the biblical approach now feel they can hold their heads high after years of fighting a rearguard battle against Finkelstein and his colleagues.

First, Finkelstein has only been making this case for 16 years.  That’s but a brief season in the scope of scholarship.  Second, this period of time of “advance” by the minimalists has been entirely under the shadow of the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription with its undisputed reference to the “house of David.”  If there is an area in which the maximalists may have felt left behind, it is in matching the sales of Finkelstein’s popular books attacking the Bible.  If you want to hear something new, buy a Finkelstein book.  Those maximalist guys keep saying the same things we’ve heard for decades.

Eilat Mazar on her discoveries:

"No one agrees with what I say," Mazar admits, though her confidence appears unshaken.

Conservatives who find in Mazar statements that agree with their conclusions would do well to remember this.  Like Garfinkel, Mazar has a penchant for discovering the most impressive items the very first season, and these finds always support their own viewpoints.  Conservatives would do well to view their claims with a critical eye, especially if they accord with their own inclinations.

On excavations of copper mines:

The American anthropologist Prof. Thomas Levy, from the University of California, San Diego, is currently excavating at Khirbat en-Nahas in southern Jordan, which was a large copper mining center in the Iron Age and is located in a region thought to have been under the control of the Edomites. Three years ago, Levy, using carbon-14 dating, dated the site to the end of the 10th century BCE, the Solomonic period.

These are potentially very important.  How they fit into the overall picture is yet to be determined. Finkelstein’s criticisms on this matter must be taken seriously.

Garfinkel on the significance of his four years of excavation of Qeiyafa:

"Our dating destroyed the low chronology," he says with satisfaction.

Oh, boy.  This may get invitations to speak at non-academic conferences, but it convinces no one in the field.  It’s hard for me to believe that an archaeologist would dare make such a statement about his own work.  Maybe after thirty years of work at multiple sites, one could be so confident.

On Yigael Yadin and Benjamin Mazar:

They aimed to provide roots for the nation that was taking shape in Israel, though in essence they followed the same working method as Albright and the others: the Bible in one hand, a spade in the other.

I wish these guys were still living so they would not let us brilliant moderns get away with such reductionist slander.  We have built on their shoulders, and now we are so much better.

The minimalist view is summarized briefly:

According to the minimalists, the United Monarchy never split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, because it never existed in united form in the first place. Their account is that the two kingdoms developed side by side, with the Kingdom of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, developing at a far later stage, after the consolidation of the Kingdom of Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE. In this interpretation, David and Solomon are entirely fictional figures.

It is beyond my comprehension that anyone can believe this.  It is to me an illustration of how little evidence matters in formulating conclusions.

The biblical account (with a completely different story than the minimalist view) has to come from somewhere.  Finkelstein explains:

"Thanks to the writing skill, the potent theology and the creative outburst, this was the narrative that became dominant."

The whole minimalist viewpoint comes down to this: the writers of the Bible were brilliant liars.  Perhaps we are seeing in them too much of a mirror of ourselves.

Garfinkel on identifying Qeiyafa as a Judahite site:

Garfinkel notes that other findings by him and his team, which are being made public here for the first time, also support the thesis that the city was part of the Davidic kingdom.

Instead of quoting a long section, what Garfinkel reveals here is the discovery of a cultic altar, the lack of any icons, and the lack of pig bones.  This is important evidence.

Nadav Na’aman rejects Garfinkel’s argument about pig bones:

"Not one of the finds cited by Garfinkel links Khirbet Qeiyafa to a center in Jerusalem or even to the hill region. Both the longtime inhabitants of the land and the inhabitants of the hill region in the first Iron Age refrained from eating meat, undoubtedly as a reaction to Philistines' eating habits.”

There are several things in this quotation that are problematic.  Is he saying that the Canaanites didn’t eat meat?  What is the relationship of the Canaanites and the Philistines who arrived only in 1175?  What evidence do we have that people reacted negatively towards Philistine eating habits? 

Na’aman makes a very good point:

“The fact that someone puts forward the same argument time and again and accustoms the listeners to the 'facts' he voices does not consolidate the 'facts' that are being voiced," Na'aman says. "We have to wait for the publication of the finds from the site and then consider its affiliation level-headedly."

This, of course, applies to both sides.

Finkelstein on the “two gates” that Garfinkel claims to have found at Qeiyafa:

He is particularly impatient with claims about the existence of two gates and the name that was ostensibly given the city in their wake. "There are not two gates there," he asserts. "There is one gate, the western gate. Ninety percent of what you see in the southern gate is a reconstruction. I intend to publish a photograph from the end of the dig and a photograph taken after the reconstruction, and every sensible person will see that there was no gate there."

I have had the same questions myself, but I don’t remember seeing them in print.  I confess that my suspicions were not diminished when Garfinkel hastily “reconstructed” the second “gate” in the middle of winter, very soon after the discovery.  Why the rush?  If Finkelstein is right, Garfinkel’s permit should be revoked.

Garfinkel should consider his own words:

"Qeiyafa is like a bone in the craw of all the minimalists," he says. "This city exists, how do you explain it? Gradually there will be more and more sites from this period."

In other words, Garfinkel should quietly do his work and let the accumulation of evidence convince scholars and the public.  Qeiyafa alone will not “win the battle” for maximalists.  The scholarly consensus of the next generation will come from the results of the present excavations of nearby Gezer, Gath, Tell Burna, and Tell Zayit.

If you read to the end of the article, you will find reference to a row about Socoh published only in the Hebrew press to date (but summarized on this blog previously). 

Goren was granted the permit last month, but the episode itself swelled beyond its natural dimensions as a disagreement over an excavation permit. Prof. Lipschits says that Garfinkel breached the regulations by starting to dig at the site before receiving a permit. He sent his complaint to Dr. Gideon Avni, the head of the excavations and surveys unit of the Antiquities Authority, who rejected it.

I skipped a lot.  Read the whole article for more provocative quotes and observations.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606772_marked

Elah Valley, aerial view from west

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Maps for the Ancient World

Routledge Wall Maps for the Ancient World, edited by Richard Talbert, is available as a set or individually.

From the publisher’s website:

Routledge Wall Maps for the Ancient World provide both students and scholars with detailed and exacting geographic information of the ancient world. Using the world renowned geographic data from the Ancient World Mapping Centre, the sweeping views of the ancient world allow students to understand important concepts such as trade, movement, spatial and cultural relations and to consider how the ancient terrain would have affected them. The maps provide a powerful tool for comprehending how the ancient world worked and also to help re-evaluate out-dated theories in light of precise geographic information.

Those students who are new to the discipline of ancient history will find them invaluable in orientating themselves within the world of the past. How far is Athens from Sparta, what type of terrain did Alexander have to cross on his journeys, how did the valley of the Nile look in 500 BC? Such questions and many more are answered by the maps within this series.

Egypt and the Near East 3000-1200 BCE
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58500-2: $64.95 [$21.80 at Amazon]

Egypt and the Near East 1200 - 500 BCE
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58499-9: $64.95 [$38.35 at Amazon]

Greece and the Aegean in the 5th Century BCE
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58441-8: $64.95 [57.94 at Amazon]

Greece and Persia in the Time of Alexander the Great
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58498-2: $64.95 [57.94 at Amazon]

Italy in the Mid First Century CE
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58440-1: $64.95 [57.94 at Amazon]

The Roman Empire around 200 CE
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58439-5: $64.95 [57.94 at Amazon]

The World of the New Testament and the Journeys of Paul
Wall Map: 978-0-415-58501-9: $64.95 [57.94 at Amazon]

Professors may request a complimentary examination copy via a link at the Routledge website.  As I write, the publisher’s website is painfully slow, but the links to Amazon work quickly. In many cases, the maps are available from the Amazon Marketplace for even less than the prices listed above.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Weeks on Protecting Egypt’s Archaeology

Kent R. Weeks has written an important assessment in Newsweek of the situation in Egypt: “Can Egypt Protect Its Ancient Monuments?”  Weeks is professor emeritus of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo and founding director of the Theban Mapping Project.

The SCA’s on-site inspectors, who are supposed to administer and preserve the country’s heritage, are underpaid and unmotivated. Most are young and—for the first few years, at least—enthusiastic about their job. But the low salary and near-universal reluctance of their superiors to delegate authority leads to frustration. A large number leave to become tourist guides. Instead of taking 300 Egyptian pounds a month from the SCA (about $50), they can earn six or seven times that amount as guides.

Besides staffing problems, the SCA is perennially underfunded, even though archeological tourism generates considerable income. In December 2010 ticket sales to sites in Luxor alone earned $30 million for Egypt. But much of this money goes to the government treasury, and the SCA routinely postpones or ignores conservation, maintenance, documentation, and tourist management because of a lack of funds.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to archeological sites increases every year. The Valley of the Kings, which had perhaps 100 visitors a day in 1970, had 8,000 a day in December of last year, and the Ministry of Tourism hopes for 15,000 a day by 2015. The pressures such numbers inflict on tombs and temples are enormous. Yet no long-term comprehensive management plan to protect them has yet been agreed upon.

Tourism is a major pillar of the Egyptian economy, and given the income that archeological sites generate, one might think their protection would be a primary goal. After all: no sites, no money. But almost every branch of government wants some control over that income and wants as much of it as possible for themselves, focusing only on short-term gain. Since the revolution, the number of tourists has dropped dramatically, and one can imagine that the SCA will now feel even more financial pressure.

The whole is worth reading for all who are interested in Egypt’s archaeological heritage.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Monday, May 02, 2011

The Nails: Zias vs Jacobovici

From Haaretz:

The crucifixion of Jesus was a significant event in the life of the high priest, Jacobovici notes, and finding the nails is "like finding a soccer ball in the burial chamber of Pele in Brazil in 2,000 years."

However, according to Joe Zias, who served as curator at the Antiquities Authority for 25 years, the nails which Jacobovici is presenting in his movie were dug up in a different location, more than 30 years ago. Furthermore, the nails found in Caiaphas' burial cave, and cited in an article published on the dig by archaeologist Dr. Zvi Greenhut, were lost after the excavation 21 years ago. Greenhut and staff at the Antiquities Authority deduce that the two nails in question have no scientific or other significance: Many like them have been found in archaeological digs of the Roman period and are not even cataloged, they say.

[…]

Zias also says that the nails, which are 8 cm. long, could not have been used for crucifixion because they are too short. He says that it is most likely that Jesus was in fact tied to the cross and not nailed, because in that era nails were expensive although the wood used in crosses were reused.

The full story is here.  Gordon Franz has covered most of this already.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Joseph Aviram and Yigael Yadin

Joseph Aviram, long-time secretary of the Israel Exploration Society and associated with the organization since 1940, is profiled in the Jerusalem Post magazine by Abraham Rabinovich.  As the article title suggests, the piece is as much about Aviram’s friend and colleague, Yigael Yadin.  Access to the story requires a paid subscription to the Premium service.

Ninety-five-year-old Yosef Aviram, at the center of archeological research here for 70 years, has a surprising answer when asked why archeology has disappeared as the country’s national pastime.

“The death of Yigael Yadin. There has been no one else with his charisma.”

Charisma, scholarship, luck and, especially, Yadin’s exceptional ability to turn dry fact into high drama succeeded for decades in mobilizing the broad Israeli public in the hunt for the nation’s roots. Enthusiasm was measured in large headlines, passionate public debates and overflowing lecture halls. Through it all, Aviram, a non-archeologist, was at Yadin’s right hand as his administrative support and close confidant. The excitement of the era would endure long after Yadin’s death, 27 years ago.

Still vigorous, Aviram occupies the desk at the Israel Exploration Society (IES), where he reigned as secretary until last year when he was appointed president, a change in title that has not reduced his five-day-a week, nine-to-five work schedule.

“My main interest now is preparing for the society’s centenary in two years, if I should live so long,” he says.

[…]

In 1963 Aviram flew to London to visit with Yadin, who was there on sabbatical. Aviram repeated his request that the archeologist come to grips with Masada. Yadin, who relied on Aviram as an organizer and administrator, said, “I’m ready to do it now if you join me.”

Says Aviram: “He decided to base the expedition this time not on laborers but on hundreds of volunteers from all over the world – not to save money but to harness the volunteers’ zeal.”

When, at a dinner party in London, Yadin mentioned his plans to the editor of The Observer, David Astor, the newsman responded with enthusiasm. His newspaper would underwrite much of the cost of the expedition in return for exclusive stories and photographs.

The compelling but contentious symbolism of Masada – a blend of heroism and fanaticism – and the dazzling setting of the site made for a spectacular narrative. The excavation between 1963 and 1965 was carried out in two seasons, each of half a year, opening the way for the desert mount’s becoming a major tourist site.

The full article is here (subscription required).

HT: Joe Lauer

Masada excavations, Yadin's headquarters, db6503030708

Yadin’s excavation camp at Masada, March 1965.
Photo from Views That Have Vanished.

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