Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011-12 Lectures at Southern Adventist University

September 21: Steven M. Ortiz, Gezer: The Search for the City of Solomon

October 12: Michael G. Hasel, The 2011 Excavation Season at Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel

February 15: Martin G. Klingbeil, Ancient Near Eastern Passports: Two Stamp Seals from Khirbet Qeiyafa

March 21: Daniel Master, Transformations in the Twelfth Century BC: The Coming of the Philistines to Ashkelon

All lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., are free of charge, and are open to the public. For more information, see the website of the university’s Institute of Archaeology. SAU is located in Collegedale, Tennessee. Previous lectures may be ordered on DVD for $10, including shipping. (The above information is taken from the Institute newsletter, as the website has not yet been updated with this year’s schedule.)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gaddafi and the Bible

A headline in the Jerusalem Post catches my eye: “Libya interim rulers set Saturday ultimatum for Sirte.” The first paragraph identifies Sirte as Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown. The name sounds familiar and I turn to Acts 27:17 where it says of the sailors carrying Paul to Rome: “Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.”

Sirte sounds a lot like Syrtis and so I wonder if the city is perhaps along Libya’s northern shore. Google Maps confirms that it is.


View Larger Map 

I open up the article on “Syrtis” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and learn that this is the name of two dangerous gulfs off the coast of modern Libya. In that article, Mark J. Olson identifies the Greater Syrtis with the modern Gulf of Sirte:

According to Strabo (2.5.20), the Greater Syrtis covered an area approximately 450–570 miles in circumference, and 170–180 miles in breadth. This is the modern Gulf of Sirte, off the coast of Libya. The Lesser Syrtis is the modern Gulf of Gabes off the coast of Tunisia. The ancient mariners’ fears of running aground while still far out at sea are echoed in Dio Chrysostomus’ warning: “Those who have once sailed into it find egress impossible; for shoals, cross-currents, and long sand-bars extending a great distance out make the sea utterly impassable or troublesome” (Or. 5.8–9)” (6: 286).

I don’t think this helps me understand the passage in Acts better, but it may help me to remember the name of Syrtis. And it does provide a modern connection when teaching students today.

A search on Google reveals that Peter Kirk has observed this connection. He wrote in March, “How appropriate it is that a biblical place of danger has now become a place of danger for Gaddafi.”

In January I recommended Gordon Franz’s article, “Why Were the Sailors Afraid of the Syrtis Sands (Acts 27:17)?

sirte-sands-of-syrtis

This screenshot from Google Earth shows Sirte in relation to Crete, Paul’s place of departure. The ship was not destroyed by the sandbars of Syrtis but instead sailed west and was wrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 28:1).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2011

The Spring/Summer 2011 issue of DigSight has just been released by the Institute of Archaeology of Southern Adventist University. The newsletter includes a good primer on biblical minimalism and its shifts in the last two decades. Another article discusses “Evident Silence or Silenced Evidence” in defense of the historicity of Daniel 5.

The lead article summarizes the major tasks and discoveries of the 2011 team:

  • Completion of excavation of 4th-century BC large building with olive press
  • Discovery of early 10th-century BC stone quarry that continued in use in Hellenistic and/or Roman times
  • Excavation of three Iron Age rooms with some partially restorable vessels and a standing stone (signifying a cultic area?)
  • Discovery of best-preserved example of Iron Age floor at the site.
  • Significant small finds including a faience scarab seal, a bone seal with lion and man, an iron ring, and a portion of an Aramaic ostracon
  • Excavation of more than 25,000 pieces of pottery in Area D alone

The newsletter notes that the Institute’s three-year excavation of Qeiyafa has now concluded and the next two years will be used for publishing the final results.

The quality of the newsletter is superb but reading it in the issuu format has its drawbacks. Unlike previous issues, downloading the newsletter in pdf format requires login and the only login I could see to use was Facebook. (And I don’t know yet what adverse effects there may be from that.)

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Roundup

The Associated Press reports on the restoration of the Old City walls of Jerusalem.

The Wadi Rum in Jordan has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Eldad Keynan refutes Joes Zias’ insinuation that Jacobivici’s nails were used to seal the ossuary of Caiaphas.

Wayne Stiles makes a good case that Lachish was the second-most important city in the kingdom of Judah.

Eric and Carol Meyers will answer questions about their archaeological work, Jewish history, and controversies on the Duke Ustream channel on September 1, noon Eastern Daylight Time.

The Biblical Archaeology Society 2011 Publication Awards Winners have been announced.

Plans for a wastewater reservoir near Gezer are moving forward after a judge rejected a petition by local communities.

On a lighter note, you can see how zoo animals in Jerusalem cool off in the summer. One of the animals even has an air-conditioned home.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Syrian Brown Bear in Jerusalem Zoo, tb080404956

Syrian Brown Bear at Jerusalem Zoo

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Franz on “Apostolic Archaeology”

Gordon Franz has coined a term for those who assert their authority rather than provide evidence for their archaeological claims.

“Apostolic” Archaeology, a phrase that I have coined, is a sub-discipline of pseudo-archaeology. The practitioners of this discipline are usually adventurers, sometimes treasure hunters, and generally with neither field training in archaeological methodology nor academic credentials in Near East archaeology, but perhaps a superficial knowledge of the Bible. They claim to have discovered objects or places of great Biblical importance and declare it to be whatever they want it to be. They usually try to justify their pronouncements with a Bible verse. Their declarations are made as if they were speaking ex cathedra (i.e., with authority).

These self-declared experts have found from experience that the gullible masses will blindly accept the legitimacy of their claims and buy the goods that they are hawking in spite of scholarly academic testimony to the contrary (contra 1 Thess. 2:9-12). So buyers beware!

His brief article continues here. My previous post, “We Sell Hope,” may be relevant.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tell Qarqur: Survival in the Midst of Collapse

From the University of Arkansas:

The end of the third millennium B.C. – roughly 2200 to 2000 B.C. – is often described as a dark age because this period experienced the collapse of many major states, including the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, Old Kingdom Egypt and the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley. Major cities and small towns across the Middle East that had been occupied for centuries were suddenly abandoned, leaving a gap in the archaeological and historical record.

“Tells” are the name for ancient cities and towns, preserved today as large mounds, throughout the Middle East. Until the 1980s, little was known about Tell Qarqur, the site of two large mounds that archeologists know was occupied continuously for more than 10,000 years, from 8500 B.C. to the medieval period. Tell Qarqur experienced particularly large occupations during the Bronze and Iron Ages, from 3000 to 500 B.C.

The researchers are now trying to understand why Tell Qarqur survived, when nearly all civilizations in the region during that time collapsed. Some anthropologists have attributed the demise of these settlements to widespread drought. If there was a drought, Casana said, the important question was how it affected the environment and ancient communities, that is, how susceptible were their agricultural strategies to drought and did they adapt to changing conditions? These are some of the questions Casana seeks to answer with continued research at the site.

The full press release is here, Live Science reports on the excavations here, and nine photos may be viewed here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

Hershel Shanks asks whether it is legitimate for Eilat Mazar to speculate that her excavation has uncovered the palace of David. He invites readers to respond and I suspect there will be some good discussion. The editorial includes a drawing of the main wall of Mazar’s Large Stone Structure, a reconstruction which seems to me to be wishful thinking.

An article in Popular Archaeology explains why Nineveh must be preserved.

CNN reports on the challenges of protecting the cedars of Lebanon. The four-minute video report is accompanied by a story that gives the main points.

Fake Fake Metal Codices vs. Real Fake Metal Codices – Paleojudaica has the latest twists in the saga.

Wayne Stiles’ column on Hazor includes a video fly-over of the largest of ancient sites in Israel.

The price on the 16-volume collection of William M. Ramsay has come down from $30 to $20 in the last week. A few more orders will push the price down to $15 before the deal closes on Friday.

I was visiting a friend a few weeks ago and he observed that his out-of-print book now sells in the used market for over $200. I never thought I’d see my Jerusalem CD selling for $219 on Amazon. (Note: it’s still only $25 at BiblePlaces.com.)

Crossway has posted a beautiful image of an open Bible with Jerusalem in the background. The publisher is using this image to promote the new ESV Study Bible, Personal Size, but teachers might find this image useful (click through for high resolution). I note that the Bible is open to the beginning of Psalm 48, but you must flip over one page in order to read some of my favorite words about Jerusalem:

Psalm 48:12–14 (ESV) — Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Roundup

Masada is profiled by Elad Benari and accompanied by a five-minute video produced by Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

CitySights has created a one-minute wordless video of the Ramparts Walk atop the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The accompanying article includes a few statistics:

The walls stretch for some 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles), rising to a height of up to 15 meters, (49 feet), with an average thickness of 3 meters (10 ft). Along the course of the walls are 11 gates to the Old City, seven of which are open: New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod's Gate, Lions' Gate, Dung Gate, Jaffa Gate, and Zion Gate.

Ferrell Jenkins uses one of his aerial photos to make a powerful point about what is “known but mostly unknown.”

A five-year old boy and a 25-year-old woman drowned in separate incidents in the Sea of Galilee earlier this week.

The Israel Museum has welcomed one million visitors since the renovated campus reopened last year.

HT: ShalomIL, Paleojudaica

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Google Street View Approved in Israel

Today’s government decision is reported in the Jerusalem Post:

The Justice Ministry announced on Monday its decision to allow the controversial Google Street View service to run in Israel.

A function of Google's existing maps service, Street View allows users to view panoramic street level photographs of city streets and other locations in the country.

[...]

Only after lengthy negotiations with Google did the Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority (ILITA), part of the Justice Ministry, agree to roll out the service here.

[...]

To produce the images that make up Street View, for example, Google uses vehicles that drive down streets taking millions of digital photographs and recording location data using sophisticated technology. These images and data are transferred to a database held in the USA, which is outside Israel's jurisdiction.

Under the agreement ILITA has reached with Google, however, Israeli citizens will be able to file civil litigation against Google regarding the company's Israeli operations, via Google Israel, the internet giant's local branch.

Under the same agreement, Google Israel will provide an online service for Israelis to opt out of the service by demanding that Google blur all images of their homes, license plates and themselves.

Google also agreed that the cars used to take the millions of digital photographs will be clearly marked so that residents can recognize them as they pass along the streets.

More of the legal issues are discussed in the Jerusalem Post. I would like to see Street View including antiquities sites, such as the excavations south of the Temple Mount, the site of Beth Shean, and even more distant ruins such as those at Beersheba and Arad.

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Caesarea’s Seven Aqueducts

In the weekend edition of Haaretz, Moshe Gilad reports on a tour that explored the water sources of ancient Caesarea.

Two thousand years ago, Herod's engineers devised a way to bring water to what was then the second largest city in the land, after Jerusalem, in terms of population. These were wise, exacting professionals who figured out the best route, and optimal height, for an aqueduct, so that the water would flow smoothly and calmly, without pumping systems, from the springs at the foot of Mount Carmel to the seashore.

[...]

The impetus for our tour was the recent publication of a book called "Water at the End of the Tunnel: To Tour the Ancient Waterworks" (published jointly by the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in Hebrew). Author Tzvika Tzuk, an archaeologist, studied the subject for years, and this serious and comprehensive work presents the information he gathered about the impressive engineering feats that allowed residents of this desert land, thousands of years ago, to enjoy a ready supply of drinking and bathing water. Tzuk's guidebook proposes 40 routes for touring ancient waterways. Seven aqueducts reached Caesarea, he explains, and vestiges of many parts of them can still be seen. What is more, these days, any hike that ends at the beach will be particularly popular.

The article continues with recommendations of sites to visit, one of which is the section of aqueduct shown below.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Herodian aqueduct turn near Tell Mevorakh, tbs103339904

Roman aqueduct near Beit Hanania

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Haaretz has a more complete story of the renovations of the Damascus Gate. This ten-month project is part of a larger four-year plan to study and restore all of the Old City walls.

Did Hatshepsut poison herself with skin lotion? A new study of an ointment bottle suggests that she may have.

The ASOR Blog reviews recent stories in the broader world of archaeology.

Eugene Merrill gives a brief summary of his experience excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) this summer.

Ten years and $1 billion dollars later, the Jerusalem Light Rail gave passengers their first ride yesterday.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg offers his “Archaeology in Israel Update” for July.

A new book on the expedition of William Francis Lynch down the Jordan River and around the Dead Sea in 1848 is reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. The conclusion: David Haward Bain’s Bitter Waters: America’s Forgotten Naval Mission to the Dead Sea does not advance the story much beyond Lynch’s own account. If you have not read Lynch, however, you will not find it repetitive. UPDATE (8/22): Booklist has a brief review of the book here.

HT: Jack Sasson, Charles Savelle

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Great Deal: William M. Ramsay Collection

The Logos collection of 16 volumes by William Mitchell Ramsay is about to close in Community Pricing. Currently the price is $30, though a few more bids will push everyone’s price down to $25 (or even $20). After it closes, the selling price will probably be around $200 (though retail is listed at $800).

For less than $2 each, you get these electronic books in Logos’ superior format:

I’ve recommended this collection before and do so again.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Transfiguration Celebrated on Mount Tabor

I am not very familiar with this annual observance. From the Jerusalem Post:

On August 18 and 19 the Greek Orthodox Church will celebrate the annual Feast of the Transfiguration, which celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus that is traditionally thought to have occurred at Mount Tabor in the Galilee. The Catholic Church celebrated the holiday earlier this month on August 6 with a festive mass at the Church of the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor.

[...]

During this feast a night vigil occurs in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the most unique experience associated with the holiday. Arab Christians camp in the woods surrounding the church and spend the night there, during which time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated outside the church. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated inside the Church on the August 19.

To commemorate Jesus's climb up the mountain, some pilgrims will ascend Mount Tabor by foot.

The full article gives some details about the Transfiguration from the New Testament. It does not mention that most scholars reject Mount Tabor as the location for this event or give any of the reasons why. Three reasons may be suggested:

1. The Gospels record that Jesus was in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi before the Transfiguration (Matt 16:13). Nothing suggests that he traveled southward to Mount Tabor.

2. The event was intentionally private, and a setting on Mount Hermon or even in the mountains of Upper Galilee would be more suitable than a location on Mount Tabor. The international highway traveling through the Jezreel Valley passed next to the Mount Tabor and would have made privacy unlikely.

3. A military fort on the summit of Mount Tabor during Hasmonean and Roman times was probably in use during Jesus’ ministry and would have precluded the site as a get-away for Jesus.

Nevertheless, early Christian pilgrims were attracted to Mount Tabor as the location for this event. It is possible that its convenient location on the way to Capernaum was a factor. This would have eliminated the need for a multi-day trek up to the environs of Caesarea Philippi.

For more information (and links), see the Mount Tabor page at BiblePlaces.com (also in Spanish and French).

Mount Tabor aerial from east, tbs121280011

Summit of Mount Tabor. Nazareth is visible in the distance.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

The “crown” of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem has been restored, reports the Israel Antiquities Authority. Leen Ritmeyer posts additional photos and an illustration.

Following a report about illegal construction at Gibeah of Saul (Tell el-Ful), officials have removed a fence installed at the site by the Waqf. Arutz-7 has photos.

The proposed re-identification of Tell el-Ful as Parah/Parathon by Israel Finkelstein is critiqued by G. M. Grena and found wanting.

Aren Maeir notes a new page of photos by the Israel Antiquities Authority showing some ancient games and game pieces discovered in Israel.

Renovations on the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, recently reported to be completed in time for an October inauguration, have ground to a halted.

To judge from Turkey’s recent efforts to pillage museums around the world, one would not guess that their warehouses contain more than 25,000 items waiting to be catalogued and put on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

You can now visit the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in Google Street Views. Impressive!

Justin Taylor quotes from R. T. France’s commentary on Matthew seven differences between Galilee and Judea in the time of Jesus: racial, geographic, political, economic, cultural, linguistic, and religious.

Many like Amazon for its quick shipping, but James Spinti of Eisenbrauns points to a bizarre exception (and he includes a screenshot).

HT: Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jericho Excavations 2011

Rome “La Sapienza” University and the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage (MOTA - DACH) excavated at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) in March 2011 and have now posted a preliminary report online.

The team excavated four areas with remains from the Early and Middle Bronze periods. The report contains the following sections:

  • Palestinian Culture Protection: Jericho, 10,000 years of History of Humankind
  • Restorations of EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2, 2500-2350 BC) Palace in Area G
  • Area A: MB I-II (Sultan IVa-b, 1900-1650 BC) stratigraphic sequence, MB III (Sultan IVc, 1650-1550 BC) Cyclopean Wall and rampart, Iron Age IIC (Sultan VIc) house and installations
  • Area B: the South Gate in EB IIIA (Sultan IIIc1) double line of fortifications
  • Area E: MB II (Sultan IVb, 1800-1650 BC) Curvilinear Stone Structure and connected features
  • Area E: MB II (Sultan IVb, 1800-1650 BC) Curvilinear Stone Structure and connected features
  • Middle Bronze II-III (Sultan IVb-c) Palace foundation walls W.633 and W.1175
  • EB IV (Sultan IIId) installations
  • EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2) Palace G

Palace G is believed to be the residence of the city’s governors in the third millennium BC.

The continuation of the exploration of Palace G during this season allowed to produce a more complete plan and architectural section of the building, which extended at least on three different terraces on the eastern slope of the Spring Hill. The connection with previous excavation plans to the north-west (in Sellin and Watzinger’s squares 5G-H; Sellin - Watzinger 1913, 39-42, figs. 18-20) and in Kenyon’s square HII (see above note 45), allow to draw out an overall plan of the palace, which was the seat of the rulers of Jericho in the third quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. Its monumental architecture and special finds, such as carefully executed pithoi and storage jars, seal impressions, ceremonial vessels, as well as the copper dagger, further corroborate this identification.

The palace was restored this season with plastered mudbricks. Photos of the excavation and restoration works are also available (figures 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-15, 16-19, 20-21, 22-25).

HT: ANE-2

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Hercules Statue Discovered in Jezreel Valley

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of a headless statue of Hercules at a site 3 miles (4 km) northwest of Afula in the Jezreel Valley. From the press release:

A rare statue of Hercules was exposed at Horvat Tarbenet in the Jezreel Valley in excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, within the framework of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, directed by the Israel National Roads Company
A marble statue of Hercules from the second century CE was uncovered in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at Horvat Tarbenet, within the framework of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, directed by the Israel National Roads Company.

According to Dr. Walid Atrash of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is a rare discovery. The statue, which probably stood in a niche, was part of the decoration of a bathhouse pool that was exposed during the course of the excavations. It is c. 0.5 m tall, is made of smoothed white marble and is of exceptional artistic quality. Hercules is depicted in three dimension, as a naked figure standing on a base. His bulging muscles stand out prominently, he is leaning on a club to his left, on the upper part of which hangs the skin of the Nemean lion, which according to Greek mythology Hercules slew as the first of his twelve labors”.

The press release continues here. Three (similar) photos of the statue are available in a zip file.

2

Hercules statue discovered at Horvat Tarbenet. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

UPDATE (8/16): The story is reported in the Jerusalem Post.

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Egypt’s Desire for a Statue in Boston

The construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo has authorities seeking to bring back the most impressive items that have left the country. Yesterday’s story in the Boston Globe reveals some of the inner workings in the case of the bust of Prince Ankhhaf now in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It’s an interesting read, particularly if you are concerned with the movement to repatriate antiquities. Unlike some other cases, no one disputes the legality of Boston’s ownership.

In a smoky office a short drive from the Pyramids of Giza, Mohamed Saleh, once the director of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and now the man in charge of the collections for a planned $550 million Grand Egyptian Museum, is asked how much he knows about the bust of Prince Ankhhaf. The precious 4,500-year-old statue, 20 inches tall, left Egypt decades ago and is now on prominent display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Saleh nods, smiles, and opens his laptop. Just a few clicks, and the stoic ancient face pops onto his screen. Four words are all Saleh needs.

“It is a dream,’’ he says.

The dream is the idea of the Ankhhaf bust returning from Boston, where it has rested since 1927. The Egyptian government is demanding the statue’s return, and the MFA has refused.

But this conflict - one of many the MFA has faced over works in its permanent collection - has been further complicated by the recent tumult in the Egyptian government. And while some claims for ownership of works can be made on legal grounds, this one treads on murkier terrain. The bust of Ankhhaf was given to the MFA by a previous Egyptian government, so the current government has no legal case. Any appeal must be made on moral grounds: that the piece is part of Egypt’s patrimony, and belongs at home.

The story continues here, but you must go to the museum’s website for photos.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend Roundup

The Ancient World Online (AWOL) has several posts of map resources this week. The Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations is a work-in-progress by students and faculty at Harvard. The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem has now made available online the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection. For more historic maps, start with the Links page at this site.

Tom Powers reports that you can now walk underground (on the street and through the drainage channel) from the Pool of Siloam to the Givati Parking Lot opposite the entrance to the City of David. He also has photos of the new exit for the passage just below Robinson’s Arch. (The unsightly railing smack in the middle of the first-century street will cause distress for those who haven’t already taken photographs of this historic site.)

The Jerusalem municipality is promoting a “Take two days in Jerusalem” campaign this summer, and the list of cultural events is extensive:

The International Festival of Light, Knights Festival, International Film Festival, Puppets Theater Festival, Opera Festival, Balabasta Festival in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem Beer Festival, Arts & Crafts Festival, End of Summer Celebration Festival, Wine Tasting Festival, Shalem Dance Festival, Ziggy Marley, Infected Mushrooms, Matisyahu, Eyal Golan, Renee Fleming and more!

Arutz-7 is reporting illegal construction activity at Gibeah of Saul.

Recent events in the Middle East may have a downside: “The ‘Arab Spring’ may have facilitated trade of a treasure trove of stolen assets in the world’s art and antiquities markets.”

The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford will be opening new wings for ancient Egypt and Nubia in November.

Amihai Mazar will be giving a public lecture in Sydney, Australia in September.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson, BibleX

pal0700_b

Bird’s Eye View of the Holy Land, engraved from A. J. Marks lithograph, 1880s. Source: Eran Laor Cartographic Collection.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

New Blog: Feet to Follow, Eyes to See

Many of the blogs related to Israel and biblical sites are focused on matters of academic or current interest. The purpose of David Lang’s new blog is to help the reader to connect facts to faith. Lang is the author of the Bible Lands PhotoGuide for Accordance Bible Software and he is currently writing a book, Feet to Follow, Eyes to See. He writes:

Ultimately, that’s my goal in writing this book. There are plenty of excellent books which offer facts about biblical backgrounds, but I want to bridge the gap between fact and faith. I don’t just want you to understand the Bible more clearly; I want you to hear God speaking to you through His Word.

His series “Dotwatch” helps readers to “connect the dots” for readers who live in a different time and place than biblical writers. In his most recent post in this series, he reflects on the difference between what his intense study of the land of Israel prepared him for and the reality he experienced on his first trip.

Even though my in depth study of all those photos gave me a good sense of what to expect, there was one thing those photos could not adequately give me: a proper sense of scale. There’s a difference between seeing a photo of the colonnaded street of Beth-Shan and actually standing at the foot of one of those massive columns. Even if the photo actually shows people standing next to those columns, so that your mind is able to conceive the difference in height, it is somehow not the same thing as actually being there. Getting a sense of scale from a photograph is a clinical kind of knowledge. It cannot convey the experiential knowledge of actually being dwarfed by something and feeling awe at its grandeur. Somehow, this second kind of knowledge is deeper and far more real. I suppose you could say it’s the difference between seeing in three dimensions rather than two.

I appreciate Lang’s insights and personal style. I look forward to following along with him on his journey.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reports on Latest Excavations and Surveys in Israel

The latest issue of Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel has now been published online. Most of these excavations are salvage digs, conducted quickly in advance of a building project. The list of sites is impressive and includes:

  • Ashkelon
  • Bethlehem of Galilee
  • Caesarea
  • En Gedi
  • Omrit
  • Jerusalem: Sultan’s Pool, City of David, Via Dolorosa
  • Kafr Kanna (Cana?)
  • Kinneret: Path around the Sea of Galilee
  • Nein (Nain of Luke 7)
  • Ono
  • Tel Dor
  • Tel Qasile
  • Tel Rekhesh
  • Zippori (Sepphoris)

One report, however, is missing. Last week reader Roi Brit alerted me to the report on “Jerusalem, the Old City, Wilson’s Arch, and the Great Causeway.” This is now missing from the list and the link is defunct. One can still see, however, evidence of its existence in the list of “Recently Published” on the home page (just above the notice of “Copyright Legalicy” [!]). I can only speculate why the report was removed, but given the sensitivity of the area of Wilson’s Arch and the Great Causeway, it’s tempting to suppose that political considerations are involved. The Wayback Machine is not helpful this time.

Arches supporting Street of Chain, tb031600201

Great Causeway near Western Wall of Temple Mount

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

Hezekiah’s Pool is now clean, for the first time in decades if not centuries. Tom Powers gives the report and includes many photos. He suggests that the workers found a paved or plastered floor. (Background here.)

Biblical Archaeology Society has a brand spanking new blog that includes an RSS feed and welcomes readers with a new 140-page ebook entitled the “Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries.” The new site also allows readers (upon sign-in) to control which email subscriptions they receive. The blog is part of a complete re-design of the BAS website.

Olof Pedersén has posted his list of ANE Placemarks for Google Earth.

Foreign Policy has posted a photo essay entitled, “Once Upon a Time in Damascus.” More than a dozen photos from the American Colony/Eric Matson collection are featured.

The work of Gustaf Dalman is being celebrated in a program to be held at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem on August 18-19. I’ve been working on publishing a Dalman project myself but I will not be finished in time for the 70th anniversary of his death.

Restoration work is scheduled to be restarted at the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser) at Saqqara (with photo). The article notes that already a second successor to Zahi Hawass is in office.

The Pantheon in Rome may have been built as a massive sundial.

In recent weeks, Wayne Stiles has visited En Gedi and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

CBN News has a 30-second video of the tunnel where they discovered the Roman sword and etching of a menorah. Ynet News posts a two-minute video of the tunnel with English subtitles (to start you may need to click the smaller button on the right side of the screen).

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hyraxes a Nuisance in Israel

What some people view as cute critters are becoming a troublesome pest to others. Hyraxes, also known as rock badgers or coneys, are mentioned in Leviticus 11:5, Deuteronomy 14:7, Psalm 104:18, and Proverbs 30:26. A BBC report describes how these relatives of the elephant and aardvark are leaving the crags and entering villages.

"A lot of people in the west haven't heard of the hyrax, but it's very common in the Middle East," lead researcher Arik Kershenbaum told BBC Nature.

"It's even mentioned in the Bible as one of the main inhabitants of the land."

But, as Mr Kershenbaum explained, around Galilee the animals are no longer behaving in a "biblical way" - making their homes in the rocky hills and cliffs of the countryside.

"They're coming into the villages and eating everything they can find," said Mr Kershenbaum.

[...]

"It turns out that it's the piles of boulders [created by clearing sites for building] that attract the hyraxes," said Mr Kershenbaum.

They make their homes in the underground caverns and crevices created by these man-made rubble piles.

[...]

But early research indicates that simply filling in the boulder piles would drive hyraxes out of the villages and back to the cliffs, just as it says in the Bible.

For more information about the hyrax, see the Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:1143.

HT: The Land and the Book

Rock badger, coney, at Haibar, tb052004807

The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys (Ps 104:18).

Summer 2011 at Tel Zayit

Tel Zayit is a small site in the Shephelah of Judah best known for the 10th-century abecedary discovered in 2005. Tel Zayit is 5 miles (8 km) south of Gath (Tell es-Safi), 6 miles (9 km) southwest of Azekah, and 4.5 miles (7 km) north of Lachish. The excavator, Ron Tappy, has suggested that Tel Zayit is biblical Libnah, though for that identification Zayit is competing with Tel Burna (pdf), only 2.5 miles (4 km) to the east.

Gordon Franz joined the Tel Zayit team this summer and he has posted some of his personal reflections and experiences on his blog.

There were no spectacular small finds at Tel Zayit this summer. The most important discovery, however, was a clearer understanding of the stratigraphy of the site. In K-20 it was the newly discovered Persian period level as well as another phase of the Roman period. In O-19 all indications point to the abecedary being clearly dated to the 10th century BC. If this date is correct, it would demonstrate that Israelites living in this out-of-the-way city were literate and, therefore, not a bunch of hillbillies living in some little cow town!

I’ve heard that the team will not be in the field next summer, but you may want to consider joining as a volunteer in 2013.

Shephelah-Google-Earth

Important sites in Shephelah. Source: Google Earth. For other images with marked routes, see Chris McKinny’s blog.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Tourism in the Middle East in 2011

Tourism in the Middle East this year is up and down, depending upon the country and the month. Best bets: Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. From the Jerusalem Post:

Travel to the Middle East this year was supposed to reach record highs, but the Arab Spring sent the numbers tumbling, as the violence and turmoil kept many away. But there are signs of recovery in Egypt and in Israel, even as tourism continues to drop in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.

Egypt’s Tourism Ministry has announced special discounts for Ramadan (Muslim holy month) visitors, particularly targeting the Gulf states. Egyptian Finance Minister Hazem El-Beblawi told Reuters that the Egyptian government forecast revenues from tourism would total $10 billion in the financial year that began on July 1, compared with $11.6 billion in 2009/10.

El-Beblawi said the tourism minister told him “occupancy in Sharm A-Sheikh and other places on the Red Sea was systemically and constantly recovering. If this trend continues, by the end of the year we will reach the normal level.”

According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, which monitors tourism trends, recovery has already been seen through statistics showing that Egypt suffered an 80% drop in tourism in February at the height of the anti-regime protests, but that by May it had halved to 41% less.

[...]

Syria and Lebanon, on the other hand, have seen tourism die a painful death as Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad’s troops ratchet up the bloody crackdown on popular unrest that erupted in March.

“We would be happy to arrange for you a package that doesn’t take in the risky spots. The hotels are offering very many special deals now,” a travel agent at Syritours, one of the leading tour operators in Syria, said cheerfully when reached by telephone.

The Syrian Tourism Ministry’s “Damascus in August” brochure is offering Ramadan night tours in the old market sponsored by the Iranian cultural chancellery; and a film festival at the Russian culture center.

The alleys of the Damascus suk [marketplace] should have been filled with tourists this summer. Ironically, it was just a year ago that the New York Times rated Syria in the top ten of the hottest places to visit in 2010. UNESCO has cited Syria as the number one place in the world for archaeological sites.

And until this Arab Spring and the bloody, ruthless suppression of anti-regime protests during which human rights organizations say nearly 2,000 people have been killed, tourist numbers had been steadily climbing. The United States and European Union have issued severe travel warnings against visiting Syria and have urged their citizens there to “depart immediately.”

The full story is here.

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Roman Sword and Menorah Depiction Found in Jerusalem

The continued excavations of the Siloam street and drainage channel by Reich and Shukrun have revealed two important objects from the first-century AD. From the Israel Antiquities Authority press release:

During the course of work the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out in Jerusalem’s ancient drainage channel, which begins in the Siloam Pool and runs from the City of David to the archaeological garden (near the Western Wall), impressive finds were recently discovered that breathe new life into the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the City of David Foundation.

A 2,000 year old iron sword, still in its leather scabbard, was discovered in work the Israel Antiquities Authority is doing in the channel, which served as a hiding refuge for the residents of Jerusalem from the Romans at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction. In addition, parts of the belt that carried the sword were found. According to the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The sword’s fine state of preservation is surprising: not only its length (c. 60 cm), but also the preservation of the leather scabbard (a material that generally disintegrates quickly over time) and some of its decoration”.

A stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah was found in the soil beneath the street, on the side of the drainage channel. According to Shukron and Professor Reich, “Interestingly, even though we are dealing with a depiction of the seven-branched candelabrum, only five branches appear here. The portrayal of the menorah’s base is extremely important because it clarifies what the base of the original menorah looked like, which was apparently tripod shaped”. The fact that the stone object was found at the closest proximity to the Temple Mount to date is also important. The researchers suppose a passerby who saw the menorah with his own eyes and was amazed by its beauty incised his impressions on a stone and afterwards tossed his scrawling to the side of the road, without imagining that his creation would be found 2,000 years later.

High resolution images are available at the (temporary) link for the press release, or directly in a zip file here.

SWORD2

Roman sword made of iron used by soldier stationed in Jerusalem in AD 66. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Stone inscribed with five-branched menorah. Photo by Vladirim Naykhin.

UPDATE: An article on the discovery in Haaretz includes six additional photos. (HT: Joseph Lauer)

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Kinect Game System To Be Used in Jordan Excavation

From Popular Science:

Archaeological digs are a painstaking process even after the earth has been excavated — artifacts must be carefully catalogued so researchers know exactly where they were found, which tells information about their past. On an upcoming dig in Jordan, a modified Kinect could serve as a 3-D scanner, making this process simpler — and decidedly more high-tech.

Researchers hope students traveling to an archaeological dig in Jordan will use a hacked Microsoft Kinect as a mobile scanning system, making 3-D models of ancient sites that can then be visited in a virtual-reality environment.

[...]

The modified ArKinect — archaeology and Kinect — would scan an entire dig site, and the data would be used to reconstruct the site in 3-D. Calit2 has an immersive VR system called StarCAVE, a 360-degree, 16-panel setup, which allows researchers to interact with virtual objects. A realistic 3-D portrayal of ancient cookware, for instance, would be a lot more valuable than a 2-D photograph, because it would show more detail and craftsmanship and even help researchers understand how an artifact was used.

The full story is here.

HT: Charles Savelle

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Romans Imported Wood for Masada Siege

A new study indicates that wood for the siege of Masada was not available locally but was imported from areas east of the Dead Sea. From a press release from the University of Haifa:

The Roman Legion that lay siege on Masada some 2,000 years ago was forced to use timber from other areas in the land of Israel for its weapons and encampments, and was not able to use local wood as earlier studies have proposed. This has been revealed in a new study conducted at the University of Haifa, refuting earlier suggestions that described the Judean Desert area as more humid in the times of the Second Temple.

Despite all the historic and archaeological evidence that has been revealed about the Roman siege on Masada, scholars are at difference over the large quantities of timber and firewood that were required for the Jewish fortress defenders on the mountain and for the Roman besiegers. A previous study by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of wooden remains found on the siege rampart showed that they originated from a more humid habitat, and assuming that the timber was local, claimed that this was proof of the Judean region being more humid some 2,000 years ago. The University of Haifa researchers maintain that the wood originated in a more humid region: not from the local habitat but brought from a more humid region to the foot of Masada by the well-organized Roman military supply unit.

The press release continues here. The technical article is available to subscribers or with payment here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Turkey Revoking Foreign Excavation Licenses

From Hurriyet Daily News:

When German archaeologist-businessmen Heinrich Schilemann stumbled upon the ancient city of Troy in today’s province of Çanakkale nearly 150 years ago, initiating the first archaeological excavation in Turkey, he could scarcely have thought other non-Turkish colleagues would one day be prevented from digging in the country’s soil.

Although many of Turkey’s myriad archaeological sites – such as Ephesus, Antioch, Troy, Knidos, Alacahöyük and Hattuşa – were initially found and dug by foreign archaeologists, recent announcements from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry suggest this will soon change. The recent cancellation of several licenses for important digs that had been run by foreign scientists for decades, has precipitated a new debate on how to evaluate archaeological studies.

“Some of the foreign-run excavations are going well, but some groups only come here, work for 15 days and leave,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said regarding the reason for the canceled licenses. “We are not going to allow that. If they don’t work on it, they should hand it over.”

Among this year’s canceled licenses are Xanthos, Letoon and Aizonai in the provinces of Antalya, Muğla and Kütahya, respectively. The excavations had been conducted by French and German teams for many decades.

“What I am told is that there hasn’t been enough study in the area in recent years, that’s why the excavation was handed over to us,” Burhan Varkıvanç, the new head of the excavation team in Xanthos told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The story continues here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Editorial: Biblical Archaeology Today

From an op-ed by Alex Joffe in the Jerusalem Post:

Every summer, the Israel Antiquities Authority holds a reception at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for foreign archeological teams excavating in Israel. This year’s reception was attended by over 200 archeologists from over 50 Israeli and foreign projects, who are investigating sites from the Paleolithic through the Islamic periods. It was another indication that, despite its many critics, the new biblical archeology is going strong.

But what’s “new” about the new biblical archeology?

Part of the answer lies in the field’s sophistication. The majority of archeological projects in Israel focus on sites outside the brief “biblical period,” 900 to 586 BCE. But all projects incorporate scientific field and lab techniques using geological sciences as well as satellite imagery to understand the changing physical landscapes and climates of their sites. At many projects, teams with computers and spectrographs analyze materials as they come out of the ground. At Tel Aviv University, one especially promising lab project will examine the rate at which pottery shards absorb moisture after being fired – a technique that promises the most accurate dating yet.

After almost 150 years of work, biblical archeology has thus moved from a supporting role in theological dramas to a fully scientific branch of world archeology. But for over two decades it has also been drawn directly into the Arab-Israeli and, increasingly, the Muslim-Jewish, conflict. At its extreme, biblical archeology has been falsely accused of being a handmaiden of Zionism, through the invention of finds as well as the destruction of Palestinian and Muslim remains. Israelis and Arabs alike have been bitterly critical of research projects, particularly in Jerusalem, which appear to upset the city’s delicate Jewish- Arab relations.

As a result, the impulse to use archeology to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians (for example, by bringing disadvantaged youths together to work on excavations) has been strong. Some local progress has been made, but overall, Palestinian attitudes have hardened thanks to their relentless propaganda denying any Jewish past.

The editorial continues with a look at excavations of three important sites: Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tell es-Safi (Gath), and Khirbet Summeily.

HT: Joseph Lauer