Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2014

Gordon Govier has selected the top ten discoveries for Christianity Today, putting at the head of the list: (1) Herod’s Gate at Herodium; (2) Khirbet Summeily bullae; (3) Sheshonq’s scarab.

Robin Ngo has compiled an unranked list of the top ten for the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Looking the lists over, I would conclude that if you’re into spectacular discoveries, this wasn’t your year. If you include the broader world of archaeology, you fare better with the excavation of the Amphipolis tomb.

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Artifact of the Month: Babylonian Chronicles

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

This ancient Babylonian tablet is part of the Babylonian Chronicles, which, among other events, mention the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 597 BC. The event is also recorded in the Bible in 2 Kings 24. The tablet was written in the 6th century BC and is made of baked clay. It is a little over three inches in height and the writing is in the Akkadian language using cuneiform script. It was discovered in the late 1800s in Babylon and is now located in the British Museum.

For those interested in Biblical studies, this Chronicle, which is also known as the "Jerusalem Chronicle," covers the time frame of 605–595 BC and provides the specific date of the first capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC as recorded in 2 Kings 24.

For information on similar artifacts related to the Bible, see Bible and Archaeology - Online Museum.

(Photo: BiblePlaces.com. Significant resource for further study: Lost Treasures of the Bible, by Fant and Reddish, pages 208–11.)


Personal Note: Other duties call, so this will be the last post for a while in the "Artifact of the Month" category. Todd, thanks for this opportunity. MC

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Glass Bracelet with Menorah Discovered near Jokneam

From the Jerusalem Post:

A fragment of a glass bracelet inscribed with a seven-branched menorah from the Second Temple was discovered during Hanukka at an excavation in the Mount Carmel National Park, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

According to a statement from the IAA, excavations were carried out there in recent weeks prior to the construction of a water reservoir for the city of Yokne’am, at the initiative of the Mekorot Company.

During the excavation, an industrial region and refuse pits were exposed which were part of a large settlement that existed in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods, during the end of the fourth Century and beginning of the fifth Century CE, the IAA said.

The excavation’s co-directors Limor Talmi and Dan Kirzne said in the statement that last Thursday they made the findings at the end of the dig.

“While examining the contents of one of the boxes, which contained hundreds of glass fragments that had been discarded in the refuse pit, we found to our surprise a small fragment of a bracelet,” they said in a joint statement.

“Naturally it was extremely dirty, but still, you could see it was decorated. After cleaning, we were excited to discover that the bracelet, which is made of turquoise colored glass, is decorated with symbols of the seven-branched menorah – the same menorah which according to tradition was kept alight in the Temple for eight days by means of a single cruse of oil.”

The full article considers various theories of the item’s significance and includes four photos.

UPDATE: Joseph Lauer has sent along a link to seven high-res photos.

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Bracelet inscribed with menorah
Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Monday, December 22, 2014

New Website for Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh has written a number of popular books  over the last couple of decades, including Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, Women at the Time of the Bible, Food at the Time of the Bible, and How Kids Lived in Bible Days. Her books are well-researched and beautifully illustrated, and I frequently recommend them to students.

Miriam has recently created a new website where you can find her latest articles and blog posts. The website also tells more about her latest book, The Scroll. This work of historical fiction describes the journey of a young woman who survived Masada.

I am happy to see Miriam make her insights more available to students of the Bible around the world.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Michael Eisenberg tells the story of trying to discover the synagogue of Sussita (Hippos).

An Egyptian cemetery may contain more than a million mummies, say BYU archaeologists. No, it doesn’t, and you’re not working here again, says Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.

The colossi of Amenhotep III have been re-erected at the site of his funerary temple in Luxor.

The Harvard Semitic Museum is honoring its founder with a special exhibition.

A new discovery in Galilee suggests that olive use was already in use in the Early Chalcolithic period.

The Book and the Spade features Mike Molnar explaining the star of Bethlehem mystery.

Leen Ritmeyer: Where on the Temple Mount was Jesus during Hanukkah?

How close is the new movie Exodus to the Bible? Ellen White answers: “Their story was so different that if they didn’t use the Biblical names and released the same movie with a different title, I might not have even recognized it.”

Don McNeeley reports on the 2014 NEAS Conference in San Diego.

Our Rabbi Jesus notes a couple of free books on Greek and Hebraic thought.

Heritage Daily lists its Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2014.

This will be the final roundup of 2014. We’ll try to note major stories as they break. Thanks for joining us this year!

HT: Charles Savelle, Ted Weis

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Monumental Entrance Discovered at Herodium

The more you learn, the more you discover how little you know. That seems to be the story at Herodium, as the uncovering of a monumental entrance suggests a more complicated building history than previously understood. From a press release of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:

Archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology have discovered a monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at the Herodium National Park. The unique complex was uncovered during excavations by The Herodium Expedition in Memory of Ehud Netzer over the past year, as part of a project to develop the site for tourism.

The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels. These arches buttressed the corridor’s massive side-walls, allowing the King and his entourage direct passage into the Palace Courtyard. Thanks to the supporting arches, the 20-meter long and 6-meter wide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters.

The Hebrew University archaeologists — Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy — suggest that the corridor was built as part of Herod’s plan to turn Herodium into a massive artificial volcano-shaped hill, a vast and impressive monument designed to commemorate the architect-King.

Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant. This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound, a royal burial monument on an epic scale.

Whatever the case, the corridor was back-filled during the construction of the massive artificial hill at the end of Herod’s reign. The upper section of a new monumental stairway stretching from the hill’s base to its peak, constructed during the course of this building phase, appears to have been built over it.

The excavators point out that not only was the arched corridor covered over in the course of the construction of the hill-monument, but also all the structures earlier built by Herod on the hill’s slopes, including the Royal Theater uncovered by the expedition in 2008, while still led by Prof. Ehud Netzer, since deceased.

The press release continues with more discussion of the site history as well as plans to allow visitors access to all of the new discoveries. Photos are available here.

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Monumental entrance to Herodium
Photo credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Proof for David’s Kingdom from Khirbet Summeily?

Is this the the sort of press release you would expect out of Mississippi State University?

Six official clay seals found by a Mississippi State University archaeological team at a small site in Israel offer evidence that supports the existence of biblical kings David and Solomon.

Many modern scholars dismiss David and Solomon as mythological figures and believe no kingdom could have existed in the region at the time the Bible recounted their activities. The new finds provide evidence that some type of government activity was conducted there in that period.

Jimmy Hardin, associate professor in the MSU Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, said these clay bullae were used to seal official correspondence in much the same way wax seals were used on official documents in later periods.

Hardin, co-director of the Hesi Regional Project, has been excavating each summer at Khirbet Summeily, a site east of Gaza in southern Israel, since 2011. Hardin's findings were published in the December 2014 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, a leading, peer-reviewed journal for this field.

"Our preliminary results indicated that this site is integrated into a political entity that is typified by elite activities, suggesting that a state was already being formed in the 10th century B.C.," Hardin said. "We are very positive that these bullae are associated with the Iron Age IIA, which we date to the 10th century B.C., and which lends general support to the historical veracity of David and Solomon as recorded in the Hebrew biblical texts.

Read on for more details, including the fact that none of the bullae has writing. Dating these to the Iron IIA doesn’t necessarily make them contemporaneous with the United Kingdom (Iron IIA = 1000-840 BC), but the co-director asserts that “our dates for the bullae are based on multiple types of evidence we combined to determine a general 10th century B.C. date.” I’m also curious to know if they’ve identified the site as Israelite and not Philistine during this period, since that alone would be a significant discovery, located in the heart of Philistine territory as is it.

Khirbet Summeily is located 3 miles (4 km) west of Tell el-Hesi and about 5 miles (8 km) southwest of Qiryat Gat.

The official excavation website does not appear to be updated regularly. We mentioned some discoveries at the site back in 2011.

HT: David Coppedge

Photos by Megan Bean (top) and the University of Wisconsin/Nathaniel Greene (bottom)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Video: The Modern Ascent to Jerusalem

Bill Schlegel, author of the Satellite Bible Atlas, has just posted a video showing the ascent to Jerusalem from the Shephelah. The 6-minute video uses drone footage to show the modern highway’s route and the new construction. In antiquity, travelers followed the natural routes along the ridges. Today when we deviate from those ridges, we spend billions to destroy the landscape in the construction of passes, bridges, and tunnels.

For best viewing, change the settings to HD, Full Screen.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

8th Century BC Farmhouse Excavated Near Aphek

From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

An impressive farm house, 2,800 years old, which comprised twenty-three rooms, was exposed in recent weeks during archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in Rosh Ha-‘Ayin before the city is enlarged in an initiative by the Ministry of Construction. According to Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The farm, which is extraordinarily well-preserved, extends across an area of 30 × 40 m and was built in the eighth century BCE, the time of the Assyrian conquest. Farm houses during this period served as small settlements of sorts whose inhabitants participated in processing agricultural produce. The numerous wine presses discovered in the vicinity of the settlement indicate the wine industry was the most important branch of agriculture in the region. A large silo, which was used to store grain, shows that the ancient residents were also engaged in growing cereal.”

According to Shadman the building continued to be used during the Persian period (also known as the Time of the Return to Zion) in the sixth century BCE, and in the Hellenistic period as well which began in the country with the arrival of Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military leaders of antiquity. With Alexander’s victory over the Persian army in 333 BCE he embarked upon numerous successful military campaigns. His campaign in Israel did not encounter any special difficulties and the country opened its gates to the great warrior.

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In light of this impressive building’s excellent state of preservation, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ministry of Construction decided to conserve the structure in situ for the benefit of the city’s residents and the visiting public.

The full press release is here. The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post. Rosh HaAyin is near the biblical city of Aphek mentioned in 1 Samuel 4:1.

An aerial photograph of the farm house. Photographic credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

An aerial photograph of the farm house. Photographic credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Roundup

The largest stone block known from antiquity has been uncovered in Baalbek. Its weight is estimated at 1,650 tons.

AirCamz’s new video provides the best views of Tel Burna I’ve ever seen.

Lawrence Mykytiuk provides evidence for Jesus’ existence outside the Bible in a new Biblical Archaeology Review article now online in its entirety.

If you’re interested in the various kinds of nets used in fishing on the Sea of Galilee, Ferrell Jenkins shares many photos.

Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum recently opened the lid of the coffin of a 14-year-old boy.

Osiris statues have been discovered in the temple of Karnak.

The Book and the Spade looks at Shishak’s scarab.

Most of Syria’s World Heritage sites have been damaged by bombing or looting.

Travelujah describes some of the different tastes of Bethlehem.

Lamb & Lion Ministries is offering its new 2015 Holy Land Calendar for $5. I contributed several of the photos.

HT: Ted Weis, Agade

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Dead Sea Scroll Thieves Caught Red-Handed

Antiquities thieves plunder sites all over the biblical world year after year, but rarely are they caught, especially in the act. The Israel Antiquities Authority nabbed a group of illegal diggers working near the Dead Sea. This press release has all of the fascinating details.

Today (Sunday) an indictment was handed up against antiquities robbers who tried to loot Dead Sea scrolls from the Judean Desert. This comes in the wake of a dramatic capture carried out last weekend by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the assistance of the Arad Rescue Unit. The apprehension of the robbers was part of a complex operation to locate the Dead Sea scroll robbers, which lasted more than a year.

Early in the morning hours members of the Arad Rescue Unit, which were undergoing routine training at the time, identified suspicious movement in a cave in the northern cliff of Nahal Ze’elim, in the region of the Leopard’s Ascent.

Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority were called to the scene and they placed the cave under surveillance utilizing observation and photographic equipment. The suspects were observed in the cave carrying out an illicit excavation while using a metal detector and a large amount of excavating equipment.

The suspects dug in an ancient cave which is known in archaeological circles as “The Cave of the Skulls”. They caused tremendous damage in the cave by digging through layers of earth while destroying archaeological strata and historical evidence from the Roman period c. 2,000 years ago and the Chalcolithic period c. 5,000 years ago.

The cave is located in the side of the cliff, 150 meters above the bottom of Nahal Ze’elim and some 70 meters below the top of the cliff. It can only be reached on foot via a narrow goat’s path on top of rock fall, that passes upright bedrock walls and is extremely dangerous.

The suspects – all young men from the village of Seir in the vicinity of Hebron – demonstrated considerable expertise in reaching the cave by climbing and rappelling from the cliff while using special equipment they possessed.

After observing and documenting the suspects in action, the suspects began climbing to the top of the cliff during the evening while carrying on their back ancient finds (such as a 2,000 year old lice comb from the Roman period) and all of the digging equipment that included excavation tools, break-in equipment, two sophisticated metal detectors, lighting equipment and ropes, as well as large amounts of food and water, which indicate their intention to remain in the cave for many days. Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery awaited the suspects at the top of the cliff. Upon arrival the suspects were immediately caught by the Israel Antiquities Authority personnel. They were detained and taken for questioning to the Arad police station where, with the assistance of the Arad police and investigators, they were interrogated for many hours and gave their version of events.

The press release continues here. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Associated Press, and the BBC. Nahal Ze’elim is located south of En Gedi and a few miles north of Masada.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle

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Looted cave in Nahal Ze’elim
Photos courtesy of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Weekend Roundup

As a dedication to Sharon Zuckerman, Biblical Archaeology Review has made her two articles available to the public.

Now online: G. M. Grena’s recent NEAS lecture on LMLK seals: Judahite Tithes vs. Assyrian Taxes.

Charlie Dyer explains why Israel is safe.

This week’s edition of The Book and the Spade looks at temples (Megiddo) and tombs (Amphipolis).

Where Are They Now? BAR goes back to check in with individuals featured on former covers of the January/February dig issue.

Seth Rodriquez provides a short introduction to the archaeology of Joshua’s conquest.

It’s December, and that means people are interested in Bethlehem then and now. Begin with Wayne Stiles’ introduction to the Church of the Nativity. Then see what else is of interest in the city and environs in this Jerusalem Post article.

Rear Vision looks at the history of the contested Temple Mount.

This is a good week to get some fresh illustrations of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Ferrell Jenkins shares a couple of great images of Tabgha, followed up with a post on fish of the Sea of Galilee with five photos. Leen Ritmeyer shares illustrations on the harbors of the Sea of Galilee.

Three movies being released this month are about ancient Egypt.

A new work from Carta: Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Ada Yardeni.

HT: Agade

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