Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence

I don't have access to the particular guide referenced, but I don't doubt that it is true. Of course, the statement was made in a different day and age. But now that politics are different, so is truth.

From a letter to the editor, Jerusalem Post, Oct 31, 2007:

Sir, - I read with interest "Jerusalem mufti: Western Wall was never part of Jewish temple" (October 25).

The kind of denial by former mufti Ikrema Sadi is somehow disputed by no more and no less than the institution he represents: the Supreme Muslim Council. In an official guide published by the council in 1930, it states: "This site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. It's identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which 'David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings' from 2 Samuel XXIV, 25."

The rest is here.

UPDATE (11/21): Reader Sean Q has located a copy of the guide and has scanned it. You can download it in pdf format here.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Pictorial Library: Romanian Edition

If you've been waiting for the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands to be available in Romanian, the first two volumes have been released (Galilee, Samaria).  The Jerusalem volume should be available next month.  Just in time for Christmas...for that special Romanian in your life. :-)



Temple Mount updates

There is news for three items related to the Temple Mount:

Quarry: The Orthodox Union has new photos online (or if you prefer a slide show)

First Temple Period Remains: Leen Ritmeyer has marked out the find location on a couple of diagrams.  The discovery matches his previous conclusion that this area was within the temple area of Hezekiah's time.

Temple Mount Destruction: The transcript from the government meeting about the bulldozer excavations is now online in Hebrew.  Yitzhak Sapir has made the following observations:

Present at the meeting were archaeologists Yuval Baruch (district archaeologist of Jerusalem for the IAA), Gabriel Barkai and Meir Ben-Dov, as well as Shuka Dorfman, head of the IAA. Eilat Mazar was also invited but she doesn't appear to speak during the meeting.

Aside from their statements on the topics, which are really interesting, there are also some interesting statements by Limor Livnat, who was in the past Minister of Education and responsible for the IAA, and an architect who claims that when the dig began two months ago, he found a segment of the Northern Wall of the Temple, that was covered up the next day.

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Ron Tappy and the Abecedary

I don't think this recently discovered alphabetic inscription has received coverage in the popular press like it deserves.  From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Ron Tappy became a committed Christian in his mid-20s, after deciding to read the Bible straight through.

When he did, "the Old Testament just floored me, and the history of Israel became my history, and I became a Christian in that process. To this day, I have an abiding respect for the texts of Scripture," he said.

It seems fitting, then, that Dr. Tappy's most famous discovery as a biblical archaeologist is a 38-pound limestone rock inscribed with a 2,900-year-old alphabet.

The stone was found two years ago at Tel Zayit in Israel, a dig about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Using distinctive pottery and carbon dating of the soil levels above it, the stone was firmly traced to the 10th century B.C., the time when the biblical King Solomon was supposed to have lived.

The discovery was described by some experts as the most important find in biblical archaeology in the last 10 years.

One reason for the buzz was that the stone suggests the earliest Hebrew Scriptures could have been written down in that era -- hundreds of years earlier than many scholars had believed.

For Dr. Tappy, the alphabet stone also suggests not only that King Solomon was a real historical figure, but that he did in fact have a growing kingdom at the time, because Tel Zayit sits on the border of Solomon's Judah and the kingdom of Philistia, where the Philistines lived.

The story continues here.  The excavation's website is here, but has not been updated recently.  Photographs of the inscription appear to be more sacred than the ark rare but here's one with Tappy and another showing a few of the letters.

UPDATE: Offline there is a lot of information and photographs in this article:

Tappy, Ron E., P. Kyle McCarter, Marilyn J. Lundberg, Bruce Zuckerman (2006). "An Abecedary of the Mid-Tenth Century B.C.E. from the Judaean Shephelah". BASOR 344 (November): 5-46.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ancient Site of Bene-Berak to be Developed

This summer I was out scouting around trying to locate some sites on the Coastal Plain, including Ono, Eltekeh, and Bene-berak.  Bene-berak is mentioned in Josh 19:45; 21:45; 1 Chr 9:14; Neh 11:15.  The most likely location is el-Kheriyah, located about 3 miles south of the modern Israeli city of Bene-berak.  I wasn't quite sure if I had found the right spot or not.  It wasn't for lack of remains that I lacked certainty, but for an overabundance.  Today it was announced that the government is going to transform the Hiriya landfill into the "Ariel Sharon Park."  While I'm not sure if I'd feel honored if a trash dump was named aft er me, I am hopeful that the $250 million project will make the ancient Israelite site accessible to tourists.

The Hiriya Landfill, located between Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv is a mountain of garbage that was used from 1952 until 1998. The government is now planning on transforming the site and the area around it into one of the largest parks in the country.The Hiriya site stretches out along 112 acres and the garbage mountain itself is elevated around 200 feet.

“The restoration project will transform Hiriya from a waste landfill into a flourishing, green park which will attract thousands of visitors each year, providing leisure and recreational opportunities as well as pleasant walks along its paths,” organizers say.

“Today is the opening shot in the building of this incredible park,” said Danny Shternberg of the Ayalon Park Government Company. “We are proud to name it for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was an enthusiastic backer of the idea, advancing the park himself.” Shternberg declined to comment on the unorthodox nature of deciding to name a park after someone who is still living.

The park will contain within it sheltered areas (such as the Menachem Begin Park), open areas, forested regions, agricultural tracts and man-made lakes and streams.

Archeological sites will also be refurbished and put on display. The ancient city of B'nei Brak, spoken of in the Passover Haggadah, lay at the site and an Arab village named Hiriya was built atop its ruins until its residents fled in 1948. Emergency plans when Israel feared an Arab victory in the 1967 Six Day War called for mass graves to be dug in the area for the expected Jewish casualties.

For more, see the Arutz-7 report.

Playground in Bene Berak, tb062807402sr
Playground in modern Bene-Berak.  It's pretty nice for a neighborhood park.  It doesn't have any relation to the landfill, but it is certainly more picturesque than the subject of the story.  Apologies if it makes your kids jealous.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Persian Period Finds in City of David

I was talking with a scholar the other day about the general lack of archaeological material in Israel from the Persian period (530-330 B.C.).  This is especially true for the city of Jerusalem.  Then today I learned this from a reliable source:

Just yesterday, Eilat Mazar found a Persian period layer with much pottery and bullae, mostly fragments, but one with a beautiful 5th century B.C. inscription from the Persian Period.

Mazar is excavating in the City of David, above Shiloh's Area G, on the summit of the hill in an area where she believes she is excavating the palace of David.  When I know more, or when this is reported in the media, I'll mention it here.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

"But I Used the Tractor Carefully..."

The Jerusalem Post story on the on-going saga of "excavations" on the Temple Mount is here.  The abbreviated version follows:

Genius #1: Shmuel Dorfman

"There was no damage to the remains of buildings or artifacts."

Sir, can you tell me if you excavated with a tractor?

"They were under time pressure."

It's good to know that you can excavate with a tractor and cause "no damage" to ancient remains.  This guy wouldn't pass Archaeology 101.  Unfortunately he is the Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Genius #2: Meir Ben-Dov, retired archaeologist

"There were no archeological findings in the ground," Meir Ben-Dov told the committee. "They dug a total of 50 cm. [18 inches] deep and all of it was fill-in from the earlier infrastructure that had been installed."

Somebody should have told this guy about the Iron Age remains from an undisturbed layer that were discovered in this trench.  Ben-Dov is not an honest man.  He just expected that the Muslims would have destroyed it all so thoroughly that no one would ever be able to prove him wrong.  Fortunately somebody was watching "the excavation" between tractor scoops and not all was lost.


The good news:

"The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday decided to ask the State Comptroller's Office to investigate procedures for allowing the Wakf Islamic trust to excavate on the Temple Mount, amid claims by archeologists that the laying of electric cables there in August endangered ancient artifacts."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Material from First Temple Period Found on Temple Mount

A remarkable discovery of undisturbed archaeological material from the Temple Mount and dating to the Old Testament period was announced yesterday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.  This is remarkable for a few reasons:

By all appearances, there was little apparent archaeological supervision of the Muslim digging of a trench on the Temple Mount last month.  That's why lots of people were screaming.  It's not that digging itself is bad, but digging without proper archaeological procedure is simply destruction.

Undisturbed layers from the First Temple period (1000-586 B.C.) are not often found anywhere in Jerusalem.  This is because of later building activities and because of current inhabitation of the city.

No undisturbed layers from any period have been excavated on the Temple Mount, ever.  This is owing to Muslim control of the site and their prohibitions against archaeological excavation.  This dates back to the earliest "archaeologists" in Jerusalem, including Charles Warren in the 1860s.

It has been expected that the construction of the present Temple Mount by King Herod in the 1st century B.C. was so extensive and destructive that little would remain (in stratified contexts) from the previous eras.  The present discovery does not seem to constitute significant material in and of itself, but it certainly gives hope that more could be recovered should excavations be permitted.  Similar discoveries from this time period have been made by Gabriel Barkay in his Temple Mount Sifting Project, but they were not from a stratified context as this was.

Enough of the significance of the discovery, here are some details:

Items discovered: ceramic table wares, animal bones, olive pits, bowls, juglet base, storage jar rim. 

Date of items: 8th-6th century (roughly the times of Hezekiah to Josiah)

Location of discovery: southeastern corner of raised platform on Temple Mount

Archaeologist in charge: Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist

Consulting archaeologists: Sy Gitin, Director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Ronny Reich of Haifa University

The key statement making this an important discovery: "The layer is a closed, sealed archaeological layer that has been undisturbed since the 8th century B.C.", Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archaeologist.

The skeptic: Eilat Mazar, "I think it is a smoke screen for the ruining of antiquities."

The future: examination of the discoveries in a future seminar to be organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority

More information: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with photos), Israel National News (with wrong dates), Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Maariv (more detailed article in Hebrew)

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Wheaton Archaeology Lecture Series

The 52nd Annual Archaeology Lecture Series is underway at Wheaton College, entitled "Ashkelon and the Ports of the Mediterranean." The remaining lectures are:

Wednesday, Oct 31, 6:30pm
Brian Brisco, "The Persian Period at Ashkelon"
Billy Graham Center, Room 140

Wednesday, Nov 7, 6:30pm
Tracy Hoffman, "The Byzantine and Islamic Periods at Ashkelon"
Billy Graham Center, Room 140


Lectures at Oriental Institute

The following lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the Breasted Hall of the University of Chicago, Oriental Institute.  

Wednesday, Nov 7, 7pm-9pm
Allison Thomason, "Banquets, Baubles and Bronzes: Material Comforts in Neo-Assyrian Palaces"

Wednesday, Dec 5, 7pm-9pm
Scott Branting, "Mapping the Past"

Wednesday, Jan 9, 7pm-9pm
Harald Hauptmann, "Neolithic Revolution of the Ancient Near East"

Wednesday, Feb 6, 7pm-9pm
Terry Wilfong, "Anxious Egyptians: Personal Oracles as Indices of Anxieties in the Later Periods"

Wednesday, Mar 5, 7pm-9pm
David Schloen, "Excavations at Zincirli"

Wednesday, Apr 2, 7pm-9pm
Nadine Moeller, "Tell Edfu, Egypt"

Wednesday, May 7, 7pm-9pm
Larry Stager, "Excavating Ashkelon, Sea Port of the Phillistines"

Wednesday, Jun 4, 7pm-9pm
Stuart Tyson Smith, "Death at Tombos: Pyramids, Iron, and the Rise of the Nubian Dynasty"


Friday, October 19, 2007

Online Lectures by Younger

Someone asked recently about online lectures related to archaeology.  I have learned about a couple that aren't exactly archaeological in nature, but may be of interest to readers here.

K. Lawson Younger is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a highly regarded scholar in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies.  He recently gave two lectures at Brigham Young University which can be viewed online.

Biblical Studies and the Comparative Method - Younger's expertise on this is obvious when you realize that he was co-editor of the monumental Context of Scripture.

Finding Some of the Lost Tribes of Israel - Some might be surprised that a Mormon university would ask a Christian scholar to speak on this.  I bet you that he doesn't say that the ten lost tribes are in America!  Younger has written much on this subject.

Start with these:

1998    The Deportations of the Israelites. Journal of Biblical Literature 117, pp. 201-227.

2002    Recent Study of Sargon II, King of Assyria: Implications for Biblical Studies. Pp. 288-329 in Mesopotamia and the Bible. Ed. M. Chavalas & Younger. Grand Rapids: Baker.

2003    Israelites in exile: their names appear at all levels of Assyrian society. Biblical Archaeology Review 29, no. 6 (Nov-Dec), pp. 36-45, 65-66.

But these are also relevant:

1999    The Fall of Samaria in Light of Recent Research. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61, pp. 461-482.

2002    Yahweh at Ashkelon and Calah?: Yahwistic names in Neo-Assyrian. Vetus Testamentum 52, pp.207-218.

2003    ‘Give Us Our Daily Bread’: Everyday Life for the Israelite Deportees. In Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East. Ed. R. Averbeck, M.W. Chavalas & D.B. Weisberg. Maryland: CDL.

2004    The Repopulation of Samaria (2 Kings 17:24, 27-31) in Light of Recent Study. Pp. 254-80 in The Future of Biblical Archaeology. Ed. J. Hoffmeier & A. Millard. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Thanks to A.D. for the notice and the references.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Earthquake Evidence

Scientists have just released a report on a massive earthquake in 749 A.D. in Israel.  The Jerusalem Post article is misleading in suggesting that they just now learned about this particular earthquake, as any visitor to Beth Shean will attest when viewing the fallen columns.  But some more information has been learned based on excavations at Umm el-Kanater in the Golan Heights.

The discovery by Tel Aviv University scientists that a major earthquake (over 7 on the Richter scale) took place on the Golan Heights in the year 749 CE - and none of similar magnitude in some 975 years - means the area is long overdue for another one. So say the TAU geologists and archeologists who published their findings in Seismology Research Letters released to the press on Sunday.

The archeological signs of the earthquake were found at Umm el-Kanater ("Mother of the Arches"), a five- or 10-minute drive from Katzrin and near Moshav Natur east of the Kinneret. The damage consisted of a broken pool of water whose two parts were moved a meter from one another. The pools had been used to collect water for a nearby village inhabited from the Byzantine Period until the middle of the eighth century. The dig site has been open to the public for more than three years.

The village suffered destruction, including damage to an elaborately built synagogue that collapsed and whose stones were fortunately not stolen, unlike those of many other archeological sites on the Golan.

You can read the rest at the Jerusalem Post.

The reference to 975 years is enigmatic.  It probably is a reference to an earthquake in 1724 A.D., but why that means Israel is due for another one at this time is not clear.

Umm Kanatir, db031007598
Umm el-Kanatir
Photo courtesy of David Bivin (March 2007)


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Mount Zion excavation project has just launched an official website, complete with an application for joining in one or more weeks of the March 2008 dig.  You can read about the dig staff, see who is sponsoring the project, read the history of excavations, discover what they found last season, but you'll have to wait for the photo gallery.  As I've said before, opportunities for volunteers to excavate in Jerusalem are rare and this is a great opportunity because of 1) the choice location; 2) the ideal time of year; 3) the knowledgeable directors; 4) the weekly field trip and lectures, and 5) the choice location.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seal of Jezebel

A Dutch researcher believes that she can connect a seal discovered long ago with the famous wife of King Ahab.  From Haaretz:

For some 40 years, one of the flashiest opal signets on display at the Israel Museum had remained without accurate historical context. Two weeks ago, Dutch researcher Marjo Korpel identified article IDAM 65-321 as the official seal of Queen Jezebel, one of the bible's most powerful and reviled women.

Israeli archaeologists had suspected Jezebel was the owner ever since the seal was first documented in 1964. "Did it belong to Ahab's Phoenician wife?" wrote the late pioneering archaeologist Nahman Avigad of the seal, which he obtained through the antiquities market. "Though fit for a queen, coming from the right period and bearing a rare name documented nowhere other than in the Hebrew Bible, we can never know for sure."

Avigad's cautious approach stemmed from the fact that the seal did not come from an officially-approved excavation. It was thought to come from Samaria in the ninth century B.C.E., but there was no way of knowing for certain where it had been found. And that has been the scientific hurdle that Korpel - a theologian and Ugaritologist from Utrecht University and a Protestant minister - set out to conquer.

In her paper, scheduled to appear in the highly-respected Biblical Archaeology Review, Korpel lists observations pertaining to the seal's symbolism, unusual size, shape and time period. By way of elimination, she shows Jezebel as the only plausible owner. She also explains how two missing letters from the seal point to the Phoenician shrew....

But speaking as a private person, I am in my mind 99 percent sure that it belonged to Jezebel," she says after some coaxing.

However, Korpel is not an archaeologist, and her research of archaeological findings is essentially textual. "I have thought about this. But many research fields see important discoveries by researchers from related fields," she says. "I admit my solution for the seal of Jezebel is quite simple. But then, so was the invention of the paper clip."

See also this update in Haaretz which explains why Jezebel is spelled incorrectly on the seal.

If you have access to older issues of Biblical Archaeology Review, you can see a photo of the seal in the March/April 1993 issue, page 28.  Or you can see it online here.

Update (10/11): This Dutch website has a photo of the seal with each letter identified.

HT: Joe Lauer


Monday, October 08, 2007

Lectures in Biblical Archaeology

The American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism) is hosting the 18th and final series of lectures on biblical archaeology at their Los Angeles campus starting next week.  The lectures are on Monday evenings, beginning at 8:00 p.m., and with a cost of $25 each.  The lecture dates, topics, and speakers are:

October 15
Jerusalem in the Days of David and Solomon: What Do We See in Excavations and What Does It Actually Mean?
Jane M. Cahill

October 22
Archaeology, History and the Patriarchs
Gary Rendsberg

October 29
The Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of Canaan in Archaeology, Egyptology and the Bible: What Do We Know for Certain?
James K. Hoffmeier

November 12
Death Styles of the Rich and Famous and of the Kings of Israel: An Archaeologist Examines the Evidence and Arguments
Jodi Magness

November 19
Two Temples Stood in Zion: How New Excavations, Old Photographs, Recent Observations and Ancient Texts Enable Us to See the Temples of Solomon and Herod
Leen Ritmeyer

November 26
The First Synagogues and Churches: What Can We Learn from Newly Excavated Sites About the Beliefs, Organization and Origins of Early Christian and Jewish Groups?
Steven Fine

December 3
Cosmos from Chaos: the Creation of Heaven and the Search for Divine Presence in Israelite Religion
Ziony Zevit

This really is an outstanding program and if I didn't have to jump on an airplane to attend, I would go.  If you have limited time or funds, the four that would be of most interest to me are Cahill, Hoffmeier, Magness, and Ritmeyer.  The last three have great books on their subjects which I recommend to all.  (Perhaps they would sign it if you brought it.)  Those books are Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt ($30); Magness, Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls ($15); Ritmeyer, The Quest ($60).


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Holyland 3-D CD: Free Update

Some of you may have the Holyland 3-D CD produced by Rohr Productions (Richard Cleave).  This flyover program has been released in several versions over the last 5+ years, and is most commonly sold with the Holy Land Satellite Atlas.  A major update is now available from SkylineGlobe.  I haven't had time to play with it myself, but a colleague is impressed with the improvements.  If you have it and want to compare it with Google Earth or NASA Whirlwind and comment below, you're welcome to do that.  The steps to upgrade are these:

1. Install an earlier version (even as old as v. 2).  If you don't already have it, you can purchase the CD with an atlas here ($65).

2. Install the upgrade.

There are more details about the upgrade at Sunday Software.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Short, Informative Videos

Here's a fun video about the new Herodian quarry.  The maker is a cameraman of a more serious production crew, but he made a fun 7-minute video that gives you a good idea of the quarry's size.  The archaeologist, Jon Seligman, is on-site to give a good explanation. 

Some videos made by SourceFlix Productions are recommended, including:

The Beehives of Tel Rehov - includes an interview with archaeologist Amihai Mazar on location.

First Century Tomb - includes an interview with Shimon Gibson inside an ancient tomb.

Temple Mount Desecration - Gabriel Barkay explains and the video shows why this matters.

If you get tired of hearing archaeologists, you can watch the team's two-minute "light-hearted" video.  Looks like they're having a good time!

Recent Discoveries

A friend sends along some interesting news articles:

Archaeologists found evidence that bas reliefs and cunieform letters were painted in the Achaemenid royal tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam in Iran. Among these is the tomb of Darius the Great.

Renovations of a mosque at Luxor revealed architectural elements of an earlier temple of Ramesses II.

The Japanese have obtained permission to renew excavations of (the Turkish part of) Karkemish (aka Carchemish). They have to clear some mine fields, and work is expected to begin in a year-and-a-half.


Bad "Archaeology"

Eric Cline has a good op-ed on "biblical archaeologists" who are frauds.  Entitled "Raiders of the faux ark," the Boston Globe piece exposes some of the "discoveries" made by guys with no archaeological training whatsoever.  It's not only worthwhile to expose such "scholarship" for what it is (and Cline does this more thoroughly in his recent book, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible), but he avoids making a mistake that many do - lumping all religious scholars in with the nut cases.  The article in full is worth reading, but here is an important paragraph:

Religious archeologists and secular archeologists frequently work side by side in the Holy Land. Among the top ranks of researchers, there are evangelical Christians, orthodox Jews, and people of many denominations. It is not religious views that are the issue here; it is whether good science is being done. Biblical archeology is a field in which people of good will, and all religions, can join under the banner of the scientific process.

From reviews I've read, I think I would find more to disagree with in his book than in this article.  A couple of evangelical writers are working on a book debunking some of the "amazing discoveries" made in the last few decades and I'll mention it here when that gets closer to publication.

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O Jerusalem, the Movie

One of the most important events in the 20th century was the birth of the State of Israel in 1948.  One of the most popular books about the ojerusalembattle between Jews and Arabs  was O Jerusalem, a work of historical fiction by Collins and LaPierre.  It is recommended reading for all.  A movie based on the book and with the same title is coming out on October 17 and you can see the trailer here (and the official website is here).  It's hard to tell from a trailer whether the movie will be fair to the book or to the historical reality, and the movie is rated "R" for "some war scenes."  If nothing else, it makes me want to re-read the book.