Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mark Twain on the Sea of Galilee

My earliest memory of a large lake is of Lake Tahoe in northern California, but the body of water I've been to the most is the Sea of Galilee.  Mark Twain compared the two on his visit in the 1860s:

The celebrated Sea of Galilee is not so large a sea as Lake Tahoe by a good deal—it is just about two-thirds as large. And when we come to speak of beauty this sea is no more to be compared to Tahoe than a meridian of longitude is to a rainbow. The dim waters of this pool cannot suggest the limpid brilliancy of Tahoe; these low, shaven, yellow hillocks of rocks and sand, so devoid of perspective, cannot suggest the grand peaks that compass Tahoe like a wall, and whose ribbed and chasmed fronts are clad with stately pines that seem to grow small and smaller as they climb, till one might fancy them reduced to weeds and shrubs far upward, where they join the everlasting snows. Silence and solitude brood over Tahoe; and silence and solitude brood also over this lake of Gennesaret. But the solitude of the one is as cheerful and fascinating as the solitude of the other is dismal and repellent" (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, pp. 375-76).

IThe sea of Galilee, from the heights of Safed, pp2071b
From Picturesque Palestine, 1880s

Sea of Galilee and Plain of Gennesaret pan1d, tb032507719sr 
A few months ago


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jerusalem Quarry: Photos

ABC has some photos of the quarry, or you can watch a two-minute video with relatively poor footage of the site (and two guys who can't correctly pronounce the object of the discovery). has some exclusive photos of the quarry area, with thanks to Aubrey Laughlin for sharing them with us.  Click on each photo for a higher-resolution version, which you are free to use for personal and educational purposes.

Herodian quarry, al092407516sr 
General view showing how the ancients cut away the mountain

Herodian quarry from north, al092407543sr
View showing the proximity of the quarry to Ramat Shlomo

Herodian quarry, al092407541sr
Showing a cross-section of the mountain and Jerusalem in the distance

Herodian quarry, al092407527sr
Notice the trenches cut in the rock in the foreground

 Herodian quarry, al092407550sr 
A view showing where quarrying activity ended.

  Herodian quarry, al092407555sr 
You can easily see where the rocks were extracted

Herodian quarry, al092407538sr
A trench made in order to extract the stone

Next challenge: Identify the stones removed from this quarry (bonus points if you can put each one back in its original location!).

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Jerusalem Quarry: The Location

I have been asked where exactly the quarry was located.  Here are two maps from Google Earth that show the area of the quarry, about 2 miles (3 km) north of the Old City.  You can click on each for a larger view.

General view.  Note the highway to the east of the quarry is similar to the ancient route (known sometimes as the Central Ridge Route or the Road of the Patriarchs).

Closer view, which will be helpful if you're in the neighborhood and want to see it yourself.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

NEAEH Update Volume Status

It seems like it has been years that rumor has been circulating that a fifth "update" volume is due out for the New Encyclopedia of neaehArchaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (NEAEH).  Word  from the Israel Exploration Society today is that the volume "will not be released before the beginning of next year."  I guess that means that it can be anytime after January 2008.  Which guarantees that it will need a significant update by the time it first appears.  That's true for many published and delayed works, but especially true in the archaeology of Israel.  (You can still get the four-volume set at Eisenbrauns for the great price of $150).


Jordan Gives Money for Temple Mount

Haaretz reports:

Jordan will allocate 1.113 million Jordanian Dinars ($1.5 million dollars) to the Jordan Hashemite Fund for the Reconstruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, King Abdullah II announced yesterday during a meeting of the trustees of the new fund...

The fund will pay for a new fire detection system that will be installed in the complex of mosques, as well as a modern fire suppression system.

In addition, the fund will acquire a fire truck that will be stationed near the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A team in charge of preserving mosaics and antiquities will also undergo further training at the expense of the new fund.

Jordan's decision to intensify its role in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex stems in part from the presence of other Arab interest groups that have made increasing inroads there.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quarry of Temple Mount Discovered

Archaeologists in Jerusalem have made a significant discovery of one of the quarries used in the construction of Herod's Temple Mount.  Located 3 miles (4 km) northwest of the Old City, the 1.25-acre quarry has remains of massive stones measuring 9-25 feet (3-8 m) long, comparable to the stones visible in the Western Wall today.  The quarry is located near the main road coming from the north and at an elevation that is 250 feet (80 m) higher than the Temple Mount, making it an ideal location for quarrying activity.  Coins and pottery found in the quarry help to secure the date of its use to the 1st century B.C.  The story is carried by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Arutz-7.

Photo below: Another quarry that many believe was used by Herod's crews is the so-called "Solomon's Quarries," near the Damascus Gate of the Old City.

Solomon's Quarries, tb051706274
"Solomon's Quarries"

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Turkey Trip for College Profs

If you're a college professor or other tour group leader, you might be interested in this familiarization tour to Turkey in March.  This came via Mark Wilson, who has led two college/seminary groups this year that I recommended.  Both were delighted with their trips.  It's not clear to me if he is apart of this trip or not, but here are the details they sent:

Dear Professors, Colleagues, and Group Leaders,

We are currently taking sign ups for the MARCH 7-15, 2008 FAM. TRIP! The March familiarization trip is for professors who are bringing or would like to bring a group to Turkey and want to come beforehand to do the tour. This is very limited space because of the special price.  The professor price of $1,095 is land, airfare & tax inclusive, based on double occupancy, with airfare from New York, JFK. The cost of a single room is $1,390 per person. Please ask for our spouse rate. Participants of this trip are responsible for their own transport to and from JFK. If you are interested in signing up for this trip please contact me for further details.

We are also exciting for Tutku Tours’ Newest programs; January Trips, Study Abroad Programs and of course our Ephesus Meeting May 2008, in which we will have many wonderful groups and fascinating speakers.  We customize all of our groups’ itineraries to fit their needs. Please ask for any brochures or further details.

We hope to meet you AT OUR BOOTH in San Diego, November 14-16, at ETS (booth #216), and November 17-20, at AAR & SBL, (booth #737).  We will also be offering additional meetings slide show presentations, The Seven Churches, and the Footsteps of St. Paul in Asia Minor.  ETS additional meeting, date and time will be announced and the SBL additional meeting is Sunday, November 18 from 4:00- 6:30 pm. 

We look forward to discussing your future plans for travel in Turkey, as well as our other destinations Greece, Israel, Egypt, Ukraine, and Northern Cypress.

Attached, you will find the inaugural issue of the latest news of Biblical Turkey, in the ‘Asia Minor Report’ newsletter, put together by Dr. Mark Wilson. We hope it is of interest to all of the scholars that we work with!

We have great references from other college and university groups, which we would be happy to share with you!

Please let me know if I can help answer any questions you may have. We look forward to seeing you and your groups here in 2008!

Best Regards,
Erin Dailey
Director of Operations
Ephesus Meeting

Tutku Tours

After a trip to Israel, Turkey is the place to go.  You need more than a week, but this is just the familiarization trip to get you to come back for a longer time with a lot of people.

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Israeli Court on Temple Mount Destruction

A legal attempt to stop the Temple Mount destruction was met with more governmental corruption today.  A five-minute video by Arutz-7 describes how the court chose to meet behind closed doors without allowing the participation of the plaintiffs.  If there's a case for allowing Muslim destruction of Jewish antiquities, it should be made publicly and not hidden behind the skirts of political cowards.

UPDATE (9/21): The Jerusalem Post has a written version of the story here.  Key quotation:

"It is more than clear that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed the Antiquities Authority to cooperate with the Wakf and conceal the damage to antiquities being done during the infrastructure work at the site," said Hebrew University archeologist and leading Temple Mount expert Dr. Eilat Mazar.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book: Flights into Biblical Archaeology

This looks like fun. The description is from a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority:

Albatross Aerial Photography Ltd – the photographer Dubi Tal and pilot Moni Haramati – has published a new book in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority: Flights into Biblical Archaeology, which combines aerial and land photographs of the sites together with photographs of ancient artifacts and artistic creations that have not yet been made public. The unique texts that accompany the photographs were written by Shimon Gibstalon, professor of archaeology at the University of North Carolina.

The book Flights into Biblical Archaeology is a journey into the colorful past of the Land of Israel; a journey across thousands of years of history which is both a visual and spiritual experience.

The breathtaking aerial photographs allow the reader to participate in the experience of exposing the past and discovering details and meanings which can no longer been seen by the eye of the observer on the ground. While at the same time the special stories of the archaeological sites that conceal the historical secrets of the country are laid out before the reader.

In addition to their aesthetic value, the pictures provide a great deal of important information about the archaeological compounds and the environment in which they are located. Next to each site mentioned in the book is a map with a dot that denotes its location and provides the reader with a point of reference relative to the site.

The book, which was conceived and edited by Dubi Tal, is a sort of a professional encyclopedia on the one hand, and popular photographic album on the other, which the reader can easily use. It is meant for the general public and is an asset worthy of lovers of artistic photography, scholars and professional people, as well as tourists and the simply inquisitive.

256 pages
Price: 160 NIS ($38; shipping is $5-10)
Available for purchase at the Israel Antiquities Authority website and by telephone: +972-2-6204611

UPDATE (10/9): You can now get the book from Eisenbrauns a bit faster and cheaper.

Photos from Temple Mount "Dig"

The Biblical Archaeology Society has some new photos from the Temple Mount Excavation Destruction. It's not unbelievable that the Muslim authorities of the Temple Mount would do this; it's unbelievable that the Israelis would allow it.

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Egyptian Fortress Discovered in Israel

An interesting discovery was made in the southwestern area of Israel on the edge of the Nahal Besor not far from the Gaza Strip.  Qubur el-Walaydah has the remains of a early Iron Age Philistine farming village.  Beneath it, excavators from Ben Gurion University discovered a large, well-preserved Egyptian settlement from the Late Bronze Age.  The article refers to what they found as an "Egyptian residence," suggesting that it is similar to other such buildings found at Aphek and Beth Shean.  For more, see the Jerusalem Post.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mount Zion - New Excavations

Excavations were resumed in June on Mount Zion after a long hiatus (since 2000).  The "Mount Zion Archaeological Expedition is directed by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor and looks very promising.  After only five days of fieldwork this summer, they report the discovery of:

  • Well-preserved houses from the 1st century A.D.
  • Clear abandonment of the area during the Late Roman period (c.70-330 A.D.)
  • Preservation of the area during construction of the Nea Church (c. 530 A.D.)

You can read a 5-page report about the site and excavation (pdf, via Dr. Jim West).  Two seasons are planned for 2008 and it sounds like they will accept students as volunteers.  There are not many excavations in Jerusalem that are open to volunteers, so you might want to see what you can do to get in on this one.  I can personally testify that working in an excavation with Shimon Gibson is interesting and rewarding.

Mt Zion and Hinnom Valley aerial from se, tb010703
Mount Zion from southeast

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Bible Lands Poster Collection

This is probably your last chance to get the best posters of biblical sites in the Holy Lanlogo1d that I know of.  Each poster in the set of 8 has 16-20 spectacular photographs by Richard Cleave. has the "last in existence" for $72 including shipping.  I have my own photos, but you can't print them this cheap, so I bought the poster set and recommend it to others.  If you don't want to plaster your house with these, they could be ideal for a church or school classroom or hallway.  Before you order, you can see exactly what you're getting.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Archaeologists Talk about Temple Mount Destruction

A couple of Jerusalem archaeologists have audio interviews/conference calls online.  A 34-minute conference call with Gabriel Barkay is at  Eilat Mazar is interviewed by Arutz-7 (direct link here; doesn't seem to work in Firefox; 15 min. long).

On another subject, Ehud Netzer talks about his discovery of Herod's tomb here (audio version here).

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First Century Drain Found in Jerusalem

Haaretz reports:

A 70-meter-long segment of Jerusalem's central drain dating from the Second Temple period was discovered Sunday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The segment is located between the Temple Mount and the Pool of Siloam. It apparently was part of a long drain that spanned from the Western Wall to the Kidron River, near the Dead Sea.

The drain stretched underneath the Old City's main street, and cleared rainwater from the areas now known as the Jewish Quarter and the western section of City of David, as well as the Temple Mount, before the city's destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 C.E.

The excavation, conducted by the Antiquities Authority in conjunction with City of David Foundation, also found shards and coins from the period. The drain is made of massive slabs of stone, and is about three meters high and one meter wide.

The archeologists professors Roni Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukrun from the Antiquities Authority, who are in charge of the excavation, say that the land that accumulated during 2000 years of landslides required them to dig 10 meters deep in order to reach ancient Jerusalem's main street.

"According to Josephus, the historian who recorded the siege, occupation and destruction of Jerusalem, people found refuge in the drain until they managed to escape through the city's southern gate," they said.

The northern segment of the drain,  which is yet to be dug up, is believed to reach the Western Wall area, where another major drain was previously found. The archeologists assume that they are both part of the same drain.

Drains have been found in Jerusalem before, including other segments of this same drain.  But if the word "drain" doesn't excite you, it may be because you missed the size of what they found.  The drain they uncovered was 70 meters (220 ft) long, 3 meters (10 ft) high and 1 meter (3 ft) wide.

The article doesn't state exactly where the drain is located, but Reich and Shukrun have excavated in two areas in recent years that are possibilities.  I think location B, depicted on the aerial photo, is more likely.  Earlier excavations and photos of this area were included in the February issue of the BiblePlaces Newsletter (not online, but see Leen Ritmeyer's blog for a photo from it).

Temple Mount and City of David aerial from sw, tb q010703 

UPDATE: The AP article includes a photograph of the channel (HT: Joseph Lauer).  Very impressive.  The masonry on that drain is better than the masonry of most people's houses in Jerusalem today.

UPDATE (9/10): Some of the artifacts found in the excavation are displayed in this photograph.

UPDATE (9/11): The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Loan Siloam Inscription: Don't Believe It

I read this story yesterday in the Washington Times and ignored it, because I thought it was in error.  I've since seen it mentioned in blogs online as if the story was credible.  Jay Bushinsky of the Washington Times begins his report:

An ancient inscription memorializing Jerusalem's salvation from Assyrian invaders 2,700 years ago is to be returned to the Holy Land from Turkey for study and public display.  Israel has been trying for about 20 years to recover the artifact, which marks one of the most important turning points in Hebrew history.

I think this story is bogus for the following reasons:

1. No one else is reporting this.  I hardly think that the Washington Times knows something that no one else does.  You can check online news sources easily by searching for "Siloam Inscription" at Google News (here is that link).

2. A story like this would be broken by the Israel Museum or a major government agency, and not only are they not mentioning it, the WT story does not cite them.  The story is long, but the length is deceptive as only the first sentence mentions the return. 

3. About a month ago, various news outlets reported some discussion of the matter.  The essence of the story was that a Turkish official agreed to consider some sort of loan.  In the Middle East, such "consideration" is a far cry from a decision.  And a decision is very different than action.  In other words, this isn't "news" until the inscription is sitting in Jerusalem.

What I think happened is that this reporter read some of those stories too quickly and wrote an article based on a misunderstanding.

By the way, if you want to take a picture of the inscription, don't wait until it comes to Jerusalem.  The Israeli authorities won't allow it, I'm certain.  You'll do better to go visit it in Istanbul, where you can take pictures.  Which is far better anyway, because there are so many great artifacts on display that won't be coming to Jerusalem on loan.  There would be a certain irony as well if the Siloam Inscription came to Jerusalem the next couple of years, as hundreds of the best archaeological finds in Israel are locked up out of sight of visitors.

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Buy Land in Israel

In the category of "why-didn't-I-think-of-that," the "Israel Land Development Corporation" is now offering plots of land in Israel for sale online.  Without leaving the comfort of your own home or having to sign closing papers, you can own some of the Holy Land "forever."  The details are here, but before you punch in your credit card details to pay $118 for that one square foot of dirt, know that I personally have a special going on right now.  For only $99, I will send you a better map than they are offering, and a much more beautiful certificate.  Just mail me a check and there will be lots of warm fuzzy feelings of "joy and pride."  If you don't feel them, I will.


An Archaeologist Describes Temple Mount Destruction

Joseph Lauer sent along a list of recent articles describing the on-going destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount.  That list is below.  The one I want to highlight is the report by Zachi Zweig on the BAR website. Those interested in the more technical aspects of what exactly is being found/destroyed will appreciate the detailed information, photos, and the link to a video Zweig took.  For those who don't know, Zweig is the one who initiated the rescue dig of the Temple Mount debris dumped in the late 1990s (under the direction of G. Barkay).  These are sad days for those who love Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Other links include:
Arutz Sheva -
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Policeman Assaulted Trying to Stop Illegal Temple Mount Dig
Arutz Sheva -
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Archaeologists Issue Urgent Warnings Against Temple Mount Dig A video of the excavation by a tractor is available at the Arutz Sheva site.
The Jerusalem Post Online Edition
Friday, August 31, 2007 0:23 - Updated Aug 31, 2007 0:23
Archaeologists: Muslim dig damaged Temple wall
AFP [c. Friday, 8/31/07]
Doubts over 'second temple remains' in Jerusalem [English] [Hebrew, with pictures and captions] [Hebrew, the section concerning the new artifacts discovered in sifting through earth removed from the Temple Mount] Ha'aretz English Language Edition Friday, August 31, 2007 (Last update - 11:28 31/08/2007)
Archaeologists: Waqf dig endangering relics that may have been part of Temple
The Associated Press [c. Saturday, 9/1/07] Jerusalem Holy Site Dig Questioned There are seven enlargeable pictures (with captions) at the site.
The Voice of America
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Israeli Archaeologists Say Muslims Damaged Relics at Jerusalem Holy Site Robert Berger's report can be heard (and downloaded) at and both can be clicked on at the VOA site.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Muslims caught red-handed destroying Temple artifacts Archaeologists kept out as WND obtains photo of pulverized antiquities at Judaism's holiest site
Arutz Sheva -
Monday, September 3, 2007
Remnants of the Second Temple Being Destroyed by Islamic Wakf A video of the excavation by a tractor and a still picture are available at the Arutz Sheva site.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Muslims bar WND from Temple dig
Archaeologists kept out as Islamic custodians pulverize antiquities A video of WND's Aaron Klein being barred from the trench site on the Temple Mount may be viewed at

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Excavations in West Bank

The Jerusalem Post reports on the number of excavations that have taken place in the West Bank or Gaza Strip since 1967.

About 15 percent of the total number of archaeological excavations conducted in Israel over the past 40 years took place across the Green Line, a study released Wednesday showed.

The Tel Aviv University study reveals that approximately 1500 excavations had been carried out at some 900 different sites across the Green Line over the last four decades, which comes to about 15% of the total number of excavations conducted in Israel during that time.

The study, by Dr. Rafi Greenberg and Adi Keinan of the university's Department of Archeology and Near Eastern studies, found that the peak of academic involvement in the excavation of east Jerusalem occurred in the first decade following the unification of the city in 1967, while the height of academic activity in the West Bank came between the rise of the Likud to power in 1977 and the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987.

A few points of interest from this brief article:

1. Many of the sites related to Israel's ancient history are located in the West Bank, and 15% is a very small number for such an important area.  There is much to be done here, and it won't happen if Israelis do not have access because a) there are not many Palestinian archaeologists; b) the Palestinian people are largely uninterested in sites related to Jewish history.

2. The article doesn't give the total number of excavations in Israel since 1967, but there apparently have been 10,000 (1500/.15).

3. Israeli archaeologists should be hailed for studying these sites and gaining much knowledge from them, instead of being vilified as "occupiers."  Some of the important Israeli excavations in this area include Herodium, Shiloh, Jericho (Tulul abu el-Alayiq), Mt. Gerizim, and Mamre.  Sites that need more excavation include Samaria, Tirzah (Tell el-Farah North), Bethel and vicinity, Tekoa, and Jericho (Tell es-Sultan).


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Temple Mount "Excavation" Update

Leen Ritmeyer has posted his thoughts on exactly what wall has been uncovered in the illegal excavations.  Most scholars of his caliber wouldn't take the time to explain things so clearly for us mere mortals.  Thank you, Leen.  Read it here.

Arutz-7 gives the take of another archaeologist on what has been revealed:

Gideon Charlap, a top Jerusalem architect and Temple Mount expert, told Arutz-7 what he saw when he visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday: "The Arabs there are digging a deep north-to-south trench, up to a meter [1.1 yards] deep.  It is being dug in the area that served during Holy Temple times as the Ezrat Nashim [the area known as the Women's Courtyard, though it was not reserved only for women -ed.].  The trench passes through three east-to-west walls, according to my calculations - walls that probably served as separations for the Temple's offices and the like.  This means that the destruction is tremendous..."

The award for the Joke of the Day goes to Mufti Mohammed Hussein, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem.  "We don't harm the antiquities, we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them," he said.

Jerusalem archaeologist Eilat Mazar:

"No other country in the world would allow such grave damage to its most precious archaeological treasures," Mazar said

I wonder if there are any parallels to this situation.  What other country would not be screaming bloody murder at such a situation?

Dr. Eilat Mazar:

Anyone can realize that remnants of both the First and Second Temples are there, and can guess what damage is being done by the tractor.  The most precious findings are just rolling around there and are available to be found - and instead they have a tractor there!  If I would try to work with a tractor at one of my digs, the Antiquities Authority would stop me immediately!  With a tractor, it's impossible to make any type of careful examination of the earth and pieces being dug up.

Imagine if Ben-Tor brought a tractor to speed things up at Hazor, or if Maeir used one at Gath.  Can you not imagine that the IAA would shut the dig down in seconds?  But not here, at the most important archaeological site in the country.  And why not?  Politics.  It's much easier to sacrifice thousands of years of history for the sake of a few minutes of peace.

This would all be so much simpler if we took the viewpoint of Palestinian worshipper Ismael Ramadan.

"I grew up and I see [with] my eyes and I see this is [a] mosque. I don't see [a] temple," he said.

Like many Palestinians, he believes the temples never existed.

"It's not true," he said.  "No Temple."

Gabriel Barkay has been sifting debris from the last major illegal excavation on the Temple Mount, and some of the discoveries were announced yesterday at the eighth annual City of David archaeological conference.

The project, now in its third year, entails scrutinizing truckloads of earth removed by the Waqf in 1999.

Among the ancient finds were numerous stone tiles intended for flooring, some of which have been identified as designed for use in the Roman-era mosaic work known as opus sectile, in which colorful tiles were cut into shapes and fitted into geometric patterns.

"The discovery of stone tiles used in opus sectile flooring in [earth from] the Temple Mount is one of the most important discoveries of the dirt-sifting work," Barkai said, "and it might aid in reconstructing the appearance and character of the Temple's outer courtyard."

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