Thursday, November 29, 2007

More on "Nehemiah's Wall"

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post finally reported on the discovery of "Nehemiah's wall" first announced several weeks ago.  Today the AP has a report.  Most of the material is similar to what was reported before, but the Jerusalem Post says that not only the tower but the wall as a whole is from the time of Nehemiah.  That would be a significant development, because the wall is large and easily visible to tourists.  The AP version quotes two scholars with different views on Mazar's conclusion.  Stern's expertise is Persian period.

Ephraim Stern, professor emeritus of archaeology at Hebrew University and chairman of the state of Israel archaeological council, corroborated Mazar's claim. "The material she showed me is from the Persian period," the period of Nehemiah, he said. "I can sign on the date of the material she found."

Another scholar disputed the significance of the discovery.

Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the discovery "an interesting find," but said the pottery and other remains do not indicate that the wall was built in the time of Nehemiah. Because the debris was not connected to a floor or other structural part of the wall, the wall could have been built later, Finkelstein said.

"The wall could have been built, theoretically, in the Ottoman period," he said. "It's not later than the pottery — that's all we know."

You can read the full story here.


First Wall and Palace of David excavation area, tb102306083
Wall (center foreground and below wooden staircase) dated by Eilat Mazar to Nehemiah's time

City of David Area G from southeast, tb091306302labeled

On the picture above, the wall redated to Nehemiah's time is in between the "Southern Hasmonean period tower" and "Northern Hasmonean period tower," behind the "Stepped Stone Structure."


Turkey in Google Earth

I love Google Earth, and with the help of a friend, have located most important biblical sites and many other historical sites as well.  I have hopes of getting them in sufficient order to share, but time has not yet permitted.  (I know that there are places on the web that distribute files with the locations but some that I have looked at are not reliable.)  But a friend just let me know that some of the terrain is Turkey is much improved.  So if you've looked in the past, you might try again.  Ephesus looks great, and there's finally sufficient resolution to see Colossae.  A few more for fun: Laodicea, Antioch on the Orontes, Haran, and Carchemish.  (The links are kmz files which you can import into Google Earth for the site's location.)


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Maeir Urges Caution in Reaching Archaeological Conclusions

Some much of what makes the news from the archaeological world lies on either extreme of the spectrum: either wild-eyed gullibility of some sensational claim or knee-jerk denial that X has any true historical reality.  Adherents of one end of the spectrum usually lack scholarly credentials, while the latter often boasts a boatload, but both extremes are at odds with a normal common-sense approach held by most archaeologists.  Archaeologist Aren Maier has been excavating at Gath and he gave a lecture which is reported by the Deseret Morning News.

Contrary to the quest of many biblical archaeologists in years past, today's "new image" of excavating ancient Near Eastern sites isn't focused on proving that the Bible is an ancient historical document.

Yet there's no reason to shy away from comparing scientific findings to biblical text, either, says a longtime archaeologist.

The challenge is to use caution, rather than leaping to what seem to be "logical conclusions" about findings that go well beyond the actual science involved with high-profile finds, some of which turn out to be forgeries.

That is according to Aren Maeir, chairman of the department of archaeology and Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Rather than trying to "verify beliefs according to archaeological remains," Maeir said archaeologists driven by science are leaving those kinds of discussions to theologians. Archaeologists seek to provide information on what they find in the ground, when they believe it originated and how it may or may not play into theological discussions.

You can read the rest of the story here.  The main points he makes seem so basic that they hardly need reporting, but given the tendencies of the media to cover the extremes mentioned above, perhaps more fair-handed approaches like this should be covered.  As for the ossuary of James, I don't think that we have heard the last word as he suggests.  In the forgery conference earlier this year, most scholars in attendance agreed that the inscription was authentic.  But this point is well-made: everyone must exercise caution before making a sensationalistic identification.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ancient Synagogue Found Below Arbel

Hebrew University announced the discovery of an ancient synagogue this week.  Dozens of Galilean synagogues from the Roman and Byzantine (Talmudic) periods have been discovered, including ones not far from this one at Capernaum, Arbel, and Hammath Tiberias.  Wadi Hamam is located at the base of the Arbel cliffs, and is the location of the end of "the hike" if you've ever climbed down.  Students with me last year who hiked from Khirbet Kana (biblical Cana) to Magdala probably passed right over the remains described below.  From the Hebrew University website:

Remains of an ancient synagogue from the Roman-Byzantine era have been revealed in excavations carried out in the Arbel National Park in the Galilee under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The excavations, in the Khirbet Wadi Hamam, were led by Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and Scholion – Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies.

Dr. Leibner said that the synagogue’s design is a good example of the eastern Roman architectural tradition. A unique feature of the synagogue is the design of its mosaic floor, he said.

Arbel and Valley of Doves aerial from southwest, 123-05tb
Area of discovery from southwest

The synagogue ruins are located at the foot of the Mt. Nitai cliffs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, amidst the remains of a large Jewish village from the Roman-Byzantine period. The first season of excavations there have revealed the northern part of the synagogue, with two rows of benches along the walls. The building is constructed of basalt and chalk stone and made use of elements from an earlier structure on the site....

The excavators were surprised to find in the eastern aisle of the synagogue a mosaic decoration which to date has no parallels -- not in other synagogues, nor in art in Israel in general from the Roman-Byzantine period. The mosaic is made of tiny stones (four mm. in size) in a variety of colors. The scene depicted is that of a series of woodworkers who are holding various tools of their trade. Near these workers is seen a monumental structure which they are apparently building. According to Dr. Leibner, since Biblical scenes are commonly found in synagogue art, it is possible that what we see in this case is the building of the Temple, or Noah’s ark, or the tower of Babel. The mosaic floor has been removed from the excavation site and its now in the process of restoration.

The rest of the story and a photo of the mosaic floor may be found here.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Update to First Temple Period Remains on Temple Mount

Zachi Zweig gives his perspective on the "Material from First Temple Period found on Temple Mount" story.  Zweig works with Barkay on the Temple Mount Debris Sifting project and his website on The Temple Mount Archaeological Destruction has done the most to make the issues known to the public.

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41,000 Cranes at Lake Huleh

Lake Huleh is located north of the Sea of Galilee.  Most of the Huleh basin was drained in the 1950s, but a small portion of the lake was preserved to become Israel's first national nature reserve.  This is the beginning of an article from KKL-JNF (link to specific article down at time of writing):

Cranes have become familiar guests at Hula Lake. During Israel’s autumn and winter months—October to March—there are an average of 10,000—30,000 cranes at the lake every day. Recently, a new daily record was set at Hula Lake—41,600 cranes in one day, as compared to last year’s record of 32,000, a 30% increase!

Watching the cranes is indeed a magnificent sight but besides the food placed for them in the lake area, they also eat seeds in nearby fields and cause a great deal of damage to local agriculture. With the increase of cranes remaining in the region, the importance of the crane-feeding project also increased, including leaving them food in agricultural areas earmarked for this purpose.

Zamir Carmi, field crops coordinator for Upper Galilee, noted that the crane-feeding project is a joint endeavor of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund [KKL-JNF] and other green organizations, but there is a budget deficit of 400,000 shekels [US $103,000], and the farmers have to chase the cranes away from the fields by running after them, playing loud music and waving brightly colored flags.

Lake Huleh birds, 70-21tb
Cranes on Lake Huleh

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Update to "Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence"

I have updated the "Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence" post with a link to a scanned copy of "A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif," published in 1925.  Thanks to Sean Q for finding and sharing the book.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Carta's New Century Handbook

I've updated the post about this below, listing the differences with it and The Sacred BridgeEisenbrauns skipped the Evangelical Theological Society conference in San Diego last week, so I didn't get to see the book myself.  I hope this doesn't mean that Eisenbrauns is losing interest in the evangelical market.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

ASOR Annual Meeting Report

Those interested in the goings-on at the ASOR meeting in San Diego should look at the LMLK Blogspot of George Grena. In his first post, he discusses some of the scholars he met and the first session which was on Ramat Rahel. I'm in town for another conference but opted to not to go the ASOR meetings because of the high admissions fee (and the Biblical Archaeology Society conference was even more outrageously priced). You can see the ASOR program schedule here. Other highlights of the day that Grena noted in a posting to the ANE-2 list are:

2) Interesting ruffling of feathers between attendees at Chang-Ho Ji's paper on Khirbat 'Ataruz (Ataroth?) regarding the interpretation of 2 male figures (homosexual deities?) on a cult statue.

3) A heated exchange between the excavators of Beth Shemesh & Yosef Garfinkel & Saar Ganor of the IAA after their consecutive papers. The former pointed out the lack of evidence for an 8th-century earthquake, but suggested that a burnt layer relates to 2Kings 14:11-2; the latter identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as Biblical Azekah.

4) A 6-line ink-inscription ostracon found at Tall Jalul, presented by Randall Younker--note that this was a surprise change from the topic originally planned--you won't find it in the abstracts program book.

5) A strong protest by Aren Maeir following the Zayit Abecedary session.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Roman street found near Western Wall

From today's Jerusalem Post:

The remains of an ancient terraced street dating back to the Roman Period have been uncovered in the Western Wall tunnels, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The street, which likely led to the nearby Temple Mount, dates back nearly 2,000 years to when the city was called Aelia Capitolina, during the second to fourth centuries.

The site, which was uncovered in archeological excavations over the past year, is a side street connecting two major roads in the area, said Jon Seligman, the Antiquities Authority Jerusalem regional archeologist.

The ancient street is paved with large flagstones and is amazingly well-preserved. It is demarcated on both sides by walls built of ashlar stones.

The recent finding is the latest indication that even after they destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Romans continued to value the Temple Mount as one of the main urban focal points of activity in the city.

Various artifacts were discovered in the excavations, including pottery, glass vessels and dozens of coins that all date to the construction of the street and the period after it was abandoned.

Update (11/16): Link above updated. Reuters also has the story with photos.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Excavator Claims Nehemiah's Wall Found in Jerusalem

A few weeks ago I reported on a discovery of Persian period material in the City of David. In a presentation at an archaeological conference in Israel yesterday, Eilat Mazar gave more details about the discovery. The mainstream press hasn't yet picked up the story, but it is reported on the web at (HT: Joe Lauer). A few excerpts in italics, with my commentary:

Yesterday, at an archaeological conference at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, Dr. Eilat Mazar told 500 attendees that she had discovered Nehemiah’s wall.

This conference was the 13th Annual Conference of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies on "New Studies on Jerusalem." One of the lectures scheduled later that day was by Israel Finkelstein: Jerusalem in the Persian Period and the Wall of Nehemiah. No report of that talk is given in this article.

Adjacent to the palace wall stood a large stone tower archaeologists believed to be built during the Hasmonean dynasty (142-37 b.c.). Early last summer, a section of that tower, which was built on a steep slope just outside the palace, began to give way, indicating it was on the verge of collapse. And so what started as a simple task of repairing a collapsing tower turned into a six-week dig—and a fascinating new discovery.

There are two towers that could fit this description. My guess is it is the northernmost of the two, because 1) the excavation had been working in close proximity to this for the last couple of years, including workers standing on top of it for debris removal and 2) previous excavators had suggested that the base of this tower was originally built in the Persian period. I've taught for years that if there's any evidence in Jerusalem that has been found of Nehemiah's wall, it's here. What's new, then, is the additional evidence to support this contention.

City of David Area G from southeast, tb091306302labeled

“Under the tower,” Dr. Mazar said at the conference, “we found the bones of two large dogs—and under those bones a rich assemblage of pottery and finds from the Persian period [6th to 5th centuries b.c.]. No later finds from that period were found under the tower.” The pottery is what clearly dates the time period for the tower’s construction. Had the tower been built during the 2nd or 1st century b.c., Dr. Mazar explained, 6th-century pottery underneath the wall would leave a chronological gap of several hundred years. Therefore we know, based on the pottery dating, that the tower would have been built three to four centuries earlier than previously thought, during the Persian Empire’s heyday, which is precisely when the Bible says Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem.

According to biblical chronology, Nehemiah returned to build the walls of Jerusalem in about 445 B.C., which is the middle of the 5th century. Thus the dating of this wall would correspond with the biblical record of Nehemiah's wall. Furthermore, it is logical that that the Hasmoneans built their wall (the "First Wall") above the remains of Nehemiah's wall. The dog burials are interesting because 800 of such were found in a Persian period level at Ashkelon. The article does not mention the seal impression (bulla) with "a beautiful 5th century B.C. inscription" mentioned here previously.

Many of the landmarks described in Nehemiah’s book can now be clearly identified today thanks in large part to the work of Eilat Mazar.

False on two counts. Most of the landmarks of Nehemiah's book are not identifiable today (for understandable reasons). And Mazar has excavated very little from the Persian period. Mazar would not make this claim for herself.

For the rest of the morning, Dr. Mazar’s colleagues spoke one after another, each of them picking apart her findings, some even rejecting her conclusions. But the entire morning session of perhaps the most important archaeological conference of the year in Israel was devoted to Eilat Mazar’s work—not her theories, her work.

This is what makes the archaeological discipline so much better than it was 100 years ago, when one archaeologist could make a claim and that was the end of the matter.

And that’s just the way she likes it. As she has said before, in the end, the stones will speak for themselves.

Rubbish. Stones do not speak for themselves. Archaeology is large part interpretation, which makes it as much of an art as a science.

UPDATE (11/12): Yitzhak Sapir was at the conference and would have written an entirely different article.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Israelis Sue Muslims Over Temple Mount Destruction

From Arutz-7:

A group of 150 Israeli citizens have filed a class action suit against the Moslems who run the Temple Mount site for having destroyed Jewish antiquities there.

The suit, brought by the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, charges that Islamic officials have engaged in the deliberate destruction of ancient Jewish relics on the Temple Mount. The indictment was filed in the Jerusalem District Court last week, and Shurat Hadin sources say it is the first of its kind in Israeli legal history....

She explained that the 150 plaintiffs are acting as representatives of the Jewish People, who are the owners of the Temple Mount and therefore the injured party as a result of the Waqf actions at the holy site...

The suit accuses members of the Waqf of intentionally demolishing priceless Jewish artifacts, including remains from the Second Temple.  In recent months, the Waqf has brought in bulldozers and heavy digging equipment for the purpose of digging a long trench on the Mount, supposedly to replace electrical cables.  "Israeli archaeologists who sifted through the discarded earth," the Law Center reports, "were shocked to discover a great number of Jewish artifacts brutally trashed by the bulldozers. A wall from the outer courtyard of the Second Temple is believed to have been completely pulverized."

The full story is here.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Carta's New Atlas

Carta's New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible has arrived at Eisenbrauns.  Because this is a shorter version of The Sacred Bridge, it's been dubbed by some as "The Sacred Abridgement."  The longer volumeRAICARTAS costs $100; the shorter is $50.  The length though is more than half, and I'm sure there's plenty of "bang for the buck."  I haven't seen it, but based on the longer version, I'm sure that it will be a superb resource.

The publisher's description says this:

The object of this concise version is to augment the personal Bible study of all who seek a straightforward understanding of biblical history. Nevertheless, the reader will still have the sense that sacred history came about in a real world, a realm illumined by a multitude of discoveries and studies during the past two hundred years. Furthermore, the geographical dimension of the Bible accounts is being thoroughly presented. Every Bible student may thus put himself in the ancient reality and feel the events as they were experienced by the ancient Israelites and their neighbors.

UPDATE (11/19): Author Anson Rainey told a friend of mine that the differences between the two editions are these:

1) Bibliography and in-text references removed in shorter edition

2) Original language texts removed but translations remain

3) Two chapters on Bronze Age reduced to one

4) Typographical errors corrected

Thus it seems that with CNCHAB you get about 80% of the content for 50% of the price.


New Tunnel for Synagogue in Muslim Quarter

From Haaretz:

An underground passage is being planned in Jerusalem's Old City to link the reconstructed Ohel Yitzhak synagogue in the Muslim Quarter with the Western Wall tunnels in the Jewish Quarter.

The passageway, which is being planned by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, will utilize existing spaces created by archaeological excavations beneath the Muslim Quarter. This would minimize the need for new digging, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz told Haaretz.

The idea still needs approval from the government, security services and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said the foundation signed an agreement a few days ago with Cherna Moskowitz, who owns the Ohel Yitzhak complex. Moskowitz is the wife of American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz, who has been active in settling Jews in Muslim areas of Jerusalem.

According to the agreement, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will manage and maintain both Ohel Yitzhak and the areas beneath it that the IAA has excavated. The foundation plans to open an educational institute and museum at the site, which will preserve the antiquities unearthed by the excavations....

Ohel Yitzhak was built in 1917 but was abandoned during the Arab riots of 1936. It was then blown up by the Jordanians, along with every other synagogue in the Old City, after they captured the area in 1948.
About 15 years ago, the Moskowitzes bought the site. They then financed the synagogue's reconstruction, based on old photographs plus remnants of the destroyed building found at the site.

In 2004, the IAA began excavating under Ohel Yitzhak. The principal find was a giant public bathhouse from the Mameluke period (the 14th century), which occupies the entire site.

Its cloakroom was completely intact, and archaeologists also found remnants of the ovens that produced the steam and the vents that carried the warm air into the baths. According to IAA archaeologist Yuval Baruch, this is the most complete relic of the Mameluke period ever discovered in Jerusalem.

The story continues here.