Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mazar: Seal of Temah Reading Wrong

The Biblical Archaeology Society has a section now that features Mazar's original announcement, the rejection of this reading by Deutsch and Rainey, and Mazar's acceptance of the reading of Shlomit.  The site also includes a high-res photograph of the seal.  The original posting about this discovery is here.  Rainey suggests that this might be Shlomit, the daughter of Zerubbabel, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.

Update (2/5): The Jerusalem Post now covers the story.

Dead Sea Scrolls at 60: Conference at NYU

The Ranieri Colloquium on Ancient Studies

The Dead Sea Scrolls at 60:

The Scholarly Contributions of NYU Faculty and Alumni

Co-sponsored by the New York University Center for Ancient Studies and

the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies

March 6-7, 2008

Hemmerdinger Hall, Room 102
Silver Center, 100 Washington Square East

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Matthew S. Santirocco (Dean, College of Arts and Science, New York University) - Welcome

10:00a.m. - Session One: Rewriting the Bible
Erik Larson (Florida International University) - On The Identification of Two Greek Texts of Enoch
Mark Smith (New York University) - "In-between Texts": Biblical Texts, Inner-Biblical Interpretation, Second Temple Literature, and Textual Criticism
Moshe Bernstein (Yeshiva University, New York University) - The Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish Biblical Interpretation in Antiquity

12:00 Noon - Lunch

1:30p.m. - Session Two: The Dead Sea Sect
Gary Rendsburg (Rutgers University) - Language at Qumran
Shani (Berrin) Tzoref (Hebrew University, University of Sydney) - The Pesharim and the Pentateuch: Explicit Citations, Overt Typologies, and Implicit Interpretation
Alexei Sivertsev (DePaul University) - Sectarians and Householders
4:00p.m. - Keynote Address
Lawrence H. Schiffman (New York University) - The Dead Sea Scrolls and the History of Judaism and Christianity

6:00p.m. - Reception

Friday, March 7, 2008

9:00a.m. - Session Three: The Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism
Alex Jassen (University of Minesota) - The Contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Study of Prophecy in Ancient Judaism
Yaakov Elman (Yeshiva University) - Zoroastrianism and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Joseph Angel (Yeshiva University) - The Historical and Exegetical Roots of Eschatological Priesthood at Qumran

11:00a.m. - Session Four: Judean Desert Texts

Judah Lefkovits (Independent Scholar) - The Copper Scroll (3Q15): A Reconsideration
Baruch Levine (New York University) - Judean Desert Documents of the Bar Kokhba Period: Epistolary and Legal
Andrew Gross (University of Pittsburgh) - The Judean Desert Formulary: A Case Study in the Continuity and Innovation of Ancient Near Eastern Traditions

The school's announcement is here.

HT: Joe Lauer, who says that the event is free and open to the public.  You can confirm attendance with Shayne Leslie Figueroa at shayne dot figueroa at nyu dot edu.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eight Inches of Snow in Jerusalem

From the AP:

A rare snowstorm swept the Middle East on Wednesday, blanketing parts of the Holy Land in white, shutting schools and sending excited children into the streets for snowball fights.

The weather in Jerusalem topped local newscasts, eclipsing a government report on Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.

Men in long Arab robes pelted each other with snowballs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, came to a standstill.

"I'm originally from Gaza where snow never falls," said Bothaina Smairi, 28, who was out in Ramallah taking photographs. "The white snow is covering the old world and I feel like I am in a new world where everything is white, clean, and beautiful."

Jerusalem's Old City was coated in white. A few ultra-Orthodox Jews, wearing plastic bags over their hats to keep them dry, prayed at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

Snow falls in Jerusalem once or twice each winter, but temperatures rarely drop low enough for it to stick. The Israeli weather service said up to 8 inches of snow fell in the city.

By late morning, the snow changed to rain, turning the city into a slushy mess. But forecasters said temperatures were expected to drop, and the snow would continue through Thursday morning.

Heavy snow also was reported in the Golan Heights and the northern Israeli town of Safed, and throughout the West Bank.

The story continues here. You can see some photos of Jerusalem in the snow from previous years here.


New Western Wall Tunnel Approved

Haaretz reports the approval of the construction of a tunnel near the Western Wall. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority has decided to dig a tunnel under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, close to the Temple Mount. Two weeks ago, the IAA denied such a decision had been made. The tunnel will connect those under the Temple Mount and the site of Ohel Yitzhak, some 150 meters from the Temple Mount wall. The decision to begin the dig was taken in spite the fact that no plan was filed to the planning authorities. Moreover, the Palestinians under whose homes the tunnel will pass were not consulted, even though the law grants them ownership over the territory under their property. (Meron Rapoport)

The third sentence should be corrected to read: "The tunnel will connect the Western Wall 'rabbinic tunnels' and the site of Ohel Yitzhak...."  Such a mistake might be excusable if not for the fact that dozens were killed as a result of a similar falsehood perpetuated by Yasser Arafat in 1996.  He inaccurately claimed that Israel was digging under the Temple Mount and 85 Muslims and 16 Israelis died in the riots that resulted

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Survey of Western Palestine

Here's a set I almost never see available for sale (and for many years I have had a continuous search for it going through ABEBooks).  But it's a bit out of my price range, so I'm passing it on to you.

The Survey of Western Palestine, Col. Sir Charles Warren; Capt. Claude Reignier Conder 1881, Published for the committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), 1881-1889 - First Edition (according to bibliographic resources). A set of six cloth folios, being 11. Bookseller: Orr Hirschauge, Tel-Aviv  Price: US$ 4500.00

View or Order this Book:

Of course, if you just want the maps, in super high-resolution, you can get those on CD for $35.  Or you can get the Index for free. Archive Books has the reprint set available for £2,995 ($5,966).


Monday, January 28, 2008

Glass Mosaic from Caesarea

Haaretz has a story and photo on the unveiling of a Byzantine-era glass mosaic from the Bird Palace.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has restored a unique 1,400-year-old glass mosaic, which was discovered in 2005 during excavation of the ancient Bird Palace in Caesarea, Haaretz has learned.

Yael Gurin-Rosen, head of the IAA's glass department, said that the mosaic panel is the first of its kind to be excavated in Israel, and due to the quality of its preservation, given its age, and its gleaming, gilded craftsmanship indicating Christian origins, it is most likely the only one in the world.

You can read the rest and see the photo here.

HT: Yehuda Group.

Update: Joe Lauer sends along two related articles, one from the AP and one from the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Both have nice photos.

Update #2: has a short video showing the glass mosaic.  There is some confusion in terminology - this is a glass mosaic found in the "Palace of the 'Bird Mosaic.'"  The palace has many mosaics, some of which are birds, and which you can see from above at 15-20 seconds into the video.  The photos below are from this palace.

  Caesarea Byzantine mansion mosaic, tb011006326

 Caesarea Byzantine mansion mosaic, peacock, tb011006334

 Caesarea Byzantine mansion mosaic, dog, tb011006336

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Renfrew on "The Dawn of Civilization"

The Scotsman has an interesting preview of an upcoming lecture by Colin Renfrew.  The article is entitled, "Cemetery Looting Robs Archaeologists of DNA Link to Past," but I think the more interesting discussion is about other subjects.  For instance:

A greater puzzle is why, after Homo sapiens dispersed from Africa about 60,000 years ago, pockets of human culture developed in different ways at different rates. Urban civilisations developed independently in six or seven locations, thousands of years apart, with no contact between the different groups, from Sumerian culture in 4,000BC, to West African in AD1,000.

"It's one of the great unanswered problems of the human story," Lord Renfrew says. "Why did societies working independently in different parts of the world come up with civilisations, including cities, which are in some ways quite similar?

"For a long time, archaeologists assumed there was a diffusion of cultures from one area to another. There was even a theory that everything emerged from ancient Egypt, and wise people from there went over the world and built their pyramids in Mesoamerica. But as we get a much better understanding of the archaeological record, it is clear that there wasn't sailing over great distances until the time of the Conquistadores and early colonists, although the Polynesians did make some amazing voyages in their canoes."

You can read the whole here. The lecture is in Scotland on Monday.

HT: Joe Lauer


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Herodian Quarry: To Preserve or Not to Preserve?

The Herodian quarry in Jerusalem (see previous on discovery, location, and photos) is back in the news, as construction of a school begins on part of the site.  An archaeologist notes that there's no plan currently to turn part of the area into a tourist site, despite a previous agreement.  Some portions of the article:

Seligman said that no "concrete" decision has been taken whether to turn the defined archeological area to a tourist site or to set up a back-covering to protect it, adding that the issue needed to be worked out between the Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality....

"We have not been consulted on the issue, and it is unclear whether the archeological site is important enough," said head of the city's tourism division Ekey Bar-Yossef....

The part of the quarry that has been unearthed is likely only 30 to 40 percent of its total size, but archeologists have no plans to excavate the rest of the area because it is private property....

You can read the whole JPost article here.

HT: Joe Lauer

'Ancient' Forgeries

If you're interested in forgeries of ancient works, this article in Spiegel, "False Gods: 'Ancient' Forgeries Fool Art Markets" has some interesting facts.  Among the claims is one that the collection of Elie Borowski, founder of the Bible Lands Museum, consisted of many forgeries.

HT: Joe Lauer


New ASOR Session on Judaism and Christianity

Readers may find this of interest:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are writing to inform you of a new session being proposed for the 2008 ASOR annual meeting in Boston that will focus on the archaeology of Judaism and Christianity in the Roman and Byzantine periods.  The session chairs are seeking papers that present architectural, art historic, inscriptional, or any type of material discussion of synagogues, churches, necropoleis, and/or their associated communities in either Palestine or the Diaspora.  We are also looking for papers that address material evidence for cultural and religious communication among Jews, Christians, and their neighbors.  Reports on field seasons are also encouraged where relevant.

This new session has not yet been accepted for the 2008 ASOR annual meeting.  Before it is proposed, we would like to demonstrate the interest in such a session to the Program Committee by assembling a list of possible presenters.  If you are interested in submitting an abstract for this session, please notify us before January 31 by emailing  We do not necessarily need abstracts or paper titles by then -- only a stated interest and intent to submit an abstract.

Please feel free to forward this message to colleagues, students, and others who may be interested in taking part in the proposed session.  Thank you for your support.


Steve Werlin and Carrie Duncan


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recent Excavations (and Jonah)

If you've ever been walking around Israel and seen a hole in the ground and wondered what they found in it, or where you can find out, you'll likely find your answer in Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel.  This annual series is published in Hebrew and English by the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Since 2005 the journal has moved to electronic-only format, which makes it easy for anyone to access without having to purchase the volumes or visit a specialized library.

The 2008 issue was just published (HT: Jim West) and it includes reports from 11 excavations, some with illustrations.  One of interest to Bible readers is Tel Gat Hefer.  Usually spelled Gath Hepher, this is the hometown of Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet who went to Nineveh after being swallowed by a fish (2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1).  The report not only describes the recent excavations (only one 5m square), but notes that previous excavations "revealed significant architectural remains from Early Bronze II–III, Middle Bronze II–III, Iron I, Iron IIA–B and the Late Persian period."  Interpreted, that means that the site was nearly continuously inhabited through the Old Testament period.  Jonah lived in the 8th century B.C., which is part of Iron IIB.  The Arab village of Mashhad is located on the slopes of the tell and expanding, which will make future study more difficult.  One way to raise support for such an excavation would be to hold out promise of finding at sign at the town entrance: Welcome to Gath Hepher, City of Jonah the Prophet.  In my thinking, such a sign (and probably a monument) existed for Jonah after his wonderful prophecy of 2 Kings 14 came true.  But as soon as he went to Nineveh, the town likely disavowed their favorite son.  The town, of course, was right: 30 years later it was destroyed by the Ninevites (cf. 2 Kings 15:29).

If you're interested in present excavations, you can see that here.

Gath Hepher aerial from south, 122-02tb_psp
Gath Hepher from southeast


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tomb of Jesus, Last Time

About a week ago there was a press release from the Third Princeton Symposium which clearly had Simcha Jacobovici's hands on it (he's the guy he made the multi-million dollar video-claim in the first place). Though I had no personal knowledge of the conference, I could smell deceit (well, it wouldn't be the first time he tried to pull a fast one), so I ignored it here. Others did not (including JPost), so if you were one of those who bought his line that most scholars thought there's a good chance that Jesus' tomb was in fact discovered, you should be aware of the scholars that are denying his claim. The two places to go are the NT Gateway Weblog for a statement by a dozen scholars, and The View from Jerusalem blog by Stephen Pfann that includes the individual statements of other scholars.

In short, there may be a handful of scholars who think that this might be the tomb; the rest of the scholars are rushing to deny the possibility and denounce the misleading press release. For the record, many scholars don't accept a bodily resurrection of Jesus, but they just don't think the evidence that this is the tomb is compelling. Hopefully, I'll never need to say anything else about it here.

Update (1/26): The Jerusalem Post has a lengthy editorial on the conference. The Biblical Archaeology Society has compiled a list of statements from various scholars.

Update (1/28): Organizers of the symposium, have posted a statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website. They note that the conference papers will be published in 2 volumes by Eerdmans.

Update (2/14): James Charlesworth has an article on "Rebutting Sensational Claims Concerning a Symposium in Jerusalem" on the SBL site. Charlesworth was the symposium organizer and moderator.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

"Sounds of Ancient Music" Exhibition

The Archaeology Wing of the Israel Museum is still closed, but the Bible Lands Museum across the street is a worthwhile visit, especially with this new exhibit.

From Haaretz:

Sounds, archaeological finds and scientific hypotheses all play major roles in an exhibition entitled "Sounds of Ancient Music," which opened last week at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Focusing on musical developments in ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria and other cultures ofBible Lands Museum, tb040605644 the Ancient Near East, through the periods of the Kingdom of Judea, Greece and the Roman Empire, the exhibition features 137 objects - among them, rare musical instruments that have been preserved from antiquity, as well as full-sized replicas of instruments from those early eras.

Among other items on display are a flute, fragments of which were discovered in a burial cave in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem and dating back to the Second Temple period, as well as the well-known stone from that same period bearing the inscription, "To the House of Trumpeting to the k ...," in a form of the Hebrew alphabet typical of the Herodian period. According to scholars, this was part of the southwestern cornerstone of the Temple compound described by the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus, from which a kohen (priest) blew the trumpet to usher in the Sabbath. According to the Mishna, in those days people blew trumpets, strummed harps and lyres, played the flute and beat the cymbal. It is written that the sounds of the  flute and the cymbal were so loud they could be heard even in Jericho.

The story continues here and the Hebrew version has a photo.

UPDATE (1/23): The Jerusalem Post now has an article along with notice that the exhibition will run throughout 2008.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eilat Mazar Speaks About Jerusalem

Eilat Mazar gave a brief presentation at the important Herzliya conference today and that is now available in video format online.  She spoke for 8 minutes and the video includes the slides she showed in her presentation.  In the last two minutes, she discussed the discovery of the "Temah" seal, but made no mention of the alternate reading of Shlomit.  If you're not aware of this discussion, see the updates to the previous blog post.

Hebrew video

English video (translated)

Hebrew abstract

English abstract

HT: Joe Lauer and Yitzhak Sapir


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seal of "Temah" Found in Jerusalem

Many seals have been found with the names of people mentioned in the Bible, but it's always nice to find another. From the Jerusalem Post:

A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The 2,500-year-old black stone seal, which has the name "Temech" engraved on it, was found earlier this week amid stratified debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig.

According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Temech family were servants of the First Temple and were sent into exile to Babylon following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

The family was among those who later returned to Jerusalem, the Bible recounts.

The seal, which was bought in Babylon and dates to 538-445 BCE, portrays a common and popular cultic scene, Mazar said.

The 2.1 x 1.8-cm. elliptical seal is engraved with two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense altar with their hands raised forward in a position of worship.

The rest of the article is here.

The article mentions the mention of Temech (spelled Temah in NIV, NAS and ESV) in Nehemiah 7:55, but not Ezra 2:53.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (1/17): The JPost article now includes a photo. And on the ANE-2 list, Peter van der Veen suggests that the inscription should be read the opposite way, thus sh-l-m-t or Shlomit.

UPDATE (1/19): Chris Heard has a good analysis, together with some helpful illustrations showing the suggested readings. From the discussion at ANE-2 and elsewhere, it seems that the majority of scholars favor the "Shlomit" reading. There is a Shlomit mentioned in the Bible from this time period as well, in Ezra 8:10.

UPDATE (1/31): Mazar now agrees with those who read the seal from left to right. For more, see this post.

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"David's Palace" and Contrary Opinions

Israel Finkelstein, Lily Singer-Avitz, Ze'ev Herzog, and David Ussishkin have written an article in the Tel Aviv journal entitled "Has King David's Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?"  Jim West has posted the article in pdf format here (but after Jan 29 here).

The abstract:

Recent excavations at the City of David have revealed a set of massive walls constructed of large undressed stones. Excavator Eilat Mazar has presented them as the remains of a single building, which she labelled the ‘Large Stone Structure’. Mazar interpreted the ‘Large Stone Structure’ as part of a big construction complex, which had also included the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ on the slope. She dated her ‘Large Stone Structure’ to ca. 1000 BCE and identified it as the palace of King David. We argue that: (1) the walls unearthed by Mazar do not belong to a single building; (2) the more elaborate walls may be associated with elements uncovered by Macalister and Duncan in the 1920s and should possibly be dated to the Hellenistic period; (3) the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ represents at least two phases of construction— the lower (downslope) and earlier, possibly dating to the Iron IIA in the 9th century BCE, and the later (which connects to the Hasmonaean First Wall upslope) dating to the Hellenistic period.

Their brutal conclusion:

Eilat Mazar’s excavations in the City of David add several points of information to what we know about the history of this problematic site. Yet, the main find—the ‘Large Stone Structure’—was not properly interpreted and dated. First, it seems to consist of several elements, mainly a rectangular building in the west and the citywall in the east. Second, all one can safely say is that its various elements post-date the late Iron I/early Iron IIA and predate the Roman period. Circumstantial evidence seems to suggest the dating of most elements to the late Hellenistic period.

Beyond archaeology, one wonders about the interpretation of the finds. The biblical text dominates this field operation, not archaeology. Had it not been for Mazar’s literal reading of the biblical text, she never would have dated the remains to the 10th century BCE with such confidence. This is an excellent example of the weakness of the traditional, highly literal, biblical archaeology—a discipline that dominated research until the 1960s, that was weakened and almost disappeared from the scene in the later years of the 20th century, and that reemerged with all its attributes in the City of David in 2005.

Revising Mazar's date from the 10th century to the 2nd-1st century is a huge correction (it reminds one of the 1000-year errors that Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister regularly made).  And this charge is made not in a casual conversation, but in a major journal. But the authors make no attempt to hide their own agenda: they hate "biblical archaeology."  While Mazar is possibly guilty of finding what she is looking for, I have trouble imagining a scenario where Finkelstein would agree with any conclusion which supports the traditional biblical interpretation.  Perhaps herein lies a test: if every archaeological discovery of a certain excavator seems to be of a structure mentioned in the Bible, be suspicious.  But if an archaeologist is able to find a reason to reject every discovery with a biblical connection, he may not be worthy of your trust.

There's another lesson in this debate: much in archaeology is ambiguous, and multiple conclusions are possible.  In most cases, a major issue is not at stake and the conclusion of the excavator is not carefully evaluated.  But there are many, many examples where a site, level, or subject is re-analyzed and a significantly different conclusion is reached.  For me it means one thing: thou shalt not trust in archaeology.  If certain conclusions are the primary support of one's faith, it's quite possible that one day those conclusions will be questioned (before, perhaps, being re-adopted).  Many today use archaeology in a similar way but for an opposite result: certain archaeological conclusions are their evidence that the Bible is not an accurate historical record.  To all amateurs, I suggest a careful consideration of the ambiguity of much of archaeological evidence.  In the hands of an interpreter (usually called an archaeologist), archaeology is no science.

In a blog comment, Aren Maier indicates that the debate is just beginning:

As someone who has seen the evidence and heard both Eilat Mazar present her case and Finkelstien, Ussishkin, Herzog and Singer-Avitz present their counterarguments, I believe that one can say that:

1) Eilat has overstated her case that she has found “David’s palace”. She HAS found a large building in the City of David, dating to the 10th or 9th cent. BCE.

2) From an archaeological point of view, the “Hellenistic” dating that Finkelstine et al. have suggested is to say the least, very unconvincing. This though is not the place to go in to details.

Sometime I'd like to post my own thoughts on Mazar's "palace of David."  I'm not competent to analyze the stratigraphical issues, but I do think that she's made some significant mistakes in biblical interpretation.  And that's from one who believes that David had a palace and the biblical record of it is reliable.

*The article is worth downloading for the bibliography alone, if you're into that kind of thing.

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Slate's Bible Blogger in Israel

BiblePlaces readers might be interested in the recent series "Digging the Bible" by David Plotz of Slate, who wrote the "Blogging the Bible" series last year.  Plotz writes well and has some good insights interspersed with inaccuracies.  Some things he says are disputed, while other things would be corrected if he bothered to run it by anyone knowledgeable.  But this is all too common, it seems to me: those who know often can't write in a way that's compelling, and those who can write usually are covering fields they don't really know.

One paragraph of interest:

It's a eureka moment for me. Suddenly, the wars of the Bible that made no sense on the page are perfectly comprehensible. The geography explains it all: On this side is the backward hill kingdom of Judah. On that side is the technologically advanced coastal kingdom of the Philistines. And here, in between them, is the fortress line that must not break. Standing on this ancient hilltop, looking over a landscape that has not changed much since the Book of Kings—well, discounting the Israeli army base a quarter-mile below—I can see the Bible more clearly than I read it. (Emphasis added.)

But this is what they all say after coming to Israel.  Unfortunately this guy blogged the Bible for a year before he went to Israel.  Perhaps now he should give it another try.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Conference: Burials In Jerusalem

This conference has already started (Jan 13-16), but the program (pdf) may be of interest to those not in Jerusalem.  The full title of the conference is "Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context."  This is the Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, and it looks like James Charlesworth will likely edit a book from the proceedings, similar to his Jesus and Archaeology, which came out of a conference in Jerusalem in 2000.  Presenters or panel participants include Kloner, Vermes, Magnes, Meyers, Gibson, Lemaire, Zias, Tabor, Barkay, Netzer, and many others.

HT: Yehuda News


Tomb of Cyrus to be Submerged

From Arutz-7:

Iran is planning on submerging the tomb of King Cyrus (Coresh), the Persian King known for authorizing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Holy Temple....

The Iranian ayatollahs are planning on destroying the tomb as part of a general campaign to sever the Persian people from their non-Islamic heritage; Cyrus was thought to be a Zoroastrian and was one of the first rulers to enforce a policy of religious tolerance on his huge kingdom. Journalist Ran Porat quoted a young Iranian who said that the measures being taken by the Islamic Republic’s regime include the destruction of archaeological sites significant to this heritage.

“The government is in the final stages of constructing a dam in southern Iran that will submerge the archaeological sites of Pasargad and Persopolis – the ancient capital of the Persian Empire,” the report states. “The site, which is considered exceptional in terms of its archaeological wealth and historical importance, houses the tomb of the Persian King Cyrus.”

The story continues here.  I'm not very familiar with Persian sites or history, but this sounds like it could be one of the greatest destructions of ancient ruins in modern times. 

Cyrus is known in the Bible for issuing a decree allowing the Jews to return to Israel after the Babylonian exile (see Ezra 1).  There is a photo of the tomb of Cyrus in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

UPDATE: Paleojudaica notes that this appears to be a false rumor.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Understanding Ancient Israel (Free PDF)

A book recently published by Oxford is currently available for free download in pdf format.  Understanding the History of Ancient Israel is edited by H. G. M. Williamson and sells for $99, but you can download the individual chapters in restricted pdf format without charge.

As you can see from the list of chapters below, there is quite a mix of archaeologists and biblical scholars.  It is an interesting reality that archaeologists typically are more conservative than biblical/historical scholars.  On the more conservative side are Mazar, Younger, and Lemaire.  Those sometimes identified with the "minimalist" perspective include Whitelam and Davies.  All will be thought-provoking, no doubt.williamson

As far as I can tell, there are a couple of downsides to the offer.  1) You have to download each chapter separately, and each one requires about five clicks.  (It worked a little faster for me in IE than Firefox.)  2) The pdf files are all locked so that you can't combine them into a single file (or otherwise copy any of the text; commenting and printing is allowed).  I'm guessing that the publisher is offering this as a service to the larger public who wouldn't purchase this book.  Some will discover through this that the book is worth purchasing.  It seems like a win-win situation to me, and I am appreciative to the publisher for doing this.

  • H. G. M. Williamson: Preface; List of Abbreviations
  • J. W. Rogerson: Setting the Scene: A Brief Outline of Histories of Israel
  • Keith W. Whitelam: Setting the Scene: A Response to John Rogerson
  • Hans M. Barstad: The History of Ancient Israel: What Directions Should We Take?
  • Philip R. Davies: Biblical Israel in the Ninth Century?
  • Lester L. Grabbe: Some Recent Issues in the Study of the History of Israel
  • T. P. Wiseman: Classical History: A Sketch, with Three Artefacts
  • Chase F. Robinson: Early Islamic History: Parallels and Problems
  • Amélie Kuhrt: Ancient Near Eastern History: The Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia
  • David Ussishkin: Archaeology of the Biblical Period: On Some Questions of Methodology and Chronology of the Iron Age
  • Amihai Mazar: The Spade and the Text: The Interaction between Archaeology and Israelite History Relating to the Tenth–Ninth Centuries BCE
  • Christoph Uehlinger: Neither Eyewitnesses, Nor Windows to the Past, but Valuable Testimony in its own Right: Remarks on Iconography, Source Criticism and Ancient Data-processing
  • M. J. Geller: Akkadian Sources of the Ninth Century
  • K. Lawson Younger, Jr: Neo-Assyrian and Israelite History in the Ninth Century: The Role of Shalmaneser III
  • André Lemaire: West Semitic Inscriptions and Ninth-Century BCE Ancient Israel
  • Marc Zvi Brettler: Method in the Application of Biblical Source Material to Historical Writing (with Particular Reference to the Ninth Century BCE)
  • Graeme Auld: Reading Kings on the Divided Monarchy: What Sort of Narrative?
  • Rainer Albertz: Social History of Ancient Israel
  • Bernard S. Jackson: Law in the Ninth Century: Jehoshaphat's 'Judicial Reform'
  • Nadav Na'aman: The Northern Kingdom in the Late Tenth–Ninth Centuries BCE

Oxford has more on the book here.  The short description reads:

In popular presentation, some treat the Bible as a reliable source for the history of Israel, while others suggest that archaeology has shown that it cannot be trusted at all. This volume debates the issue of how such widely divergent views have arisen and will become an essential source of reference for the future.

HT: Tell es-Safi/Gath Weblog


Friday, January 04, 2008

Excavation Opportunities in 2008

If this is your summer to volunteer on an archaeological excavation, then a great resource is from the Biblical Archaeology Society.  Many digs around Israel and in other countries are listed, with details on dates, cost, and requirements.  There are many good options, but if pressed my top recommendations would be Hazor, Gezer, and Gath.  If you don't have much money or time, check out the Temple Mount sifting operation.  Most excavations are summer projects, but you can dig on Mount Zion in March.

Gezer excavations, tb062806949
Excavations at Gezer, June 2006