Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Fifteen years ago, virtually no one could see the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In a few years, maybe everyone will be able to, without leaving their home.  From the NY Times:

In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact....

The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room since they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London. Mr. Bearman is also using a specially made, $75,000 spectral camera that can produce a photographic image of previously illegible sections.

The rest of the story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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City of David Excavation Report

Excavations began in the parking lot below Dung Gate in 2003 and were resumed in 2007.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has just released a brief report on the discoveries from the 2007 season.  It should be noted that this report does not include results from 2008.

Excavations in Central Valley, tb051908109 
Excavations of area in May 2008

The longest portion of the report concerns the Second Temple period, which is primarily the 1st century A.D.  It reports one of the discoveries:

A large impressive edifice, whose northeastern corner has only been revealed to date, was in the southern unit. The eastern wall of the building (exposed length over 14 m, thickness c. 2 m, height more than 5 m) was built of large roughly dressed fieldstones, some of which were hundreds of kilograms in weight. The northern wall (width c. 1 m) was also preserved to a substantial height. The interior portion of the building, within the limits of the excavated area, indicated that the structure was divided into elongated halls, oriented northwest-southeast.

This is what was hailed in the media as the "palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene," though as the 1st century ruler's name is not mentioned in this report, some may have missed the connection.

The period of greater interest given the current discussion of the nature of Jerusalem in the Old Testament period is the section on the Iron Age, quoted here in full.

The remains of the period, exposed in five strata that represented most of the Iron Age, were founded directly on bedrock, marking the earliest settlement in this part of the City of David. This period was mainly characterized in this area by relatively densely built houses of careless and poor construction. The houses, built of one-stone-wide walls, contained a variety of domestic installations. These indicate a residential quarter that existed in the area during this period.

The early phase of the Iron Age was noted for the use of bedrock the builders had employed for setting the buildings’ walls and incorporating it within their built complex of structures. Thus, ‘habitation pockets’, confined between the buildings’ walls and bedrock outcrops, were discovered. This phase was dated earlier than the eighth century BCE, based on the abundance of ceramic finds. The later phase of this period dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE. No building remains from Iron I were discovered.

There are several significant points to note here:

  • The discovery of houses from the Iron Age in Jerusalem is unusual.  In most places, later destruction removed traces of building except for monumental structure (walls, water systems).  The best examples of houses were found on the other (that is, east) side of the City of David in Shiloh's excavation.
  • Caution should be taken before concluding that because some houses in Jerusalem at this time were of "poor construction," all were.
  • Some of the material is "earlier than the eighth century," which means 9th century (or possibly 10th, but distinguishing pottery between the two centuries is problematic at the moment).  This indicates that there was habitation in this area before the expansion in Hezekiah's day (late 8th century) when the Western Hill was fortified.  This should not be surprising, given indications in the biblical text.
  • That no remains were found from Iron I (or Bronze Age; see end of report) also fits the biblical narrative.  The city of Jebus was small and more closely located to the Gihon Spring when it was captured by David.  The city expanded to the north as David prepared for the construction of the temple.

In other words, the biblical account would lead us to expect to find remains earlier than the 10th century in the City of David, remains from the 10th century and later at the Temple Mount, with a likely "filling in" of habitation between the two sometime after the temple's construction.  Admittedly, there are other possibilities, but this one seems quite reasonable, and it appears to fit with the results of this report.

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of the area and the location of these excavations will better understand the last two points with the graphic below, which shows that the excavation area was outside the boundaries of the "City of David."

Aerial view of City of David, tb010703 givati parking diagram 
Jerusalem from the southwest
Click on graphic for high-resolution

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Recommended: Touring in the Golan Heights

The Jerusalem Post has an article about tourism in the Golan Heights, including Mount Hermon, Druze villages, B&Bs in Ramot, wineries and Hammat Gader.

A budding tourist industry, which boasts a ski resort, boutique wineries and posh inns, has sprouted on the unlikely brush and volcanic rock terrain of the Golan Heights, where memories of bloody battles are still fresh.

The Mount Hermon Ski Resort, which peaks at about 2,225 meters above sea level, has some 50 days of good skiing a year, says General Manager Menahem Baruch. The resort draws about 280,000 visitors a year.

Mount Hermon ski area, tb020506986 
Mount Hermon ski resort

An intelligence-collecting radar station sits on the mountain's summit, where, on a good day, a naked eye can see all the way to Damascus. The land is dotted with trenches, foxholes, and a now-empty army base captured by the Syrians in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and later retaken by Israeli troops, at the cost of the lives of more than 100 soldiers.

"The Hermon is not just a ski resort," Baruch says.

"Since Yom Kippur [War], it has become the eyes of the nation and has taken on the significance and importance of a national site."

In 1983, there were 6,800 Jews living on the Golan. In 2005, that number had almost tripled to 17,000, who live alongside 20,000 Druse and 2,000 Muslims, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In the past three years, the government has invested NIS 26 million in improving the tourist infrastructure on the Golan. At the end of last year, there were 17 hotels in the Golan and nearby Upper Galilee, with 1,340 rooms available. More than 48,000 people stayed in the area in 2007, according to the Tourism Ministry.

 Ramot chalet area, tb022107016
 Ramot Resort Hotel

I love the Golan and this article gives only a few of the reasons why.

The rest of the story is here.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rabbis Want to Re-Ban Temple Mount Entrance


Israel's leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis are waging a new offensive against Jews visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Chaim Kanievsky and Ovadia Yosef sent a letter recently to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the overseer of holy places in the Western Wall complex, urging him to reiterate the religious decree signed 40 years ago by most rabbis in Israel forbidding Jews from entering the Mount.

The rabbis' efforts follow the publication in Haaretz last month of the visit of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the son-in-law of prominent U.S. rabbi Moshe Epstein, to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Tendler was photographed visiting the plaza atop the Mount, where the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine now sits, igniting a firestorm of controversy in the ultra-Orthodox community. Several other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis have ascended the Mount in recent years, including Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiberias, the husband of Elyashiv's granddaughter.

The rabbis' statement calls for a complete ban on entering any part of the Temple Mount complex for fear of compromising the "purity" of the area.

The declaration stated that "as time passed, we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies," referring to the inner sanctuary of the Temple tabernacle.

Temple Mount entrance forbidden by rabbis sign, tb122604453

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pyramid Pests Prohibited

If you've ever been harassed, cheated, bullied, pestered, deceived, or nagged and declared that even one of the wonders of the world was not worth the incessant and undesired attention of the locals, you may now have cause to consider a return visit to the Pyramids of Giza.

The monuments may be glorious, but visiting Egypt's famed Giza Pyramids has long been a nightmare, with hawkers peddling camel rides and pharaonic trinkets hustling tourists relentlessly at every turn.

But now the hustlers are gone, as Egypt unveiled on Monday the first stage of an elaborate project to modernize the site and make it more tourist-friendly, complete with security cameras and a 12-mile fence with infrared sensors surrounding the site.

"It was a zoo," Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, said of the usual free-for-all at the pyramids. "Now we are protecting both the tourists and the ancient monuments."

The three Giza Pyramids have long been unusually open for a 5,000-year-old Wonder of the World, especially compared to other world-renowned sites like Greece's Acropolis, Jerusalem's Western Wall or Rome's Colosseum, where security is tight and the movement of visitors is controlled.

The ABC News story continues here.

Three great pyramids from horseback, 89-26tb 
Pyramids of Giza


Friday, August 22, 2008

Conflict Over Upper Room Construction

The Jerusalem Post reports on the legal dispute over the building next to the Upper Room.

An ancient monastery adjacent to where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus ate the Last Supper, has turned into a legal battleground for Catholics and Jews.

Last week the High Court of Justice issued a temporary restraining order halting construction work by a Jewish organization in a Franciscan monastery on Jerusalem's Mount Zion adjacent to the Cenaculum, the Latin term for the room where the Last Supper was held.

The court also issued an order preventing the Jewish organization - the Institute for the Study of the Family and Family Laws in Israel - from moving people in to live in the monastery, known as the Franciscan house, just outside the Dormition Church.

David Bartholdy, spokesman for Tancredi, a Catholic organization that petitioned the High Court, said the construction infringed on Christians' freedom of worship.

"This is a holy place for Christians of all denominations," Bartholdy said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Work being done there is causing serious damage to a monastery with important historical and religious value. Construction workers have already uprooted ancient floor tiling, scraped off a layer of plaster from the walls, broken down antique, chiseled doors, and all this under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority.

"The construction work going on at the site raises the suspicion that someone is trying to Judaize a Catholic site and prevent freedom of religious expression."

The story continues here.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shephelah Updates

The Shephelah, or western foothills of Judah, is an ideal site for excavations because of 1) its rich history; 2) its close proximity to universities in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and 3) its moderate climate.  There's enough work to be done in the Shephelah alone to occupy every archaeologist working in Israel for the next 100 years.

Tel  Aviv University has been approved to renew excavations at Azekah.  Though it is one of the most important sites in the Shephelah, it has only been excavated by Robert Alexander Stuart Macalister in a brief dig more than 100 years ago.  Among other things, Azekah is mentioned in the Bible as near the place of the Philistine encampment when David defeated Goliath.  It was one of the last two cities holding out against Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (see Jeremiah 34:6-7 and Lachish Letter #4).  There are undoubtedly a lot of goodies buried under that pile of dirt.

Azekah from northeast, tb030407700
Azekah from the northeast

Bar Ilan University has been excavating Tel 'Eton/Tell Aitun under the direction of Avi Faust.  This year was their third season of excavation and they are finding a destruction level as well as a fortress in the style of a four-room house, only larger. The destruction level seems to pre-date Sennacherib's 701 campaign because pottery is transition form between Lachish III and IV; but also not likely to be Sargon II's 712/711 campaign since it appears he only visited cities on the coastal plain. Scholars have suggested that the site is biblical Eglon (for more on that, see The Sacred Bridge, 128). The website is viewable in MS Internet Explorer, but not Firefox.

 Tell Aitun, possibly Eglon, from south, tb102900331
Tel 'Eton, possibly biblical Eglon, from south

Khirbet Qeiyafa, located directly east of Azekah, is being excavated by Yosi Garfinkel of Hebrew University.  They found a four-chambered gate dating to the 10th century B.C. with a casemate wall and two attached buildings. There was no previous occupation and the nearest subsequent occupation is Hellenistic, so it is virtually a single-period site for Iron IIA. They also found an ostracon (inscribed potsherd) with about 4-5 lines of writing, the contents of which are apparently more sensitive than Israel's plans to bomb Iran.  (This is a good reminder to thank those archaeologists who are quick to share their discoveries with all of their supporters.)  The ostracon will be published by Misgav.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jerusalem Updates

Joe Lauer sends along a couple of articles worthy of notice.

The excavations at Ramat Rahel are featured in a 3-minute video by  It begins:

Deep inside of the hills of Jerusalem rests the Kibbutz of Ramat Rachel. Over the past 50 years many archaeologists have realized that hidden beneath this kibbutz are archaeological treasures beyond one’s imagination - the ruins of the palace of one of the king of Judah, along with relics from the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman era. At this site where space and time are mixed within the earth, another hidden treasure long buried underground has recently resurfaced. Just a few days ago, 15 silver coins dating from the Second Temple period were discovered inside of an ancient pot hidden in a columbarium.

The Jerusalem Post has an article on the increase of tourism to sites in east Jerusalem. 

The Company for the Development of East Jerusalem reported 28 percent growth in the number of visitors to the historical sites in and around the Old City's walls during the first six months of 2008.

"More Israelis have rediscovered Jerusalem this year and they visit it more frequently then they used to do in the past," Gideon Shamir, the company's director-general, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

During the first half of the year, 143,967 people visited the Ophel Archeological Park, situated at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, a 24% rise over the same period in 2007, the company said.

The Old City Ramparts saw 74,728 people walk on them from January to June, a up 29% from the same months in 2007. Both sections of the Promenade begin at the Jaffa Gate; one route passes through the New Gate, Herod's Gate and the Lions' Gate (aka St. Stephen's Gate), and the other stretches from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate.

Since January 1, 5,549 people visited Zedekiah's Cave, which was opened to the public in April 2007. During nine months of activity in 2007 the cave was toured by 9,356 people; visits during April to June 2008 are up 86% from the same period last year.

The article continues here.  I'm certainly happy to see these sites open again, but there has been a price.  Getting into the City of David with a group now requires an advance reservation, a fast pace to stay ahead of countless tour groups, and a wad of cash.  Zedekiah's Cave cost $1 before it closed in 2000; now they charge $5 a person to keep the lights on and a guard at the door.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Satellite Imagery plus

A guy discovers a ship 10,000 feet underwater that was sunk 60 years ago - without ever leaving his computer!  Wetherby News has the fascinating story and some potential benefits to archaeologists.  A previous article was in the Times Online.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted a 7-minute movie about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. has quite a selection of interesting (modern) maps.

HT: Joe Lauer


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barkay on Temple Denial

Lela Gilbert has an article in the Jerusalem Post on the recent trend of denying that a Jewish temple existed in Jerusalem.  It includes a lengthy interview with archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, and concludes:

IN SPITE of these discoveries, Temple denial remains a growing phenomenon in Europe and America, particularly in leftist intellectual circles. It is supported by the reality that there are no visible remains of the temples of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Barkay contends that there were remains still visible in the 1960s and 1970s, which have either been removed or covered up by gardens.

"The Islamic Wakf says, 'We are not going to let you dig, but show us any remains of the Temple.' You cannot have it both ways. If you don't allow people to dig, then don't use this absence of remains as an argument.

"Temple denial is a very tragic harnessing of politics to change history. It is not a different interpretation of historical events or archeological evidence. This is something major. I think that Temple denial is more serious and more dangerous than Holocaust denial. Why? Because for the Holocaust there are still living witnesses. There are photographs; there are archives; there are the soldiers who released the prisoners; there are testimonies from the Nazis themselves. There were trials, a whole series of them, starting with Nuremberg. There are people who survived the Holocaust still among us. Concerning the Temple, there are no people among us who remember.

"Still, [to deny the Temples], you have to dismiss the evidence of Flavius Josephus; you have to dismiss the evidence of the Mishna and of the Talmud; and you have to dismiss the writings of Roman and Greek historians who mention the Temple of Jerusalem. And you have to dismiss The Bible. That is, I think, way too much."

Previous related post: Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Plastered Skulls Found in Galilee

From Arutz-7:

Archaeologists have discovered three 9,000-year-old skulls at the Yiftah'el dig in the Lower Galilee, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday. Experts said the placement of the skulls confirms the worship of ancestors from during that time, practiced by displaying skulls inside houses.

The skulls were apparently placed on benches in a house where they would inspire the younger generation to continue in the ways of their forefathers. A similar custom was also identified in Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

The skulls are 8,000-9,000 years old and were buried in a pit adjacent to an excavated large public building. They were discovered during excavations for a new highway interchange at the Movil Junction, a major intersection.

"The skulls were found plastered – that is to say sculpted – which is a phenomenon that is identified with the New Stone Age," said site director Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily. "The practice included the reconstruction of all of the facial features of the deceased by means of sculpting the skull with a variety of materials such as plaster that was specifically intended for this. On the skulls that were found in the excavation the nose was entirely reconstructed."

The story continues here.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ESV Study Bible

From earlier previews of the maps, illustrations, and study notes, I think that the ESV Study Bible will be a very useful resource for those interested in biblical geography and archaeology.  The Bible includes more than 200 full-color maps, and 40 stunning, up-to-date illustrations.  (For one example of "up-to-date," look at the Pool of Siloam on the Jerusalem illustrations.) 

The Bible is due out on October 15, but the publisher wants everyone to know just how good this Bible will be before then.  To that end, they have just begun a blog.  I'd draw your attention to the post on the Gamla synagogue, with its outstanding reconstruction drawing (which you can download in high resolution).  Leen Ritmeyer gives his perspective on the illustration he helped to create here

If you want to know more about the Bible, there's a 5-minute video overview that shows off some of the beautiful illustrations. 

One thing that I don't think I'll ever understand is how books like this can be so affordable ($31.50 online).


Sepphoris Temple and More

A Roman temple from the 2nd century A.D. has been excavated at Sepphoris.  The temple was about 40 by 80 feet (12 x 24 m) and its facade faced the decumanus, the main east-west street of the city.  A church was later built over the temple.  The story is reported by ScienceDaily, Physorg, and the Jerusalem Post.  The first two links each have a photo.

Zondervan Academic has a new blog and they have, among other things, links to the online programs for the national meetings of AAR, ETS, and SBL.  I also liked John Walton's post on bad things people do in teaching children the Bible

The JPost has a short article about "Genesis Land," a tourist site that recreates patriarchal life midway between Jerusalem and Jericho.

Some people know General Charles Gordon because of his work in China and Sudan, and others for his popularization of "Gordon's Calvary" or the Garden Tomb.  NPR has a five-part series on China and Sudan, in which Gordon's influence is discussed in part one.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Woodland Museum of Biblical Archaeology to Open

From the Daily Democrat:

Soon, Yolo County residents won't have to travel to Israel for a tour of the Holy Land. Locals will be able to stop by the Woodland Museum of Biblical Archaeology at Woodland United Fellowship, 240 N. West St., to visit a collection of artifacts from Biblical times.

The museum's humble beginnings began in the foyer of Woodland United Fellowship a year ago.

Pastor Carl Morgan began a display case with a few juglets and lamps from archaeological digs he participated in, and the collection continued to grow.

"We live in a time when the Bible has come under a lot of criticism and attack as not being reliable or authoritative," Morgan said. "Archaeology allows us to see the geography and historicity of the Bible is correct. Many times, we've been able to find a name or a city (on a dig) associated with a Biblical event, and we're able to say to the critics, 'They're not myths. The Bible is accurate.' It also helps build your faith."

On the west wall of the museum artifacts from mainly the Middle Bronze Age (2200 BC to 1550 BC) will be displayed. Visitors will find sling stones, which were used as weapons and swung with a leather strap. They will also see swords from 2000 BC and a sacrificial knife from the time of Abraham.

There is pottery dated beyond 3000 BC and a battle-axe on display that dates at least 500 years before the time of Abraham.

"That's the oldest piece of metal you'll ever hold," Morgan said.

The story continues here.  If they'll let you hold it, they'll probably let you take a picture of it as well.  Which is something you won't get at many other museums.  Woodland is 20 miles northwest of Sacramento.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Kabri Archaeological Project Results

From the archaeologists:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP), Assaf Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline, would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2008 excavation season at Tel Kabri is now available at:

If the direct link does not work for some reason, go to and click on the link there to download the pdf.  

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, and 2007) are also listed at

KAP Publications which have already appeared are:  

E.H. Cline and A. Yasur-Landau, “Poetry in Motion: Canaanite Rulership and Aegean Narrative at Kabri,” in EPOS: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology: 157-165, S.P. Morris and R. Laffineur, eds.  Aegaeum 28.  Liège: Université de Liège.  2007.  

A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline, and G.A. Pierce, “Middle Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Western Galilee, Israel,” Journal of Field Archaeology

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Western Wall Excavation Photos

Excavations continue at the western end of the Western Wall prayer plaza, and as the work proceeds further into the ground, the more interesting it gets (at least to those of us interested in pre-Byzantine periods).  Peter Wong from Hong Kong was at the site this week and sent me a couple of photos.  They show a remarkable level of preservation.



For context, here's a photo I took a few months ago that shows the excavation (at bottom) in relation to the prayer plaza.

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051908178

I have not seen anything reported on this excavation recently, but when I do, I'll make note of it.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Byzantine Period Olive Press Discovered

A "very formidable and rare olive press" was discovered recently in Western Galilee.  It is one of the largest known from Israel and dates to the 6th-7th centuries A.D.  From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A unique and impressive complex for producing oil that dates to the Byzantine period, which is also one of the largest uncovered in the country so far, was discovered recently during trial excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Moshav Ahihud, in the Western Galilee. The excavations are being carried out as part of a development plan to enlarge the village....

In the middle of the building a central crushing mill (a large round stone) was uncovered upon which a millstone (referred to as a memel) was placed. It was customary to harness an animal to the axle of the millstone which would turn the stone and thereby crush the olives.

After crushing and breaking them, the olive pulp was brought for pressing in aqalim (baskets woven of coarse fabric or ropes). The aqalim were squeezed in a press and the olive oil was extracted as a result of this action. The baskets served as a filter whereby the liquid dripped out leaving the pits and pulp waste behind in the baskets. 

Three screw type press beds and a stone weight that was originally connected to the end of a. beam were revealed at the site.

The rest of the story, and photographs, are here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gold Coins from 1st Century Found at Ramat Rahel

Haaretz is reporting on the discovery of a hoard of coins at a site three miles south of ancient Jerusalem.

A few days ago, archaeologists made a most surprising find at the bottom of such a columbarium, at a site at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem - a hoard of coins from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).

Late in July, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University identified, beneath the floor of the columbarium, a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century C.E. that held 15 large gold coins. "It's very special to find a hoard like this, and it's very exciting," related the director of the excavations at the site, Dr. Oded Lipschits, of TAU. "We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it."

What was a pot holding coins doing at the bottom of a cave used for raising pigeons? According to Lipschits, the pot was covered up in a way that indicates that it had been concealed in a hurry. "We know that coins like these were brought to the Temple," he says. "Possibly after the Temple was destroyed there was no place to bring the coins, and since the columbarium was no longer in use, they buried the coins here. This arouses sad thoughts as we approach Tisha B'Av," he added, referring to the Hebrew date (the ninth of Av) that traditionally marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

For photos, see the Hebrew version of the article. (HT: Joe Lauer).

Unrelated to the coin discovery is discussion of the function of the building that has previously been identified as a palace of the Judean kings (something akin to Camp David in the U.S.). 

Lipschits says that one of the aims of the current dig is to clarify the purpose of this structure. "The accepted claim is that it is a palace of the kings of Judea, but I'm dubious of that. The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away."

Lipschits believes that the palace was built during the period of the Assyrian subjugation. "This entire complex is, in my opinion, an administrative center for the occupying regime, a place where agricultural produce was collected, for delivery as a tax to the Assyrians."

During the period of the return to Zion (beginning 539 B.C.E.), the Assyrian regime was replaced by a Persian one, but the administrative center continued to operate. Many seal impressions from this period have been found, bearing the name "Pahwat Yahud," the name of the country under this regime. The Ramat Rachel excavation is is the main accumulation in the country of impressions of this sort, and Lipschits sees this as further proof that the site was an administrative center.

There's some confusion about this elsewhere, but I think the journalist has it correct.  What Lipschits is suggesting, contrary to his predecessors (Aharoni, Yadin, and Barkay) is that the palace was an Assyrian center, following the time of the Assyrian subjugation of Judah under Hezekiah.  While most would agree that Assyria maintained some sort of control over Judah for about 50 years after Sennacherib's failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Lipschits goes farther in claiming that Ramat Rahel was an on-site command post for Assyria.  Here's a brief summary of archaeologists' conclusions about this important and beautiful building:

  • Yohanan Aharoni: Palace of Judean king Jehoiakim (cf. Jeremiah 22); ca. 600 B.C.
  • Yigael Yadin (never missing an opportunity to disagree with YA):  Palace of Judean queen Athaliah; ca. 840 B.C.
  • Gabriel Barkay: Palace of Judean king Hezekiah; ca. 700 B.C. (possibly built, destroyed, and rebuilt during his reign)
  • Nadav Na'aman and Oded Lipschits: Assyrian headquarters in Judah; ca. 700 B.C.

If you're interested in more, you can start with the article by Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2006, pp. 34-44.

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New Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli

This dramatic new find may not be directly related to the Bible, but it will certainly provide helpful information about the biblical world during the time of a critical period in the history of Israel and Judah--the 8th century B.C.  Here is the press release:

On July 21, 2008, the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli, directed by Prof. David Schloen of the University of Chicago and by associate director Amir Fink, found an inscribed basalt stele at the site of Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee") in Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey.

The remarkably well-preserved stele, 70 centimeters wide and 95 centimeters tall, was found intact in its original location. It was set into a stone wall with its protruding tenon still inserted into the stone-paved floor. The alphabetic inscription on the stele is written in Sam'alian, the language spoken in the region of Zincirli (ancient Sam'al) during the Iron Age.

It commemorates the life of "Kattammuwa servant of Panamuwa," probably a high official of King Panamuwa, who reigned during the eighth century B.C. A bearded figure is depicted on the stele, seated in a chair in front of a table laden with food. Beside him is a thirteen-line inscription, elegantly carved in raised relief and preserved in almost pristine condition nearly three millennia after it was inscribed. It describes the establishment of the memorial stele and associated mortuary rites. This stele is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus is an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture.

An analysis and translation of the inscription will be presented by Prof. Dennis Pardee of the University of Chicago at the November 2008 meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Boston and will be published soon thereafter.

Zincirli is the site of the ancient walled city of Sam'al, capital of an Iron Age kingdom that inherited both West Semitic and Neo-Hittite (Luwian) cultural traditions. The 40-hectare (100-acre) site was first excavated more than a hundred years ago and produced a number of royal inscriptions and other fascinating finds that are on display in various museums. Since 2006, Zincirli has been excavated annually by a team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago—the Neubauer Expedition, a large-scale and long-term project of archaeological research at this important site.

We'll have to wait a few more months before the content of the inscription is revealed.  For more comments, see Paleojudaica.

Gath Season 2008 Report

The season at Philistine Gath (Tell es-Safi) is concluded and archaeologist Aren Maeir has a great wrap-up of the season for all who couldn't be there. Gath is proving to be one of the most important excavations of recent times and Maeir's helpful reviews to the public should be a model for all excavations (and we get it straight from the horse's mouth and not garbled through a journalist!). Some highlights (from my perspective):

  • They excavated material from Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron II, and Crusader.
  • Gath appears to have been a large, significant site in Early Bronze, before the arrival of the Philistines.
  • Remains were found related to the earliest arrival of the Philistines at the site, including locally made Mycenean IIIC ware.
  • Important discovery from the time of David/Solomon: "a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE), and several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide nice 14C datings for this phase. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia."
  • Gath was a large site in the time of the first kings of Judah: "As such, it appears to mirror the role that Gath is portrayed as playing in the biblical text in the early monarchy, that of the major Philistine city, primus inter pares among the five Philistine cities."
  • More evidence was revealed of Hazael's destruction of the site in about 800 B.C.
  • Gath may have been destroyed twice by the Assyrians - first by Sargon II (712 B.C.?) and then by Sennacherib (701 B.C.).

Maeir concludes: "All told, the season was great, the team was fantastic and the find were extraordinary!"

Read the whole thing here.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Seal of King Zedekiah's Official Discovered

Eilat Mazar announced yesterday that the seal of a government official was discovered in her excavations in the City of David.  The story was covered by several media outlets (JPost, the Trumpet), and here's my summary with a few thoughts.

What: The clay seal impression, about 1 cm (.4 inch) in diameter, has the name Gedaliah, son of Pashur.

Who: Gedaliah was a government official mentioned in the book of Jeremiah as serving the last king of Judah, Zedekiah.  Gedaliah was among those who intended to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  The relevant passage is Jeremiah 38:1-5.

Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, 2 “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. 3 Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” 4 Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5 King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you” (ESV).

Note: The man mentioned immediately after Gedaliah is Jucal the son of Shelemiah.  His seal impression was found nearby in Mazar's excavation three years ago. 

Where, specifically:  Trumpet reports:

”We found the bulla of Jehucal inside the palace structure,” Mazar told yesterday. “This time, we found the bulla of Gedaliah outside the wall, just at the foot of the same spot we found Jehucal.” The two must have been connected somehow, she said.

When: Zedekiah was king from 597-586 B.C.  The date of the seal impression's discovery is not given, as far as I can tell.  With the last discovery of a seal impression, Mazar announced it so fast that later she had to go back and apologize for mis-reading the inscription (backwards).

Photos: For photographs of the seal impression, see  For some excellent line drawings of the inscription by G. M. Grena, see the files posted at biblicalist. For a general photo of the excavation area, see my photo here.

A few additional comments on the JPost article:

The excavation at the history-rich City of David, which is located just outside the walls of the Old City near Dung Gate, has proven, in recent years, to be a treasure trove for archeologists.

Actually, on the whole, I'd say that the discoveries have been minimal.  This is a central area of the City of David and after three years of excavation, three seal impressions and two controversial building identifications is not what I'd call a "treasure trove."  A few meters down the slope Yigal Shiloh found an archive of more than 50 seal impressions, including one belonging to a government official more friendly to Jeremiah, Gemariah the son of Shaphan (Jer 36).  Of course, it is altogether possible that Mazar has made other significant finds but is choosing to publicize them in the future.

The archeologist, who rose to international prominence for her excavation that may have uncovered the Biblical palace of King David nearby, has been at the forefront of a series of back-to-back Jerusalem archeological finds, including the remnants of a wall from the Biblical prophet Nehemiah, also in the area.

It seems to me that there's a problem here when an archaeologist can "rise to international prominence" on the basis of a couple of sensationalistic identifications without peer review.  If those identifications prove untenable (and there is significant discussion among archaeologists about both of the above issues), will she still be internationally prominent?  Should an individual scholar be so elevated on the basis of his/her own unconfirmed claims?  I would note here that lots of Bible skeptics would say the same thing; I am not among them, but still am uneasy about some of the ways these matters have been handled.  Of course, this new seal impression is not part of the debate.

The current dig is being conducted on behalf of the Shalem center, a Jerusalem research institute, and the right-wing City of David Foundation, and was carried out under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Is there relevance to the fact that the City of David Foundation is "right-wing"?  Is the JPost suggesting that this discovery or its interpretation is affected by the political views of a funding organization?  Should the identity of the the financial supporter have priority over the identity of the academic authority?  Would the JPost have identified another institution as "left-wing"? 

UPDATE (8/3): In an email, the City of David Foundation includes this additional information:

Dr. Eilat Mazar completed the third phase her excavation of what she believes to be Kind [sic] David’s palace at the City of David site a month and a half ago and is currently sifting through the remains of that excavation. It was in this material that she found the seal. Much of the rubble from the dig has yet to be sifted and it is likely that more discoveries will be made.

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