Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Seals Found in City of David

I don't remember seeing this published elsewhere and you might miss it under the title "What Happened to the Clerks and Merchants of the 8th Century BCE?"  Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun have discovered more seals in the City of David, these from the 8th century (the time of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah).  These excavators had previously discovered a collection of seals from the 9th century, and these did not bear inscriptions.  But they recently found two stone seals and three bullae (seal impressions), all inscribed with Hebrew names.  The best preserved has the name "Rephaihu (ben) Shalem."  The article is brief and includes a photo of the complete seal.  Though they operate without much fanfare, Reich and Shukrun's excavation in Jerusalem over the last 13 years has produced more interesting results than probably any other dig in Israel, including discovery of the two towers at the Gihon Spring, the reinterpretation of Warren's Shaft, the discovery of the Pool of Siloam, and many other related architectural features and small finds.

HT: Joe Lauer

Labels: ,

Report Released on Temple Mount Destruction

If you're keeping up on the damage caused to the Temple Mount by multiple "excavations" of dubious legality, you'll be interested in the report, "The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount," published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.  The report surveys the situation since the 1990s, most of which is well-known to those who have followed the news, but this report handily summarizes the main points.  The major focus of the article is who is in control and thus who is responsible.  It concludes:

The Waqf, the Islamic Movement, and various Islamic groups have exploited the situation and have seriously damaged Temple Mount antiquities. The Israel Police plays the dominant Israeli role and its activities are coordinated with the prime minister's office and the office of the attorney general, while the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem municipality have only limited influence over what is done at the Temple Mount.

Labels: ,

Earthquake Damage at Hazor Museum

I noted here a couple of days ago that the Hazor Museum is closed indefinitely.  That closure apparently contributed to the delay in noticing that 700 objects in the museum were damaged in the recent earthquake. From the Jerusalem Post:

An earthquake that shook Israel 10 days ago damaged some 700 archeological artifacts displayed in a museum at Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar in northern Israel, Channel 1 reported Wednesday evening.

Most of the artifacts were excavated at the nearby Tel Hazor site. Heavy rains have prevented researchers from ascertaining whether the site itself was affected by the quake.

The damage was discovered only several days after the event, since the museum has been closed recently due to a lack of visitors. Dr. Zvika Zur, the exhibit's curator, told Channel 1 that while some of the items - many of which date back to the Canaanite era - could be mended, many others had been damaged irreparably.

HT: Joe Lauer

Vessels from 14th c Hazor tomb, tb032905956
Vessels from 14th century B.C. tomb on display at Hazor Museum (before earthquake)

UPDATE (3/3): A few photos of the damage can be seen at the Hebrew version of articles at Haaretz and MSN.


Speak Biblical Hebrew: A Program in Israel

I've not participated in this, but I know many who have and they rave about it:

At first glance the ulpan at Kibbutz Tzova, about 20 minutes west of Jerusalem, may seem no different than any other. But within a couple of minutes of listening to the exchange between students and teachers, it becomes clear that there is something fishy about the Hebrew spoken here.

Welcome to the Biblical Ulpan, a framework that allows students to study biblical Hebrew in its original context. In place of the conventional grammar-driven approach to Hebrew study that often includes memorizing elusive rules and arcane verb charts, biblical Hebrew is the medium through which the language is taught here to Christian and Jewish students.

"Studying a text needs the 'code' [the language] and the culture, history and geography in order to be most fully understood," explains Randall Buth, who founded the ulpan 10 years ago.

"Students may be throwing a plastic sheep in the class after hearing a command like 'hashlech et hakeves el hatalmid sham' [Throw the sheep to the student over there], without realizing that the verb is part of the hif'il pattern [causative grammatical form]," he says. "When they finally know a few verbs or forms from these categories they will receive a presentation that organizes the forms into a system. The binyan system that is dreaded by many a beginning student is cut down to size and more easily understood."

Buth, who holds a doctorate in Semitic languages from UCLA, has also studied theoretical linguistics. He worked for the United Bible Societies in Africa for 20 years supervising Bible translation projects into local languages.

See the JPost article for the rest.  You can get more details at the program's website at


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Response to the "Jesus Tomb" Theory

A new book on the "Jesus Tomb" is out: Buried Hope or Risen Savior? The Search for the Jesus Tomb, edited by Charles L. Quarles.  The publisher, Broadman and Holman, describes the contents:

Buried Hope or Risen Savior? argues for the credibility of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, engaging the issue in relation to the recent “Jesus Family Tomb” claims that continue making headlines around the world.

Among the contributors, Steve Ortiz (professor of Biblical Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) discusses the general background of this type buriedhopeof tomb and the archaeology of the Talpiot tomb site. Craig Evans (New Testament professor at Acadia Divinity College) writes about ossuaries and tomb inscriptions. Richard Bauckham (New Testament professor at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews) gives the history of Jewish names, extrabiblical writings, and Mary Magdalene. William Dembski (SWBTS research professor in Philosophy) discusses the statistical ev idence for the names found on the Talpiot tomb to have been “Jesus.” Mike Licona (North American Mission Board director of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism) responds to claims that finding the bones of Jesus would not disprove Christ’s resurrection. Gary Habermas (Apologetics & Philosophy chair at Liberty University) summarizes the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And Darrell Bock (New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary) addresses the importance of the resurrection and how Christians should respond to challenges upon their faith.

On his blog, Justin Taylor notes the chapter by Ortiz, "The Use and Abuse of Archaeological Interpretation," and he provides this extract from pages 29-30:

The scripts for all of these amateur portrayals are similar and follow the same basic 10 points:

1. The prevailing hypothesis affirmed by the consensus of the scholarly community is wrong.

2. The "discoverer" is not a trained archaeologist but is self-taught, and he knows the "true story" that all others have overlooked.

3. An expedition is planned for one season, and (lo and behold) at the first attempt they find exactly what they are looking for.

4. This is all documented while a camera crew happens to be filming the discovery.

5. The process is "detective work" that has been missed by the academic community, and they (amateur archaeologists) are the ones who are able to unravel the mystery or solve the problem that has perplexed the experts.

6. No new data is presented, only a reworking of previously published data. A corollary is that not all the data is consulted.

7. Upon the presentation of the discovery, the scholarly community scoffs at the find, and it is claimed that there is a secret monopoly by those in power to suppress the information.

8. The amateurs sensationalize the "discovery" by claiming that it is so revolutionary that it will change our way or thinking and our lifestyle.

9. The old "discovery" is presented to the media as a "brand-new" discovery.

10. Usually a book or movie comes out within a week of the "new" discovery.

The presentation of The Lost Tomb of Jesus follows the above script.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Flash Flood at En Gedi

Flash floods in Israel are deadly; it seems that people are killed by them each year.  From today's Jerusalem Post:

A US citizen was killed Monday afternoon in one of the fiercest floods Ein Gedi had seen for years, police and rescue officials said.

The man's girlfriend, who had been missing and feared dead, was later found alive by rescue services.

According to staff at the Ein Gedi nature reserve, the pair was seen entering the Nachal David gorge earlier in the day. Strong rains have brought about a sudden flooding of the riverbed, and in the early afternoon the body of the American tourist was discovered in the water.

Rescuers that found the victim's car parked nearby noticed a pair of high-heeled shoes in the vehicle, leading them to assume he was accompanied by a woman. The local staff confirmed that two people were seen entering the area.

Army helicopters and police forces were searching for the woman and said they feared for her life.

At roughly the same time, a group of 30 travelers stranded in another riverbed nearby were rescued unharmed.

Nature reserve officials said the flood was very sudden, with little prior warning.

Previous coverage of flash floods on this blog include a video and photos.

Nahal David, En Gedi

Nahal Arugot bridge washed out from north4, tb n052301999 
Bridge washed out in 2001, Nahal Arugot, En Gedi

Other photos of En Gedi are here.


Sites in Galilee

The Jerusalem Post has an article today on Hazor, guiding the virtual visitor on a tour of the largest tell in Israel and noting that the Hazor Museum is closed indefinitely.

Haaretz's article, "Five Stops in Galilee," covers the new "Jesus Trail," among other sites.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse over Jerusalem

Yahoo has many photos of last night's total lunar eclipse, including a number of pictures taken in Jerusalem.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Current BAR Issue Online

Normally Biblical Archaeology Review posts only the introductions to their articles online (unless you're a premier member), but the March/April issue is now available to all in its entirety.  There are a number of interesting articles, but instead of listing them here, you can click over yourself

I offer only a comment on one article here: I think that Shanks' article on Emmaus is well-written, but he comes to the wrong conclusion.  I think that he wanted to write an article on the site at Latrun (formerly known as Emmaus and Nicopolis) and this pushed him to adopt this as the location of Emmaus of Luke 24.  While he recognizes the problems with this site (namely the inferior textual evidence and the lengthy distance to walk in a day), he dismisses them too quickly.  He never discusses any of the evidence for Motza/Moza/Colonieh.  Nor does anyone dispute that the Latrun site was known as Emmaus in the 1st century.  The issue is was this the Emmaus that Luke referred to, and I think the evidence makes this an unlikely candidate.

Another view is that of J. Carl Laney, given in a chapter of his doctoral dissertation.  With his permission I have digitized this chapter and posted it online (pdf).  Though the discussion is briefer, I prefer Notley's conclusion on page 368 of The Sacred Bridge.  For now, I have to leave it at that.  I think all would agree that the issue is difficult.  I appreciate BAS making this issue available for all to read and discuss.

Moza from southwest, tb030803325
Moza, identified as "Emmaus" by Josephus; 30 stadia distant from Jerusalem

Recommended Software: BibleWorks 7 (and Maps)

One of the best Bible software programs for the PC is BibleWorks 7.  If you're only interested in reading the Bible and doing simple searches, this program is more than you need.  But those who know, or plan to learn, the original languages will find a wealth of capabilities available at lightning speed.  The powerful "Copy Center" makes it fast and easy to copy and paste multiple translations - any number, any versions - in a single click.  This would have saved me a lot of time on a recent study.  The right-click context menus are also easy to use.  If you're still learning Greek and Hebrew (or haven't started yet), the built-in flashcard module has plenty of options which makes it easy to quiz yourself.  At $350, the program is not inexpensive, but browsing through the list of works included in the copyright list will make you wonder how the software can cost so little.

Version 7 added a map module, and BibleWorks sent me a review copy of the program to evaluate this new feature.  I love the integration of the map module; simply right-click on a site name and choose "Lookup in BibleWorks Maps" to get a list of relevant maps to open.  Teachers will find this a handy way to access a map while in the middle of a course without having to use other software.  The module includes a variety of terrains that you can load, including Landsat data, and some are more aesthetically pleasing than others.  Unfortunately, the map data has significant shortcomings; it reminds me more of a beta program.  BibleWorks has a major revision of the map module underway which I expect will solve many of the labeling problems.  One problem that exists with both the map module and the program in general is that while the documentation is extensive, the features are not always intuitive.  This means the happiest user will be the one who reads first and plays second.  If you never read any of the documentation, you'll probably miss many of the features and spend too much time in frustration.  Would I recommend the program?  Absolutely.  Would I recommend its purchase primarily for the map module?  Not yet.  With their policy of free upgrades within a version, any existing user will be able to download all of the updates as they are released.

Screenshot of Galilee area, with overlays turned on for 4 gospels


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Indiana Jones #4 (Teaser)

The teaser is now out.  The movie, entitled "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" comes out on May 22.  Wikipedia has details about the filming and there's always the official website with a running countdown. It's been 19 years since Indiana last helped us understand how archaeology really works.  HT: Paleojudaica


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ancient Near Eastern Valentine Contest

Eisenbrauns has hosted the first (and possibly last) "Ancient Near Eastern Valentine Contest."  The entrants even provided translations, in case you do not know Luwian, Hurrian-Hittite, Sumerian, Hebrew, Greek, or Egyptian.

Excavations of Magdala and Nazareth

Antonio Lombatti has word of reports of (recent) excavations of Magdala and (not-so-recent) excavations of the area now known as "Nazareth Village." 

Magdala: You can read Lombatti's intro here (with beautiful photos) or read the report in Italian here.  If you're wondering if you've ever visited Magdala, you haven't.  You may have driven by it (or possibly hiked or biked if you're one of those sort), but the area has been locked and sealed for a long time, and entrance available only to those who know the right people.  Hopefully that will all change...

Nazareth: You can read Lombatti's intro here or go straight to the report (pdf) by Stephen Pfann.  If you're wondering why you were unimpressed with Nazareth when you visited, it's probably because you didn't visit Nazareth Village, a modern reconstruction of the 1st century village.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Study Trip in Jordan

If you are looking for a serious study tour of biblical and historic sites in Jordan, you can do no better than the trip this June with Dr. Ginger Caessens.  I was on a similar trip some years ago and I highly recommend it.  This is particularly ideal for those who 1) have already been to Israel; 2) are not looking for a "tourist" trip, but really want to learn; 3) are in reasonably good shape.  You can even get credit to transfer back to grad school, college, or seminary.  Here are the details from the University of the Holy Land website:

Historical Geography of Jordan

Credits - 2

A 14-day Intensive Study Tour. Nine days of field studies will immerse the student in the rich history of the area. Regions visited include Ammon, Gilead, the Madeba Plateau, Moab and Edom. Many Biblical events transpired in this region, where the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh settled. Moses died in Transjordan and the judges and prophets including Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul, all ministered in the area, which played a crucial role in international trade during Old and New Testament times.

Instructor: G. Caessens, Ph.D. June 2-16, 2008.

For information on cost and accommodation, contact the UHL office.

This is a short-term intensive course. Register now. Limited enrollment! (Minimum enrollment: 15; maximum: 22)

Dr. Caessens is also leading 21-day study trips of Israel in May and July.

Gerasa oval plaza from above, tb060603041sr
Modern Jerash - biblical Gerasa


Shanks' Thoughts on Forgery Trial

Shanks has posted his current perspective on the forgery trial, including his reason for believing that the prosecution is doomed, and a list of reasons why he thinks the Jehoash Inscription is authentic.  Some of this is old new, but there were some things that I hadn't heard before.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

One of the Gibeonite Cities

If you're into mysteries and tracking down little details, there's an endless supply of material in biblical studies and archaeology.  George Grena latched on to one challenging and controversial issue in archaeology some years ago and he seems determined to become the world's expert on LMLK seals.  (LMLK seals were impressed on royal storejars in the time of Hezekiah.  Nearly everything else about their interpretation is controversial.)  Grena certainly has enriched the world with the extensive information that he has published online and in his book.  That's a little background to a recent blogpost in which he sheds some light on the little-known biblical town of Kephirah/Chephirah/Kefireh.  In the time of Joshua, this was one of four cities of Gibeonites.  Most people know of the treachery of the city of Gibeon, but may not recall that there were three other cities in their league, including one I saw every day for the last decade - Kiriath Jearim.  Grena's post begins with some interesting facts about Kephirah before discussing two LMLK seals


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scroll Distribution in Dead Sea Caves

A new study suggests that the scrolls in two of the Dead Sea Scroll caves were deposited fifty years earlier than the rest of the scrolls.  You can read a brief report of the study here; the full report was published here:

Stökl Ben Ezra, Daniel. "Old Caves and Young Caves: A Statistical Reevaluation of a Qumran Consensus." Dead Sea Discoveries 14/3 (2007) 313-333.

I am curious which two caves have the older material.  Based on geographical location of the caves, I'd expect 1 and 2, or 3 and 11.  But I don't have access to the article as I write.

For some photos of the Dead Sea Scroll caves, see here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Update (2/11): The link above has been corrected.  In the process, I found the full article itself, plus an abstract, which answers my question above: 1 and 4.  The link that Al gives in the comments below is to an earlier, abbreviated version.


Excavations and Politics in the City of David

The AP has a nothing-else-to-report-today article about the Israeli excavations in the City of David, focusing particularly on the political aspects. The thesis of the article is summed up in this paragraph:

Israel says it's reconnecting with its ancient heritage. Palestinians contend the archaeology is a political weapon to undermine their own links to Jerusalem.

The article interviews both sides, though it's not in-depth enough to satisfy either side. My contribution to the story is a photograph of the City of David that shows the area sometime in the first half of the 20th century, but without most of the buildings.

08433uJerusalem from south Kidron Valley, mat08433
City of David from the south
Source: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-08433

Some information and photos about ancient sites in the area can be found at these pages: City of David, Hezekiah's Tunnel, Warren's Shaft, and Pool of Siloam.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Forgery Trial Update (Feb 2008)

Some years ago the Israeli government began trying a case of antiquities forgery against five individuals, including Robert Deutsch and Oded Golan.  The latter is/was the owner of the James Ossuary and was accused of creating the inscription (or part of it) in order to greatly increase the object's value.  Hershel Shanks now writes on the Biblical Archaeology Society website that the prosecution is winding its case down and may be finished in a few weeks.

Previous posts on this blog related to this include:

Forgery Conference Report (June 2007)

Forgery Trial Update (May 2006)