Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Restoration of Rolling Stone Tomb

A few years ago I posted a photo comparison of one of the best rolling stone tombs in Israel - before vandals destroyed it and after.  For convenience, here are those pictures of the Khirbet Midras tomb again.



A friend visited recently and passed on a few photos.  It looks like the tomb has been partially restored.  You might want to stop by next time you're in the area.  Khirbet Midras is east of the road going from Azekah to Bet Guvrin.

Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714171
Tomb exterior

Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714165
View from inside tomb; rolling stone is on the right side

 Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714164 
Burial niches (aka loculi, kokhim) 

Thanks to A.D. Riddle for sharing these photos.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Digs, Blogs, and a Bomb

The excavations at Ramat Rahel have recently begun and they have their own blogToday they found a bomb!  Other excavations in Israel with blogs include Gath (regular and professional), Megiddo (regular), and Dan (they had good intentions).  I don't know of any blogs for the current excavations at Hazor (where is that archive?), Gezer (is this another Macalister dump?), or Ashkelon.

There's a few more days if you want to join in excavations on a site that used to be called Khirbet Qeiyafa, but is now dubbed the much more appealing "Elah Fortress."  There's some info here on what to bring.  Here's the season brochure (front, back). You can also watch a YouTube video on the site.

Next year Bryant Wood is headed back to Khirbet el-Maqatir after a hiatus since Palestinian terrorism restarted in 2000.  Excavations of the candidate for biblical Ai are scheduled for May 20 - June 6, 2009. 

The Jerusalem Report has a lengthy article (published online, but poorly formatted, by the JPost) about the state of Dead Sea Scroll and Qumran research, including various theories of who lived at Qumran and who were responsible for the scrolls. The article also discusses the newly publicized "Gabriel's Vision" tablet, and includes a sidebar on the Palestinians' demand that the scrolls be turned over to them.

If you didn't hear it already, Codex Sinaiticus is beginning to be posted online this week.  Here's the story, and here's the link to one of the oldest Bibles in existence.  Come back in a year if you want to read the whole thing.

Six months and $200,000 later, Zion Gate is now back in view.  The hundreds of bullet holes and shell marks are still visible, but the stones are now stabilized and less likely to collapse on a vehicle executing a beautiful 11-point turn as they exit the city.

Zion Gate, tb091702701
Zion Gate, before renovation

And perhaps tourism to Iraq is not so far off.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Museum in Gaza to Open

The International Herald Tribune has the story:

It may sound like the escapist indulgence of a well-fed man fleeing the misery around him. But when Jawdat Khoudary opens the first ever museum of archaeology in Gaza this month, it will be an act of Palestinian patriotism, showing how this increasingly poor and isolated coastal strip ruled by the Islamists of Hamas was once a thriving multicultural crossroad.

Now only if there was a way for non-Palestinians to get there.  If he's depending on revenue from Palestinians interested in history, he is going to be a poor man.

The exhibit is housed in a stunning hall made up partly of the saved stones of old houses, discarded wood ties of a former railroad and bronze lamps and marble columns uncovered by Gazan fishermen and construction workers.

And while the display might be pretty standard stuff almost anywhere else - arrowheads, Roman anchors, Bronze Age vases and Byzantine columns - life is currently so gray in Gaza that the museum, with its glimpses of a rich outward-looking history, seems somehow dazzling.

"The idea is to show our deep roots from many cultures in Gaza," Khoudary said as he sat in the lush, antiquities-filled garden of his Gaza City home a few miles from the museum. "It's important that people realize we had a good civilization in the past. Israel has legitimacy from its history. We do too."

Someone's going to have to explain this one to me.  I'm not sure how Roman or Byzantine antiquities have anything to do with the legitimacy of Palestinian Arabs. 

It's a good article with a nice photo.  I recommend reading the whole thing, and I hope the venture is successful.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Interview with Leen Ritmeyer

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has posted a two-part interview with Leen Ritmeyer.  Ritmeyer served as the archaeological and architectural reconstruction editor for the forthcoming ESV Study Bible, of which Taylor is the managing editor. 

Part one of the interview focuses on what theGolgotha and Jerusalem, ESV Study Bible place of Jesus' crucifixion looked like.  It includes a stunning, high-resolution reconstruction of the Temple Mount as it may have looked in the time of Jesus.

Part two of the interview concerns what the tomb of Jesus looked like.  It features a high-resolution image of what the "new tomb" may have looked like.

I have had the privilege of having an preview of dozens of graphics and hundreds of full-color maps that will be included in the ESV Study Bible and I concur with Ritmeyer's assessment:

It is vital for Bible students to have a correct knowledge of the background of the Bible, and I am sure that the Study Bible will be of tremendous help for those who love to study the Word of God. With its many exquisitely rendered reconstruction drawings and accurate maps, a new standard has been set for biblical illustration, raising the bar for many years to come.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has a posted (with a follow-up) on his identification of several stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount that are clearly pre-Herodian.  Ritmeyer dates them to the time of King Hezekiah, suggesting that he was the one to build the 500-cubit square Temple Mount that Ritmeyer has previously identified.  He includes some helpful illustrations and photos.

A review of current excavations in Turkey is given at Today's Zaman.  New Testament sites being excavated include Alexandria Troas, Miletus, Hierapolis, Sardis, Smyrna, and Laodicea.  There are many other sites as well.  Many of these cities have very impressive remains, unlike many sites in Israel.  Today's Zaman also has an article on recent discoveries at Sardis.

NASA has a photo of a street of Ephesus at night, with (the planet) Jupiter illuminating the way.

Across the way in Greece, the ancient hippodrome of Olympia has been discovered.  This is a good story that counters the myth that everything to be found has already been found.

A couple fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have now been published by James H. Charlesworth.  One of the fragments may be from the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the other appears to be from Nehemiah, making it the first portion of that book to be found among the DSS.  Paleojudaica gives more info and links.

If you're a tourist in Israel and have a question, you can now call the 24-hour tourist hotline.  It's easy (dial *3888), but it's not a toll-free number.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just Another Byzantine Church

The "Earliest Church in Jordan" sounded like a bunch of nonsense to start with and now a couple of scholars have more data and believe the excavators have made some big mistakes.

Even stronger criticism has now emerged. Two University of Toronto scholars argue that the excavators have misread the inscription in the church; they claim, from both a rereading of the inscription and from the architecture, that the church is significantly younger than do the excavators. They also say that the cave below gives no indication of having been used in the first century.

Biblical Archaeology Review has the story, including a pdf file of the article: “The Oratory of St. George in Rihab: The Oldest Extant Christian Building or Just Another Byzantine Church?”

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Stories

A Byzantine cemetery has been discovered in construction work at the hospital of Ashkelon (JPost).

An arsonist set several fires in the Tel Dan nature reserve, burning half of the 120-acre park.  They hope to re-open the park later this week (JPost).

A rare marble discus was discovered underwater at Yavne-Yam.  The disk, 8 inches in diameter, was used to ward off the evil eye in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. (IAA; Arutz-7; Haaretz; JPost).

The hotel where Mark Twain stayed in Jerusalem has been identified (Haaretz).

Israeli, Palestinian, and German scholars will be studying bones unearthed at Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon in order to study the DNA so as to identify genes that made the ancient inhabitants more or less susceptible to tuberculosis (Guardian).

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg discusses two Jewish temples known from Egypt, one at Leontopolis (Tell el-Yehudiyeh) and the other on Elephantine Island (Yeb, Aswan) (JPost).

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Friday, July 11, 2008

New Book: Walk the Land

One of the simultaneously best and worst experiences of my life was hiking the Israel Trail.  I led a group of intrepid adventurers on a 120-mile hike, beginning in Dan and concluding in Caesarea Israel Trail marker at Machtesh Ramon, tb110702007(skipping a 30-mile section in the middle).  I've hiked many other portions of the trail over the years.  The trail covers some of most beautiful and remote scenery, and it is a way to understand the land of Israel that you'll never get from jumping on and off a bus.  It also can be quite a painful experience for your feet. 

An Israeli couple recently hiked the entire trail from Eilat to Dan (580 miles) and the wife wrote a book about the 2-month trek.  The book, Walk the Land, was recently reviewed by Theresa Newell of CMJ USA (pdf, p. 21).  The review begins:

"What is needed by the reader or teacher of the Bible is some idea of the outlines of Palestine - its shape and disposition; its plains, passes and mountains; its rains, winds and temperatures; its colours, lights and shades. Students of the Bible desire to see a background and to feel an atmosphere; to discover from `the lie of the land' why the history took certain lines and the prophecy and gospel were expressed in certain styles; to learn what geography has to contribute ..." (From the 1894 Preface to the First Edition of The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, by George Adam Smith.)

Over a hundred years later, Judy Pex brings the reader through those very "plains, passes and mountains" about which Smith wrote. Step by step from Eilat to Mt. Hermon on The Israel Trail, Pex describes her country from the ground up.

Judy and John Pex have overseen The Shelter Hostel in Eilat for over 20 years. They lead an international congregation there which grew out of their work of serving soup dinners and giving backpackers a place for overnights. It is a 24/7 kind of job.

Their dream grew over the years: to walk the entire Israel National Trail (Shvil Israel) - a feat accomplished by only about 100 people per year. John decided it had to be done before his 60th birthday! And they did it - all winding 940 km (580 miles) from Eilat to Dan. The Trail meanders through the vast wadis and heights of the Negev, then cuts west to the Mediterranean near Tel Aviv along busy roads, up the coast and across the Carmel Range, ending on Mt. Hermon at the Syrian-Lebanese border. The map and 16 pages of Pex's color photos augment her descriptive passages.

There is also an interview with the author here.

The book sounds like a profitable way to gain insights from the trip without having to wrap your feet in duct tape every morning.

HT: Yehuda Group


The Graduate Junction

I have been alerted to a new resource which may be very helpful for researchers.  From their description:

The Graduate Junction is a brand new website designed to help early career researchers make contact with others with similar research interests, regardless of which department, institution or country they work in. Designed by two graduate researchers at the University of Durham, The Graduate Junction has proved very popular with research students and academics alike. Within the first two weeks after our launch in early May 2008 over 2000 researchers in the UK had registered and the news had spread across 40 countries.

Currently research students have two main sources of information, published literature and academic conferences. Whilst published literature is essential, it can only ever reveal completed work. Relevant academic conferences provide a forum for students with similar research interest to interact but occur infrequently. It is very easy to become isolated, overly focused on the specifics of one's own work and lose a sense of what other related work is being done.

The Graduate Junction hopes to prevent that isolation and allow early career researchers to start forming the networks which can stay with them throughout their careers. The Graduate Junction aims to provide an atmosphere similar to that at academic events and through the use of the internet aims to establish an on-line worldwide graduate research community.

This could be a great way to connect with those working in your field.  Check it out here.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

En Gedi stream

En Gedi, the oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea, may be a more enjoyable place to visit in the future.  From the JPost:

The Ein Gedi stream started flowing on Monday for the first time in 50 years, following an agreement signed in May 2007 between Kibbutz Ein Gedi and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The agreement stipulates that the kibbutz must let water flow from the Ein Gedi spring into the stream before drawing it for kibbutz use. The agreement also limits the amount of water that the kibbutz may use, thereby increasing the flow from the spring to the stream.

The stream dried up in the 1950s because those developing the kibbutz needed its water for agriculture. After that, until the signing of the agreement, the kibbutz drew water directly from the spring, which was the stream's source. The Ein Gedi water company also drew from the spring prior to the deal.

"We didn't deal with the principal question of whether the kibbutz needed to get this water," said Omri Gal, an assistant spokesperson for INPA. "We took as a given that the kibbutz needed that water. Our goal was to lessen the damage to the water. The previous situation was unacceptable, and the stream was a tragedy."

Several months later, after the kibbutz dismantled its water-drawing facilities, water has begun to flow down the stream at a rate of 10 meters per second, a number that should rise to 25 by the time the process is completed.

Though the Ein Gedi water, if not drawn, would flow to the Dead Sea, Gal said that its reaching the stream brought tremendous benefit to the surrounding area, as well as to the government agency that protects it.

"This is an amazing thing for the environment," he said. "Ein Gedi is an important natural area. There have been guards working there for 30 years, and for them this is a holiday."

The story continues here and ends with this line:

"Ein Gedi used to be unique," said Gal. "We want to revive the flora and bring back the water. It will look like it did in days of old."

You can read (and see) more about En Gedi at this BiblePlaces page.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Water Crisis in Israel

From the JPost:

"This is the worst crisis since records started being kept 80 years ago," Water Authority head Uri Shani declared Tuesday morning at a special press conference in Tel Aviv. "Like most countries, Israel is dependent on rainfall and the amount of rainfall is decreasing. There is a drop of 100 million cubic meters per year."

Shani described a situation of increasing damage to Israel's main natural water sources. The Coastal Aquifer "has dropped below its black line," which means that it will suffer rapid damage, possibly irreversible damage, Shani said.

The water level in the Mountain Aquifer was currently a meter above its Lower Red Line, but was also expected to reach its bottom limit - the Black Line - by this year. He added that water levels in the aquifers had never been this low.

Shani predicted that Lake Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] would reach its Black Line by December 2008. The Kinneret dropped below its bottom limit on Monday, 213 meters below sea level. The lake's Black Line is 214.87 meters below sea level.

The story continues here.

Sea of Galilee water level sign, tb052808512 
New sign in Tiberias displays the present water level in the Sea of Galilee, a main source of fresh water for Israel today

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Gabriel's Vision (Messiah Stone)

The New York Times publishes an article on old news, Drudge links to it, and suddenly we have a sensational story that will "shake our basic view of Christianity."  Hold on a minute.

You can read the story in the NY Times, a copy at the International Herald Tribune, Haaretz, World Net Daily, and elsewhere.  You could also have read about it a year ago in Haaretz, or read the article in Biblical Archaeology Review Jan/Feb 2008 issue.  Why is it suddenly "news" now?

You can see photos of it at Haaretz, a large photo here, line drawing and transcription here (pdf), and an English translation here.  You can also read the original journal article published in Cathedra here (in Hebrew; pdf).

Here's a brief summary:

What: Three-foot tall stone inscribed in ink with 87 lines of Hebrew text describing a vision given by the angel Gabriel

When: The stone was written in the 1st century B.C. and it was discovered 8-10 years ago and sold by a Jordanian antiquities dealer to an Israeli-Swiss antiquities collector.

Where: It was found in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, possibly on the Jordanian side.  Ada Yardeni: "You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone."

Forgery?: Even though this was not uncovered in a legal excavation, scholars believe the inscription to be authentic.

The Sensational Claim: The end of the inscription mentions a messiah who would rise in 3 days.  Since the text was written before Jesus' resurrection, it explains how the story of Jesus' resurrection came to be.

The Sensational Quotation: "Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story" (Israel Knohl, professor of biblical studies at Hebrew University and proponent of this theory). 

The Disputed Reading: "In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you."

Why Disputed: "There is one problem.  In crucial places of the text there is lack of text. I understand Knohl's tendency to find there keys to the pre-Christian period, but in two to three crucial lines of text there are a lot of missing words" (Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University).

Why This Matters:

Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

In other words, if the disputed reading is correct, this reveals that Jesus and/or his disciples did not create the story of his resurrection after three days, but rather they borrowed it from existing ideas.  Of course, it is either one or the other: they invented it or stole it.  Here's a radical idea: Jesus was raised by God from the dead after he had been in the tomb three days.  Jesus expected this, which is why he predicted it.  His disciples remembered it, which is why they recorded it.

The author of this theory, Israel Knohl, says that this stone "should shake our basic view of Christianity."  Several assumptions are required for this stone to be so significant: 1) Knohl's disputed reading must be correct; 2) Knohl's interpretation of the text overall must be correct; 3) Jesus and/or his disciples must have known about this text (or a similar one not yet attested to); 4) Jesus did not rise from the dead; 5) Jesus' disciples were dishonest in claiming that he did rise from the dead and in attributing this idea to him from another source; 6) Jesus' disciples were stupid in dying for a lie that they invented.  Altogether, I think that these assumptions are shaky enough to suggest that Knohl is a little too optimistic about the impact of his theory.

UPDATE (7/8): I found the BAR article mentioned above online and added a link.  For today's articles and analysis on the story, see this post at Paleojudaica.

UPDATE (7/9): I can hardly do better than Paleojudaica with the latest stories, so I will not even try.  Note his choice for "inflated headline of the week."

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Reminiscences of Lachish

Ferrell Jenkins has posted about the 4th of July in Israel while excavating at Lachish in 1980.  He also has some interesting photos of the excavators, showing some of today's leading archaeologists at a younger age.  I remember Gabriel Barkay talking about the visit of the Arab workers that Ferrell witnessed.  He recalled how one day the old workmen and women showed up at the dig site.  They had formerly lived in Qubeibe, a village just north of the tell, but were now living in a refugee camp in Jordan.  Barkay had photos from Starkey's excavation in the 1930s and the workmen identified themselves.  The town of Qubeibe was leveled by the Israeli military in the 1960s and the stones of the village, probably many taken from the ruins of Lachish, were sold to building contractors.  Who knows but some ancient inscription was unknowing transferred from Lachish to Qubeibe and is now part of a wall in the area?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Free Software: Get Lost in Jerusalem

Some years ago Zondervan released a educational game on CD called "Get Lost in Jerusalem."  The goal of the game was to navigate through the Old City of Jerusalem with the help of clues.  shabanMany American students were particularly delighted to find that "home base" in the game is the shop of the famous Shaban (photo at right).  The copyright on the game has now reverted to its creator, Ted Hildebrandt, and he is making it available for free download.  So if you're hankering for a stroll down the historic narrow alleyways of Christian Quarter, minus the odors, you're in luck.  You can check out Hildebrandt's page with the download (and lots more), get more information at Amazon, or take a look at Biblical Studies and Technological Tools to get some helpful instructions before downloading and installing the 550 MB file.


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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

When You're Not Digging

One thing (an important thing) to consider when choosing an excavation to join is the extra-curricular activities. By that I mean the evening lectures and the afternoon or weekend tours. Digging in the dirt is nice, but your experience will be greatly enhanced if you can learn about your site and travel around the area. Having said that, and having looked at the schedule at Gath this season, I would certainly recommend choosing Gath for your excavation next year. Check the schedule out at the Gath blog. A tip to other excavations interested in boosting their number of volunteers for future seasons: put your extra-curricular schedule online. And start a dig blog.

Yigael Yadin lecturing at Megiddo, db6703260103
Yigael Yadin lecturing at Megiddo excavation, 1967
from forthcoming photo collection of David Bivin