Monday, August 31, 2009

Virtual Walking Tour of Temple Mount

Some months ago I learned about a new Virtual Walking Tour of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), but being short of time, I filed it for later.  Today seems to be a slow news day and so I started it up and enjoyed the tour.  It is excellent.

Created by Saudi Aramco World, the tour focuses on the present Muslim structures at the site, but it does not deny the previous existence of the two Jewish temples.

The tour begins with a five-minute narrated introduction (which you can skip) and then includes 32 360-degree panoramic views, each of which is explained both by an audio recording and a written transcript.

The visitor starts with two views of the Temple Mount from the east and west before surveying the grounds of the complex with approximately 18 more scenes.  A particularly unique image is #25, taken atop Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Tourists to Israel today can see most of these views if they visit during the open hours of the Temple Mount (approximately Sun-Thurs, 7:30-10:00 am, 12:30-1:30 pm), but since 2000 the holy buildings have been closed to non-Muslims.  Thus the images inside the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque will be especially appreciated by those who have been denied entrance.

A couple of practical comments: 1) You can turn the audio off and read the text; 2) the full-screen view is very high quality, but may be slow on your internet connection; 3) to get “inside” the Dome of the Rock, select #8 and new options will become available; 4) to get “inside” Al-Aqsa Mosque, select #26.

The creators did a fantastic job with this.  The photography is superb, the narration is helpful, and the location is one of the most religiously (and politically) important in the world.

Dome of Rock from southwest, tb122006949dxo2 Dome of the Rock from southwest

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Drawing Israel’s Borders

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting article on the modern map of Israel and the man in charge.

Most Israelis and Jordanians are probably unaware that the border between their countries isn't really fixed. The boundary runs directly through the center of the Jordan River, but should the river naturally change its course, so too will the border.

It is one of many secrets held by Dr. Haim Srebro, director-general of the Survey of Israel center. For decades, Srebro has been working to give the State of Israel its final borders.

When the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan were signed, Srebro and his Arab counterparts worked behind the scenes, away from the limelight and photo-ops of leaders shaking hands, to draw up some of the Middle East's best-known frontiers.

"The Jordan River is constantly changing. If it alters its route naturally, according to our agreement with the Jordanians, we recognize the change. But if the river is redirected artificially and suddenly, the border remains fixed," he said this week, speaking from his spacious office at the Survey of Israel's Tel Aviv headquarters....

Jordan is now working to develop a $27 million complex in Aqaba, complete with hotels and lagoons, funded largely by investment from the Gulf states. The proximity of the development to the Israeli border means that Srebro and Sagarat have had to be called in for advice.

"The border fence isn't actually on the border. It's on Israel's side, meaning that the Jordanians could have crossed into Israel without knowing it. That's why they are now building a border fence on their side, too," Srebro explained.

During the 1979 peace negotiations with Egypt, Srebro employed the cutting edge technique of using bridged straight aerial photographs (known as orthophotos) to draw up a new border between the countries following Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.

"I told the Egyptians, we'll do something together. Let's set up a committee, so that you can check on us and we'll check on you," Srebro recalled.

At first, the Americans, who were brokering the talks, handed both sides an abstract map of the new proposed border, but Srebro said the map, which lacked any physical features, was useless.

"For the first time in a peace treaty, aerial photographs were used to plan a border," he said. The Egyptians were so pleased with the result that they sent Srebro a statue of Nefertiti to thank him.

The complete article is here.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Petra of Saudi Arabia

Madain Saleh is a beautiful Nabatean site that few know about because of restrictions from the Saudi Arabian government.  The AP has a good article about it, and you can see some beautiful photos at

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Much of the world knows Petra, the ancient ruin in modern-day Jordan that is celebrated in poetry as "the rose-red city, 'half as old as time,'" and which provided the climactic backdrop for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

But far fewer know Madain Saleh, a similarly spectacular treasure built by the same civilization, the Nabateans.

That's because it's in Saudi Arabia, where conservatives are deeply hostile to pagan, Jewish and Christian sites that predate the founding of Islam in the 7th century.

But now, in a quiet but notable change of course, the kingdom has opened up an archaeology boom by allowing Saudi and foreign archaeologists to explore cities and trade routes long lost in the desert.

The sensitivities run deep. Archaeologists are cautioned not to talk about pre-Islamic finds outside scholarly literature. Few ancient treasures are on display, and no Christian or Jewish relics. A 4th or 5th century church in eastern Saudi Arabia has been fenced off ever since its accidental discovery 20 years ago and its exact whereabouts kept secret.

In the eyes of conservatives, the land where Islam was founded and the Prophet Muhammad was born must remain purely Muslim. Saudi Arabia bans public displays of crosses and churches, and whenever non-Islamic artifacts are excavated, the news must be kept low-key lest hard-liners destroy the finds.

The rest of the article is here.

HT: Agade via Joe Lauer


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Proto-Sinaitic Inscription Found at Timna

Stonewatch/Arad Academy e.V. has announced the discovery of a proto-Sinaitic inscription in Timna, Israel, about 20 miles north of Eilat.  The press release, via ANE-2:

The engraving, measuring ca. 12 x 16 cm, was found by "Stonewatch / Arad Academy e.V.", an institution based in Germany, that has been conducting surveys of rock art in Timna and worldwide for many years (

Dr. Stefan Jakob Wimmer, an Egyptologist and ANE epigraphist at the University of Munich - who is not related to Stonewatch - is studying the engraving and working on a scholarly publication. He has preliminarily suggested to identify the writing as Proto Sinaitic:

"... The right oval shows signs that are identical with characters of the Proto-Sinaitic script, and can in my view quite easily be read as a West Semitic personal name. In the left oval several signs will need more consideration. Some features of the inscription are especially remarkable: The suggested personal name in the right oval ends with the sign of a seated man. The adoption of a personal determinative has to my knowledge not been observed in other PS inscriptions, but is easily conceivable and should by no means contradict the identification of the inscription as PS. The upper character in the left oval could in my view be a variant of the image of the sun with two uraei protruding on either side, reduced to the uraei, and may shed light on a roughly similar sign in the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions. It will have to be examined if the oblong frames were inspired by cartouches. As an alternative one might think of stylised footprints.... The constellation of Egyptians and Semites in the context of mining activities is attested at two places: Serabit el-Khadim/Sinai, where almost all PS inscriptions were found (with the only exception until now of Wadi el-Hol near Luxor), and Timna. ... The importance of the discovery of this inscription - if indeed Proto-Sinaitic - is obviously considerable. It is hoped that its common ground with the inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadim, and also Wadi el-Hol, and even more its new, variant features, may substantially contribute to the study of the early alphabet."

We can add that the location of the inscription (which will not be disclosed until the necessary measures to protect the engraving from vandalism have been taken) corroborates a connection with the Egyptian copper mining activities at Timna. It is not, however, in close vicinity to the Hathor sanctuary.

The possibility of a modern "hoax" can safely be excluded due to clear signs of erosion and the identical colour (patina) of the grooves with the stone surface.

For more rock art from Timna including what may be other examples of yet undiciphered inscriptions, go to our free downloads: (Catalogue of Rock Art in Southern Israel Timna Valley)

Josef Otto
Stonewatch / Arad Academy e.V.

A photograph is available at


Capernaum Synagogue, Then and Now

Today visitors to Capernaum are impressed by the white limestone remains of an ancient synagogue.  Archaeological excavations indicate that this synagogue was built over the remains of an earlier synagogue dating from the time of Jesus.  Thus we can say with some measure of confidence that this is the place where Jesus healed the demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-28) and preached the sermon on the bread of life (John 6:25-59).

Capernaum synagogue from Peter's house, tb060105618

Capernaum synagogue, view from Peter’s house, present day

Visitors may not be aware that the synagogue did not survive in this condition since ancient times.  The photograph below shows what the synagogue looked like in the early 1900s.  The staircase in the foreground of the photo below is on the far right (middle) of the photo above.

Capernaum, ruins of synagogue, mat10654sr

Capernaum synagogue, early 1900s

The second photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-10654.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Israeli PM Visits Palestine Exploration Fund Offices

The ground-breaking work of the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1800s continues to be a most useful source of information to scholars today.  I mentioned recently the online availability of many of the volumes of the Survey of Western Palestine, and a few years ago I created an electronic version of the Survey of Western Palestine Maps.  But the Palestine Exploration Fund archives contain much that has never been published, and yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the offices in London.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Netanyahu, who mentioned the visit during his press conference with Brown, waxed poetic about it at a briefing with Israeli reporters, enthusing over the organization's collection of maps, pictures and documents of Palestine dating back to the mid-19th century.

"This is a treasure, it is something you all must see," he told reporters, as he kept returning to the subject and talking about the archival information there, and about the knowledge of the geography and topography of pre-state Israel housed in that building.

The PEF was founded in 1865 and is the oldest organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant, the southern portion of which - as the organization's literature makes clear - was conventionally known as "Palestine."

The organization publishes an internationally respected journal, the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and brings the latest archaeological findings and research to the public in a series of regular lectures.

The PEF archives houses some 40,000 photographs of Palestine, Jordan and Syria dating as far back as 1850, and also includes archaeological artifacts, natural history specimens, maps, manuscripts and paintings.

The full article is here, and the website of the Palestine Exploration Fund is here.

Alexander the Great Carving Found at Dor

From Arutz-7:

Excavations in Tel Dor have turned up a rare and unexpected work of Hellenistic art: a precious stone bearing the miniature carved likeness of Alexander the Great. Archaeologists are calling it an important find, indicating the great skill of the artist.

The Tel Dor dig, under the guidance and direction of Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University and Dr. Ilan Sharon of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, has just ended its summer excavation season. For more than 30 years, scientists have been excavating in Tel Dor, identified as the site of the Biblical town of Dor. The town's location, on Israel's Mediterranean Sea coast some 30 kilometers south of Haifa, made it an important international port in ancient times.

"Despite the tiny proportions - the length of the gemstone (gemma) is less than a centimeter and its width less than half a centimeter - the artist was able to carve the image of Alexander of Macedon with all of his features," Dr. Gilboa said. "The king appears as young and energetic, with a sharp chin and straight nose, and with long, curly hair held in a crown."

The full article is here and includes a small photo.

UPDATE: Joe Lauer sends along direct links to two beautiful photos:

  • Tel Dor, aerial view at the end of the 2009 excavation season
  • The gem of Alexander the Great, photographed using binocolor


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Moody Atlas

Another excellent atlas has been revised and is due out October 1 of this year.  The second edition of Barry Beitzel’s work is entitled The New Moody Atlas of the Bible and, according to the description, its “one hundred thousand words provide useful commentary for more than ninety detailed maps of Palestine, the Mediterranean, the Near East, the Sinai, and Turkey.”  I have long used the first edition of this atlas as required preparatory reading for seminary courses in Israel.  To give but one example, Beitzel’s discussion of climate in the Holy Land is excellent. 

Since I mentioned the cover photos on another atlas recently, I’ll say here that I like two of the three images selected.  The Capernaum synagogue and the Caesarea aqueduct are not only interesting visually, but they have a connection to the biblical record.  My preference would be to avoid shots, especially close-ups, of the Dome of the Rock on the cover of a book about the Bible.  But I understand why design artists are attracted to it.


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Copper Scroll, Code Cracked?

The Copper Scroll is certainly one of the most intriguing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The only text inscribed on two copper sheets, it lists the location of sixty treasures apparently in Judah in the period before the First Jewish Revolt in A.D. 70.  Many scholars believe that the list is authentic, but despite numerous efforts of the years no one has ever found any of the treasure.

The Jerusalem Post reports on an Oklahoma fire marshal named Jim Barfield who believes that he knows the location of not just one or two hiding places, but 56 of them.

After looking at the scroll for five minutes he deciphered the first location, and twenty minutes later he identified the next four locations. He and his wife took their first trip to Israel to confirm whether the sites and places that he had identified actually existed. "I wanted to make sure I wasn't just imagining things," Barfield said. It took six months for Barfield to crack the code for the rest of the locations.

This guy is pretty good.  He was able to figure out the locations without ever being to Israel, without knowing the language that the inscription is written in, and without having any background in archaeology or geography.

It’s nice to know what others think about his discovery:

He says that all of the archaeologists, rabbis, and historians presented with his research have been convinced. "It is so simple." He says. "They just all thump their heads."

Unfortunately, we only get it in Barfield’s words.

I don’t know enough to say that this guy is a fraud, only that he sounds like one.  If he actually has found something, he should go dig it out and then report on it.  But if he’s a publicity hound, I can write the script for the next few years: initial attempts will be stymied by various obstacles, during which time he’ll do many interviews and attempt to raise lots of money.  When he finally digs at one of his spots, he’ll find nothing – no treasure and no indication that any treasure was ever hidden there.  He’ll claim that it was stolen in antiquity (another round of interviews and appeals for cash) and start planning for a second excavation.  Efforts to dig will be hindered by various obstacles, during which time he’ll do many interviews and attempt to raise lots of money.  Etc.

The article itself is worth reading as it provides interesting and accurate information about the Copper Scroll.  You can find an introduction to and translation of the scroll in Florentino Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 2nd ed., pages 459-63.  An excellent reference is the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2 volumes).

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ein Harod, Then and Now

This is the first in what I plan to be an extended series of blog posts illustrating the value of historic photos using examples from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  I’ve written much elsewhere about how the biblical lands have been altered in the last 100 years, but there’s no better way to illustrate this than with photographs.

A good example of how the land has changed in the last hundred years is Ein Harod, also known as Gideon’s spring.  Here the timid warrior gathered thousands of Israelites to fight the Midianites, but the Lord gave him a plan to sift the men by separating the lappers from the kneelers (Judges 7).  Today the spring has been nicely “improved” so that it’s very difficult to understand how such a selecting procedure would have occurred.

Ein Harod spring cave, tb011400101srEin Harod spring cave, present day
(Source: Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

One hundred years ago, there was no fence to keep tourists out and no paving stones to walk across.  Not only that, the flow of the spring has apparently been greatly diminished because of modern wells in the area.  It is likely that the way the spring looked like in A.D. 1900 is the way that it looked in 1100 B.C. when Gideon brought his men here.

Ein Harod, Gideon's Fountain, mat01077 Ein Harod, 1900-1920

George Adam Smith described it this way: “It bursts some fifteen feet broad and two deep from the very foot of Gilboa, and mainly out of it, but fed also by the other two springs, flows a stream considerable enough to work six or seven mills” (Historical Geography of the Holy Land [1909]: 397-98).

This is one of 600 high-resolution photographs in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01077.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Zondervan Atlas, Revised Edition

I just stumbled across an Amazon listing for Carl Rasmussen’s revised edition of the (now titled) Zondervan Atlas of the Bible.  I’ve long used and recommended Rasmussen’s first edition (NIV Atlas of the Bible, 1989) and have no doubt that the second will be even better.  It does seem that the publishers could have chosen a more appropriate cover photo for a Bible atlas than an image of the Nabatean tombs at Petra.  Amazon has it for pre-order for $26, with a scheduled release of March 2010.


Aphrodite and Odeon Found at Hippos

The University of Haifa has announced some discoveries from its 2009 season of excavations at Hippos/Sussita, reported in a press release (Hebrew) and in an English article in Ha’aretz

Remains of an ancient cult to the goddess of love have come to light in the southern Golan Heights site of Susita.

At the site, on a 350 meter-high-plateau overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret, archaeologists found a cache of three figurines of Aphrodite (whom the Romans called Venus), dating back about 1,500 years. The figurines, made of clay, are about 30 centimeters tall. They depict the nude goddess standing, with her right hand covering her private parts - a type of statue scholars call "modest Venus."

I’m personally more interested in another find, described at the conclusion of the article:

Another special find at Susita is an odeon - a small, roofed theater-like structure with seats for about 600 people, uncovered for the first time in Israel, according to the excavators. They said such structures were fairly common in the Roman period and were used for the reading of poetry and musical presentations to a select audience, in contrast to theaters, which could seat around 4,000 people.

The claim that this is the first odeon discovered in Israel is not true; another has been excavated at Aphek/Antipatris (NEAEH 1: 71, with photo).

The press release includes several photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

OT Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set: Old Testament is scheduled to be released in November. This five-volumeZondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set set provides textual and pictorial commentary on every book of the Old Testament. Edited by John H. Walton, the set is 3,000 pages long and includes more than 2,000 photographs. I have not yet seen it advertised, so I thought I’d mention it here. Amazon currently has the best price at $157 (list: $250). The New Testament set came out in 2002.

UPDATE (8/26): The Koinonia blog (Zondervan) has been running a series of excerpts from this series since January.


Jerusalem Insider’s Guide

I’ve recently learned about a new website devoted solely to the city of Jerusalem.  If you are planning a trip to the city, this site has a number of pages that may help you to get the most of your time.  For instance:

Best Jerusalem Old City sites – this “top 10” list has 12 recommendations and I would basically agree with the selections.  The hours and prices are helpful as well, as long as they remain up to date.  Some extra links reflect the extra time spent developing the website, such as the tips about appropriate attire for Hezekiah’s Tunnel and information about the Jerusalem mp3 tour.

The Museum Guide gives eight recommendations, including full pages about three of them.  The Israel Museum page gives a good summary of the major highlights, though it will be worth mentioning here that the Archaeology Wing is closed until 2010 (Middle East Time).

I’m not sure how many times I’ve had to explain how to get from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem, but this page gives all the details you need to know except the price for a shared taxi (about $11 or NIS equivalent).

There are some points I would disagree with – such as women in pants being required to wear skirts at the Western Wall prayer area (I’ve never seen that) – but overall the advice seems sensible and accurate.

Some sections are still under development, such as “Where to Eat,” but overall visitors will find much to help them plan their trip in the city.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Photo CDs: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

I am very excited to announce the release of a new photo collection from and  The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection includes more than 4,000 high-resolution photographs taken by professional photographers living in Jerusalem from 1898 until the 1940s.  I’ve worked with a team for the last five years organizing and improving this collection so that the photos are the highest quality, accurately identified, carefully organized, and elucidated by observations of well-known 19th-century explorers.

The collection spans 8 CD volumes and is being released one volume a month beginning this week.  Volume 1 is “Northern Palestine,” and it includes 600 photos organized in the following categories:

  • Acco (11 photos)
  • Benjamin (43 photos)
  • Caesarea (31 photos)
  • Caesarea Philippi (14 photos)Northern Palestine CD cover
  • Ephraim and Manasseh (34 photos)
  • Galilee Hill Country (20 photos)
  • Haifa (27 photos)
  • Huleh Basin (12 photos)
  • Jaffa (51 photos)
  • Jezreel Valley (47 photos)
  • Mount Carmel (15 photos)
  • Mount Hermon (20 photos)
  • Mount Tabor (12 photos)
  • Nazareth (32 photos)
  • Samaria city (19 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee (41 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Capernaum (31 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Tabgha (15 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Tiberias (39 photos) – free PowerPoint here
  • Sharon Plain (17 photos)
  • Shechem area (22 photos)
  • Tel Aviv (43 photos)

All images are included in high-resolution jpg format as well as in annotated PowerPoint files.  The cost for the CD is now only $20, with free shipping in the U.S.  While volumes 2-8 are not yet available individually, the complete collection is available in DVD format for $99.

I believe this is the finest collection of historic photographs of the Middle East available anywhere in any format.

You can read more about the collection here:

Volume 1: Northern Palestine

Complete Collection: Volumes 1-8

As with everything we do, the goal is your complete satisfaction.  If you don’t like it or need it, return it for a full refund.  If you do like it, we would really appreciate it if you’d pass the word on.  Review copies are available by request.

I plan to post on this blog some interesting images from the CD over the next few weeks.

Nazareth and Mt Tabor, mat05532 Nazareth with Mount Tabor in the distance
Date: between 1900-1920

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Roman Building Excavated in City of David

A third-century A.D. Roman building has been excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem.  Excavations in this past and future parking lot located in the Central (Tyropean) Valley have formerly revealed a first-century A.D. palace believed to have belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene.

From the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A spacious edifice from the Roman period (third century CE) – apparently a mansion that belonged to a wealthy individual – was recently exposed in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the 'Givati Car Park' at the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations are being conducted at the site on behalf of the IAA and in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, together with Yana Tchekhanovets, “Although we do not have the complete dimensions of the structure, we can cautiously estimate that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns. Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs”.

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs. Its architectural richness, plan and particularly the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins bear witness to the unequivocal Roman character of the building. The most outstanding of these finds are a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.

The full release can be found here (temporary link).

Three high-resolution photos can be downloaded from the IAA website, including photos of the earring and statue and an aerial photograph of the building.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Jewish Temple from Third Century AD Found in Turkey

The headline above reflects the article’s story, but I think a better English word for the discovery would be “synagogue.”  Traces of many Jewish synagogues have been found in Turkey and this is likely just another.  The word “temple” is sometimes used to refer to a worship building, without intending to specify a singular structure such as that in Jerusalem.

The location of the discovery is interesting to New Testament readers for another reason: Paul visited this place.  A search of the NT won’t reveal any references to Andriake/Andriace, but this was the name of the port of Myra, where Paul changed ships on his way to prison in Rome (Acts 27:5-6).

From Today’s Zaman:
Ongoing excavations at the ancient port city of Andriake in Lycia -- located in Antalya's Demre district -- have uncovered a centuries-old Jewish temple.

Site chief Dr. Nevzat Çevik, an archaeology professor at Akdeniz University, told the Anatolia news agency that his team believes the temple is from around the third century. Located on a choice spot facing the sea, the temple was likely built following a law instituted in 212 that allowed Jews the right to become Roman citizens, Çevik said.

The find is important as it is the first archaeological trace of Jewish culture found in Lycia. “For the archaeological world, the world of science and particularly for Lycian archaeology and history, we're facing an important find here. It's the first remnant of Lycian Jewish culture we've found,” Çevik said, describing the find. “When we first discovered the temple, we weren't sure what it was, but after continuing to dig, the archaeological findings and particularly the first-quality marble slabs that we found were evidence for us that they were part of a Jewish temple.”

The finding came as a great surprise, the archaeologist said, and the team is continuing to work excitedly. “To encounter remnants of Jewish culture for the first time has caused great excitement. We're adding another layer to what we know of Lycian culture -- now that we know that there was a Jewish presence in Lycia as well, we can follow this path and better understand other finds,” he explained.

As part of the temple find, the team located a menorah and pieces inscribed with traditional Jewish symbols and figures. Çevik also noted the importance that the find would eventually have for tourism in the region.

Andriace Hadrian's granary near harbor, tb062406329ddd
Andriace harbor with well-preserved granary of Hadrian in foreground (2nd century A.D.)

HT: Paleojudaica

UPDATE (10/8): The story is covered by the Jerusalem Post.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Biblical and Modern Jezreel

Aviva Bar-Am has written an informative article about ancient Jezreel and its modern counterparts in the Jerusalem Post.  The first half discusses the battles around the village in 1948 and the kibbutz that was established there.  The second half describes the biblical and archaeological significance, including this part:

Although archeologists have uncovered portions of a tower, found the city gate and dug to the bottom of the moat, the biblical Jezreel is overgrown with weeds and there isn't much to see (I am also not sure how safe it is - there are open pits). It is much more fun to spend time at the tel's excellent recreation site, centered by a striking monument to Palmah troops who fell here in 1948. From the heights of the tel you have a fantastic view of the Harod and Beit She'an valleys. Enjoy the shade produced by the fruit trees in the lovely reconstruction of Naboth's plot.

You can also follow a lovely biblical trail on the northern edge of the mountain down the slope for about 35 minutes (allow about 50 minutes for walking back up). A delightful surprise awaits you at the bottom: the Jezreel Spring. It is one of 48 freshwater, full springs that lie under the mountain, the result of geological changes that occurred when the Syrian African Rift raised Mount Gilboa and lowered the valley.

Before you jump into the inviting pool, set within a grove of eucalyptus trees, look for a shaft a few meters from the end of the trail. It leads underground to a tunnel which you and your kids can enter (with a flashlight!), walk through water and end up on the other side of the road in a canal that leads directly to the pool.

The spring, of course, is mentioned in the Bible (isn't everything in this region?) "The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel..." [I Samuel 29:1].

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Harod Valley, Mt Gilboa, Jezreel aerial fr w, tb121704019 captions Tell Jezreel and Mount Gilboa from west

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Temple Model Overlooks Temple Mount

I was traveling last week when the Jerusalem Post reported on the installation of a model of the Second Temple above the Western Wall plaza, but readers who didn’t see it elsewhere may be interested.  You can see another photo of the model at Arutz-7; it looks very similar to the model at the Israel Museum (formerly Holyland Hotel).

Some 50 people gathered on Wednesday to watch the installation of a Second Temple model on the roof of a yet-unfinished Aish HaTorah yeshiva building, across from the Western Wall and just a few hundred meters from where the real thing once stood.

With the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa Mosque standing conspicuously in the background, a crane lowered the 1.2-ton model onto the roof.

It took about a year for Michael Osanis, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who has built a number of other Temple models, including one in the Temple Institute, also in the capital's Jewish Quarter, to complete this model, which is made from gold, silver, wood and Jerusalem stone.

The model will sit on a new educational building for Aish HaTorah's short-term outreach programs, which is set to open in December.

Aish, which provides a network of educational programs for Jews around the world, is also building a new "Exploratorium" - an interactive museum on Jewish history, which it expects will host 300,000 visitors annually after it opens in two years.

"What could be more appropriate than to have here, as people are standing looking out over our holiest place, the Temple Mount, a sense of what it was really like to have the Temple here?" asked Ephraim Shore, director of Aish's programs in Jerusalem.

The yeshiva hopes that this model will help people to visualize the Temple and therefore forge a stronger connection with Judaism and Jewish history.

"It is hard for us to imagine a Temple and to feel that we are praying inside the Temple," said Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, the head of Aish's Jerusalem yeshiva.

"But now, everyone who comes and sees this Temple model, it will be much easier for them to connect to the Temple and to direct their prayers to the Holy of Holies."

As the crane lowered the model into place, an argument broke out about which direction it should face. Should it mirror the way the actual Temple sat in relation to the Temple Mount, or sit the opposite way, making it easier for large crowds to see it?

Osanis swiftly decided that ease of access was more important, and positioned the model accordingly. Not everyone in the crowd was happy with the decision.

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Assyrian Tablets Found in Tayinat Temple

The tablets may be “part of a possible archive.”  From a press release from the University of Toronto:

Excavations led by a University of Toronto archaeologist at the site of a recently discovered temple in southeastern Turkey have uncovered a cache of cuneiform tablets dating back to the Iron Age period between 1200 and 600 BCE. Found in the temple's cella, or 'holy of holies', the tablets are part of a possible archive. The cella also contained gold, bronze and iron implements, libation vessels and ornately decorated ritual objects.

"The assemblage appears to represent a Neo-Assyrian renovation of an older Neo-Hittite temple complex, providing a rare glimpse into the religious dimension of Assyrian imperial ideology," said Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archeology in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). "The tablets, and the information they contain, may possibly highlight the imperial ambitions of one of the great powers of the ancient world, and its lasting influence on the political culture of the Middle East."

Partially uncovered in 2008 at Tell Tayinat, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Palastin, the structure of the building where the tablets were found preserves the classic plan of a Neo-Hittite temple. It formed part of a sacred precinct that once included monumental stelae carved in Luwian (an extinct Anatolian language once spoken in Turkey) hieroglyphic script, but which were found by the expedition smashed into tiny shard-like fragments.

The press release continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tel Kabri 2009 Excavation Results

Eric Cline writes on the ANE-2 list:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP) would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2009 excavation season is now available at:

If the direct link does not work for some reason, please go to, click on "2009 Season," and then click on the link there to download the pdf.

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) are also listed at, under the "Previous Results" link
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 33/1 (2008) 59-83.

The report’s abstract reads:

The 2009 excavations at Tel Kabri, the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, lasted from 21 June to 30 July 2009. A highlight of the season was the discovery of numerous fragments of painted plaster, from both a previously-unknown Minoan-style wall fresco with figural representations and a second Aegean-style painted floor.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Video: Search for Sodom and Gomorrah

Ferrell Jenkins links to a new video on the excavations of Tall el-Hammam, believed by Steven Collins to be biblical Sodom.  The 10-minute video is well-produced and the excavator’s arguments are easy to understand.  I don’t need to make every mention of this excavation on this blog an occasion to disagree, but it is difficult to let certain statements slide by. Besides that, conservative Bible believers like myself are used to hearing critical dismissals from those who don’t trust the Bible.  But just because something is opposed by critics does not mean that it is automatically right!

The problem, I believe, is that Collins’ statement “right place, right time” dooms his identification.  Finding ancient sites that have Middle Bronze occupation and then a gap until Iron Age is not difficult.  That’s what Collins has found.  This and the others in the area are no doubt important sites, but it does not fit the biblical data about Sodom.  Collins concludes with the presentation with this statement:

Every turn of the spade at Tall el-Hammam reinforces the occupational profile predicted for Sodom from the Bible.

If this statement was negative, it would be accurate.  That is, Tall el-Hammam does not match the occupational profile for Sodom given in the Bible. 

Sodom, according to the Bible:

  • Intermediate Bronze (aka EB IV/MB I; 2300-2000 BC): occupied and destroyed
  • Middle Bronze (2000-1500 BC): not occupied
  • Late Bronze (1500-1200 BC): not occupied
  • Iron Age (1200-600 BC): not occupied

Tall el-Hammam, according to the excavations:

  • Intermediate Bronze (aka EB IV/MB I; 2300-2000 BC): occupied
  • Middle Bronze (2000-1500 BC): occupied [Sodom was not]
  • Late Bronze (1500-1200 BC): not occupied
  • Iron Age (1200-600 BC): occupied [Sodom was not]

With regard to the Middle Bronze occupation, understand this: you must revise the biblical dates in order for Collins’ identification to match the archaeology.  He lowers the date of Abraham in order to create a match with his excavation results.  The traditional biblical dating of the destruction of Sodom is approximately 2100 BC, but the Middle Bronze Age ends about 500 years later.   (The key references that establish the biblical dating are Exodus 12:40 and 1 Kings 6:1.)

With regard to the Iron Age occupation, there is not one reference in the Bible to Sodom being occupied during this time.  There are many references from the end of the Iron Age that indicate that its destruction testified to God’s judgment (Isa 1:9; 13:19-20; Jer 50:40; Amos 4:11; Zeph 2:9).  This would hardly be the case for a city that was rebuilt and thriving as Tall el-Hammam was.

Understand, I want to believe.  The data just gets in the way.

My previous posts on this site may be found here and here.  Steven Collins has written a number of articles about Tall el-Hammam which may be found in his school’s journal here.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

New Book: Eilat Mazar, The Palace of King David

The first preliminary report of Eilat Mazar’s excavations of the City of Davidmazar_palace is provocatively entitled, The Palace of King David.  The cover art shows an artist’s reconstruction of the palace, based on far more than what Mazar has excavated in her first three seasons.  The 100-page work is subtitled Excavations at the Summit of the City of David: Preliminary Report of Seasons 2005-2007, and it is to be published by Shoham Academic Research and Publication in 2009.  Eisenbrauns has it available for pre-order for $22.50.

The publisher’s description is as follows:

The preliminary report of the excavations at the top of the City of David hill in 2005-2007 summarizes the main findings from the Chalcolithic (the 5th millenium [sic] BCE) through the early Islamic (the 11th century CE) periods and presents initial conclusions of great importance to the study of the ancient history of Jerusalem.

UPDATE (8/10): The book is now shipping.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Israel to Register Antiquities Collectors

From a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority:

The Israel Antiquities Authority is embarking on a first of its kind campaign to register the antiquities collections that are held by the general public in Israel. An individual that is listed in the state’s databank as the owner of an antiquities collection will be recognized by the state as a “collector of antiquities”.

Israel is one of the world’s richest countries in archaeological artifacts. As such, over the years private individuals have discovered thousands of archaeological finds during the course of development work, agricultural work, etc.

In 2002 the legal status of a collector of antiquities in Israel was regulated, which is defined as “one who collects antiquities otherwise than for the purpose of trading therein”. The law defines an antiquities collection as: “an assemblage of fifteen antiquities or more”.

It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 people in Israel who can be considered by definition “collectors of antiquities”, but only several hundred of them are recognized by the state.

In February 2009 regulations took effect that will enable enforcing the law which was passed in 2002. The IAA is now calling on the public to comply in accordance with the law and report any antiquities they possess. An individual doing so will be granted the status of collector according to law and will be issued a certificate. The antiquities will be registered as the property of the collector and anyone who wishes to sell the collection they own can receive permission from the IAA to do so. Thus on the one hand, the collector can sell the antiquities he possesses, and on the other, the state will know to whom the object was transferred. 

Amir Ganor, in charge of the campaign on behalf of the IAA, explains that, “The country’s antiquities are a national, cultural and historical asset of utmost importance. We call on members of the public that hold pieces of history to assist us in gathering the archaeological information, which is part of the whole puzzle that makes up our past. Without parts of the puzzle it is difficult to know what the complete picture is exactly. The campaign is likely to result in a “flood” of important archaeological discoveries that are today hidden behind closed doors. The reporting will not affect adversely the public’s ownership of the items and the goal of the campaign is to document the national treasures and enable the IAA to keep proper track of them. Individuals who wish to hand over the inventory they possess to the IAA can do so, and whoever is interested can receive an appraisal regarding the historical importance of the items they own”.

The release continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Friday, August 07, 2009

“Bible Valley” Park

Yediot Ahronot has an article which was summarized in the Caspari Center Media Review about a subject that I have not read about elsewhere.  Nor have I heard of a “Judaean valley,” but from the context I believe this refers to what geographers sometimes call the “Chalk Moat” on the eastern side of the Shephelah, near biblical Adullam.

In an article entitled "Bible Now," Eldar Beck looked at the background to the opening of a new "Bible valley" in the Judaean valley. The person responsible for the idea, Amos Rolnick, grew up on a Shomer HaTza'ir kibbutz which cancelled its Purim festivities due to Stalin's death....

Rolnick, a kibbutznik who broke away to become a 'capitalist,' understood that Israel possessed the greatest financial potential in the world: lovers of the Bible. 'I understood the power of the Bible in the world,' he acknowledges. This understanding led him to conceive one of the most daring of tourist ventures now being planned in Israel: the creation of a 'Bible valley' park - a reconstruction of the biblical experience in a journey for Jewish history buffs, to be spread out over 100 dunams [25 acres] of land located in one of the central foci of the biblical story, in the Addulam strip in the Judaean valley, south of Jerusalem, not far from Beit Shemesh.

'The Bible valley' is defined as an interfaith project - Jewish and Christian - so that it will be possible to use it to link the hundreds of millions of those who also believe in the New Testament to the Land. It will be comprised of features devoted to the different biblical periods: it will contain a 'Forest of legends,' a 'Forest of the land of milk and honey,' a 'Forest of the prophets,' a 'Forest of kings,' and, of course, a 'Forest of the Song of Songs.' Via various technologies, visitors will be able to pass from our own time to the days of the Bible and to experience the course of history and faith ...

The heart of the park is intended to be the 'Bible house,' which will serve as permanent accommodation for the children's paintings ... as well as help in raising the funds for the next monumental project: 'The people of the world write the Bible,' in which framework the books of the Bible will be written by hand by people across the world, in their native language. The intention, explains Rolnick, is to get to at least 100 books, in 100 languages." The first books have already been written - in Taiwanese, Tamil, Finnish, Mandarin, Bengali - and are currently on exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem....

The project, supported by various individuals including academics and literary figures, is due to be built within the next five years, the Bible house being first on the list.

More information about the project is given in the article.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jerusalem Excavation Photos

Years ago I would say that no city had been excavated more than Jerusalem.  Today I think it’s also true to say that no city is currently being excavated more than Jerusalem.  Peter Wong has shared a few photos that he took last week.

Mount Zion excavations, by Peter Wong 7014

Excavations on Mount Zion. See here for more information about the summer’s discoveries.

Tyropoean Valley excavations, by Peter Wong 6524Excavations in the Central (Tyropoean) Valley. See here for the report of the discovery of Queen Helene's palace in this area.

Western Wall excavations, by Peter Wong 6097

Excavations in the Western Wall plaza.  See here and here for earlier photos.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

New Technology Gives 3-D Positions of Archaeological Finds

New Scientist has a popular version of an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science about recording the locations of archaeological artifacts using acoustic signals.

Every object unearthed by an archaeological dig must have its exact position recorded. This is normally a painstaking process involving measuring rods and string, but a device that uses technology originally developed to guide robots could speed up the process.

Gran Dolina in central Spain is a Palaeolithic site that contains important hominin remains which date from between 780,000 and 300,000 years ago. Thousands of fossils are discovered there every year, but registering them all by hand makes progress frustratingly slow. So archaeologists working on the site contacted Angélica de Antonio Jiménez and Fernando Seco at the Institute of Industrial Automation in Madrid, to see if they could come up with a better way.

Antonio Jiménez and Seco were working on an ultrasound system to help blind people and robots navigate, in which a mobile transmitter sends signals to a network of fixed nodes. The time taken for the signal to arrive at each node determines the precise location of the transmitter. To adapt the system for archaeological sites, Antonio Jiménez developed a 2-metre-long pointer, like a big pencil, to act as the transmitter. To prevent the user's body blocking the signals, it has two transmitters, one at the top and one 70 centimetres below it.

When a researcher finds an object, they trace its outline with the pointer, transmitting ultrasound data to a network of nodes above the site.

Software then reconstructs not only the position of the object, but also its size, shape and orientation, to an accuracy of about 5 millimetres (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.06.027).

The New Scientist article continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Khirbet Qeiyafa Photos from 2009 Season

Ferrell Jenkins has posted a few photos from the current excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa.  If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because I wrote a number of posts about this site last summer (start here), suggesting that it may have been the location of the Philistine encampment at Ephes-dammim.  The excavator believes that the site is biblical Shaaraim.  I am pretty confident that it is not Shaaraim and look forward to the time when I can articulate my reasons more carefully.  In the meantime, you can see an impressive photo of a gatehouse as well as a glass bottle discovered at the site this season.