Saturday, October 31, 2009

Egypt and the Bible Symposium, Toronto

There was a notice yesterday in ANE-2 of two conferences related to Egypt in Toronto next weekend.  You can read more about the Scholarly Colloquium on Ancient Egypt (Nov 6, 8) here.

The Egypt and the Bible symposium falls on the middle day between the colloquium and, while not free like the other, has a number of interesting lectures.  I heard Hoffmeier give the same lecture as listed below last month and it was very good.  I imagine that most of the others are as well.


Saturday, November 7th, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Location: University of Toronto campus, 5 Bancroft Ave., Room 1050

Advance online registration: Public $90.00, Member $80.00, Student
$40.00, SSEA Members $80.00


Of plots, women and lawgivers: Egypt as pictured in Genesis & Exodus
Prof. Donald B. Redford, Pennsylvania State University

Abraham in Egypt
Prof. John Gee, Brigham Young University

Exodus Geography and Location of the Re(e)d in the Light of Recent
Archaeological and Geological Work in North Sinai
Prof. James K. Hoffmeier, Trinity International University

The Campaign of Pharaoh Sheshonq, the Bible's `Shishak', to the
Levant, ca. 920 B.C: Myth, Legend, or Something you can put your
(hand-)pick into?
Prof. John S. Holladay, Emeritus University of Toronto

The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance between Hebrews and Kushites
Henry T. Aubin, author of The Rescue of Jerusalem

Two Hymns as Praise: Poems, Royal Ideology, and History in Ancient Israel and Ancient Egypt: A Comparative Reflection
Prof. Susan T. Hollis, Empire State College - State University of New York

Egypt and the Infant Jesus
Dr. F. Terry Miosi

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Herodium, Then and Now

Early Western visitors were intrigued by a conical mountain about 4 miles (6 km) southeast of Bethlehem.  Known by the Arabs as Jebel el Fureidis (Little Paradise Mountain), the site was believed to be the monument built by King Herod and named after himself. 

Herodium, ruins on summit, mat01383

Herodium, eastern tower, date of photograph: 1910-26.
From the Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01383).

Edward Robinson visited the site in 1838.  He described his visit in his second volume of Biblical Researches in Palestine: “Leaving here our horses, a steep ascent of ten minutes brought us to the top of the mountain, which constitutes a circle of about seven hundred and fifty feet in circumference. The whole of this is enclosed by the ruined walls of a circular fortress, built of hewn stones of good size, with four massive round towers standing one at each of the cardinal points. . . . The tower upon the East is not so thoroughly destroyed as the rest” (170-71).

Today one can see how impressive that solid eastern tower is.  Excavations began at Herodium in 1962 under the Franciscan Virgil Corbo.  After Israel took the area in 1967, Ehud Netzer continued the archaeological work.  Two years ago, Netzer discovered the long-sought-for tomb of Herod.

Herodium interior, tb102603570

Herodium with eastern tower on right

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Support Sought for Tel Dor

The Tel Dor team is looking for support and volunteers, and I’m glad to help out by posting a recent letter I received here.  Times are tough for archaeology, as noted by Jeffrey Zorn in this column in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.  They would appreciate your support.

Dear Madam/Sir,

The exquisite gemstone of Alexander the great that captured your attention is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of one of the largest, long-lasting and high-profile archaeological projects in Israel. If you care about the archaeology of biblical times (Israelites, Phoenicians and Sea People), the Classical periods, and the cultural heritage of Israel and the Mediterranean; and if you are interested in forging a bond between Israel and the international community - please take a moment to look at the attached file. Like almost cultural projects around the globe, we need your help to endure.

We would be grateful if you could pass this message to any other interested parties.


Dr. Ilan Sharon,
Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University Jerusalem
Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 91905
Tel. 972-2-2881304

Dr. Ayelet Gilboa
Chair, Dept. of Archaeology,
University of Haifa, Mount Carmel
Haifa 31905, Israel
Tel: 972-4-8240234, 972-4-8240531

Tel Dor website:

Tel Dor has also a facebook page; you are welcome to visit us.

The cover story this month in BAR is about a beautiful mosaic found in the excavations of Dor. 

If your idea of a perfect summer is excavating on the beach in the best climate in the world, you have found what you’re looking for.

Dor harbor area from north, tb090506883

Harbor of Dor, looking south

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Menorah Cave Opened at Beth Shearim

The cave previously known as the “Cave of the Coffins” has been restored and renamed. From Arutz-7:

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin unveiled a huge ancient relief depicting a seven branched menorah at Beit Shearim in the Galilee Tuesday. The menorah, which is 1.90 m. (75”) high, is one of the major tourist attractions at the renovated ancient burial cave site.

The burial caves were discovered decades ago but their recent renovation took place largely thanks to Rivlin's initiative. In 2004, during his first term as Knesset Speaker, Rivlin visited the site and was stirred by the site of the numerous depictions of the menorah, which is the modern State of Israel's symbol as well.

He took action to make sure that the site received special preference and that funds were allocated to its restoration and preservation. A team, which included restoration expert Jacques Neger and architect Ram Shoef, got rid of roots that had invaded the caves and restored the wall carvings, and the renewed site was opened to tourists.

The rest of the article, with photos, is here.

The Haaretz report adds this note:

Another two newly discovered burial caves not far from the current archaeological site will be opened to the public in three months.

Another Haaretz article notes the claims of a 93-year-old architect that he discovered the necropolis of Beth Shearim and not the famed watchman Alexander Zaid.

Beth Shearim Cave of Coffins menorah, tb040603019 Menorah decoration before restoration, Beth Shearim

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Blog for Tel Burna Excavation

A promising new blog started last week with the intention of chronicling the excavation of a site from the very beginning.  The Tel Burna Excavation Project is headed by Itzhaq Shai and Joe Uziel of Bar Ilan University and we look forward to continued informative postings.  So far, they have covered:

The Arabic name for the site is Tell Bornat, and it has been identified as Libnah by W. F. Albright and A. F. Rainey.

Tell Bornat, possible Libnah, from west, tb011606860 Tel Burna from the west

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pottery Baskets

Pottery pails, tb110704006

If you've ever thought it strange that they call them “pottery baskets” when they’re really just plastic buckets, the photo below may help.

Tell Beit Mirsim, pottery baskets, mat05733

This photo was taken in the first season of William F. Albright’s excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim (1926).  It is one of 25 photos taken at the site included in the newly published Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (originally Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05733).

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Hazor 2009 Report

Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman have posted a brief summary of the excavation results of this year’s season at Hazor.  The focus was on Iron Age material in Area M.  Among other things, they report:

One wide wall, built with a mudbrick superstructure on a stone foundation, was uncovered in the final week of this season. This wall, 1 m. wide and 15 m. long, oriented east–west, is the first of its kind in the area. It must have belonged to a large public structure. The two central rows of worked limestone pillars are parallel to this wall, and most probably form the inner partition walls of an administrative structure. This assumption will be further checked in the next season.

The main finds attributed to the Iron Age phases in the area are pottery sherds and some complete and restorable vessels. In addition, several scarabs and seals, three Egyptianised beads made of faience, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic clay figurines, iron and bronze objects and an incised bone lid were found.

Unfortunately the website was created using frames, so you have to click this link and then select “Report of 2009 Season” unless you want to see the page without the header.

A promo video created by SourceFlix heads the page with information about the 2010 season.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Salvage archaeology is the unplanned kind which occurs when construction reveals ancient remains.  In a city like Jerusalem, modern builders uncover the past far more than they would like.  This Jerusalem Post article gives some good insight into the challenges and rewards.

Archaeologist Yoram Tsafrir is unhappy that the Israel Antiquities Authority is planning to build a three-story museum over the ruins of the Roman “Valley Cardo” on the western side of the Western Wall Plaza.

Stephen G. Rosenberg writes in the Jerusalem Post on two synagogues in the Golan Heights at Ein Nashut and Yehudiya.

An American geologist argued in a recent lecture that David chose the city of Jerusalem because of the karstic limestone formations.  The brief article in the Jerusalem Post only covers the basics and doesn’t reveal what he has contributed to the discussion.  An abstract of the article can be read here.

Case Western Reserve University has about 300 out-of-copyright books on the Ancient Near East available on their website.

The Jerusalem Post has a 3-minute video on the recent story (previously noted here) on the Western Wall tunnels and new discoveries made there.

Bridges for Peace sent me their 2010 calendar because they used one of my photos on the cover.  The calendar is full of beautiful photographs and I see that they are for sale here for $10.

HT: Joe Lauer, Mondo Gonzales, David F. Coppedge

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Double-Decker Plaza at Western Wall Planned

From Arutz-7:

Israel is planning a major archaeological dig under the Western Wall (Kotel) plaza, opposite the Temple Mount, officials announced Thursday. The excavations will create an archaeological park directly underneath the area where worshippers currently stand while praying at the Kotel.

The current prayer area will remain open, supported by pillars, while a new area will be added underneath, at the level at which worshippers at the ancient Temple stood in the past.

Don’t expect the Arab leaders to miss this opportunity.

The dig may be met with harsh reactions from Muslim and Arab leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, many of whom have accused Israel of attempting to damage the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem-area Muslims recently rioted for several days after it was rumored that “Jewish settlers” had planned to pray on the Temple Mount.

You can see an artist’s sketch of what the area will look like here.  The full article is here.

The present plaza level was lowered in the 1960s, as I noted with this interesting photo comparison.

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Cline on the Distortion of Archaeology

The Bible and Interpretation has published a number of provocative essays since its return earlier this year.  A recent one that relates to a matter occasionally noted on this blog is Eric Cline’s “The Distortion of Archaeology and What We Can Do About It: A Brief Note on Progress Made and Yet To Be Made.”  The essay is adapted from a forthcoming book and thus may feel a bit long for internet reading, but you can profitably skim it, slowing down for the sections of greater interest.  After an opening illustration, the article begins:

We find similar situations every year in archaeology, for the junk science which is practiced by many pseudo-archaeologists and amateur enthusiasts (against which I have railed elsewhere) not only cannot withstand serious scrutiny, but in many cases the “results” themselves are not really results in the first place. However, when gratuitous claims of amazing finds, especially concerning Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, and Sodom and Gomorrah, are first made, they are featured prominently in the media, but subsequent rebuttals are given little or no attention.

We have to face the reality of the situation, which is that the media are going to keep reporting such stories because they sell newspapers and get people to watch TV or click on Internet links. While they are not nearly as interested in later negative responses, reporters almost always seek immediate reactions which can be used in the original story. So, we have to decide what we are going to do about this and how to turn it to our advantage. (emphasis mine)

You can read it all here.


Engineer: Excavations Do Not Undermine Temple Mount

From the Jerusalem Post:

Despite recent accusations to the contrary, the chief site engineer for the Western Wall tunnels declared on Thursday that Israeli archeological excavations were not being done under the Temple Mount, were in no way detrimental to the structural stability of the mount or its surroundings, and were actually improving such stability "tenfold."

"There's been a lot of talk about instability [based on ongoing archeological excavations in the area], and let me reassure you, we have improved the structural stability here tenfold over the last few years and have actually strengthened areas where there was danger of further collapse," the chief engineer, Ofer Cohen, said during a Government Press Office-sponsored tour of the tunnels on Thursday afternoon.

Standing in a section of the tunnels known as the "Hall of Ages" - so named because the archeological and subsequent reinforcement work there spans from the First Temple period until today - Cohen and the tour's participants were dwarfed by a series of huge steel beams that had been set up to prevent the walls from caving in.

"To those who say that our work here is causing structural instability, the exact opposite is true," Cohen asserted.

The rest of the story is here.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jerusalem vs. Pompeii (in Google Earth)

There are not many computer programs that I am wildly ecstatic about, but Google Earth qualifies even if no others do.  If you haven’t yet downloaded it, I recommend it.

I’ve been doing some reading recently on Pompeii.  I think my fascination with the city may in part be owing to my “discovery” of the site years after I thought I had been to the most important ruins of the Middle East and Mediterranean world.  When I visited, I felt that I had been cheated for years.  Why had no one sat me down and told me in a most serious tone that I must discard all other travel plans and get myself to Pompeii?  Apparently I do not have friends who love me enough.

Sadly I learned very little from my delay in visiting Pompeii in Real Life, for I have done no better in visiting Pompeii in Google Earth.  I had no idea what a treat was awaiting me.  At least for those used to staring at the fuzzy, low-resolution imagery of Israel, Pompeii is a beautiful contrast.  (To find Pompeii quickly, paste these coordinates in the “Fly To” box: 40.750262°14.486046°).

Here is a comparison, with screenshots taken in Google Earth from the same elevation above the sites.


Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem

pompeii Forum and Temple of Augustus, in Pompeii

I don’t know what it’s going to take before we see high-quality satellite imagery in the Middle East.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tall Tells

I’ve often been asked how tells grew so tall.  True, winds in the Middle East blow lots of dust throughout the year, but that certainly cannot account for tells which are 80 feet high.  A.D. Riddle recently sent me the following quotation from C. Leonard Woolley, in which he gives a good explanation for the phenomenon of tells from his report on excavations at Carchemish.  I have placed in bold the answer to this question, but the whole is worth reading, despite its length.  Woolley writes:

The whole of North Syria is dotted with tells, artificial mounds which consist of and conceal old settlements. So little has been done in the way of excavating these mounds that it is dangerous to theorize too much about the nature of what lies beneath them; but certain features which are common to all, or which distinguish one from another, may, with such more sure information as digging has afforded, serve to throw light on the conditions of life which brought them into being and shaped their history.

Tell el-Farah South, general view, mat13993 Tell el-Farah South

The neolithic folk, the original founders, undoubtedly, of all these tells, built their huts of mud and rubble either on some slight knoll or, where none such lay to hand, on an artificial platform laboriously piled up with basketful after basketful of earth,—piled just high enough to raise them above the damp of the level soil. The huts fell in ruins, and these ruins raised the ground level on which new homes were built, and that at a goodly rate, for mud-brick walls tend to be thick, and their cubic contents are very great in proportion to the area they enclose, and as the bricks can scarcely be used a second time the whole material of the fallen house was let lie where it fell and was merely leveled for the foundations of the new. Year after year went on this accumulation of débris and of house rubbish (there are sites in the Near East where the rubbish-heaps outside the walls are nearly as extensive as and much higher than the ruins themselves), and the original platform reached a height at which it commanded all the surrounding country. Then a wealthier generation, perhaps more warlike, or more timorous, walled the hill-top round, turning their village in to a stronghold. The chance of an asylum would attract new-comers, whose houses huddled together on the slopes of the mound and spread over the low ground at its foot, and this in its turn began to heap itself up above the level of the plain around. After a while the outsiders, too, might demand protection for their homes, not content to leave them in war-time to the mercy of the enemy while themselves taking refuge in the fort: they built a wall round the new outer town. In proportion as the whole town was thus made defensible, the original settlement, the tell, tended to become less a place of general residence, more and more the centre of administration and of worship; here the princeling might live in isolated state, here were the barracks of his regular retinue, here the temples which from of old had been the houses of gods or heroes deified. At the same time the defences of the tell were kept in good repair, for whatever might be its use of every day, it was still the inner stronghold, the last resort in case the rest should fall; from a military point of view the outer town and its high citadel within might be compared to the mediaeval castle with its bailey and its keep.

Tell el-Farah South, excavation, mat13986 Excavation of Tell el-Farah South, 1928-29, directed by Sir W. M. F. Petrie

Of course tells differ one from another in form as they differed in their history. There are low mounds scarcely noticeable above the level of the plain, short-lived villages whose ruins, scanty at their best, may have grown even less distinct through the gradual raising of the ground about them-the natural effect of long cultivation and often too of the ploughing of the nearer hillsides, whence little by little the rain carries the loosened surface soil down to the valleys. There are small steep-sided cones which, one thinks, can hardly be other than keeps or watchtowers, not the outgrowth of village settlements but military foundations to secure frontiers or trade-routes. There are rather larger whale-backed mounds, higher and more abrupt at one end and tailing off fanwise at the other, where one can almost see the cluster of domed or flat-roofed single-storied mud huts with, at the outskirts, the effendi's two-storied house of stone dominating them from its higher ground. Again, on a larger scale, we have the steep-sided C-shaped tell with a broad channel running down it at a gentler slope between the horns of the letter, like a volcano's crater with a gap in the rim; it looks as if, on the older mound's flat top, a huge ring wall had been built with a gateway and an approach thereto between flanking towers. In other cases the main tell is more or less pyramidal in form with, on one side, the lower rounded mound of the outer town, its flimsier walls indistinguishable now from the heaped mass of house ruins which they enclose: in a few, the outer walls stand out clearly as a ring of earthworks overtopped only by the great bulk of the acropolis within.

Source: Woolley, C. Leonard. 1921. Carchemish: Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on behalf of the British Museum, Part 2: The Town Defences. London: Trustees of the British Museum.

The two photographs are from the newly published Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (originally Library of Congress, LC-matpc-13993 and LC-matpc-13986).

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Dead Sea, Then and Now

The waters of the Dead Sea rise and fall.  You may not know that if you only read the newspapers and not the history books.  Climate change has affected the earth as long as we can tell.  There’s a great demonstration of the historically changing levels (and therefore shape) of the Dead Sea recently created by A.D. Riddle and David Parker.  (After you click that link and read the introduction, click on the “Play” button on the right side and you’ll see the water level rise and fall.)

Evidence of the changing water levels is not so easily seen at the Dead Sea today.  There is one spot on the northwestern corner (south of Qumran) where a marker made by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the early 1900s shows the level above today’s current highway.

Another evidence is visible from boat docks.  The photo below was taken by the American Colony sometime in the first half of the 20th century, showing passengers embarking on boats on the Dead Sea.  Today there is little boat traffic and almost no windsurfers or waterskiiers.  That’s not the only thing that has changed, as evidenced by the second photo below.

Dead Sea, dock, mat09224

The photo below is not the same dock, but it illustrates the declining water level.  This photo was included in a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review in an article making the same point.

Dead Sea pier out of water, tb021905580

Dead Sea dock out of water, February 2005

The top photograph is from the newly published Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (originally Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07571). It is one of a series of 65 photos of the western shore of the Dead Sea included in the collection.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Kh. Qeiyafa: Survey vs. Excavation

There’s a recent article on Khirbet Qeiyafa that is relevant for anyone interested in the discussion concerning the site’s identity as Shaaraim (for a primer on Qeiyafa, go here) or in archaeological methodology. Since the article’s thesis is that the survey results contradict the excavation results, it is significant that the author is Yehudah Dagan, director of the Judean Shephelah Survey Project which began in 1977.

The article is entitled “Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean Shephelah: Some Considerations” and it was published this year in Tel Aviv, volume 36, pages 68-81. If you or your institution has a subscription to Ingenta, you can access it online (or pay $39).

This is the article’s abstract:

The excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa have attracted attention recently following the discovery of a city gate and the proposals of the excavators that it be dated to the 10th century BCE and identified with biblical Sha'arayim. Based on my survey of the site, I suggest an alternative settlement history and a different interpretation of the construction stages of the circumference wall. I also propose an alternative identification of the biblical city of Sha'arayim.

In short, Dagan’s conclusions concerning the settlement of the site are nearly the opposite of what the excavators have reported.  Dagan found pottery from Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, and Iron I, but the excavators apparently found nothing significant from these periods.  The chief period of occupation according to the excavators is Iron IIa (roughly the time of King David), and Dagan says he found nothing from this period!  The excavators then say the site was abandoned until the Hellenistic period, but Dagan says that the majority of potsherds from the site are from the Iron IIb-c period.  Dagan also found material from Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods, about which little has been said by the archaeologists (to my recollection). 

  Survey Excavation
Early Bronze Yes No
Middle Bronze Yes No
Iron I Yes No
Iron IIa No Chief period
Iron IIb-c Majority Nothing
Hellenistic Yes Yes
Roman Yes ?
Byzantine Yes ?
Early Islamic Yes ?
Mamluk Yes ?
Ottoman Yes ?

Any way you approach it, what we have here are startlingly different conclusions from survey results versus excavation work.  It is one thing to find material from one or two periods which were not represented in a survey (which is limited to potsherds found on the surface).  But this is almost a complete mismatch, making one wonder if they are studying the same site.

To say it a different way, it’s less significant that Dagan did not find any Iron IIa material in his survey than it is that Garfinkel has found no Iron IIb-c material.  Sites are not always evenly settled (or preserved) and archaeologists often find a period of occupation missing in one area of the tell.  But Iron IIa was relatively short-lived (less than 100 years) and Iron IIb-c lasted several centuries (c. 930-586).  Dagan claims that the majority of the potsherds he collected was from this period, and that’s not surprising given the large population of the Shephelah during the Divided Monarchy.  What is quite unusual, and the cause of much discussion last year, was Garfinkel’s conclusion that this was a single-period site in Iron IIa.  He said that it was settled, quickly fortified, and then abandoned within a generation.

The point here isn’t to resolve the debate, but merely to note its existence.  It certainly is a lesson in the need for excavation, and not a reliance upon survey alone.  However, if Dagan’s survey has merit, the discrepancies with the present excavation results require some explanation.  An example of the severity of the disagreement concerns the famous Iron Age gate, which Dagan says may actually be Hellenistic!  He writes,

Hellenistic finds were discerned in the passage and all the chambers of the gate, and a floor with Hellenistic pottery was exposed in the southeastern chamber of the gate, resting on bedrock (Garfinkel and Ganor 2008c: 128–129). Four-chambered gates are not alien to the Hellenistic period (e.g., Mount Gerizim) (page 76).

Another lesson from this matter: interpretations are only as good as the data they are based on.  If Dagan is right (and I don’t know that he is), all of the discussion about identifying the site as Shaaraim, Ephes-dammim, or other may be misguided. 

Stay tuned.  No doubt Garfinkel has some new data from his 2009 excavations and this article has undoubtedly lit some fires.  Perhaps it is not irrelevant that Dagan conducted his survey under the auspices of Tel Aviv University and Garfinkel is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  (As far back as Yadin and Aharoni, if one said black, the other said white.)  We look forward to clarification.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grena on the Qeiyafa Ostracon

G. M. Grena, producer of, has analyzed the recent publication of the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon and made some observations on the Biblicalist group.  You can read that here and see his drawing here (may require group membership?).


Friday, October 16, 2009

Franz Debunks Yahweh Inscription

Gordon Franz has a new article posted in the “Cracked Pot Archaeology” category of his Life and Land blog.  His entry entitled “Yahweh Inscription Discovered at Mount Sinai” is an analysis of recent claims by Robert Cornuke concerning an inscribed stone allegedly found near Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia.  Franz includes drawings of the inscription, a link to a video with Cornuke’s presentation, and a careful rebuttal of the reading and authenticity of the inscription.

I won’t repeat Franz’s analysis here, but will only make the observation that there will always be a market for the sorts of things that Cornuke and others like him are selling.  Why?  Some people (rightly) believe the Bible is a trustworthy historical source.  Some people (rightly) believe that scholarship and media are biased against their views.  Some people (wrongly) conclude that anything that scholarship and the media dismiss is trustworthy.  This leaves a wide open door for charlatans, hucksters, as well as well-meaning but ignorant individuals.  The key to success lies not in knowledge of the subject but in an ability to communicate.

I’ve commented previously on Cornuke’s claims here and here.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Qeiyafa Inscription Details

Aren Maeir, archaeologist of Gath, was at the Jerusalem conference today at which Haggai Misgav presented his reading of the Qeiyafa ostracon.  Maier reports on the meeting and provides an English translation.

You need to go to Maeir’s blog for the data and some of his thoughts, but I offer a brief comment.  If you study these things from afar, you may be unimpressed with the fragmentary inscription and the difficulty of making any sense out of it (indeed, one respondent suggested that it’s a sort of lexical list).  And if this inscription was one of thousands found, it would likely be yet undeciphered or published like many archive texts today.  But this text  apparently dates to 1000 BC, which is a period of great discussion these days among archaeologists and biblical scholars.  To give one example, scholars debate today the degree of literacy at this period; this ostracon indicates proficiency in Hebrew some distance from the capital city of Jerusalem.  Certainly the mention of the words “judge” and “king” at this period are provocative.  It will be interesting to see how the discussion goes and if any views are changed because of this potsherd.

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Qeiyafa Inscription update coming

Aren Maeir:

I was at the meeting about the Qeiyafah inscription earlier today. Fanstastic! Will update later on.

For previous reports, see here, here, here, and here.


Solomon’s Pools, Then and Now

We’re not sure who built the enormous water reservoirs three miles south of Bethlehem, but there’s no evidence that they are related to their namesake.  It is most likely that King Herod or one of his successors built these pools to supply Jerusalem with water.  A complex and sophisticated series of aqueducts was constructed both to feed these three pools as well as to transport the water from here to multiple locations in Jerusalem. 

The water system naturally required repair over the years, but it continued in use, off and on, through the British Mandate period.  One evidence of the significance of these pools is the presence of a fortress built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century.  (Yes, this is the same ruler who built the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and constructed the fortress still standing at Aphek-Antipatris.)

The photo below was taken by the American Colony photographers in the early 1900s.

Solomon's Pools from west, mat07571Solomon’s Pools, view from west, early 1900s 

Today the area has changed dramatically, making it difficult even to locate Suleiman’s fortress.  Other attempts that I have made to photograph the three pools have been thwarted by the forest that has been planted in the area.

Solomon's Pools area from west, tb112406464 Solomon’s Pools, view from west, 2006

The top photograph is from the newly published Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (originally Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07571).  The CD includes more than 550 high-resolution photographs from the Dead Sea, Jordan River, Jericho, Judean hill country, Shephelah, and Negev.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Footprints Found Under Lod Mosaic

Conservation work on the beautiful 4th century Lod mosaic has revealed a number of sandal prints. From the Jerusalem Post:

"We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed," Neguer said. "This is also what happened with the Lod mosaic: beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic's builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of feet and sandals: sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44."

He said that similarities of the footprints of the sandals lie in the fact that sandals today are based on the footwear of the past.

"They're simple," Neguer said. "If it's comfortable, why change it."

The 1,700 year old mosaic, which is one of the largest in Israel, was discovered in the city of Lod in 1996 and was covered again when funding could not be found for conservation.

The full story and photographs are here (see also Arutz-7).  The Israel Antiquities Authority has four high-resolution photos for download (press release here; zip file here).  This mosaic was mentioned previously on this blog here.  These footprints are not related to another set of “footprints” discovered in April.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conference: Archaeology of Jerusalem and Vicinity

Hebrew University will host the third annual conference on the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Vicinity this Thursday, October 15th, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Mount Scopus, Social Sciences Building, Room 300.  The conference will include three sessions on Jerusalem and vicinity before a closing session on the Qeiyafa inscription.  The conference is co-sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Hebrew University, and the Moriah Company.  A brief announcement is posted on the IAA site (Hebrew).


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Monday, October 12, 2009

Where on Google Earth 74

Chris McKinny correctly identified Where on Google Earth 73 as Jarmuth/Yarmuth, and he is hosting the latest edition on his blog.  Give it a look!


Name That Place: Jerusalem in 1900

I think that for a certain subset of this blog’s readers, photo challenges are enjoyable.  I’ll tell you a little and you can tell me the rest.  This photo is part of the Jerusalem volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and it was taken in approximately 1900.


The best answer in the comments below wins a free copy of the Jerusalem CD (or your choice of another if you already have it).  An important part of the answer is why it is impossible to take this same photo today.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jaffa Gate Closure

Recently a friend alerted me to a discussion online about major renovations to be started soon in the vicinity of Jaffa Gate.  Among other things, this will close the gate off to vehicular traffic.  If they dig anything up, chances are very high that they’ll find something of significance, which will slow their progress down even further.  A source in Jerusalem relates the following:

1. The gate is being closed to car traffic due to road renovations.

2. They may leave one lane open for one-way traffic.

3. The gate is supposed to close soon after Succot (which ended a few days ago).

4. A Muslim policeman "who isn't trustworthy" said that the gate would NOT reopen ever.

5. Shop owners are concerned about how they will receive supplies.

This is not the first time the authorities have done major work on the road here.

View inside Jaffa Gate, mat04928 Jaffa Gate area from east, with Crusader moat of Citadel visible in foreground.  Date of photograph: 1898-1907.  From the new Jerusalem CD.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Brian Janeway has written on “New Discoveries Relating to the Apostle Paul” at the Associates for Biblical Research blog.  The focus of the article is the recent analysis of the alleged tomb of Paul, but he also comments on some related finds.

Eric Cline has posted a good primer at Bible and Interpretation on the all-important 10th century BC debate in biblical archaeology.  In about ten minutes of reading, you get a number of good insights into the nature of the debate and the archaeological discipline as a whole.  The article is adapted from his new book, Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (168 pages; $9 at Amazon).

I mentioned previously the Old Testament version of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by John H. Walton and available in 5 volumes in November ($157 at Amazon, plus shipping surcharge).  Chris Heard notes that the Genesis commentary is now available for reading on Scribd through the month of October.

Logos has a new pre-publication special of 19 volumes in a “History of Israel Collection.”  You have to qualify just what a collection with that title means, because it is not the essential works on the subject.  Rather these are volumes from the Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies series published by Sheffield and T. & T. Clark.  In other words, these are highly specialized, very expensive books.  The collection is now available for $300 ($16/volume), which is about the cost of any two volumes.  (A quick search at Amazon found Banks for $180, Wood for $25, McNutt for $50, Grabbe for $216, and Younger [not Youger] for $251).  If you want it, buy it now, before the price jumps to $1300.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Book Sale: Jerusalem in Original Photographs

Eisenbrauns has a terrific sale this weekend on Shimon Gibson, Jerusalem in Original Photographs, 1850-1920.  Gibson not only had access to some rare photographs, but his knowledge of the subject is extraordinary.  Only $15 at Eisenbrauns.  ($48 at Amazon)

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When on Google Earth 73

I correctly identified Heather’s choice of Hippos (Sussita), Israel in the latest round of “When on Google Earth,” and that gives me the privilege of challenging my readers to identify this site and its major period of occupation in the comments below.


The rules of When on Google Earth are as follows:
Q: What is When on Google Earth?
A: It’s a game for archaeologists, or anybody else willing to have a go!

Q: How do you play it?
A: Simple, you try to identify the site in the picture.

Q: Who wins?
A: The first person to correctly identify the site, including its major period of occupation, wins the game!

Q: What does the winner get?
A: The winner gets bragging rights and the chance to host the next When on Google Earth on his/her own blog!

You can follow along on the Facebook group.  Here is a list of previous sites and winners:

# Host: Victor: Site: Period:
1 Shawn Graham Chuck Jones Takht-i Jamshid / Persepolis terrace, Iran Achaemenid period
2 Chuck Jones PDD Church of Saint Simeon at Qalat Siman, Syria 5th-6th c. CE
2.1 Chuck Jones Paul Zimmerman Qal’at al-Bahrain 16th c. CE
3 Paul Zimmerman Heather Baker Baraqish (Yathill), Yemen Minaean (1st millennium BCE)
4 Heather Baker Jason Ur Mohenjo Daro, Pakistan ca. 2600-1900 BCE
5 Jason Ur Dan Diffendale Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico 1st-5th centuries CE
6 Dan Diffendale Claire of Geevor Mine Segontium, Caernarfon, Wales 77ish to about 390 CE
7 Claire of Geevor Mine Ivan Cangemi Carn Euny, UK ca. 500 BCE-100 CE
8 Ivan Cangemi Southie Sham Monks Mound (Cahokia), IL, USA fl. 1050-1200
9 Southie Sham Dan Diffendale Gergovia, France fl. 1st c. BCE
10 Dan Diffendale Dorothy King Kastro Larissa/Argos, Greece ca. 1100 CE
11 Dorothy King Daniel Pett Utica, Tunisia C8th BCE– C2nd CE
12 Daniel Pett Neil Silberman Caesarea Maritima, Israel 1st century CE–Present
13 Neil Silberman Chuck Jones Graceland, Memphis, TN, USA 1939 CE–Present
14 Chuck Jones Aphaia Bam Citadel, Iran pre-C 6th BC–C19thCE
15 Aphaia Daniel Pett Myrina, Lemnos, Greece Classical Greek–present
16 Daniel Pett Paul Barford Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka 1st century BCE
17 Paul Barford Scott McDonough Rosetta (Rashid), Egypt Ptolemaic, Mamluk
18 Scott McDonough Lindsay Allen Ani, Turkey Medieval, C10th-14th CE
19 Lindsay Allen Heather in Vienna South Shields, England, UK Roman Imperial
20 Heather Scott McDonough Suomenlinna/Sveaborg fortress, Finland 1748-present
21 Scott McDonough Chuck Jones Derbent, Republic of Dagestan Sasanian-present
22 Chuck Jones Paul Barford Amphitheatre of Aquincum, Hungary Roman
23 Paul Barford Geoff Carter The Cursus, (Stonehenge) Wiltshire Neolithic
24 Geoff Carter Ferhan Sakal The Heuneburg, South Germany Iron Age
25 Ferhan Sakal Lindsay Allen Sura, Syria Roman
26 Lindsay Allen Andrea Kay Bannerman Castle, Hudson River, US C20th
27 Andrea Kay David Powell Taposiris Magna, Alexandria, Egypt C1st BCE
28 David Powell Billy Ross Abbey, Galway, Ireland Medieval
29 Billy Geoff Carter Great Zimbabwe, Africa C11th – 14th CE
30 Geoff Carter Heather Elsdon Castle, England C11th – 12th CE
31 Heather Geoff Carter Volubilis, Morocco Roman
32 Geoff Carter Paul Barford Su Nuraxi, Barumini, Sardinia C15th – 6th BCE
33 Paul Barford Ferhan Sakal Arkona, Germany Medieval
34 Ferhan Sakal Heather Arslantepe, Turkey Chalcolithic – Byzantine
35 Heather Ferhan Sakal Mahabodhi Temple Complex, India 3rd century B.C. – 6th CE
36 Ferhan Sakal Billy Borobudur, Buddhist shrine, Indonesia 9th century B.C. – 6th CE
37 Billy Ferhan Sakal Browns Island, New Zealand c. 13th century – 1820
38 Ferhan Sakal Andrea Kay Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn, Oman 3rd millennium B.C.
39 Andrea Kay Matt B. Serabit el-Khadim, Egypt 2nd millennium B.C.
40 Matt B. Andrea Kay Valsgärde grave field, Sweden Swedish Vendel /Iron Age
41 Andrea Kay Lindsay Allen Siwa oasis, Egypt fourth century B.C. -Roman
42 Lindsay Allen David Gill Castle of Pont Steffan, Wales, UK Medieval
43 David Gill Nigel Hay Castle, Wales, UK 12th century
44 Nigel Heather Olympos, Turkey Hellenistic – Roman
45 Heather Ferhan Sakal Carnuntum, Austria Roman
46 Ferhan Sakal Troels Myrup Knossos, Greece Bronze Age
47 Troels Myrup Alun Salt Aggersborg, Denmark Viking
48 Alun Salt Geoff Carter Marsala, Sicillia. Punic/Roman
49 Geoff Carter Matt B Springfield Lyons, UK LBA (/Saxon)
50 MattB Geoff Carter Kalkriese in Osnabrück, Germany Roman
51 Geoff Carter Ferhan Sakal Grimes Graves, Norfolk, UK Late neolithic
52 Ferhan Sakal Oliver Mack Heraqla, ar-rashid,syria Late C8 CE
53 Oliver Mack Matt B Welzheim, Germany Roman
54 Matt B Geoff Carter Birka, Sweden Viking
55 Geoff Carter Heather Nemrut Dagi, Turkey C1 bce
56 Heather Geoff Carter Choirokoitia, Cyprus. Neolithic
57 Geoff Carter Jaime Woodhenge, UK Late Neolithic
58 Jaime Geoff Carter Gorgora Nova, Ethiopia, C17th (CE).
59 Geoff Carter Nathan T.Elkins Firouabad, Iran C3rd CE
60 Nathan Elkins
Paul Barford Portus, Italy Roman
61 Paul Barford
Heather Delos, Greece Classical-Hellenistic Greek
62 Heather
Geoff Carter Gordion, Turkey 1500-700 BCE
63 Geoff Carter
CFeagans Vix, France 6th-5th C BCE
64 CFeagans
Alun Salt Newark Great Circle, OH 100 BCE
65 Alun Salt
Eloy Cano Agra, India 1556-1658
66 Eloy Cano
Troels Myrup Göbekli Tepe, Turkey 10-8th millennium BCE
67 Troels Myrup
Heather Kanhave canal, Samsø, Denmark 8th c. CE/Viking
68 Heather
Troels Myrup Butrint, Albania 10th c. BCE-18th c. CE
69 Troels Myrup
Paul Zimmerman Birketain, Jordan Roman
70 Paul Z. Oliver Mack Cueva de Menga/Viera, Spain 3rd mill BCE
71 Oliver Mack Heather Dur-Kurigalzu, Iraq 14th-12th c BCE
72 Heather Todd Bolen Hippos, Israel Roman-Byzantine


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Midweek Roundup

A Second Temple period hall near the Western Wall has been excavated and restored.  The “Hall of Ages” is scheduled to be opened to the public in a few weeks.  HT: Joe Lauer

The Baptist Press has a story on the “Joseph coins,” in which they quote Steven Ortiz and Robert Griffin as skeptical. 

G. M. Grena has some comments about the upcoming ASOR meetings at his LMLK blogspot, including this note of interest to Qeiyafa watchers:

By the way, Prof. Garfinkel will have some interesting photos of jar handles with special impressions that in many ways parallel the LMLK phenomenon.

BAS reports that from January to August 2010 the Oriental Institute will launch a new exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-20.” 

James Henry Breasted had received a large donation from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to establish the Oriental Institute in 1919 and quickly organized an expedition to travel across the Middle East to acquire objects for the Institute and identify sites for excavation. World War I had just ended, the political map of the Middle East had not yet been redrawn, and it was a dangerous time to be travelling through the region. The exhibit will present the incredible adventure story of the Breasted expedition through photographs, excerpts from letters, original documents from the archives, and objects purchased on the trip.

BAS is now offering a free e-book entitled “Israel: An Archaeological Journey” (requires quick registration if you haven’t already).  The contents include:

  • The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction, by Lawrence E. Stager
  • Vegas on the Med: A Tour of Caesarea’s Entertainment District, by Yosef Porath
  • How Jewish Was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?, by Mark Chancey and Eric M. Meyers
  • Where Masada’s Defenders Fell, by Nachman Ben-Yehuda
  • A New Reconstruction of Paul’s Prison, by Ehud Netzer

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nabatean Site of Avdat Vandalized

The Nabatean site of Avdat was vandalized on Sunday night and two Bedouin have been arrested, including the site’s sole security guard.  From Ynet:

Hundreds of archeological artifacts were found smashed, walls smeared with yellow and brown paint, and oil paint was smeared on the ancient wine press. Items hundreds and thousands of years old were severely damaged.


"We came in the morning and found the place in shambles," described Shapira, "They broke the staircase, destroyed the walls, and painted on them. The worst is that the two most ancient churches in Israel were destroyed, and 13-foot columns were shattered with hammers along with artifacts and the authentic marble alter, which is the most important (artefact) in the city."

The Jerusalem Post has the story and a couple of photos.  The Haaretz Hebrew article has two photos (but not the English version).  The Ynet article (Hebrew) has a gallery of 11 photos.  If you prefer a three-minute video (Hebrew), you can find that here.  Thanks to Joe Lauer for all of the links.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Kikar Tzahal (IDF Square), Jerusalem

The photo below shows another very familiar place in Jerusalem, at the northwestern corner of the Old City walls.  This site, I believe, may be distinguished as the location most often renovated in the modern city’s history.  I’ve long suspected that the municipality, which has its offices on the north side of this square, uses the area as training grounds for its construction crews.

New City outside nw corner of Old City walls, mat13390

This American Colony photo shows how the area looked sometime between 1932 and 1946.  The round building on the right served as Barclay’s Bank on the lower floor and basement, while the rest of the building held offices of the City Hall.  Because it was located next to “No Man’s Land” from 1948 to 1967, the building’s facade today bears pockmarks from the hostilities.  Mayor Teddy Kollek’s office was in the second floor of this building for many years.

011Construction at Old City northwest corner, tb122006010dxo2

This picture could have been taken many times since, as the area has been torn up time and again to install various traffic features, water fountains, and pedestrian walkways.  This photo was taken in December 2006 after the construction of a traffic tunnel.  The round building is in the distant center.

Excavations near Old City northwest corner, Peter Wong, IMG_6480

This photo was taken in July 2009 by Peter Wong and looks west (the municipal building is off to the right).  It shows excavations of the area, including what appears to be a cistern in the top center. Shortly after Peter took this photo, the area was cemented over.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Ancient Lighthouse at Patara

A Turkish newspaper reports that the government will fund the restoration of a 1st century A.D. lighthouse from Patara.  I wouldn’t believe everything you read in the article, but if it was built very early in the reign of Nero, it is possible that the apostle Paul saw it on his visit mentioned in Acts 21:1-2.  (Nero reigned from 54 to 68, and Paul’s visit was in approximately 57.)

The Turkish government has allocated a budget to restore an ancient lighthouse, believed to be the world's oldest.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said Wednesday that his ministry would grant 800,000 Turkish Liras for the restoration of Nero's Lighthouse, discovered four years ago in the ancient city of Patara, located near today’s Mediterranean town of Gelemiş in Antalya province.


The lighthouse has been dated to around A.D. 60 because the name of Nero, the Roman emperor at the time, was found on significant remnants of the circular inscription that surrounded the structure.


The team came across the ruins of the historical lighthouse, which stands 60 meters from the sea today, during excavation work done in Patara in 2005. “It was covered under an 11-meter high sand dune,” Işık told daily Milliyet at the time. “We had to remove approximately 3,000 truck loads of sand to uncover it. But it should be restored, or we will lose it forever.”


“The world's oldest lighthouse was known to be the one in Lacaruna, Spain,” Işık said. “The lighthouse we have found is 60 years older than the one in Spain. It has ancient Hellenistic features. The bronze inscriptions indicate that this was a monument of the roman period."

Işık said they believed the lighthouse was destroyed by a tsunami because a human skeleton was found among the ruins. The skeleton could have belonged to a lighthouse keeper who was trying to escape a tsunami but was crushed under the lighthouse's stone blocks, she said.

The full article is here.

HT: Explorator

Patara lighthouse, tb062306068 Patara lighthouse.  Sea is just visible on right.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Monotheism Conference at American Jewish University

I disagree with the premise that biblical monotheism evolved as man became smarter and more sophisticated, but this conference with leading scholars will certainly have interesting insights nonetheless.  The conference is being held on the AJU campus in Los Angeles.  More details and registration details are available at their website.

What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Monotheism’?

Monotheism is a basic tenet of Jewish belief. In a fascinating day devoted to this topic, a group of eminent archaeologists and scholars will broaden our understanding of the origin of monotheism and how it has shaped our religious thinking.

Please join us as our esteemed AJU Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Semitic Languages, Dr. Ziony Zevit, addresses this question and introduces the following speakers and their topics:

Dr. Mark Smith, Skirball Professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern Studies at New York University, The Old and the New in Israelite Monotheism.

Dr. Barry Gittlen, Professor of Biblical and Archaeological Studies at Towson University, An Archaeological Introduction to Biblical Cult Places and Images.

Dr. Jeffrey Tigay, A.M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, Monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Steven Fine, Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York and Director of Yeshiva University’s Center for Israeli Studies, The Archaeological Evidence for Monotheism in Synagogues and Churches in the Roman World.

Dates: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meeting Duration: 10am - 3pm

Tuition: $50 Includes lunch

If you’d rather hear Clinton and Bush lecture at AJU, there’s more information here.

HT: G. M. Grena


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Biblical Archaeology Conference in Omaha

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is hosting a Biblical Archaeology Conference from October 29-31.  From the press release:

Scholars from around the world will present the latest research on excavations at Bethsaida, an ancient city located near the north coast of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).

The 11th annual Batchelder Biblical Archaeology Conference is Oct. 29-31 at the Thompson Alumni Center on the UNO campus.

Biblical scholars from the U.S. and around the world will host presentations about their research. This year’s conference will welcome Dr. Oded Borowski as one of two keynote speakers. Dr. Borowski found and chaired the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Languages and Literatures, now the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies. He is professor of Biblical Archaeology and Hebrew Language, and director of Mediterranean Archaeology at Emory University.


The other keynote presenter is Dr. Dan Bahat.... Dr. Bahat served the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as the Chief Archaeologist of Jerusalem for 35 years, then as a scholar at Bar-Ilan University, and is currently affiliated with the University of Toronto.

In 1991, the Consortium of the Bethsaida Excavations Project (CBEP) was formed and has been housed at UNO since its inception. Its mission is to excavate the ancient city of Bethsaida, research the data discernible from the remains and disseminate the conclusions to both academic and popular audiences.

Significant objections have been raised by others of the identification of et-Tell as biblical Bethsaida.  Lecture titles are not given, but apparently they will be related to Bethsaida.  Last year Eisenbrauns published Cities through the Looking Glass, a collection of articles from this conference in 2003 (see contents at Google Books).

For the full press release, including more details about the two speakers and registration details, see here.

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