Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bones and Face of the Apostle Paul

According to the Vatican, the traditional “tomb of Paul” has been authenticated.  Pope Benedict XVI announced that “tiny fragments of bone . . . belong to someone who lived in the first or second century.”  “This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle St. Paul.” 

The skeptical would note that a lot of people lived in the first and second centuries.  However, these bones were within a tomb traditionally identified with Paul.  I wouldn’t call that proof, but it seems to point in the direction of authenticity.  At least, it is unlikely that somebody in the Middle Ages set this all up.  CNN has a report.

Additionally, what is believed to be the earliest portrait of Paul was unveiled.  The painting dates to the 4th century and shows the apostle with a thin face and a dark pointy beard.  You can see for yourself here.

Previous coverage of the excavation of Paul’s tomb was mentioned here and here.

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New DVD: Jericho Unearthed

Expedition Bible has just released a new DVD entitled “Jericho Unearthed.”  Filmed on location, the video features interviews with archaeologists who argue for and against the site’s destruction by the Israelites as described in the book of Joshua.  From the website:jericho_unearthed

The battle of Jericho is one of the most enduring biblical stories.  The description of the “walls falling down” is among its most well-known accounts.   Yet, the most famous excavation of this ancient site, carried out in the 1950's under the direction of Kathleen Kenyon, claims that there wasn’t even a city at Jericho—much less city walls—at the time when Joshua supposedly conquered it. 

What are the implications of the battle of Jericho being disproven?  Wouldn’t the Bible be demonstrated untrustworthy? Couldn’t it be argued that the Jewish people have no more right to the land of Israel than anyone else? The implications really are staggering!

For more than fifty years scholars have built a wall of doubt against the historical accuracy of the Bible using Jericho as one of its cornerstones. It’s time to face those challenges head on!  It’s time to determine whether or not the conclusions of modern scholarship stand in light of the evidence or if those arguments don’t in fact collapse like Jericho’s walls. 

You can view the trailer here, or order the DVD from Amazon for $7.  I haven’t seen the video itself, but based upon the previous work of Expedition Bible, I would expect that this is the best resource available on the subject.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pompeii’s Dead

A new book on Pompeii by classics scholar Mary Beard of Cambridge University is considered in a travel article in the Globe and Mail.  Beard believes that most of those who died were either slaves or those who intentionally chose to take their chances. 

Beard argues that Pompeii's population was smaller than previously thought, about 12,000, and that most escaped the volcanic eruption, taking the bulk of their possessions with them.

That would explain why relatively few corpses (1,100) and household effects were later found. Some citizens and slaves - half the population were slaves, many of them Jews brought from Israel after the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD - must have been stranded or chosen to stay. There were, after all, remains of 21 fresh bread loaves found in Pompeii's ovens, when excavations began in the mid-18th century.

Beard's book is too new to have changed the way local tour guides and historians treat the Pompeii saga, but for anyone contemplating a visit to one of the world's greatest archeological sites, it's a useful read.

The article continues with a look at the nearby ruins of Herculaneum and the modern city of Naples.  It ends with advice that I wish someone had given me: do not even think about driving a car in Naples.

Mt Vesuvius from south, tb111705547ddd Mount Vesuvius from the south

HT: Explorator

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bronze Age Tomb Found in Bethlehem

From the Associated Press:

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Workers renovating a house in the traditional town of Jesus' birth accidentally discovered an untouched ancient tomb containing clay pots, plates, beads and the bones of two humans, a Palestinian antiquities official said Tuesday.

The 4,000-year-old tomb provides a glimpse of the burial customs of the area's inhabitants during the Canaanite period, said Mohammed Ghayyada, director of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Workers in a house near the Church of the Nativity uncovered a hole leading to the grave, which was about one meter (yard) below ground, he said. They contacted antiquities officials, who photographed the grave intact before removing its contents.

They dated the grave to the Early Bronze Age, between 1,900 B.C. and 2,200 B.C.

Jerusalem-based archaeologist and historian Stephen Pfann called the find "an important reference to the life of the Canaanites," adding that it could give a glimpse into life in the area before the time when the Biblical patriarchs are said to have lived.

While many artifacts exist from this period, intact graves are rare, mainly because of looting, he said.

The article continues here (and another photo here).  A few comments:

The tomb dates to the Intermediate Bronze period, also confusingly known as Early Bronze IV or Middle Bronze I.  Many tombs from this period, including intact ones, have been found throughout Israel.  In fact, this period is primarily known from its cemeteries, with relatively few settlements discovered.  (See this post for photos of a cemetery from this period found a couple of years ago in Jerusalem.)

More importantly, this tomb indicates an early presence in the city that later came to be known as Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth.  I don’t see anything about material from this period in NEAEH, which may indicate the significance of this discovery.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Athens Acropolis Museum Opens

The long-awaited New Acropolis Museum in Athens opened this weekend after years of delay.  The Greeks say they didn’t “build it for the British,” but they intend it to be a strong argument for the return of the Elgin Marbles.  From the New York Times:

The museum, which cost $200 million and sits near the base of the Acropolis with a direct view of the Parthenon, is one of the highest-profile cultural projects undertaken in Europe in this decade.

Intended as “the ultimate showcase of classical civilization,” Mr. Samaras said, it was built to promote tourism and, like any large, government-financed museum, to stir national pride. But it was also meant, not incidentally, to spark discomfort in another country in the European Union.

“We didn’t build this for the sake of the British,” Mr. Samaras said in an interview, adding at once, “but look around: does this not negate the argument that Athens has no place good enough to house the Parthenon Marbles?”...

The new museum, 226,000 square feet of glass and concrete designed by the New York architect Bernard Tschumi, replaces the old Acropolis Museum, a small 1874 building tucked into the rock of the Acropolis next to the Parthenon. The design, introduced in 2001, was meant to be completed in time for the 2004 Olympics, but dozens of legal battles — many having to do with some 25 buildings that were demolished to make room for it — delayed the process for years.

Even now, not all Athenians are happy with the building, wedged in as it is among apartment buildings in a middle-class residential district. “It is as if a titanic U.F.O. landed in the neighborhood, obliterating all of its surrounding structures,” said Nikos Dimou, a prominent Greek author.

The museum has five floors (including two basement levels that will not be open at first), which provide space for 4,000 artifacts, 10 times the number displayed in the old building. On the first level a glass floor offers visitors close-up views of an early Christian settlement, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries, that was discovered under part of the future building’s footprint during excavations in 2002.

The Times article includes a slideshow with nine photos.

HT: Explorator

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roman Quarry = Ancient Gilgal?

Does the newly discovered Roman quarry mark biblical Gilgal?  The excavator thinks this is possible.  From Haaretz:

Zertal says their working theory is that the site is Galgala, biblical Gilgal, mentioned on the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map. The cave, buried 10 meters underground, is about 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4 meters high, is the largest artificial cave so far discovered in Israel.

Potsherds found in the cave and the carvings on the columns led Zertal to date the first quarrying of the cave to around the beginning of the Common Era. It was used mainly as a quarry for 400 to 500 years," but other finds give the impression it was used for other purposes, perhaps a monastery or even a hiding place," Zertal said.

Zertal said scholars wondered why people would dig a quarry underground considering the effort needed to just to pull the stones out of the ground.

A possible answer may be in the famous Madaba Map of ancient Palestine, found in Jordan. In it, a place named Galgala is marked and an accompanying Greek word meaning "12 stones." The map also depicts a church near the site. Archaeologists say they have found two ancient churches near the cave.

According to Zertal, scholars had always assumed that "12 stones" refered to the biblical story of the 12 stones the Israelites set up at Gilgal after they crossed the Jordan.

However, the discovery of the quarried cave may mean the reference was to a quarry established where the Byzantines identified Gilgal. Zertal explains that in antiquity sanctuaries were built out of stones from sacred places.

The rest of the article is here

I would note that there is sometimes a big difference between a biblical site and what Byzantines thought was a biblical site.  In any case, the quarry’s location, 3 miles north of Jericho, is approximately where biblical scholars have supposed ancient Gilgal may have been located.  What has always been lacking is any archaeological evidence for a site from the time of Joshua.  A Roman quarry does not provide that evidence, but it may be a step in the right direction.

References to Gilgal in the Bible include Josh 4:19-20, Josh 10:6-7, 1 Sam 11:14-15, 1 Sam 13:4-15, 2 Sam 19:15; 2 Kings 2:1, Hos 4:15, and Amos 4:4.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (6/22): Thanks to Joe Lauer for sending along links to articles with photos.  The University of Haifa has issued a press release which includes four high-resolution photos.  Ynet includes a slideshow with six images, including one of the cave’s entrance.

UPDATE (6/25): National Geographic has an article about the discovery, including some quotations from Jodi Magness.

Medeba map Jericho and Gilgal area, tb053108977Jericho and Gilgal on the Medeba Map
Outlined in red is “Gilgal, also the Twelve Stones”
Below and to the right is the city of “Jericho,” surrounded by palm trees
The Jordan River is at the top, with the fish on the right swimming away from the Dead Sea

For more about the Medeba Map, see this BiblePlaces page.

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Roman Quarry Found near Jericho

The largest manmade cave in Israel was found 3 miles north of Jericho, and may have been used as a monastery in later years.  From the Jerusalem Post:

An artificial underground cave, the largest of its kind in Israel, was discovered in the Jordan Valley during excavations by the Haifa University's Department of Archaeology.

Prof. Adam Zertal, who headed the dig, assessed that the cave was used as a quarry in the Roman era. Various carvings were found on the cave's walls, including some of crosses, leading to the notion that the cave might have also hosted an ancient monastery.

The cave, sprawling over four dunams [1 acre] ten meters [32 feet] under the face of earth, is located some four kilometers [2.5 miles] north of Jericho. It was discovered at the end of March 2009 as part of a Haifa University dig which began in 1978, and is the largest man-made cave ever uncovered in Israel. The cave's main hall is supported by 22 pillars, on which are engraved 31 crosses, a zodiac-like symbol, roman numerals and a Roman legion's pennant. Judging by the findings, Prof. Zertal dated the cavern to around 1 CE.

"Initially, the place was utilized as a quarry, which was active for 400-500 years. But the other findings definitely give the impression that the cave was used for other purposes, such as a monastery, and perhaps even a hideaway," said Zertal.

The story is also covered by Haaretz and Reuters.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Battle over Megiddo International Airport

This article will set some to thinking about how their tour itineraries will change.  Others will wonder how this might play into the fulfillment of the “battle of Armageddon.”  From the Jerusalem Post:

A battle is raging over the pending construction of a new international airport in Megiddo, in the Jezreel Valley.

According to the Transportation Ministry, the number of people flying to and from Israel annually is expected to double, from 15 million to 30 million, in the next 20 years, creating urgent necessity for a new airport. The regional council in Megiddo, however, vehemently opposes the initiative.

"It [the airport] is absolutely absurd and does not serve the national interest of the State of Israel, which is the preservation of open areas, including the preservation of the significant agricultural land reserves of the Jezreel Valley, tourism development and rural areas with ecological environmental sensitivity," the Megiddo regional council said in a statement this week.

Though officials say the airport would undoubtedly increase tourism to the area, local authorities, residents and environmental organizations are actively opposing its construction. Yoel Sigal, the strategic planner for the Megiddo Municipality, is leading the campaign against the project.

"The selling of the Jezreel Valley" represents one of the worst elements of Israeli development policy, he said on Tuesday. Under the National Development Plan, the valley is defined as an area for farming. If the region became an urban center, it would effectively merge Afula, Nazareth and Haifa and would destroy one of the most important agricultural zones of the country, he said.

Furthermore, the airport project would reduce agricultural output and add to the country's increasing dependency on imported field crops.

Previous transportation minister Shaul Mofaz appointed former OC air force Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger to head a committee on the future of air transport in Israel. The Bodinger Committee's recommendation to build an international airport in Megiddo was approved by the cabinet on February 1.

The 400-dunam (40 hectare) airport site, which is 60 km. away from Ben-Gurion Airport, is projected to cost $35 million. It is not at the same location as the existing Megiddo Airport, which handles local traffic.

Continue reading here.

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley aerial from west, tb121704968

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley, view to northeast

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hazor and the James Ossuary

Gordon Franz has just posted three transcribed interviews with staff members of the Hazor excavations, including Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and Orna Cohen.  

“Hazor is Number One...”: An interview with Amnon Ben-Tor

“Where is the Archive at Hazor?”: An interview with Sharon Zuckerman

“It is the Best Job in the World”: An interview with Orna Cohen

Cohen is a conservator, and she comments on the controversy of the James Ossuary.  She believes that the second half of the inscription is original, but the first part is forged.

I had the pleasure of looking at and checking the James Ossuary and I gave my comments on it.  I think the ossuary is authentic and a real one, but the inscription on it, I am convinced there are two hands that wrote the inscription.  To my opinion, part of the inscription is faked, part is original.  Of course, there are things that go on in trial now.  They are still trying to figure out what is faked and by whom it was made.  To my opinion, the name Joshua [on the ossuary] is real.  The inscription reads: “Ya’acov bar Yosef achi Yehoshua.”  [Translation: Jacob, or James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus].  So the first part, I think is added.  My professional opinion is almost against all the others that think the last name [on the inscription]; “bother of Jesus” (Joshua) is a fake.  So my opinion was against the others [at the trial].  I checked and it’s according to the patina in the letters.  There was a fake patina of just dirt that was put in these letters on purpose so I cleaned part of it and underneath there was the original, yellowish patina that based on my experience, was the original one.  It was not on the first part of the inscription but it was on the last part of the inscription.  That is what I gave as my opinion.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ancient Mosaic from Lod to be Conserved

A beautiful and well preserved mosaic from about A.D. 300 from Lod will be fully excavated and preserved in the next few years following a large grant from the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White - Chairman of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The mosaic will become the centerpiece of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.  The Israel Antiquities Authority press release gives some of the background and a link to two high-resolution images (zip). 

HT: Joe Lauer


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jerusalem Festival of Lights

From Arutz-7:

The Jerusalem Festival of Lights is a large scale artistic event, the first of its kind in Israel, taking place between June 10 and June 16.

The Light Festival brings to Israel the greatest light sculptors and light designers in the world, who exhibit their artworks throughout the streets and alleys of the Old City, in major tourist sites and public spaces.

For photos, see the article.


The Low-Level Aqueduct and Sultan’s Pool

One of the most impressive building projects of King Herod and others of his period is the aqueduct system that brought water to Jerusalem from the area south of Bethlehem.  Most people aren’t familiar with this project, or if they are, they really can’t fathom how remarkable the system is.  This is because unless you get out and hike around for at least a few hours, it is difficult to get a sense for the obstacles that were overcome.

Several aqueducts brought water to a series of three massive pools known today as “Solomon’s Pools.”  Two aqueducts then transported the water to Jerusalem.  The upper-level aqueduct led to the area of Herod’s Palace on the Western Hill and the lower-level aqueduct fed the pools and cisterns around the Temple Mount.

The relationship and date of Sultan’s Pool (photo below) to the low-level aqueduct has never been clear.  The pool is located in the Hinnom Valley on the western side of Jerusalem, and recent excavations suggest that it was only constructed in the Byzantine period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that they have discovered a channel that diverted water from the low-level aqueduct into Sultan’s Pool.  Built in the Byzantine period (330-640), the channel was repaired multiple times in the Ottoman period (1517-1917).

The IAA has issued a press release and two high-resolution aerial photos (zip).  Arutz-7 has the story (“Jerusalem’s Secret Revealed”) and includes low-res photos in the article.

From the press release:

The Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered the main aqueduct that conveyed water to the Sultan’s Pool during an excavation prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum in Mishkenot Sha’ananim by the Jerusalem Foundation. The ancient aqueduct supplied pilgrims and residents with water for drinking and purification.

Most Jerusalemites identify the Sultan’s Pool as a venue where large cultural events are held; however, for hundreds of years it was one of the city’s most important water reservoirs.

In an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority recently conducted prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum, which the Jerusalem Foundation plans to build in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, an aqueduct was uncovered that conveyed water to the Temple Mount and also served as the principal water supply to the Sultan’s Pool. The excavation, directed by Gideon Solimany and Dr. Ron Beeri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, focused on a section along the course of the Low-level Aqueduct, on the western side of Ben Hinnoam Valley above the Derekh Hebron bridge.

According to Dr. Ron Beeri, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with a very impressive aqueduct that reached a height of three meters. Naturally, one of the first things Sultan Suleiman I hastened to do in Jerusalem (along with the construction of the city wall as we know it today) was to repair the aqueduct that was already there which supplied the large numbers of pilgrims who arrived in Jerusalem with water for drinking and purification. Suleiman attached a small tower to the aqueduct, inside of which a ceramic pipe was inserted. The pipe diverted the aqueduct’s water to the Sultan’s Pool and the impressive sabil (a Muslim public fountain for drinking water), which he built for the pilgrims who crossed the Derekh Hebron bridge and is still preserved there today”. Dr. Beeri said, “It is evident that the location of the aqueduct was extremely successful and efficient: we found four phases of different aqueducts that were constructed in exactly the same spot, one, Byzantine, from the sixth-seventh centuries CE and three that are Ottoman which were built beginning in the sixteenth century CE. The last three encircle a large subterranean water reservoir that was apparently built before the Ottoman period”.

Sultan's Pool with St Andrew's Church, mat12447 Sultan’s Pool in the Hinnom Valley, September 1943
Library of Congress, matpc-12447
From the forthcoming photo CD: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Baghdad National Museum, Virtually

You can now visit the Baghdad National Museum online.  The Italian creators have done a terrific job. has the story:

The treasures of Baghdad's National Museum went online for the first time Tuesday as Italy inaugurated the Virtual Museum of Iraq as part of an ongoing cultural collaboration between the two countries.

Looted during the United States-led invasion in 2003, the Baghdad Museum partially reopened in February after six years but the website is designed to make its most important artefacts accessible to everyone.

The site (, in Arabic, English and Italian, offers visitors the chance to walk through eight virtual halls and admire works from the prehistoric to the Islamic period, while videoclips reconstruct the history of the country's main cities.

''It's not a simple container of the objects in the museum but a real virtual journey, created for the general public and the scientific community, across 6,000 years of Mesopotamian history,'' said Italy's National Research Council Director Roberto De Mattei.

Among the artefacts on display in the Sumerian hall of the virtual museum is the famous Warka Mask, a marble head of a woman from Uruk dated to 3,400-3,100 BC, which, as with many of the works, visitors can rotate to get an almost 360 degree view.

In the Assyrian hall visitors can also admire colossal limestone statues of human-headed, winged bulls called lamassu, dated to the eight and ninth centuries BC, that guarded the ancient cities of Nimrud on the River Tigris and Dur Sharrukin, modern-day Khorsabad.

The story continues here.

HT: Explorator


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great Deal: Context of Scripture, 3 volumes

The best reference for ancient Near Eastern texts related to the Bible is the The Context of Scripture, edited by Hallo and Younger.  This three-volume work is superior to Pritchard’s ANET in many ways.  Unfortunately, it is published by Brill and thus is very expensive.cos

Eisenbrauns has an outstanding deal on the complete set in paperback.  Instead of $310, it is available this weekend only for $124 (plus shipping). 

If you miss the sale, each volume is available at Amazon for $200-300 each (1, 2, 3).  Or you can get the set in Libronix (electronic) format for $299.95.

If anyone has volume 1 in hardback and wants to sell or trade, send me an email (tbolen91 at bibleplaces dot com).


Friday, June 12, 2009

James Ossuary Forgery Trial: New Year, Same Story

It must be a slow news day if the Jerusalem Post is reporting on the James Ossuary forgery trial without apparently any new developments in the last 8 months.  The judge rebuked the prosecution last October, saying “Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest.”  Shuka Dorfman therefore seems determined to convict the accused in the court of public opinion if he cannot do it after four years of trial.  "I believe we have revealed only the tip of the iceberg. This industry encircles the world, involves millions of dollars," said Dorfman.  That may well be true, and those who love the ancient world will be happy to see the forgery business destroyed, but this does not mean that Oded Golan forged the James Ossuary.  From the JPost:

Golan and his co-defendants went on trial in the summer of 2005, but after more than 70 prosecution witnesses and 8,000 pages of testimony, Judge Aharon Farkash warned the prosecution that he was not convinced they had proved their case and advised them to consider halting the trial.

"After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" Judge Farkash pointedly asked the prosecution in October 2008. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest."

"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?" Judge Farkash said. "The experts disagreed among themselves. Where is the definitive proof needed to show that the accused faked the ossuary? You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously."

In an exclusive interview with The Media Line at his Tel Aviv home, Golan said he was confident that new scientific research undertaken by defense experts would finally exonerate him. Prosecution scientists had accused Golan of faking patina - a thin layer of biological material covering ancient items - in order to make the inscriptions on the artifacts seem old.

"No, I never faked any antiquity," Golan told The Media Line. "During the last several years there were several tests and examinations of those items by prominent experts from different countries in different laboratories and I think we succeeded to prove that these inscriptions could not have been inscribed in the last century. There is a thin layer of patina - it's a thin layer of crust made actually by a micro-organism that was developed inside the grooves of the inscription and this product made by the micro-organism could not have been developed in less than a hundred years."

More here.

UPDATE: As Jim notes in the comments, the above report is related to a video produced by The Media Line in which Joe Zias claims that he saw the ossuary with part of the inscription in an antiquities shop in the 1990s. 

Maybe it was the way that the producers edited the video, but I didn’t hear Zias make an unqualified assertion that he saw this exact ossuary and declare precisely what was inscribed at the time.  (Zias’s words on video: “I remember that I seen a thing in an antiquities dealer in the 1990s, so it couldn’t have been in the hands of Golan.”) Of course, he need not make such a claim to the media.  But one supposes that in the trial he would have made the strongest statements possible while under oath.  Apparently that, combined with the other evidence, was unconvincing to the judge.

As someone has noted in a comment on this blog before, exoneration in a criminal court will not prove that the ossuary’s inscription is authentic.  But it should serve to silence the mouths of the (failed) prosecuting parties and allow the matter to be discussed by the experts on the merits of the evidence.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

ASOR 2008 and Biblical Archaeology

The annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) was held last November, but with 287 papers being presented, it is likely that you didn’t catch everything that went on, whether you were present or not. 

Brian Janeway has posted a summary of some key presentations related to biblical archaeology.  He notes:

Though the term ‘biblical archaeology’ has gone out of fashion, scholars are still preoccupied with correlating their finds with the biblical text. The fact that the vast majority of the sponsoring institutions are secular should encourage Christian believers of all stripes.

He reviews presentations about Jericho, Gath, the Philistines, Khirbet en-Nahas, LMLK seals, Qumran, and the “cave of John the Baptist.”  Janeway concludes:

This review of biblical papers delivered at the 2008 ASOR meetings clearly shows that biblical archaeology is anything but dead, even if scholars are uncomfortable with the term itself. Indeed, it illustrates the central role that the Bible continues to play in the history and archaeology of the region; a source unmatched and unrivaled in its rich detail and description of life in antiquity.

Information about the 2009 annual meeting is given at the ASOR website.  A schedule of the presentations may be downloaded here.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir, Week 2

The excavations of the site proposed to be biblical Ai continued for a second week, with a brief description and photos posted on the website of the Associates for Biblical Research.

Significant discoveries continued to be made during the second and final week of the ABR excavation at Kh. el-Maqatir, June 1-5, 2009.  During the first week ABR Board President Gary Byers cleared the gate entry way and found considerable evidence for an intense fire, evidenced by the limestone bedrock turning red.  Oral Collins of the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies continued the excavation of a section of the western wall of the fortress discovered in 2000.  The wall at this point proved to be 3.3 meters wide and is preserved to a height of 1.2 meters.  Just inside the gateway of the fortress ABR Director of Research Bryant Wood uncovered a portion of a building, perhaps an administrative center.  In the northeast corner of the 6 x 6 meter excavation square a deposit of four vessels from the time of Joshua were found: a storage jar, a small cooking pot, a trumpet-base bowl and a dipper juglet.  The four restorable vessels will provide important evidence for dating the fortress.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mosaic Museum Opens at Good Samaritan Inn

The Jerusalem Post reports on a new museum that has opened at the traditional Inn of the Good Samaritan.

The Museum of the Good Samaritan, which is located on the Jerusalem-Jericho Road near Ma'aleh Adumim, was officially opened Thursday evening after a nine-year archeological excavation at the site.

The official dedication of the NIS 10 million museum, which displays mosaics from the West Bank and Gaza, coincided with US President Barack Obama's long-touted Middle East speech in Cairo in which he reached out to the Muslim world....

The site, known as the Inn of the Good Samaritan, received its name in the Byzantine period when it was identified with the inn mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament.

The site lies on the upper end of the ascent on the main road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which pilgrims followed when traveling from the Galilee and Transjordan to the Holy City.

Over the last decade, archeologists have uncovered remains dating back to the Second Temple period at the site.

During the Byzantine period, the site was revived as a way station for Christian pilgrims, and an inn was constructed that included a large church, a cistern, residential quarters, and a fortress to protect pilgrims from brigands.

In the Crusader period, with the expansion of pilgrimage to Jericho and especially to baptismal sites on the Jordan River, the inn was renovated and a fortress erected above it to guard the road to Jerusalem.

The structure housing the museum was built in the Ottoman period as a guard post, which remained in use until recently.

The mosaics on display at the museum were discovered in the West Bank and Gaza and belong to Jewish and Samaritan synagogues - including a mosaic from a Gaza synagogue - as well as churches.

The full story is here.

Good Samaritan inn, tb113006626dxo Traditional Inn of the Good Samaritan with Jerusalem in the distance

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) Excavations

After nine years of being unable to excavate Khirbet el-Maqatir because of its location near Palestinian cities in Israel, the Associates of Biblical Research has resumed work on the site under the direction of Bryant Wood.  Wood believes that the site may be the city of Ai destroyed by Joshua in the Israelite conquest of the land (Joshua 7-8).  A brief report of the first week’s excavations is now online, along with some photos.

Efforts this season are focused on the west, south and east walls, and several structures inside the fortress.  On the east, Eugene Merrill (Dallas Theological Seminary) discovered a pavement which may be a section of a ring road which circled the site inside the fortress wall.  On the west, Pastor James Luther (Florida) uncovered a 5 meter long section of a one meter wide wall that is part of a substantial structure inside the fortress.  Dig director Bryant Wood exposed several walls that were part of a building complex just inside the main gate on the north side of the fortress.  One of the guest volunteers working in Dr. Wood’s square found a large section of a pithos rim and neck which can be accurately dated to the 15th century BC, the time of the Conquest.

Wood’s latest article explaining the rationale for identifying Kh. el-Maqatir as Ai is given in an article in Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Eisenbrauns, 2008), available online in pdf format here.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

An Interview with the Photographer

The latest issue of Adult Bible Studies Illustrated (Summer 2009) features an interview with the photographer behind  Interview questions include: In what ways has your understanding of the Bible been enriched by your travels throughout the Middle East?  What are some of your favorite places to visit in the Holy Land?  What misconceptions do readers have as a result of not knowing the geographical, historical, or cultural settings of the Bible?  What projects are you working on currently?  What are some of the positive contributions that biblical archaeology has made in recent years to our understanding of the Bible?  The Adult Bible Studies has been published for years, but the Illustrated edition is less than a year old.  Copies may be purchased here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Photos of Cappadocia

Turkey is a country full of beautiful sites and one of the most unique is the exotic landscape of Cappadocia.  The LA Times has a gallery of photographs (with descriptive captions) online, with some nice photos taken from a hot air balloon.  Cappadocia is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the destinations of the letter of 1 Peter.

HT: Explorator

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Undecipherable Languages

Andrew Robinson, visiting fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, has written a fascinating article on ancient languages that have never been deciphered.  In “Decoding Antiquity: Eight Scripts That Still Can't Be Read,” he reviews Linear A, Proto-Elamite, the Phaistos disc, as well as others from around the world.  The end of the article includes an inset box of ancient languages that have been cracked. 

HT: Explorator