Friday, January 29, 2010

Qeiyafa Ostracon Update

There was some news this month regarding the Qeiyafa Ostracon.  I previously posted the new reading by Gershon Galil.  That was criticized by some, including Christopher Rollston who has some good thoughts on his blog.  The Khirbet Qeiyafa team has attacked Galil in an open letter for ethical concerns as well as problems of scholarship and “scientific methodology.”

Gordon Govier interviewed a number of scholars about the ostracon in an article for Christianity Today. Govier also interviewed Seth Sanders and Chris Rollston for the radio program, The Book and the Spade (also online temporarily as #1210 and #1211).

The Mormon Times has an article that summarizes the latest, with input from BYU professor Jeffrey R. Chadwick.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa website has been updated with new photographs and drawings of the ostracon (and page two here).

An article has just been published (and posted online in pdf format) in PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology by Gregory Bearman & William A. Christens-Barry entitled “Spectral Imaging of Ostraca.” The article includes several photos of the Qeiyafa Ostracon.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday Roundup

I continue to catch up on stories from earlier this month.

A building from the Neolithic period has been discovered in Tel Aviv.

Scholars in the British Museum discovered a couple of fragments similar to the Cyrus Cylinder in their collection.  Iran is upset that this will delay the promised loan of the artifact.

Abu Gosh decided it wanted to take the world record for the largest hummus dish ever made.  I drove by the restaurant a day after the big event and thus missed the opportunity to sample part of the 8,000 pounds of hummus, but I did see the satellite receiver in which the dish was served.

If you’re looking for a more academic trip of Turkey, I’d recommend this BAS tour led by Mark Wilson.

The sad state of the “Sanhedrin Tombs” in Jerusalem is reported in an article in Haaretz.

Sanhedrin Two-Columned tomb, tb062907604dxo

Two-Columned Tomb in Sanhedria neighborhood of Jerusalem

HT: Joe Lauer


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jaffa Gate Excavations

One of the items on my list for this blog was some new photos of the renovations at Jaffa Gate.  Tom Powers has beat me to it, however, and done a much better job.  He has a number of high-resolution photographs, along with explanations of what you’re seeing (as best as can be determined by an outsider).  I have heard through the grapevine that the archaeologists uncovered both ancient and modern aqueducts as well.  This makes sense given the location of Jaffa Gate and the nearby presence of the Towers/Hezekiah’s Pool.

Read the post on his Tom’s new blog and subscribe to future posts using the RSS feed.

Jaffa Gate area with excavations, tb010310770

Jaffa Gate area with excavations underway
Photo taken January 3, 2010


360 Degree Views in Jerusalem

360 degree views in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – if you didn’t want to stand in the long line to enter the tomb, this gives you a perfect view without the crowds, noise, or fragrances.

360 degree views in the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque – if you’re not Muslim, you can’t stand in a line long enough.  One other 360 degree view is the Western Wall, but these photos are less unique.  The entry point to all three sites is here.

Holy Sepulcher, line to enter tomb, tb011610713

Line to enter tomb at Church of Holy Sepulcher, earlier this month. One tour guide estimated the wait time to be two hours.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday Roundup

Ynetnews has a story on renovations of David’s Tomb on Mount Zion.

Leen Ritmeyer’s recent lecture on how he identified the location of Solomon’s Temple is recounted in a story in the Baptist Press.

A sarcophagus cover with a Medusa decoration is the now on display at Caesarea.  The IAA press release (temporary link) also has some high-resolution images (direct link).

A hoard of 1,300 silver coins apparently from the Hellenistic period have been discovered in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, announced the Hamas-run “ministry of tourism and antiquities.”

The Museum of Tolerance to be built in the Mamilla neighborhood of Jerusalem will be half the size of the original plan because of reduced sources of funding.  Plaintiffs who filed suit against the construction have lost their case and been fined by the court.

I’ve had little time this month for noting the latest stories.  As time permits, I’ll continue to try to catch up.

HT: Joe Lauer and Paleojudaica

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Glo for $40

I’ve recommended Glo before, and I see that it’s available for a few days (until 1/28) for only $40 from Rejoice Software (click “buy now” to see lower price).  That’s quite a bit cheaper than I’ve seen it before.  The email announcement I received claims that Zondervan has raised the retail price to $90.

You can learn more about this multimedia Bible program here.

(Disclosure: about half of the photographs in the product are mine, but I don’t benefit from the sales.)


Fishing Banned on Sea of Galilee

From Arutz-7:

Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simchon has announced a ban on all fishing in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) for two years. The ban also extends to the part of the Jordan River that empties into the Sea of Galilee, and to all the other rivers that empty into the famous lake.

The authority to ban fishing is within the Minister of Agriculture's authority according to the official Fishing Order, and the ban is set to take effect on March 1, 2010, extending until February 28, 2012. Minister Simchon has asked the Finance Ministry to allot NIS 15 million for enforcing the ban and compensating the fishermen who will be hurt by it.

Simchon explained that according to Agriculture Ministry statistics, the quantity of fish in the Sea of Galilee has plummeted in the past decade, and especially in the last two years, by tens of percentage points annually. It has now reached  a critical level, he said, and these statistics mean that the sea may be facing an ecological disaster in which all its fish would die out.

The full story is here.

Boats filled with fish, mat07411

Fishing boats on Sea of Galilee, early 1900s

This photo is from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07411).

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mount of Olives Cemetery Online

From the Jerusalem Post:

The world's oldest Jewish cemetery just went online.

A new project undertaken by the City of David archeological Park, located south of Jerusalem's Old City and at the foot of the Mount of Olives cemetery, has begun the process of identifying and documenting tombstones throughout the entirety of the Mount of Olives and uploading the data to the Web.

Tens of thousands of graves on the mount have already been mapped and incorporated into a database, in the first-ever attempt to restore the graves and record the history of those who were buried there. The project includes the creation of a Web site ( that aims to raise awareness of the City of David and to honor the memory of those buried in the cemetery, as well as to inform about the tours and activities available.

Additionally, the Web site tells stories of the people buried in the cemetery and, through a simple search window, one can locate the documented graves by name.

"We hope that this Web site will give people all over the world the opportunity to remove the dust of generations from the graves of their loved ones, and to both restore and reveal the stories buried underground," Udi Ragones, the public relations director for the project, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

"There's so much history there, so many stories, that this project is fascinating both from a personal perspective as well as an historical one," he said.

While more than 20,000 gravestones have already been documented, organizers estimate that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 in the cemetery, which leaves an enormous amount of work left to be done.

The already documented graves include those of the reviver of the Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Shai Agnon, former prime minister Menachem Begin, Hadassah Women's Organization founder Henrietta Szold, founder of the Bezalel Art School Boris Schatz, Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar, also known as the Ohr ha-Chaim after his popular commentary on the Torah, and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate.

The full story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Tomb of Zechariah, religious ceremony, mat06376Jewish ceremony in cemetery on Mount of Olives, early 1900s

This photo is taken from the Jerusalem volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06376).

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Ultra-Orthodox Western Wall

This editorial at Ynetnews gives one side’s perspective on how the Western Wall prayer plaza came to be controlled by the ultra-orthodox.

Here’s a snippet:

But then, for the first time in its history, iron barricades were placed in the forward part of the plaza, close to the Kotel itself. This was the first mehitzah, the first separation between men and women, in the history of the Kotel. There had already been such attempts in the past. At the end of Turkish rule and under the British Mandate attempts had been made to separate between the sexes in the area next to the Kotel, but they failed. During most of those years when Jews had access to the Western Wall and during those years when they did not, there was never a mehitzah at the Kotel. But now a mehitzah was put up, which put aside most of the area - and the best part thereof - for the use of the men; barricades were put up to mark the entrances; and ushers were placed to assure the separation and to distribute paper kippot to those men who wished to approach the Kotel itself.


The escalation of more recent years is due particularly to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, known as the “Rabbi of the Kotel.” He did not invent anything, but he perfected the system: swearing-in ceremonies of the IDF became fewer and further between; an attempt was made to separate the sexes at the ceremony in which new immigrants received their identity cards; signs calling for modesty were posted in every corner; Israeli flags suddenly disappeared (and meanwhile were returned). Most of world Jewry is not Orthodox, but the rabbi of the holiest place in the world to the Jewish people is Orthodox - and not just ordinary Orthodox, but Haredi.

The full editorial is here.

HT: The Bible and Interpretation

Jews at Western Wall, mat08511  Jews praying at Western Wall, early 1900s
Source: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem

Western Wall prayer area, db6804154111

Western Wall prayer area, April 1968
Source: Views That Have Vanished

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Conserving the Dead Sea Scrolls

From Haaretz:

For the past two and a half months, Tania Treiger, a conservator with the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been pouring over a piece of parchment about 20 centimeters square. It began with a microscopic examination of the fragment to gauge its condition, and continued with the placement of special paper over the writing to very slowly remove the circa 1970s adhesive tape.

Treiger, whose tools include Q-tips, tweezers and lots of patience, is one of four "guardians" of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These four women, all from the former Soviet Union, are the only people in the world permitted to touch the scrolls.

The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, among the most important archaeological finds in the world, were discovered in the mid-1940s in the Dead Sea area, and have been making headlines ever since. This week, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported that the IAA had decided to stop sending the scrolls abroad to exhibitions for fear of legal complications, after the Jordanian government demanded that Israel return scrolls to Jordan. In 1967 the Jordanians tried to remove the scrolls from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem to Jordan, but Israel took East Jerusalem before that could happen and found the scrolls in the museum storerooms.


The scrolls, dating from about 300 BCE to 70 CE, survived amazingly well in the dry conditions of the caves of Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The first scroll scholars, an international consortium of eight researchers, tried to piece together the fragments as best they could. "They were geniuses who did amazing work, but they were not aware of the physical needs of the material," Shor says.

Using adhesive tape, they stuck together what they believed to be related fragments and laid them between two pieces of glass. The scholars created a total of 1276 such plates. But adhesive tape, an amazing invention in the 1950s, became a conservation catastrophe for the scrolls. The chemicals in the adhesive ate into the organic material, stained it and wiped out letters. Later scholars also did damage. In the 1970s, they began to piece together fragments using rice paper and plastic material, which caused additional damage. Luckily, this process was halted and most of the fragments remained within the glass plates.


The digitalizing of the scrolls, under preparation for three years, is to begin in about six months. The project, whose cost is estimated at more than $5 million, will use special photographic techniques, including infrared and full-spectrum photography, which are also expected to reveal hidden letters. The intent of the project, which will take five years, is to place everything on the Internet so scholars around the world can take part in the greatest puzzle of all - piecing together tens of thousands of fragments of some 900 different compositions.

The full article is here. The Hebrew version has two photographs.

HT: Joe Lauer


Dead Sea Scroll Lectures in Milwaukee

There are a number of lectures here that look very good.  From JSOnline:

The Milwaukee Public Museum and Mount Mary College are both holding lectures in connection with the museum's "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible" exhibit opening Friday.

The museum's 11-lecture series features an international panel of speakers covering different facets of the exhibition, from the scrolls' application to the understanding of modern biblical texts to discoveries revealed through new technologies.

Individual lectures at the museum cost $25, $20 for members. To purchase seats for individual lectures, call (414) 223-4676 or register online at To purchase seats for a four- or six-lecture series, call (414) 223-4676.

The museum's lectures:

• "An Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls Back to Life: The Use of Imaging Technologies to Reclaim Ancient Texts." Weston Fields, Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, and Bruce Zuckerman, University of Southern California. 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. [Jan 22-23]

• "The Three Favorite Books at Qumran and the Biblical Text." Peter Flint, Canada Research Chair in Dead Sea Scrolls Studies, Trinity Western University. 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4.

• "The Ever-Alive Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Early Judaism, and the Birth of Christianity." Shalom Paul, Hebrew University. 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Feb.18.

• "Israel at the Time of the Dead Sea Scrolls." Larry Schiffman, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University. 7:30 p.m. March 4.

• "The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls." Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 7:30 p.m. March 18.

• "The Stories of the Milwaukee Public Museum Dead Sea Scrolls." Marty Abegg, director, Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, Trinity Western University. 7:30 p.m. March 25.

• "God Among the Gods: Divine Plurality in the Qur'an in the Light of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Mythic Tradition." Wesley Williams, Michigan State University. 7:30 p.m. April 15.

• "In Search of the Holy Grail: How Much Difference Would It Make If We Found the Original Handwritten Copies of New Testament Books?" Brent Sandy, Grace College. 7:30 p.m. April 29.

• "The Scriptures and Their Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls." Andrew Teeter, Harvard University. 7:30 p.m. May 6.

• "The Scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls." Emanuel Tov, Hebrew University. 5:30, 7:30 p.m. May 27.

• "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Current Bible Translations." Deirdre Dempsey, Marquette University. 7:30 p.m. June 3.

Meanwhile, Mount Mary will present "The Dead Sea Scrolls 101: An Evening of Introduction" at 7 p.m. Feb 4 at 2900 N. Menomonee River Parkway. The lecture will be presented by Donald Rappe, associate professor at the college's department of theology, and Helga Kisler, an adjunct theology instructor at Mount Mary. 

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Roundup

Dr. Zvi Greenhut, Deputy Director of Survey & Excavations, Israel Antiquities Authority is interviewed on Arutz-7 Radio about his excavations of Moza (Emmaus?).  A summary of his Iron Age finds is given at the IAA website.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas has purchased three fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls, with verses from Exodus, Leviticus, and Daniel.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel lists 93 threats to open spaces in their annual report, with the largest number falling in the north.

Richard Jones of Lee University will give a lecture entitled “Biblical Archaeology on the Karak Plateau, Jordan” on Jan. 23 at 10:30 at the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Professor Emeritus Abraham Malamat of the Hebrew University passed away today at the age of 87.

HT: Joe Lauer and the Yehuda Group

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Thieves Loot Theft Exhibit

From Haaretz:

In a display of what might be called ironic chutzpah, burglars broke into an Ashdod museum this week and stole silver coins from the Hellenistic period and other archaeological finds that were part of an exhibit called "Antiquities Thieves in Israel."

The exhibit, at the Korin Maman Museum, displayed artifacts that the Israel Antiquities Authority had previously recovered from antiquities thieves. Now it seems the authority will have to begin its hunt all over again.

The burglars neutralized the alarm system Tuesday night and stole a bronze spear, two gold earrings, some pottery and the silver coins, which feature the image of Alexander the Great.

"It's one of the weirdest things that ever happened here," said a museum employee. "Someone actually went and stole the robbers display."

The complete story is here.  The Jerusalem Post story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Baptismal Site to Open on Israeli Side

From Haaretz:

In the winter of 2003, Saar Kfir, director of the Qasr al-Yahud site, stood not far from the swelling Jordan River. It was indeed beautiful, but the rising waters caused considerable damage to the comprehensive plan for upgrading and expanding the site, located east of the town of Jericho, where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. The project, which was originally approved in advance of the millennium celebrations - and was delayed because of the intifada and, later, by the 2003 floods - is now in its final phases.

When it is completed, hopefully before Passover, it will be possible for pilgrims to visit the third-most-important Christian site in Israel at their convenience: any day of the week, without advance coordination and without a military escort, as were necessary in the past.

Qasr al-Yahud, or "the Jews' fortress" (a corruption of the Arabic meaning, "the Jews' break"), is traditionally the place where the Israelites crossed over (that is, "broke") the Jordan River and where Elijah the Prophet ascended to heaven, as well as where Jesus was baptized.

On January 18 and 19, the Orthodox Churches will celebrate Epiphany at the site, marking the "revelation" of Jesus to the three kings from the East. "This is one of the only authentic celebrations that remain in this country," says Udi Izak, director of the school system in the Megillot regional council, in the Dead Sea region.

Read the whole article for a history of celebrations since 1967.

Jordan River, Ceremony of Epiphany, mat06788 Epiphany celebration at Jordan River, early 1900s

This photo is taken from the Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06788).

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Christians Leaving Traditional Cana

From the AP:

KUFR KANA, Israel – In this small Galilee town where tradition says Jesus turned water to wine, an ambitious priest hopes to perform his own miracle — revive a shrinking flock.

Father Masoud Abu Hatoum, nicknamed "the bulldozer" for his enthusiasm, has come up with a few ideas, like re-enacting the New Testament story of Jesus transforming the water for guests at a wedding in the Galilee hamlet of Cana, now this northern Israeli town of Kufr Kana.

"We have to attract people," said Abu Hatoum, who looks as much rock star as priest with his trim beard and large wrap-around sunglasses.

But he will have a tough time slowing the hemorrhage of Christians from this bleak, economically depressed town, as the young move away to cities like nearby Nazareth, which offer bigger Christian communities, more jobs and better marriage prospects.

"Our youths leave the village, they tell us: 'We don't want to die here.' We get old, and they leave," said 65-year-old Said Saffouri, a parishioner whose two sons have moved out of town.

Migration and low birth rates have diminished Christian populations across the Middle East. Israel's community of 123,000 Arab Christians is one of the few in the region whose numbers have held steady — it grew slightly by 2,000 in 2009. But it does face a problem of rural flight to big cities, which leaves traditional small Christian towns like Kufr Kana to waste away.

Kufr Kana was entirely Christian at the beginning of the 20th century, but Muslims began settling in the village first as traders, and then as refugees fleeing fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, locals said. Now the village is home to 16,000 Muslims and 4,000 Christians.

The story continues here.  The Cana where Jesus changed water into wine is more likely at Khirbet Kana.  For an analysis of the options, see this chapter from the dissertation of J. Carl Laney.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Women with Water Jars

Women carrying water jars, mat00063 Women with water jars, early 1900s

“Water is generally brought from the fountain, or cistern, in skin bottles, which the women carry on their backs, and a rope holding this in position passes round the forehead. If, however, they have no skin bottles, known as ‘kirby,’ they have big earthenware jars, which they carry on their heads.”  --Philip Baldensperger, “Women in the East,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1900): 173.

“A great part of their lives seems to be spent in going to and fro between the tent and the spring.” --C. R. Conder, Tent Work in Palestine (1878) 2: 284.

The photo and quotations are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-00063).


Flash Floods in the Negev

From the Jerusalem Post:

Many roads in the South were closed down following floods and a storm which has been raging since Sunday night.

Four tourists became trapped in their car in Arava Monday due to intense flooding.

Rescue units, including a helicopter, were working to evacuate them from the vehicle.

Route 90, leading from the Dead Sea hotels to the Center, Route 40 and Route 211 in the Negev were closed for traffic. The Nitzana Bridge collapsed due to heavy rainfalls.

The Nitzana, Tzin, Revivim Besor Haroe'h and Beersheba streams were overflowing.

A vehicle drifted away near the Revivim quarry and was still being sought on Monday morning. Two trucks with three travelers were swept into the Paran stream near Eilat and the travelers needed assistance from the local rescue unit and IDF helicopters.

All schools in the Ramat Hanegev Local Council were closed because of the floods. Schools in Kadesh Barne'a, Ezuz, Kmehin, Nitzana, Revivim, Mashabe Sadeh, Telalim and Retamim were closed.

Significant downpours swept the land, especially in the Negev and northern Negev, where 49 millimeters were registered during the night.

This reminds one of Psalm 126:4: “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

UPDATE: Arutz-7 reports:

One tourist was killed in the Arava area north of Eilat Monday morning when he and two friends tried to drive their jeep through a raging river bed, powered by rare heavy rainfall. The roaring stream crushed the vehicle against rocks, and army helicopters manage to rescue two accompanying tourists. It was not known if they are from Israel or from outside the country.

Earlier on Monday, IDF helicopter rescue crews saved three people trapped in two trucks in flash floods in the central Negev and others near Eilat as the torrential but badly needed winter rains head north.

More than one inch of rain fell in Eilat, more than the normal rainfall for several years, and schools were closed throughout the region. Eilat also suffered electricity blackouts....

Nearly two inches of rain flooded Be’er Sheva, where a raging river bed was filled with water for the first time in years.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Camel Caravan

Camel caravan on Mt of Olives, mat14759 Camel caravan on Mount of Olives, 1925-46

“The camels of loaded caravans are usually fastened one behind another in single file, and thus make one deep track or footpath; but in the Haj and in a small party like ours, they are left to choose their own way, and seldom follow each other in line; so that many parallel tracks are thus formed” --Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petrea (1841): 1:60.

“The first time I came up this road from Jaffa, many years ago, midway between Upper Beth-horon and el Jîb, in the narrowest and most difficult part of the pass I encountered a long and straggling drove of camels—more than five hundred—which Ibrahim Pasha had bought from the Arabs east of the Jordan, in order to transport provisions and war material for his army. Though I have since seen many thousand camels in one caravan of the Wuld 'Aly—some said fifty thousand—that sight did not affect my imagination to an equal degree. Those five hundred loose camels, with their Bedawin drivers shouting to them at the top of their voices, came lunging and plunging down the rocky path in wild confusion; and my terrified horse becoming quite unmanageable, rushed away amongst the rocks, to the no slight danger of breaking his own neck and that of his rider” --William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book (1882): 2:73.

The photo and quotations are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-04570).


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Doing the Laundry

My home is decorated with photos from the Middle East, arranged by geographical region or theme.  One of the photos my wife chose to put in the laundry area is this one.

Women washing clothes at fountain, mat05312Date of Photograph: Early 1900s

“Dirty clothes are generally carried to the nearest running water; sometimes this is far from the village, and where there are only wells, water must be drawn; but seldom are things washed with warm water” --Philip Baldensperger, “Women in the East,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1901): 75.

The photo and quotation are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05312).


Monday, January 11, 2010

Threshing Floor

Ruth 3,6, She went down to the threshing floor, mat10182Threshing floor, early 1900s

“The threshing-floor is a flat place in the neighbourhood of the village. If possible, a rocky place is chosen, so that it may be easily swept. Where this is not obtainable, a hard, flat piece of ground is made to answer the purpose. The floor is common property, but each thresher keeps to a certain part of it. For four months the Fellah has nothing to fear from rain or bad weather. During that time he almost lives at the beiyâdir (threshing-floor) and some of the villages are nearly deserted, at least by the men. The wheat, &c., is spread out, and the oxen and asses are driven round so many hours a-day to tread out the grain with their hoofs, at the same time treading and softening the straw so that it becomes fit for fodder. This straw is called tibn, bundles of ordinary straw and stubble they call kash. The animals as a rule are not muzzled” --F. A. Klein, “Life, Habits and Customs of the Fellahin of Palestine,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1883): 41-48.

“Do you suppose that these floors which we see at Yebna and elsewhere resemble those so celebrated in ancient times? They have, perhaps, changed less than almost anything else in the country. Every agricultural village and town in the land has them, and many of them are more ancient than the places whose inhabitants now use them. They have been just where they are, and exactly as they were, from a period ‘to which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’” --William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book (1880): 1:149-51.

The photo and quotations are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-10182).


Friday, January 08, 2010

Qeiyafa Inscription Translation by Galil

From a press release from the University of Haifa, posted at EurekAlert:

A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written. Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David's reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.

The inscription itself, which was written in ink on a 15 cm X 16.5 cm trapezoid pottery shard, was discovered a year and a half ago at excavations that were carried out by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah valley. The inscription was dated back to the 10th century BCE, which was the period of King David's reign, but the question of the language used in this inscription remained unanswered, making it impossible to prove whether it was in fact Hebrew or another local language.

Prof. Galil's deciphering of the ancient writing testifies to its being Hebrew, based on the use of verbs particular to the Hebrew language, and content specific to Hebrew culture and not adopted by any other cultures in the region. "This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans. It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah ("did") and avad ("worked"), which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah ("widow") are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages. The content itself was also unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society: The present inscription provides social elements similar to those found in the biblical prophecies and very different from prophecies written by other cultures postulating glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical needs," Prof. Galil explains.

He adds that once this deciphering is received, the inscription will become the earliest Hebrew inscription to be found, testifying to Hebrew writing abilities as early as the 10th century BCE. This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research, which would not have recognized the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.

Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. "It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel." He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time.

The contents of the text express social sensitivity to the fragile position of weaker members of society. The inscription testifies to the presence of strangers within the Israeli society as far back as this ancient period, and calls to provide support for these strangers. It appeals to care for the widows and orphans and that the king – who at that time had the responsibility of curbing social inequality - be involved. This inscription is similar in its content to biblical scriptures (Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3, Exodus 23:3, and others), but it is clear that it is not copied from any biblical text.

English translation of the deciphered text:

1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

HT: Joe Lauer



Native village, mat06851 Native village in early 1900s

“The most important and most frequented portion of the house next to the reception-room is the roof. The roof is made in various ways. Mr. Haddad speaks of a common way in Syria, to lay beams across from one side to the other of the walls, then a mat of reeds on the top of these beams, then some bushes of a thorn, and finally, a coating of clay or earth, and scatter sand and pebbles on the top of the earth, then they roll it with a roller of stone, to make it compact, so that the rain will not run through. Sometimes a little space three or four feet square is cut in the roof, with separate pieces, made like the rest of the roof, or covered with mat or tiling, which can be taken up when desired. It might have been such a place in the roof that was used in letting down the paralytic on his rug or quilt, which would be the only bed an Oriental in such condition would be likely to have.

These roofs are flat, and the terraces or parapets around them are low, and made of dried bricks, or stone, just like the wall. If a higher terrace is required, it is made of lattice-work to screen the women of the household. In summer the people of Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia usually sleep upon the housetops. The servants sleep on bedding or the ground in the court below. The very poor people often sleep in the streets, the open squares, the market-places, and courts, rolling themselves in a coverlet, a rug, or their outer garments, and screening their faces.

Many occupations are carried on upon the roof. Here the wheat is washed and spread to dry, the flax is prepared, and vegetables and fruits to be stored in winter; wool and cotton when washed is spread out upon the roof, clothes are hung there to be dried; as now, so has it been of old” --Edwin Wilbur Rice, Orientalism in Bible Lands (1910): 249.

The photo and quotation are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06851).


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Locust Plague

Locust plague of 1915, locusts entering trap, mat01912

Chasing locusts, 1915

John Whiting described the capture of locusts in “Jerusalem's Locust Plague,” published in National Geographic in 1915:

“The fighters now made two long lines, one on each side of the trap. To noise and racket the locusts seemed only to turn a deaf ear; but a large flag—the darker the better—with which to cast a deep shadow upon the ground, proved to be the most formidable tool one could employ to make them move in the desired direction; in fact, countless numbers could thus be guided and held in check if one but anticipated the general direction they wished to go.”

“In their path was sunk a bottomless box, the inside lined with shining tin, up which the locusts could not crawl, while on each side a wing was provided, similarly prepared with a smooth metal face, with the object of directing them into the box.”

“Once, however, they made in the right direction, they jumped, hundreds at a time, into this death trap. . . . Thus in about an hour’s time four large sacks full were caught and destroyed each containing no less than 100,000 of these insects” (535-36).

Overseer's trousers covered with locust crawlers, mat02938 Locusts crawling on overseer’s trousers, 1930

“Whenever touched, or especially when finding themselves caught within one’s clothes, they exuded from their mouth a dark fluid, an irritant to the skin and soiling the garments in a most disgusting manner. Imagine the feeling (we speak from experience) with a dozen or two such creatures over an inch long, with sawlike legs and rough bodies, making a race-course of your back!” (533).

The photos and quotations are taken from an extraordinary collection of 80 photographs of locust plagues that occurred in Palestine in the early 1900s, now published on the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01912 and LC-matpc-02938).


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wedding Procession

Bridal procession, mat01300

Bridal procession, early 1900s

“The principal ceremonies with wedding are the processions of the bride and bridegroom through the street, accompanied by their friends. The procession of the dower is also accompanied by a band of women, singing, clapping the hands, and uttering shrill cries; but the bride’s fortune among the peasantry is necessarily small, and, as in Italy, a single chest on a mule conveys the whole trousseau” --C. R. Conder, Tent Work in Palestine (1878): 2:249.

The photo and quotation are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01300).


Monday, January 04, 2010

Psalm 23

Psalm 23,1b I shall not want, mat00962

Shepherd with flock at Ein Farah (Perat), early 1900s

“The shepherd goes before, to see that the way is practicable and safe. He is armed in order to defend his charge, and in that he is very courageous. Many adventures with wild beasts occur not unlike that recounted by David; and though there are no lion here, wolves, leopards, and panthers still prowl about these wild wadys. They not infrequently attack the flock in the very presence of the shepherd. I have listened with interest to their descriptions of desperate fights with those savage beasts. And when the thief and the robber come, and come they do, the faithful shepherd has often to defend his flock at the hazard of his life” --William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book (1885): 3:594.

The photo and quotation are taken from one of two collections of photos related to Psalm 23 on the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-00962).


Friday, January 01, 2010

Ruth 3:15

Ruth 3,15b, He poured into it, mat10172

Ruth 3:15 (NIV) “[Boaz] also said, ‘Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.’ When [Ruth] did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her.”

This photo is one of thirty in the “Ruth” set on the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-10172).