Sunday, February 28, 2010

Weekend Roundup

You never know what will start a riot in Israel.  In this case, it was the government’s adding two historical sites to a list of 150 that should be restored.  Today Israeli police forces entered the Temple Mount in order to remove 20 masked protesters who were throwing objects at tourists.

G. M. Grena notes that BAR has posted a good photograph of the Qeiyafa Ostracon.

Egypt has announced the discovery of a large red granite head of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his mortuary temple on Luxor’s West Bank. 

Tom Powers has followed up the “Under the Temple Mount” post here with some beautiful watercolors of the same areas on his blog.

If you’re looking for more reaction to Eilat Mazar’s “10th century” “wall” announced last week, take a look at this roundup by John Hobbins.  I expect to post more on the matter this coming week.

Today is Purim and in honor of this festive holiday, the Israel Antiquities Authority has posted an online exhibit of “Masks, Rattles and Purim Customs.” Some images are available in high resolution here (zip).

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Under the Temple Mount

I want to return to a recent post on the 360 degree views in Jerusalem.  There are some images here that I did not notice or note carefully before, including Solomon’s Stables, the Well of the Souls, and the passageway of the Double Gate. 

First, go to the Al Aqsa tour.  Counting the images from the left, #6-8 show Al-Marwani Mosque, built a decade ago inside the area known traditionally as “Solomon’s Stables.”  You can see the Herodian masonry in the columns. 

#9 is the Well of the Souls, the cave underneath the Dome of the Rock. 

#10-11 were taken inside the passageway of the “Double Gate.”  If you look up you can see the beautifully carved (but now plastered over) domes from Herod’s time. 

These are really extraordinary images of places that are very difficult for non-Muslims to access.  The limited captions on the website do not explain what you’re seeing.  Leen Ritmeyer has a nice screenshot showing the domes.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

BiblePlaces Newsletter Move

The BiblePlaces Newsletter is being sent out today from a new server.  Most subscribers were transferred directly, but about 10% will receive a confirmation email which requires that they click on the link in order to continue their subscription.

If you do not receive the newsletter by the end of the day (it sometimes takes some hours for the server to process all of them), you can do this:

  1. Check your “Spam” or “Junk E-Mail” folder.  In an effort to get rid of spam, some filters remove the wheat with the chaff.  If you find it there, change your settings so that you receive the newsletter directly each time.
  2. Verify your subscription.  Go here and type in your email address.  If you’re already subscribed, it will tell you.  If you’re not already subscribed, you will receive a confirmation email.  (If it doesn’t arrive, check your “Spam” folder.)  Click the link in that email and you’ll be set.

As always, we hate spam and promise to never use your email address for any purpose other than this newsletter.  And you are always free to unsubscribe at any time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Aren Maeir Lecturing in New England

Aren Maeir, excavator of Philistine Gath, will be lecturing in New England next week.  From his blog:

On Wednesday, March 3rd, I will be giving two lectures at Brandeis University. The first one, entitled: “The Archaeology of Love and Sex in the Ancient Near East” will be from 2:10 – 3:30 pm at Lown 202, as part of Prof. M. Brettler’s class “The Song of Songs”.

The second one, entitled: “Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites and Crusaders: The Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel” will from 5:10 – 6:30 pm at Lown 2, as part of a joint lecture for the Depts. of Anthropology and of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies.

On Thursday, March 4th, I’ll be presenting a lecture at the Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems at Brown University, on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

If anyone is in the area, please do feel free to come to these talks.

These sound interesting!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Previous Publication of Mazar’s “Solomonic Wall”

A.D. Riddle has pointed me to a chapter that Eilat Mazar published a few years ago entitled “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem” (full bibliographic data below).

It includes a diagram similar to the one published on Hebrew U’s Facebook page yesterday.  I’ve added labels in English.

Mazar_wall_diagram Mazar’s diagram with English labels added (original here)

My impression in reading Mazar’s chapter is that yesterday’s press conference was mostly a re-statement of the conclusions of her 2006 article, which was based on her excavations in the 1980s.  In short, she argues that Building C is a four-chambered inner gatehouse which may have been an entrance into a royal palace.  She notes that its dimensions are “virtually identical” to those of palace Gate 1567 at Megiddo VA-IVB.  With regard to date, she states that “the ceramic data were insufficient to provide a more precise determination within the terminus post quem time frame for the construction of Building C.”

She found two floors in Building D, the later of which was laid “no earlier than the 8th century.”  She believes an intact black juglet was placed under a foundation stone as a “construction offering” and dates the building to the 10th century. 

She concludes in part:

Based on the finds sealed below the floors of Buildings C and D, the construction of the fortification complex in the Ophel should be dated to the 10th century BCE.  This date corresponds to the biblical passage announcing that King Solomon built a defensive wall around Jerusalem.  There is no reason to assume that someone other than Solomon constructed or reconstructed the Ophel fortification line at some time during the 10th-9th centuries BCE.

It sounds as if Mazar has found more evidence in her recent excavation that confirms her previous conclusion that this fortification system dates to the time of Solomon.  I don’t believe that her previous conclusions met with much enthusiasm from the scholarly community; we’ll see how the archaeologists evaluate her new material.

The bibliographic data for this publication is as follows:

Mazar, Eilat. 2006 “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.” Pp. 775-786 in “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times”: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday.  Ed. A. Maeir and P. de Miroschedji. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

This two-volume work is available from Eisenbrauns.

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Follow-Up on Mazar’s Iron Age Buildings

There was some question yesterday about the purpose of the dig and the relationship of the material excavated in the 1980s with that uncovered recently.  Science Daily gives some background:

The excavations in the Ophel area were carried out over a three-month period with funding provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, a New York couple interested in Biblical Archeology. The funding supports both completion of the archaeological excavations and processing and analysis of the finds as well as conservation work and preparation of the site for viewing by the public within the Ophel Archaeological Park and the national park around the walls of Jerusalem.

This sounds like a clean-up dig, where the archaeologist returns to the area to do some additional work in preparation for publication of the reports.  Unfortunately, Mazar seems to have presented it as all brand-new discoveries.  I’m still not sure what they “know” now that they didn’t “know” six months ago.

The Arutz-7 article now includes a 4-minute video of Eilat Mazar.  Unfortunately the guy holding the video camera doesn’t seem to know where to point the camera, as he shows lots of excavations entirely unrelated to the Iron Age wall, “gate,” and tower.  The explanation is geared towards those who are new to the subject and she doesn’t clearly answer the reporter’s question about what is new and what is not.

G. M. Grena notes in a comment to yesterday’s post that the three LMLK handles shown in an excavation photo have not been published previously. 

Leen Ritmeyer comments on his blog about the difficulty of identifying one of the structures as a gate:

The possibility of having found an Iron Age gateway was proposed in confidentiality to Eilat Mazar by myself, but it was reported to the press before I was given a chance to explore this hypothesis (Jerusalem Post, April 22, 1986). The difficulty of identifying the building that was excavated by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar with a gateway is that the chambers are constructed very differently from gate chambers of that period.

Ritmeyer has some other interesting observations, though be sure to note his update and the comment by Barnea Levi Selavan.

The Jerusalem Post reports on the story and includes this caution from a friendly archaeologist:

Aren Maeir, an archeology professor at Bar Ilan University, said he has yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims. There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains "tenuous."

Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary:

These new discoveries, along with those of a previous dig in a different area of the city of David, contradict contrary Palestinian claims that the Jews have no claim to the area. They also debunk the assertions of some Israeli archeologists who have sought to portray the kingdom of David and Solomon as an insignificant tribal group and not the regional empire that the Bible speaks about.

My response: since the issue has obvious political implications that can be seized on by guys like Tobin, archaeologists have a greater burden to exercise care in publicizing their finds.  Mazar’s approach seems to be the opposite: get the sensational headline before careful analysis or peer review can be done.  Sometimes this leads to embarrassing situations like reading an inscription backwards.

I find this photo and photo caption interesting:

Archeologist Eilat Mazar, center in red...

She certainly knows how to get attention...

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Eilat Mazar’s 1980s Excavations and Today

Concerning Mazar’s “discoveries” announced earlier today, I think that some readers would be interested in the report given in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1993).  A section on the Ophel was written by Hillel Geva and I quote it at length because (1) it reveals what was discovered in the previous excavation that appears to be re-reported as new today and (2) it indicates that the identification of the building as a gate was the excavator’s identification.  I have marked some statements in bold for emphasis.

In 1986 to 1987, B. Mazar and E. Mazar continued to excavate the complex of Iron Age II public buildings in the southeastern part of the Ophel.  The buildings were partially unearthed in B. Mazar’s 1970 excavations; he identified them as remains of the biblical “house of Millo.”  The renewed excavations revealed many additional remains that add up to a complex of several interconnected, but well-defined building units.  The quality of the construction is impressive, featuring thick walls founded on bedrock, sometimes preserved to a height of some 4 m.  The first stages of these buildings date to the ninth century BCE, at the earliest; they were destroyed, together with the rest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, as the visible signs of destruction and conflagration indicate.

The remains of building C consisted of the walls of two rooms, the foundations of the walls of other rooms, and sections of floors.  They have been identified as belonging to a four-chamber gatehouse of the type characteristic of the Iron Age II.  The earlier excavations had exposed dozens of vessels, including many storage jars, in the gate’s southwestern chamber.  Building D, which adjoins building C on the east, consisted of several rooms, in which pithoi [large storage jars] were found, suggesting that the building was a storehouse.

The various building units combined to form a dense complex whose outer walls created a continuous line of fortifications along the eastern side of the Ophel, overlooking the Kidron Valley.  The gate may be associated with the large tower (building B) to the south, discovered by Warren in the Ophel wall between 1867 and 1870, and with another, smaller tower (building A) whose eastern side Kenyon exposed in 1967 in her site SII.

The gate has been identified with the biblical “Water Gate” (Neh. 3:26) that was part of the complex known as the “upper house of the king.”  The excavators believe that it was a gate in the western section of the Jerusalem city wall, providing access to a separate royal quarter, which stood on the Ophel until the end of the First Temple period (Vol. 2, p. 715).

Given this report, I cannot determine what, if anything, has been discovered recently.  The only thing that appears to have changed is the date (back now to the time of Solomon).

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Massive Wall in Jerusalem Dated to Solomon’s Time

Eilat Mazar announced today the discovery of a large stone wall that she attributes to King Solomon.  The article with the most detail is at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with a copy here).  Arutz-7 has a similar report, and others have brief summaries.  Trying to sort out all the pieces is a little difficult from these sources, but here’s a summary:

  • A well-built wall was uncovered that is 220 feet (70 m) long and 20 feet (6 m) high.  The width is not given.  The wall is located on the eastern side of the Ophel atop the western slope of the Kidron Valley (see photo below).  She dates it “with a great degree of assurance” to the 10th century BC on the basis of (1) comparison with walls and gates in other cities and (2) pottery.
  • A large four-chambered gatehouse was found, similar in style to those at Megiddo, Beersheba, and Ashdod.  This gatehouse is 20 feet (6 m) high.
  • A tower adjacent to the gate is buried underneath the road but is believed to be 75 by 60 feet (24 by 18 m) in size.

The report mentions some inscriptions, but it is not clear what was found in Mazar’s dig and what comes from the Temple Mount debris sifting operation.  These should not be reported in the same article, and I sense that some of these inscriptions have been announced previously. [See update below.]

In fact, I think that a good portion of these “discoveries” were made already in 1986-87.  Mazar excavated in the southern portion of her grandfather’s “southern Temple Mount excavations” and claimed that she found an Iron Age gate.  The article mentions in this connection large storage jars, and I am sure that these were published decades ago.  Thus, I surmise that the present excavation is an extension of the old one, but that they are reporting old and new together, without distinguishing between them.  It’s fine to report previous discoveries in order to give context, but that does not appear to be how the excavation results are being communicated to the journalists.

Mazar’s claim that the building she excavated in the 1980s was an Iron Age gate never met with widespread (or even non-widespread) agreement among archaeologists.  They felt that the evidence did not support the identification as a gate.  I’ll write more on this in a follow-up post.

Sources tell me that Mazar has found some very interesting material than has not yet been announced. 

Southern Temple Mount Excavations aerial from sw, tb010703227

Excavation area (circled) south of the Temple Mount

UPDATE: BibleX points to this Hebrew article which has better photos of the excavation and discoveries.

UPDATE #2: I’ve learned that the reason why the Temple Mount Sifting Project was mentioned is that Mazar contracted with them to wet-sift some of her material.  Also, there are some more photos from the excavation at the Hebrew U’s Facebook page.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has posted a reconstruction drawing of Jerusalem during the Byzantine period, including an arrow pointing to the newly discovered Decumanus.  (I think that I am the only one calling this street the Decumanus.)

Foundation Stone has a slideshow with 16 photos of the Decumanus excavation and press conference.

A 10th century Arabic inscription was discovered in excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.  The IAA press release is here, but you can apparently only access the high-res photos by a direct link (zip).

Yahoo has a slideshow with about 5 photos of the Byzantine winepress.

Israel has added the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem to their list of national heritage sites.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, February 19, 2010

One Million Kippot Donated to Western Wall

From the Jerusalem Post:

Visitors no longer have to hold cardboard kippot on their heads when visiting the Kotel: The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has received a donation of 1 million nylon yarmulkes.

According to a statement Wednesday from the office of the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, the distinct and sometimes awkward cardboard head coverings that have been offered to male visitors to the site for 40 years have been replaced.

The white cloth yarmulkes, which were apparently made in China to cut costs, were given to the foundation on Sunday and are now available for use at the entrance to the Kotel area.

Though this is not the first time new yarmulkes have been donated to the Kotel, said the rabbi’s assistant on Wednesday, this is the first time there has been a large enough number to accommodate the more than eight million people who visit the site each year.

[. . .]

The new yarmulkes, like the cardboard ones, are considered “disposable” – people are allowed to take them home. But the old ones may become a collector’s item: Some are being sold on ebay for $6.

The full story is here. You can buy a cardboard kippah on ebay here.  If you’re wondering why it’s sometimes called a kippah and why sometimes yarmulke or even what one is and why they’re so important, this Wikipedia article has some good information.

Men praying at Western Wall, tb092603110

Men praying at Western Wall

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

High Level Aqueduct Discovered in Jerusalem

I noted recently that archaeologists had discovered an ancient aqueduct in the Jaffa Gate excavations.  Today the Israel Antiquities Authority reports that they have excavated a well-preserved portion of the High-Level Aqueduct (temporary link) that carried water to Hezekiah’s Pool (aka Towers Pool) and Herod’s Palace.  Though the excavated portion dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, it apparently follows the route of an aqueduct from Herod’s time. 

According to Dr. Ofer Sion, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The side of the aqueduct was discovered during the course of the excavation. When we removed the stones in its side and peeked into it we saw a splendidly built aqueduct covered with stone slabs where one can walk crouched down for a distance of approximately 40 meters [130 feet]. It is very exciting to think that no one has set foot there for many hundreds of years.”

This is a fantastic discovery, but the last sentence strikes me as a bit odd.  (I confess I’ve never walked in the water pipes in my town.)

According to Sion, “The noted Land of Israel scholar, Dr. Conrad Schick, described a specific section of the aqueduct in a survey he conducted at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1898 a building was erected in this area which afterward became what we know of today as the Imperial Hotel. Schick’s documentation provided us with the clue that led to exposing this section of the aqueduct.”

If you want to see Schick’s drawings for yourself, Tom Powers posted some on his blog a couple of weeks ago.

The aqueduct is c. 60 centimeters [2 feet] wide and 1.5 meters [5 feet] high. Shafts were exposed at fifteen meter [50 foot] intervals or so that allowed the ancients to check the state of the aqueduct from what was the surface level in those days.

Up until the end of the Second Temple period, in the first century BCE, Jerusalem’s water supply was derived from the Gihon Spring; however, as the number of residents steadily increased, the city’s water resources proved insufficient. The shortage of water was the principal factor that led to the construction of Jerusalem’s magnificent waterworks during Herod’s reign.

The press release includes two photos (direct link here), with one that shows the archaeologists’ access and the other of the aqueduct itself.  Since the second photo does not have give a sense of scale, you’ll have to remember that it is 5 feet high.

Gravity and very sophisticated engineering were employed to carry water to the city from springs located in the Hebron Hills, which were sufficiently high enough to convey the water by way of aqueducts to Jerusalem. The water was brought dozens of kilometers on its way to Jerusalem until it reached Solomon’s Pools and was distributed from there via two main aqueducts: the Low-Level Aqueduct and the High-Level Aqueduct. The High-Level Aqueduct conveyed water to the high part of the city where King Herod’s palace and Hezekiah’s Pool were situated, the latter being the main source of water for all those arriving in the city; and the Low-Level Aqueduct carried water to the Temple Mount and the Temple.

An important point here is that the aqueduct portion that they found dates to the Late Roman period, after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 135.  But this is believed to be the replacement of an aqueduct from Herod’s time.  Herod built a large palace on the Western Hill and he needed water.  He built aqueduct systems for his palaces at Masada and Herodium as well.

Arutz-7 has the story here.  I commented on a discovery of a portion of the Low Level Aqueduct last summer.  If you’re interested in learning more about the aqueduct system (and it is quite a marvel), I’d encourage you to get Tom Powers’ illustrated article, available at his blog for free.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

King Tut’s Death, Parents Revealed

Tut’s tomb was more glorious than his life, according to a genetic analysis published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  He apparently hobbled all of his life and then died from a broken leg, or complications thereof.  His mom was his aunt and his dad was his uncle, and he died after a nine-year rule at the age of 19.  The AP has a summary of the JAMA article.

Egypt's famed King Tutankhamun had a cleft palate and a club foot, which probably forced him to walk with canes, and died from complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria, according to the most extensive study ever of his more than 3,300-year-old mummy.

The findings are based on two years of DNA testing and CT (computed tomography) scans on 16 mummies, including those of Tutankhamun and his family, said the team that carried out the study. An article on the findings is to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study establishes the clearest family tree for Tut, indicating for the first time that he was the child of a brother-sister union.

The study says Tut's father was probably Akhenaten, a pharaoh who tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian religion and force his people to worship one god. The mummy shown by DNA to be that of Tut's mother turned out to be a sister of Akhenaten's, although she has not been identified.

You can read the full AP article (with nice slideshow) here or here or read a brief Q&A with Zahi Hawass here.  Or you can see how this study proves that Tut’s family are not aliens.  CNN has a 1:20 video report with lots of photos of the king’s treasures.

Sandals found in Tut's tomb made of reed, fiber, tb110500462

Sandals found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two New Trails and 150 Restored Sites

Israel is planning to build two new trails in conjunction with the restoration of 150 historic sites.  A number of sites on the list have been mentioned as in need of restoration here before, including Lachish, Hurvat Madras [Khirbet Midras], and the Sanhedrin Garden.  We’re a big fan of a number of other sites on the list as well, though we see less need for restoration on some than for others.  Sometimes government involvement makes things worse not better, a case in point being the new Arbel National Park.  Trails, however, are always good. 

Haaretz reports:

The government is planning on spending NIS 500 million ($135 million) over five years to restore and preserve heritage sites across the country.

[. . .]

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu devoted a large part of his address at the Herzliya Conference to outlining the plan.

"The guarantee of our existence is dependent not merely on weapons systems or military strength or economic strength or our innovativeness, our exports, and all these forces which are indeed so vital to us," he said. "It is dependent first and foremost on the intellectual capacity and the national feelings that we inculcate - from parents to children, and as a state, in our educational system."

Netanyahu said that he plans to present a blueprint to the government on February 25 that will include, among other things, the inauguration of two trails, in addition to the existing Israel National Trail ("Shvil Yisrael").

One is an historical trail connecting dozens of archaeological sites, and the second is an "Israeli Experience" trail linking up over 100 places important to the nation's more recent history and will include buildings that are to be preserved, settlement sites, small museums and memorials.

[. . .]

At Tel Lachish, which Netanyahu referred to in his speech, the plan is to restore the gate into the city and the city walls, to prepare trails, to build an entrance hall and to add signposts, among other things.

Other sites marked for restoration are Neot Kedumim, Susya, Qumran, Jason's Tomb in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin Garden, the Eshkolot Cave, Umm al-Amad, the Beit Shean antiquities, Tel Megiddo, Tiberias, Tel Arad, Tel Dan, Hurvat Madras, the park around the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David.

There are another 109 heritage sites and projects earmarked for restoration and preservation. They are to be found throughout the country and include such sites as the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the Aronson farm and the signaling station at Atlit, the Emek train between Haifa and Tzemah and the Tzemah train station, the Old Courtyard Museum at Ein Shemer, the original homes of the settlers at Migdal in Ashkelon, the street of the Biluim and the winery in Gedera, the courtyard at Kinneret, the Montefoire [sic] quarter of Tel Aviv, the agricultural school at Mikveh Yisrael, the old Jerusalem train station and others.

You can read the article here.

HT: Paleojudaica

Lachish gate and palace fort, tb061100263

Lachish gate (foreground) and palace (top), in a state of neglect.  These buildings date to the late Iron Age, a time when Lachish was the second most important city in Judah (after Jerusalem).

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Large Byzantine Winepress Found on Coastal Plain

From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

One of the largest wine presses ever revealed in an archaeological excavation in the country, which was used to produce wine in the Late Byzantine period (sixth-seventh centuries CE), was recently exposed in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation was carried out in a region that will be the farmland of Ganei Tal, a new community slated to be built for the evacuees from Gush Katif.

The impressive wine press is 1,400 years old and measures 6.5 x 16.5 meters. It was discovered southwest of Kibbutz Hafetz-Haim and was partly damaged during the installation of the infrastructure there.

According to Uzi Ad, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "What we have here seems to be an industrial and crafts area of a settlement from the sixth-seventh century CE, which was situated in the middle of an agricultural region. The size of the wine press attests to the fact that the quantity of wine that was produced in it was exceptionally large, and was not meant for local consumption. Instead it was intended for export, probably to Egypt, which was a major export market at the time, or to Europe. An identical wine press was previously exposed north of Ashkelon, about 20 kilometers from the wine press that was just found in Nahal Soreq and we can assume that the two installations were built by the same craftsman." Ad adds that "The wine press' collecting vats were neither circular nor square as was the custom, but octagonal. And since this method of construction is far from being practical because sediment would accumulate in the corners of the vats, it seems that they were built in this manner for primarily aesthetic reasons." 

The report continues here and includes one photograph. The discovery is located about 5 miles (10 km) west of the Philistine city of Ekron. 

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has an AP article with a better photo.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend Roundup

I am pleased to learn that my friend A.D. Riddle and his colleague David Parker have taken first place in the animation category of the Student Web Mapping Competition of the North American Cartographic Information Society. They were given the honor for their work on The Dead Sea: A History of Change (noted here previously).  This is an excellent resource and they are to be congratulated for their work!

The Israel Postal Authority is releasing dozens of stamps that may be of interest to readers here, including Maritime Archaeology in Israel and Fruits of Israel.

Bryant Wood has a description of the infant jar burial excavated last summer at Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?).

Bible and Interpretation has posted a report of the 2005-2009 excavations at Tamar (Ein Hazeva) is now available.  The 11-page pdf file (html version here) gives a review of the site’s history and includes numerous illustrations.  I stopped at this site with a group last month and certainly would have benefitted if I had already read this report.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Time Magazine on Archaeology in City of David

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in Time Magazine on archaeology in east Jerusalem.  I would normally link to this kind of article (and many other bloggers did), but this one was so thoroughly one-sided that I couldn’t in good conscience link to it without a lengthy refutation.  But you can waste your life on such drivel and I decided to pass. 

A couple of days ago, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) reviewed the article and noted some of its problems.  For instance,

The journalist respectfully refers to Daniel Seidemann, an outspoken foe of Israeli sovereignty and habitation in eastern Jerusalem, as a lawyer who works for a civil rights organization and, elsewhere in the article, as “Lawyer Seidemann,” but does not afford similar honorifics to the archeologist who heads the Jerusalem excavation. McGirk conveniently omits her credentials, introducing her simply as “Eilat Mazar” and incorrectly describing her as “an associate of the right‑wing Shalem think tank” And while he includes this incorrect affiliation – Time has already issued a correction stating that Mazar is not currently affiliated with the Shalem think tank – McGirk neglects to inform readers that Dr. Mazar is a respected archeologist – the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar, who was a prominent archeologist, historian and former president of the Hebrew University. She received her PhD in archeology more than a decade ago, has published in scholarly journals, was a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archeology and is currently a research fellow there.

By contrast, McGirk characterizes those who oppose the field of biblical archeology and disagree with Mazar and her team's findings as “scholars” and “experts.”

Note that this has nothing to do with the essence of the controversy, which is whether Israel has the right to excavate in Jerusalem.  The “journalist” has carefully selected and withheld information in the manner of a defense lawyer or political lobbyist.  This is all the more distasteful when it involves mischaracterization of scholars and archaeologists.

The conclusion:

Time's readers cannot reliably learn about the controversies and arguments surrounding the history, archeology, and future of Jerusalem as long as Time's Jerusalem bureau chief continues to serve as an advocate for one side of the debate instead of as a responsible and ethical journalist.

Time should be ashamed of this article.  To the degree that it is not, we know that objective reporting is not its goal.  If you read the original Time article, you should read this response

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Jerusalem’s Old City Wall Being Repaired

First-time tourists excited to see the walls of the Old City may be a bit disappointed in 2010.  Scaffolding has been erected along sections of the western and southern walls in an effort to restore the Turkish wall built in 1540.  From Haaretz:

Three years ago a stone from the Old City wall in Jerusalem fell into a church school yard next door. Fears that the wall was crumbling spawned a complex project to restore its stones while preserving traces of history left by inscriptions, shells and animals.

It turned out later that the stone had fallen from a Jordanian support column rather than the Ottoman wall. But by then the NIS 15 million renovation project was already on its way.


As elsewhere in the world, Jerusalem's wall consists of two stone walls with earth in between. The greatest threat is from water penetrating the stone layers, causing the stones to shift and topple. The renovators must seal the cracks without changing the wall's facade. In some cases they have no choice but to replace a flawed stone at the cost of changing its original color or appearance.

"We don't clean the stones completely," says Mashiah. "The wall doesn't have to look like a new building. It should remain ancient."


The wall's renovation is due to be completed in about a year, except for the section surrounding the Temple Mount, where the Muslim Waqf trust refused to allow restoration work. The owners of various sections of the interior wall also refused the renovators access.

The Zion Gate, ravaged by thousands of shells in the War of Independence and by exhaust fumes and countless car collisions, has been painstakingly renovated. The memorial stone for the Harel Brigade combatants, which blocked one of the gate's lattices, has been moved.

Read the full story here.

HT: Joe LauerJaffa Gate under scaffolding, tb011610598

Jaffa Gate under renovation, January 2010

Old City southern wall under renovation, tb010910195

Southern wall of Old City under renovation, January 2010

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

How “Top 50” Lists Work

This post relates more to blogging than to biblical sites, but it may be of interest to fellow bloggers and those curious about some of the issues we face.  A couple of days ago I received an email informing me that this blog had been named “a top 50 biblical history blog” by “A Blog of Biblical Proportions.”  I’ve seen a handful of similar emails over the last year and they always struck me as a bit strange.  For one, the name of the domain is unrelated and sounds commercial, such as  For another, when I look at the “Blog of Biblical Proportions,” I see that the blog posts are sporadic (none since November) and there is no consistent theme (other posts are “25 Excellent iPhone Apps for Bible Study” and “Top 50 Blogs for Online Scripture Study”).  Each of these posts consists of annotated listings of blogs or websites.  That’s nice, but why?  Who is creating this and what is their motivation?  I don’t see any Google ads or other obvious advertising which would suggest a profit motive. 

Another observation is that this site (and ones similar) is pseudo-anonymous.  By that I mean that they have names associated with them, but they are only first names and they seem generic (Linda, Miranda, James).  There is nothing else on the website that gives any background about the writer(s).  Bloggers don’t necessarily put their address online, but they have some kind of identity.  It’s clear to me that something is fishy, but I just can’t put my finger on it.  Last week, I received an email suggesting that my readers would enjoy the new post at the “Biblical Learning Blog” (notice the goofy name again) on 25 Open Courseware Classes about Early Christianity.  The post listed a few good options for study (but not related to “Early Christianity”) and I included the link on the Weekend Roundup, though I was still not sure what was going on.

I think I understand now how the operation works.  Some entrepreneur (probably a single individual with multiple pseudonyms) wants to earn a few bucks and he knows he can do that through a service that pays you if you collect address details for prospective college students.  I don’t know what this pays, and apart from what I’ve deduced, I didn’t know that colleges paid for address lists.  But that clearly seems to be going on at this website with their links to nine different schools at the bottom of this page.  None of the links go directly to the colleges, but all are directed through a third-party site, which suggests that this is not someone primarily concerned with getting you information about the school.

How does this tie in to the “top 50 biblical history blogs”?  In order to make money, the site needs visitors interested in going to college.  The best way to get visitors is from Google (though is linked from thousands of websites, more visitors come from Google searches than from the rest combined).  The key to getting visitors from Google is to be highly ranked.  If a prospective college student searches for “online bible college,” he probably will never click on your site unless it is ranked in the top three.  Securing a high rank for the website is a challenge.  Many, many “entrepreneurs” have tried various methods for years to trick Google into thinking a purely commercial portal is actually a worthy site with content.  Google learns their tricks, and so new methods evolve. 

The current method appears to combine a commercial portal with some “genuine content.”  So in our example, a list of top blogs or best courseware is written.  It doesn’t take that much time to create such a list (a few hours with Google), especially when the “annotations” reflect nothing more than a brief visit.  For instance, the annotation on the “top 50” list for this blog simply copies what is given in the blog description (professor in Israel...).  I wouldn’t say that that is not helpful, but it is fast and easy and could be written by absolutely anyone.  Google likes it that the site has “real content.”

But what is even more necessary are incoming links.  Google isn’t a person and it doesn’t evaluate each website individually.  Rather it lets other humans do its work.  If lots of humans are adding links from their websites/blogs to a particular site, then Google thinks that people must value it and its ranking goes up.

The old way to get links to your site was by “link exchanges,” but these are basically dead now.  I get a couple of requests a week, asking me to add a link to a website such as “Real Estate in Cyprus” and in return they’ll add a link to  The problem with this is that the requests are rarely to websites of interest or value to my readers.  Even if they were, I have no idea if the company is honorable or not.  So how does the commercial website get links when reputable websites won’t link to them?

One strategy apparently is to post “top 50” lists.  The entrepreneur then emails everyone who has been “named a top 50 blog” with the comment that “I thought you and your readers at Bible Places might be interested in taking a look.”  The blogger is “honored” and when he mentions his ranking on his blog, he links back to the “top 50.”  A link exchange has just occurred. 

The “top 50” websites/blogs may not be the most popular websites, but they have a real author and real readers and they have just made the “online bible college” website more worthy in Google’s eyes.  Furthermore, given that many of these websites are blogs, the links last forever.  Years ago, many websites had lists of links which were occasionally revised.  If the website owner got wise to the fact that a certain site was never updated and appeared to be a front, he would delete the link.  But bloggers are very unlikely to dig back through previous posts to check and remove links.  Even if no one ever goes back to read the old posts, the links still exist in Google’s index.

The approach is rather ingenious.  The website has one goal (earn commissions from college recruits), but it achieves its goal primarily through the creation of unrelated content.  Bloggers are flattered by the “honor” and may not realize that the list was created by someone without any interest in or knowledge of their discipline.

As I said at the beginning, this discussion is only tangentially related to “Bible Places,” but it may be helpful to a few bloggers who don’t realize what is going on.  I don’t want to criticize websites or blogs that make money through advertising or sales (this one does), but knowing that things are not exactly as they seem makes me less likely to link to these sites in the future.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Decumanus Discovered in Jerusalem

Archaeologists revealed today that they have discovered portions of the main east-west street in Jerusalem during the Byzantine period.  Known in Latin as the Decumanus, this main thoroughfare went from the area of today’s Jaffa Gate to the center of the city.  Archaeologists uncovered large sections of the Cardo, Jerusalem’s north-south street, in the 1970s, but this is the first time that the Decumanus has been identified.

The Decumanus is depicted on the Medeba Map, a mosaic depiction of the land of Israel dating to A.D. 580.  (See yesterday’s post for a photo.)  According to the map, the Decumanus was neither as wide nor as long as the Cardo.  The Byzantine-period street was discovered 13 feet (4.5 m) below present ground level and was paved with large flagstones.

The discovery was made during renovation work on the street running through Jaffa Gate (see area photograph here).  Because of the high traffic volume, excavations have never been carried out in this area.

For more information, see the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority (temporary link).  Four high-resolution photos are also available(direct link here): (1) a view of the area of the street, taken on Feb 7; (2) a close-up view of the flagstones; (3) a large cistern discovered underneath the street; (4) the Medeba Map, with the Decumanus outlined in red.  Haaretz has a brief article, and the other news outlets will have stories posted later in the day.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Jaffa Gate on the Medeba Map

In the center of this photo is pictured the area of Jaffa Gate, as depicted on the 6th century mosaic map discovered in Medeba, Jordan.  Recent discoveries in Jerusalem reportedly “confirm an ancient map of Jerusalem.”  Tomorrow morning a press conference will be held at Jaffa Gate.  Until then, you can try to guess what they found.  I have my own prediction.

Medeba map Jerusalem, Jaffa gate, tb053108006HT: Joe Lauer

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Hurva Synagogue Reconstruction, Jan 2010

The reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue is progressing.  These photos were taken last month.  In the first photo, you can see the mountains of Jordan in the distance.
Old City with mountains of Transjordan, tb123109421Hurva Synagogue from Herod’s tower (Citadel of David)

Hurvah synagogue under construction, tb010910256dddHurva Synagogue from Jewish Quarter plaza 

Hurvah synagogue interior, tb011610729Hurva synagogue interior

For photos from January 2000 to November 2008, see this post.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Western Wall Ramp Reconstruction Update

The collapsed ramp that leads to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount appears to be no closer to reconstruction.  From Arutz-7:

Jordanian pressure is preventing the completion of a walkway to the Temple Mount next to the Western Wall (Kotel), according to Nadav Shragai, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The Islamic Historical Society has filed suit in the Jerusalem District Court, demanding a halt to the work on widening the Kotel Plaza and the renovation of the Rambam (Mughrabim) Gate entrance to the Temple Mount. The court is awaiting a reply from the Prime Minister's Office on the matter.


The plan for renovating the walkway to the Rambam Gate has been approved, Shragai said, but the government is delaying its implementation. “At first they wanted the bridge to be suspended from support columns,” the veteran former journalist explained, “but environmental groups objected. In the end it was decided that the bridge would be placed on what remains of the [dirt] ramp, in order to avoid damage to houses in the Mughrabim neighborhood. This plan currently has the necessary approvals and all that is needed is a construction permit from the Kotel Heritage Fund which answers to the Prime Minister's Office. For some reason, because of pressure from the Jordanian government, the government is not granting this permit.”

The full story is here.

Temple Mount collapsed ramp, tb122006912 Collapsed ramp (center) and temporary wooden ramp (left).  The Mughrabi Gate is just visible at the end of the temporary ramp.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Five hikers were wounded when a mine exploded near Mount Avital in the Golan Heights.

Richard S. Hess has written an essay on the “Names in Genesis 11” at The Bible and Interpretation.

Professor Donald Wiseman passed away this week.

You can see and read more about the 1st century boat found at the Sea of Galilee at the new website entitled the “Jesus Boat Museum.”  I can’t say I like the name they’ve chosen for marketing purposes, but they have some good photographs and explanations about an important archaeological discovery.

The Biblical Learning Blog has a post about “25 Open Courseware Classes about Early Christianity.”  The title is a bit misleading, but you may find some subjects of interest here, including a Notre Dame course on Ancient Rome, a MIT course on Ancient Greece, or a Boise State course on the Crusades.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Samaritan High Priest Dies

From the Jerusalem Post:

Snow flurries drifted to the ground on Mount Gerizim overlooking Nablus on Thursday, as mourners gathered to bury the spiritual leader of the Samaritans, who passed away the previous day.

High Priest Elazar ben Tsedaka ben Yitzhaq was born during a snowstorm 83 years ago, one mourner said. On Thursday, as he was being laid to rest at the holiest site in the Samaritan religion, the snow began to fall again.

According to Samaritan tradition he was the 131st holder of the post since Aaron. This is not be accepted by all historians, but the office may well go back to the Hellenistic period, which would still make it the oldest office in the world. One account in Josephus suggest that it is an offshoot of the Zadokite high priests in Jerusalem from around the time of Alexander the Great.

Mourners took shelter from the storm inside the community center in the hilltop neighborhood of Kiryat Luza, where much of the ethnoreligious group of 730 lives. Nearly all the rest live in Holon’s Neveh Pinchas neighborhood.

Inside, well over 100 men gathered in a somber, eerily quiet ceremony around the casket holding Elazar, who will be replaced as head priest by his cousin Aharon Ben-Av Hisda Cohen.

The Samaritans are a tiny, largely misunderstood sect that practices a religion that is a close parallel to Judaism. Samaritans believe theirs is the true religion of the Israelites and follow their own Samarian Torah, written in an ancient form of Hebrew largely alien to modern Israeli eyes. Today’s Samarians trace their lineage to Israelites who have lived in northern Samaria before the Babylonian exile, and they still view Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, as the center of their religion.

According to his obituary on the Samaritan Update website, Elazar ben Tsedaka became high priest in 2004. At the time of his appointment, it was written:

The new High priest is a prominent scholar in the community, a poet, and an expert in the calculation of the Samaritan yearly calendar. He was born in Nablus/Samaria in 1927. He had been a high school teacher of mathematics for many years in Nablus and after his retirement devoted himself to matters of the priesthood, literature and research. High Priest Elazar participated in research delegations on Samaritan manuscripts in St. Petersburg in 1991 and in political issues to Washington D.C. in 1995.

The Samaritan Update also has a list of high priests from 1624 until present. 

Future dates of the celebration of the Samaritan Passover sacrifice are also given:

  • Wednesday, April 28, 2010
  • Sunday, April 17, 2011
  • Friday, May 3, 2012
  • Tuesday, April 23, 2013
  • Sunday, April, 13, 2014

Samaritan Passover, high priest praying, mat01845Samaritans praying at Passover, led by high priest, 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-01845).

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Review of the American Colony Collection

Rubén Gómez of Bible Software Review published a review of the latest photo collection from /  Here is his conclusion:

I cannot overemphasize what a great deal The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection is. And if you happen to teach the Bible, you will find numerous illustrations that will take your teaching to a new level. The pictures, the people depicted, the atmosphere that surrounds them, the interesting and well-researched notes, all add to a truly valuable learning experience. Get this set and see for yourself what the Land of the Bible looked like. You will not be disappointed.

After having visited Israel just a few months ago (and taken a good number of pictures and personal notes!), this DVD set helped me appreciate even more some of the many details this fascinating land has to offer. 

You can read the full review, with illustrations, here.

Let us know if you’re interested in reviewing this collection for a journal, magazine, or website.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Latest at Biblical Studies and Tech Tools

If you haven’t checked his blog lately, Mark G. V. Hoffman has several helpful posts at Biblical Studies and Technological Tools.

You might start with 2009 Review of Biblical Studies and Tech Tools.  I’d like to see a certain new collection of photos included in that list, but I suppose that it’s just a tad bit outside the realm of materials considered.  Then take a look at Looking Ahead in 2010, where he considers the future with regard to mobile devices, the cloud, as well as the major software options.  Separately, he has written the first part of a review of Glo.

I certainly appreciate all the work that Mark puts into his blog and websites in helping the rest of us to make the most of the resources available.