Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March Newsletter

I sent out the latest issue of the BiblePlaces Newsletter this morning.  If you didn’t receive it, check your spam folder or subscribe here.  New subscribers won’t get the March issue by email, but you can view it online here.

The new CD this month is People of Palestine, and it includes a wide variety of fascinating photographs of individuals, couples, and groups from the early 1900s.  The American Colony photographers recorded the lives of Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, as well as Samaritans, Druze, and foreigners.  Of the last category, none were quite as obvious as this guy, seen near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem in January.

Foreigner near Damascus Gate, tb010910292 Foreigner in Jerusalem

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Man with Goat Arrested before Passover

The Passover celebration began last night, and yesterday afternoon police arrested a man allegedly preparing in an illegal way.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Jerusalem District police officers detained extreme right-wing activist Noam Federman Monday afternoon, after he was caught driving his vehicle with a kid – a young, male goat - in his car.

Federman is suspected of intending to ritually slaughter the animal in the recently renovated Hurva Synagogue located near the Temple Mount in the Old City.

Police said right wing activists threatened repeatedly this week to come up to the Temple Mount and conduct ritual slaughter there during the Pessah holiday. They also suspect Federman was planning to slaughter the animal on the Temple Mount proper, and not in the synagogue.

Federman was taken in for interrogation and the innocent animal was transferred to the Agricultural Development Unit in the Agriculture Ministry.

This article raises several questions in my mind.  How did police know the goat was in Federman’s car?  Is there a law against having a goat in your car?  Is there a law against having a goat in your car with certain intentions in your mind?  How does the reporter know that the animal is innocent?

The full story is here.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Qumran Caves 1 and 2

One of the most common questions I am asked when at Qumran is the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls caves.  There are 11 caves, discovered between 1947 and 1956, and some are in the limestone cliffs while others are in the marl terrace next to the site.  Fortunately for tour guides, one of the caves is easily visible from Qumran and visitors snap their shot of Cave 4 and leave happy.

Most guides do not know where the other caves are.  They don’t need to know.  Access is either difficult or impossible, in the case of the marl terrace caves (4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10).  The caves in the limestone cliffs require a hike, are unmarked, and are not easy to find even if you’ve been there before.  Finding photographs of many of the caves is also difficult, though I tried to change that in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (and see now, Hanan Eshel’s Qumran, though even there one of the cave photographs is mis-identified and the photo of another is reversed).

The cave that the more intrepid would like to find is Cave 1.  Two of my colleagues and I spent half a day in the late 90s climbing all over the cliffs in the picture below. We had given up when the last of us spotted it on his way back to the car.  But that didn’t make it any easier to find the next time I went looking.  Years later I took a friend, and when he went back with a group in tow, he couldn’t find it.

If finding Cave 1 (or 2) is something that has haunted you, hopefully this blog post and photos will help.  If you prefer this in a printable pdf file that you can take with you on your next trip, you can download that here.

Qumran Caves 1 and 2 area, tb052308448 marked This is the most important photograph, for it gives you a frame of reference.  The photo was taken from the road leading north from Qumran to the settlement of Kallia.  The view is obviously to the west.

  Qumran area of Cave 1, tb051106999 markedYou cannot see Cave 1 from the road, or from anywhere approaching the cave, because it is hidden behind a large rocky outcropping and the cave faces south.  The key to finding it is to look for the large rock that juts out on the right side of the draw (circled above).

I do not recommend climbing to Cave 1.  The terrain is very difficult, and you will probably get hurt if you try.  I highly recommend you consult with your lawyer first, and if he releases me, my family, and all of my current and former friends from any and all liability, then you can attempt it, if you are accompanied by your medical doctor.

Qumran Cave 1, tb052308450

In the unlikely event one should attempt it, you would climb past the rocky outcropping and just behind it, on the right, you would see Cave 1 (pictured above).  The original cave is the hole on top.  Excavators cut away the area below in order to make the larger entrance today.  Inside Cave 1 were found the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls: Isaiah A, Isaiah B, Manual of Discipline, War of Sons of Light, Thanksgiving Scroll, Genesis Apocryphon and Habakkuk Commentary.  The cave has been excavated and no traces of any finds can be seen today.

Qumran Cave 2 from below, tb052308457

Cave 2 is a bit like a silver medal at the Olympics, and it doesn’t excite most people.  But if want to be able to see a cave without climbing up the dangerous mountainside, you can see Cave 2 from the perspective shown above.  Again, use the reference photo above to get in the area, and then this photo to narrow in on the precise cave (center top).  As with Cave 1, climbing to Cave 2 is difficult and not recommended.

Caves 3, 6, and 11 are all easier to reach, so these may be a better option for you.  Knowledge of the location of these caves is more widespread, so I will forego writing out directions to those.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Where are all the biblical texts between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex (10th century)?  James Charlesworth has dubbed this “The Period of Great Silence.”  Recently, however, scholars identified that two fragments, located oceans apart, belong to a single text of Exodus 15 from the 6th-8th centuries.  The fascinating story is featured in this week’s Jerusalem Post Magazine.

The Economist has an article on polynomial texture mapping, which allows scientists to study ancient objects by a careful use of photography and lighting from different angles.  The result is that you can see features not otherwise observable.  I’ve seen it in action and it is phenomenal.

Leon Mauldin has started a new blog featuring photos from his recent Turkey and Greece trip.

Criticism of Jerusalem archaeologists is not new, but at least this Reuters article has interviewed both sides.

A rocket hit the archaeological site of Ur in Iraq this week.

There’s a half-price sale now for John Beck, The Land of Milk and Honey: An Introduction to the Geography of Israel, 2006 ($21 at Amazon, now $10 from the publisher). I haven’t read the book, but you can see a 6-page pdf sample at the website.

A couple of good Zondervan resources are now 50% off until April 15.  The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament is available for $125 and the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible is for sale for $140.  You must use source code 980683 for each.  Shipping is free.  (UPDATE: At the moment, Amazon’s price on the Encyclopedia is $138 with shipping.  My guess is that won’t last.  You can track Amazon’s price here.)

HT: Joe Lauer

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Interviews with Monson and Barkay

The LandMinds show at Israel National Radio (Arutz-7) has two interviews this week that may interest readers.  Each interview is 48 minutes and may be downloaded in mp3 format.

James Monson describes his years living in Israel and the creation of maps for students of Bible.  Monson was one of the creators of the long-lived Student Map Manual, and for the past decade he has been creating resources for Biblical Backgrounds, Inc.  His influence on students of historical geography can hardly be overstated. 

Gabriel Barkay discusses his work over the past decade sifting the material illegally removed from the Temple Mount.  He also answers questions on a variety of archaeological subjects.

I don’t have time to listen to these interviews in full before posting this notice, but I expect that both interviews are fascinating and worth the time.

Readers may be interested in following the LandMinds show regularly:

LandMinds broadcasts live on www.israelnationalradio.com every Wednesday evening from 5-7pm Israel time, 10-12 EST, 3-5pm in the UK, and rebroadcast during the week. You can also listen live with your iPhone!

HT: Yehuda Group

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Friday, March 26, 2010

PA Requests Dead Sea Tourist Resort

The Palestinian Authority wants to build a new city south of Jericho along with a resort on the Dead Sea shore. From Arutz-7:

The Palestinian Authority has asked Israel for permission to build a huge tourist haven on the shore of the Dead Sea, according to reports in Persian Gulf press. If approved, the project would give the Arab entity a solid foothold in the Jordan Valley region, considered critical for Israel's security even by many centrists. Netanyahu has said that the IDF would have to be stationed along this area even in the event of a Palestinian state.

The plan calls for a $1.4 billion investment in a tourist resort project on the Dead Sea shore and another $700 million investment in the creation of an Arab city south of Jericho. Most of the area that the PA is requesting is currently under full Israeli control and not in the area controlled by the PA, giving rise to speculation that the desire for annexation of Israeli controlled land is behind the plan.

The complete story is here.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mount Zion Vandalism, Filmmakers in Galilee

The Caspari Center Media Review has two unrelated stories that may be of interest to readers here:

Signposts and directions to the Cenacle [Upper Room on Mount Zion] were defaced by anonymous vandals this past week, adding insult to the injury felt by Christian tourists faced with the piles of refuse and rubbish it contains and making it difficult for them to find their way to the site (Yediot Yerushalayim, March 19).

Other Christian sites are no more attractive to pilgrims, according to a report in Ma'ariv (March 21). According to Yuval Peled, who accompanied a group of Italians who had come to film the Galilee in which Jesus grew up, lived, and taught, "After two or three days of shooting, they abruptly announced that they were leaving. 'They told us, "You've destroyed the story for us, with all the pollution, electricity wires, and infrastructure. This isn't what we were taught about the place where Jesus grew up,"' he recalls. The crew, which had planned to broadcast the film on Italian television - the country considered to be the capital of Christianity - told us that here, in the most authentic place in which the founder of their religion lived, we had destroyed their associations [to it] with pollution and infrastructure. Out of disappointment and despair, they left, and went to shoot the film in Tuscany."

This sounds like a bit of an overreaction to me.  I don’t like the pollution and wires either, but Galilee is remarkably primitive.  Imagine what the lakeshore would be like if it was in the U.S.

I can’t say I have ever thought of Italy as the “capital of Christianity.” 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hurva Synagogue Photos

The reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue is not related to the Bible, but it has our interest because it is such a prominent feature in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Until 1948, there were two major synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, but my guess is that most visitors today are unaware of Tiferet Israel.  The remains of this synagogue lie just north of the main staircase leading down to the Western Wall plaza.  Hurva, on the other hand, is well known because of its central and visible location in the Jewish Quarter plaza.  Many tour guides would stop and explain the significance of the lone arch before allowing their listeners to buy a falafel or to shop in the Cardo.

This photo below, part of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, is a view of the Jewish Quarter from the Temple Mount taken in the early 1900s.  The large building on the left skyline is the Tiferet Israel Synagogue.  The building with the large dome on the right is the Hurva Synagogue.  The houses in the foreground stand where today the Western Wall prayer plaza is located.

Jewish Quarter from Temple Mount, mat04722 Jewish Quarter, early 1900s

We’ve posted a number of times over the course of the synagogue’s reconstruction, and with its dedication last week we anticipate this will be the final post about it.  We conclude with recent photographs taken by Mindy McKinny. We thank her for permission to share them here.

Hurva synagogue, mm0165

Hurva Synagogue from south

Hurva synagogue light show, mm0244

Hurva Synagogue, sound and light show

Hurva synagogue interior, mm0282 Hurva Synagogue interiorHurva synagogue interior painting Hebron, mm0274

Hurva Synagogue painting of Tomb of Patriarchs, Hebron

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lecture at UCLA: Ancient Universe of the Queen of Sheba

From the UCLA Newsroom:

If she actually existed, the Queen of Sheba may have been African. Then again, she could have been Arab. While she may have been from Yemen, near today's city of Ma'rib, she probably was also active in Ethiopia, near the modern city of Aksum.

But so far, archaeologists have not found a tomb, palace or temple that can be definitively attributed to the prominent figure from the Hebrew Bible and the Quran.

"We know there was an empire that spanned about 1,000 years and had many queens and kings," said Michael Harrower, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. "But we don't have archaeological evidence for a specific queen that we can say was Sheba. In fact, the biblical character may be a compilation or summary of history of the time."

But if archaeology so far has not uncovered the historic Sheba, it has made considerable headway in understanding the 3,000-year-old empire that archaeologists call the Kingdom of Saba — the Arabic name for "Sheba" — whose location and era are consistent with biblical accounts of the queen.

On Saturday, April 3, the Cotsen Institute will present a talk at which Harrower and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory principal scientist Ronald Blom will discuss these findings. The free event, which is open to the public, begins at 2 p.m. in the Lenart Auditorium of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, on the Westwood campus. Parking is available in Lot 4 for $10.

Showcasing the latest advancements in satellite imagery and computer mapping, "The Ancient Universe of the Queen of Sheba" will explore a 200,000-square-mile-area, stretching east from Ethiopia across the Red Sea into Yemen and Oman on the southern Arabian Peninsula. Topics will include the Kingdom of Saba's impressive irrigation system, its coveted reserves of frankincense and its long-distance trade routes to the Mediterranean.

The news release continues here.  More information is here.


Cities of Paul Collection

Here’s something that could easily be overlooked.  In 2004 Fortress published a photo CD by Helmut Koester entitled “Cities of Paul, Images and Interpretations: from the Harvard New Testament and Archaeology Project.”  It was and is very pricey ($250), and because of my teaching interests and my own collection, I purchased but never really used the collection.  But if this is of interest to you, you can now purchase it for less.  Kind of.koester

Logos has a pre-publication special on 20 Fortress volumes on Paul.  One of those “volumes” is this photo collection.  If you use Logos and find any of the other books in the set worthwhile, you can save a few dollars by purchasing now for $230 (retail $776).

If I don’t say, someone is bound to ask me my opinion.  I thought I had written something brief about it previously, but I can’t find it now.  In short, the photos are of high resolution, but most look like old slides that have been scanned.  Diagrams are included, which may be quite useful in teaching.  Note that there are only nine sites included: Athens, Olympia, Corinth, Isthmia, Pergamon, Delphi, Philippi, Ephesus, and Thessalonike.  The notes are extensive and valuable.  I think the $250 price tag is too high.  If you’re a Logos user, you’ll likely find many advantages in this new edition.

There are no reviews of the CD at Amazon.  The work is reviewed positively in the Review of Biblical Literature (pdf).


Monday, March 22, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The “Northern Philistines” are the featured subject of the current issue of Near Eastern Archaeology.  The issue is not online, but Aren Maeir, expert on “Southern Philistines,” offers some reflections on the new discoveries.

The Bible and Interpretation has posted Gordon J. Hamilton’s essay, “From the Seal of a Seer to an Inscribed Game Board: A Catalog of Eleven Early Alphabetic Inscriptions Recently Discovered in Egypt and Palestine.”  Among the inscriptions he surveys are the Tel Zayit Stone, Beth-Shemesh Game Board, and Qeiyafa Ostracon.

Aren Maeir explains why he believes Hamilton’s reading of the Safi inscription is not correct.

A new blog that will be of interest to many readers here is Christian World Traveler.

The Book & the Spade 2011 Archaeological Study Tour is now taking sign-ups.  If you’ve been looking for a trip that “does more” and costs less, take a look at the itinerary posted here.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beth Yerah: It's an Arabic Palace, not Synagogue

Earlier this week, there was a story about the discovery of an Umayyad palace that was previously identified as a synagogue.  Early reports contained very few details, but a new story yesterday makes things a bit clearer (HT: Gordon Govier).

The site is still not named, but a little checking around has revealed that it is Khirbet Beth Yerah (Khirbet el-Kerak) on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (see map below).  A synagogue was discovered here in the 1950s by P. L. O. Guy and Pesach Bar-Adon.  Current excavations led by Rafi Greenberg of Tel Aviv University now identify the building as an Arabic palace dating to the 7th-8th centuries A.D.  How did they get it so wrong?

The palace was also dismantled down to its foundations after the fall of the dynasty, leaving nothing behind but a foundation and few clues to help date the structure.

Archaeologists at the time also believed, erroneously, that the early Arab caliphates did not carry out many large-scale building projects.

Researchers first began to raise doubts about the origins of the structure in the 1990s, but it wasn't until 2002 that archaeologist Donald Whitcomb from the University of Chicago first suggested that the site might in fact be the missing Umayyad palace. That identification was confirmed by archaeologists this week.

The identification of the structure as a synagogue was based on the image of a menorah that the early excavators found carved into the top of a pillar base. But the scholars behind the new review of the site realized that the carving was a red herring -- that surface would have been covered by a pillar in the original structure, so the carving must have been added later.

The article on Beth Yerah in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1993) provides more information on the “synagogue”:

Within the area of the Roman fort, Guy and Bar-Adon uncovered the remains of the foundations of a synagogue (22 by 37 m).  The building was divided by two rows of columns into a nave and two aisles.  There was an apse in the middle of the southern wall, oriented to Jerusalem.  The nave was paved with a colored mosaic, partially preserved, depicting plants, birds, lions, and other motifs.  Carved on the base of a column were a menorah, lulab, ethrog, and incense shovel (1: 258). 

A couple of brief comments.  The apse oriented toward Jerusalem also faces Mecca.  The mosaic’s depictions might surprise some unfamiliar with Arabic tastes in this period, but it closely resembles the Umayyad palace in Jericho (Kh. el-Mafjar).  Apparently the decorated column base threw the original excavators off.  (And you thought archaeologists used pottery for dating.)

You can read more about the Tel Bet Yerah Research and Excavation Project at the official site.


From Sheet 6 of the Survey of Western Palestine Maps.  Kh. el-Kerak = Beth Yerah.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cook on the Qeiyafa Ostracon

Edward Cook has a good summary and analysis of the Qeiyafa Ostracon on his blog.  He concludes that the inscription is:

(1) A text written from left-to-right.

(2) A text written in the Old Canaanite form of the alphabet, the form that the letters took before (but more about this later) the evolution of national scripts.

(3) A text whose language, although North-West Semitic, is still undetermined.

(4) The most significant fact about the ostracon, in my view, is the date. If the dating of the level it was found in is correct – late 11th/early 10th century BCE – then the use of this Old Canaanite script is surprising. Within a century or less of the ostracon's writing, another inscription would be made in ancient Israel of a very different sort.

Read the whole thing for his explanations.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Hurva Synagogue Dedicated

The Hurva Synagogue was dedicated this evening.  Located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, prayers have not been held in the synagogue since it was destroyed in the 1948 war.  From the Jerusalem Post:

After a nearly 62-year hiatus, the renowned Hurva synagogue inside the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City has been rebuilt and is again an operational house of prayer.

Hundreds of people, braving the wind and an unexpected Jerusalem chill, crowded into a courtyard opposite the outer walls of the synagogue on Monday night to take part in an official rededication ceremony for the newly-rebuilt shul – which stands in the exact spot it did before its destruction at the hands of the Jordanian Arab Legion during the War of Independence in 1948.


Rivlin went on to speak of the Hurva’s history, beginning with its first incarnation in 1701, when it was constructed by disciples of Judah Hahasid. Its first destruction came some 20 years later, when those same disciples lacked the funds to repay local creditors, who in return burned the Hurva to the ground.

It was nearly 150 years before the Hurva stood again, but in 1864, after a massive construction project was approved by the Ottoman Turks and funds were procured from Jewish communities the world over, a neo-Byzantine Hurva was soon towering over the rest of the Jewish Quarter.

However, that Hurva, which hosted the likes of Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky before the creation of the state, also met with ruin. The Jordanian army took Jerusalem’s Old City in May of 1948, loaded the building with explosives and set off a blast whose smoke cloud could be seen miles away.

Arutz-7 has posted a 10-minute video of the service (unedited, almost exclusively singing and music).  For previous posts on the reconstruction, see here and here and here.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls in Minnesota

A special Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition opened on Friday at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  From the Minnesota Daily:

As a precaution against weathering, each set of scrolls can be displayed for just 10 weeks. By the end of October, three sets of five scrolls will have been on display. This is the first time three sets of scrolls have been part of an exhibit in the United States, SMM Vice President Mike Day said.

Imholte said the largest task has been to replicate the cave environment that kept the scrolls so well preserved. The case for each scroll has its own climate control system that keeps the temperature about 68 degrees and the humidity at 50 percent.

Ensuring that the scrolls are lit sufficiently is another battle. Imholte said light is one of the most damaging elements to them.

And although the scrolls are the focal point of the exhibit, they are surrounded by a wide array of archaeological material from the region, which Imholte said will set it apart from all other Dead Sea Scroll exhibits.

“There will never be another one like it, and there has never been one like it before,” he said.

“This exhibit is really one-of-a-kind from the point of view of new material and new way of presenting it,” said Dr. Hava Katz, IAA chief curator of national treasures.

Katz has spent the last 16 years overseeing all Dead Sea Scroll exhibits in her home country of Israel and around the world. As chief curator, she is responsible for more than a million artifacts, the most important of which are the scrolls.

If you’re in the area, you should make plans to visit.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Insight for Living (with Chuck Swindoll) is now touring Israel, and at the end of each day they’re posting a short video of their travels.  Author Wayne Stiles is traveling with them and is also posting daily.  One of his photos shows an actor dressed up as King Herod Agrippa I, in his silvery garments (see Acts 12).

You can now view more than 35,000 photos in the Oriental Institute Museum Photo Archives Database.  Enter as “guest.”

The Job section of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set: Old Testament is now posted for free viewing from the

Logos has some great pre-pub prices on some scholarly collections now.  My eye was caught by the three-volume World of the Aramaeans ($50; retail $480), but you may be interested in the collections on Daniel, Amos, Biblical Narrative, Chronicles, Samuel, or David.  Some of these volumes cost $100 in print, but they are closer to $10 in the pre-publication promotion.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History

The story of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a fascinating one, though it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction.  For instance, the notion that a shepherd accidentally discovered the first cave of scrolls while chasing a stray sheep seems less likely given the history of the Bedouin in finding and selling ancient artifacts.fields_dead_sea_scrolls  The intrigues of the first decade is now clearer with the publication of the first volume of Weston Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History.  The book is being promoted by the publisher with a interesting review by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.  You can download the full review as a Word document here.  You can get a flavor from the first paragraphs:

Even though the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered only 62 years ago, much of their early history has been shrouded in obscurity. Details of persons and places were compromised by focus on the scrolls themselves, and on occasion deliberate deception facilitated the continuation of illegal, but highly profitable, excavation. In 1998 Marcel Sigrist, OP, suggested to Weston Fields, Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation in Jerusalem, that the only way to acquire clarity would be to record critically the testimony of the original eye-witnesses. Some had already died, others were getting old, and this would be the last opportunity.

Fields took up the challenge, and the thoroughness of his oral history is illustrated by the fact that he even gives the number of sheep (about 55) in the care of Muhammed ed-Dib the day he threw the stone into what became Cave 1. The surviving actors were all happy to cooperate, and a number revealed that they had extensive private archives that had never been exploited. These amounted to tens of thousands of pages of precise written and photographic documentation, which was contemporary with the events. This greatly widened the extent of the project, and gave it a much more solid base. No longer did Fields have to rely on aging memories, and the unsupported word of one witness against another. He had documentary evidence that could be compared, contrasted, and critically evaluated. In the case of the ten actors who have died since the project began he just got there in time.

So much material became available that it quickly became clear that one volume would not be enough. The change in de facto ownership of the scrolls in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of June 1967 might seem an obvious place to break. Fields, however, opts for 1960, both for practical reasons, and because that year caused an even greater upheaval in the publication of the scrolls. The Rockefeller funds supporting the full-time scholars working at the Palestine Archaeological Museum (PAM) dried up, and the team had to disperse to find jobs that ate into the time they could devote to the scrolls. Publication inevitably slowed.

From 1947 to 1960 Fields follows a strictly chronological order, often with subheadings of great precision, e.g. “19 July 1947, Saturday”; “Last week of July 1947” . He wisely refuses to treat the scrolls as a unified whole. The circumstances concerning the discovery, acquisition, and publication of Cave 1, for example, differed radically from those of Cave 4, and again from those of Murabba‘at, and still more from those of Cave 11. Thus separate topics are treated individually and chronologically. Fields is also right in quoting as much as possible from letters and interviews. As he points out, this is the only way “to taste the flavor, and to enjoy the nuances of entire letters or other documents from the earliest actors in the unfolding drama of the scrolls” (13 my emphasis). More importantly, it enables the attentive reader to formulate his or her own conclusions based on the evidence. Was the writer stating a bare fact or merely being ironic or sarcastic? Was the presentation tailored to the recipient?

Download the full review here.  You can also read it directly online at Amazon in what initially appears to be the author’s review of his own book. The publisher’s description of the 600-page, $99 book is here.  Fields also published a 128-page A Short History in 2006.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jerusalem Dishes

Old City rooftops with satellite dishes, tb011610639 Rooftops in the Old City, Jerusalem

In the New Jerusalem, everyone will have cable.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Netaim Finally Found!!

Livescience.com’s report (also on MSNBC) on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa begins with this sentence:

Scientists think they’ve finally found the real location of a city called Neta'im mentioned in the Bible.

I’d rephrase the sentence a little:  One historian has proposed that a site is Neta'im. 

As for the suggestion that they have finally found the real location, that’s extremely exciting unless you know that the only mention of the place is buried deep in the genealogies of Chronicles (just after the prayer of Jabez). Then they write:

Archaeologists have previously associated Khirbet Qeiyafa with the biblical city Sha’arayim, which means “two gates,” because of the discovery of two gates in the fortress ruins, and because Sha’arayim was also associated with King David in the Bible. But now researchers claim this site is really Neta'im.

Actually, the excavators still believe that Qeiyafa is Sha’arayim, but one historian has proposed that it is Neta'im with very little evidence to support it.  In fact, his best argument is that the name Neta'im is preserved somewhere else.

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Lectures in Philadelphia: Jerusalem in Babylonia

Evidence of Jewish exiles living in Babylon in the 6th-5th centuries BC will be the subject of a conference at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  From Newswise:

Saint Joseph's University's Ancient Studies program is sponsoring a conference focusing on a collection of recently discovered documents that shed light on a Jewish settlement in ancient Mesopotamia. “Jerusalem in Babylonia: New Discoveries from the Exilic Period,” will be held March 21-22 in the University's Campion Student Center.

The cuneiform documents date from the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, and are referred to as the “Al-Yahuda texts,” based on the name of the place where the documents themselves say they were drawn up.

“The phrase ‘Al-Yahuda’ means ‘city of Judah,’ which in the Bible refers to Jerusalem,” said Bruce Wells, Ph.D., director of the Ancient Studies program and an assistant professor of theology.

What makes the documents so noteworthy, however, is that they weren’t discovered in Jerusalem. They were found in modern day Iraq, in the territory that was known as Babylonia at the time they were written. That time was the so-called “exilic period” when a number of people from Judah (the southern part of modern day Israel) were taken as captives to Babylonia.


The conference, which is co-sponsored by SJU's Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations and Department of Theology, is free and open to the public. It will be held on March 21 from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and March 22 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Read the article or see the university’s website for more information and contact details.

HT: Yehuda News


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hurva Synagogue Video Tour

Reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue is nearly complete and the dedication ceremony is scheduled for next week.  Arutz-7 reports on the final stages of the work.  Their story includes a 5-minute video tour of the synagogue and an interview with a construction company spokeswoman. 

The restoration and construction of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem nears completion, with the dedication of the synagogue scheduled for next Monday, March 15. The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter has completed one of the artistic aspects of the project - restoration of the synagogue's wall paintings. Arutz Sheva TV brings you in to the synagogue for a first visit to the restored Hurva.

A significant difficulty in the preservation and internal renewal of the Hurva Synagogue, which had been the center of life in ancient Jerusalem until Arabs destroyed it in 1948, was dealing with the many alterations that took place over the years the synagogue stood. The Holy Ark curtains, wall paintings, lamps, pulpits and other parts of the synagogue had all undergone various changes. leaving the restorers with the need to decide on which period of time the restoration should be based.


Restoration of the wall paintings entailed conducting a search for the names of the artisans who had decorated the synagogue in each period of time separately, an in-depth analysis of the painting methods and technologies of every period, examination of historical photographs in order to compare colors between black and white photos and those in color, analysis of the paintings' compositions and thorough comparison between the periods, and analysis of issues regarding wall paintings in synagogues in general and in the Hurva in particular.


The Hurva Synagogue will be dedicated on the eve of Rosh Chodesh (first day of the Hebrew month) Nissan, 5770 (the day construction of the Biblical Tabernacle was completed), in the presence of ministers, Members of Knesset, rabbis and other dignitaries.

The synagogue will host regular prayer services, visitors and tours. During the opening week, the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter will conduct free tours during the day and will show a sound and light presentation during evening hours.

Hurvah synagogue at sunrise, tb010210522  After more than four years, the crane over the Hurva Synagogue was removed this week.

For previous stories and photos, see here and here.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The level of the Dead Sea rose this winter for the first time in 13 years.

More than 250 silver coins were discovered by a man building his home in Syria, including many tetradrachmas.

An exhibit of 21 “authentic recreations of ancient musical instruments” opens next week in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Two middle-aged men were arrested while surveying an archaeological site in southern Jerusalem with a metal detector.

I think that this online Bible video project would be even better if people read their portions on location.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Bombing of King David Hotel (1946)

One of my side interests that I’ve not pursued much beyond occasional reading is the history of the land of Israel in the 20th century.  This includes the time of the British Mandate and the birth of the state of Israel.  My photo projects have always been aligned with courses I have taught—namely, the subjects of historical geography and archaeology, both inside and outside the land of Israel.  But as I worked on the creation of photo collections from the American Colony, I saw a worthy set of photos about this important period of history.  Thus the Early 20th-Century History CD strays beyond the bounds of “Bible places,” but many, like me, find that their interest in biblical history naturally leads to the dramatic events of recent years.

One reason for this interest is simply that these realities are part of your world when you’re in Israel and Jerusalem in particular.  Zion Gate is of interest not only because it leads to Mount Zion with the “tomb of David” and “Upper Room,” but also because of its pockmarked exterior caused by fighting in the War of Independence of 1948.  Everything has a story, and these stories explain why things are the way they are.

One story I’ve heard and repeated came more to life for me when I saw the photo below.  The King David Hotel was bombed by Jewish terrorists in 1946 and ninety-two people were killed.  The hotel was quickly rebuilt and no signs (that I know of) exist.  I always had trouble envisioning it, and understanding what was meant that a “wing” of the hotel was destroyed.

Attack on Hotel King David on Monday, July 22, 1946, mat12970

King David Hotel after bombing, July 22, 1946

Rather than describe the story myself, I prefer to quote a brief portion from Martin Gilbert’s wonderful book, Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century.  If you have any interest in Jerusalem itself, or in the modern history of Israel, I highly recommend this book.  Gilbert writes:

Hatred of the British had been inflamed among these two groups [Irgun and Stern Gang] by the refusal of the British to allow survivors of the concentration camps into Palestine.  The Jewish terrorists, who included two future Israeli Prime Ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, believed that by “blood and fire” they could drive the British out of the country, and establish a Jewish State.  Their most devastating attack was made on 22 July 1946, when members of the Irgun, disguised as Arabs, brought explosive charges in milk-churns into the hall outside the Regence Cafe in the basement of the King David Hotel.  Above the cave, the south wing of the hotel, five floors in all, was being used as the British administrative headquarters.  An anonymous woman telephoned the switchboard operator at the hotel to say that the hotel must be evacuated as there would be an explosion “in a few minutes.”  Her warning was ignored.

At 12.37 the explosives went off.  Five floors and twenty-five rooms collapsed into rubble.  Ninety-two persons in the wing were killed: Britons, Arabs and Jews.  Among the dead were military and civilian officials, soldiers, clerks, typists, cleaners, drivers and messengers.  The British dead included the Postmaster-General of Palestine, G. D. Kennedy, a veteran of the retreat from Mons in 1914.  One of the Arabs killed, Jules Gress, a senior assistant accountant with the Secretariat, was a Catholic.  He had been an officer in the Turkish army in the First World War, when he was taken prisoner by the British.  While at his bank that morning he had asked to be served quickly, so as not to be late for a Secretariat meeting.  Commented the Palestine Post: “He hurried back to his duty and his death.”


The Jewish Agency denounced what it called “the dastardly crime” perpetrated by a “gang of desperadoes,” and called upon the Jews of Palestine “to rise up against these abominable outrages” (172-73).

If, like me, you knew only sketches of the story, perhaps now the picture is clearer.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Policemen Hurt in Attack on Western Wall

From the Jerusalem Post:

Fifteen policemen were lightly wounded in their attempt to restore order on the Temple Mount after Arab youths emerging from Friday prayers started hurling rocks down onto those worshiping at the Western Wall.

Having restored calm with the use of stun grenades, police left the Temple Mount compound in cooperation with the waqf to allow older worshipers to leave.


The repeated clashes in Jerusalem follow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement incorporating the Cave of the Patriarch's in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem onto Israel's list of national heritage sites.

The full article is here.  The Haaretz article is similar, but adds this statement:

The clashes later calmed when adult Muslim worshippers dispersed the young stone throwers.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Galil: Qeiyafa is Biblical Netaim

Gershon Galil has proposed in a message posted on ANE-2 that Khirbet Qeiyafa should be identified with biblical Netaim.  You can read the entire message on the list, but he summarizes as follows:

So in my opinion Khirbet Qeiyafa is Neta‘im for three main reasons: (a) it is located near Gederah; (b) its name is preserved in Khirbet En-Nuweiti‘; (c) it was inhabited only in the 10th century. That is why Neta‘im is not mentioned in the list of the cities of Judah in Josh. 15, which is dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE.

Netaim is mentioned only in 1 Chronicles 4:23, and not much can be deduced from this passage.  It’s apparent that Netaim is in the territory of Judah, may or may not be located in proximity to Gederah, and was home to a group of royal potters.

1 Chron 4:23 (ESV) These were the potters who were inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah. They lived there in the king’s service.

That’s not a lot to go on.  I’m probably less inclined to believe that the name of Netaim was preserved 2 miles (3 km) away, as Galil proposes.  That’s a long distance in the densely occupied Iron Age Shephelah. 

Elah Valley, SWP Sheet_16-17_marked

Elah Valley and vicinity.  Red=Kh. Nuweti‘; blue=Kh. Qeiyafa; green=T. Zakariya (Azekah); purple=Kh. Abbad (Socoh).  SWP Map 16-17.

Galil has previously offered his translation of the Qeiyafa Ostracon, and he concludes his message by relating his identification to the inscription.

This new identification indicates that Khirbet Qeiyafa/ Neta‘im was inhabited by potters who worked in the king's service. In the same city, a member of a family of scribes (probably also in the king's service), wrote the Qeiyafa inscription, the most ancient and important Hebrew inscription ever found:

[……] (1') do not do (it), but worship […].
(3') Judge the slave and the widow / Judge the orph[an] (3') and the stranger.
Plead for the infant / plead for the poor and (4') the widow.
Avenge (the pauper's vengeance) at the king's hands.
(5') Protect the poor and the slave / suppo[rt] the stranger.

I will be interested to read more of Galil’s argumentation if/when he publishes an article.  I think it’s noteworthy that he does not accept Garfinkel’s identification of Qeiyafa as Shaaraim, but he does believe that Qeiyafa had two gates and was settled only in the 10th century.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Dating of Mazar’s Wall

Last week Eilat Mazar announced the discovery of a massive wall in Jerusalem dating from the time of Solomon.  Unfortunately, the information was communicated on location in a press conference, and it has been difficult to figure out what exactly she said.  It seems that ambiguity served her well, for it apparently disguised some important details, such as the fact that most of what she announced she had previously excavated, announced, and published in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.  Whatever she discovered in the brief excavation of 2010 either was not announced, not reported, or identical to what she has previously reported.

There are other problems.  One concerns the definition of terms.  What you think of as a “wall” is what Mazar calls the exterior of two buildings, one of which she (but few others) believes is a gate.  Perhaps these buildings served as the defensive line of the city.  Perhaps she found a new section in 2010 that is a city wall.  But if you’re thinking she found a wall line like at Megiddo, Lachish, Hazor, Dan, or other places in Jerusalem, then you’re mistaken.

Another problem is that her previous publications give the sense that she is changing her interpretation to fit a more biblical narrative and date without new data to support this conclusion.  My friend Danny Frese has compared her publications of the site and we think they suggest that her analysis of the data owes more to what she would like to find than what she has found. 

Concerning Building C, “The Gatehouse,” she wrote in 1980s about a fill under the floor of the south chamber.  The fill held about 50% EB and MB sherds; the latest pottery found in the fill was “from the Iron II” (1987: 62). More specifically:

There was also a small quantity of wheel-burnished sherds [in the fill] which indicate a date sometime in the ninth-seventh centuries B.C.E. (ibid.).

She notes two particular sherds from the fill that are from distinctive bowls which appear in the 10th and 9th centuries (1989: 20).

The ceramic data as presented above do not enable precise determination of the time of construction [of the gatehouse], which must be cautiously defined as between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C.E. (1989: 20).

Unfortunately the finds in the locus [in the south chamber] are extremely scanty and do not permit a more accurate dating than between the 9th and 7th centuries (1989: 59).

But in 2006, she wrote concerning the two sherds from distinctive bowls mentioned above:

Bowls of this type have been studied extensively and date mainly to the 10th century, continuing into the 9th century BCE. The ceramic data were insufficient to provide a more precise determination within the terminus post quem [earliest] time frame for the construction of Building C (2006: 783-84).

In other words, the evidence for dating the gate to the 10th century are two sherds that were also in use in the 9th century.

Concerning Building D, “The Royal Building,” she wrote in 1989 about the dating of the lower floor, beneath which was:

an intact black juglet of the type characteristic of the 10th and 9th centuries B.C.E. The juglet was found hidden between stones of one of the foundation walls of the room, as if it had been placed there intentionally by the builders as a sort of private foundation deposit. On the basis of the pottery finds, including the juglet, the time of the laying of the lower floor, and hence also of the entire building, can be determined as the 9th-early 8th centuries B.C.E. (1989: 60).

But in 2006, with no additional excavations having occurred since 1989, she wrote about the black juglet:

It was found hidden, as though placed there intentionally by the builders as a construction offering of sorts. The juglet appears to be characteristic of the 10th century BCE; there are clear differences between this early type of juglet and its later 8th-century form, examples of which were also found in the excavations on the eastern slope of the Western Hill. Unless further research conducted on the typology of black juglets indicates otherwise, it seems clear that the early type with the straight neck, ovoid body, and button base, like the example found in the Ophel, is characteristic first and foremost of the 10th century BCE (2006: 784).

The question we ask: what changed?  Distinguishing between pottery of the 10th and 9th centuries has not been clarified in the intervening years.  If anything, the debate has only intensified.  Yet Mazar concludes in her 2006 article:

A new understanding of the finds from the excavations of the monumental fortification line in the Ophel has enabled its dating to as early as the 10th century BCE (2006: 75).

The “new understanding” was a reinterpretation of a juglet to an earlier date without any supporting evidence.  That allows the entire “gate complex” to be dated to the 10th century.  And suddenly you can publish an article entitled “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.”

Given her press conference announcement, we presume that she found new material in her 2010 excavations that confirm her earlier conclusions.  Her case would be more compelling, however, if it didn’t appear that she had a pre-determined outcome. 


Sources Cited:

Mazar, Eilat. “Ophel Excavations, Jerusalem, 1986.” Israel Exploration Journal 37.1 (1987) 60-63.

Mazar, Eilat and Benjamin Mazar, Excavations in the South of the Temple Mount: The Ophel of Biblical Jerusalem. Qedem 29. Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1989.

Mazar, Eilat. “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.” Pp. 775-86 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.  Edited by A. Maeir and P. de Miroschedji. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Letter and the Scroll

I received in the mail today a new book from National Geographic, The Letter and the Scroll: What Archaeology Tells Us About the Bible.  I’m not mentioning it only because I am pleased that some of my photos are in a National Geographic book, but also because readers here may not be aware of it.  As you would expect with National Geographic, the book is loaded with stunning photographs.  Some that I really enjoyed as I flipped through include:letter_scroll

  • An aerial view of the excavations of Herod’s Tomb at Herodium
  • Father de Vaux and Lankester Harding working at the entrance of one of the Qumran caves
  • A locust swarm over southern Israel in 2004
  • An aerial photo of Nebi Samwil after a snowfall
  • A nice rolling stone tomb image with burial niches visible inside
  • An aerial view of the Broad Wall while excavations were in progress

In addition, there are many maps and beautiful aerial photographs of sites in Israel.  I could do a separate post just on the dozens of photos of ancient inscriptions, some of which I’ve studied and taught, but not seen photos of previously. 

I noted a few bumps along the way:

  • The close-up of the Hulda Gate is turned on its side (p. 156) .
  • The photo of Dhiban on page 179 is actually Samaria (Sebaste).
  • They say that the Jeroboam seal “is likely a reference to the Lion of Judah.”  Probably not, since Jeroboam was a king of the north and the seal was found at Megiddo.
  • The Church of the Nativity is dated to the 11th century, but it actually goes back to the 6th.

I don’t have time to read through the book at present, but from a brief overview it appears to take an approach characteristic of mainstream scholars today.  For example, they assume a late date for the book of Daniel.  On the other hand, in connection with the 10th-century Gezer Calendar and Khirbet Qeiyafa inscriptions, they say, “Political consolidation under Kings David and Solomon may have promoted writing by providing royal support for scribes and schools” (p. 18). 

The writers’ intention is “not to prove or disprove the Bible but to explore the world that gave rise to its Scripture and consider them in their historical context—an approach that can enhance one’s appreciation for the Bible both as a work of history and as a statement of faith.  Reverence for Scripture can withstand careful study, as shown long ago by devout scholars like Martin Luther...” (p. 19).  Based on other books written by Robin Currie, I would guess that he is a man of faith.

The scope of the book reaches from “Sumer and Akkad: Land of Abraham” to “Jerusalem: A Land Besieged” after the time of Christ.  It looks like a fun and interesting book, especially when you can get it for only $26 from Amazon (or used for $9)!