Monday, May 31, 2010

Weekend Roundup

For the first time in 30 years, the scaffolds have been taken down at the Parthenon of Athens.  Take your photos before they return in September.

A “Brief Summary” of the 2009 Season at Tell es-Safi/Gath is now available online.

The recent fire at Gamla apparently did not harm the synagogue or any of the antiquities.

Researchers are using nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques on coins from 1st century Judea in order to more precisely establish their dates and place of origin.  One discovery: copper apparently came from certain mines a century earlier than previously thought.

BAR has a look at the face of Herod Philip from a rare coin (Luke 3:1).

Der Spiegel has a fascinating profile of Zahi Hawass, “Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities” of Egypt. (Compare that title with the “Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority” and you’ll be prepared for some of the pomposity related in the story.)

The Jerusalem Post features a travel article on Acre (Acco, Ptolemais).

The Italian professor who originated the theory that Har Karkom in Israel is the true Mount Sinai now claims that his view will soon be adopted by the Vatican.  Anati’s arguments are summarized here.  Apart from the potential acceptance by the Vatican, I am not aware of any scholars who agree with Anati’s proposal.  Among the problems: he has to date the book of Exodus to 1,000 years earlier than the Bible indicates (cf. 1 Kings 6:1).  Among the pluses: his Mt. Sinai is a shorter drive from Tel Aviv.

The current issue of World Archaeology is devoted to “Turkey’s Treasures.”  Myra gets a lengthy article (cf. Acts 27:5), Perge gets one page, and Laodicea and Ephesus are also featured.  Arycanda reminds me of Termessos, both stunning sites located in the scenic mountains of southern Turkey.  The magazine article is currently available for viewing online, with many beautiful photographs. It reminds me why I consider Turkey to be one of the most picturesque and interesting countries I have visited.

I am sometimes asked how I get photos of biblical sites without swarms of people.  I have a few tricks.  One is to be the group leader so you are first on the scene.  Another is to go in February when few tourists are visiting.  If you have Photoshop and a tripod, there’s another ingenious way.

HT: Biblicalist, Dr. Mariottini, Paleojudaica, Explorator, Joe Lauer

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mysterious Holes at Pool of Siloam

If you have visited the Pool of Siloam since it was first discovered in the summer of 2004, you may have noticed some strange holes in otherwise beautiful paving stones running along the pool’s edge.

Pool of Siloam carved holes in pavement, tb082305587

Pool of Siloam pavement with mysterious holes

Sometimes holes were made in pavement for door sockets, but that hardly seems likely here given their placement.  In theaters, holes which held poles for the fabric roof are sometimes found in the seating area.  Given the suggestion that the Pool of Siloam served as a ritual bath (miqveh) in the 1st century, one could conceive of a need for curtains for protecting privacy.  But this doesn’t seem to fit the configuration of the holes at the site.

Over on his blog, Tom Powers has advanced a new idea.  I think it’s the best suggestion I’ve heard so far, but I’m not sure that I’m convinced yet.  If you have any ideas or have heard other suggestions, chime in on the comments there.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Update on Gamla Fire

The fire noted here yesterday was 25 separate fires according to one article, and it scorched an estimated 17,000 acres in the Golan Heights.

Haaretz’s report includes a series of photos showing the damage.  The Jerusalem Post also has an updated article with a photo showing the fire next to the ruins.

The damage to the ancient site was severe, according to this Haaretz article:

“The entire reserve has been burned,” the reserve’s ecologist Yael Horesh said yesterday.


Authorities believe the blaze, which broke out at Gamla in the early hours yesterday morning, was started by an IDF tank, whose metal tracks gave off sparks when moving over rocks. Strong winds quickly fanned the fire, which in a few hours destroyed much of the park’s vegetation and threatened to destroy incubation cages where rare eagle chicks were being reared.


Ancient Gamla was gravely damaged, as were the reserve’s fauna and flora. Several raptors’ nests were also burned, including an eagle owl’s nest and an Egyptian vulture’s nest in which two chicks had hatched a few days ago. A brooding vulture couple abandoned its nest with eggs in it.

The Parks Authority plans to reopen the site within the next few days, Amitai said. He added that entrance fees would be waived in the hope of encouraging visitors and raising awareness of the need to repair the damage.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fire Causes Damage at Gamla

The Golan Heights is an important training ground for Israel’s military, but their exercises yesterday started a fire that damaged the area of Gamla.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A fire broke out on the Golan Heights early on Wednesday morning, causing significant damage to the Gamla nature reserve. Nature reserve personnel have evacuated Griffon vulture nests located in the reservation and acclimatization cages where vulture chicks are prepared for release into the wild.

The fire started as a result of IDF exercises in the area, aided by the very warm weather.

More then ten different fire fighting teams, from all over the area, aided by soldiers and nature reserve personnel are trying to control the fire.

The story continues here.

While not mentioned in the New Testament, Gamla was an important city in the first century.  Gamla is best known today as the site where Jewish defenders attempted to hold out against the Roman forces led by Vespasian in the revolt of AD 66-70.  For more photos and explanation, see the Gamla page at

Gamla from east, tb032705337

Gamla from east

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Israel Museum To Open July 26

Two months from today, the $100 million renovation of the Israel Museum is slated to be completed and the doors of the new galleries opened to the public.  From Art Daily:

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, inaugurates its renewed 20-acre campus, featuring new galleries, orientation facilities, and public spaces, on July 26, 2010. The multi-year expansion and renewal project was designed to enhance visitor experience of the Museum’s art, archeology, architecture, and surrounding landscape, in complement to the original architecture and design of the campus. Led by James Carpenter Design Associates of New York and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv, the $100-million project also includes the comprehensive renovation and reconfiguration of the Museum’s three collection wings and the reinstallation of its outstanding encyclopedic collections.


The Israel Museum has seen tremendous growth since the 1965 opening of its original landmark campus, designed by Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad as a modernist reference to Jerusalem’s Mediterranean hilltop villages. The Museum’s architectural footprint has increased ten-fold since its opening, and its collections have grown significantly throughout its history, particularly in the past ten years. The project, which broke ground in June 2007, encompasses 80,000 square feet of new construction and 200,000 square feet of renovated and expanded gallery space within the Museum’s existing 500,000-square-foot architectural envelope.

The $100-million capital campaign supporting the Museum’s campus renewal, completed in December 2009, is the largest collective philanthropic initiative ever undertaken for a single cultural institution in the State of Israel. The Museum is also nearing completion of an endowment campaign, and has raised nearly $60 million toward its $75-million goal, which will bring the institutional endowment to a total of $150 million, comprising the largest endowment for any cultural institution in the country.

Tomorrow, May 27, the museum will honor International Museum Day, and admission to the museum is free to individuals.  Details (in Hebrew) are here.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Damascus Gate, Then and Now

Damascus Gate and Old City, mat06658 Damascus Gate, early 1900s

This photo, taken by the American Colony photographers in approximately 1910, shows Damascus Gate on the northern side of the Old City of Jerusalem.  At the time, the Ottoman authorities were building new shops lining the street outside the gate.  These structures were removed in later years.

Notice also on the skyline of the Old City that the domes of the Hurvah and Tiferet Israel synagogues are visible.  These were both destroyed in the 1948 war.  The most prominent tower belongs to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, dedicated in 1898.  The domes on the right side belong to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The recent photo below shows the area in the early morning before traffic picked up.

Damascus Gate, tb010310679

Damascus Gate, January 2010

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

New Website: See the Holy Land “opened its doors” yesterday to encourage pilgrims to visit the Holy Lands.  The site was created by a retired journalist in New Zealand, and it is filled with numerous articles and photographs.  Some issues addressed include:

  • What is this Holy Land?
  • A pilgrim is not a tourist
  • When should I go?
  • Is it safe?
  • In a group, or solo?
  • Are the sites authentic?
  • What should I pack?
  • Tips for travelling
  • Could I lead a pilgrimage?

In addition, the most popular pilgrimage sites are described and illustrated.  This looks like a terrific resource.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Burger King to Close in Israel

The Whopper is leaving Israel, nearly twenty years after the Burger King chain opened in the country.  Israelis apparently prefer the taste of Burger Ranch, or so say the owners who are converting the 52 Burger Kings into Burger Ranches.  From Arutz-7:

Orgad Holdings, Burger King's Israeli franchise, announced Sunday that Israel's 52 Burger Kings will be converted to Burger Ranches, and will stop operating in August.


Burger King is not the first American company to fail in Israel.  Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and Wendy's have also come and gone.  McDonald's which opened in Israel in 1993 and has 131 branches, is still serving Big Macs throughout the country.

I don’t remember Wendy’s, but I do remember when the very first McDonalds opened up in Israel.  A group of us made the drive from Jerusalem down to Tel Aviv for the taste of a non-kosher American hamburger.  McDonalds has a thriving business now, but it almost never opened in Israel because the government refused to allow the fast-food chain to use their preferred type of potato.

The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Century Roman Altar Found in Ashkelon

Since the discovery of tombs in the area where an emergency room for an Ashkelon hospital is being built, religious Jews in Israel have protested.  Today’s announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the discovery of a Roman altar from the 1st-2nd century AD should strengthen the argument that the tombs are not Jewish.

From the IAA press release:

The development work for the construction of a fortified emergency room at Barzilai Hospital, which is being conducted by a contractor carefully supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has unearthed a new and impressive find: a magnificent pagan altar dating to the Roman period (first-second centuries CE) made of granite and adorned with bulls’ heads and a laurel wreaths. The altar stood in the middle of the ancient burial field. Ashkelon Roman altar, IAA, IMG_1119

According to Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are dealing with a pagan cemetery. It is an impressive find that has survived 2,000 years. The altar is c. 60 centimeters tall and it is decorated with bulls’ heads, from which dangle laurels wreaths. There is a strap in the middle of each floral wreath and bull’s head. The laurel wreaths are decorated with grape clusters and leaves. This kind of altar is known as an “incense altar.” Such altars usually stood in Roman temples and visitors to the temple used to burn incense in them, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to their idols. We can still see the burnt marks on the altar that remain from the fire. The altar was probably donated by one of the families who brought it to the cemetery from the city of Ashkelon.”

The full press release is here.  Three high-resolution photos of the altar are available here.

UPDATE: The story is also reported by the AFP and Haaretz.


Questions about Noah’s Ark Discovery

Dutch scholar M. J. Paul has ten questions or concerns about the Hong King team’s alleged discovery of Noah’s Ark.  Here are a few:

2. Archaeologists are obliged to pinpoint exactly where they've found something, but these 'discoverers' keep their location secret though they do name Ararat. This makes control/checking impossible.

5. The wood is said to be tested in a laboratory in Iran, and estimated to be about 4800 years old. Does Iran actually have laboratories where one is skilled at determining this correctly? Why did this happen in Iran? And why aren't the official 'reports' publicised so the results can be double-checked?

8. It induces distrust that the discoverers first want to make a film documentary before actual factual data is released and verified/reviewed.  When will the finds be presented on the normal way to the scientific community so that verification is possible?

9. One of the published photographs shows a spider web/cobweb in one of the corners. Is it possible for spiders to live at that height? Survive in that cold? Or did they photograph a cave positioned much lower than 4000m?

His complete list is here.

Regardless of whether one is knowledgeable about the living conditions of spiders, all should agree that the profit motive makes this endeavor suspicious from the beginning.  If this group is interested in truth, they should be seeking professional examination of their work.  As long as they refuse this while pursuing wide publicity and financial gain, their “discovery” should not be accepted.  Peter’s warning may apply here:

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Peter 2:3).

There is of course another danger in all of this.  Repeated false discoveries of Noah’s Ark can lead some to deny that God ever destroyed the earth by flood, that this whole “ark” thing is a fiction.  If you doubt God did it before, you’re less likely to believe that he’ll do it again.  Peter sounds a warning in this regard as well:

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.


11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat (2 Peter 3:3-7, 11-12).


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

National Bible Museum Update

A couple of years ago I noted plans to build a National Bible Museum, in the Dallas area.  I have just received a press release on some new items in the collection and the continued search for a location.

Hobby Lobby adds rare Bible to its collection of Biblical books and manuscripts

Company assisting National Bible Museum with site selection and development plans

OKLAHOMA CITYHobby Lobby Stores Inc., a privately held retail chain of more than 435 arts and crafts stores, has acquired one of the earliest-known near-complete Bibles in the world. The so-called Codex Climaci Rescriptus includes the only surviving New Testament texts in Jesus’ household language, Palestinian Aramaic. The company made the acquisition from Westminster College at Cambridge University for an undisclosed amount. Hobby Lobby also recently purchased the earliest known scripture in English, dated 1341, Richard Rolle’s translation and commentary on the Book of Psalms, which predates Wycliffe’s translation by nearly half a century.

Hobby Lobby is collecting a vast array of ancient antiquities, biblical papyri, Hebrew scrolls and Judaica, important medieval manuscripts and a comprehensive assortment of Bibles and rare books. Their collection includes many of the earliest printed Bibles, the most significant Protestant and non-Protestant Bibles and editions of the Jewish Tanach or Hebrew Bible, a full range of English, American, and missionary Bibles and other unique historical records.

As part of its efforts to preserve biblical history, Hobby Lobby is assisting the National Bible Museum, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Scott Carroll, Ph.D., executive director; D. Jonathan Shipman, chief executive officer; and Daniel Centurione, who are developing a non-sectarian museum to house collections of historical biblical significance. 

“We are committed to preserving the history of our faith and excited about the opportunity to share our collection with others through the development of the National Bible Museum,” said Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby. “Our family has participated in ministry efforts worldwide and has had the opportunity to visit places and see things that are of great historical and Biblical significance. We feel it is important to give others the opportunity to experience Biblical history without traveling around the world, and the museum will bring this history together in one location.”

Currently, leaders of Hobby Lobby and the National Bible Museum are evaluating sites for the museum. 

“Our goal is to acquire a site in a major metropolitan area that will allow visitors from around the world to enjoy the collections housed in the museum and participate in special educational programs,” Green said. “We are looking for at least 300,000 square feet of space and ample parking and have been evaluating various opportunities, including several in the Dallas area.” 

Carroll, Shipman and Centurione have been working on the project for several years and have recently been assisting Hobby Lobby in building its collection. 

“After several years of planning, we expect to bring the National Bible Museum to fruition, thanks to the generous support of Hobby Lobby and the Green family, along with others who have pledged their support,” said Carroll, who is a specialist on the history of the Bible and ancient biblical manuscripts. “Our mission is twofold.  First, we want to tell the story of the composition, transmission and preservation of the most popular, the most prohibited and the most influential book in history in an engaging and lively way that will impact and inspire people of all ages and faiths. Second, we want to provide a resource for advanced academic studies, with educational programs for public schools, universities and seminaries.”

About Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Based in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby and its affiliates, including Mardel, Hemispheres and Crafts, Etc!, employ more than 18,000 individuals nationwide. Hobby Lobby was founded by David Green in 1972. The company has grown from one 700 square-foot store to more than 435 locations in 35 states. Hobby Lobby carries no long-term debt, is open only 66 hours per week and is closed on Sundays. For more information, visit


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Desalination Plant Dedicated in Israel

Besides providing the people of Israel with much needed water, the completion of the third of five planned desalination plants may save the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River.  From Arutz-7:

A huge new desalination plant dedicated this week is planned to help end Israel’s constant worry for enough water for farms, factories and homes. “Water, water everywhere and more to drink” may be a new phrase for Israel as the new plant begins to pump 10 percent of Israel’s water needs.

The facility on the Mediterranean Coast at Hadera, located between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is the largest of its kind in the world and the third largest in Israel. Two more plants are on the drawing boards, with all five of them projected to provide two-thirds of the nation’s water.

The desalinated water will be cheaper than the cost of pumping from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the national water carrier, according to Teddy Golan, CEO of the IDE Technologies group that built the 1.5 billion shekel ($400 million) desalination plant.


If all goes according to plan, the Kinneret will return to flood levels in several years after all of the desalination plants come on line. The desalinated water from the Mediterranean also will allow the dams to the Kinneret to be opened and help replenish the drying Jordan River and the rapidly depleting Dead Sea.

The complete article is here.


The Feast of Shavuot

Celebration begins tonight of the Feast of Shavuot.  Translated in English as “Weeks” and it gets its name from the fact that it begins seven weeks after Passover (Lev 23:15).  Shavuot is one of the three great pilgrimage feasts (Deut 16:16), but unlike the week-long celebrations of Passover and Tabernacles, this one is observed for one day only.  Modern celebration of Shavuot consists of all-night study of the Scriptures, especially Ruth, and consuming dairy products.  Arutz-7 reports:

Jewish men and women in Israel will join their brethren around the world to learn all night Tuesday, although in Israel the holiday is observed for only one day. Many will also be eating dairy foods and putting greenery in their homes and synagogues, all in the name of observing the Shavuot holiday.

The practice of learning all night is a custom, rather than a commandment, and is the expression of one's desire to draw closer to G-d. It also is carried out to counter the behavior of the Jews who slept at Mount Sinai instead of waiting for the giving of the Torah. By staying up the entire night and studying, their descendants strive to rectify the slight caused to the honor of the Torah.


As always, prayers and learning are being held through the night at the Western Wall (the Kotel). Jerusalem hotels are packed to capacity as tourists who remember past years, and those who have been told of its beauty, wait with anticipation for the event. Right before dawn, one can see tens of thousands making their way to the Wall for early morning prayer service.

The full article is here, and more information about this holiday is available at and Wikipedia.

Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost.  It was at this time that the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in many languages.  Jews from all over the world were there to hear them because they were obedient to go up to Jerusalem for the feast.  You can read more about this event in Acts 2.

Acts 2:5-12 (NIV) “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?””

Crowds at Western Wall on Shavuot, tb060900804

Crowds at Western Wall on Shavuot


Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Roundup

Following up from the recent CT article on the Jesus Trail, you might enjoy Vialogue’s review of the trail options, including his three reasons why he recommends doing the hike.  His first point: “There are, simply put, some lessons in life you can only learn through experiencing—through walking them.”

Seventh-graders all over Israel are writing a copy of the Hebrew Bible today. 

Arutz-7 has a story on the Jordan River drying up.  “There are areas of the Biblical river are already so narrow that one can simply walk across. ‘It's [only] ankle deep,’ warned Gidon Bromberg.”

Excavations at Ashkelon start up for the summer next week and you can keep up with their progress on their blog.  Attention this summer will be given to the Roman odeon and associated buildings (previously identified as a basilica).


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The “Jesus Trail” is the subject of an article in last month’s issue of Christianity Today.  The author and his photographer son (the pictures in the print magazine are great) walked the trail and talked politics and religion with the people they encountered.  The “Jesus Trail” runs from Nazareth to Capernaum.

Photographs of Jerusalem in the early 1900s from the collection of Hannah and Efaim Degani are described and displayed in this YnetNews article.

The wife of the founder of the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is profiled in this Jerusalem Post article.  Batya Borowski reflects on the museum, her husband, and her early years in Mandatory Palestine.

Israel is minting gold 20 NIS coins depicting the symbol of Jerusalem.  The one-ounce coins are for sale for approximately $1,467.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Jerusalem Top Tourist Destination

From the Jerusalem Post:

Jerusalem has been named one of the world's top 10 travel destinations for culture and sightseeing.Old City western walls, tb051908285

The TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice award for Jerusalem, the only city in the Middle East and Africa to receive the honor, was announced Wednesday.

TripAdvisor lists several sites in Jerusalem as must-see for travelers, including the Western Wall, Temple Mount, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the City of David.


Other destinations on the top 10 list include London, New York City, Paris, Rome and Washington, D.C. Also, Florence and Venice, in Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The full story is here.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

BiblePlaces on Facebook

I've been encouraged to start a Facebook page for BiblePlaces.  I am learning how to make this a useful resource (suggestions are welcome), and you are invited to connect with us here:

To get things started, I have posted some of my favorite photos.

Northern Hinnom Valley Excavations

Tom Powers has written and posted photos on a new excavation in the Hinnom Valley, just north of “Artists’ Lane.”  The salvage dig is being carried out in advance of the construction of a park to honor former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek.  The hole is deep and there appears to be a lot of architecture, but the workers were less than happy to be the subject of the paparazzi and quickly chased Tom away. 

It’ll be interesting to learn what they find.  Historically this area has always been outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Somewhere in the Hinnom Valley lies ancient Topheth, where the kings of Judah made sacrifices to foreign gods (2 Kgs 23:10; Isa 30:33; Jer 7:31-32; Jer 19:6-14).  I’ve always pictured that being further to the south.  When more becomes available, I’ll note it here.

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Barkay on Claim to Temple Mount

Most of what is in this Arutz-7 interview with Dr. Gabriel Barkay is not new, but some things are worth hearing again.

Of the discoveries that have been made in the Temple Mount Sifting Project (unfortunately translated in the article as “Screening the Waste”!):

Barkai explained that despite the conditions, "We have made thousands of amazing finds that have changed the way we understand that period."

Asked later to elaborate, he told Israel National News, "For instance, we have found many small floor tiles, of different colors, which confirm the Talmud's description of the floor of the Second Temple as being reminiscent of the ocean."

Other finds have included fragments of stone decorated with ornaments known to be from the Second Temple Period, arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzar's army and also from the Romans, as well as coins and decorations from many periods. Among the most exciting finds were bullae (seal rings), ostracons written in ancient Hebrew script, seals, and more.

Of the agenda to rewrite history in order to eliminate a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount:

Barkai explained that in addition to building mosques on the site, the Moslems clearly have the goal of detaching Israel from its past and Holy Temple connections: "They wish to undermine Jewish ownership and bonds to the Temple Mount. They've built a giant mosque there in Solomon's Stables [under the Temple Mount] and another one nearby – but aside from that, they have an ideological goal which is even making inroads to naïve circles in the west, and it is called 'Holy Temple denial.' They act as if there never was a Holy Temple. This is very very grave; regarding the Holocaust, there are living people who still remember it, but the same cannot be said regarding the Temple…"

"We must demand that Israeli law and sovereignty be enforced on the Temple Mount," Barkai concluded.

The full article is here.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Haaretz reports on the excavation of a prehistoric site in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony.

The aqueduct bridge in the Hinnom Valley is reported in a press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority and includes several high-resolution photos (direct link).

A team has discovered thirteen Middle Bronze and five Roman period cemeteries in southern Syria this year.

The Hong Kong team has responded to Randall Price’s dismissal of their claim to have discovered Noah’s Ark.  Meanwhile Randall Price has issued several clarifications about his previous response, motivated in part by his desire to continue searching for the ark this summer.

A massive piece of the rock on the edge of Machtesh Ramon was in danger of falling on the road below, so Israeli experts blew it up.

ICEJ News is reporting on the level of the Sea of Galilee:

Israel’s Water Authority said Monday that the level of the Sea of Galilee is currently stabilized at only 13.39 inches above the lowest “red line,” defined as a point where serious damage can occur to the vital and historic freshwater lake. At 697.7 feet below sea level, Lake Kinneret is in danger of plunging very close to the “black line” – drawn at the point at which irreparable damage begins to occur at a rapid pace during the hot and dry summer months. The Water Authority warned that vigilance and conservation are extremely important to prevent the water level from dropping further than the 16 meters it has declined since 2004.

A gray whale has been sighted off the coast of Herzliya, Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hinnom Valley Bridge Discovered

The Israel Antiquities Authority has uncovered an arched bridge in the Hinnom Valley that was built in the 14th century as a replacement of the Lower Aqueduct bridge from the 1st century.  From Arutz-7:

Two of the bridge’s original nine arches have now been excavated to their full height of about three meters.

In actuality, the newly-discovered bridge was built in 1320 C.E. by the sultan Nasser al-Din Muhammed Ibn Qalawun, as evidenced by its dedicatory inscription. However, it was apparently constructed to replace an earlier bridge dating to the time of the Second Temple period that was part of the original aqueduct.

Yechiel Zelinger, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said, “The bridge, which could still be seen at the end of the 19th century and appears in old photographs, was covered over during the 20th century. We were thrilled when it suddenly reappeared in all its grandeur during the course of the archaeological excavations.”

“The route of the Low Level aqueduct from the time of the Second Temple, beginning at Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem and ending at the Temple Mount, is well known to scholars,” Zelinger said. “Substantial parts of it have been documented along the edge of Yemin Moshe neighborhood and on the slope adjacent to the Old City’s western wall. In order to maintain the elevation of the path along which the water flowed, a bridge was erected above the ravine.”

The story continues here.

Yesterday Tom Powers posted his observations of the excavation along with a couple of great photos.  He wonders aloud if the earlier foundations of the bridge underlie the present one.  Perhaps the archaeologists will pursue this question.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Lebanon Defeats Israel in Hummus Contest

The Abu Gosh hummus record stood for less than four months after Lebanon makes a ten-ton dish.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Lebanon launched a decisive retaliation on Saturday, in the campaign that Army Radio described as the Third Lebanon War. No Katyushas or Scuds crossed the northern border, but Lebanon served Israel a 10-ton blow in the competition for regional supremacy.

Lebanon struck down Israel’s world record for the largest plate of humous on Saturday, in the village of Fanar, east of Beirut.

About 300 Lebanese cooks prepared a batch of humous that weighed 10,452 kilograms, The Associated Press reported.

A Guinness World Records adjudicator confirmed that Lebanon reclaimed the record.

Lebanon accuses Israel of stealing traditional Arab dishes such as humous, and marketing them worldwide as Israeli.

Saturday’s plate more than doubled the record set on January 8 by Jawdat Ibrahim, of Abu Ghosh. However, the competition’s not over.

“No matter what happens I’m going to double it. I’m going to show who humous belongs to,” Ibrahim told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Ibrahim’s humous is made in the Abu Ghosh Restaurant that he opened in late 1992, single-handedly starting a dining trend that put his town on the national tourism map. He uses all Israeli chickpeas, grown on kibbutzim.

The rest of the story includes Ibrahim’s promise to reclaim the record before the year is out, along with his goal of using the contest to promote peace between Lebanon and Israel.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Aren Maeir reports briefly on some archaeological meetings in Israel this week.  He’s also expecting to accomplish a lot at Gath this season with more than 100 registered for the first session.

Leon Mauldin has an interesting post with a map and photos of the city of Haran where Abraham and Jacob lived.

Ferrell Jenkins is back in Israel and posting daily of his travels.  Friday’s post included a photo of the restored Jaffa Gate.

UPDATE (5/10): Joe Lauer has noted that the Haaretz story on the Muslim prayer room is three years old(!), and thus I have deleted it.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Benjamin Plateau, Then and Now

One of the most important pieces of land in biblical history is the Central Benjamin Plateau, with the cities of Gibeah, Ramah, Gibeon, and Mizpah.

Excavations at Mizpah, mouth of old cistern, mat05515

Both of these photos were taken at Mizpah (Tell en-Nasbeh) with a view to the south.  The photo above was taken in 1926, before the area was densely settled. A tower is visible on the Mount of Olives in the distance.

Mizpah view to south with Jerusalem airport, tbs98319800 This photo was taken from the summit of Mizpah and the tell occupies most of the foreground.  The Jerusalem airport runway dominates the right side of the picture.  A tower on the Mount of Olives is visible on the horizon (center).

The top photo is from the Northern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05515). The bottom photo is from the Samaria volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Baptismal Sites on the Jordan River

As noted on Monday, so much water is being taken from the sources of the Jordan River that it may run dry as early as next year. Among other things, this would affect the new tourist facility that Israel has built along the Jordan River near Jericho.  Ferrell Jenkins visited the area yesterday and has a photo of the new baptismal site.

This area has been restricted to tourists because it lies on the sensitive border of Israel and Jordan.  Historically it has been a popular place, especially for Russian pilgrims, because of the tradition that Jesus was baptized in this area by John (Mark 1:9; cf. John 1:28).

Russian Epiphany ceremony at Jordan River, mat06399 Russian pilgrims at Jordan River (source)

With visits to the southern area all but impossible, an enterprising kibbutz built the baptismal facility known as Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee. 

Yardenit baptismal area on Jordan River, tb040300 Yardenit Baptismal Site

One of the attractions of this site is the description of Jesus’ baptism in various languages.  English readers may be able to make some sense of the inscription in Hawaii Pidgin.  (You can purchase the entire New Testament in this language at Amazon.)

Jesus baptism text in Mark 1 at Yardenit, tb033107266dxo

Mark 1:9-11 in Hawaii Pidgin at Yardenit

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

2010 Christian Book Awards

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association has just announced the 2010 Christian Book Awards, and two of the winners are related to Bible geography!  Both of these works made my “Best of 2009” list.

The Bible of the Year is Glo, published by Immersion Digital and Zondervan.  More than half of the photographs in this multimedia Bible are from the collection of  (For previous posts on Glo, see here and here.)

The Bible Reference and Study award goes to Barry Beitzel, The New Moody Atlas of the Bible

Congratulations to the creators of these excellent resources!


Monday, May 03, 2010

Jordan River To Be Dry Next Year

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting report on the dramatic decline of the Jordan River.  The annual flow of the river is now about 3% what it was one hundred years ago, all of it sewage.

Unless urgent action is taken, large sections of the Lower Jordan River, which runs from Lake Kinneret to the Dead Sea, will dry out next year, according to a study released on Sunday by EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).

The NGO ran tests over a year to determine how much water would be needed to rehabilitate the river and damage had been caused by the lack of water in it. Israel, Jordan and Syria divert 98 percent of the flow for their respective country’s use.

In the 19th and early 20th century, 1.3 billion cubic meters of water cascaded each year down rapids and rolled over waterfalls on the way down to the lowest point on Earth – the Dead Sea.

In 2009, just 20 to 30 of water pooled and sluggishly flowed through the river’s channels – all of it sewage. Sewage runs from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan into the river. However, two new sewage treatment plants, one in the Beit She’an area and the other in the Jordan Valley Regional Council area, are set to begin operating over the next year and a half.

While FoEME praised the construction of the two plants, it warned that unless fresh water replaced the amounts of sewage water that would be removed, the once mighty Lower Jordan River would become a cracked and dry riverbed through much of its 100-km. length.


The lack of fresh water has also destroyed much of the ecosystem both within and next to the river, the study found. Fifty percent of macro-invertebrates have disappeared because the river no longer flows swiftly and is highly saline. Examples of macro-invertebrates include flatworms, crayfish, snails, clams and insects.

Otters have disappeared from the Jordan and the willow trees that once lined its shores have all disappeared, FoEME Israel Director Gidon Bromberg said during a media tour of the river on Sunday.

FoEME determined that 400 of water each year would be needed to rehabilitate the river, gradually rising to 600

In addition, the river would have to flood once a year to rehabilitate the shores. The river has not flooded since the winter of 1991-92, Bromberg said.

Read the full article here.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Crouse and Franz on the 2010 Ark Discovery

Bill Crouse and Gordon Franz have responded at length to the reported discovery of Noah’s Ark.  They conclude:

There seems to be more than the usual gullibility here in that the Hong Kong group was warned about this local guide who has led others astray.  We say usual gullibility, because it seems to be a characteristic of other ark-hunters as well, in that they tend to believe all the local lore.  While many ark-hunters mean well, it seems that they want to believe every report seemingly at all costs; putting everything through a rational grid often is avoided as being too skeptical.

At this point we are skeptical of these new claims but would rejoice in the end if they proved to be true.  If this someday is the case we will be the first to apologize for our doubts. We would strongly urge the Hong Kong group to follow proper scholarly procedures and publish this material in scientific, peer-reviewed archaeological and geological publications so that the scholarly community can examine the material first hand and critique it in order to offer helpful, and constructive, criticism.  For the person in the pew, we caution you to not get too excited about something that is at best, unsubstantiated; and at worst, a fraud perpetrated by an enterprising local guide!

I don’t suppose it’s possible to stop ignorant and untrained people from searching for the ark, but one could wish that the news media would treat them in the same way that they would an accountant who claimed to have discovered the cure for cancer.