Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meet the Artist

Orange Circle Studio has just published their 2011 Lands of the Bible Calendar featuring some of my favorite photos.  You have a chance to “Meet the Artist” in their recent blogpost.  I look forward to telling you more about this fantastic calendar in the coming weeks.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Philistine Temple Identified at Gath

Aren Maeir has been dropping hints along the way but as the season wraps up, he is more certain.  He writes:

The first [photo] is a working view of the structure which I believe we can now firmly claim to be a temple! The structure, which has at its center two large pillar bases, and some of the exterior walls, had various cult related objects found in its vicinity.

The Jerusalem Post picks up the story and explains some of the biblical significance:

Prof. Aren Maeir, of Bar-Ilan University's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said on Wednesday that the temple may shed light on the architecture in Philistia at the time when Jewish hero Samson purportedly brought the temple of Dagon down upon himself.

Maier said the architecture of the Philistine temple, the first ever found at Gath, sheds light on what the temple of Dagon would have looked like, in particular the two pillars that anchored the center of the structure.

The story is also reported in Arutz-7.

How do they know that this is a temple and not a house or a shop?  If you’ve ever wondered how archaeologists make such determinations, I highly recommend that you read this morning’s brief post by Maeir in which he explains what they didn’t find as well as what they did.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Women Dance in Shiloh

From Arutz-7:

Hundreds of women came out last night to celebrate the Tu B'Av (15th of Av) holiday on the biblical site of Shiloh in the Benjamin region, renewing an ancient tradition. For centuries, the young women of Shiloh would go out to the vineyards and orchards and dance on the joyous holiday of Tu B'Av. Last night, the women returned to the orchards in a multifaceted celebration of dance, organized by the Benjamin Regional Council.

The story of the women dancing is recorded in Judges 21.  There the women didn’t fare so well when they were carried off by surviving scoundrels from the tribe of Benjamin.

The full story and photos are here.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A New Theory on the Death of Herod Agrippa I

Have you ever thought that some ruler/king/president/official was just so evil that the Lord should strike him down?  Of course not.  But there was a king whose life was ended by God not long after Jesus’ crucifixion.  The book of Acts describes the failure of Agrippa I to give glory to God with the result that he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:20-23).

The New Testament records that the episode occurred in Caesarea, but Josephus is more specific and writes that Agrippa was in the theater.  For that reason, I’ve always read the story of Acts 12 with my students while in the theater.  Now, however, I think I was wrong.  Josephus, it seems to me, undermines his own presentation.

I make my case in an article posted this week at The Bible and Interpretation.  I’d be happy if you’d read it and note in the comments if you’re convinced or not.  As far as I know, no one has made these observations before.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Google Ancient Places

Google is funding a project that will allow you to find books based on time and location.

A University of Southampton researcher is part of a team which has just secured funding from Google to make the classics and other ancient texts easy to discover and access online.

Leif Isaksen at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) is working together with Dr Elton Barker at The Open University and Dr Eric Kansa of the University of California-Berkeley on the Google Ancient Places (GAP): Discovering historic geographical entities in the Google Books corpus project, which is one of 12 projects worldwide to receive funding as part of a new Digital Humanities Research Programme funded by Google.

The GAP researchers will enable scholars and enthusiasts worldwide to search the Google Books corpus to find books related to a geographic location and within a particular time period. The results can then be visualised on GoogleMaps or in GoogleEarth.

The full article is here.

HT: Explorator

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

The renewed campus of the Israel Museum was inaugurated yesterday, as reported in articles in the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7.  I don’t like the idea that the amount of display space has doubled but fewer items are on display.

A report at Device Magazine has some additional details about the cuneiform fragments found at Hazor.  They date to the 18th-17th centuries and include the words “master,” “slave,” and possibly “tooth.”  It is not clear whether the tablet was written at Hazor or brought to the site from somewhere else.  The article (and a similar one at Arutz-7) includes photos.

The current excavations of Megiddo are profiled in this Jerusalem Post article.  The team had the privilege recently of hosting Lord and Lady Allenby.

The Galilean synagogue discovered this summer at Horvat Kur is the subject of a brief article published by the university excavating the site.

The Second Qumran Institute Symposium will be held October 21-22, 2010 at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  The subject is “The Jewish War agaist Rome (66-70/74): Interdisciplinary Perspectives.” Nearly all of the lectures are in English and most sound quite interesting.

Chris McKinny has posted some aerial photos of Tel Burna and labeled some of the observable features on the surface.  What a dream to have a site without later periods “in the way.”  Chris’s wife Mindy has some nice photos of the recent excavation of Burna.

The excavations of a temple at Tel Tayinat in Turkey are profiled by the Ottawa Citizen.

A Brazilian mega-church is building a $200 million replica of Solomon’s temple, although unlike the original, this will seat 10,000 people.

HT: Paleojudaica and Joe Lauer

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fire in Jerusalem Hills

A fire started by teenage hikers has destroyed 250 acres in the forested area west of Jerusalem, reports the Jerusalem Post.

Several teenagers were taken in for questioning in connection with a fire near the capital’s southwestern edge that destroyed 1,000 dunams (100 hectares) of forest, forced the partial evacuation of the moshavim of Ora, Aminadav and Even Sapir, and came close to doing the same for Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem police announced on Sunday night.

According to a police spokesman, students from a haredi school in the Jerusalem area were hiking near Ein Hamdak, inside the Aminadav Forest. Some of the students were apparently playing with fire and started the blaze, which got out of control. The group then allegedly left the scene and continued toward Jerusalem before being found by detectives from the Moriya District.

The full story is here.  The Haaretz story is here.

Even Sapir and John Monastery from north, tb020305201wr Even Sapir, one of the towns threatened

UPDATE (7/26): A resident of Even Sapir has written that this moshav was not evacuated, contrary to media reports.  The JPost article linked to above now reports that the first fire and a second one at Khirbet Sa’adim are both under control and evacuated residents are returning.


Weekend Roundup

A couple of fragments of a cuneiform tablet were found recently at the excavations of Hazor.  Details released thus far are limited, but the tablet is from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC) and has parallels to the Law Code of Hammurabi.  The excavators’ notice of the discovery is online here.  I have heard that the find was made on the surface, and that publication won’t take long.

Roman period tombs have been discovered in Petra with skeletal remains and ancient artifacts.

A small basalt statue dating from about 4000 BC has been found in Jordan near the border of Saudi Arabia.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has written an “Archaeology in Israel Update,” including summaries of the medieval aqueduct in Jerusalem, graves in Ashkelon, MB artifacts near Jokneam, MB tombs in Nazareth, and the 18th anniversary of the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

New excavations begin today at Shiloh and the team is looking for volunteers (article in Hebrew).

If you prefer to “experience” excavations without getting dirty, take a look at the live video feed from Gath (during working hours only).

HT: Roi Brit

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Computer Deciphers Ancient Language

From National Geographic:

A new computer program has quickly deciphered a written language last used in Biblical times—possibly opening the door to "resurrecting" ancient texts that are no longer understood, scientists announced last week.

Created by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program automatically translates written Ugaritic, which consists of dots and wedge-shaped stylus marks on clay tablets. The script was last used around 1200 B.C. in western Syria.


"Traditionally, decipherment has been viewed as a sort of scholarly detective game, and computers weren't thought to be of much use," study co-author and MIT computer science professor Regina Barzilay said in an email.

"Our aim is to bring to bear the full power of modern machine learning and statistics to this problem."

The next step should be to see whether the program can help crack the handful of ancient scripts that remain largely incomprehensible.

Etruscan, for example, is a script that was used in northern and central Italy around 700 B.C. but was displaced by Latin by about A.D. 100. Few written examples of Etruscan survive, and the language has no known relations, so it continues to baffle archaeologists.

The full story is here and links to other stories can be found via Google.  The academic paper on which these stories are based is available at the MIT website (pdf).


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Israeli Baptism Area Threatened by Poor Water Quality

In recent years Israel has been developing a southern baptism site on the Jordan River in the Jericho area.  The country of Jordan opened a counterpart on the eastern side nearly a decade ago.  But the poor quality of the water threatens to close the site before it officially opens.  From the Jerusalem Post:

The site where tradition holds Jesus was baptized is in danger of being declared off-limits to pilgrims because of pollution in the Jordan River. 

Qasar al-Yahud, a few miles from where the biblical river spills into the Dead Sea, has drawn over 100,000 tourists each year, most of whom are Christian pilgrims who wish to undergo a baptism like their savior did 2,000 years ago -- and in the very same spot.

But drought and irrigation have turned the mighty lower Jordan River into a stagnant stream as it makes it way from the Sea of Galilee. The brook then swells with raw sewage as it passes nearby Jericho. Israeli health officials are reportedly considering erecting signs warning: “Polluted Waters. Entry Forbidden.”


Neglected for decades, the name of the site is Arabic for “Castle of the Jews,” which is also the name of the 5th century monastery. But since 2007, Israel has tried to bring Christian tourists ‘down by the riverside’ and has invested about $2 million to develop the site in order to allow wheelchair accessibility, shade, baptismal decks and other facilities. Entry is free. There is a similar site close-by on the Jordanian side, but the west bank side is considered holier since that’s the side Jesus likely used.


Despite the heath risks, the Nature and Parks Authority continues to move ahead with restoration efforts including plans to open the site to tourists without the need for coordination with the military.

The JPost article is accompanied by a photo, the caption of which reads, “Pilgrims dunk themselves in stagnant sewage.”  The photo, however, was taken at the northern site of Yardenit, where the water quality is good. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NY Times on the Israel Museum

The string of articles on the newly renovated Israel Museum continues, this one from the New York Times:

For the last 45 years, the Israel Museum has been both the crown jewel of this country’s cultural heritage and a bit of a mess. It has the most extensive holdings of land-of-Israel archaeology anywhere (including a heel bone pierced by an iron nail with wood fragments, the world’s only physical evidence of crucifixion), an encyclopedic collection of Judaica and an exceptional group of Modernist artworks. It sits on a 20-acre campus atop a hill at Jerusalem’s western entrance, holding pride of place along with the architectural and national landmarks that surround it, including the Knesset, or parliament, and the Supreme Court.

But as any past visitor can attest, finding one’s way around the museum’s art and archaeology has not been easy. Visits have begun with an uphill trek from a parking lot exposed to the hot sun and, inside the galleries, a feeling of being overwhelmed by quantity and mildly perplexed about substance.

That is about to change. On Monday the museum opens new galleries and public spaces. There will be far fewer objects on display, with twice the space to view them, as well as richer links and explanations. In some of the new spaces soft light enters through filtered glass walls, the Jerusalem landscape a dreamy background presence. And a climate-controlled path leads to a central concourse from which the works can be reached.

The idea is not simply to make the museum easier to navigate but also to suggest interesting connections among objects and between the particular and the universal. That is never an easy task in this city of stones, where each culture has long sought dominance and where the interplay between preservation and transformation causes endless heartache.

The article also notes that the renovation was completed on time and on budget.  It’s hard to overstate the significance of this achievement.   The full article is here.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Israel Museum Director Interviewed

The Media Line interviews James Snyder on the eve of the re-opening of the Israel Museum.  Here’s a portion:

Well, it’s an amazing thing. Jerusalem is a unique city in that it’s built from its own bedrock, as we all know. So the Israel Museum, clad in Jerusalem stone but built of glass, steel and other materials, sits on a hilltop that is Jerusalem stone and we actually excavated 1,000,0000 cubic feet of Jerusalem stone so as to order the plan and reengineer the plan within the original and preexisting envelope of the campus. The changes, in a way, that we made are surgical. When we are all finished, you will see and feel the aura of the essence of the original modernist idea of this place as a modernist that is modern backdrop for showing the history of material culture from the start of time to the present moment. It’s a curious thing. It’s a thrilling thing. Now, as you arrive here, we have formalized the entry. We have made a more clear path from the front of the campus to the heart of the campus. But now, unlike before, you will stand at the heart of the museum and you will be able to turn around 360 degrees and you will see the entrances to our collections for archaeology; Jewish art and life; the Western fine art traditions; the non-Western fine art traditions; our main auditorium; and our main temporary exhibitions galleries—all in a main 360 degree turn from the heart of the museum, from a place we now call the Cardo.

The full interview is here.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Poll: Half of Israelis Want Temple Rebuilt

I would not have predicted these results.  I know that polls are sometimes skewed by the way the questions are asked, but it’s not clear to me what factors might have been involved here. In my experience, only a small percentage has any interest in the temple in Jerusalem. From Arutz-7:

Half the Israeli public wants the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) to be rebuilt. This is the main finding of a poll commissioned by the Knesset Television Channel and carried out by the Panels Institute.

The poll was taken in advance of this Tuesday’s national day of mourning, known as Tisha B’Av, on which the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, respectively.

Forty nine percent said they want the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, while 23% said they do not. The remainder said they were unsure.

The public is about evenly split on whether they believe it will happen, with a slight edge – 42% to 39% – to those who believe the Third Holy Temple will be rebuilt.

Should the State of Israel take active steps towards the reconstruction? Forty-eight percent said no, while 27% said yes.

The story continues here.

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Adullam: A City in No-Man’s Land

According to the book of 1 Samuel, David found an ideal hideout at Adullam where he gathered hundreds of men into a small militia. In his earlier days, David had served King Saul well, but the king’s growing jealousy of his popular warrior forced David to flee. For reasons that don’t seem to make sense, David thought he could find safety in the Philistine city of Gath. When his identity was discovered, his feigned madness allowed him to escape once more. Desiring safety from both the Israelite forces as well as the Philistine garrison, David found refuge at the ideal location of Adullam (1 Sam 22).

Adullam area aerial from west, tb010703651

Aerial view to the east.
Adullam is the tree-covered hill in the center.

Adullam has been identified as Tell esh-Sheikh Madhkur, and its situation is ideal for one seeking to avoid the Israelites and the Philistines because it was effectively located in “no man’s land.” The Israelites controlled the hill country to the east, and the Philistines were in possession of the coastal plain to the west. That left the low rolling foothills known in the Bible as the Shephelah as the “middle ground.” It was in this region that the Israelite Samson had defeated the Philistines, and it was here where David’s slingstone sent the Philistines running. During the period of the late judges and early monarchy, the Shephelah was contested ground that neither party could consistently control.

Adullam is situated on the eastern edge of the Shephelah, well out of range of the Philistines and apparently in territory that the Israelites were reluctant to travel. This reality is borne out by the story in the next chapter, in which the Philistines are attacking Keilah (Khirbet Qila), a city about three miles (five km) south of Adullam. Saul was apparently unwilling to go to the city’s defense, and it was only his motivation to capture David that changed his mind (1 Sam 23). That Adullam was apparently safe from either side is suggested in the comment that David was joined by men in debt and distress.

The situation of Adullam today is remarkably similar to ancient political realities, though the sides have switched. Israelis hold the territory once controlled by the Philistines, whereas the Arab Palestinians live in the hill country of Judah. The Shephelah is mostly populated by Israeli cities and villages, but parts of the eastern Shephelah are on the other side of the “green line.” Adullam today sits immediately next to the large border fence that Israel has constructed to prevent unauthorized access by Palestinians. A few years before that fence was erected, a friend and his wife were hiking in the area and decided to camp the night on the hill of Adullam. My friend was crossing a portion of the site that evening when he was suddenly tackled in the darkness. An enforcement team from the Israel Antiquities Authority was monitoring the site because of recent illegal excavation activity. The site was attractive to thieves because of its easy access to and from the Palestinian territories.

Chalk trough with border fence view e from Adullam, tb021707853View east from Adullam showing the border fence 

Recently Adullam has been in the news because of oil exploration in the area. According to a citizen group fighting the project, the American company IDT has been given a license without public hearings of environmental assessments. The commercial activity was only discovered when a resident of nearby Moshav Aderet happened upon it while out for a walk. In some ways it is not surprising that the government would grant such permission and that the activity would be discovered by accident, given Adullam’s location. Its out-of-the-way location is just as attractive to oil drillers today as it was to David in antiquity.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Excavations this week have uncovered some potentially dramatic new material at Khirbet Qeiyafa, reports Luke Chandler.  We’ll have to wait for word from the authorities before we know what it is.

At Gath, on the other hand, they keep pulling out great stuff and telling everyone about it.  On Thursday, they not only worked in the field until 8 pm (work usually ends by 2 pm), but Aren Maeir still took time late that evening to report on the discoveries. Arutz-7 also had a story this week on the excavations at Goliath’s hometown.

The Mystery of Bethsaida – if you are hoping that this op-ed at The Bible and Interpretation will deal with the substance of the objections to the identification of et-Tell as Bethsaida, you’ll be disappointed.  Here’s one of the claims: “At Bethsaida in the 1996 season of excavation was uncovered a Roman temple.”  Notley has pretty well demolished this idea, but since it’s the only thing they have, they keep repeating it (see The Sacred Bridge, pp. 356-59).  Only the grammar gets worse.

The Magdala synagogue stone with the menorah inscription is now on display in the (not quite open) Israel Museum.  There’s a photo here.  Expect a lot of stories on the newly renovated museum in the next two weeks.

As a follow-up to last week’s notice on the pre-publication special on the two Talmuds for Logos, see this post that explains some of the advantage of this electronic edition.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Archaeology and Hype

Is Holy Land Archaeology Being Hyped by Politics?  The answer is yes, according to this article by Matthew Kalman.  But if your major sources are Jim West and Meir Ben-Dov, this is an entirely predictable, but not necessarily accurate, conclusion.

Is archaeology hyped?  Sometimes it is.  But is the cause politics or something else?  Does the problem lie with archaeologists or with someone else?

Everybody wants a sensational story.  The public doesn’t want to read about a clay tablet, they want to hear about the oldest inscription ever found in Jerusalem.  Journalists and their publishers want stories that sell.  Archaeologists are typically tireless workers who often lack necessary funding and sometimes may stretch the significance of their discovery for personal or professional reasons.  In my observation, archaeologists in Israel generally present their work in an appropriate way that doesn’t overstate the evidence.  Sometimes the media spins things to boost pageviews, such as one headline on this story that makes this latest discovery the “oldest document found in Israel.”  That’s not true, and it’s not what the archaeologists reported. 

I have been concerned in the past with some claims.  Usually I find fault because the sensational conclusion is announced prematurely.  Eilat Mazar found the palace of David in her first season of excavations in the area.  If this claim was made after five years of careful investigation and discussion with colleagues, I would be less inclined to view it as a fundraising device.  Shimon Gibson announced his discovery of the “Cave of John the Baptist” at the same time that his book was released, but I don’t know of any archaeologists who find his evidence compelling.  Rami Arav is very outspoken about his excavations at the New Testament city of Bethsaida, but his impressive finds are from an Iron Age city of the kingdom of Gesher, and there is very little that he has excavated which supports the Bethsaida identification.

Are there problems with archaeologists hyping archaeological discoveries?  Yes.  Are they systemic and primarily motivated by politics?  I hardly think so.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rollston on Jerusalem Tablet

Christopher Rollston has written a brief analysis of the recent IEJ report on the Jerusalem cuneiform tablet fragment.

Strikingly, the authors conclude that “given the fact that the tablet is written on clay from the Jerusalem region and that its find site is close to what must have been the acropolis of Late Bronze Age Jerusalem, there is good reason to believe that the letter fragment does, in fact, come from a letter of a king of Jerusalem, mostly likely an archive copy of a letter from Jerusalem to Pharaoh” (emphasis mine).  It is also contemplated that, for Jerusalem 1, the “Jerusalem King in question could be Abdi-Heba,” but the authors also state “but again perhaps not, since Jerusalem 1 does not include any specific feature that would tie it directly to El Amarna 285-290.”  They then conclude that “in short, the ductus of our letter fragment would be appropriate for a finely written letter from a king of Jerusalem to the Egyptian court.”  It is with the probability of these historical conclusions and Sitz im Leben that I wish respectfully to differ.

He then makes eight observations before concluding that the text “could be one of various things . . . e.g., an epistolary text, a legal text, an administrative text, a literary text.”

You can read the whole piece here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Excavation Blogs

I’ve started a list of active blogs, and would be grateful to learn of any others that you know of.

Gath – this is the best excavation blog I know of, thanks to the tireless work of the archaeologist, Aren Maeir.  This year they are excavating July 4-30, but that’s less important because Maeir updates the blog year-round.

Ashkelon – this is a primarily an educational blog written by one of the supervisors.  Note that this is a new location (as of 7/13).  The season began June 6 and wraps up on July 16.

Bethsaida – the 24th season ran from May 23 to June 26, and brief summaries and photos are posted.

Tel Burna – they had a very successful first season (June 20 - July 1) and I have hopes there will be periodic updates as they do analysis and prepare for next year’s dig.

Tall el-Hammam – the website provides season summaries, but there appears to be no blog updating readers during the winter excavation seasons (upcoming: December 10, 2010 to January 20, 2011).

Hazor – excavations are on-going now (June 20 – July 30), and the current diggers have a Facebook page where they can upload photos and videos.  The official Tel Hazor Facebook page is rather limited, and I am unaware of any blogging about the excavations.

Hippos (Susita) – the website indicates that the 2010 season will run July 4-31.  Mark Schuler has a blog for the Concordia University excavations of the Northeast Church.  Other members of the team have blogs listed at

Tall Jalul – this year’s excavation has concluded, but Owen Chesnut will be adding updates periodically throughout the year.  Though less well known, this site is one of the largest in Jordan.

Magdala – this relatively new dig plans to be in the field for an extended period over the next several years (ahead of construction).  The blog seems to be on break, but you can follow along by Twitter @magdalaisrael.

Khirbet el-Maqatir – the two-week season ended June 6.  The dig doesn’t have its own blog, but the organization sponsoring the dig does.

Dig Megiddo 2010 -  this blog is frequently updated with reports from volunteers about their experiences as well as photos posted on Facebook by Eric Cline.  The season this year runs from June 12 to July 29.

Khirbet Qeiyafa – the Elah Fortress website, with all of its photos and summaries, appears to have been deleted.  The Hebrew U website is infrequently updated.  The excavation season this year is June 20 to July 30.  Blogger Luke Chandler is volunteering and may have some reports in the weeks to come. 

Ramat Rahel – the website provides general details only.  Excavations are slated for August 15-26.

Tel Rehov – this is another Israeli dig with (apparently) nothing more than a website.  The season began on June 15 and ends on July 16.

Temple Mount Sifting Project – this blog provides periodic updates on related issues, but daily finds are not reported. 

In addition to the blogs and new sources (for major discoveries), a couple of radio programs are available online to keep you up to date with interviews with the archaeologists.  These include the The Book and the Spade (Gordon Govier) and LandMinds (Barnea Levi Selavan and Dovid Willner).

What should be added to this list?  If you know of something that is regularly updated (blog, Facebook, or twitter), please post a comment or send me an email (address on sidebar).  Thanks!

Beth Shemesh excavations, mat09121

Excavations at Beth Shemesh, 1920s

This photo is from the Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-09121).

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oldest Written Document from Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post reports on the cuneiform tablet noted here yesterday.  The story includes a photo.
Hebrew University excavations recently unearthed a clay fragment dating back to the 14th century BCE, said to be the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem.

The tiny fragment is only 2 cm. by 2.8 cm. in surface area and 1 cm. thick and appears to have once been part of a larger tablet. Researchers say the ancient fragment testifies to Jerusalem’s importance as a major city late in the Bronze Age, long before it was conquered by King David.

The minuscule fragment contains Akkadian words written in ancient cuneiform symbols.

Researchers say that while the symbols appear to be insignificant, containing simply the words “you,” “you were,” “them,” “to do,” and “later,” the high quality of the writing indicates that it was written by a highly skilled scribe. Such a revelation would mean that the piece was likely written for tablets that were part of a royal household.


According to [Wayne] Horowitz, the high quality of the tablet piece indicates that it was most likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

Horowitz said that the fragment, which is made of Jerusalem clay, indicated that Jerusalem was one of the central cities of the area at the time.

“This shows Jerusalem was not a provincial backwater, [but] one of the main cities of the area,” he said.

Mazar called the fragment “one of the most important finds we’ve ever had” and said she hoped it would lead to further big discoveries.

“A piece this small wouldn’t have been sitting there all by itself; there have to be more pieces like it,” she said.

The full story is here.

UPDATE (7/12): The AFP has a larger image here.  The story is now reported by Arutz-7 and Bloomberg.  For more thoughts on the find, see Paleojudaica, Abnormal Interests, and Ferrell Jenkins.

UPDATE #2 (7/12): Joe Lauer sends along links to the Hebrew University press release in English and Hebrew.  The university dates the Late Bronze period to the second century B.C., providing new insights into the abilities of the Hasmoneans to correspond in Akkadian (not really; this is obviously a mistake for millennium).  One point that the press release makes is that the discovery was made during off-site wet-sifting of the debris.  I haven’t seen it in any of the notices, but I believe the fragment was found in early January. 

UPDATE #3 (8/8): For a report on the discovery, see here.

The Haaretz article is here.  Eilat Mazar, in a red blouse, poses with the fragment and Wayne Horowitz here.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cuneiform Tablet Discovered in Jerusalem

Some months ago Eilat Mazar made a unique discovery in her excavations south of the Temple Mount.  The find was kept under wraps until careful analysis could be conducted and the results published in the Israel Exploration Journal.  The discovery is a fragment of a cuneiform tablet that likely dates to the 14th century BC.  Duane Smith has a summary of the article.  In part, he writes:

The tablet is so fragmentary that, other than a few general observations, no meaningful interpretation is possible. As Horowitz and Oshima say, “. . . it is clear that we know next to nothing about the original contents and circumstances of the letter. The main significance of this new find does not lie in what we can learn by reading the tablet, but in the historical and archaeological context of the tablet itself.”

He notes that there are a total of six lines, but no line has more than five readable signs.  But this discovery is quite significant because of what it may tell us about Jerusalem at this time.

The tablet appears to be a copy of an “Amarna Letter,” sent by the king of Jerusalem (Abdi-Kheba?) to the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten living in Amarna (then known as Ahketaten).  More than a century ago, nearly 400 of these texts were discovered in Egypt.  They were initially thought to be forgeries because they are written in cuneiform and not hieroglyphics.  But international correspondence of the day was in Akkadian and scholars soon agreed on their authenticity. 

The Amarna Letters only give us one side of the story, because only the correspondence from Egypt’s neighbors is preserved.  This new discovery suggests that more writings from this period could be discovered in Jerusalem.  Lest you’re tantalized by the possibility that an archive may be a dig away, note that this tablet was discovered in Iron Age fill.

One interesting line of inquiry is a comparison of what we know about Jerusalem in the Late Bronze Age from archaeology versus what we know about Jerusalem at that time from textual sources.  Hint: they don’t seem to match.  I’ve been waiting for a book entitled The Amarna Letters Unearthed, but I’ve haven’t seen it yet.

Amarna Letter from Labayu of Shechem, tb112004946

Amarna Letter from Labayu of Shechem
Displayed in the British Museum

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Weekend Roundup

The area of Adullam where David hid in a cave will be destroyed by oil prospectors, according to a group of concerned citizens.

If you haven’t visited the Pool of Siloam recently (or ever), you may not have seen this artist’s reconstruction of what it looked like.

USC has an article on how new photographic methods and computer technology are helping in the deciphering of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Book and the Spade radio program has a new website.

Robert Cargill notes that National Geographic TV will be airing a special entitled “Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls” on July 27.  You can see a preview online.  I confess that I still have a lot of trouble believing that the primary reason for the placement of the scrolls in the Qumran caves is that fleeing Jerusalemites were hiding them from the Romans.  If that was the case, one would not expect to find all of them within a very small geographic area (not far from a settlement).

The Ancient World Online has updated its extensive list of open access journals.  Among those that might interest readers here are Hadashot Arkheologiyot and the Bulletin of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society (1933-1967).

The May 2010 issue of BASOR is now online for subscribers.  Non-subscribers can see the table of contents and abstracts.

Hershel Shanks talks a little bit about his new autobiography in front of the camera.  He seems to relish his conviction as a thief.  Elsewhere, William Varner reviews the book quite favorably.

What did Jesus look like?  Justin Taylor revisits an article from a few years back that provides some background to the reconstruction made using “forensic anthropology.”

Logos Bible Software has a pre-publication special on the 22 volumes of the Babylonian Talmud and the 28 volumes of the Jerusalem Talmud (Neusner’s translation).  Both for $160 (for a limited time).  By the way, Neusner has written or edited 900 books, which averages out to two a month for the last 37 years. 


Friday, July 09, 2010

Well Preserved Tombs Found near Saqqara

This Old Kingdom tomb with “amazing colors” may be the first in a large cemetery that served ancient Memphis.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Egyptian archaeologists on Thursday unveiled a newly-unearthed double tomb with vivid wall paintings in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara near Cairo, saying it could be the start for uncovering a vast cemetery in the area.

The tomb includes two false doors with colorful paintings depicting the two people buried there, a father and a son who served as heads of the royal scribes, said Abdel-Hakim Karar, a top archaeologist at Saqqara.

"The colors of the false door are fresh as if it was painted yesterday," Karar told reporters.

Humidity had destroyed the sarcophagus of the father, Shendwas, while the tomb of the son, Khonsu, was robbed in antiquity, he said.

Also inscribed on the father's false door was the name of Pepi II, whose 90-year reign is believed to be the longest of the pharaohs. The inscription dates the double tomb to the 6th dynasty, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Old Kingdom, also known as the age of pyramids.

Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the new finds were "the most distinguished tombs ever found from the Old Kingdom," because of their "amazing colors." He said the area, if excavated, could unveil the largest cemetery of ancient Egypt.

The 6th Dynasty dates to 2362-2176 BC (NEAEH 5:2127).  Saqqara is 15 miles (20 km) south of the Giza pyramids (which is on the outskirts of Cairo).

The full article with photos is here.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Synagogue Discovered at Horvat Kur

The Kinneret Regional Project is excavating Tel Chinnereth (Kinneret) and studying its environs on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This season they have focused their attention on Horvat Kur, and their efforts have been rewarded with the discovery of a synagogue dated to the 4th century.

Taken all the available evidence together, it seems very likely, that KRP 2010 has discovered a part of the western wall of yet another ancient Galilean synagogue. Together with the well-known synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin (both ca. 5th / 6th c. CE) and the recently discovered ones at Khirbet Hammam (2nd / 3rd c. CE) and Magdala (1st c. CE), the new synagogue at Horvat Kur (tentatively dated to the 4th / 5th c. CE) adds new evidence for a very tight net of synagogues in a relatively small area on the Northwestern shores of the Lake of Galilee.

You can read the full report here (and a copy here).  Nothing in the article was very clear about its location, so I did a little work to locate the site and create a map using Google Earth.  As you can see, the site is in close proximity to some important New Testament locations.  The distance from the site to the water’s edge is about one mile. 

It will be interesting to see if they discover anything from the 1st century.  The report states that the site was inhabited from the Early Roman to the Early Medieval period, and Early Roman usually designates the period before Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70.


Map of northwest shoreline of Sea of Galilee

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Turkish Hand Grenade Found in Wall near Damascus Gate

An Ottoman weapon was found by conservationists restoring the Old City wall of Jerusalem.  Police sappers were called on to destroy the 100-year-old object.  From Haaretz:

A 100-year-old Turkish hand grenade was recently discovered during conservation work being conducted near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.

A conservation team from the authority, under the direction of conservator Fuad Abu Taa, on Monday was dismantling fragments of crushed stone that needed to be replaced in the city wall, when they found a fist-size chunk of metal in the wall's core.

The story continues here (with photo).

Turkish soldiers marching past American Colony, mat06378

Turkish soldiers marching past American Colony towards Damascus Gate, circa 1900

This photo is from the Early 20th-Century History volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06378).

In May, we posted a then and now photo of Damascus Gate.

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Israeli Government To Build Rival Jesus Trail

Caspari Media Review reports on this article from Haaretz:

Under the title "There's a way but no gospel," Tali Cheruti-Sober reported on the difficulties experienced by Maoz Yinon in opening up the "Jesus Trail." Despite enlisting the support of the Government Tourist Office, erecting basic sign posts, publishing a map, and creating a web site, they have been virtually left to run the trail by themselves - with the help of international volunteers. "'We're talking about a national site in the possession of the State which has no public sponsor to develop and market it,' says Yinon, 'and that's a great pity.'" Typically, however, this is not the end of the story. Rather than investing in the already-existing trail, the Jewish National Fund has plans to implement a rival "Gospel Trail" - "a plan initiated in 2000, buried in the Intifada, and abruptly resurrected. The trail - like its name - is almost identical to the Jesus Trail. ... It will be signposted by black basalt stone markers very expensive to prepare. New trails will be blazed - and the cost: three million shekels, with an option of development. The fact that two virtually identical trails will be marketed separately to the same tourist market does not put off the project's organizer, Amir Moran: 'We are dealing with principles according to which heritage paths are being built and for which comprehensive and organized work is necessary. ... We have no opposition to a private project, but that isn't the way of the State.'"

There must be a lot of better ways to spend that money.  We’ve noted the original “Jesus Trail” before here and here and here.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Acacia Trees

Acacia tree near Eilat, tb022704005

A few months ago, Ferrell Jenkins posted a photo of an acacia tree.  His photo, like the one above, shows a typical tree in southern Israel.  The question I’ve always had is: how can you make the ark of the covenant, measuring about 4 by 2.25 by 2.25 feet, out of a tree with so little wood?

Here’s the answer:

Acacia tree in Wilderness of Sin, tb032506825

I didn’t have my tape measure handy for recording the size, but the people in the photo give perspective.  This tree is located in the Sinai peninsula, only a few dozen miles from Jebel Musa, the traditional location of Mount Sinai.

The observation is made in Picturesque Palestine (1882) that the acacia seyal tree is the “only timber tree of any size in the Arabian Desert” (4: 53).

Wady Feiran, pp4070 Acacia tree in Wadi Feiran.  Source: Picturesque Palestine, vol. 4.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Gold Roman Coin Found Near Sea of Galilee

Excavators at et-Tell (Bethsaida?) have found a gold coin from the 2nd century AD.  From the Omaha World-Herald:

The coin, which weighs 7 grams, is 97.6 percent gold, Arav said.

The find was unexpected because Bethsaida primarily was home to humble fishermen, he said. Arav said somebody must have been doing good business a little more than 100 years after the birth of Christ.

The gold coin, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, carries the image of Antoninus Pius, the 15th Roman emperor, who reigned between A.D. 138 and 161.

“Before newspapers, coins fulfilled the job of disseminating information. In our case, Antoninus wanted to announce that the Senate designated him to the position of a consul for the second time. This position was among the highest at Rome.”

The Bethsaida coin is the first Antoninus Pius gold coin excavated in Israel, Arav said, and as far as he knows, it's the first discovery of this particular kind of coin.

The full story is here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The first excavation season at Tel Burna has concluded.  They had a fantastic season, and they would be most grateful for some support.  They’ll have aerial photos taken and posted on the blog next week.

Robert Cargill has written an insightful essay on the “Misuse of Archaeology for Evangelistic Purposes,” specifically with reference to the recent “discovery” of Noah’s Ark.

In his recent Asia Minor Report 9, Mark Wilson (Seven Churches Network) notes that the Black Sea Studies series has been made available online for free by the publisher.  In particular, he points to volume 7 as providing useful background on the early Christian communities mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1.

Analysis of the Temple Scroll suggests that it was written at Qumran.

The Israeli army is keeping the ruins of the Samaritan temple closed to the public because they say it is too dangerous.  The Samaritans are unhappy because of the entrance fees they could be charging.

The July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review is available, and the article on the destruction of Pompeii is online for free.  I’m looking forward to reading the article on Jezreel.

The Magdala Center is the Catholic plan for a Galilee pilgrimage center, the “Notre Dame of the Galilee.”  They plan to complete excavation of the on-site “synagogue” (see previous post) in one year and the rest of the city in three years.

If you’ve ever taken a series of photos with the intention of stitching them together to create a panorama, you might check out the free Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor (ICE).

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Chariot Linchpin from Sisera’s Hometown

In the period of the judges,

the Lord sold [the Israelites] into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help (Judges 4:2-3).

Archaeologist Adam Zertal believes he has identified Sisera’s hometown of Harosheth Haggoyim at the site of el-Ahwat not far from the Jezreel Valley.  A bronze tablet discovered in the excavation was a linchpin of a chariot wheel.  Enemies were sometimes carved on these linchpins as a sign of disrespect, not unlike depictions of a king putting his foot on the necks of his enemies.  The woman depicted on the linchpin may be a Hittite goddess.  Zertal connects this artifact to the story of Sisera’s defeat by Deborah and Barak:

This identification enhances the historical and archaeological value of the site and proves that chariots belonging to high-ranking individuals were found there. It provides support for the possibility, which has not yet been definitively established, that this was Sisera’s city of residence and that it was from there that the chariots set out on their way to the battle against the Israelite tribes, located between the ancient sites of Taanach and Megiddo.

Zertal further identifies Sisera as one of the Sea Peoples.  The Philistines are the most well known, but another group were the Shardanu who originated from Sardinia. 

More details are given in the press release of the University of Haifa (with good illustrations).  The Jerusalem Post story has additional information apparently based on Zertal’s new book, Sisera’s Secret, A Journey following the Sea-Peoples and the Song of Deborah.

Anson Rainey argues at length that Harosheth Haggoyim is not a city but a region, and the name should be translated as “district of the foreigners.”  He locates it in the plain east of Megiddo, and thus equivalent to “at Taanach on the waters of Megiddo” in Judges 5:19.  For his analysis, see The Sacred Bridge, pp. 137-38, 150-51.


Photo by Moshe Einav/University of Haifa


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Archaeological Display in Tel Aviv

How many archaeological sites do you suppose there are in Tel Aviv?

From Haaretz:

The Tel Aviv municipality may soon launch a broad initiative to restore and display archaeological artifacts across the city, deputy-mayor Meital Lehavi told Haaretz.

The plan, to be done in close cooperation with the Antiquities Authority, intends for large local artifacts to be presented in parks, squares and other public areas. The pilot for the program will be launched in 10 parks around the city already located close to archaeological sites.

While the plan has not been finalized and has yet to be confirmed by the municipal administration, Lehavi said a delegation from the municipality will visit the state archaeological storehouses in two months to select exhibits for display.

"When people hear 'archaeology' they automatically think of cities like Jerusalem, Megiddo or Akko," Yossi Levi, the central district archaeologist for the Antiquities Authority said. "But Tel Aviv-Jaffo alone has about 128 archaeological sites, which is a lot. Fifty of them are even visible to the naked eye. As these are sites people travel through anyway, the idea is that they can be turned into public exhibits at a minimal cost.

For more details, see the article in Haaretz.

Tel Gerisa from northeast, tb062807381

Tel Gerisa (aka Napoleon’s Hill), with buildings of Tel Aviv in distance