Thursday, September 30, 2010

Skeleton Wrapped in Gold Foil Discovered on Crete

This tomb in Crete dates roughly from the time of Kings Manasseh and Josiah.  From the AP:

ATHENS, Greece — Greek archaeologists have found an ancient skeleton covered with gold foil in a grave on the island of Crete, officials said Tuesday.

Excavator Nicholas Stampolidis said his team discovered more than 3,000 pieces of gold foil in the 7th-century B.C. twin grave near the ancient town of Eleutherna.

Cemeteries there have produced a wealth of outstanding artifacts in recent years.

The tiny gold ornaments, from 1 to 4 centimetres (0.4 to 1.5 inches) long, had been sewn onto a lavish robe or shroud that initially wrapped the body of a woman and has almost completely rotted away but for a few off-white threads.

"The whole length of the (grave) was covered with small pieces of gold foil — square, circular and lozenge-shaped," Stampolidis told The Associated Press. "We were literally digging up gold interspersed with earth, not earth with some gold in it."

The full story is here.  I have not seen any photos yet.

The archaeologists have produced a few videos of the excavation before this latest discovery:

The ruins are on the north slopes of Mount Ida, the mythical birthplace of the god Zeus.

Mount Ida from Phaistos, tb041204676Mount Ida from Phaistos, Crete 

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Visit Ancient Rome with Google

How many times have you rushed through an ancient site, taking as many pictures as you could, but when it was all done you didn’t realize exactly what you saw?  And when it comes time to label your photos or describe them to a friend, you’re at a loss?  Google Street View could be a useful tool in your attempt to “remember” what you saw and where.  The ambitious program is venturing not only into European cities, but their ancient ruins as well.  Pompeii was put online last year and now work is underway for the ruins of ancient Rome.  Once it is complete, you’ll be able to retrace the steps of your tour and make sure that you don’t confuse the Arch of Septimus Severus with the Arch of Constantine.  BBC News has a 2-minute video describing the project.

Arch of Constantine from east, tb112105093Arch of Constantine, Rome

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1st Century Mosaic Found in Apamea, Syria

From the Syrian Arab News Agency:

Hama, central Syria, (SANA) –The national Archeological expedition found a unique reddish brown mosaic with a length of 4.8 meters and a width of 3 meters in addition to several coins dating back to the 1st century AD.

Head of Hama Antiquities Department Abdul Qader Farzat said the mosaic was uncovered in Chamber No. 5 Acriba Bath inside Apamea which is six meters long, five meters wide and 4 meters high.

Farzat pointed out that the expedition worked mainly on the western corridor of the bath which is 11 meters long where clay dishes dating back to Byzantine Age were found in addition to a wall upon which a clay canal was found.

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Palace of David: A Flawed Proposal

Several years ago Eilat Mazar announced with great fanfare that she had discovered the palace of David.  It was right where she had predicted it would be. Her analysis was based in part on the Bible, which she believed gave clues to where David’s palace was. 

The main verse in Mazar’s proposal is 2 Samuel 5:17:

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold.

The key word for locating the palace is “down.”  Because David went from the palace “down” to the stronghold, the palace must be north of the stronghold because of the topography of Jerusalem. 

But the Bible doesn’t say that David went from the palace, and it doesn’t say that he went to the stronghold of Jerusalem.  In fact, I’m certain that he did not. 

You might read the passage in 2 Samuel 5 yourself.  I think you’ll be surprised that Mazar ever made this proposal, that it has been published twice in Biblical Archaeology Review, and that it (apparently) has never been critiqued.

Then you might check out my analysis published today at The Bible and Interpretation.  Who do you think is right?  Does it matter how one reads the biblical text as long as it agrees with the archaeological discoveries?

image Area of excavations of possible palace of David

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Monday, September 27, 2010

iPad May Revolutionize Archaeology

Archaeologists working at Pompeii are ecstatic about the value of iPads in the recording process, according to this article posted at

For Dr. Steven Ellis, who directs the University of Cincinnati’s archaeological excavations at Pompeii, perhaps the most significant discovery at the site this year was iPad. Ellis credits the introduction of six iPad devices at Pompeii with helping his team solve one of the most difficult problems of archaeological fieldwork: how to efficiently and accurately record the complex information they encounter in the trenches.

Most archaeological researchers today collect data from their sites as others have for the past 300 years. “It’s all pencil and paper,” says Ellis. “You have to draw things on paper, or in preprinted forms with boxes. That’s a problem because all these pages could be lost on an airplane, they could burn, they could get wet and damaged, or they could be written in unintelligible handwriting. And eventually they have to be digitized or entered into a computer anyway.”

Although portable computers offer a paperless solution, field archaeologists rarely use them in the trenches because their size, input limitations, battery life, and sensitivity to dirt and heat make them impractical in the harsh conditions of a dig.


image Photo from article

Ellis, who estimates that iPad has already saved him a year of data entry, plans to increase the number of iPad devices from one to two per trench. “The recovery of invaluable information from our Pompeian excavations is now incalculably faster, wonderfully easier, unimaginably more dynamic, precisely more accurate, and robustly secure,” he says.

Beyond the scope of his project, Ellis sees iPad as revolutionizing the 300-year-old discipline of archaeological fieldwork. “A generation ago computers made it possible for scholars to move away from just looking at pretty pictures on walls and work with massive amounts of information and data. It was a huge leap forward. Using iPad to conduct our excavations is the next one. And I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

The article gives more details and includes a number of photos of the iPad in action.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chalil Raad: Arab Photographer in Palestine

In connection with a new exhibit at Tel Aviv’s Nachum Gutman Museum, Dana Schweppe has a profile in the weekend magazine of Haarezt on the Christian Lebanese photographer Chalil Raad who lived and worked in Jerusalem from 1891 to 1948.  The article wrestles with whether Raad betrayed the Arab Palestinians because he also took photos of Jewish Palestinians (as they were then known). 

[The land of Palestine] could look like an exotic biblical land, like a wonderful wasteland, like a ripe fruit waiting to be picked. All that was needed was the right lens. This was the prevailing mentality when Chalil Raad (whose first name is often given as Khalil ) first picked up a camera and learned to use it. The idea was to photograph Eretz Yisrael not as it was, with its vibrant Palestinian towns and villages, but as the West world wanted to see it: mostly empty and available for the conquering.


"The Zionist and Palestinian narratives [in Raad’s work] exist in parallel but do not converge into a dialogue," Sela says. "The photographs tell about two different places that do not interface, even though this is one small country. Each side describes its own fantastical reality." What sets Raad apart, Sela says, is that his work incorporates both narratives.


Raad, too, "transgressed" by depicting the country from a viewpoint that Edward Said would decades later term "Orientalism." He photographed a young Palestinian woman working in a field and titled the result "Ruth the Gleaner"; an Arab in a kaffiyeh evokes the New Testament parable of the prodigal son; and three Palestinians next to a tree are said to be at Gilgal, where the manna ceased to fall. But Raad went beyond the photographic mainstream. He was the first photographer who created an Arab-Palestinian identity by photographing both the Arab community and the rich local life. He photographed the society in which he lived - villages and cities, commerce and industry, agriculture and family life - and informed it with a presence that had never before been reflected in photography.

Raad sounds like an interesting figure and I would love to see his photographs.  I wonder, however, if the political angle is overplayed a bit here and Raad was more inspired to photograph scenes he found interesting and people who paid him than he was to contribute to some larger political agenda.  Individual and undated photographs lend themselves beautifully to the viewer creating whatever narrative he wishes.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Kazneh of Petra in the 1940s

The impressive “Treasury” is the first building to greet visitors walking through the Siq.  Tucked away from the most direct effects of wind and rain, the Nabatean tomb monument has been well preserved for the last two thousand years. 

Petra, Kazneh, mat04477

Date of photograph: between 1940 and 1946

Since that time, the site has been developed and restorations have been made.  The Treasury became well-known in Western culture with the release of the third Indiana Jones movie in 1989.


The first Westerner to visit Petra in modern times was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.  Before his visit, he converted to Islam and spent several years living in Syria learning the language.  He was only able to enter the site by feigning desire to sacrifice at Aaron’s tomb (1812).  He died only a few years later (1817), but his writings were published posthumously (1822).  Travels in Syria and the Holy Land describes his visit to Petra and how he hid his notes by sewing them into his clothes.  The book is now available for free download at Google Books.  A reprint is $40 at Amazon.

The top photo is one of more than 100 photos of Petra included in the Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-04477).

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Ferrell Jenkins has posted some great shots of the royal theater box at the Herodium, along with one of his recent aerial photos.

A bronze signet ring depicting the Greek god Apollo has been discovered at Tel Dor.  The University of Haifa press release includes a large photo.

A seal dated to 6200 BC has been discovered in the Yeşilova Tumulus in western Turkey.

G. M. Grena argues from LMLK seals and the Bible that Sennacherib did not devastate the economy of Judah.

Yeshiva University is hosting a conference in March entitled “Talmuda De-Eretz Yisrael: Archaeology and The Rabbis of Antique Palestine.” 

You can sign up now for Bible & Archaeology Fest XIII.  I went last year and thought it was excellent.  The list of speakers is a “who’s who” of archaeology and biblical studies.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Limited Offer: 2011 Calendar

Over the last decade, BiblePlaces has contributed photos to many calendars, but we think that the 2011 “Lands of the Bible” calendar is our favorite one yet.  Orange Circle Studio is a leading calendar publisher and they chose some of our favorite pictures to brighten our days through the next year.  Every month has two photographs for these scenic sites:image

  • Capernaum
  • Garden Tomb
  • Michmash
  • Nile River
  • Beth Shean
  • En Gedi
  • Jordan River
  • Dead Sea
  • Dome of the Rock
  • Sea of Galilee
  • Herodium

I have made special arrangements to purchase a limited number at an excellent price.  A large 12” by 12” wall calendar is not inexpensive to ship, but shipping charges are already included in these prices:

  • 1 calendar: $12 (retail $14)
  • 2 calendars: $21 (retail $28)
  • 3 calendars: $29 (retail $42)
  • 4 calendars: $37 (retail $56)
  • 5 calendars: $45 (retail $70)

We could have raised the prices and threw in a 20% off coupon, but we didn’t.  These are absolutely rock-bottom prices.  We have less than 150 left and when they are gone, they are gone.

You can see more about the calendar (with sample images) here, but the discount prices listed above are available only at


Monday, September 20, 2010

Samaritan Synagogue Discovered near Beth Shean

From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

According to Dr. Walid Atrash and Mr. Ya’aqov Harel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery of another Samaritan synagogue in the agricultural hinterland south of Bet She’an supplements our existing knowledge about the Samaritan population in this period. It seems that the structures uncovered there were built at the end of the fifth century CE and they continued to exist until the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, when the Samaritans abandoned the complex. The synagogue that is currently being revealed played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and it served as a center of the spiritual, religious and social life there. In the Byzantine period (fourth century CE) Bet She’an became an important Samaritan center under the leadership of Baba Rabbah, at which time the Samaritans were granted national sovereignty and were free to decide their own destiny. This was the case until the end of the reign of Emperor Justinian, when the Samaritans revolted against the government. The rebellion was put down and the Samaritans ceased to exist as a nation”.

The building that was exposed consisted of a rectangular hall (5 x 8 meters), the front of which faces southwest, toward Mount Gerizim, which is sacred to Samaritans. Five rectangular recesses were built in the walls of the prayer hall in which wooden benches were probably installed. The floor of the hall was a colorful mosaic, decorated with a geometric pattern. In the center of the mosaic is a Greek inscription, of which a section of its last line was revealed:

meaning “This is the temple”.

The full press release and four high-resolution photos are available here (temporary link).

1 Samaritan synagogue and farmstead.  Photograph: SKYVIEW, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3Samaritan synagogue inscription: “This is the temple.”   Photograph courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Ritmeyer on the American Colony Photo Collection

Leen Ritmeyer writes:

I felt like a kid in a candy store when I viewed the “American Colony and Eric Matson Collection” of more than 4,000 photographs of sites and scenes from Palestine (as Israel was called then), Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

My attention was immediately drawn to Volume 2: The Temple Mount and it was exciting to see pictures of views that cannot be seen anymore or of places that are now inaccessible. I have been in most of the underground places on the Temple Mount, such as the Golden Gate, the Double and Triple Gate passages and Solomon’s Stables, but was never able to enter the interior of Barclay’s Gate. It was therefore fascinating to see pictures taken in the 1940′s of the interior and see the views which I only knew from the survey drawings of Charles Warren. Each photograph is described by Tom Powers and his comments are very helpful.

You can read the rest here.  You can purchase the entire collection of 4,000 high-resolution images for only $99 here.  You can download for free the Temple Mount photos that Ritmeyer mentions here.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Sacrificial Lamb

Today is Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the biblical calendar, and the day when atonement was made for the sin of the nation (Lev 16:1-34; 23:26-32).  Jews all over the world observe this day by afflicting themselves through fasting.  Christians generally ignore this day, with the result that they have less understanding of and less appreciation for what Jesus did on the cross.

A good start to remedy this failure is by watching the video that SourceFlix released today.  In just nine minutes, they show the need for a sacrifice, the death of an animal, and the fulfillment in Jesus.  The video is well-produced and it avoids showing the most graphic scenes.  I have been teaching through the book of Isaiah and this comes just in time for me to help the class better understand the imagery of chapter 53.  I also envision using this video for teaching about Passover.

I recommend that you watch it, show your kids, and tell your friends.  For the ancient Israelites and those who stood at the foot of the cross, the concept of a sacrificial lamb was not words on a page.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Greek Goddess Found in Byzantine Hippos

A wall painting of the Greek goddess of fortune was discovered in excavations this season at Hippos (Sussita). From the Jerusalem Post:

A wall painting (fresco) of Tyche, the Greek goddess of fortune, was exposed during the 11th season of excavation at the Sussita site, on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, according to a University of Haifa statement released Thursday.

During the season of excavation, which was conducted by researchers of the University of Haifa, another female figure was found, of a maenad, one of the companions of the wine god Dionysus.

"It is interesting to see that although the private residence in which two goddesses were found was in existence during the Byzantine period, when Christianity negated and eradicated idolatrous cults, one can still find clear evidence of earlier beliefs," said Prof. Arthur Segal and Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, who headed the excavation.

The story continues here.  You can see several enlargeable photos here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Picturesque Palestine: Some Answers

Some have had questions or difficulties in taking advantage of the special offer for Picturesque Palestine.  To that end, we have just posted some answers.


Muslims Building Wall above Garden Tomb

Most visitors to the Garden Tomb do not realize that a Muslim cemetery sits on the hilltop above.  But it is construction work in one cemetery that is recently alleged to threaten the safety of those in another.  The original story in Ma’ariv is summarized in the Caspari Media Review:

According to this report, the Wakf - the Islamic trust most well-known for controlling and managing the Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount - is currently building a wall above the Garden Tomb, "an historic site important to Christianity," which is "threatening to undermine relations between the three faiths in the city." The work is part of the maintenance and expansion of the Muslim cemetery located above the Garden Tomb. "Thus far, high wooden foundations of a height of two meters have been laid at the site, and the work is due to be completed by the addition of concrete on top of the wooden beams."

The managers of the Garden Tomb have protested, fearing that the wall might fall on tourists coming to visit the site. "'They didn't show us any plans or ask for our agreement regarding the building work,' says Steve Bridge, the deputy manager. 'More than a quarter of a million pilgrims visit the site, and a disaster may occur if something is not done properly. Three or four hundred worshippers stand right under the wall every day. Were it to fall while there are visitors here, there might well be a catastrophe the like of which we've never seen.'"

The managers of the Garden Tomb are also worried that the incident might lead to "irreversible damage" to the tomb itself - which in turn would spark a serious crisis in Jewish-Muslim relations in Jerusalem and internationally. "'It's a scandal,' added Bridge. 'We've turned to them with a list of questions, and I hope that we will receive satisfactory answers.'" According to the municipality, the building was begun without permission and in contravention of the customary procedures. The Wakf announced that they intend to sort out the problems with both the municipality and the Garden Tomb.

Gordon's Calvary escarpment from Old City, tb123199207The Muslim cemetery sits atop the hill of the “skull” (center) and the tomb (off the edge to the left).

Tom Powers recently wrote about D. L. Moody’s troubles when preaching in this cemetery.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Picturesque Palestine Special Offer

Yesterday I sent out the latest edition of the BiblePlaces Newsletter, complete with a “scoop” on how to get the digital maps from the New Moody Atlas of the Bible as well as a set of photos of the Israelite capital of Samaria.  You can read the newsletter here and you can subscribe here.

In the newsletter I also noted that in conjunction with a complete overhaul of the BiblePlaces webstore, we were offering a big discount for a brief time.  Today and tomorrow only you can purchase the complete four-volume electronic edition of Picturesque Palestine for $20, including free shipping in the US. 

Picturesque Palestine was published in four large volumes in 1881 and it was an immediate success.  But there were many travel type books imagepublished in the 19th century that are no longer of much interest.  What makes Picturesque Palestine still valuable is that it was written by the best scholars of the day.  If you’ve done much research about the Holy Land, you’ll be familiar with names like Charles Wilson, Henry B. Tristram, Claude Conder, Mary Eliza Rogers, Charles Warren, Edward Palmer, and others.  

The work is also outstanding because of the hundreds of beautiful illustrations.  Color photographs have their value, but I love to study old engravings like this one.  Altogether the collection has 600 engravings, all identified in the filename.  When this set was published about five years ago, we didn’t have programs like Picasa that allowed quick and easy access to photos by searching.  Today you can copy all of these images to your computer and find what you are looking for instantaneously. 

I love this collection.  I love to read the stories and to enjoy the illustrations.  It took a lot of work to digitize the whole, but my hope is that it not only made the work available to a much wider audience (than the limited print editions that cost around $500), but also that it is much more useful than the originals are.

To get the discounted price, use this link.  The collection will be in your cart with the discount applied when you are ready to checkout.  The offer ends on Thursday, 9/16 at 11:59 pm.


Herod’s Theater Box Discovered at Herodium

From the Jerusalem Post:

A royal box built at the upper level of King Herod's private theater at Herodium has been fully unveiled in recent excavations at the archaeological site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the well-known Jewish monarch, the Hebrew University announced in a statement released Tuesday.

The theater, first revealed in 2008, is located halfway up the hill near Herod's mausoleum, whose exposure in 2007 aroused worldwide attention. The highly decorated, fairly small theater was built in approximately 15 BCE, which was the year of the visit of Roman leader Marcus Agrippa to Judea, Emperor Augustus's right-hand man, according to Prof.  Nezter, who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy.

The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater's structure. This impressive room likely hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theater and was fully open facing the stage.

Its back and side walls are adorned with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel; yet, this style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy during those years. This work, therefore, was probably executed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the famous Greek island of Lesbos, said Netzer.

The article continues here.  A similar story is posted at China Daily. For previous stories on Herod’s tomb, see here.  The Smithsonian has a gallery of a dozen photos of the Herodium, the last two of which (11, 12) show the most recent excavations.

HT: Joe Lauer

Herodium theater, tb010210567

Herodium theater

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Questions about a Hasty Excavation in Jerusalem

I am intrigued by a new report of an excavation of a Jerusalem burial cave for several reasons (HT: Roi Brit).  First, the tomb is interesting in its own right, with six kokhim, a standing pit, a blocking stone, and seven complete ossuaries.  The lid of one of these bone boxes was attached by a bronze nail and another had a two-line inscription which read in part, “Cursed is the one who casts me from my place.”  The archaeologists date the cave to the 1st century AD.

But I’m less impressed by the obvious haste with which the tomb was excavated.  The archaeologists make no attempt to mask the conditions under which they worked.  They write:

On the night of January 18, 2009, a rock-hewn burial cave was hastily documented in the Qiryat Shemuel neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Night conditions are less than ideal for archaeology, even when the excavation is in a cave.

The hurried process and poor lighting conditions in the cave precluded a proper examination and description of the cave’s contents.

The operation was so hasty that they could not even get sufficient lighting in place for their examination. 

Artifacts were not removed from the cave and once its documentation was done, it was sealed and covered with soil.

Sealing a cave after excavation is not unusual, particularly when it is not necessarily unique and lies in the way of a building project.  But it is disturbing that artifacts were left in the cave when a proper examination was not done.  The world has not yet been rid of grave robbers.

Due to the haste, only two complete ossuaries and several decorated fragments were documented (Figs. 4, 5)....Careless engravings or traces of faded paint were noted on other ossuaries; these may also be inscriptions that require further research for decipherment.

The obvious question here is who is running the show in Jerusalem.  Do building contractors have more authority than government archaeologists?  It seems to me that this report is a quiet protest against the way antiquities are being treated in Israel.  The tomb and its artifacts are part of the nation’s heritage.  Whatever construction project is involved is likely not part of that heritage.  What is so important that the contractors cannot wait one day while the tomb is properly studied?  Who makes the decision on these matters?  Are they influenced by the deep pockets of the building contractors?  Are Israeli government officials selling out the nation’s heritage to line their pockets? 

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The archive of the American Schools of Oriental Research is now open to the public at Boston University.  Treasures in the collection include diaries of archaeologists, photos of excavations, and historic mementos. 

Wow – check out this yard full of antiquities that a “collector” had amassed before he was arrested.  For the story in English, see here.

Hundreds of looted antiquities have been returned to Iraq from the United States, reports the NY Times.

An article was found in the excavations near the Western Wall.  No kidding—an article.  You don’t want to miss these informative updates from The Kotel site.

iLumina Gold Premium (details) was a great program when it cost $60.  Now it’s $15

HT: Joe Lauer and Roi Brit


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cyrus Cylinder Loaned to Iran

The BBC reports that the Cyrus Cylinder is on a four-month loan to the museum in Tehran.  The British Museum had previously agreed to loan the artifact but delays led the Iranian museum to warn it would cut all ties with the British Museum.

The Cyrus Cylinder is well known because it describes practices of the Persian king (ruled 559-530 BC) similar to that described in the Bible.

I returned the (images of) the gods to the sacred centers [on the other side of] the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (to them) their dwellings (Context of Scripture 2: 315).

As predicted by Isaiah, the Israelites were allowed to return to their land under Cyrus.  This is reported in the last two verses of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra.

Ezra 1:1–4 (NIV) In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: 2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

Cyrus Cylinder, tb112004172

The Cyrus Cylinder is in my “top 15” list of artifacts in the British Museum.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Balsam Plants Living Again at En Gedi

A few years ago, scientists succeeded in raising a date palm tree from a 2,000-year-old seed found at Masada.  Now botanists are attempting to revive the balsam plant.  From an article published last week in Haaretz:

Saplings of the balsam plant that have been cultivated in Kibbutz Ein Gedi's botanical garden for the past two years are a first test of the possibility of bringing the legendary bush, which flourished in the Second Temple period, back to the Dead Sea region, two scholars told a Jerusalem audience yesterday.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Elad association in Jerusalem's City of David, Prof. Zohar Amar and Dr. David Iluz of Bar-Ilan University described their research into the plant's identity.

Since the 1970s, there have been several failed attempts to acclimate the plant believed to be balsam, one of ancient Palestine's most economically significant plants, to modern-day Israel. But the staff of Ein Gedi's botanical garden are optimistic that the current effort will succeed.

The plant is mentioned dozens of times in ancient sources, from the Bible to the Talmud, as well as in Greek and Roman writings. The most prestigious perfume known in the ancient Near East was produced from it, and it was also known for its healing qualities.

The balsam plantations in the Dead Sea area were under direct royal control, and the methods of cultivation and production were a closely guarded secret and a powerful political tool. For example, the balsam groves in Jericho became a bone of contention between Cleopatra of Egypt and Herod the Great. During the Bar Kokhba Revolt, in the second century CE, Jewish fighters uprooted the plants so they would not be captured by the Romans.

The story continues here.  There is quite a bit of variety in the translations for balsam, but you may recall some of these:

Genesis 37:25 (HCSB) Then they sat down to eat a meal. They looked up, and there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead.  Their camels were carrying aromatic gum, balsam, and resin, going down to Egypt. 

2 Samuel 5:23 (NIV) so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.

Song of Solomon 5:13 (NAS) 
“His cheeks are like a bed of balsam,
Banks of sweet-scented herbs;
His lips are lilies
Dripping with liquid myrrh.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Classical City Uncovered on Egypt’s Coast

The AP reports on the excavation of Leukaspis (Antiphrae) on the northern coast of Egypt.  From the AP:

Today, it's a sprawl of luxury vacation homes where Egypt's wealthy play on the white beaches of the Mediterranean coast. But 2,000 years ago, this was a thriving Greco-Roman port city, boasting villas of merchants grown rich on the wheat and olive trade.

The ancient city, known as Leukaspis or Antiphrae, was hidden for centuries after it was nearly wiped out by a fourth century tsunami that devastated the region.

More recently, it was nearly buried under the modern resort of Marina in a development craze that turned this coast into the summer playground for Egypt's elite.

Nearly 25 years after its discovery, Egyptian authorities are preparing to open ancient Leukaspis' tombs, villas and city streets to visitors — a rare example of a Classical era city in a country better known for its pyramids and Pharaonic temples.

The story continues here.  Click on the slideshow link on the side to see seven photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Ataroth Temple Follow-up

The reports last week on the Iron Age temple discovered at Ataroth (Ataruz) did not include comments from the American director who has overseen work on the site for the last decade.  A story in the university’s denomination’s news network gives some more information (and one photo of the temple).

"[This is] the largest and best-preserved temple from the biblical period. It will shed important light on the cultic, or religious, life of that period," said Dr. Chang Ho Ji, chairman and professor in the Counseling and School Psychology department and a collaborating faculty in the History department of La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Riverside, California.


"This is an extremely important find and one that has relationships to biblical history; it is very exciting," said Dr. Lawrence Geraty, president emeritus of the school and an archaeology professor there, in an e-mail to Adventist Review. Geraty pioneered the cooperation among several Adventist institutions, including Atlantic Union College, Canadian Union College, Andrews University, and La Sierra, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, starting in 1984 with a dig at Tall al-'Umayri.

Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) Director General Ziad Saad announced the recent discovery as the largest early Iron Age II temple in the region, dating back to between 1000 and 800 BC.

The multi-chambered temple, which includes a 20-by-20-meter courtyard, yielded over 300 cultic artifacts, leading experts to believe it was once a political and religious base for either the Moabite or the northern Israelite kingdom.

The full report is here.  Previous notices on this blog can be found here and here.  Joe Lauer notes a similar story in the Jordan Times.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Lost City in Egyptian Desert

Yale Alumni Magazine has a fascinating and well-written article on the discovery of Umm Mawagir.  The NY Times article is less interesting but has better illustrations.

For much of the twentieth century, Egyptologists shied away from explorations in the vast sand sea known as the Western Desert. An expanse of desolation the size of Texas, the desert seemed too harsh, too implacable, too unforgiving a place for an ancient civilization nurtured on the abundance of the Nile. In spring, a hot, stifling wind known as the Khamsin roars across the Western Desert, sweeping up walls of suffocating sand and dust; in summer, daytime heat sometimes pushes the mercury into the 130 degree–Fahrenheit range. The animals, what few there are, tend to be unfriendly. Scorpions lurk under the rocks, cobras bask in the early morning sun. Vipers lie buried under the sand.

When Egyptologists finally began investigating the Western Desert, they gravitated first to the oases. But in 1992, a young American graduate student, John Coleman Darnell, and his wife and fellow graduate student, Deborah, decided to take a very different tack. The couple began trekking ancient desert roads and caravan tracks along what they called "the final frontier of Egyptology.” Today, John Darnell, an Egyptologist in Yale’s Near Eastern Languages and Civilization department, and his team have succeeded in doing what most Egyptologists merely dream of: discovering a lost pharaonic city of administrative buildings, military housing, small industries, and artisan workshops. Says Darnell, of a find that promises to rewrite a major chapter in ancient Egyptian history, "We were really shocked.”

The article continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lectures on David and Solomon in Los Angeles

The American Jewish University of Los Angeles is hosting a lecture series in February on the first two kings of the Davidic dynasty.  For registration details, see their website.

What Do We Know About the REAL David and Solomon, the Most Glorious Kings of Ancient Israel, and How Do We Know It?

Sunday, February 27 * 9:30am - 4:30pm

In a fascinating day of biblical and archaeological exploration, a group of eminent biblical scholars and archaeologists will broaden our understanding of the life and times of David, the warrior, and Solomon, the wise. They will consider the facts, sift through the evidence and explain their significance.

Please join us as Mr. Fred Simmons author of King David, A Play in Prose and in Verse on How a Poor, Young Shepherd Boy Became the King of Israel, introduces the program, and Dr. Ziony Zevit, AJU Professor of Biblical Literature and Semitic Languages, introduces the topic and our speakers.

Dr. William Schniedewind, Professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages, UCLA, David and Solomon: How the Bible Tells Their Story and How a Historian Reads It.

Dr. Carleen Mandolfo, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Claremont School of Theology, David and Solomon on the Silver Screen: How Hollywood Tells Their Story and Influences Our Understanding.

Dr. Jon Seligman, Chief Archaeologist, Jerusalem District, Israel Antiquities Authority, The Archaeological Footprints of David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

Dr. Michael G. Hasel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology, Southern Adventist University, Recent Excavations and the Battle Between David, Goliath and the Archaeologists.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Ataroth in the Bible

Following yesterday’s post on the discovery of the Moabite temple at Ataroth, I thought it might be helpful to note the biblical significance of this site.  It’s not a very well-known place, but I was surprised just how much we know from the Bible and extrabiblical sources.

In the time of Moses, Ataroth was one of the cities requested by the tribes of Reuben and Gad following the conquest of the land of Sihon the Amorite (Num 32:3).  You may recall that at first Moses was upset with this request, thinking that they were afraid to enter the Promised Land with its formidable enemies (as was the previous generation).  But after some clarification, Moses granted their request and the Gadites fortified the city (Num 32:34).

The presence of the Gadites at Ataroth is confirmed in the Moabite Stone about 550 years later. King Mesha claims to have conquered the city: “Now the men of Gad hadMesha Stele, Moabite Stone, tb060408127dxo always dwelt in the land of Ataroth, and the king of Israel had built Ataroth for them; but I fought against the town and took it and slew all the people of the town as a satiation (intoxication) for Chemosh and Moab” (ANET 320).

Mesha ruled in the middle of the 9th century, so unless King Uzziah of Judah regained the land, the area around Ataroth may have remained Moabite for several centuries.  Perhaps the recently discovered temple was built in the aftermath of Mesha’s conquest.  An obscure note in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles may indicate that the Gadites had moved further north by the 8th century (1 Chr 5:17).

Scholarly consensus locates biblical Ataroth at Khirbet Attarus/Ataruz. There is also a Rujm Attarus and a Jebel Attarus. Khirbet Attarus is located 8 miles (14 km) northwest of Dhiban on the west slope of Jebel Attarus. MacDonald gives a list of more than a dozen scholars who agree on this identification (“East of the Jordan,” 113).image

Ataroth is east of the Dead Sea and north of the Nahal Arnon, which constituted Moab’s northern border (map from

MacDonald writes, “Khirbat ‘Atarus is a good example for the location of biblical Ataroth, agreeing with both biblical information and the Mesha Inscription. The preservation of the biblical name at the site and archaeological remains from the Iron Age are also evidence for this choice” (114).

MacDonald’s excellent work is available, along with other ASOR titles, in restricted pdf format from Boston University’s website.  (Only viewing is allowed.)

For more on the Hadad figurine discovered in the temple, see Ferrell Jenkins’s post.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Temple Discovered in Ataroth, Jordan

It was just another roadside stop on my quest to find and photograph every biblical site known in the country of Jordan.  While most tourists, even those biblically oriented, don’t visit much more than Petra, Jerash (Gerasa), and Mount Nebo, there are dozens of other sites in Jordan mentioned in the Old Testament.  I was at one of these when my traveling partner decided he had seen enough piles of rocks and was going to wait in the car.

This site, however, was more than a pile of rocks.  Recent excavations had revealed some walls, floors, and a cave.  As I made a circuit around the site, I had the distinct impression that I was looking at a temple.  I cannot recall now all the features that led me to this conclusion, but by the time I returned to the car I was absolutely convinced that I had “discovered” a temple at biblical Ataroth (modern Attarus or Ataroz).

Some later research revealed that excavators from LaSierra University believed they were working on an Iron Age temple.  The natural question for me was whether this was a Moabite temple or an Israelite temple.  I was not privy to the details, and these could be ambiguous in any case (faithless Israelites do not look very different from their neighbors).  Biblically we know that this area, the Medeba Plateau, shifted hands several times between the Israelites and their cousins.  Perhaps you recall Jephthah’s declaration that this land belonged to Israel for 300 years (Judges 11:26).  At the time he was contesting Ammonite control, but at other times it was the Moabites who were trying to expand into the land that Israel conquered under Moses (Numbers 21:21-35).

Yesterday news of the temple discovery was published by the Associated Press (HT: Joe Lauer).  The story notes that about 300 vessels and deity figurines were uncovered, most in the last few months.  It also attributes the temple to the Moabites.  Such a designation does not surprise me for two reasons.  First, the Moabites probably controlled this area more than the Israelites did.  Second, there are political reasons for not associating ancient Israelites with the country of Jordan.  But if you’re thinking that the Israelites would never have a temple outside of Jerusalem, then you haven’t read your Bible very well.  The Israelites had shrines all over the place.  Even Solomon built a high place to the Moabite god for his Moabite wife (1 Kings 11:7).

The AP article has only two photos about the discovery, both showing artifacts.  Below are two images of the temple itself, both taken six years ago.  Apparently it was the recent discovery of the figurines that led to the press conference only now announcing the temple.

Ataroth temple on summit, tb061204042

Iron Age temple at Ataroth

Ataroth temple eastern end, tb061204039

“Holy of holies” of Iron Age temple

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

New Store for Bible Geography Publications

One of my favorite book catalogues to browse is that published each year by Carta.  As the premiere publishing company devoted to the historical study of the land of Israel, Carta can quickly fill up my wishlist.  Among Carta’s best known publications is The Sacred Bridge, by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley.

If you live in the States (or anywhere outside of Israel), accessing Carta’s products is not easy.  They have apparently chosen not to work through the regular publishing channels in the US, thus making it difficult to order their works through bookstores or AmazonEisenbrauns has served as their exclusive US outlet for some years, carrying a certain portion of Carta’s publications.

Carta is now going directly to the public through the creation of their own website and webstore.  Now all of their materials are available for easy purchase, though since the company is based in Jerusalem, shipping costs and time reflect international travel.  Yet if you plan ahead, order several items at once, and don’t need to return anything, you can now purchase what before required a trip to the bookstores of Israel. 

Here are some books and other publications that I would recommend from various categories:

Some of these may be available through Amazon-type stores, and even more may be purchased from Eisenbrauns.  For the full catalogue, the place to go is

I haven’t even made it to what I expected to be the main point of this post, but given limitations of time (mine and yours), I’ll save that for another day.

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