Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Parts of Caesarea are in danger of being destroyed by the erosion caused by ocean waves, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.  At risk is the port, the restaurants, and the sand on the beach.  Officials would like $15 million to protect the site.

Ancient gardens at Ramat Rahel are profiled in a recent article at ScienceBlog.

UNESCO has issued a report which refers to “Rachel’s Tomb” as a mosque.  Israel’s prime minister disagrees.

A couple of archaeologists are lecturing at Queen’s College in New York in November.  Eric Meyers is speaking on the “Origins of Nabratein’s Synagogue” on the 3rd.  Jodi Magness’ topic on the 9th is “Ancient Synagogues: Their Origins and Paradox.”

Anson Rainey will be lecturing on the “Ancient Hebrew Language: Recent Trends in Research” on November 29 in Fort Worth.

Female visitors to Egypt now have some electronic assistance in avoiding the ubiquitous sexual harassment.

A bill in the Knesset may eliminate nearly all hunting in Israel.

More has been published about the untimely death of Ehud Netzer, including this article in Haaretz.

HT: Joe Lauer


Friday, October 29, 2010

Falling Stones Endanger Women at Western Wall

From Arutz-7:

A recent report by engineers says that the condition of the Mugrabi Gate is continuously deteriorating and that a few incidents of rocks collapsing from it were recently reported.

The Mugrabi Gate is the only entry point for Jews and other non-Muslims to the Temple Mount.

Jerusalem District Archaeologist Yochanan Zeligman recently addressed a letter to Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Shuka Dorfman, in which he warned that “a danger exists to the crowd in the women’s section of the Western Wall Plaza, as well to those who walk on the temporary bridge, should stones fall from above.”

The temporary bridge to which Zeligman referred is a wooden pedestrian pathway to the Temple Mount which was constructed in 2007 after a landslide two years earlier made the earthen ramp leading to the Mugrabi Gate unsafe and in danger of collapse. Zeligman’s letter was based on a report he submitted which determined that since the construction in the Mugrabi Gate has not yet been completed, there are sections which are unsupported and could endanger visitors to the site.

Archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai, Jerusalem Prize Winner, member of the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, and lecturer at Bar Ilan University, spoke with Arutz7 on Thursday and expressed his sorrow that the Mugrabi Bridge is not being maintained for illogical political reasons.

The story continues with Barkai giving the background to the ramp.  The Temple Mount was closed to non-Muslims until 2003, not 2008 as stated in the article.

New and old ramp to Temple Mount at Western Wall, tb042605549

New temporary ramp (left) alongside original ramp leading to Mugrabi Gate.  Al Aqsa Mosque and the Mount of Olives are visible in the background.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rainey: Teaching History and Historical Geography

Eisenbrauns has announced a new book by Anson Rainey entitled Teaching History and Historical Geography of Bible Lands: A Syllabus.  Few details about the publication are available beyond its release date in December.  Rainey taught a popular course in advanced Historical Geography for decades at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College).  A lifetime of research culminated in The Sacred Bridge, the most detailed resource on the subject ever written.  I look forward to his latest contribution.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ehud Netzer, 1934-2010

Ehud Netzer, an Israeli archaeologist renowned for his excavations of projects of King Herod, has passed away in Jerusalem following a fall at Herodium a couple of days ago.  Limited details are posted at the blogs of Jim West, Menachem Mendel, and Aren Maeir, as well as the Jerusalem Post.  His fall was reported today in the Hebrew press here, here, and here. Netzer excavated at Herodium, Masada, Caesarea, Jericho, and in Jerusalem.  His recent work, The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder, is an excellent survey that makes available to the public the decades of his research.  His death is a great loss to many.  May his family and friends be comforted.

HT: Joe Lauer


Samaritans Celebrate Feast of Tabernacles

The Samaritan calendar differs from the Jewish calendar, and their celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) began last week.  Haaretz has a brief article about the observance, along with the notice that there are 712 living Samaritans (not “about 500” or “about 600,” as I’ve always heard, but “712”).

The Samaritans, members of an ancient sect closely associated to Judaism, marked the holiday of the Tabernacles, or Sukkot, on Friday.

Followers of the religion held an annual pilgrimage ceremony on Mount Gerizim, the sect's holiest site, near Nablus.

Though the Samaritans numbered well over one million in late Roman times, there are now only 712 remaining members, who live mostly on Mount Gerizim and in Holon.

The newspaper has a gallery of six photos, but you’ll do better to head over to the Denver Post, which has beautiful images of previous Samaritan and the Jewish celebrations.  The Samaritan community also has a page with video (Hebrew) about the event.  China View has even more information about the Samaritan community and Sukkot.

Samaritan Passover, praying standing, mat01846

Samaritan prayers on Mount Gerizim

This photo is from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01846).

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Bethlehem Church of Nativity To Be Restored

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built in the middle of the 6th century, making it more than 1400 years old.  Unlike Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it escaped the Persian destruction in 614 and the Egyptian attack in 1009.  The church not only suffers from age, but from the inability of its occupants to cooperate with each other.  But now the Palestinian Authority has announced plans to renovate the church.  From the Associated Press:

The Palestinian government announced Monday it is planning an ambitious restoration project for the ancient church that marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus, an important Christian site that draws millions of visitors.

The renovation of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity is expected to take several years and millions of dollars, according to Ziad Bandak, an official overseeing the restoration.

Bandak said this is the first comprehensive restoration project on the church since it was completed in the fourth century. He said the roof, pillars and mosaics in the church all need work.

"Rain leaking in has caused great damage to all of those, which led us to move quickly to repair the damage," Bandak said, adding that the project would also aim to fix general wear and tear on the centuries-old church.

The fortress-like church, built in the classic style with a long central area under a basilica lined with columns on both sides, is dark and damp. The main Christmas event, the Midnight Mass, is celebrated in the 19th century St. Catherine's Church next door to the Church of the Nativity.

The Palestinian government has appealed to European and Arab nations to help fund the project, Bandak said. He said the three churches that administer sections of the church have agreed to the project. Officials from the Latin, Greek and Armenian churches could not be reached for comment. Their rivalries have often led to fistfights between monks at the holy site.

The full story is here.  For modern photos of the church, see this Pictorial Library volume.  For historic black-and-white photos, see this American Colony CD

Bethlehem Church of Nativity interior, tb102603439

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

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Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Purchased by SWBTS

From a story posted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Less than a year after acquiring three fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has added three more biblical fragments, making it the largest collection of an institution of higher education in the United States. The new fragments were obtained from a private collector in Europe through the generous gift from a friend of the seminary.

“The acquisition constitutes another significant milestone in the development of our programs in biblical studies and archaeology,” said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern. “We are especially grateful for the friends of Southwestern who have made these acquisitions, as well as three other fragments, possible and for Mrs. Patterson and Candi Finch who worked so tirelessly to get them to Fort Worth.”

The set of six fragments is one more than the set owned by Azusa Pacific University near Los Angeles, which acquired five pieces in 2009. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago also owns a fragment. Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum at Southwestern, noted that having one fragment would be just as important as owning six.

“It is not a race to see who can collect the most fragments,” Ortiz said. “The goal is to get these out of the hands of private collectors and make them available to the public, especially scholars.


Early analysis shows the new fragments include portions of Deuteronomy 9:25–10:1, Deuteronomy 12:11-14, and Psalm 22:4-13. Psalm 22 is known as a prophetic messianic psalm that describes the brutality of Jesus’ death 1,000 years before he was crucified.

The full story is here.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has written a summary of major archaeological stories in September.

Aren Maeir critiques an article in the current issue of BASOR in which three geologists argue that Hezekiah’s Tunnel took about four years to dig and was constructed not by Hezekiah but by his son Manasseh.

Leen Ritmeyer has just released “The Ark of the Covenant: Its Journey from Sinai to Jerusalem” digital image collection.  I’ve used a number of these images from the slide set over the years, but now Leen writes that so much has been added that the CD is “an entirely new presentation.”

I received some criticism for daring to suggest that last week’s 60 Minutes report on the excavations in the City of David would be one-sided.  But according to this eight-point critique by CAMERA, I was right.  Another website responds to the claim that there is “no evidence” of King David in Jerusalem.

Carol Meyers will be lecturing this week in Fort Worth.  Her title is “Holy Land Archaeology: Past Meets Present” and tickets are $20.  Details are here.

Claude Mariottini points out National Geographic’s slideshow on “12 Ancient Landmarks on Verge of Vanishing.”  The photo of Nineveh is striking, but I can’t agree with the inclusion of Hisham’s Palace (Jericho) in the list.  It is surprising to me that the description of the ruins of Famagusta in Cyprus does not mention the city’s ancient name, Salamis.  Barnabas and Saul (Paul) landed here on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:5).

The photograph in the blog header was taken twenty years ago this week.  I was with a group of students from the Institute of Holy Land Studies excavating with Amihai Mazar at Tel Beth Shean.  Even in late October that place is hot!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls To Go Online

The Israel Antiquities Authority is collaborating with Google to put all of the Dead Sea Scrolls online for free.  From Device Magazine:

As part of the celebrations on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its establishment, the Israel Antiquities Authority is launching a unique project – The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library – to document the entire collection of  the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A major lead gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, with additional major funding from the Arcadia Foundation and the support of Yad Hanadiv Foundation, will enable the Israel Antiquities Authority to use the most advanced and innovative technologies available to image the entire collection of 900 manuscripts comprising c. 30,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in hi-resolution and multi spectra and make the digitized images freely available and accessible to anyone anywhere in the world on the internet.  This is the first time that the collection of Scrolls will be photographed in its entirety since the 1950’s.

The IAA announced this morning that it is collaborating with the Google R&D center in Israel in this milestone project to upload not only all of the digitized Scrolls images but also additional data online that will allow users to perform meaningful searches across a broad range of data in a number of languages and formats, which will result in unprecedented scholarly and popular access to the Scrolls and related research and scholarship and should lead to new insights into the world of the Scrolls.

The full story is here.  Many other similar articles can be found here.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Weekend Roundup

National Geographic has a beautiful seven-shot photo gallery of King Herod’s tomb, including good information about the recent discoveries.  The Book and the Spade discusses the tomb in its current radio broadcast (direct link from this page).

Leon Mauldin has posted a beautiful aerial photograph of Aphek/Antipatris

No, I didn’t watch the 60 Minutes piece on the excavations in the City of David.  After a while, dishonest reporting is no longer even entertaining.

The Jerusalem Post has a short article on the stones of Jerusalem, including mention of the British Mandate law requiring that buildings in the city be faced with it.

Logos 4 was released a year ago, but I waited until recently before installing it on my computer.  I’ll add my voice to the chorus praising the program.  If you didn’t already know, each of the base packages includes a module entitled “ Image Library,” which features 350 selected photographs from our collection.

The new Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible arrived in the mail Saturday.  I am impressed by the attractiveness of the pages (full color) and the selection of writers for the notes.  I like the appropriately chosen photos of biblical sites and artifacts, and I was usually pleased with what was written about the controversial issues I checked.  Apparently the whole Bible is online at, but it was a bit slow when I tried.

Last week my family welcomed another son into our home.  He missed the 10-10-10 date by one day, but otherwise he is perfect.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Summer 2010 Discoveries at Qeiyafa

During the summer, I noted Luke Chandler’s tantalizing comment about the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa.  He has now posted twice about the finds, including details and photos of a stable building for mules (?) and the discovery of several weapons.  All of these are dated by the archaeologist to the early Iron IIa period, the time of David.

HT: Ferrell Jenkins

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Construction of a new parking lot underneath the Jewish Quarter was reported to require the first breach of the Old City walls of Jerusalem in more than a hundred years.  Well, not quite.  First, the architect clarified that he was only going under the walls and not through them.  Then Leen Ritmeyer explained that the walls were not breached a hundred years ago for Kaiser Wilhelm II’s visit.  The walls are safe, for now.

A program on the “New Finds in Jaffa Gate” will be held on Oct 12, 2010, 6-8 pm at Jerusalem’s Yad Ben Zvi Institute.  Ofer Sion and Shahar Poni will lecture on the discoveries, including the channel leading to Hezekiah’s Pool.  The lecture notice (in Hebrew) can be found here and here (pdf).  HT: Joe Lauer

A statue of Hathor disappeared from a temple at Serabit el-Khadim and was discovered in the Sinai desert five days later.  Authorities are questioning the site’s security guards.

Following Friday’s report that the Syrian army has a Scud missile base near Damascus, Jay Baggett (Land of the Bible) created a flyover tour to the “hidden” base where the missiles can be easily seen on Google Earth.

Steven Lancaster and James Monson have completed the Geobasics Study Guide, an outstanding and unique work that deserves a post of its own.  In the meantime, you can get a copy for yourself.  The guide is in pdf format and is free.  The accompanying map book is (only) $15.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jericho Celebrates 10,000 Years on 10-10-10

Jericho is attempting to capitalize on today’s unique date in connection with its claim to be a 10,000-year-old city.  From the AP:

Visitors to ancient Jericho Sunday got a rare glimpse at what archaeologists here say is the largest carpet mosaic in the Middle East, measuring nearly 900 square meters (9,700 square feet).

The small red, blue and ochre square stones laid out in complex geometric and floral patterns cover the floor of the main bath house of an Islamic palace that was destroyed by an earthquake in the eighth century. Since being excavated in the 1930s and 1940s, the mosaic has largely remained hidden under layers of canvas and soil to protect it against sun and rain.

Starting Sunday, a small section will be laid bare for a week, as part of Jericho's 10,000th birthday celebrations. The mosaic then will be covered up again until the money is found to build a roof that would serve as a permanent weather shield, said Palestinian archaeologist Hamdan Taha.

Biblical Jericho attracts a steady flow of pilgrims, but the small Jordan Valley oasis is making a major push these days to become a magnet for tourists, presenting itself as the oldest city on earth. Marking the 10,000th birthday Sunday is entirely random, though, with archaeologists saying they could be off by hundreds of years in dating the first human settlement in the area.

Where does the 10,000-year-old claim come from?  First, the issue is not settlement, as remains of earlier sites have been found around the world.  Jericho claims to be unique because of its early fortifications.  Second, Kenyon identified remains of a city (with a wall and tower) from the earliest part of the Neolithic period.  Some archaeologists date the beginning of the Neolithic period to 8000 BC, or 10,000 years before present. 

Jericho Neolithic tower from east, tb091504848

Massive stone tower at Jericho from the Neolithic period

Over the years, various signs have welcomed visitors to the “oldest city in the world.” 

Jericho oldest city in world sign, tb091504778


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Harding Excavations at Beth Shemesh

Last night I was talking with a friend about how to choose a good summer excavation for his college students.  I suggested three main criteria: (1) a site with historic significance and well-preserved remains; (2) an excavation group that fits the character of his own; (3) a program with evening lectures and weekend trips.

These three factors are all present in this report of Harding University’s successful summer excavations at Beth Shemesh.  From the Christian Chronicle:

For more than a decade, Dale Manor, professor of archaeology and Bible at Harding University, has taken history buffs and aspiring archaeologists on summer excavation trips to Tel Beth-Shemesh, Israel.

The groups that Manor usually takes on the four-week digs consist mostly of archaeology students and faculty from secular universities.

“I had never been on a project where the majority of the people were even religious,” Manor said.

But that changed this past summer.

All 14 participants in Manor’s most recent trip were members of Churches of Christ.

“Through the years, a number of folks had indicated interest in coming to excavate, and I pressed them into making a decision,” Manor said of his fellow Christians. 

Beth-Shemesh, about 12 miles southwest of Jerusalem, is where the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, as recorded in I Samuel 6. It’s also the site of some of Samson’s activities during the time of the Judges.

Manor said excavations at Beth-Shemesh since 1990 have uncovered an underground water reservoir and the largest iron workshop found in the Middle East, both dating around the 10th Century B.C.

The story continues here.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Jesus at Hazor

Gordon Franz has just written a unique article entitled “Jesus at Hazor.”  It’s unique because while there are many biblical stories that explicitly mention the city and area of Hazor, none of them are from the New Testament.  Yet Franz has found a number of connections.  He writes:

In this essay, a case will be suggested that Jesus walked past the mound on at least two occasions with His disciples. The first time they might have visited Hazor was when Jesus took His disciples on a tour of the cities and villages of Galilee. The second time might have been when Jesus and His disciples went to Tyre and Sidon. They could have viewed the site from a distance when they went to and from Caesarea Philippi.

Franz gives a careful look at the sites and routes in Galilee that Jesus probably visited and traveled upon, but which are not known by many tourists or students today. He also has written a separate article on spiritual lessons that Jesus might have taught the disciples while at Hazor.

Hazor upper city aerial from west, tbs112220011

Hazor from southwest


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Discoveries at Khirbet al-Mudayna, possible Jahaz

Excavations at Khirbet al-Mudayna (Medeiniyeh) have been slowly and steadily peeling back the history of this large site on the southern side of the Medeba Plateau in Jordan.  Some have suggested that the site be identified with Jahaz, the scene of the encounter between the Israelites under Moses and Sihon the Amorite (Num 21:23; Deut 2:32; cf. Judg 11:20; Isa 15:4; Jer 48:34).  From Exchange Magazine:

For two decades, Laurier archaeology professor Michèle Daviau has led international teams of scholars and students abroad to uncover the hidden lives of people who existed thousands of years ago.

During her most recent excavation in Jordan, Daviau was astounded by the discovery of a limestone statue and several high-status objects that appear to have been imported from outside the region.

The objects were made from a variety of materials: three small black ware vessels, one with an incised design of triangles, two faience cosmetic containers, two faience bottles, one calcite cosmetic vessel, two alabaster vessels, one fine-grain basalt bowl and a steatite cosmetic mortar were discovered in an ancient house dating back to about 600 BC.

The objects were in the same room as a 40-centimetres statue of a male with red paint preserved on his left leg and his hands. Such finds have no parallels in Jordan although their source may be Egypt or Phoenicia, said Daviau.

“The alabaster and faience objects suggest influence from the two superpowers in the region, Egypt and Assyria, but the dynamics whereby these objects arrived at the site are a mystery,” she said. “They may reflect a period of about 30 or 40 years when Egypt controlled this area.”

The principal sites under excavation by Daviau in the Wadi ath-Thamad area are Khirbat al-Mudayna and the Roman fortress of Zuna. The former is a walled Iron Age town (1,000 to 600 BC) situated on a hill with the Nabataean/early-Roman period settlement (100 BC to 150 AD) at the hill’s base. More than 150 sites that date from the Lower Paleolithic to the Ottoman period have been located in the dig’s 10- by 11-kilometre survey area.

The story continues here.  You can read more about the site at BAS’s Find a Dig, learn more about the archaeologist on her university profile page, or check out the Facebook group.

HT: Joe Lauer

Medeiniyeh on Themed, possible Jahaz, from west, tb061204329

Khirbet al-Mudayna on the Wadi ath-Thamad

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Byzantine Mosaics at Shikmona

Tel Shikmona (Shiqmona) sits on the tip of Mount Carmel next to the Mediterranean Sea.  Its location within the modern city of Haifa has made it very accessible to scholars over the last century, beginning with the work of Moshe Dothan in 1951.  Seventeen seasons of excavation were conducted by the Haifa Municipal Museum of Ancient Art (1963-79), with strata discovered from the Late Bronze, Iron I-II, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.  Recently archaeologists have uncovered beautiful mosaics from a Byzantine church building.  The University of Haifa has issued a press release with photos.

Researchers at the Institute of Archaeology from the University of Haifa excavating at Tel Shikmona have exposed magnificent mosaics dating back to the Byzantine Period (sixth century C.E.), which were part of an ecclesiastic structure. The excavations are taking place as part of a project funded by the Hecht Foundation, to expand the Hecht Park in Haifa, Israel, annex it to Tel Shikmona, and transform Shikmona into a public archaeological park.

The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

James Ossuary Case Goes to Judge

Final arguments have been offered in the James Ossuary forgery case against Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch and all that remains is for the judge to issue a verdict.  Matthew Kalman, the only reporter covering the case, writes that “the feeling in the tiny courtroom, where fewer than a dozen people (including only one reporter) have followed the proceedings, was that the prosecution had failed to prove that the items were forgeries or that Golan and Deutsch had faked them.”  It may be several months before the judge rules on the case that began five years ago.  The story at AOL News has the background and quotes from one of the defendants.


Hazor 2010 Season Report

The archaeologists working at Tel Hazor have posted a brief summary of the 2010 season results.  Work was focused on a large structure similar to Yadin’s stable/storehouse complex.

The whole area [M] is divided by seven parallel wide walls, about one meter wide each, running through the area from west to east (Fig. 1). It appears that these walls belong to two large buildings, similar in plan to the Three Halls Structures known from Yadin’s excavations and the renewed excavations in area A-2. The two buildings share a common wall with a 4 meters wide entrance in its center, and thus form one administrative complex of unparalleled size at Hazor and even elsewhere in the period.

The archaeologists conclude that this one functioned as a storehouse.  The report mentions the basalt workshop and cuneiform tablet and includes several good photographs of Area M.

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Lecture Series at Givat Yeshiahu

The Israel Antiquities Authority and Jewish National Fund are sponsoring a series of lectures described in this flyer (HT: Joe Lauer).  Givat Yeshiahu is in the Shephelah, not far from Khirbet Qeiyafa.  From the flyer:

The Israel Antiquities Authority and JNF invites the community at large and local residents to a series of lectures in English on a variety of archeological themes focusing on our regional heritage – past and future.

Oct 13 New Discoveries from Excavations in the Jerusalem Region, by Jon Seligman, Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist, Israel Antiquities Authority

Oct 27 Tel Kaifa – the Ayelah [Elah] Fortress, by Professor Yossi Garfinkel, Hebrew University

Nov 3 Stories of plunder: treasures and forgeries, by Shai Bartura, chief investigator for illegal sale and theft of antiquities

The lectures will be held on Wednesday evenings at 20:00 at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Center near Givat Yeshiahu in the Ayelah [Elah] Valley.

Cost of individual lectures:20 NIS

For further information and registration call: 02-9921136 or 1-800-350-550.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Western Wall Underground Plaza Approved

Approval of massive renovations at the Western Wall prayer plaza bodes ill for any who like a place for quiet reflection.  On the other hand, the changes will better accommodate the increasing crowds visiting the site.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A new plan to completely renovate the Western Wall Plaza was approved by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee on Monday, paving the way for the most drastic changes to the layout of the area since the plaza was created after the Six Day War.

“The goal of expanding the entrances and exits of the Western Wall plaza and will give us a solution for allowing large numbers of worshipers and visitors to enter at once, as well as emergency exits,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, told The Jerusalem Post.


The new plan, which is still in the very initial stages of approval, calls for a large underground plaza to replace the current main entrance, located at Dung Gate. A new visitor’s center will replace the current police building, with areas for educational programming, additional bathrooms, an auditorium, lecture halls, and an exhibition space for the archeological discoveries in the area.

The full article is here.  Other stories about the decision can be found here.

Western Wall plaza, tb010910251

Western Wall prayer plaza

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iSrael on the iPhone

iPhone users in Israel can now download an application that provides detailed information about tourist sites in Israel.  The free application is called iSrael and has been developed by the Israel Ministry of Tourism.  From the Jerusalem Post:

The application has three main sections: sites, tracks and accommodations. Each section can be navigated either by operating the “Around Me” option, which detects the user’s geographic location via GPS and arranges the information by distance from the user’s location; or by choosing the “By Region” option, which presents information according to the part of the country the user wishes to explore.

Once a location is selected, users can choose from a list of sites according to their interests. The list includes themes such as archeology and history, nature and animals, holy places, national sites and parks and gardens.

Choosing a category opens a list of all the relevant available attractions in the area and users can select a specific site out of the options offered.

Clicking on a site opens a new page, which provides a photo and a description of the site as well as helpful information like contact details, hours of operation, a map of the area, a precise address and a link to the attraction’s website.

The tracks section allows users to locate tours based on their interest and physical abilities. The section is divided into hiking tours, bicycle tours, vehicle tours and tours for people with disabilities.

Each tour contains a description of the sites along the way and a map of the route.

For now the selection is fairly limited, but Tourism Ministry officials said that more tours will be available as more are uploaded by the ministry and as other tourism bodies contribute suggested tours.

The full article is here.

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Excavation and Restoration of the Tomb of the Kings

Tom Powers commented on yesterday’s post, but knowing that many do not read the comments, I’m making a portion of it a post of its own.  He is replying to my statement that “Gaining access to the tomb today is more difficult than the average tourist site, but it is well worth it.”

Just a word about access to the "Tombs of the Kings" these days: There is none, as far as I know, for the forseeable future. The main reason is that the site is undergoing complete restoration. In fact, as part of this process folks from the Ecole were called on to excavate on top of the tomb and completely remove all of the accumulated earth. One object was to inspect and then seal the bedrock surfaces there, in order to prevent leakage of water into the tomb chambers. Also of interest, though, was to try to identify any traces of a superstructure -- a nefesh -- over the tomb, especially since Josephus mentions the "monuments of Helena" (War 5:147) as a landmark in tracing the line of Jerusalem's Third Wall. Many have supposed that the tomb featured the sort of pyramids or cones that you have atop the "display tombs" in the Kidron Valley. Long story short: nothing conclusive was found. One byproduct, though: several tons of nice topsoil, which wound up in the garden of the Ecole Biblique!

You can see one artist’s reconstruction of the tomb with the original superstructure in James Finegan, The Archeology of the New Testament, page 315.

I hope that the current restoration work signifies an interest in making the tomb accessible to the public. 

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Sarcophagus of Queen Helene on Display

The most impressive tomb in all of Israel from any of the biblical periods is the “Tomb of the Kings.”  Despite its modern name, the tomb actually belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene, a royal convert to Judaism from a Mesopotamian kingdom.  Her tomb was constructed about a decade after the crucifixion of Jesus a few hundred meters north of the Garden Tomb.  Gaining access to the tomb today is more difficult than the average tourist site, but it is well worth it.

Tomb of Kings facade, tb100803397

Tomb of Queen Helene of Adiabene, aka Tomb of the Kings

One thing you will not see at the tomb, however, is Queen Helene’s sarcophagus.  This 2,600-lb (1,200 kg) stone coffin was shipped to the Louvre following the tomb’s excavation in the 1860s.  I’ve hunted around the French museum looking for this sarcophagus, but without success.  The object has been safely stored in the basement for years and years.  Nevertheless, the French were reluctant to loan the sarcophagus to Israel where people could actually view it.  After a year of negotiation, the sarcophagus has arrived at the Israel Museum where it will be on display for four months as part of the exhibition, “Breaking Ground: Pioneers of Biblical Archaeology.” 

Queen Helene is not mentioned in the New Testament, but there is a connection.  Josephus (Ant. 20.2.5) writes that she supplied food for Jerusalem during the famine that is mentioned in Acts 11:27-30.

During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Haaretz tells the story and provides a photo. For more about the tomb itself, including photos and links, see this page at  Several years ago, archaeologists working in Jerusalem claimed that they located her palace in the City of David.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Weekend Roundup

To everyone who has written me asking how to visit the new excavations at Magdala, Tom Powers answers your question.  He also provides a map showing the excavation and construction areas.

For the first time in 2,000 years, Babylonian texts have been read aloud.  The readings by Cambridge University scholars are available online.

The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library for Logos Bible Software will no longer be on pre-publication discount after this week.  Readers here may be particularly interested in the standard archaeological reference works by Mazar and Stern, but there are many valuable resources in this collection.

Raphael Golb was convicted of 30 counts of identity theft, forgery, and harassment. 

Perhaps the weekend is a good opportunity for you to read my article on the location of David’s palace, if you haven’t already.

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum Lecture Series 2010-11

From the DigSight Newsletter:

October 7, 2010, 7:00 p.m.
Khirbet Qeiyafa 2010: Excavating in the Shadow of Alexander the Great, by Michael G. Hasel (Southern Adventist University)

October 28, 2010, 7:00 p.m.
Uncovering the Past: 50 Years of Biblical Archaeology, by William G. Dever (University of Arizona, emeritus)

November 16, 2010, 7:00 p.m.
Ancient Coins of Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Stronghold on the Road to Jerusalem, by Yoav Farhi (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

March 16, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
In Search for Joshua’s Ai, by Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research)

The museum lecture series is free and open to the public. All lectures are held in the Lynn Wood Hall building on the campus of Southern Adventist University. For driving directions and parking information, visit our website.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Flight Tours over Israel with Google Earth

Google Earth is a fantastic tool that combines high-resolution aerial imagery with a “flying” engine so that users can travel anywhere in the world in seconds.  The problem is that most people don’t know where they’re going.  Jay Baggett is on the way to solving this problem for students and teachers of the Bible.  His new website, Land of the Bible, features more than a dozen video tours through the 3-D landscape of Israel and Jordan.

After you get an introduction on the home page, you can see a list of the flights in the left sidebar.  You’ll notice that Jay has plans to create many more in the future.  If you want a short tour, you can start with “David & Goliath,” which begins David’s hometown in Bethlehem and brings you down to the Elah Valley and the stage for the famous battle.  As the video proceeds, the “tour notes” on the right make it clear what you are seeing and why it is important.

landofthebibleFly-over tour at

For a longer tour, click “From Dan to Beersheba.”  This is a great way to get a feel for the whole land and how one site is related to another.  If you want to “pick up the pace,” you can always click the “fast-forward” button; each click doubles the speed of the video.

Most of the tours are located in the “Pilgrim’s tour of Israel and Jordan.”  Since most visitors see similar sites on the same basic route, this tour will be useful to many tourists even if they were not on Jay’s trip last year.

The videos require a Google Earth plug-in and they do not seem to work in Firefox.  This is a great tool and I look forward to seeing the new fly-overs as Jay finishes them.

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