Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Stories of 2010

2010 will be history in a matter of hours and I thought it might be interesting to recall the highlights of the past year.  National Geographic has offered their top 10 discoveries within the broader world of archaeology, and The Book and the Spade has a radio broadcast with their favorites.

I make no pretense that the lists below are in any way objective.  They have not been evaluated by a committee or voted on by the populace.  Nor do they necessarily reflect the most popular stories of the year.  The primary criteria was that the story was posted on this blog and then it caught my eye when I re-read the year’s stories. 

Top Discoveries of 2010:

Cuneiform Tablet Found in Jerusalem (and here)

Temple Discovered in Ataroth, Jordan – see also Ataroth in the Bible and this follow-up post.

Assyrian Vassal Treaty Found at Tell Tayinat

Decumanus Discovered in Jerusalem

Cuneiform Tablet Fragments Found at Hazor

Philistine Temple Identified at Gath

Herod’s Theater Box Discovered at Herodium

Samaritan Synagogue Discovered near Beth Shean

High Level Aqueduct Discovered in Jerusalem

Late Bronze Cultic Items Found Near Jokneam

Chariot Linchpin from Sisera’s Hometown

Synagogue Discovered at Horvat Kur

Top Technology-Related Stories of 2010:

Dead Sea Scrolls To Go Online

iPad May Revolutionize Archaeology

Radar Imaging Reveals Hyksos Capital

Radiocarbon Study and Egyptian Chronology


Hanan Eshel, 1958-2010

Ehud Netzer, 1934-2010

Tomorrow I’ll finish this list with more significant stories, noteworthy posts, and favorite resources from 2010.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Hike Through Galilee

Most tourists see Israel through a bus window.  The advantages of modern transportation are obvious, but the drawbacks are more apparent after a day on the trail.  Some trips incorporate a small amount of walking, but time factors often preclude a half-day, a full day, or more seeing the land as Abraham and David did. In my experience, the land “looks different” when your legs are aching and your canteen is getting low.

Israel is crisscrossed with many well-marked trails, but various logistical challenges prevent most tourists from ever enjoying them.  The short-term visitor to Israel may have difficulty finding a hiking map (especially in English) and determining a safe and appropriate route.

A new opportunity now exists which eliminates a number of these hurdles.  The “Jesus Trail” provides a convenient path through a beautiful and historically significant area.  While I wish that the developers had chosen a different name (such as the “Nazareth to Capernaum Trail”), I am impressed with how much careful work has been done to make this a viable option for many future tourists.

I’ve noted the existence of the trail before (here and here and here and here), but I was unaware of a website that provides numerous resources for the future visitor.  There is too much to mention here, but I would suggest a few sections as of interest to all, whether potential hikers or not.

Start with the map showing the points of interest. From there you can visit individual sites.  I went immediately to the “Roman Road,” but you might prefer the Sea of Galilee or Arbel National Park.  From there I would head over to the blog, which has a number of interesting entries, including one with a free flyer with a map showing historical features and visitor facilities.  If you want to see more detail, check out the day hikes and stage maps.  As I said, this is a very well thought-out program and resource.  There is also a new guidebook (see sample chapters here).  If anything is missing, it must be the adventure that comes from not knowing where you are going.

If you’ve not been to Israel before, you may want to consider a trip that incorporates time on a trail such as this one.  If you have been to Israel, this may be the impetus to get you back for a return trip.  There’s no reason to do the same thing twice!

Plain of Gennesaret from Arbel, tb052000207

Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel.  The view certainly was more enjoyable to me after hiking 70 miles from Dan to the Sea of Galilee on the Israel Trail.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

An Iron Age fortress next to the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv shows evidence of trade with the island of Lesbos in the 8th-7th centuries.  Archaeological work done at Tel Qudadi seventy years ago have only now been published.  For a large version of the image published in the article, see Leon Mauldin’s blog.

The recent storm revealed an underwater cache of weapons from the British Mandate period at Caesarea.  Divers were surprised by the changes they found.  “We knew things would be different after the storm, but the site was changed so much that we could hardly recognize it.”

Israel had a record-breaking number of tourists in 2010.  Christians comprised 69% of all visitors.  “The most visited sites included the Western Wall (77%), the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem (73%), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (61%), the Via Dolorosa (60%) and the Mount of Olives (55%).”

“Archaeologist” Vendyl Jones passed away recently.

Eight Americans were killed in Egypt when their bus crashed into a parked truck.  The tourists were traveling from Aswan to see the temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.

This editorial at the New York Times suggests one way that museums can avoid buying off the black market: excavate the archaeological sites themselves.

Geza Vermes tries to rewrite history in a lengthy article on Herod the Great, arguing in part that Herod was the victim of nasty old St. Matthew who “transformed him into a monster.”  I thought it was interesting how the author preferred the passive voice when describing the deaths of the people that Herod murdered.  For instance, “Augustus with a heavy heart allowed Herod to try his two sons, who were found guilty and executed by strangulation in Sebaste/Samaria.”  Josephus provides the only surviving account of the episode. He writes of Herod, “He also sent his sons to Sebaste, a city not far from Cesarea, and ordered them to be there strangled” (Wars 1.551; 1.27.6).

Scholars will present papers tomorrow (Dec 30) in honor of the retirement of Prof. Amihai Mazar.  Aren Maeir has posted a schedule of the meeting (Hebrew).

The annual symposium in memory of Prof. Yohanan Aharoni is planned for February 17 at Tel Aviv University.  A list of the papers is given here.  Part II is entitled, “Debating the Future of Biblical Archaeology: Do Science and Technology Show the Way?”

If you need your football fix while in Israel, the full-contact amateur Israel Football League may beat staying up until dawn.

If you ever drive to the nature reserve at En Gedi, you may want to avoid parking under the trees next time.

HT: Joe Lauer, Keith Keyser, Gordon Govier

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Exhibit: 19th Century Photography of the Holy Land

Art Daily has a story on an upcoming exhibit at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California:

In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in 19th-Century Photography on view at the Getty Villa from March 2 through September 12, 2011, features some of the first photographic images of the eastern margins of the Mediterranean. This region is one of the most photographed places on earth, with subjects ranging from architectural sites to evocative geography, scenes of pastoral life, and its people. The photographs on view in this exhibition reveal what the travelers of the 1800s discovered on their journey: a landscape of belief, at once familiar yet still mysterious.

In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in 19th-Century Photography features rare, early daguerreotypes, salted-paper prints, and albumen silver prints, created between the 1840s and 1900s by the leading photographers of the time, including Felice Beato, Maxime Du Camp, Auguste Salzmann, James Graham, Louis Vignes, Frank Mason Good, and Frederic Goupil-Fesquet. Due to the delicate nature of photographic materials that cannot be displayed for long periods, this exhibition features more than 100 photographs in total, divided into two installments, each on view for three-months.

Organized into five sections—Jerusalem, Early Views, Peoples of the Bible, Travels in Bible Lands, and Expeditions Beyond the Dead Sea—the photographs, made for study by scholars or produced as souvenirs as well as works of art, were presented by photographers and publishers in ways designed to foster viewers’ religious identification with the region. Subjects include Bethlehem, Nazareth, Petra, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Damascus Gate, Saint Stephen’s Gate, the Ecce Homo Arch, the Al Aqsa Mosque, Walls of the Temple Mount, The Garden of Gethsemane, the Dome of the Rock, the River Jordan, the Pool of Hezekiah, and Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

The story continues here.

HT: Explorator


Monday, December 27, 2010

Caesarea Storm Damage Assessment

Ran Shapira writes about the storm damage to Caesarea in the weekend edition of Haaretz.  Here are a few snippets:

The original breakwater, Margalit explains, was built in the 1950s. On top of the foundations of an ancient ship that had sunk into the seabed not far from the Herodian port, a thick concrete, L-shaped wall was constructed. The whole vertical part, in relation to the coast line, of this wall collapsed entirely in the storm. Indeed, the waves were so powerful that boulders, each weighing a ton, which had been laid on top of the breakwater to prevent people from walking on it, was swept away as though made of cardboard.


About 10 days after that meeting, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov came to Caesarea, where he heard from local authorities about the dangers to the most popular tourist site in Israel after Masada; Caesarea has about 1 million visitors annually. The minister promised to act - but the storm got there before him. The waves, with the help of winds of 100 kilometers per hour and more, fulfilled the darkest of predictions. At present, say Margalit and his colleagues, the ancient port is totally vulnerable to the waves, and there is no way to assess how much damage has been caused below the surface of the water. Other areas of Caesarea archaeological park, north and south of the port, did not benefit even from the protection of the breakwater, meager as it was.


"We have to merge our efforts to rescue the site," says Margalit. "However, the means at our disposal are meager. The state must join the efforts. If we don't provide an immediate solution, in the next storm the site at Caesarea is liable to collapse totally, including more of the ancient port, the aqueduct, the city wall from the Byzantine period and so on. Even the Roman theater has been left defenseless. If it is hurt, [singer] Shlomo Artzi will have to find another venue for his performances."

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dating the Destructions of Iron Age Megiddo

For the last fifteen years, scholars have disagreed sharply over the archaeological chronology of the early Iron II period.  Israel Finkelstein began advocating a “Low Chronology” in the mid-1990s, with the result that the time of Kings David and Solomon was said to be poor and insignificant. 

Now Finkelstein plans to put his theory to four tests, using scientific analysis of the destruction material from his excavations of Megiddo.  The implications may be far-reaching, though I’m dubious about the claim that they’ll settle matters “once and for all.”  From Matthew Kalman at AOL News:

Now Finkelstein, together with Tel Aviv University physicist Eli Piazetsky, is spearheading an international effort to settle the chronology once and for all. A scientific conference at Megiddo, "Synchronizing Clocks at Armageddon," launched a project to analyze 10 separate Iron Age destruction layers using four state-of-the-art scientific techniques: radiocarbon dating, optical luminescence, archaeo-magnetism and rehydroxilation -- a new method pioneered in Britain within the last two years.

Megiddo is the only place in the world with so many destruction layers -- archaeological strata resulting from a calamity such as a fire, earthquake or conquest -- that resulted from a specific event in history.

Finkelstein told AOL News that the site provides "a very dense, accurate and reliable ladder for the dating of the different monuments and the layers."

"These destruction layers can serve as anchors for the entire system of dating," Finkelstein said. "Megiddo is the only site which has 10 layers with radiocarbon results for the period 1300 to 800 B.C.E."

The full article explains the techniques and how the archaeology of Israel impacts the dating of sites in Greece.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Mount of Olives and Bahurim Surveyed

Results of an archaeological survey of the northeastern slope of the Mount of Olives have identified numerous ancient burial caves, some cisterns, and the biblical site of Bahurim.

The report is published in Hadashot Arkheologiyot 122 with a number of photos and illustrations.  The three areas surveyed are located around the eastern exit of the car tunnel passing through the Mount of Olives (map here, photo below).

The burial caves are from the Second Temple period and later, but in some places remains were preserved from the Iron Age.  Ras Tammim in the survey’s Area III has been identified with biblical Bahurim.  This site is best known as the place where Shimei cursed David when he fled from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt.

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! (2 Sam 16:5-7).

Bahurim also is mentioned in connection with the return of David’s wife Michal.  You cannot help but feel sorry for Michal’s second husband who followed, “weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim” (2 Sam 3:16).

About the site (Horvat Ras Tammim), the report states:

The site is situated on a hilltop (Spot Height 704), east of the Mount of Olives. The area at the top of the hill is cultivated farmland, whereas the slopes are covered with vegetation. Potsherds, mostly dating to the Iron Age and the Early Roman and Byzantine periods, were found within the precincts of the ruin. Twenty-one sites were identified.

More details of the survey, including 11 diagrams and illustrations, are published here.

HT: Bible and Interpretation

Mt of Olives, Wilderness, Rift aerial from nw, tb010703219_labeled

Mount of Olives, aerial view to southeast

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mount Carmel Visit

Shmuel Browns has toured Mount Carmel in the aftermath of the fire and posts a report and a number of photographs.  He writes:

On December 2, 2010 a fire erupted on Mount Carmel burning for 4 days until fire fighters could get the blaze under control and destroyed over 50,000 dunam of forest. The JNF estimates that 1.5 million trees were burnt in the fire, some estimates raise the total figure to 5.5 million trees and the Carmel Hai-Bar nature reserve was damaged. We learned that pine trees, soft woods with a lot of resin, are usually killed by the intense heat; their surival mechanism is that the pine cones open in the heat and hundreds of seeds are  scattered. The oak trees, being a hardwood, often are able  to live, the  branches are burned and die but the roots survive and send up new shoots.   According to officials, nearly half of the 150,000 dunams of the Carmel Forest reserve have been destroyed in the fire and it will take at least 20 years to for the forests to grow back.

See his blog for more details and pictures.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Israel Selects 16 New National Heritage Sites

Arutz-7 identifies three of the newly designated sites as Umm el-Qanatir, Gamla, and the Herodium.

A Cabinet-level committee has added 16 new national heritage sites, including two in the Golan Heights and Herod’s tomb in Gush Etzion. Foreign media immediately tried to turn the decision into a political act. 


Also on the list were two archeological sites in the Golan Heights and one in the Judean Hills, south of Jerusalem. All three are familiar to millions of tourists, but at least one foreign news agency implied that their inclusion on the list was a political decision because they are located in areas that are ”occupied.”

The Golan Heights have been a legal part of Israel for 30 years, but most international media still refer to it as “the occupied Golan.” One of the sites is Umm el-Kanitar, where archaeological excavations have revealed a Roman-era Jewish city and synagogue.

The other is on Gamla, a camel hump-shaped hill in the Golan that includes the remains of an ancient Jewish city and which was the site of the 1st century CE Jewish revolt against Roman conquerors. Gamla is a symbol of heroism for the modern State of Israel.

A third site is Herodian, the site of Herod’s palace in eastern Gush Etzion and a popular site for foreign tourists as well as Israelis.

The full article is here.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post story includes additional details.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anderson on “Jesus: The Man”

  • Was Jesus a carpenter?
  • Did Jesus have short hair?
  • Did Jesus grow up with siblings?
  • Did Jesus work in Tiberias and Sepphoris?

These and other issues are discussed in a review article by Paul N. Anderson on the National Geographic special, “Jesus: The Man.”  Anderson recommends the program but his summary and analysis may be read without seeing this episode in the “Mysteries of the Bible” series.

Anderson explains the value of the presentation:

The value of this larger series, and this episode in particular, is that they cast valuable archaeological and historical light on the story of Jesus presented in the gospels. The correctives to some supposed knowledge are helpful in that they create new understandings of Jesus—the realism of his engaging Greco-Roman society, the ethical-political thrust of John’s ministry, economic and social backdrops of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God. The peasant-class status of Jesus and his family helps contextualize Jesus’ ministry, and imagining a worker with stone helps some of his teachings in the gospels come alive, including (I might add) later references to Jesus’ being referred to as the stone the builders rejected, which ironically became the cornerstone of the new household of God (Ac. 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:1-10).

The article is worth reading.  One quibble: his comment about the scribal conjecture of Bethany gets the evidence backwards.  The earliest manuscripts read Bethany, but Origen couldn’t find a Bethany on the east side of the Jordan River and changed it to Bethabara.  For more, see J. Carl Laney’s article (pdf) or my comment to this post.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The latest issue of DigSight from the Institute of Archaeology at Southern Adventist University reports on a recent survey of Socoh (Kh. Shuweikeh) near Khirbet Qeiyafa as well as summaries of recent related lectures.

The New York Times has a good article about the current drilling project in the center of the Dead Sea.

Reports from recent excavations at Jericho by the University of Rome are now available online.

A rabbi has recently forbidden visits to the Western Wall on Shabbat because the security cameras violate Jewish law.

Stephen Carlson has posted his NTS article, “The Accommodations of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: Κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7” (pdf).  He also links to Mark Goodacre’s podcast on the same subject, “Was Jesus Born in a Stable?”  For my brief thoughts on the issue, see this post from several years ago.  One correction to that post: the 2005 TNIV translates the word as “guest room.”

Studies of minerals at Timna Valley in southern Israel indicate that “slag left over from Iron Age copper smelting shows the Earth’s magnetic field was stronger and more variable than scientists ever imagined.” 

The Second International Conference of the Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center of Jewish History is entitled “Epigraphy and Daily Life – From the Bible to the Talmud” and dedicated to the memory of Professor Hanan Eshel.  Leen Ritmeyer has listed the schedule and Aren Maeir posts a link to the program (pdf).

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite has some interesting thoughts on the “ten lost tribes” at The Bible and Interpretation.

The Explorations in Antiquity Center in Georgia (USA) is building a Roman theater and forum.  Their newsletter is available here (pdf).

The best photographs of the Roman statue found in the sea at Ashkelon are in this article at the Daily Mail.

HT: Jay Baggett and Steve Ulrich

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Give-Away: Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Our last give-away before Christmas is the complete collection of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.  This set was originally released 10 years ago as a four-volume collection, but it has expanded over the years to its current ten volumes.  The Pictorial Library was our first collection and its has remained the most popular.image

To increase significantly your odds of winning this week, you need only guess which individual volume has been the most popular (in terms of sales) over the last year.  We’ll give you a hint: it is one of the Israel volumes.  (You can browse their contents at these links: Galilee, Samaria, Jerusalem, Judah, Negev.)

We’ll choose two winners on Sunday afternoon.  One winner will be selected from those who correctly guess the best-selling volume.  The other winner will be selected from all entries.

We’ve also chosen this give-away to be the occasion of our first-ever online discount of the Pictorial Library.  Through Sunday only, there is a 20% discount.  That’s a savings of nearly $38.  As always, shipping is free in the US and every order will go by USPS Priority and will almost certainly arrive before Christmas.  (If you order and then win, we’ll give you a full refund.)

Click here to get the discount.  For the drawing, only one entry per person, please, but feel free to tell your friends, neighbors, pastors, and teachers.  After the drawing, all names and email addresses will be deleted.  The drawing will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. (PST).

UPDATE (12/19): Not one person correctly guessed that the best-selling volume is “Negev and the Wilderness.”  Most guessed “Jerusalem,” which is the second most popular (with Galilee in third place).  Perhaps “Negev and the Wilderness” sells more individual copies because purchasers interested in Jerusalem or Galilee may be more inclined to purchase the entire set.  Two winners were selected from all entrants.  Congratulations to Niek and Mitch.


Storm Damage along Mediterranean Coast

The Media Line has a good summary of the destruction of archaeological sites by last weekend’s storm. 

Winter’s belated arrival in Israel brought with it the biggest storm in two decades, wreaking havoc. Ships sank, billboards and power lines fell. Where there wasn’t rain, dust storms blanketed the cities and farmland. Coastal regions were pummeled by huge waves lifted by 100-kilometer-an-hour winds.

The storms also caused severe damage to archeological and antiquities sites up and down the country’s Mediterranean coast, most seriously at the Herodian port city of Caesarea. Experts say the cost of restoring the sites will be in the millions of shekels, but in many cases the losses are irretrievable.

“It was the most severe storm we have seen in the last 25 years, since we began measuring the waves along the coast of the Mediterranean,” Matti Weiss of the Israel Meteorological Service, told The Media Line. Waves reached a height of as much as 13 meters in some areas.

Caesarea, where Herod the Great constructed one of the biggest ports in the ancient world between 22 and 10 BC, was hit particularly hard by the storm. A 1950s-era breakwater built off the coast of the site to protect it from the natural force of the sea broke up into three pieces during the storm, and the result was devastating.

The article notes that Caesarea is closed at this time and estimates for restoring the damage are about $17 million.  For more details, continue reading the story here.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bethlehem Booked for Christmas

It was not all that many years ago that Bethlehem was a ghost town, as far as tourists were concerned.  On the day I took the photo below, my students were almost the only tourists in town.  The situation for the city was particularly difficult because a large investment was made in tourist infrastructure in preparation for the year 2000.  But the Arab uprising began in the latter part of that year, and tourists avoided Bethlehem, Jericho, and other Arab areas.

In those years, shopkeepers and hotel proprietors were desperate for visitors to stay longer.  This year, you don’t even that choice, as there is literally “no room in the inn.”

From the Jerusalem Post:

Bethlehem has seen a record number of tourists this year and its thousands of hotel rooms are fully booked for Christmas week, thanks to steadily declining violence in the West Bank over the past few years.


So far this year, 1.4 million tourists have visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus and 90,000 are expected during the Christmas season, a significant increase over last year, according to Israeli government figures. The numbers of visitors have been rising steadily in recent years.


The town's 2,750 hotel rooms are booked solid for Christmas week and four more hotels are under construction. The expected turnout for Christmas week is up strongly from about 70,000 last year.

How long will the upswing last?  If history is any indication, not long.

Bethlehem Church of Nativity courtyard, tb102603522An empty Nativity Square, October 2003

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Land of the Bible has created a flight tour of the area destroyed in the Mount Carmel blaze.  The imagery is from Google Earth and does not show the damage, but you get a good sense for the area affected.  The map showing the burned region is the best I’ve seen.

Leen Ritmeyer has an excellent illustrated discussion on the identification of the “Beautiful Gate” at the Temple where Peter healed the lame man (Acts 3).  He discusses the options and proposes that the Beautiful Gate should be identified with the Double Gate.

Jeff Chadwick will be lecturing on the 8th century at Philistine Gath (Tell es-Safi) at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem tomorrow (12/16). 

Randall Price says that he has verified that the discovery of Noah’s Ark reported some months ago is a fabrication.

An intact, sealed jar discovered at Qumran in 2004 has been opened and analyzed.

Ferrell Jenkins has a link to a series of 162 historic photos posted online by the Palestine Exploration Fund.

The big storm in the Middle East revealed some archaeological treasures, including a Roman statue of a woman that fell into the Mediterranean at Ashkelon.  Ferrell Jenkins has posted some photos of the cliffs of Ashkelon.

Joe Lauer sends along word of a note to journalists about the storm damage in Caesarea:

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Mr. Shuka Dorfman, the director-general of the Caesarea Development Company, Mr. Michael Carasenti and representatives of the Nature and Parks Authority will tour the national park and the surrounding area in order to assess the storm damage. The tour will begin at 10:30 in Caesarea harbor and will be open to media coverage. The Israel Antiquities Authority estimates it will cost millions of shekels to rehabilitate the antiquities that were damaged by the storm throughout the country, some of which have suffered enormous and irreversible damage.

Expect a story and photos in the media later today.  Earlier reports about the damage are posted at Arutz-7, ShalomLife, and the Vancouver Sun.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Search for Sodom under Dead Sea

From Arutz-7:

Russia and Jordan have signed an agreement to search the bottom of the Dead Sea for the remains of the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Arabic news media reported over the weekend. According to the report, a Russian company has agreed to conduct the search in cooperation with Jordanian authorities, picking up all costs – in exchange for exclusive rights to film a documentary of the search. The report quoted one of the Jordanian heads of the project, Zia Madani, as saying that the search would begin in late December.


According to Madani, further evidence that the cities remains are located on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea came after recent NASA photographs of the area indicated that the bottom of the sea is littered with debris and objects not found in other bodies of water. According to the Jordanian, Israel recently sent a submarine down into the Dead Sea in an attempt to explore the bottom of the sea, but discovered that the objects in the NASA photos were on the Jordanian side of the sea. Jordan prevented the Israelis from searching over the border, and now Jordan is seeking to discover what it believes are the remains of the cities by itself.

Israel National News could not confirm that an Israeli submarine had in fact searched the depths of the Dead Sea on such a mission.

The full story is here.  Some archaeologists and biblical scholars have suggested that Bab edh-Dhra on the eastern side of the Dead Sea may be Sodom.  A new season is beginning this week at Tall el-Hammam northeast of the Dead Sea, a site the excavator believes is Sodom (but see my objections here). 

One problem with the theory that Sodom is under the Dead Sea is Zephaniah 2:9, which suggests that the area of the city was known and visible late in Judah’s history, not hidden under the waters.

Therefore, as surely as I live,”
declares the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel,
“surely Moab will become like Sodom,
the Ammonites like Gomorrah—
a place of weeds and salt pits,
a wasteland forever.
The remnant of my people will plunder them;
the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”  (Zeph 2:9)


Monday, December 13, 2010

Bizarre Weekend Weather in Middle East

Sand, rain, snow, and high winds have created a very unusual weekend of weather in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.  Several individual reports I’ve heard have stated that they’ve never seen anything like it.  Snow has fallen in Jerusalem, Amman, and Damascus.  Precipitation levels are as high as 8 inches (209 mm) in Upper Galilee and there’s nearly 8 feet (240 cm) of snow on the Mount Hermon ski slopes.  Wind gusts were reported at up to 70 mph (120 kph). Israel’s ambulance services responded to 129 accidents on Sunday alone.  Egypt and Syria each closed their largest ports and 28 buildings collapsed or partially collapsed in Alexandria, Egypt.  Haaretz reports that an ancient port at Caesarea was destroyed.  There were many injuries and at least 19 related deaths.

This AP story does the best job of covering the effects around the Middle East.  The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz stories include photos. 


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has posted the schedule for the 16th Annual Conference of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies on “New Studies on Jerusalem.”  There are a number of lecture titles that sound very interesting.  Aren Maeir has a link to the official announcement.  All lectures are in Hebrew.

The Israel National Library website has an extensive collection of maps of Palestine, dating from 1462 to 1927.  Thanks to Yissachar Fried for the notice.

I certainly agree with this suggestion of two books ideal for Christmas gifts.

The Al-Jazeera movie entitled “Looting the Holy Land” is “a worthless film, ridden with manipulations, political propaganda, incorrect facts and even lies,” according to Israel Finkelstein

Large parts of Mount Carmel are off limits to visitors following the forest fire.  Rain expected this weekend may result in flooding.  A new report says that one-third, and not one-half, of the forest was affected by the wildfire.  One editorialist is calling it “Netanyahu’s Katrina.”  The fire was the worst in Israel’s 62-year history.

Hydrologists are already predicting that Israel’s water supply will reach record lows next summer, with the Sea of Galilee reaching the black line.  The Bible maintains that God sends rain in response to the nation’s faithfulness, but Israel is working now to get around that problematic relationship.  As the JPost reports:

By 2013, the large desalination plants will be producing a total of 600 of fresh water a year. With that man-made addition, Israel will no longer be at the mercy of however much rain falls from the sky.

The ancient cry, “Give us a king,” has become in modern days, “Build us a desalination plant.”  Somehow I suspect that no matter what they do, they’ll never be able to escape dependence on God.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Give-Away: Archaeological Study Bible

This week’s free item is the Archaeological Study Bible, published by Zondervan in 2005.  This resource has a website of its own, with lots of information and extra features.  If you haven’t done so already, check out the maps page, with 14 free medium-resolution images for free download.

The Bible is available for purchase from Amazon for $31.49, but when I went to verify the price, I was surprised to see that it is available for the Kindle for only $4!  You don’t need to have a Kindle to read it, as software is now available for the PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad, and iPhone.  If you wonder how it works, you can download the “first chapter” free.  (I’m assuming by that they don’t mean Genesis 1.)  In the interest of serving you, I just bought the Kindle version myself, but I am not impressed.  I’ve never used a Kindle book before, so my expectations may be flawed, but you may want to test the free chapter before spending your money.  Among other things, navigating seems quite difficult.  Maybe a Kindle reader can weigh in below if I’m missing something.

For the give-away, shipping is limited this week to US addresses.  All names and email addresses will be deleted after the drawing on Sunday, at 5 pm.  Those reading this by email will need to click through to the post to enter.  Two winners will be chosen.

UPDATE (12/12): Congratulations to winners Jess and Ronald.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Recommended: A Visual Guide to Gospel Events

What would you expect from a book entitled A Visual Guide to Gospel Events?  This new work certainly does not disappoint in the area of illustrations.  Every two-page spread has at least four images.  But while I enjoy good photos, maps, and artwork, the quality of a book really hangs on the text.

The work is subtitled Fascinating Insights into Where They Happened and Why.  Indeed this is what makes the book most valuable to me. 

There are plenty of Bible atlases, but it is the nature of reference works to present the “straight facts.”  Authors usually do not have a lot of room to present their new theory or exciting discovery.  This book, like its predecessor, has no such restraints.A Visual Guide to Gospel Events That is particularly noteworthy when the authors are James Martin, John Beck, and David Hansen.  These scholars are well known for their creative insights and helpful interpretations of Scripture.

It is not easy to capture an argument in a few words, but as I read I marked a few observations that are characteristic of the contribution that this book makes.

From the section entitled, “Magi Follow the Star”:

The star functioned in much the same way as the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that guided Moses and the children of Israel to the Promised Land (Exod. 13:21-22).  In a similar way the star led the Magi to the Promised Land and to the very house of its promised King” (28).

From the section entitled, “Jesus Becomes a Rabbi in the Southern Jordan Valley”:

On his fourth attempt to curse Israel, Balaam spoke of a special child of Jacob....What the Lord had spoken through Balaam was now being fulfilled at Bethany beyond the Jordan with the baptism of Jesus....And so it was that Jesus was publicly proclaimed rabbi and Messiah in this place where the promise of his coming had been proclaimed” (41).

One more, from “The Problem with Pilate’s Quarters”:

This palace of Herod the Great, the one who had tried to kill Jesus as a child, became the setting for the trial that led to Jesus’s execution as an adult” (164).

The book has eight parts, each of which consists of about ten two-page sections:

  • The Birth and Early Years of Jesus
  • Jesus Reveals His Legitimate Authority
  • Jesus’s Parables and Teaching
  • Jesus in the World of the Gentiles
  • Jesus in and around Jerusalem
  • Jesus Faces the Cross
  • The Arrest and Trials of Jesus
  • The Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus

I cannot list all of the sections in each part (but Amazon will let you look inside), but in “Jesus in the World of the Gentiles” you’ll find:

  • Jesus, Jonah, and the Nazareth Ridge
  • Jesus Has to Travel through Samaria
  • Crossing Enemy Lines to the Other Side
  • Great Faith Found in Phoenicia
  • Seven Baskets in the Decapolis
  • Jesus Visits the Region of Caesarea Philippi
  • Fire from Heaven on a Samaritan Village
  • Ten Lepers on the Road to Dothan
  • Did Jesus Visit Sepphoris or Tiberias?

There is a lot to like about this book, including the easy-to-follow format, the scholarly research, and the high regard for Scripture.  This is not a book to buy to sit on your shelf, but it’s one that you’ll want to read through from cover to cover.  The lavish illustrations and the two-page sections make it a very easy work to pick up and read when you have a few extra minutes.  I recommend it to all who believe that history, geography, and archaeology can better help us to understand the Bible.  At only $20, it would make a great Christmas gift for a friend, pastor, or teacher.


Final Offer: 2011 Calendars

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned the 2011 Lands of the Bible Calendar produced by Orange Circle Productions. We have only two dozen copies remaining, so if you want a beautiful calendar at a great price, don’t wait any longer.  One copy, with shipping, is only $12.  A second copy is $9.  Bible professors: one of these would look great in your office next year.

2011 Lands of the Bible Calendar


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Top 10 Things To Do in Jerusalem in Winter

Taking “Jerusalem” and “winter” rather broadly, the Jerusalem Post makes some suggestions.

1. Take a menorah tour

2. Jerusalem Lights the Night, Tower of David Museum

3. Tracking down the best Hanukka doughnut

4. Hearing Christmas Mass

5. New Year's Eve, Sylvester style

6. Saturday cholent lunch

7. (Hopefully) playing in the snow

8. Lupine Hill in the Elah Valley

9. A Kube Fest

10. Succulent Strawberries

My three favorite are 7, 8, and 10.  See the story for all of the details.


Happy Hannukah!

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First Annual Bird-Watching Festival in Galilee

From the Jerusalem Post:

Starting December 16 the Galilee will be hosting its first annual international ornithological festival.

The result of a joint effort and a million-shekel investment by all of Israel’s nature protection organizations and Galilee promoting bodies, the new festival seeks to attract bird and nature lovers from across the country and the world in an aim to maintain the birds’ natural habitats.

“Israel in general is a great place for bird watchers and ornithologists, but the Galilee and the Galilee in the winter in particular, is a jackpot for bird enthusiasts,” said Dan Alon, director of the Israel Ornithological Center and the festival’s organizer. “Israel is located at geographical bridge between three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa, which makes it a ‘bottleneck’ into which hundreds of migrant species converge. Luckily for us, many of the varieties of birds choose to stay in the Galilee in the winter, the environmental conditions turning it into a perfect hotel for birds.

“As director of the Israel Ornithological Center, my main job is protecting the natural habitats of birds and ensuring that they return to Israel year after year. In order to do that we have to make sure that protecting the birds’ habitat remains economical for landowners in the Galilee. One way of doing that is using the bird’s presence to draw in tourists,” said Alon. “The festival, which will run until January 8, is aimed at the general public, not just professional or die-hard ornithologists. By offering a wide range of activities and tours, all focused on bird watching, we hope to attract a large number of people so that the landowners and decision makers in the Galilee realize that keeping the habitats available to birds pays dividends.”

The full story is here.

UPDATE: Arutz-7 has posted the winners from the SPNI Birdwatching Center’s photography contest.

Bird on shore of Sea of Galilee at En Gev, tb102904603Bird near shore of Sea of Galilee


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Palestinian Tourism at Record High

Tourism to Palestinian sites is increasing, according to this article in eTurboNews (HT: Bible and Interpretation):

For the past three years, Dr. Deibes served as the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. Coming from the background of being the head of a cultural heritage center in Bethlehem, her positioning in this filed has chosen to be the right choice. The proof is not her personality or her speeches but rather what the industry has accomplished during her era - a golden one under well-known circumstances. Even before, her traces are well found in the old city streets of Bethlehem and in many other corners. In the educational field, she introduced many opportunities and initiatives such as the EU Tempus Masters program with Bethlehem University, along with many others.

Today, to crown her term in 2010, the tourism contribution within the Palestinian GDP is the highest since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Its share is almost 15%, up from less than 10% last year. It is estimated at US$885 million. Once again, the hotels of Palestine reached their record number at 90 hotels, in addition to more than 40 guest houses and other hostels. Another Palestinian record this year is the giant number in local tourists - 2.7 million, which is almost double from last year. Together with incoming tourists, they are very close to the 5 million mark. With this number, the Palestinian tourism industry has passed a benchmark that has never been reached in the past, and the country is still under occupation.

The story continues here.

The last statement quoted above raises a question.  When were Palestinians most recently not under occupation?  You can cast your vote below. (Email readers may need to click through to vote.)

UPDATE (12/8): As most participants in this poll know, the Palestinians of the West Bank have been under occupation since 1967 by Israel, under occupation 1948-67 by Jordan, 1917-1948 by the British, and 1517-1917 by the Turks.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Images of the Mount Carmel Fire

Powerful images of the tragic fire on Mount Carmel have been collected at The Big Picture.  A 14-year-old boy has apparently confessed to accidentally starting the fire.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Oil Exploration in the Valley of Elah

Matthew Kalman at AOLNews writes:

A baron from the prominent Rothschild family is teaming up with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in an attempt to break Israel's foreign oil dependency by mining vast amounts of oil shale in the unspoiled Elah Valley, where the Bible says David fought Goliath. Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606778

But their business plan has morphed into a family battle all its own because of some unexpected opposition from Lord Jacob Rothschild's second cousin, a celebrated eco-campaigner.


Oil shale mining involves heating the ground to transform buried, tar-like organic compounds into oil, and then extracting it. But the process is criticized for being an inefficient way of getting energy, because it takes so much energy to heat up the ground and create the oil, and then drill for it. Al Gore has described the practice as "utter insanity."

Such technology is economical only when the price of oil is very high, as is the case right now. And Lord Rothschild has said he believes oil shale mining "could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world."

The article continues here.  You can see photos and read more about the biblical significance of the Elah Valley here.  Or you can enjoy a virtual flyover of the valley at

HT: Jay Baggett

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Tragic news comes out of Israel this week as a massive forest fire has killed more than 40 people and destroyed more than 10,000 acres on Mount Carmel.  If you’ve traveled with me in the last 7-8 years, you probably spent a night at Kibbutz Beit Oren, which suffered great damage.  For several photos of the mountain (in better days) and a map, see Ferrell Jenkins’ post.  The fire may not be put out for another week.

Archaeologists are now studying ancient sites without ever visiting them, thanks to a NASA satellite.  Arizona State University archaeologist Stephen H. Savage has been studying Khirbet en-Nahas and with NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite been able to determine where “the ore is coming from; which parts of the site were used for smelting and which were not; and that different parts of the site were drawing ore from different regions.

Jennie R. Ebeling has an interesting and well-illustrated summary of discoveries made at Hazor in recent years. has a brief article summarizing the discoveries at Magdala.

Reading Acts has a brief summary of James Charlesworth’s presentation at NEAS in which he discussed whether the pool of Bethesda and the pool of Siloam were ritual baths (miqva’ot).

Shimon Gibson has the opportunity to publish important archaeological finds from excavations on Mount Zion in the 1970s and he is now raising funds.  Making a donation is particularly quick if you have an Amazon account.  Even a small contribution will help!

The winners have been selected for this week’s give-away of the Holy Land Revealed DVD set.  It is perhaps notable that both winners live outside of the United States. 

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, December 03, 2010

My Favorite (Old) Travel Resources

Last month I pointed readers to a potentially great deal on a Logos Bible Software collection of works of early explorers.  That offer is still available and accepting bids, but I commented at the time that an even better collection could be created.  What are the best resources by 19th-century explorers of Palestine?  Below is what I suggest would be a dream collection.

Burckhardt, John Lewis. 1822 Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. London: John Murray.

Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. 1896 Archaeological Researches in Palestine During the Years 1873-1874. 2 vols. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.

Conder, Claude R. 1878 Tent Work in Palestine. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley & Son.

Conder, Claude R. 1889 Palestine. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

Dalman, Gustaf. 1935 Sacred Sites and Ways: Studies in the Topography of the Gospels, trans. Paul P. Levertoff. New York: Macmillan. [This work is more recent than the others but uniquely valuable and out of copyright, I believe.]

Lynch, W. F. 1849 Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard.

MacGregor, John. 1870 The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red Sea, & Gennesareth, Etc.: A Canoe Cruise in Palestine and Egypt, and the Waters of Damascus, 2nd ed. London: John Murray.

Porter, J. L. 1882 The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria’s Holy Places. London: T. Nelson and Sons.

Robinson, Edward and Eli Smith. 1841 Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petrea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838. 3 vols. Boston: Crocker & Brewster.  [This is probably the most important work in this list.]

Robinson, Edward and Eli Smith. 1871 Later Biblical Researches in Palestine, and in the Adjacent Regions: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1852, 2nd ed. Boston: Crocker & Brewster.

Rogers, Mary Eliza. 1867 Domestic Life in Palestine. Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock.  [Not as well known, but a fascinating read!  It has recently been reprinted.]

Smith, George Adam. 1909 The Historical Geography of the Holy Land. 26th ed. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son. [This is a classic.]

Thomson, William M. 1880 The Land and the Book. Vol. 1: Southern Palestine and Jerusalem. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Thomson, William M. 1882 The Land and the Book. Vol. 2: Central Palestine and Phoenicia. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Thomson, William M. 1885 The Land and the Book. Vol. 3: Lebanon, Damascus, and Beyond Jordan. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Tristram, Henry Baker. 1868 The Natural History of the Bible: Being a Review of the Physical Geography, Geology, and Meteorology of the Holy Land, with a Description of Every Animal and Plant Mentioned in Holy Scripture, 2nd ed. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

1874 The Land of Moab. London: John Murray. [This is in the current Logos offering.]

Twain, Mark. 1869 The Innocents Abroad. Hartford: American Publishing.

Wilson, Charles, ed. 1881 Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt. 4 vols. London: J. S. Virtue & Co. [This has been published in non-Logos format at]

I have excluded works specifically on Jerusalem from this list, as those would make up their own collection.  Also the size and challenge of digitizing another would surely necessitate a separate collection:

Conder, Claude R. and H. H. Kitchener. 1882 The Survey of Western Palestine, 11 volumes. London: The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund. [For a list of volumes, see here.  A reprint edition now sells for about $4,000.  We have produced electronic editions of the maps and index.]

Two final comments: (1) All of the resources listed above were used extensively in the creation of the annotations in the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  (2) A Logos representative read my previous post and contacted me for this list.  I am hopeful that they will catch the vision and bring back these rare and valuable works for our and future generations.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Announced


A full-scale replica of Noah's Ark will be the biggest feature of a creationism-themed amusement park expected to open in 2014 in northern Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Wednesday.

The $150 million park will be built by a for-profit group called Ark Encounter LLC, which is partnering with Answers in Genesis, most widely known for its high-tech Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., Beshear said at a Capitol news conference.

Site selection is not decided, he said, but the organizers have options on 800 acres in Grant County off Interstate 15, about 40 miles from the Creation Museum, which is outside Cincinnati, Ohio. The Ark Encounter website says the park will go in the Grant County site.

“Bringing new jobs to Kentucky is my top priority, and with the estimated 900 jobs this project will create, I am happy about the economic impact this project will have on the Northern Kentucky region,” Beshear said in a prepared statement.

The park is expected to draw 1.6 million visitors a year, Beshear said, citing a feasibility study by America’s Research Group.

In addition to the full-size ark, the complex will include a walled city, live animal shows, a children’s interactive play area, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special effects theater, an aviary, a journey through biblical history, and a first-century Middle Eastern village.

The story continues here.  The official site of Ark Encounter is here.  Answers in Genesis has issued a press release here.  There are several images available here.

My family had the opportunity to visit the Creation Museum mentioned above this summer.  We thought it was excellent and would highly recommend a visit.  This new park will certainly spark more conversation, as it brings closer to home questions such as (1) did Noah build such an ark for a local flood; (2) would all of the animals fit inside; and (3) how much faith would it take for one man to persevere in the construction.  It’s interesting how much opposition there is today to the establishment of a theme park; I can’t imagine that Noah faced any less of a snarky, sneering response.


Proposed Ark Encounter theme park


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Give-Away: The Great Courses: The Holy Land Revealed

This week’s give-away is a treat for several reasons.  First, this resource is brand new.  When I received it in the mail a couple of weeks ago, it was not even listed on the publisher’s website.  Second, the value of this resource is much higher than any previous (or likely, future) give-away item.  The retail value is $375, though it is on sale until the 28th for $99.95.  Third, I have two copies to give away.

I would assume that most of my readers are familiar with The Great Courses.  This company finds the best professors to teach on popular subjects and then makes the audio and/or video lectures available for a fraction of the cost of tuition.  You don’t get credit, but you may save more than a thousand dollars from a comparable university course.

The latest course to be produced is entitled “The Holy Land Revealed.”  The instructor is Jodi Magness, professor at U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She is well regarded for her historical and archaeological research, including her excellent book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls


The course is only available in video DVD format, and the set includes 36 half-hour lectures on 6 DVDs.  You can see a complete list of the lectures in the right sidebar on this page, but I’ll just note a few of particular interest here.

  • Biblical Jerusalem’s Ancient Water Systems
  • Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Discovery and Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Herod as Builder—Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
  • Monumental Tombs in the Time of Jesus
  • Masada—Herod’s Desert Palace and the Siege

I’ve only had time so far to watch three of the lectures.  I chose one of Magness’ specialities: “Discovery and Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”  When that finished, I continued into “The Sectarian Settlement at Qumran.”  (The third: “Synagogues in the Time of Jesus.”)  Because I’ve studied this subject in some measure (and read Magness’ book), I did not expect to learn much.  But I wanted to see how the information was covered, how visual aids were used, and how effective I would judge the course to be overall for people without graduate degrees in the field.  Overall, I would rate these lectures at 9 out of 10.  The information was solid (no surprise) and the visual aids were generally helpful (but why no photo of Cave 1 when she was describing the discovery?).  The presentation was good too, though my first impressions were that it must be hard to lecture directly into the lens of a camera.  I think when The Great Courses calls me up, I’ll request to have a live audience.  (I’m not holding my breath!) 

Another quibble: the course is entitled “The Holy Land Revealed.”  This is a potentially ambiguous title.  I was expecting more of a geography-type course.  But this is clearly focused on archaeological discoveries that illuminate the land’s history.  Not only that, you should know that it is not evenly balanced across the periods.  This is not surprising if you know Magness’ expertise.  Naturally she is going to teach at greater length what she knows best. 

What that means is that only eight of the lectures cover the Old Testament period.  Four are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods, leaving twenty-four covering the Second Temple period.  That means that those who watch this course are going to get a great education in Pharisees, Maccabees, synagogues, Herod, and Jewish revolts.  But if your interest is exploring the archaeological world of the Old Testament in depth, you may want to wait for the next course.  I found on Magness’ university bio that she was preparing a 36-lecture course for The Teaching Company entitled “The World of Jesus.”  I’m guessing that this is the same course, but they changed titles without modifying the content very much.  So if you think of this as a course primarily on “The World of Jesus,” I think you’ll be very satisfied.

There is much more information about the course here, and you can sign up for the free copies below.  The rules: one entry per person, deadline is Friday noon (PST), and after the winners are notified, all names and email addresses will be deleted.

UPDATE (12/3): Congratulations to winners Etti and Alexander.

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Scientists Work with Archaeologists at Megiddo

Nature has a good article about the collaboration between archaeologists and scientists on an excavation. 

Important evidence relating to this debate is being unearthed by a unique collaboration between archaeologists and natural scientists, working shoulder-to-shoulder at Tel Megiddo and several other important Israeli sites. "In the past, all too often, archaeologists and scientists worked together, but it was two parallel lines," says archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. It could take months or even years before finds were sent away to the lab, he says, with results taking just as long to come back. "On top of that, sometimes the samples weren't taken correctly."

The Tel Megiddo dig is different. Chemists make up half of the two dozen excavators on the team, which is being led by Finkelstein and Steve Weiner, a structural biologist specializing in mineralized tissues who is director of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Funded by a European Research Council grant worth €3 million (US$4 million) over five years, the pair hope that their work at Tel Megiddo and elsewhere will show that this model of close collaboration should become the norm for archaeology.


When Nature visited Tel Megiddo in October, excavators were working with brushes, tweezers and teaspoons to gather sediment samples into small plastic vials before taking them to an infrared spectrometer set up on a folding table at the edge of the site. The chemical clues yielded by the spectrometer gave immediate feedback to the diggers as they collected further samples.

Chemical analysis can distinguish between soil layers that look identical to the naked eye, explains Weiner. In a paper published this month, for example, he and his colleagues show how infrared spectrometry can reveal the distinctive origins of seemingly identical layers of calcite, a form of calcium carbonate (L. Regev et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. 37, 3022–3029; 2010). Wood burnt at above 500 °C produces calcite, although the mineral can also come from limestone slaked to make lime for construction, and is found in the soil used to make mud bricks. Each type of calcite has a distinctive infrared signature, providing information that helps archaeologists to distinguish between a floor, a wall or a kiln.

The whole article is worth reading.

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