Monday, January 31, 2011

Wadi Qilt Map

I stumbled across this photo recently and thought that some of my readers might find this map of the Wadi Qilt (Nahal Perat) environs to be helpful.  This is a great area for hiking, but I’d avoid it in the hottest part of summer.

Wadi Qilt sign, tb020503013

Wadi Qilt near Ein Parat, tb020503961

Wadi Qilt near Ein Perat


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hawass: Update on Egyptian Antiquities

Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has posted an update of the looters in the Cairo Museum and elsewhere in Egypt.  He writes:

What is really beautiful is that not all Egyptians were involved in the looting of the museum.  A very small number of people tried to break, steal and rob.  Sadly, one criminal voice is louder than one hundred voices of peace.  The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction.  When I left the museum on Saturday, I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help.  The people were happy to see an Egyptian official leave his home and come to Tahrir Square without fear; they loved that I came to the museum.

The curfew started again on Saturday afternoon at 4.00pm, and I was receiving messages all night from my inspectors at Saqqara, Dahsur, and Mit Rahina. The magazines and stores of Abusir were opened, and I could not find anyone to protect the antiquities at the site. At this time I still do not know what has happened at Saqqara, but I expect to hear from the inspectors there soon. East of Qantara in the Sinai, we have a large store containing antiquities from the Port Said Museum. Sadly, a large group, armed with guns and a truck, entered the store, opened the boxes in the magazine and took the precious objects. Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewellery Museum, National Museum of Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Luckily, the foresighted employees of the Royal Jewellery Museum moved all of the objects into the basement, and sealed it before leaving.

His full update, sent by fax to Europe since the Egypt’s internet services have been shut down, is posted here.  More frequent updates can be found at the twitter account of Margaret Maitland.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Threats to Cairo Museum

The deteriorating situation in Egypt has affected the archaeological museum in Cairo.  While some locals attempted to take advantage of widespread riots by looting the museum, other Egyptians formed a barricade to prevent access.  Two mummies lost their heads before the army arrived.  From the Associated Press:

Early Saturday morning, Egyptian army commandoes secured the museum and its grounds, located near some of the most intense of the mass anti-government protests sweeping across the capital.

Before the army arrived, young Egyptians — some armed with truncheons grabbed off the police — created a human chain at the museum's front gate to prevent looters from making off with any of its priceless artifacts.

"They managed to stop them," Hawass said. He added that the would-be looters only managed to vandalize two mummies, ripping their heads off. They also cleared out the museum gift shop.

The story reports that the museum is still threatened by the potential collapse of a neighboring building.  Tanks are protecting the museum in Luxor.

Cairo Museum entrance, tbs111090011

The Cairo Museum entrance in calmer days

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Friday, January 28, 2011

New Book: Daughter of Lachish

I enjoy historical fiction, but I seem to be unable to combine my interest in the biblical world with a good story because worthwhile books are just not being written.  I was happy to hear that Tim Frank has just published a book set in the late 8th century of Judah.  Daughter of Lachish tells the story of a girl who survived the siege of Sennacherib and tries to rebuild her life in its aftermath.  From the bookjacket:
The mighty Assyrian army has invaded the tiny kingdom of Judah to crush the rebellion against the great king Sennacherib. After a long siege, the Assyrians capture the fortified city of Lachish. They show no mercy to the vanquished people. But one girl is able to escape-Rivkah. She hides in the hills and finds refuge in the company of other survivors. In a devastated land they seek to rebuild their lives. The words of the prophet Micah-spoken to the people over many years-speak to Rivkah anew, allowing her to see the events in a new light.
Drawing on extensive scholarly research, Daughter of Lachish brings to life the world of Ancient Judah. It melds archaeology and biblical studies to tell a story of the people who first heard the words of the Psalms and Prophets. It is a story of one girl, her search for a place in the world, and her quest to make sense of loss and joy. Through her eyes we experience the daily tasks, the seasons of the agricultural year, the bonds that hold together a household and a village, and the tensions that threaten to tear them apart.

Tim Frank brings extensive knowledge of the ancient world to his writing, serving as a supervisor at the Lahav Research Project (Tell Halif), excavating at Tel Burna (near Lachish), and presently working in the Middle Eastern collection at the Cobb Institute of Archaeology.  Judith McKinlay praises Frank’s abilities as a storyteller:
I could not stop reading this story. This is a biblical world engagingly alive, with its carefully researched details of the Assyrian war machine devastating life in eighth-century Judah and its strong characters determined to survive. I felt for Rivkah, survivor of Lachish. With biblical passages interwoven, most significantly the prophecies of Micah, met in person in the latter part of the novel, it is also a tale true to the biblical faith.
—Judith McKinlay, University of Otago

Full details and ordering information are here.  The book costs more than your average mass-market work of fiction and that’s because this isn’t a book for the “mass market.”  For a great education that takes me on a delightful journey, I’m happy to pay a little more, with hopes that we’ll see more such works in the future.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Archaeology in Israel Update

The Bible and Interpretation has the latest “Archaeology in Israel Update” by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg.  He reports on six stories from November and December 2010.

Non-Destructive Investigation by X-Ray: X-ray fluorescence spectrometry allows for non-destructive analysis of clay and other materials.

Aelia Capitolina, A Roman Bathing Pool in Jerusalem: Excavations revealed where soldiers of the Tenth Roman Legion free time.

Monastery of St. George in Wadi Qelt: A new access road has been completed.

Funding for Restoration of Historic Sites: Sixteen sites will receive additional government funding, including the Herodium.

Sudden Fierce Storm, Destruction and Recovery: The site with the most damage is Caesarea.

Early Homo Sapiens from Cave in Israel, 400,000 Years Ago? Ancient teeth were discovered near biblical Aphek.

The full review is here.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Photos and Video of the Jerusalem Water Channel

The channel from the Western Wall area to the Pool of Siloam is not yet open to the public, but you can get a look inside with photos posted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Three high-resolution images are currently available at this page (or try this direct link to the zip file).

You can also watch a 3-minute video posted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, with archaeologist Eli Shukrun showing off the results of seven years of his work.

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More on the City of David Channel

Archaeologist Eli Shukrun gave the Jerusalem Post a tour of the recently completed excavations of the drainage channel that runs from the area of the Western Wall to the Pool of Siloam.  The article includes details that have not been previously reported.  From the Jerusalem Post:

The channel was an early drainage system for the city of Jerusalem, which emptied into the Shiloah Pools on the southern end, in today’s Silwan neighborhood. Archeologists believe that the other side of the channel is near Nablus gate [Damascus Gate]. The channel was extensively excavated more than 100 years ago by British explorer Charles Warren in 1867 and archeologists Bliss and Dickey in the 1890s. The southern section of the channel has been open to the public for many years, but this was the first time that it was discovered that it is a continuous channel, about 600 meters long altogether.


Shukron led the Post on a tour of the channel following the announcement on Tuesday afternoon. The channel is about 1/3 of a meter wide and ranges in height from one to two meters, and is between 15 to 20 meters underground. The channel’s clearing also allowed archeologists to see the lower stones of the Kotel that are currently underground, though Shukron dismissed the Kotel stones as the least exciting part of the project.

“You know the Kotel already; that’s already been overdone,” he said, hurrying past the bottom of the Kotel to point out an underground mikve (ritual bath) and an ancient manhole.


Shukron also pointed out the remnants of previous explorations, including old wires and writing on the wall in French. He stressed that the channel did not go anywhere near the Temple Mount or the mosques, in contradiction to some claims. The channel follows the Tyropoeon Valley, which is the lowest area in ancient Jerusalem. “That’s why I can’t go up to the Temple Mount, because the Temple Mount is high. There’s no way that a drainage pipe could reach there,” Shukron explained.

The full story includes a photo of the ancient manhole.  The excavations are also reported by Arutz-7 and Ynetnews.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Channel Opened from Siloam to Old City

As noted here over the weekend, archaeologists have completed excavation of a drainage channel that ran below street level in the 1st century.  It is now possible to walk along the street and then through the channel from the Pool of Siloam at the south of the City of David up to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park just inside the Old City walls.  In the future visitors will be able to exit the tunnel in the Davidson Center, the archaeological museum at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. 

This will effectively create a protected route of passage for visitors through a sometimes dangerous Arab neighborhood.  Tourists would enter the archaeological area on the north end of the City of David, walk down to “Area G” before entering the Warren’s Shaft.  From this point, visitors have two options.  Those who are more adventurous and prepared to get wet can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  Others may choose the dry Siloam Tunnel.  Once at the Pool of Siloam, the tourist can walk along the newly excavated street (first photo below) and then through the newly excavated drainage channel (second photo below).

Excavated street in City of David, Schick, IMG_4413

First-century street in the City of David.  Photo courtesy of Alexander Schick.

Excavated drainage channel in City of David, Schick, IMG_4425

Drainage channel below first-century street in the City of David.  Photo courtesy of Alexander Schick.

From Haaretz:

The Israel Antiquities Authority has completed an archaeological dig of a tunnel that will enable visitors to cross under the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, not far from the Temple Mount.

The tunnel, which was uncovered during excavations conducted over the past few months, was formerly used for drainage and dates back to the Second Temple. It links the City of David in Silwan with the Archaeological Park & Davidson Center, which is located near the Western Wall.

The Antiquities Authority stressed that the newly uncovered tunnel does not come near the Temple Mount and that it has no plans to dig in that direction.

The digging had been going on for seven years and was delayed for about a year by order of the High Court of Justice, after Silwan residents filed a petition claiming the dig was damaging their homes.

The full story is here.  Earlier reports about these excavations are linked to in a previous post.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sandbars of Syrtis

One of the most exciting action stories in Scripture is the narrative of Paul’s voyage to Rome, interrupted by the shipwreck on the island of Malta (Acts 27).  The vivid detail of these events is best explained by Luke’s presence on the journey and his writing of Acts shortly thereafter.

One of the details that Luke includes is the sailors’ fear that they would wreck on the “sandbars of Syrtis.”

When the men had hoisted [the lifeboat] aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along (Acts 27:17).

What are the “sandbars of Syrtis”?  Gordon Franz has delved into the ancient sources to learn that these were dangerous bodies of water off the coast of North Africa.  He quotes Strabo:

The difficulty with both [the Greater] Syrtis and the Little Syrtis is that in many places their deep waters contain shallows, and the result is, at the ebb and the flow of the tides, that sailors sometimes fall into the shallows and stick there, and that the safe escape of a boat is rare. On this account sailors keep at a distance when voyaging along the coast, taking precautions not to be caught off their guard and driven by winds into these gulfs” (Geography 17:3:20; LCL 8: 197).

Franz concludes:

Why were the sailors afraid of the Syrtis Sands? The Syrtis is two bodies of water in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of North Africa. Even with “good luck” (Procopius’ words), the sailors on the Alexandrian grain ship carrying the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke were terrified because they knew they were doomed if they hit the Syrtis Sands. The grain ships were the largest ships plying the Mediterranean Sea at that time, with a deep draft, and they would easily have gotten grounded on a sandbar in the middle of no-where and many miles from any shoreline! The old sailor’s axiom would hold true: “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!” They would have had plenty of grain to eat on the ship, but not a drop of water to go with it. They were afraid of a slow and painful death by dehydration.

Read the whole article for all the fascinating details.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Alexander Schick passes on word that the excavated tunnel is now open that allows you to walk on the 1st-century street from the Pool of Siloam up the City of David to the area of the visitor’s center.  (A previous report about these excavations is here.)

Leen Ritmeyer is in Jordan and has photos of the newly opened baptismal site at “Bethabara.”

Ferrell Jenkins reports that Egyptian authorities are now prohibiting cameras from entering the Valley of the Kings. 

The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was looted and vandalized during the Jordanian occupation (1948-67), but its renovation has restored some of its former beauty, as you can see in Shmuel Brown’s recent photos.

With the verdict about to be announced in the forgery trial in Jerusalem, Hershel Shanks has written an e-book entitled, James, Brother of Jesus: Forged Antiquities and the Trial of Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch. Shanks believes the James Ossuary inscription was not forged and he plans to release the e-book when the judge issues the verdict.  See the sign-up details here.

The eastern Mediterranean is overdue for a big earthquake, says the Jerusalem Post.  The area has not had a seven or eight magnitude quake in nearly a millennium.  The 1927 tremor was a mere 6.2 on the Richter scale.

The newly re-opened Israel Museum has served half of a million visitors in the last half year. 

The LandMinds radio show has interviewed the recently retired Amihai Mazar, reflecting back on the excavations he directed at Tel Qasile, Giloh, Beth Shean, and Tel Rehov.

A Swiss architect is hard at work restoring and protecting the beautiful mosaics of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho.  A new excavation began at the site last week and new Russian museum is now open.

The season’s excavations at Tall el-Hammam are wrapping up and the team has posted a couple of videos.  The first shows what they have identified as a Middle Bronze temple (with a 10-foot thick wall!) and the second summarizes the finds in the Roman area.  They suggest that this was the city of Livias in the Roman-Byzantine period.

HT: Ferrell Jenkins, Roi Brit

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Noah’s Ark Confession Repudiated

The Hong-Kong based organization Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) announced in April that they had discovered Noah’s Ark.  Their press release included brief video clips showing wooden beams of the alleged ark.  Yet many noted major problems with their purported discovery.  These suspicions appeared to be confirmed with the release two weeks ago of a letter written by two Turkish brothers who confessed to constructing “the ark” for what they thought was a movie set.

The latest turn in the saga is that NAMI has announced that the confession sent to Randall Price was forged.  They have a statement by the brothers claiming that they never wrote the letter.

A few observations:

1. An outside observer can hardly judge as to what the truth is with regard to the letter.  It’s certainly possible that someone forged the letter.  It should be noted that the letter is in Turkish, and since all “ark hunters” are outside Turkey, its creation would have required more than a casual effort.  It did strike me originally that the signatures appear to have been signed by the same person, though that might not be significant if one or both was illiterate.

2. NAMI clearly believes their reputation is on the line, as is apparent from the effort they have taken to refute the letter.  Their response is currently the front page on their website.

3. NAMI has spent a lot of money in their story and they expect to reap a fortune with the production of future “documentaries” and souvenirs.  An outside investigator would certainly want to consider the possibility that they invested additional money into the Turkish brothers so that they would deny writing the letter.

4. Randall Price has removed the letter from his website “pending further investigation of its source.”  The Google-cached page still shows the letter and translation.  (Also here and here.)

5. NAMI essentially claims that Price forged the letter.  They write, “His actions have been completely against the basic principles of a true professing Christian and defying the law.”  Did he defy the law by attacking their work or by posting the letter?  Clearly they intend to suggest that he personally was involved in its forgery.  I believe that their charge is absolutely baseless, but they are now on record for recognizing the difference between truth and error as well as the judgment men face for their actions.

6. The determination that the letter is a forgery does not constitute evidence for the validity of the discovery.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Fishless Sea of Galilee?

Scientists fear that they may not be able to halt the precipitous drop of the fish population in the Sea of Galilee.  In 1999, a total of 2,144 tons of fish was caught.  Ten years later, the total was less than 10% of that (157 tons).  Contributing to the crisis are many years of drought.  From the Jerusalem Post:

The ministry wrote that "the data raised real concerns of an ecological disaster that will occur in the Kinneret following the loss of fish resources, turning Lake Kinneret into a fish-less lake."

The announcement came only a few weeks after the Water Authority released dismal reports on the below-average rainfal that has plagued the lake for the last decade, with water levels reaching their lowest average since the 1920s.

The years 2001 to 2010 treated Lake Kinneret particularly poorly, the Water Authority said Monday. Moreover, according to its summary of 2010, Lake Kinneret has dropped back down to last year’s water level because of the severe lack of rain despite the state having reduced pumping this year.

Except for a few major showers at the beginning and the end of the year, Lake Kinneret’s water levels steadily dropped from May to December. Despite pumping less water out of the lake, the water level has dropped from what it was last year and is now significantly below the bottom red line. In fact, the water level rested below the bottom red line for most of the year, with the exception of the months of March to June.

The full story is here.

Fishermen with fish in net, mat05689Fishermen in the Sea of Galilee, early 1900s
(photo source)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

American Colony Photos for Accordance

I’m excited to announce that the American Colony photo collection is now available as a module for Accordance Bible Software.  Long regarded as the best Bible software on the market, Accordance brings significant advantages to the American Colony collection by providing quick and easy searches as well as tight integration with the Accordance features and modules.

David Lang describes it this way:

The American Colony and Eric Matson collection is a massive (1.4GB) Accordance module containing more than 4,000 historic photographs of the Holy Land and its people. It is fully searchable, and its images will be included any time you use the Search All window to search by Caption. Once you find an image you like, you can drag its thumbnail onto a Keynote or Pages drop-zone to include it in your slide show or document.

You can read the rest of his helpful introduction here.  In my opinion, this is the best collection of historic photographs of the Holy Land anywhere, ever.  I give some very specific reasons for that bold statement here.  In addition to the photographs, the collection is supplemented by thousands of historic quotes and explanatory notes that are a rich resource in themselves.

The creation of this Accordance module makes a good thing better, and I’m delighted that users can benefit from these significant improvements.

You can purchase the Accordance module here.  Those who have already purchased the American Colony Collection from qualify for a crossgrade, which gives a discount of more than $100.

American Colony, Accordance Bible Software

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Netzer Discovered Herod’s Tomb

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes the fascinating firsthand account of how the late Ehud Netzer discovered the tomb of King Herod.  The entire article is available for free online. 

During the 38 years since I began working at Herodium, Herod’s luxurious desert retreat, this architectural masterpiece has yielded many treasures, but none more exciting than the 2007 discovery of Herod’s elusive tomb. Some still question this identification, but more recent discoveries confirm my initial conclusion. Today, I have no doubt of it.


In the summer of 2006, we turned our attention to the slope of the hill, in the vicinity of the monumental stairway that ran up the hill from Lower Herodium to the palace/fortress of Upper Herodium. We first followed an ancient wall along the northeastern slope, hoping that it would lead us to the burial place (a cave?) at the bottom of the round eastern tower. When no clue was found here, in the spring of 2007 we returned to the vicinity of the monumental stairway and slowly we began to reveal some fragments of reddish stone along the northeastern slope that appeared to be from an elegant sarcophagus. Following these stones, we were finally led to the discovery of Herod’s mausoleum.


Not long after we announced the discovery of Herod’s tomb in 2007, my good friend British architectural historian David Jacobson expressed his doubts, noting the lack of any inscriptional identification of the remains. Since then, we have finished digging the whole area around the monument, exposing more of its architectural elements. This has enabled our capable architect-archaeologist Rachel Chachy to draw a detailed reconstruction of the mausoleum. If the same remains had been found near Jerusalem, it might have been risky to identify the monument as belonging to Herod. But this is Herodium, Herod’s personal monument, named for himself—indeed, the only one. And Josephus has told us Herod was buried here. There can be little question who was buried here. The absence of any inscription should not detract from this conclusion.


Duane Roller, professor emeritus at the Ohio State University, is another doubter. A distinguished Roman historian, Roller concedes that the tomb we have found belonged to someone of noble lineage, but he remains convinced that Herod lies at the solid base of the east tower on the summit.

The well-illustrated article is a must-read before your next visit.  If you want to read more about Herod and his construction projects, I would highly recommend Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, by Peter Richardson as well as The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder, by Ehud Netzer.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Top Ten Archaeology Discoveries Related to the Bible

Several months ago Tim Kimberley posted an excellent series of  over at the Parchment and Pen Blog.  Though I missed the initial posting, I did not want to let it pass. His top ten list of biblical discoveries in archaeology corresponds closely to what I would suggest.


10. Assyrian Lachish Reliefs (Sennacherib’s Siege Reliefs)

9. Jehu’s Tribute to Shalmaneser III (Black Obelisk)

8. Caiaphas Ossuary

7. Hezekiah’s Tunnel

6. Pontius Pilate Inscription

5. The Crucified Man

4. Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulet Scroll

3. Jericho

2. House of David Inscription (Tel Dan Inscription)

1. Dead Sea Scrolls

Where can you see these great finds?  Your first stop is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where you can see #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8.  The British Museum holds #9 and 10.  For #3 and 7, you’ll have to get dirty.

Thanks, Tim, for this valuable presentation.  If you have not benefited from Tim’s, I highly recommend it as a quick way to identify locations mentioned in Scripture.

In looking up the last link, I discovered that Tim has put his research into handy book form.  You can purchase a copy of Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology for yourself or a friend here.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Israel Finkelstein has written a brief article explaining why he believes conclusions based on the lack of archaeological evidence trumps the biblical text every time. “Archaeology as a High Court in Ancient Israelite History: A Reply to Nadav Na’aman” (pdf) is published in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures.

James Tabor has posted an update on the Mount Zion excavation project, including news that the 2011 dig season will be conducted at Suba (“Cave of John the Baptist”) instead of on Mount Zion.

Ferrell Jenkins explains why you should check out his extensive collection of links to Biblical Studies resources, especially the Bible Places and Scholarly categories.

Aren Maeir has posted the schedule for the Aharoni Symposium, to be held on February 17 at Tel Aviv University.

In response to the recent story about the “Small Kotel,” Leen Ritmeyer observes:

It is ironic to see that Haaretz is worried about a strong reaction from the Waqf (the Muslim religious trust), while the praying Jews are apparently oblivious to the fact that they are touching stones laid by Muslims, which may have been taken from a destroyed Christian church, in order to repair the ancient Jewish Temple Mount walls.

Western Wall, Kotel HaQatan, tb102903595

The “Small Kotel”

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Jaffa Road Closed to All But “Bus 11”

The latest nightmare for residents (and some tourists) in Jerusalem begins tomorrow.  From Arutz-7:

This weekend, the main street in Israel's capital city will bid farewell to vehicular traffic and take on the official status of a pedestrian walkway.

Jaffa Road was constructed 150 years ago during the reign of the Ottoman Turks and so named because it  then led travellers out of the city to where the road to Jaffa port began and vice versa. It, runs from the Old City’s Jaffa Gate through the center of Jerusalem to the Central Bus Station  and the main intercity highway to Tel Aviv-Jaffa. There is not an inch of space along its length without a commercial establishment, many of which serve the millions of tourists who pass through the capital each year.

For the next four months, until the Jerusalem Light Rail project is completed, “Bus 11” – Israeli slang for a person's two legs – will be the only means of transportation on the road. The sole light rail line, which will run from Pisgat Ze'ev, through the city center via Jaffa Road to Mount Herzl, is not expected to make its debut until April.

Mayor Nir Barkat is hoping that four months of free rides for residents – the light rail will begin charging fares in August -- will ease the rage that is swelling among vendors, consumers and anyone else who is used to working and traveling on Jaffa Road.

It's not at all certain that his plan will be a success, however, because that's not all.

Due to the changes along Jaffa Road, traffic patterns on the two parallel streets – Rehov Agrippas, behind the Mahane Yehuda open-air market and which runs along the newly gentrified Nachlaot neighborhood, and Rehov Neviim, which runs along the super hareidi religious Geula neighborhood on the other side – are also going to be changed.


“Neviim is wide enough for two horses and wagons, approximately,” observed a Jerusalemite who asked not to be identified. “Agrippas will only have buses. No trains for another four months at least? Shopkeepers are aghast.”

The full story is here.  The Jerusalem Post has a similar story here.

Jaffa Road, main thoroughfare of new city, mat06541

Jaffa Road, view towards Jaffa Gate, in the quieter days
of the early 1900s
Credit: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06541/

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Date Pottery by Rehydroxylation

The method of rehydroxylation dating was first announced nearly two years ago, but this story in the Michigan Tech News may make the process more understandable than the earlier technical articles.  And it reveals some of the complexities.

If you are an archaeologist, determining when a pot was made is not just a matter of checking the bottom for a time stamp. Dating clay-based materials like ceramics recovered from archeological sites can be time consuming, not to mention complex and expensive.

Patrick Bowen, a senior majoring in materials science and engineering, is refining a new way of dating ceramic artifacts that could one day shave thousands of dollars off the cost of doing archaeological research.

Called rehydroxylation dating, the technique was recently developed by researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh. It takes advantage of ceramics’ predictable tendency to bond chemically with water over time.

“It’s simple,” says Bowen. First, dry the sample at 105 degrees Celcius. This removes any dampness that the ceramic might have absorbed.

Then, weigh the sample and put it in a furnace at 600 degrees Celsius. The chemically bonded water, in the form of hydroxyl groups (single atoms of hydrogen and oxygen bound together), forms water vapor and evaporates. “When you do that, you mimic what the sample was like when it was originally fired,” says Bowen.

Then weigh the sample again and leave it alone. Over the next several weeks, the ceramic will react with water in the air and gain weight. Plot the gain against a time constant, and the shape of the curve tells you the age of the ceramic. Theoretically.

But it ain’t necessarily so, Bowen discovered, working with his advisors, Jaroslaw Drelich, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and Timothy Scarlett, an associate professor of archaeology and anthropology. “The dating process turns out to be more complicated than the literature suggests,” he says.

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Earliest Winery Discovered in Armenia

From the Associated Press:

The earliest known winery has been uncovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia.

A vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and even a cup and drinking bowl dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in the cave complex by an international team of researchers.

While older evidence of wine drinking has been found, this is the earliest example of complete wine production, according to Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-director of the excavation.

The findings, announced Tuesday by the National Geographic Society, are published in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

"The evidence argues convincingly for a wine-making facility," said Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not part of the research team.

Such large scale wine production implies that the Eurasian grape had already been domesticated, said McGovern, author of "Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages."

The full article is here.  The National Geographic News article has more details and a larger photo.  Some reports have noted the proximity of this discovery to the traditional place where the Ark landed and Noah planted a vineyard (Gen 9:20).


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

American Colony in Jerusalem Collection at the LOC

Readers here are likely familiar with the American Colony in Jerusalem, a “a non-denominational utopian Christian community founded by a small group of American expatriates in Ottoman Palestine in 1881.”  Their photographic enterprise was a thriving industry serving tourists for the first half of the 20th century.  The original glass negatives were donated by the heir of the collection to the Library of Congress in the 1970s and the digitized versions were posted online about five years ago.  That formed the basis of a series of specialized collections that we created here.

Last week the Library of Congress announced the online publication of a new collection of historic documents from the American Colony.

The materials presented in the new American Memory site were donated to the Library in December 2004 by Valentine Vester and the board of directors of the American Colony of Jerusalem, Ltd. The bulk of the collection—received by the Library between 2005 and the present—comprises more than 10,000 items and is housed in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

Many of these items were collected by Bertha Spafford Vester as she wrote her memoir Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City. The digitized version includes a selection of the full collection, namely that which was displayed in a 2005 Library of Congress exhibition. The full press release is here.  The full collection is described as follows:American Colony, April 1, 1925 entry page, opening of Hebrew University

The physical collection focuses on the personal and business life of the colony from the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, through World War I and the British Mandate, and into the formation of the state of Israel.  It includes draft manuscripts, letters, postcards, telegrams, diaries or journals, scrapbooks, printed materials, photographs, hand-drawn maps and ephemera. Most collection items are in English, with some material in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Swedish.

Items in the collection begin in 1786 and date to 2006. The bulk of the materials date from 1870 to 1968.  Included are items related to the leadership of the colony by members of the Spafford, Vester, and Whiting families.  There is information as well pertaining to the colony’s Swedish members and other residents, as well as neighbors, friends, diplomats, dignitaries, associates in Jerusalem and sponsors in the United States.

This is akin to finding an old chest in the attic full of precious heirlooms, except that in this case there are many such chests and they are available to anyone with a computer.  I look forward to rummaging through this treasure trove of fascinating information about some momentous years in the history of the holy land. 

The doorway to the attic is here, and the browse and search features will get you where you want to go quickly.  You can read more about the collection and its origin here.  The catalog record is here.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Fifteen marble pillars have been discovered in Gaza’s port.

There’s some question about whether the British Museum has agreed to a three-month extension of the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder.  More of the saga is explained here.

Excavations are in progress at Tell el-Hammam and director Steven Collins gives an update in a new video on location.  The project was also recently featured in a special on Jordanian TV.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism is promoting the Dead Sea in the final selection of the New7Wonders of Nature.  You can vote here, or you can visit the facebook group here.  A win for the Dead Sea would be a win for Israel and Jordan both.

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just released its annual issue of excavations.  Lots of details about 2011 digs throughout Israel and Jordan are available online.

Weekend rains raised the water level of the Sea of Galilee by one inch, but it’s still hovering at the red line.

Archaeologists are beginning preservation work on the ruins of Babylon.

Visitors to the acropolis of Pergamum in Turkey can no longer arrive there by bus, but now are required to take a cable car.

Someday I’d like to visit the oasis of Siwa in western Egypt.

Google Labs has a Books Ngram Viewer that allows you to compare the use of words in books in the last couple of centuries.  This comparison of “Israel” and “Palestine” was not quite what I expected.  A comparison of “Gezer” and “Megiddo” reveals the periods when the excavations have been active.

Disney is coming to Israel, with plans announced for a complex of shops and a 25-screen theater.  Apparently there will be an amusement park but it will not be a “Disney theme park.”  I’m not sure what that means, unless we’re simply not to expect Mickey to take photos with our children.

HT: Explorator, Paleojudaica, Ferrell Jenkins

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Noah’s Ark Confession

In April an organization based in Hong Kong called a major press conference in which they announced that they had found Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey.  The announcement featured photos and videos showing well-preserved wooden beams that they claimed were from an ancient boat.

Everything about the announcement had a commercial feel and the sense I got was that they were looking to make a lot of money off of gullible believers.  A leader of the organization explained in one interview that a previous discovery of the Ark gave him faith and that didn’t change even when the find was revealed to be bogus.

As soon as the claim was made, many observed inconsistencies and problems in the report, some of which were described here and here.  Yesterday Randall Price posted a letter he received from two men who state that they were involved in constructing a movie set at the location of the discovery.  Only later did they find out that the film would be used as documentation of Noah’s Ark.

You can read the letter and its translation here.

HT: Daniel Wright

UPDATE: See follow-up post: Noah's Ark Confession Repudiated.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Israeli Baptism Site to Open near Dead Sea

The new tourist facility opposite Jericho and adjacent to the Jordanian baptismal site (aka “Bethany beyond the Jordan”) is scheduled to open in less than two weeks.  From ICEJ News:

Kasr al-Yehud, the probable site where John the Baptist baptized his cousin Jesus of Nazareth, will be opened to the public with a special ceremony on January 18 after 42 years as a closed military zone which pilgrims could only visit after coordinating with the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria.

The site is located in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, but starting on the 18th it will be operated by the jurisdiction of the Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, after Israeli authorities invested millions of shekels to build facilities there to handle a large number of tourists.

The 18th is significant because it is the traditional day when Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians make an annual pilgrimage to the site to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who was instrumental in the project, said he hoped Kasr al-Yehud would become a symbol for cooperation among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, as it would be a major attraction for tourists who would also want to visit other Biblical sites in the area.

We’ve mentioned this site before exactly one year ago, but apparently it did not open as planned last spring.  In May Ferrell Jenkins posted a photo of the area as seen from the Jordanian side.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Humorous Signs

Over the years, I’ve collected photographs of interesting signs posted in Israel and other places.  One day I’d like to create a collection, as some sets could be helpful for adding color in teaching.  I’ve found on signs the names of most of ancient Israel’s judges, many of its kings, as well as various biblical events.  In countries where English is used on the signs but is not the native language, you are more likely to find errors.  Below are a few that may not be of any use for teaching, but are interesting for other reasons.

Bathing is Forbihted sign at En Gev, tb040104260

I have to wonder how the wording on this sign came to be. 

Danger of slippery sign, tb112503933

This one gets my attention.

No photos of marriage sign at Muhraqa, tb011006352

One day I am going to try to sneak in a picture of my wife and I celebrating our fifteenth anniversary.

Academy of Hebrew Language, Hebrew U, sign, tb111206951

At least it’s not the Academy of the English Language.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Samaritans Today

The BBC has a brief profile of the modern Samaritans and some of the challenges they face, including their uneasy position between Jews and Arabs, and their hesitance to bring outsiders into the community.

For hundreds of years, the Samaritans have been caught between warring groups.

Before, they would take sides, but now they are trying a new approach - neutrality.

They are building good relations with their Palestinian and Jewish neighbours and are unique in the region for having both Israeli and Palestinian identity papers.

This means they can travel between Israel and the West Bank with ease.

Some entrepreneurial Samaritans are now using their unique status to offer a delivery service to businessmen in the West Bank town of Nablus, just a few miles away from Mount Gerizim.


In the 1920s their numbers dropped to just over 100 and it was predicted that they would die out.

The community was struggling with birth defects because of their tradition of marrying other Samaritans, and they were not open to new converts.

But some now say that to survive, they must open up to outsiders.


More recently, an American woman has made history by becoming the first person to convert to the Samaritan faith without marrying in.

Originally from Michigan, Sharon Sullivan now lives with her four children within the Samaritan community.

The full story is here

HT: Paleojudaica


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hot and Dry: Israel Breaks Record in 2010

From the Jerusalem Post:

The year 2010 was the hottest by a large margin since records began being kept in Israel, with temperatures two to three degrees hotter than the average, according to the Israel Meteorological Service’s year-end summary.

What’s more, temperatures were one to one-and-a-half degrees Celsius higher than the next hottest year, a striking statistic, according to the IMS. Most years, the average temperatures fall within 0.1- .0.3 degrees of other years.

For example, the average temperature for Jerusalem between 1981 and 2000 was 17.5 [63.5 F] degrees. In 2010, the average temperature was 20.3 [68.5] and during the next hottest year, 1998, it was 18.7 [65.6 F].


The IMS also tracks rainfall, and while this past year was one of the driest, there have been drier years.

However, 2010 was unique in that it had the least amount of days of rain at many of the monitoring stations. For example, in Jerusalem and Haifa, the fewest number of rain days were recorded in the past 80 years.

The article gives further interesting details, such as the unusually large number of rainy days in June and the absence of rain in November.  If you need help converting temperatures to Farenheit, this site will help.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Archaeological Meetings in Israel

Aren Maeir reports on several recent and one upcoming archaeological meetings in Israel.

For the retirement of Amihai Mazar, Maeir provides summaries of eleven presentations, including one by Ronnie Reich in which he:

proposed a new dating for the so-called Hezekiah tunnel. Due to his dating of a feature which he claims is the origin of the tunnel to the late 9th/early 8th centuries (“the round pool”), he believes that the tunnel could only have been made at a time earlier than Hezekiah. If I may note, now that there is a suggestion to date this tunnel to after Hezekiah (as I mentioned here) and now this suggestion to before, I think a defense of poor Hezekiah is required...

Another presentation of note was that of Israel Finkelstein who

reviewed the long debate that Ami and Israel have had on the chronology of the Iron Age, and, bottom line, suggested that they have both now reached the point where they have almost met in the middle. Time will tell…

Another conference honored the memory of Hanan Eshel, and Maeir writes briefly on a few of the presentations.  Ami Mazar presented a paper on seven 10th- and 9th-century inscriptions from his excavations at Tel Rehov. A paper by Shmuel Ahituv on the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions proposed that

the Asherah refers to an object and NOT to a female deity, partner of YHWH – as opposed to most scholars who have dealt with this topic.

Finally, Maeir provides information about the Annual Archaeological Conference in Israel, which will be held on April 14th at Bar-Ilan University.

Thank you, Prof. Maeir, for serving us so well with these reports.

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

More Top Stories of 2010

For the year that just concluded, this blog had 331 posts.  We have now blogged here for five full years.  The blog categories with the most posts are:

#1: Jerusalem

#2: Discoveries

#3: Resources

Yesterday we listed the top stories related to discoveries and technology.  Today we conclude with three additional categories.  Yesterday’s disclaimers apply here as well.

Significant Stories in 2010:

Cyrus Cylinder Loaned to Iran

Fishing Banned in Sea of Galilee

Hurva Synagogue Dedicated (and photos)

Israel Imported Honeybees from Turkey (and here)

Jaffa Gate Restored

Noah’s Ark Discovered

Qeiyafa Inscription Translation by Galil

Renovated Archaeology Wing of Israel Museum Reopens 

Noteworthy Posts:

Qumran Caves 1 and 2

New Paleo-Hebrew and Greek Fonts

Rachel’s Tomb: The Bible vs. Tradition

Palestine Park, Chautauqua, New York

The Dating of Mazar’s Wall (also here and here and here)

My Favorite (Old) Travel Resources

How “Top 50” Lists Work

2010 Excavation Blogs

Favorite Resources in 2010:

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible

Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor

A Visual Guide to Gospel Events

The Holy Land Revealed

ESV Bible Atlas

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History

Carta Collection for Accordance

Review of the American Colony Collection

My Essays Elsewhere:

A New Theory on the Death of Herod Agrippa I

Does the Merneptah Stele Contradict Archaeology?

The Palace of David: A Flawed Proposal

As 2011 begins, we wish you all the best in the coming year.

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