Thursday, March 31, 2011

Early Christian Lead Books Discovery: Some Problems

My attempts to avoid this grand discovery have not gone well, to judge from the number of emails I have received suggesting that I must not have seen this story.  It’s foolish to think that I can somehow temper enthusiasm by ignoring the report, so I am succumbing to the requests to note the discovery here.  If I had delayed one more day (April 1), I would have at least felt some measure of justification in spending my time on this.

The basis for the story as reported by BBC and others is a press release from David and Jennifer Elkington.  The best available photographs that I am aware of are at the Daily Mail

The discovery is a collection of 70 ring-bound books made of lead and copper.  Other artifacts were made at the site of discovery, including scrolls and tablets. 

In a nutshell, the problems with this discovery include the facts that (1) we don’t know who owns the artifacts; (2) we don’t know where they were found; (3) the artifacts were not excavated by archaeologists but stolen by thieves; (4) nearly all information about the discovery so far has come from a single source of dubious reliability; (5) claims have been made that this find is more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls; (6) the source of information appears to be positioning himself for fame and fortune.

The discovery was made about five years ago and rumors were circulating on the internet at least by 2007.  The apparent reason that a major announcement is being made now is that consultants (the Elkingtons) to the owner of the items fear that the owner may now try to sell the objects.  This is possible, but any number of other scenarios involving power and greed can be imagined.  Perhaps the Elkingtons were going to lose their access to the items and their attempts to blackmail the owner failed.  Perhaps the Elkingtons never really had much to do with the items in the first place but they had enough information and photographs to make a play.  Perhaps the Elkingtons are truly the potential saviors of a most outstanding archaeological find.

It is not clear if these items are authentic or forged.  The case that they are a modern creation is strengthened by the facts that (1) they were not discovered by scientists but by thieves; (2) no credible authority knows for certain where they were found; (3) no scientific analysis of the artifacts has been published even though they were discovered many years ago; (4) the books are at least partially written in code, a characteristic which may make forgery easier; and (5) Andre Lemaire, a world-class scholar who is not quick to classify illegally excavated items as forgeries, does not believe these are genuine.

On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that someone would forge (if the report is correct) seventy books of this nature.  The work involved is much more difficult on such a scope and unless you’re going to try to sell one each to seventy different antiquities collectors, it seems that you run the risk of diminishing returns.  In addition, a forger runs an increasing risk of detection with the more material he creates.  Success is more likely on a single object that is very carefully prepared.  Personally I am inclined to believe that this find is genuine.  Professor Philip Davies has examined some of the finds (or photographs?) and he seems to believe that the script is authentic (see also his comments quoted here).

That does not mean, however, that this discovery is greater than the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Or even close.  Such a claim was made by the director of the Jordan's Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad.  The Dead Sea Scrolls included nearly 1,000 different works, including copies from more than 200 Old Testament books.  It is very difficult to imagine this discovery topping that, and it is irresponsible to make such a suggestion when so little is known about the artifacts and almost nothing has been translated or decoded.

The theory being proposed now is that these books were hidden by Christians who fled from Jerusalem during the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70.  The cave where these artifacts were discovered is allegedly in a valley in northern Jordan, and it is in this general area that early church historians state that Christians fled ahead of the Roman siege.

My suspicions of this theory are aroused by the report that these books include depictions of Jerusalem, including markings of the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.  I wonder if Christians at that very early date were already venerating such sites.  When I read books like the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Acts (both written about AD 70), I don’t get the sense that the early church was creating artwork and establishing holy sites.  My expectation is that such objects would be more appropriate to a fourth or fifth century setting (but I note that Davies believes the script dates to 200 BC – AD 100).

Finally, the role of David Elkington in all of this is very problematic.  In his own press release, he says of himself that “David is primarily an Egyptologist, specializing in Egypt-Palestinian links that have inevitably drawn him into the field of Biblical studies. He has lectured at universities all over the world and written many papers on ancient history and linguistics.”  There is no indication that he has an academic affiliation, or even any academic training.  From this description, I believe that he does not have even a college degree, though he did go to an art academy. After the current discovery, I suspect that his resume will be expanded to include “consulting work” for the Jordan Department of Antiquities as well as appearances on CNN and Oprah.

His press release notes that he is “the author of ‘In the Name of the Gods’, the highly acclaimed academic thesis on the resonance and acoustical origins of religion.”  I don’t know what led Mr. Elkington to believe that his own book is “highly acclaimed,” but I see that the publisher is Green Man Publishing Limited.  They appear to have been in business for about one year. The book description provided by the publisher begins this way:

Everything that exists does so because of vibration.

Matter comes into being because energy vibrates - any science book will tell you that. But understand the science of vibration, learn how to use it and you will have the key to...

Well, everything....

The Earth vibrates, bell-like and deeply, within itself and as a consequence of incoming cosmic rays. In the alpha state man's own mind is in harmony with the resonance of Mother Earth. Take the Ancient's knowledge, and the right vibration in the right place can link you to the secrets of the Earth and of the Cosmos too. This spiritual technology requires a sacred laboratory; an acoustically designed building, appropriate in shape and position - like the Great Pyramid for example. Now the mysterious Ancient Egyptian ceremony of 'the opening of the mouth' begins to make sense: Sound: The Word.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, let me put it in plainer language: David Elkington has experience in selling horse dung to gullible audiences.  And it seems to me that he aims to profit off of his role in this affair.  Despite his claims that he “has worked to date entirely on a voluntary basis,” he is smelling the money.  He appears to already be selling photographs of the discoveries (via  He has certainly been careful to watermark with his name the photos he has made available to the media.  More than that, the press release states: “Preparations are being made for a documentary film about the discovery, in conjunction with a leading television network, and the publication of a book.”  If you don’t think he’s planning to cash in, I’d like to talk to you about funding my personal research on international recreational activities.

There may be something to this discovery, but first the artifacts must be confiscated by the officials and assigned to reputable scholars.  In the meantime, I would not trust anything coming from the mouths of antiquities thieves or Mr. Elkington.

Various scholars have commented on this matter, including Michael Heiser, Jim Davila (also here and follow links), Larry Hurtado (also here and here), and Doug Chaplin.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes From the Field - Tel Burna: Excavating Libnah(?)

Tel Burna's spring 2011 season has begun in earnest - the last three days have seen the Master's College IBEX program (Israel Bible Extension), a pre-military group of Israelis from Kibbutz Beth Guvrim, and several other volunteers continuing the work started in last summer's inaugural excavation.  The first two days of the excavation have been summed up on Tel Burna's blog by the co-director of the site, Joe Uziel, they can be viewed here and here.

The finds thus far have been rich and are beginning to illuminate some of the stratigraphic layout of the site. Our current excavations are being carried out in two main areas - Areas A and B.

In Area A we are continuing to uncover remains from all of the Iron II with high concentrations of architecture and pottery from the Iron IIc (7th cent. BCE). The discovery of the 7th cent. at Burna, at the very least, allows the site to continue to be considered near the top of the contenders for the identification of biblical Libnah. Its presence shows that the site was occupied during the time of Josiah who married a certain "Hamutal...of Libnah" (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Kings 24:18). Additionally, we have continued to expose the eastern course of the Iron II fortification walls - it is our hope that this season will reveal the different phases of this massive fortification.

Excavating the eastern course of Iron II fortifications - see continuation in adjacent square

Based on our surface survey of Area B (Shai and Uziel Tel Aviv 2010) we were expecting to find primarily Late Bronze Age remains (1550-1200 BCE) on the western platform - the results have not disappointed. So far the vast majority of the pottery excavated in Area B dates to the Late Bronze Age. It's always nice when survey results match excavation results. On a more exciting note there have been several special discoveries in this newly opened area - including a rather unique find - a ritualistic mask with a very large nose and eye holes, a well-crafted stone dish, and a nice tabun/tannur.

Small stone vessel (made from chalk) from Area B
Partially preserved "cultic" mask from Area B

Excavations will continue through the end of next week and will be renewed this summer on June 12-July 1 - see here for registration details

Zahi Hawass Reappointed

After protests against his leadership, Zahi Hawass resigned from his post as head of Egyptian antiquities.  Now he has returned, according to Ahram:

Zahi Hawass‎, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that he had been re-‎appointed as Minister of Antiquities following a meeting with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf ‎on Wednesday. ‎

Hawass first took up the newly-created post in the cabinet when ex-president Hosni ‎Mubarak installed him late in January.‎

After a number of artefacts had been declared missing in the wake of the 25 January revolution the Egyptian archaeologist had stepped down from his post.

HT: Jack Sasson


Archaeology Conference in Tzfat

Joe Lauer sends word that a conference entitled “Ancient Tzfat and the Galilee - Archaeology, History and Heritage,” will be held tomorrow, Thursday, March 31, 9 am - 5 pm, at the Yigal Allon Center in Tzfat (Safed).  From Arutz-7:

New discoveries in the old city of Tzfat will be revealed for the first time at a special conference to take place March 31st at the Yigal Allon Center in Tzfat. The conference will be held on behalf of the Northern Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the University of Haifa, the Tzfat Municipality and Tfzat College. The conference will focus on archeology, history and heritage.

The Israel Antiquities Authority states that ancient Tzfat (also known as Safed) is a unique, urban heritage, dating back to the Mamluk period in the 13th century. Tzfat is home to the Ari synagogue where prayer services have taken place for over 500 years in a row and houses one of the world's oldest known Torah scrolls. 

A press release in Hebrew may be found here and here.


Seven Years of Drought in Israel

The rainy season in Israel is over and the results are not good.  This marks the seventh consecutive year of drought.  From the Jerusalem Post:

This year, the North received much more water than the center and the south, reaching a bit more than 90 percent of Israel’s average rainfall, according to Schor, but he cautioned that this is not worthy of celebration.


To be 100% average, Schor explained, is not sufficient, particularly because this is the seventh consecutive year in which we are “taking more water than we get.”

Overall, including the South and Center, the country achieved an accumulation of only 70% of average, he said.

Meanwhile, despite heavy rains in the past few months that have brought water levels in the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] above the red line, Schor warned that “we are missing almost four meters of water” from the reservoir.

The full story is here.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bible Reference Finalists

The Christian Book Expo has listed award finalists for 2011.  In the “Bible Reference” category, four of the five nominated books have been praised here before.

A Visual Guide to Gospel Events, by James C. Martin, John A. Beck, and David G. Hansen

Crossway ESV Bible Atlas, by John D. Currid and David P. Barrett

The Story of the Bible: The Fascinating History of Its Writing, Translation and Effect on Civilization, by Larry Stone [not noted on this blog]

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, by Carl G. Rasmussen

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, John H. Walton, General Editor

If judging on the basis of unique value to a Bible student, I would give the award to the five-volume (3,000-page!) commentary set.  The other books are more affordable, and all make 2010 an outstanding year for works in the field.


Monday, March 28, 2011

NY Times: Excavating in Ashkelon

The Travel section of the New York Times features an article by a volunteer to last summer’s excavations of the Philistine city of Ashkelon.  Sam Roberts writes:

The expedition is a mix of Outward Bound and summer school. The classes are all outdoors — below ground, mostly — in deep pits excavated in grids marked on a 130-acre bowl atop an eroding cliff that overlooks the beach below. The site is part of a national park, populated by picnickers and jackals and mongoose, with guest appearances by the pink, black and white-crested hoopoe, Israel’s national bird.

The accommodations are vastly improved from the first year when, with the group camping out near the dig, the director stumbled into a cesspool and had his pants stolen. These days, the accommodations compare very favorably with sleepaway camp and the hotel food is tolerable (it’s served at a buffet, so at least there’s plenty of it).


What is striking, too, is the juxtaposition of ancient ruins and modern technology. Each artifact and the daily changing dimensions of the dig are meticulously digitized.

“Every field book is typed onto a laptop, every bucket is assigned a bar code to enable us to communicate the results to the archaeological community faster,” said Dr. Daniel M. Master, an archaeology professor at Wheaton College and the expedition’s new co-director with Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, a Harvard archaeology professor and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, who has overseen the dig for 25 years.

The article includes information about qualifications to volunteer at Ashkelon as well as the cost and deadline.  (The cost doubles for those getting academic credit from Harvard.)  The writer includes the Israelites as among the ancient groups that lived in the city, but I’m having difficulty recalling when that could have been.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

En Gedi Never Fails to Disappoint

This article by Yoni Cohen may be the most worthless piece of reporting I’ve seen in years of reading the Jerusalem Post.  I can’t imagine that it took more than five minutes to write, nor can I understand why the Jerusalem Post is not exercising some editorial oversight over an article linked from the site’s front page.  Perhaps these days it’s all about getting the “clicks,” but ultimately I think it’s a bad strategy.

The five photos are all blurry (to my eyes), but the three brief comments currently posted are more helpful than the article itself.

[This blog post took less than five minutes to write, but this illustrated page about En Gedi took much longer to create.]

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Recent Articles at Bible and Interpretation

Various articles posted at the Bible and Interpretation in the last month have drawn my eye.  Some I hoped to interact with here, but as time passes, I realize it may just be best to point you directly to them.

Why the fishing town Bethsaida is not found along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Fred Strickert explains that the reason why et-Tell (aka “Bethsaida”) is today distant from the Sea of Galilee is silting by the Jordan River.  He also wonders if the site may have been elevated by seismic activity since biblical times.  El-Araj is not a viable candidate for Bethsaida, he says, because the site was not settled in the first century.

From the Seal of a Seer to an Inscribed Game Board: A Catalog of Eleven Early Alphabetic Inscriptions Recently Discovered in Egypt and Palestine.  This article by Gordon J. Hamilton considers three new inscriptions from the Middle Bronze, one from the Late Bronze, and seven from the Early Iron Age (including inscriptions from Gath, Tel Zayit, Tel Rehov, Beth Shemesh, and Kh. Qeiyafa).  The bibliographic data alone is very useful.  With regard to the Gath ostracon, note Maeir’s response.

On Archaeology, Forgeries and Public Awareness: The “James Brother of Jesus” Ossuary in Retrospect.  Gideon Avni believes that the obviously forged inscriptions of the James Ossuary and Jehoash Tablet will be regarded as little more than a footnote in history books.  Since a number of scholars consider the case to still be open, this article unfairly denigrates other conclusions by acting as if they don’t exist.

Zedekiah Cave or the Quarries of King Solomon in Jerusalem: A Subsurface Stone Quarry for Building the Second Temple by King Herod.  Zeev Lewy of the Geological Survey of Israel has written a fascinating report suggesting reasons why Herod’s engineers selected a certain type of stone for use in the Temple Mount.  This also explains why the massive quarry was accessed through a single small entrance.

The Bible and Interpretation has many other recent articles, and they now also have a mechanism for supporting their work.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Archaeological Remains from the Temple Mount

The April issue of the Smithsonian magazine features a well-researched article by Joshua Hammer on the Temple Mount Sifting Project.  The article weaves the history of the Temple Mount with an account of the archaeological project headed by Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig.  The report has much of interest, and I recommend reading the whole.  Even those very familiar with the issues will likely learn something new.  A few brief quotes may stir your interest:

“That earth was saturated with the history of Jerusalem,” says Eyal Meiron, a historian at the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Eretz Israel. “A toothbrush would be too large for brushing that soil, and they did it with bulldozers.”

Yusuf Natsheh, the Waqf’s chief archaeologist, was not present during the operation. But he told the Jerusalem Post that archaeological colleagues had examined the excavated material and had found nothing of significance. The Israelis, he told me, were “exaggerating” the value of the found artifacts. And he bristled at the suggestion the Waqf sought to destroy Jewish history. “Every stone is a Muslim development,” he says. “If anything was destroyed, it was Muslim heritage.”


Barkay says some discoveries provide tangible evidence of biblical accounts. Fragments of terra-cotta figurines, from between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., may support the passage in which King Josiah, who ruled during the seventh century, initiated reforms that included a campaign against idolatry. Other finds challenge long-held beliefs. For example, it is widely accepted that early Christians used the Mount as a garbage dump on the ruins of the Jewish temples. But the abundance of coins, ornamental crucifixes and fragments of columns found from Jerusalem’s Byzantine era (A.D. 380–638) suggest that some public buildings were constructed there. Barkay and his colleagues have published their main findings in two academic journals in Hebrew, and they plan to eventually publish a book-length account in English.

But Natsheh, the Waqf’s chief archaeologist, dismisses Barkay’s finds because they were not found in situ in their original archaeological layers in the ground. “It is worth nothing,” he says of the sifting project, adding that Barkay has leapt to unwarranted conclusions in order to strengthen the Israeli argument that Jewish ties to the Temple Mount are older and stronger than those of the Palestinians. “This is all to serve his politics and his agenda,” Natsheh says.


Barkay and I get into my car and drive toward Mount Scopus. I ask him about Natsheh’s charge that the sifting project is infused with a political agenda. He shrugs. “Sneezing in Jerusalem is an intensely political activity. You can do it to the right, to the left, on the face of an Arab or a Jew. Whatever you do, or don’t do, is political.”

You have to love Natsheh’s logic.  He allowed the removal of the evidence and now claims that Barkay’s work is worthless because the material wasn’t found in situ!  The full article begins here.

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The First Jerusalem Marathon

If you’ve ever been lost in the streets of Jerusalem, you may not be surprised to learn that the race leaders of the first Jerusalem marathon took a wrong turn and finished the race at the “wrong finish line.”  From the Jerusalem Post:

The first runner to arrive at the actual finish line was Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot with a time of 2:27:48, but later on Raymond Kipkoechh, 34, of Kenya was announced as the official winner with a time of 2:26:44 after apparently going off the course and arriving at the finish line of the half-marathon in a different location.


1,500 people began the 26.2 mile (42 kilometer) race at 7am, followed by over 8,000 half-marathoners and 10k-competitors an hour later. Two jazz bands played while runners were completing their final preparations at the start.

Maps of the courses are available online (full marathon, half marathon, and 10k).  The official website gives more details and starts the countdown to next year’s marathon on March 16.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Khirbet Midras Mosaics Vandalized

Shmuel Browns points to an article in Ynet (Hebrew) about last night’s destruction of mosaics in the recently excavated Byzantine church at Khirbet Midras.  The church’s beautiful mosaics were left open to visitors for a brief period of time before they were slated to be covered until preservation works could be carried out.  In this time, tens of thousands of visitors have come to view the nearly intact mosaics.  The archaeologists have theories about who may have destroyed the site and await the police’s investigation.  They believe the damage can be restored if there is sufficient funding.  About fifteen years ago, a well-preserved rolling stone tomb at Khirbet Midras was destroyed by vandals.  Browns has several photos showing the destruction of the mosaics.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Small Kotel Declared Not a "Holy Site"

"A small portion of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount is exposed in a courtyard in the Muslim Quarter.  The government of Israel has now declared that it is not subject to the protections given to a “holy site.”  From Arutz-7:

The State's representatives have determined that the "Kotel HaKatan" ("Small Kotel" or "Small Wailing Wall"), a wall which is a continuation of the Kotel in Jerusalem, is not a holy site. The statement was submitted to the court as part of the reply to a damages lawsuit filed by a group of Jews who prayed at the Small Kotel on Rosh HaShana of 5767 (2006).

One member of the group, Elihu Kleiman, was arrested after he blew the ram's horn, or shofar. The group of Jews who sued for damages also said they were beaten by police, who denied them their freedom to worship at a holy site.
The "Small Kotel" is nothing but "an inner courtyard of several residential homes in the Muslim quarter," the State determined in its response.

Like the Kotel, the Kotel HaKatan is an exposed face of the original western wall of the Temple Mount, built by King Herod over 2,000 years ago. However, compared to its famous "bigger brother," the Small Wall is less accessible and looks less impressive: it is barely 10 meters long, less of its height has been exposed and its plaza is much narrower.

The story continues here.  Leen Ritmeyer has commented about the site previously here.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Colors of Ancient Marble Statues

A free exhibition at Stanford University reveals the bright colors that once covered the ancient sculptures of Greece and Rome.  From the Stanford Report:

With the silent attentiveness of a physician, Ivy Nguyen passes her hands over the recumbent white lady in the darkened lab. She cradles a handheld black light in her fingers.

Under the Stanford sophomore's skillful watch in the Cantor Arts Center lab, long-dead colors on marble come alive after two millennia.

The results of Nguyen's painstaking efforts are on display in "True Colors: Rediscovering Pigments on Greco-Roman Marble Sculpture" at the Cantor. The exhibition runs until Aug. 7. Admission is free.

Though we still think of ancient Greece and Rome in terms of white marble sparkling under a hot Mediterranean sun, the new exhibition shows at least one Greco-Roman lady as she was meant to be seen – in Technicolor. Not everyone may take to Stanford's painted lady, but first impressions can change. "It's very different – some have called it kind of garish," admitted sophomore Nguyen, but she confesses that she's gotten used to it.

We've always known that ancient statues were painted: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a vase, circa 360-350 B.C., depicting a man painting a statue of Herakles. The most important evidence is on the statues themselves – traces of paint that time did not wash from the creases and crevices in porous marble.

The full story includes a photo and a video.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, March 21, 2011

New Book: Excavating the City of David

It’s a bit risky to suggest that a book you have not read or even seen is in the top-ten must-have books on Jerusalem, but I’m willing to be so bold in the case of Ronny Reich’s new book, Excavating the City of David.  Given how quickly Jerusalem’s history “changes” as new archaeological discoveries are made, it is not all that daring to suggest that the newest book is one of the most important.  But I believe that the book will be a classic on the subject because it is written by the lead excavator of the longest running excavations ever in the City of David.  Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David

Since 1995, Reich has been working with Eli Shukrun in numerous areas throughout the most ancient portion of the city of Jerusalem.  They have excavated the area of the Gihon Spring where they discovered the Spring and Pool Towers.  They cleared and re-dated the Siloam Channel and made new discoveries concerning the origin of Warren’s Shaft.  In 2004, Reich and Shukrun discovered and revealed the first-century Pool of Siloam.  In recent years, they have excavated the ancient street leading from the pool to the Temple Mount.

Sixteen years of often year-round excavation far exceeds the seven years of Kathleen Kenyon’s work (1961-67) or the eight years of Yigal Shiloh (1978-85). Reich also benefits from learning from the history of many dozens of excavations in Jerusalem (good and bad), and he has the latest archaeological tools to guide his research.

Excavating the City of David is published by the Israel Exploration Society and includes 384 pages and 207 illustrations.  The book has two major sections (see details below in table of contents).  The first reviews the history of excavation in the last 150 years.  The second is a brief history of the City of David.  The work collects the findings published in various articles (Hebrew and English) over the last 15 years, and it almost certainly includes new data and interpretations of the latest finds.

This book will be a major reference in the field for decades to come.  It is available now for about $50 from the Biblical Archaeology Society and as a pre-order from Eisenbrauns.  (It is not listed at Amazon.)

Table of Contents:

The City of David--the archaeologists’ creation
The City of David: The History of its Excavation and Study
The Gihon Spring and the pool

Under Ottoman rule

  • Charles Warren
  • Charles Clermont-Ganneau
  • Conrad Schick and the discovery of the Siloam Inscription
  • Hermann Guthe, Conrad Schick and the discovery of Channel II
  • E. Masterman and C.A. Hornstein and Channel I
  • Frederick Jones Bliss and Archibald Dickie
  • Montague B. Parker and Father Louis H. Vincent
  • Raymond Weill

During the British mandatory period

  • The International Excavation Project
  • Robert A.S. Macalister and J. Garrow Duncan
  • John Winter Crowfoot and Gerald M. Fitzgerald

During the period of the divided city (1948-1967)

  • Kathleen M. Kenyon

After reunification of Jerusalem in June 1967

  • David Ussishkin and the survey of tombs in Silwan
  • David Adan-Bayewitz and Yigal Shiloh
  • Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron
  • Some small-scale excavations
  • Eilat Mazar
  • Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets

What next?

A Brief History of the City of David

  • Early days
  • The first city—in the Middle Bronze Age II
  • The Late Bronze Age: "My king has caused his name to dwell in the Land of Jerusalem forever"
  • Biblical traditions: David, Solomon and the United Monarchy
  • Some geographical-historical issues
  • Text vs. pottery sherd
  • The kingdom of Judah
  • The return from Babylonian exile
  • The Early Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods
  • The southern City of David in the Herodian period
  • The Roman destruction of the city
  • The Late Roman period
  • The Byzantine period, the Church of Siloam
  • The Early Islamic period and the renewal of Jewish settlement in the southern part of the city
  • The Middle Ages—The Mameluke period and the reopening of the spring
  • The Ottoman period
Chronological Table
Selected bibliography
Index of textual references
Illustration credits

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Purim and the Book of Esther

The celebration of Purim begins tonight and commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people described in the book of Esther.  If you have not read the book in a while, this might be a good occasion to do so with family and friends. 

You might understand the book better if you recognize that there are three sections.  The first two chapters introduce the main characters and put them in position for their timely action. The central section reveals the plot, beginning with Haman’s successful efforts to secure a degree ordering the slaughter of the Jews and concluding with Haman’s death and the issuing of a counter-edict (3:1–9:19). The third section concludes the book with the declaration of the annual celebration of Purim to remember the deliverance of the Jews (9:20-10:3).

If you are a more advanced reader, you might pay more attention in your next reading to the author’s use of the number two.  There are two queens, two heroes, two decrees, two banquets hosted by Esther, and many other such examples.

In a recent study of the book, I appreciated this statement by Robert Gordis:

Anti-Semites have always hated the book, and the Nazis forbade its reading in the crematoria and the concentration camps. In the dark days before their deaths, Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and Bergen-Belsen wrote the Book of Esther from memory and read it in secret on Purim. Both they and their brutal foes understood its message. This unforgettable book teaches that Jewish resistance to annihilation, then as now, represents the service of God and devotion to His cause. In every age, martyrs and heroes, as well as ordinary men and women, have seen in it not merely a record of past deliverance but a prophecy of future salvation” (Megillat Esther. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1974, p. 14).

More about the modern celebration of the holiday is given in this article published yesterday by Arutz-7.  A couple of years ago we posted a few photos of the holiday in connection with an article about “The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther.”


Friday, March 18, 2011

Touring Israel

A number of articles or blog pieces have appeared recently about various sites and trails around Israel.

Shmuel Browns recently completed an eight-day hike on the Israel Trail, beginning at its southern end near Eilat.  He posts some reflections and photos from his experience.  The last picture in particular should get some of you to thinking about when you’re going to book your next flight to Israel. Browns also recommends a hike from the Timna Valley where one can see many plants in bloom this time of year.

Yoni Cohen writes in the Jerusalem Post about hiking in the Yehudia Forest Reserve, though the article is too brief.  The National Parks official website has similar information, and I noted previously (with links) that this is the best place to hike in the summer.  Last week Cohen wrote about Ein Akev and Ein Zik near Kibbutz Sede Boqer.

Ferrell Jenkins has written about two of the lesser known sources of the Jordan River, the Nahal Senir (Hasbani) and the Nahal Iyon (Bareighit).  He also recently pointed readers to his free guide to biblically related artifacts in the British Museum.

Leon Mauldin is touring Israel now and has recently visited Gordon’s Calvary, Anathoth, and Gibeon.

Carl Rasmussen has begun a blog and his most recent post features several beautiful photos of a synagogue mosaic at Sepphoris.

In a new column at the Jerusalem Post, Wayne Stiles writes of Tel Dan and QumranOn his blog, Stiles notes the release of a DVD four years in the making entitled “Experience the Land and the Book.”

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stolen Egyptian Antiquities Recovered

A police trap has led to the recovery of 12 objects recently stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  From the Luxor Times Magazine:

Ahmed Attia Mahmod lives at Dar El-Salam district in Cairo formed a group to attack the Egyptian Museum on 28th January, during the clashes that occurred around the museum which distracted the attention.

This was revealed when he was arrested with a friend of his who owns a coffee shop in the same district and a third partner with 12 objects of the Museum’s missing objects. The perpetrators started to spread videos and pictures of the objects to mobile phones of others trying to find a buyer. The Antiquities police in co-operation with the Armed Forces tracked them and set them a trap with the help of a foreigner who works at the American Embassy in Cairo convening the criminals that he will buy the objects for 50 million dollars when the police and military police arrested them.

The full story is here.  The same source provides a list of all 54 missing objects from the museum.

HT: Jack Sasson


Israel to Remove Minefields

Israel has finally decided to remove its minefields.  From Arutz-7:

A law that will require the removal of all known mines in Israel passed its second and third Knesset reading Monday. The law, originally sponsored by former MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima) and later by MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima), was approved by a 43-0 vote. It authorizes the Defense Ministry to set up a new department that will be responsible for clearing minefields in the Negev, Golan, and other parts of the country that the IDF had set up in the early days of the state.


Among those present in the Knesset plenum as the law was passed was Daniel Yuval, who was badly hurt several years ago when he entered a minefield in the Golan. Yuval, now 13, lost a leg to the mine that exploded when he inadvertently stepped on it in a snow-covered field where signs indicating that the field was mined were difficult or impossible to see. Yuval became an Israeli ambassador for the cause of land-mine removal, speaking around Israel and at international forums on the problem of land mines.

The full story is here.

Minefield near south end of Sea of Galilee, tb111700842

Minefield near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Na'aman Lecture at Penn State

Professor Nadav Na'aman of Tel Aviv University will be lecturing this week at Pennsylvania State University on the subject of “Text and Archaeology: Two Sets of Competing Data of Urban Culture Decline.”  The lecture will be held on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. in 102 Weaver Building.

It’s probably just a coincidence that this week Penn State professor Donald Redford is lecturing on a variety of subjects in Jerusalem.

HT: Eric Welch


Archaeologists Battle in Elah Valley

A feud between archaeologists in Israel today resembles the ancient struggle between David and Goliath.  As with the battle of old, one combatant is from Jerusalem (Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University) and the other from the Philistine plain (Oded Lipschitz of Tel Aviv University).  The skirmish is only the latest in an on-going conflict that goes back to the establishment of the entity on the coast (the Institute of Archaeology founded by Yohanan Aharoni).  The subject of dispute is the very same as that between the ancient Israelites and Philistines—control of the lowlands (Shephelah).  In fact, it is the site of Socoh, identified in connection with the Philistine encampment that is at the heart of the dispute between the two archaeologists.

Aren Maeir, excavator of the Philistine city of Gath, is an outside observer who drew our attention to a report of the clash in Haaretz (Hebrew).  The article observes that archaeologists at Tel Aviv University typically deny or minimize the existence of David and the Israelite kingdom.  Hebrew University researchers, however, tend to defend the greatness of the ancient state centered in Jerusalem.  Archaeology has been used to support both sides of the debate, and most recently Hebrew University has claimed a major advance with the excavations of the 10th century site of Khirbet Qeiyafa and its ancient inscription. 

With Hebrew U excavating Khirbet Qeiyafa on the north side of the Elah Valley and Tel Aviv U surveying Tel Azekah on the west side, Tel Socoh on the south side is up for grabs.  The Israel Antiquities Authority gave permission to survey the site to both parties.  But when Tel Aviv U discovered that more than surveying work was going on, Lipschitz fired off a testy letter to the authorities, claiming that Hebrew U had opened excavation squares and was blatantly violating the terms of the license. 

Garfinkel has defended himself against the attack, arguing that the “excavation” is clearly the work of antiquities thieves and that Lipschitz cannot tell the difference between an excavation and a robbery.  Lipschitz, however, found incriminating evidence in one of the excavation trenches—a water bottle with the name of one of Garfinkel’s team!  Garfinkel has observed that the site is not far from the West Bank and the area where the partition fence ends giving Arab thieves easy access.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has responded to Lipschitz’s letter by rejecting his claims and declaring the “excavations” to be the work of antiquities thieves.  Only time will tell who will secure rights to excavate Socoh and what evidence it will supply concerning the ancient conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

Today is the “Ides of March,” the day that commemorates the death of Julius Caesar.  In March, the “Ides” always falls on the 15th, but that’s not true of other months.  William Browning explains:

The Roman calendar had weird ways to determine times of the month. The Ides of March doesn't necessarily refer to a holiday or festival on the Roman calendar but instead talks about how the Romans told time in the year....

The calendar organized months around three days -- Kalends, Nones and Ides. Kalends noted the first of the month, so in modern terms the Kalends of June would be June 1. Nones served as the seventh day in March, May, July and October; it was the fifth in every other month. Ides were the middle of the month -- they were the 15th of March, May, July and October but the 13th in others.

Days were noted by counting backwards from the upcoming monthly marker. For instance, Oct. 10 would be designated the "V Ides" or five days before the Ides of October. This method of dating lasted well into Medieval times before it was replaced with the Gregorian calendar used today.

The plot against Caesar was a reaction to his efforts to increase his power and become “dictator for life.”  According to National Geographic:

The Romans had no love for kings. According to legend, they expelled their last one in 509 B.C. While Caesar had made pointed and public displays of turning down offers of kingship, he showed no reluctance to accept the office of "dictator for life" in February 44 B.C. According to Osgood, this action may have sealed his fate in the minds of his enemies. "We can see [now] that that was enough to get him killed," Osgood said.

Caesar had pushed the envelope for some time before his death. "Caesar was the first living Roman ever to appear on the coinage," Osgood said. Normally, the honor was reserved for deities. He notes that some historians suspect that Caesar might have been attempting to establish a cult in his honor in a move towards deification.

Caesar’s assassination did little more than delay the process, for his heir Augustus became Rome’s first emperor fifteen years later.

HT: Explorator


New CD: Seven Churches of Revelation

Leen Ritmeyer has just released a new CD with 105 pictures and captions of the sites where the seven churches of Revelation were located in the first century. 

It begins on the beautiful Greek island of Patmos, where the Apostle John was told to write the visions which he saw in a scroll and send them to the Seven Churches (Greek singular:”ekklesia”) which were in Asia. We visit these sites: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea in order, with additional slides devoted to Laodicea’s sister churches in the Lycus Valley: Colossae and Hierapolis, (without reference to these neighbouring churches, in particular their water supply, the letter to Laodicea would be unintelligible).

The circular postal route of the messenger is mapped, with a separate map given to highlight his journey from one city to the next. Each section includes a slide containing the full message to each church (quoted from the NKJV) with a useful summary given in its caption. The church and its city is then placed in its geographical and historical setting, with links made to the local background in each letter. Images providing Scriptural insight, accompanied by detailed captions, are given of each city. In Ephesus, you can disembark at the ancient harbour and walk with the messenger up the Harbour Way to the Theatre where the great riot had taken place about thirty years earlier in the time of Paul. With reference to Smyrna, see a possible modern remnant of the “crown of life.” In Philadelphia, ponder the poignancy of the promise to the “overcomers” of that city, never more to have to “go out.” This was to a group of people who were used to always having to flee the city, in an area notoriously prone to earthquakes.

More information is given here, and the CD may be purchased for £15 (~$24) here.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Disappearance of Artifacts from Sinai

Some important artifacts excavated by Israeli archaeologists in the Sinai Peninsula but since returned to the Egyptian government have disappeared, according to the former director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass.  Hershel Shanks writes of this revelation from a recent interview in which Hawass criticized Israel for not publishing the results of the Kuntillet Ajrud excavations. 

In an editorial in the Jerusalem Post, Shanks declares that both problems have been or shortly will be resolved.

On March 3, the Egyptian press reported that 30 truckloads of antiquities had been moved for safekeeping from the Qantara storage facilities to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Included were “Sinai artifacts that were retrieved from Israel following the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.”

Concerning the publication of the excavations, Shanks reports:

I subsequently inquired about this of Joseph Aviram, president of the Israel Exploration Society. He told me that the publication of the inscriptions had recently been reassigned to two leading epigraphers, Shmuel Ahituv and Esther Eshel. They have completed their work and await only the contribution of excavator Ze’ev Meshel. 

Aviram hopes to have the publication out this year. But, still, that’s 35 years after the excavation.

The artifacts involved include the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions that mention “Yahweh ... and his Asherah.”


Appreciation for Guest Bloggers

I want to express my appreciation to A.D. Riddle, Chris McKinny, and Seth Rodriquez for their interesting and insightful posts on this blog in my absence.  I have asked them to consider making further contributions to the blog in the future, and I am hopeful that they will be able to do that.

If you were not following the blog closely this past month, posts to which I would particularly draw your attention include:

Hieroglyphic Luwian and King Taita

Chart: The Israelite Schism - 931-841 BCE

Chart: The Kingdom(s) of Israel

Ancient Slinging Techniques

Canaanite Water Tunnel at Gezer

Review: Biblical Turkey

Beth Haccherem - A Site Identification: Primer (and looking forward to the “more to come...”)

I might also add a sincere word of thanks to the blog readers, including those who have specifically encouraged all of us in recent days.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hieroglyphic Luwian and King Taita

Taita was the ruler of a Syrian kingdom in the Iron Age II. His name appears in Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions found at Shaizar and Muhradah, Syria (adjoining towns on the Orontes River, about 13 miles northwest of Hamah) and in a Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription from the Storm-god temple found on the citadel of Aleppo, Syria. (A pdf guidebook by Julia Gonnella entitled The Citadel of Aleppo: Description, History, Site Plan and Visitor Tour, 2nd ed. [2008] can be downloaded for free here. Pages 8-9 and 37-38 show the location of the Storm-god temple and give a brief description.)

In the inscriptions Taita is said to be the "Walastinean hero/king" or "Palastinean hero/king." This title also appears in Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions found at Tell Tayinat, in the Amuq Plain in Turkey. It has been suggested that Tell Tayinat was the capital of Taita's kingdom and that it extended east to Aleppo and south to Hamath. See most recently J. David Hawkins, "Cilicia, the Amuq, and Aleppo: New Light in a Dark Age," Near Eastern Archaeology 72/4 (2009): 164-173.

Fragment of a Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription from Tell Tayinat which mentions the "Walastinean king." On display at the Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago.

The Luwian language is closely related to Hittite, Lycian, and other Anatolian languages. Luwian was written in both a cuneiform script and a hieroglyphic script, no relation to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphic Luwian was used by kings of the Hittite Empire for monumental inscriptions and seals. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, Hieroglyphic Luwian continued to be used in the Neo-Hittite and Aramean kingdoms that emerged. In publications, the inscriptions are often named after the place they were found. For the Late Bronze Luwian inscriptions from the Hittite Empire period, see this list. For the Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions from the Iron Age, see the three-part volume by John David Hawkins, Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000), aka CHLI. It is reasonably priced at Amazon, though if anyone would like to make a contribution towards my purchase of the set, I am accepting offers. Inscriptions found since the publication of CHLI are listed here. Two years ago, I made a map showing the distribution of Iron Age Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions which can be viewed here. It is now outdated.

Returning to Taita, Charles Steitler recently published an article in which he proposed Taita is To‘î, a king who paid tribute to David after David defeated Hadadezer, king of Zobah (2 Sam 8:9-11; 1 Chr. 18:9-11). To‘î is a Hurrian name, and Steitler argues Taita is also a Hurrian name. There is a -ta element in Taita’s name which does not appear in the name To‘î. Steitler is not able to give a definitive explanation for the significance of this element, and thus, we cannot say why it would have dropped out. (Steitler's article is entitled "The Biblical King Toi of Hamath and the Late Hittite State of 'P/Walas(a)tin,' " Biblische Notizen 146 [2010]: 81-99. It was noted by several blogs beginning I think with Aren Maeir.) There is also the difficulty of dating Taita’s inscriptions. In CHLI, Hawkins said the dating of Taita’s inscriptions was doubtful, but suggested the period 900-700 B.C. In the 2009 article I mentioned previously above the photo, Hawkins now suggests a possible date between the 11th and 10th centuries B.C. So it is hard to know right now if Taita was King To‘î of the Bible.

Benjamin Sass has now written two pieces, one here and more recently, "Four Notes on Taita King of Palistin with an Excursus on King Solomon's Empire," Tel Aviv 37 (2010): 169–174. He suggests dating Taita to around 900 B.C. for the main reason that, for Sass, this paints a more satisfying historical picture.

Last month, Brian Janeway contributed a summary of these findings as well. It can be read here.

If these recent discussions are any indication, we can expect that Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions will more-and-more play a significant role in our reconstructions of the early Iron Ages. Kenneth Kitchen has already written a couple of essays in which he shows how these inscriptions are an important source of new information for understanding King David’s kingdom.

Kitchen, Kenneth A.
2002 “The Controlling Role of External Evidence in Assessing the Historical Status of the Israelite United Monarchy.” Pp. 111-130 in Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument and the Crisis of "Biblical Israel." Ed. V. P. Long, D. W. Baker, and G. J. Wenham. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

2005 “The Hieroglyphic Inscriptions of the Neo-Hittite States (c. 1200-700): A Fresh Source of Background to the Hebrew Bible.” Pp. 117-134 in The Old Testament in Its World: Papers Read at the Winter Meeting, January 2003 The Society for Old Testament Study and at the Joint Meeting, July 2003 The Society for Old Testament Study and Het Oudtestamentisch Werkgezelschap in Nederland en België. Ed. R. P. Gordon and J. C. de Moor. Leiden: Brill.

2010 “External Textual Sources — Neo-Hittite States.” Pp. 365-368 in The Book of Kings: Sources, Composition, Historiography and Reception. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 129. Ed. B. Halpern and A. Lemaire. Leiden: Brill.

And this is for that last reader who is not yet bored to tears. For more reading, probably the best place to start is Near Eastern Archaeology 72/4 (2009). The entire issue is dedicated to Taita, Tell Tayinat, and the Aleppo Storm-god temple. For more information on Luwians and the Luwian language, one might pursue:
Melchert, H. Craig, ed.
2003 The Luwians. Leiden: Brill.

Payne, Annick.
2010 Hieroglyphic Luwian: An Introduction with Original Texts. 2nd revised ed.Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

UPDATE: I received today the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The cover story is an article by Victor Hurowitz in which he identifies similarities between the Aleppo Storm-god temple, two temples excavated at Tell Tayinat, and Solomon's temple. See Victor Hurowitz, "Solomon's Temple in Context," Biblical Archaeology Review 37/2 (2011): 46-57 and 77-78.

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Recent Journal Articles

There have been a number of articles published within the past few months, all of which are related to the content of this blog.

Galil, Gershon.
2009 “The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa/Neta'im: Script, Language, Literature and History.” Ugarit-Forschungen 41: 193-242.

I have not read this article yet, but presumably this is Galil’s formal publication of his reading of the Qeiyafa ostracon and of his identification of Kh. Qeiyafa as Netaim, both of which were mentioned previously by Todd (inscription and identification).

Beitzel, Barry J.
2010 “Was There a Joint Nautical Venture on the Mediterranean Sea by Tyrian Phoenicians and Early Israelites?” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 360: 37-66.

de Canales, F. González; L. Serrano; and J. Llompart.
2010 “Tarshish and the United Monarchy of Israel.” Ancient Near Eastern Studies 47: 137-164.

Both of these articles argue for the plausibility of Phoenician nautical trade on the Mediterranean Sea in the 10th century B.C. Beitzel argues that the Hebrew expression ’onî taršîš in 1 Kings 10:22 is better translated “ships of Tarshish” as in the ESV, and not “trading ships” as in the NIV. He gathers together the evidence for early Phoenician trading on the Mediterranean and suggests Tarshish was located in the western Mediterranean. De Canales et al. identify Tarshish more specifically with Huelva, Spain, and date the earliest excavated levels to 900-770 B.C., while proposing an even earlier Phoenician presence.

The latest issue of Israel Exploration Journal contains three articles which may be of interest to our readers.

Rendsburg, Gary A. and William M. Schniedewind.
2010 “The Siloam Tunnel Inscription: Historical and Linguistic Perspectives.” Israel Exploration Journal 60/2: 188-203.

Rendsburg and Schniedewind argue that three linguistic peculiarities of the Siloam inscription point to the dialect of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (referred to as Israelian Hebrew). They go on to speculate that the inscription was authored by a refugee from the northern kingdom, and that the purpose of the tunnel may have been to divert water to the refugee population on the Western Hill.
Siloam Tunnel Inscription in Istanbul, Turkey.

Two more cuneiform inscriptions from Hazor are published in this issue of IEJ as well, one a fragment of an administrative docket and the other a fragment of a clay liver model. (Neither of these are the tablet fragments found last year that Todd reported on here.)

Horowitz, Wayne and Takayoshi Oshima.
2010 “Hazor 16: Another Administrative Docket from Hazor.” Israel Exploration Journal 60/2: 129-132.

Horowitz, Wayne; Takayoshi Oshima; and Abraham Winitzer.
2010 “Hazor 17: Another Clay Liver Model.” Israel Exploration Journal 60/2: 133-145.

These two inscriptions supplement the handy volume of all cuneiform inscriptions found in Canaan (up to the date of publication), Cuneiform in Canaan: Cuneiform Sources from the Land of Israel in Ancient Times, by Wayne Horowitz,; Takayoshi Oshima; and Seth Sanders (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2006). We should also add to the list:

Horowitz, Wayne and Takayoshi Oshima.
2007 “Hazor 15: A Letter Fragment from Hazor.” Israel Exploration Journal 57: 34-40.

Mazar, Eilat; Wayne Horowitz; Takayoshi Oshima; and Yuval Goren.
2010 “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem.” Israel Exploration Journal 60/1: 4-21.

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LSJ Online Out of Commission

Two weekends ago, we reported that Thesaurus Linguae Graecae had made available an online edition of the Classical Greek lexicon Liddell-Scott-Jones, with hyperlinks to texts in the TLG database. Three days ago, TLG announced on their website that the lexicon was no longer available due to misuse.

The Online LSJ was released on February 24, 2011. Within hours of its release, our site became the target of individuals attempting to download our data. By March 1 our server was bombarded by hundreds of coordinated pirate attackers seeking to break into our server security. As a consequence, we were forced to suspend access to LSJ while we are taking steps to address the security of our servers.
We are working to reestablish access gradually and hope that LSJ will be back up within the next few days.
We regret the inconvenience this action has caused to our legitimate users.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

X-ray Vision for Archaeologists: The "Multi-PAM" Tool

Being able to clearly see what lies underground would solve many headaches for archaeologists. There is a certain level of guesswork that goes into planning a dig, and only after the available time, money, and manpower has been spent does it become clear whether or not it was worth the investment. However, a professor at Tel Aviv University has developed a new tool that potentially could offer some help in taking the guesswork out of deciding where to dig.

Reported recently in the journal Advances of Geosciences, Prof. Eppelbaum’s new tool gathers data from a number of sources — including radio transmitters used to communicate with nuclear submarines and detailed magnetic field observations — and applies an original algorithmic approach to the measurements to make sense of what lies below the earth’s surface at depths of up to several dozen yards. His tool can help people “see” meaningful objects, artefacts or civilizations — – and lay them out in a four-dimensional chart.

While methods exist for scanning sites of potential archaeological and geological importance, such tools produce significant background noise or inconclusive readings, Prof. Eppelbaum says. ...

His tool can be used to evaluate the possible archaeological significance of any given area under scrutiny. Providing rapid results within days or even hours, the algorithm can “read” extensive data before any digging or exploration begins. Financially, technically and ecologically, this tool offers an optimal way to localize and classify ancient buried objects and estimate the potential of the further archaeological investigations, he says.

Prof. Eppelbaum’s solution is called the “multi-PAM,” which stands for “physical — archaeological models.” The tool first interprets what it “sees” by recognizing image targets; then the interpretation can be used to develop a four-dimensional model which can be presented to archaeologists hoping to explore a particular region.

Placed in a small unmanned airplane hovering several yards off the ground and scanning wide tracts of land along the earth’s surface, Prof. Eppelbaum says, the tool can reveal unexplored sites of historical and archaeological significance.

You can read the full post here. A shorter article can be found here.

According to one of the posts, this tool is already in use in some archaeological projects. Does anyone have any personal experience with one? Would you care to share your opinion?

The catalyst for this news event apparently was a post on the website of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University. This post looks back at the publication of a paper that Prof. Eppelbaum presented in April 2009. The paper is titled: "Archaeological geophysics in Israel: past, present and future." This paper (along with several others on similar topics) was published in the open access journal called Advances in Geosciences (ADGEO) in 2010. The abstract of Eppelbaum's paper and a link to download the article can be found here. A list of all the articles in that volume can be found here. For those who desire to learn more about modern techniques for non-intrusive archaeological investigation, this volume is a good place to start.
HT: Joseph I. Lauer

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Chart: The Israelite Schism - 931-841 BCE

The following chart graphically illustrates every single, solitary regnal year of the kings of Judah and Israel from the beginning of the Divided Kingdom (931 BCE) to the end of the Omride line (Israel) and the death of Ahaziah of Judah (841 BCE).  Its primary purpose is to show the unwavering consistency of the authors of Kings and Chronicles in their recounting of the reigns of the southern and northern monarchs.  Quite simply the accuracy is astonishing.  The dates within the chart are based on a synchronized chronology that was first fleshed out by the great scholar, Edwin Thiele, in his groundbreaking work The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (the only chronology "must own" book for every OT student and teacher - recommended here by Todd Bolen).
Thiele's conclusions are best summed up by the recently deceased scholar, Anson Rainey, who said, "Nobody can discount Thiele's dates because quite simply his dates work and nobody else's dates work."  That is the great chronological check - does the chronology actually work? Despite many recent alternative chronologies - Thiele's now over fifty-year old theory still checks out.

The chart below has some value in that it can be used as a guide to Thiele's chronology.  It allows one to look at the entire landscape of 90 years of Israelite history on a single page (albeit a very large page) while providing the onlooker the ability to compare any given king with his contemporary (I loathe not being egalitarian and using "their" but Athaliah just missed the list).  This chart is especially helpful in making sense of some problematic chronological passages. For instance, in the reign of Jehoshaphat (873-848 BCE), the writers of Kings used three different methods (accession year reckoning, non-accession year reckoning, and sole reign after co-reign) of synchronizing Jehoshaphat's reign with his contemporaries and vice versa . Without an in-depth knowledge of these different ways of recounting - one can become thoroughly lost in recreating his years of reign. Hopefully, this chart can successfully bridge the gap of confusion between text and mathematics.

Click to enlarge

University of Pennsylvania Museum Exhibition

An article in Archaeology magazine highlights a new exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology entitled Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands. The exhibition opened last September and will run through June 26, 2011. Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands focuses on the University of Pennsylvania’s Nippur Expedition, and in particular, the lives of three men involved in the excavations of Nippur: Osman Hamdi Bey, John Henry Haynes, and Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht.
Featured are two paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey: “Excavations at Nippur,” which has never before been on public exhibition, and “At the Mosque Door,” which is shown for the first time in one hundred years. Also shown are about 50 photographs by Haynes, whose contributions as an archaeological photographer are only now being recognized, and more than 40 artifacts from the Nippur expedition (1889–1900), including a Parthian “slipper” coffin, Sasanian incantation bowls and glass, and numerous Sumerian cuneiform tablets.

The Nippur Expedition was the first American expedition to the Near East and lasted from 1889–1900. You can read background to the exhibition at the museum’s website and in the article in Archaeology. The exhibition has a companion website here.

For those interested, there is also a book by Bruce Kuklick that tells the story of the Nippur Expedition, Puritans in Babylon: The Ancient Near East and American Intellectual Life, 1880-1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). It recounts the institutionalization of ancient Near East studies in American universities, the hardships of Middle East fieldwork in the 19th century, and the intramural disputes and posturing of the Nippur Expedition's staff and researchers. The stories of some key personalities ended tragically, with reputations ruined and careers destroyed. (Kuklick also touches on the role ancient Near East studies played in the secularization of universities, and how many scholars working in these disciplines forsook their religious convictions. "The paradox in the evolution of Near Eastern studies was the manner in which the pursuit of Bible truth might undermine the truth of the Bible." For him, Christian scholars are a curiosity because they are "a stunning counterexample to easy generalizations about the secularization of higher education in America.")

Additional photos from the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology can be seen here.

HT: Claude Mariottini


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Weekend Roundup

On Sunday, The New York Times posted an article about the meaning of the Hebrew word tekhelet, mentioned in Exodus 26:1 and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Instead of light blue, Zvi C. Koren argues that is was a "closer to a bluish purple."

On Tuesday, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem posted a press release about the publication of the first volume of The Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestine (CIIP) series. There are 9 volumes of the series scheduled and the goal is to collect "all the inscriptions ever found in Israel and the Palestinian Authority from the period of Alexander the Great (4th century C.E) until Mohammed (beginning of the 7th century A.D.)" The first volume "includes more than 700 inscriptions from Jerusalem and surrounding areas up until the destruction of the Second Temple."

Also on Tuesday, reports about a break in at an artifact storehouse near the Giza pyramids were posted here and here.

On Wednesday, Aren Maeir posted on his blog a summary and a critique of recent lectures at Hebrew University about the Philistines and Sea Peoples.

Also on Wednesday, an article about archaeology in Libya (in light of the current unrest in that country) was posted by Scientific American here.

On Thursday (as was previously posted on this blog) Zahi Hawass announced that he will step down. Reports of this event can be found here and here. Hawass also posted a report on his blog that day about the dangers that are threatening archaeological sites and artifacts in Egypt. Biblical Archaeology Review intends to publish an interview with Hawass in the next issue.

Also on Thursday, Israel National News posted an article on a new training program being offered by the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is "a program to teach Jews from around the world how to conserve ancient buildings. The program, called Saving the Stones, is a five-month international training internship in historical and archeological conservation." The IAA's press release is here.

On Friday, a new exhibit with body casts from Pompeii opened at Discovery Times Square. The exhibit website is here and an article about it in the New York Times is here.

The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College is currently displaying a collection called Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity. Admission to the museum is free.

HT: Jack Sasson, Joseph I. Lauer, A.D. Riddle


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Zahi Hawass Resigns

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of Antiquities Affairs, has resigned in the wake of the resignation of former Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak and the large scale looting of antiquities.  Kate Taylor reports the following at the NY Times Art Beat blog.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s powerful and controversial antiquities chief,
resigned on Thursday along with the prime minister, after posting on
his Web site for the first time a list of dozens of sites that have
been looted since the beginning of the uprising that led to the fall
of President Hosni Mubarak.

Among the places Mr. Hawass named as having been looted were the
Metropolitan Museum of Art’s storerooms at its excavation site in
Dahshur, south of Cairo. In a statement the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, described that incident as having taken place several weeks ago.

Mr. Campbell expressed alarm about continuing looting, calling it “a
grave and tragic emergency.” In a statement, which was issued before
Mr. Hawass’s resignation was confirmed, he said:
“The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize
the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest, greatest and most
inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens
of the globe in imploring Egypt’s new government authorities, in
building the nation’s future, to protect its precious past. Action
needs to be taken immediately.”

HT: Jack Sasson


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Tomb(s) of Noah

In Lebanon, just northeast of the city of Zahle, there is a small village named Karak Nouh. Karak Nouh is located in the Beqaa at the eastern foot of the Mt. Lebanon range. In a building adjoining the village mosque, there is a long sarcophagus draped in a green cloth. It is claimed this is the tomb of Noah.

Karak Nouh, Lebanon.

Mark Twain wrote about his visit to Karak Nouh in The Innocents Abroad.
Noah's tomb is built of stone, and is covered with a long stone building. Bucksheesh let us in. The building had to be long, because the grave of the honored old navigator is two hundred and ten feet long itself! It is only about four feet high, though. He must have cast a shadow like a lightning-rod. The proof that this is the genuine spot where Noah was buried can only be doubted by uncommonly incredulous people. The evidence is pretty straight. Shem the son of Noah, was present at the burial, and showed the place to his descendants, who transmitted the knowledge to their descendants, and the lineal descendants of these introduced themselves to us to-day. It was pleasant to make the acquaintance of members of so respectable a family. It was a thing to be proud of. It was the next thing to being acquainted with Noah himself.

There is another tomb of Noah in the city of Cizre, Turkey (pronounced Jizre). Cizre is on the Tigris River, north of the location where Iraq, Turkey, and Syria all meet. To the east is Cudi Dağ, identified as Mt. Ararat in some traditions.

Tomb of Noah, Cizre, Turkey.

Evidently, there is also a shrine to Noah name Hazrat Nuh in Kerak, Jordan. I have not visited this one, nor do I know if there is a tomb associated with the shrine. I believe the shrine is the small, turquoise building at the far left in this photograph. It is located in a cemetery on the northwestern edge of the modern town.

Kerak, Jordan.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Featured Accordance Module: American Colony Collection

This month, Accordance's Featured Product is the American Colony Collection module. They are offering the module at a discounted price of $109 (regularly $149) through the month of March. You can read Todd's introduction to the collection here and learn more about the Accordance module from Todd and Accordance's David Lang. If you have already purchased the collection from and are an Accordance user, you may want to consider the crossgrade option.

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