Saturday, April 30, 2011

Finkelstein: Politics and the City of David

Israel Finkelstein has written a very good article about the archaeological situation in the City of David.  I do not share Finkelstein’s view of the tenth-century BC poverty of the city, but with regard to modern political realities, he speaks much truth.  From Forward:

Confusion regarding this area begins with its name. Palestinians call it Silwan, but this is base propaganda aimed at the uninformed and uncritical international media. The Palestinian village of Silwan is located not in the City of David but rather to the east, on the other side of the deep Kidron Valley. Old photographs taken before the middle of the 20th century show the ridge cropping out south of the Temple Mount to be devoid of almost any buildings.

Jews and researchers of all backgrounds call the site the City of David — a name given to the ridge by early European explorers. Scholars agree that together with the Temple Mount and the southwestern part of the Old City, this ridge is the location of biblical Jerusalem.


This site should be revered as one of humanity’s great landmarks. Were it not for the political controversy surrounding the site, it would doubtless be high on the list of world heritage sites.

Allegations are sometimes heard in the media that work in the City of David is unlawful and not executed to the standards of modern archaeology. This is untrue. Fieldwork there is carried out according to law and — taking into account the difficulties of excavating in a built-up area — using sound field methods. All excavation projects are directed by seasoned archaeologists and inspected by the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Further to the east, the village of Silwan is built over unique, monumental Judahite rock-cut tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. Two of these tombs had ancient Hebrew inscriptions on their façades. But the tombs are neglected, flooded with sewage and filled with village garbage. And, of course, the greatest devastation to have recently been inflicted on Jerusalem’s archaeological heritage was the large-scale bulldozing a few years ago of buried antiquities on the Temple Mount by the Waqf, which administers the Islamic holy sites, in preparation for the construction of a massive underground mosque.

There is too much of value to excerpt, and I commend the entire article to you.

Ophel, site of City of David, mat05424

City of David and Temple Mount in early 1900s

This photo is from the Jerusalem volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05424).


Friday, April 29, 2011

Metal Codices To Be Examined by Multiple Labs

This article in the Jordan Times has some new information about the metal codices, particularly with regard to the seven books recently recovered by Jordanian police. 

Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis - in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman - in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.

According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.

“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.

Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.

Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.

“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.

Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier - predating the time of Christ - and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.

The full article has more details.  Jim Davila recaps the evidence that the codices are modern forgeries (with one caveat).

HT: Joe Lauer


The Fires of Gehenna: Views of Scholars

Yesterday I pointed out Trevin Wax’s post on Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition.  In it he makes the comment that “It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right.”  It may be worthwhile to cite a number of significant scholars who have questioned or rejected this myth over the last 150 years.  The myth continues to be perpetuated because pastors and Bible teachers are not reading these works.  (In the quotations below, I provide the larger context and highlight with bold the statements most relevant to this question.)

The first is Edward Robinson, preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838.  He wrote:

“In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 [1841], 404-5).

The origin of the “garbage dump” theory appears to be Kimchi.  James A. Montgomery observes this medieval commentator’s logic, but does not accept it.

“With the common sense which often characterizes Jewish commentators, Kimchi says that the place was the dump of the city, where fires were always kept burning to destroy the refuse; ‘therefore the judgment of the wicked is parabolically called Gehenna.’ But from the Biblical references the place appears to have nothing physically objectionable about it; in contrast to its contemporary condition Jeremiah prophesied that it would one day be called ‘Valley of Slaughter’” (“The Holy City and Gehenna,” JBL 27/1 [1908], 34).

Lloyd R. Bailey quotes Kimchi directly:

“The traditional explanation for this seems to go back to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27 (around 1200 C.E.). He remarked the following concerning the valley beneath Jerusalem’s walls:

Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’

“Kimhi's otherwise plausible suggestion, however, finds no support in literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods. There is no evidence that the valley was, in fact, a garbage dump, and thus his explanation is insufficient” (“Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archaeologist 49/3 [1986], 188-89).

About the same time, G. R. Beasley-Murray made a similar observation:

“The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source. The valley was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual judgment (see Isa. 66:24) and later with a place of judgment by fire without any special connection to Jerusalem (see, for example, 1 Enoch 27:1ff., 54:1ff., 63:3-4, and 90:26ff)” (Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 376-77).

W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump.

“Why the place of torment came to have this name, the name of the valley south of Jerusalem, gê-hinnōm (Josh 18.16 LXX: Γαιεννα), now Wādier-rabābi, is uncertain. The standard view, namely, that the valley was where the city’s garbage was incinerated and that the constantly rising smoke and smell of corruption conjured up the fiery torments of the damned, is without ancient support, although it could be correct. Perhaps the abode of the wicked dead gained its name because children had there been sacrificed in fire to the god Molech (2 Chr 28.3; 33.6), or because Jeremiah, recalling its defilement by Josiah (2 Kgs 23.10; cr. 21.6), thundered against the place (Jer 7.31-2; 19.2-9; 32.35), or because it was believed that in the valley was the entrance to the underworld home of the pagan chthonian deities (cf. b. ‘Erub. 19a) (Matthew 1-7, 514-15).

In the “Gehenna” article in the recent (2007) New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Philip S. Johnston considers the biblical evidence to provide “perhaps sufficient links” though he does not dismiss outright the dump theory.

“The exact process by which a geographical toponym became the locale of postmortem punishment is obscure. The clear association with abhorrent sacrifice and subsequent slaughter, and the possible further links with fire and corpses are perhaps sufficient links. It is often suggested that the Hinnom Valley became Jerusalem’s garbage dump, and that it constantly smoldered. Alternatively, the association to the cult of the underworld deity Molech seems to contain a link between a fiery altar and the entrance to divine realm” (2:531).

Bailey gives a further suggestion that may help to explain the origin of the view of Gehenna.  The practice of sacrifice to foreign gods led to the view expressed in the Talmud that the Hinnom Valley was the location of two of the gates to Gehenna.

“Even after the valley ceased to function as a cult center, it continued to be regarded as the location of an entrance to the underworld over which the sole God was sovereign. This is clear from the following statements in the Babylonian Talmud:

(Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar further stated:) Gehenna has three gates; one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem. (According to Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai's school:) There are two palm trees in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and between them smoke arises..,. and this is the gate of Gehenna? (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin, 19a-see Slotki 1938: 130-31)” (191).

Finally, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron conclude their article on a New Testament-period dump in Jerusalem with some observations from archaeological investigation about the location of the Old Testament-period dump in the Kidron Valley.

“It seems that the location of the city-dump of the late Second Temple period in this particular part of the city had a previous long history in the late Iron Age II. The Book of Nehemiah mentions several times a gate called Saar ha-Aspot/Sopot (Neh 2, 13; 3:13-14; 12:31). This toponym is usually translated as ‘Dung Gate’, based on the analogy with 2 Sam 2,8 and Ps 113,7 (Simons 1952, 123). These verses mention the city’s poor people, who most probably were foraging the city dump for food. Even if we accept B. Mazar’s suggestion (1975, 194-95), to relate spt to tpt – the Tophet – which was an extramural high place in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kgs 21, 6; 2 Chr 33,6), we remain in an area of dirt. This place involved an extensive use of fire, which produced burning waste such as ashes, soot and charred wood. Also the location of the Gate of the pottery sherds (Sa’ar ha-Harsit), in the south (Jer 19,2), might point to a pile of garbage (Simons 1952, 230), as pottery vessels were the type of household item broken and discarded in antiquity more than any other type of artifact.

All the various types of city-garbage (ashes, pottery shards, waste of human occupation, etc.) were moved and dumped at the southeastern side of the city of Jerusalem, in the Iron Age and Persian periods. This was the city dump to where also the debris of the smashed cult objects and related material that was created during the Josianic religious reform, were moved and dumped, mentioning particularly the Kidron Valley (2 Kgs 23,4,6,10,12)” (“The Jerusalem City-Dump in the Late Second Temple Period, Israel Exploration Journal 53 [2003], 17).

The “southeastern side” of Jerusalem is the southern portion of the Kidron Valley, and this was the area of the excavators’ study.  The “extensive use of fire” is in relation to the activities of a high place, whereas the waste products of the city inhabitants were not of the sort that required significant burning.

In short, while it may not be denied that there was some burning of garbage in ancient Jerusalem, there is no indication that this was extensive, that it was located in the Hinnom Valley, or that it was in any way connected to the fires of eternal torment.  A simpler and better supported explanation is the sacrificial offerings to pagan deities in the Hinnom Valley (Jer 7:31-32; 32:35; 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6).

Hinnom Valley from east, tb091306367

Hinnom Valley from the Mount of Olives (looking west).  Location of ancient child sacrifices.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Urban Legends of Bible Teachers

Trevin Wax provides a list of “Urban Legends” that many preachers and Bible teachers are guilty of disseminating.  His list includes and explains these:

  • The “eye of the needle” is a city gate.
  • The high priest had a rope tied around his ankle. (See also my post here.)
  • Scribes washed before and after writing the name of God.
  • Gehenna was a perpetually burning trash dump.  (See also my post here.)
  • NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day.”

The comments to the post include many more.  The age of the internet makes it much easier to spread myths, but it also makes it easier to stop them.

HT: BibleX


Rising Waters of the Dead Sea

Today’s Haaretz carries a blistering article on the failure of the Israeli government to act on the rising level of the southern half of the Dead Sea.  While the northern half is dropping, the southern portion threatens to flood six hotels near the shoreline. 

Short-term thinking. Unthinking optimism - "everything will work out." Putting off hard decisions, selling national assets for peanuts, and first and foremost, of course, a lack of governance. These are the factors behind the ecological monster that is the Dead Sea, which is about to flood the hotels built in the Ein Bokek oasis.

After one High Court ruling, two biting reports by the state comptroller and any number of warnings about the gravity of the situation, the government is supposed to finally make decisions. It has to decide how to rescue one of Israel's most important tourism destinations, the lowest place on earth. After 20 years of foot-dragging, it has to decide how best to stop the rising level of the sea's southern half from swamping the hotels.


Israel's ignoring of nature was the root of the evil behind the damaging of the Dead Sea. Israel built its main water conduit from north to south in the 1950s. At the time this was hailed as progress; only later came recognition of the tremendous damage it caused. Since the national conduit redirected water to central Israel, it all but eliminated the flow of natural water down the Jordan River south of Lake Kinneret. Israel's neighbors Syria and Jordan diverted the course of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers too. The upshot was that during the 20th century, the Dead Sea fell 25 meters.

Also to blame for the drop in sea level is the Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals (ICL ), which in turn is owned by the Ofer family. DSW is responsible for 20% of the drop in sea level, according the Geological Institute. It siphons seawater into evaporation pans south of the sea, from which it extracts the potash it sells worldwide as fertilizer.


It came up with three suggestions. One: Harvest the salt building up on the floor of the pool to keep the water level steady. Two: Create a lagoon by splitting the salt pool into two parts. The water level of the part by the hotels would remain steady. Three: Raze the six hotels on the shore (and the adjacent shopping centers ) and rebuild them elsewhere.

The Tourism Ministry is deliberating between option one (harvest ) and three (move ), and is reportedly leaning toward the latter. The Finance Ministry (which doesn't get to decide ) supports the last option, as the cheapest.

This is not the first time this subject has been addressed in the media, but this may be the best article to date.  Read the whole for more details.

Ein Bokek Le Meridien hotel from above, tb030106477ddd

Hotels of Ein Bokek


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Underground Jerusalem

The weekend magazine of Haaretz has a lengthy article on the excavations below ground in Jerusalem.  While the majority of the information is not new, the article brings matters together in a helpful survey.  The second half of the article focuses on the excavations of the road and drainage channel that runs from the Western Wall to the Pool of Siloam.

The excavation of the sewage canal that links the City of David with the Western Wall began in 2003. In many respects, this tunnel became Elad's flagship project. If, as Elad officials hope, the public can walk the length of the tunnel, it would give the national park a major boost, connecting it directly to the Western Wall plaza. The excavators say this is not an excavation in the ordinary sense, but rather a matter of "clearing" sewage from a Herodian tunnel that was largely exposed by Warren and his successors.

The excavation is criticized on political grounds as well as on archaeological ones.

The scholarly objection to digging laterally through the tunnels is that this is a faulty, unscientific way of excavating, one that typified archaeology a century or more ago; it makes it impossible to find, date and document all the archaeological findings. Another objection concerns the fact that most of the excavations are cautiously retracing the steps of Warren and his successors, meaning they are providing only marginal added value. Critics also say the tunnels conceal the excavation from the public.

Archaeologist Ronny Reich is given a chance to respond:

Reich himself wrote in an introductory archaeology textbook that the tunnel excavation method is outdated. Nevertheless, he rejects the criticism of his work in the City of David. One must differentiate between genuine archaeological excavations and clearing out debris from an ancient sewer, he says. This is not a vertical excavation, but rather the uncovering of an ancient structure. As for vertical excavations, such as the stepped street - the street that was built above the sewer system, now cleared and part of the City of David national park - Reich explains that given the choice between what he gave up by adopting this type of excavation style, and what he discovered by virtue of employing the method, he has no doubt that the excavation was highly valuable.


"I'm not motivated by politics; I myself am on the left. I'm motivated by the archaeological understanding of Jerusalem. The excavation is sponsored by the State of Israel. What can I do if it is easy to raise funds for excavations in Jerusalem?"

Reich is also proud of his part in encouraging tourism in the area. "When we started, 15 years ago, there may have been a thousand tourists a year. Now there are 450,000 and that is solely because of the archaeology. There is nothing else. So what am I being accused of, helping develop tourism in Jerusalem?"

It’s worth noting that Reich is a political leftist.  This contradicts the earlier statement in the article by Meretz city council member Meir Margalit.

I have no problem with excavating per se; I myself am an archaeology buff, and I always get a thrill from these tunnels. The problem is the excavators' messianic political agenda.

Margalit’s statement should not go unchallenged.  The fact is that Elad, who is supporting the excavations financially, is ideologically driven, but the archaeologists are not.  There have been many pieces criticizing the excavations, but not once have I heard any hint that Reich or his partner Shukron distort their findings or interpretation because of personal or institutional bias.

The article concludes with a statement from Elad, financial backer of the City of David excavations.  The final paragraph makes an important point:

"Recently a drainage canal from the Second Temple period was exposed. This is one of the most important and exciting archaeological discoveries of recent years, not only for the Jewish people but for all of human civilization. It is clear to every thinking person that the route of the canal was determined 2,000 years ago, and there is no connection between its discovery and attempts to connect it, indecently, to political viewpoints."

The entire article contains much more.  Previous posts on this blog about the excavations of this street were written in Jan 2011, Sept 2009, Mar 2008, and Sept 2007.

Siloam street drainage channel, tb021907936

Drainage channel below Siloam Street

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lead Codices: Jordanian Police Recover Portion

Seven of the seventy metal codices alleged to be from the first century have been recovered by Jordanian police.  From Haaretz:

Jordan's archaeology chief, Ziad al-Saad, said on Tuesday that security police have recovered seven ancient manuscripts from local smugglers.

The writings are part of 70 manuscripts that Jordanian archaeologists discovered five years ago in a cave in the north. Later, they were stolen and most were believed to have been smuggled into Israel.

At a press conference in Jordan's capital, Amman, earlier this month, al-Saad said that there is strong evidence the material was excavated by a Jordanian Bedouin, but that it later made its way into the hands of an Israeli Bedouin.

The full story is here.  This should allow a more thorough and honest investigation than has been done to this point.


Amenhotep III Statue Unearthed at Funerary Temple

From the Associated Press:

Archaeologists unearthed one of the largest statues found to date of a powerful ancient Egyptian pharaoh at his mortuary temple in the southern city of Luxor, the country's antiquities authority announced Tuesday.

The 13 meter (42 foot) tall statue of Amenhotep III was one of a pair that flanked the northern entrance to the grand funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile that is currently the focus of a major excavation.

The statue consists of seven large quartzite blocks and still lacks a head and was actually first discovered in the 1928 and then rehidden, according to the press release from the country's antiquities authority. Archaeologists expect to find its twin in the next digging season.

Excavation supervisor Abdel-Ghaffar Wagdi said two other statues were also unearthed, one of the god Thoth with a baboon's head and a six foot (1.85 meter) tall one of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet.

The full story is here.  The temple is best known to visitors by the well-preserved Colossi of Memnon, but most of the stones of the temple were robbed away in antiquity.  Amenhotep III’s temple was the largest in ancient Thebes, covering a total of four million square feet.  A diagram and aerial photo is included with an article about the temple by Mark Andrews.

Colossi of Memnon in floodwaters of Nile River, cf34-74

Colossi of Memnon, with floodwaters of Nile, c. 1965
Source: Photographs of Charles Lee Feinberg

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Top Tourist Sites in Israel in 2010

According to Dun and Bradstreet Israel, the most visited paid tourist sites in Israel in 2010 were:

1. Masada – 762,992 visitors; revenue of $10 million

2. Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem – 718,902 visitors

3. Caesarea National Park – 698,808 visitors

4. Banias National Park – 663,000 visitors (up from 9th place in 2009)

5. Ramat Gan Safari Park – down from 2nd place in 2009

6. En Gedi Nature Reserve – 468,562 visitors (most of which were on their way to or from Masada)

7. Hammat Gader hot springs

8. Underwater Observatory in Eilat

9. Qumran National Park (see comment on #6 above)

10. Yamit 2000 Water Park in Holon

Israeli visitors account for the large majority of those visiting #2, #5, #7, #8, and #10.  Foreigners are likely the majority at #3 and #9.  The others are popular with both Israelis and foreigners.  Six of the sites are water-related and favorite destinations of locals in the summer.

The most popular free tourist site was the Western Wall of Jerusalem.

Given that 3.5 million tourists visited Israel in 2010, the majority of them Christians, one is led to wonder where the Christians all went.  Surely more than 1 million Christian tourists did not come and leave Israel without visiting Capernaum.  Perhaps the site was excluded from the survey for some reason, even though it charges an entrance fee.  Last year’s survey (noted on this blog here) was reported as pertaining only to Israelis’ destinations, but the stories in the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7 of this year’s results suggest that all tourists are included.

Masada aerial from west, tb010703312

Masada from west

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Gordon Franz has updated his article about Simcha’s nails, including statements from several authorities that deny that the nails came from the tomb of Caiaphas.

The excavators of Tel Burna have posted the report on the first archaeological season.

James Hoffmeier is lecturing on “The Exodus from Egypt in Light of Recent Archaeological and Geological Work in North Sinai” in Houston on May 21.

The Global Heritage Fund has created “its own spy agency, created to allow armchair archaeologists (as well as real ones), to watch for looting, disasters and other calamities at some of the most endangered sites of human history.”

This July, Thomas Davis will become Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas.  Davis is author of Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology.  One clear result of the fall of biblical archaeology is that professors now have significantly different titles.

If you believed the recent report about dishonesty by the author of Three Cups of Tea, perhaps you were unaware that it was the work of 60 Minutes.  These are the same folks who brought us the report exposing the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet as forgeries.  The heart of their case was the on-screen confession of an Egyptian artisan.  Yet Hershel Shanks has investigated and determined that it was all a lie.  And 60 Minutes knew it all along.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Early Coins Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Yoav Farhi recently made a presentation on his study of Persian and Hellenistic coins found at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah of Judah.  A summary of his work is reported in Maariv (in Hebrew), and a rough translation has been provided by Joe Lauer, the full contents of which is posted below.

Friday, April 15, 2011 14:17
Dalia Mazori

A wonderful discovery was made at the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley: at the site were discovered some of the earliest coins ever found in the Land. The discovery was reported by Yoav Farhi, a doctoral candidate from the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, at the 37th Israel Archaeological Congress that was held on Thursday, [April 14, 2011,] at Bar-Ilan University.

The coins were from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the fourth and fifth centuries BCE, about a hundred or more years after the return from exile and the building of the (original) Second Temple. The land was under Persian rule until 332-333 BCE, when the area was conquered by Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period began.

At the site tens of rare coins were found from different periods. However, the most fascinating were the coins from the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Then coins were first minted in the Land at Jerusalem, Samaria, and Philistia (Gaza, Ashdod and Ashkelon). At the same time coins brought from elsewhere in the Greek world were also used.

"Coins that were minted in the Land are very rare. All are made of silver and generally are very very small - with a diameter of about 7 mm. and a weight of less than half a gram. However, there are also coins that are slightly larger. But because they are so small they are hardly ever found in organized excavations", explained Yoav Farhi.

The coin collection that was uncovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa is for now the largest in the Land, of some tens of coins of all types. "These are the first coins ever minted in the Land. Before then no coins were minted here. The world's most ancient coins were minted in Lydia in Asia Minor in the 7th century BCE. The coins uncovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa are from the earliest in the Land", said Farhi.

He explained the before this period there were no coins in the Land and that when Abraham bought the Machpela Cave [of the Patriarchs] for 400 silver shekels - he bought it in exchange for pieces of silver and the word "shekel" refers to a unit of weight of about 11.4 grams.

According to Farhi the coins - in the order of tens - were not all found in one place but over three years in all areas of the excavation at the site. Until now there was not found at any excavation site in the Land so many coins of all these types. Only about 10 archaic Greek coins were found in the Land in different places like Jerusalem, Shechem and Atlit - all imported.

A coin from the time of Alexander the Great is the rarest of the coins - one of a kind in the world - a silver covered bronze coin upon which is depicted the figure of a sphinx that was apparently brought from Cyprus. No similar coin of this specific type is known.

On another silver coin - a tetradrachma (four drachmas), that is a relatively large coin, there is displayed on one side the head of the goddess Athena and on the other side a raptor from the owl family and the name of the city of Athens in Greek. This coin served like the dollar - the currency par excellence - in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE throughout the ancient Near East.

Of the earliest and smallest coins struck in Jerusalem is a coin displaying on the obverse the head of the goddess Athena and on the reverse a raptor from the owl family, this time accompanied by the inscription "Yehud", the name of the province of Judea under Persian rule.

Another coin that was found at the site is from the time of Alexander the Great - also a silver tetradrachma. On one side is seen a head, apparently Alexander's head, and on the second side the god Zeus seated on a throne. These are relatively large coins, around 25 mm. in diameter and a weight of 17 grams and are most beautiful (compared with the tiny coins of the Persian period whose weight was only half a gram and their diameter about 7 mm.).

The variety of coins that were found in the excavation improves our understanding regarding the monetary situation in Judea and its neighbors during the transition phase between the Persian and Hellenistic periods.

In Khirbet Qeiyafa was revealed a settlement apparently dating back to the tenth century BCE. In the ancient Persian and Hellenistic periods the settlement was of an administrative-military nature.

The excavations at the site are conducted on behalf of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor.

The Hebrew article also includes some photographs of the coins.  A radio interview with Farhi is available at LandMinds.

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Crowds at the Samaritan Passover

Years of relative quiet in the West Bank have led to increasingly large crowds of Israelis and foreigners attending the Samaritan Passover ceremony.  Not all of the Samaritans are happy about the intruders.  From Haaretz:

The real problem was the area around the altar on which the sacrifice was to be made, which was surrounded by a fence and designated for prominent Samaritan community members, who surrounded it to fend off visitors. One young woman from Jerusalem spied an elderly Samaritan woman who was having difficulty walking, took her hand, and accompanied her to the site; for her pains, she remained inside the altar area until the end of the evening, taking photos of the slaughtered lambs with her cell phone. Other Israelis passed themselves off as journalists, invited guests, army officers - anything to get closer.

Asher, a red-haired Samaritan from Holon, despaired. "Who needs this headache, go home," he growled, frustrated by the dozens of people blocking his path. "But we are your guests," somebody insisted. "You're not my guests, go home," he responded.

Another Samaritan proposed charging visitors an entry fee next year. One elder confessed that his community had lost control of the annual ritual. The mountaintop site is not suited to thousands of visitors, he said, and there is not enough space for photographers. Meanwhile, some young people climbed atop a Palestinian fire truck nearby; others watched from the rooftop of a building, which did not appear to be strong enough to bear them; the barbed-wire surrounding the building did not deter anyone. Other visitors knocked on doors of private houses and asked to watch the ceremony inside.

Almost everyone had sophisticated camera equipment. One photographer who tried to barge her way into the closed-off altar area complained that she just had to take pictures. Said one Samaritan guard nearby: "It's all on YouTube."

I’ve seen similar attitudes with Samaritans as with Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, and others.  When times are hard and visitors are few, they gladly welcome outsiders.  Tourists who want a VIP welcome right now are advised to head to Egypt.

This year the celebration was held on Sunday evening, the day before the Jewish Passover.  For more reading about the event, I recommend the top hits given on Google search. In addition, see this page for views and perspectives before tourists outnumbered Samaritans.

Samaritan Passover square and Mt Gerizim, tbs104259900

Crowds watching the Samaritan Passover, with full moon over Mount Gerizim

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project: The Gazetteer

As good things tend to do, this is a reminder of how much remains to be done and how much has already been lost in the rest of the country.  As announced by the author through the Agade list:

The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project: The Gazetteer.
Author: Yehuda Dagan
IAA Reports 46, Jerusalem, 2010, 351pp. Topographical map $30.

This is the first of several volumes to be published in the near future documenting The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project.

Following the decision to construct a new town in the hills of the Judean Shephelah, south of the modern city of Beth Shemesh, the Israel Antiquities Authority undertook a comprehensive archaeological–environmental study of the entire area during the years 1994–2000, prior to construction of the new town. As construction of the new town would change the cultural and natural landscapes entirely, the Ramat Bet Shemesh Project aimed to document ALL remains, both ancient and modern, before the bulldozers began their work. This was accomplished through archaeological and environmental surveys of higher resolution than any similar studies carried out to date in the southern Levant within the context of a regional archaeological project. The surveys were accompanied by archaeological excavations of ALL ancient remains in the areas fated to be destroyed. Our final aim was to reconstruct the settlement landscapes of each period, from the Paleolithic era to the recent past, through the integration of the archaeological surveys and excavations and the interdisciplinary environmental studies, with the aid of GIS technology to enable cross-referencing between the different databases.

The Gazetteer comprises a detailed description of all the survey sites and the final reports of 100 small-scale excavations. The following volume, now in press, Landscapes of Settlement: From the Palaeolithic to the Ottoman Period, presents the methodology, field techniques, and the ecological and environmental studies, as well as a reconstruction of the settlement patterns of each period, from the Paleolithic to the Ottoman periods, as revealed in our surveys and excavations. The final volume, in preparation, will comprise the final excavation reports of the major archaeological excavations conducted within the framework of this project.

The book can be ordered through the Israel Antiquities Authority online shop.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cyrus Cylinder Returned to British Museum

From the Circle of Iranian Studies:

The Cyrus the Great Cylinder, described as the world's first Charter of Human Rights returned to the British Museum on Monday, following the seven-month loan to the National Museum of Iran (NMI).

The priceless Cylinder arrived in the UK just after the cultural authorities in Iran severed ties with the Louvre over the French museum’s decision not to lend Iranian antiquities to NMI.

The British Museum said the artefact would go back on display in its ancient Iran gallery (Room 52) on Tuesday.


In addition, a number of Iranian academics and oppositions objected the loaning of the cylinder to Iran, since the safety could not be guaranteed; a four-month loan was eventually agreed in September 2010. The cylinder was escorted by a British delegation headed by Dr John Curtis to the exhibition site, where it was displayed for the first time after 40 years during the 2,500 Year Celebration of Iranian Monarchy in 1971.

The duration of the loan was extended in December 2010, due to the exhibition’s popularity. Over two million Iranians have viewed this priceless artefact while it was on display in NMI.

The presence of Cyrus the Great Cylinder in Iran has proved immensely significant, as it was provided an opportunity for the majority of Iranians and non-governmental cultural establishments to promote a ‘nationalist narrative’, which predates Islam for thousands of years, once again since 1979 without fear of prosecution. Therefore, the bete noir of the artefact was the highest echelons for the Mullahs in Iran, as they boycotted the exhibition and called it the ‘work of Zionists’.

The full article contains more details.

HT: Paleojudaica


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rosenberg: Searching for Evidence for the Exodus

In a Passover article for the Jerusalem Post, Stephen Rosenberg searches for indirect evidence connecting the Israelites to Egypt.  He finds some significant connections:

The Torah is full of references to Egyptian geography and religious cults and customs, and it is clear that the compiler was speaking to an audience familiar with Egypt. When Lot parted from Abraham, he chose the plain of the Jordan because “it was well watered… like the Land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10). The Tower of Babel in Mesopotamia was built of brick, because “they used brick for stone” (Gen. 11:3), it being necessary to explain this to the Israelites, who only knew monuments built of stone, as in Egypt.


With reference to temples, one can see that the description of the Tabernacle of the Wilderness, the Mishkan, is based on Egyptian models. The Ark of the Covenant is made of three layers, a wooden chest overlaid with gold inside and outside, like the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. It is protected by two cherubim, just like that of Tutankhamun, except that he had four. Much of the furniture from his tomb was fitted with carrying staves, like those of the Tabernacle.

But then he goes further and suggests that the Israelite tabernacle was in fact the battle tent of King Tutankhamun, stolen by the escaping slaves.  That leads him to propose a 14th-century date for the exodus.

In that case Akhenaten, who had started his reign under the official name of Amenhotep IV (1350-1334 BCE), was the persecutor of the Israelites, “the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). He was the one who ordered the male babies to be drowned, from which fate Moses was saved to become a prince at his court, as Sigmund Freud suggested 80 years ago. When Moses saw his brothers slaving at the building of the city, he reacted as described in the Torah and eventually, on the death of Akhenaten, saw a chance to lead them out of Egypt.

The “suspicious circumstances” of the deaths of both Akhenaten and Tutankhamun later “perhaps gave rise to the idea of the slaying of the firstborn.”  Rosenberg seems serious when he suggests that the story of the tenth plague originated from the life of Akhenaten who “had six daughters and two sons who seem to have died young.”  I wonder if there was a single Pharaoh who did not have some children die young, and I doubt that the Israelites required such an occurrence to prompt them to make up such a story.

Rosenberg then proceeds to propose a chronology, but since he refuses “to take the biblical figures at face value,” he must admit that “all this playing with figures is speculative.”

He concludes:

Sitting around the Seder table we like to believe the full biblical account of the Exodus, the 12 brothers, the slavery, the Ten Plagues, the national release and the gaining of our freedom. The historians and archeologists think it is all a wonderful folk-tale but hardly one founded on any historical fact. Proof there is none, but information based on equating the battle tent of Tutankhamun with the Tabernacle of the Wilderness can, when put together as above, make a credible narrative.

I doubt the anti-supernaturalist historians find this approach credible, and I certainly prefer to accept the biblical account over the latest attempt to create a new story by admitting certain evidence and excluding the rest.  Nevertheless, I appreciate Rosenberg’s presentation of data that may be understood in several different ways.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Riccardo Lufrani counters the proposal of Amos Kloner that the tombs of St. Etienne were originally the resting places of the last kings of Judah.  He essentially addresses the translation of Josephus’s “royal caverns.”  He does not mention the fact of that these tombs are located in the midst of an Iron Age cemetery.

Zahi Hawass gives his side of the story and explains why he will not be going to jail.  Hershel Shanks has a lengthy interview with Hawass to be published in the May/June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review and now online here.  Shanks writes of his time with Hawass, “I found him confident, overbearing, domineering, brash and loud. But he was also sometimes reasonable and often even charming.”

A four-minute video gives some insight into the revived chariot races in Jerash (Gerasa), Jordan.

Italy has announced a major restoration of Pompeii, following the recent collapse of an ancient house.

Christians celebrated Palm Sunday in Jerusalem yesterday.

Bible Gateway has a complex graphic that illustrates the chronology and geography of events during the week leading to Jesus’ crucifixion.  “Follow the lines in the chart to see at a glance what people were doing, where they were, and whom they were with at any point during the week.”

We wish a happy Passover to all of those celebrating this evening.

HT: Explorator, Jack Sasson, Carl Rasmussen

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zahi Hawass Sentenced to Jail

From AhramOnline:

[Egyptian] Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs Zahi Hawass has been sentenced to one year in jail on Sunday for refusing to fulfill a court ruling over a land dispute.

The Egyptian criminal court also said Hawass must be relieved of his governmental duties and ordered him to pay a LE1000 penalty.

Hawass failed to adhere to a ruling in favour of his opponent over a land dispute when he was in charge of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

Another source reports that he was sentenced to a year of hard labor. 

HT: Explorator


250,000 Tourists in Israel for Passover and Easter

This will be a busy week in Israel, with Passover beginning Monday evening and Good Friday and Easter a few days later.  From the Jerusalem Post:

More than a quarter of a million tourists are expected to visit Israel during the Passover and Easter holidays, the Tourism Ministry reported on Saturday. Of these tourists, at least 100,000 are expected to visit Jerusalem alone.

The seven-day Passover holiday begins on Monday evening and is one of the main periods of the year for tourism to Israel, along with the High Holidays in the fall. About a week after, Easter will begin, bringing tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims to Israel. One of the highlights of the pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians is the Holy Fire Ceremony, to be held next Sunday in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. The ceremony brings thousands of worshippers into the alleyways of the Old City as the fire is passed among the masses.

The story continues here. For a fascinating description of the Ceremony of Holy Fire, to be observed on Saturday, see here.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Free Digital Maps for New Moody Atlas of the Bible

>>I wrote the following some months ago for the BiblePlaces Newsletter.  In preparing for a new issue of the e-newsletter, I re-read it and thought it worth posting for blog readers who do not subscribe to the free newsletter.

I got the scoop for this story from the trash can.  Some of you will be impressed by the serious commitment that I and my sources have for bringing you news that even the famous tabloids have not yet learned about.  The scoop is this: all purchasers of the New Moody Atlas of the Bible can get the maps and photos in electronic format, for free.  This tip right here is worth the cost of your subscription to this fine newsletter!

When I heard about this, just a few days ago, from my trash-snooping friend, I immediately ordered the book.  I have wanted it ever since it came out, but knowing that I could get all of the maps and photos in digital format put me over the edge and I couldn't spend my $31.49 fast enough.

Of course, Barry Beitzel is one of the finest historical geographers of the biblical world.  This is not an atlas written by a one-time visitor to the Holy Land (yes, those exist, and no, I'm not going to name them).  Beitzel wrote the first edition of this atlas 25 years ago.  The new edition has the benefit of all of his continued years in the classroom and extensive travels in the Middle East.  And it won the ECPA 2010 Christian Book Award, Medallion of Excellence, in the Bible Study and Reference category.

As for the digital maps and photos, there are a few things that may be worth knowing.  First, the files are available to both past and current purchasers.  If you already bought the atlas, then you can email or call 1-800-678-8812 to get a code to download the files.  If you buy the atlas as I just did, the code is included in the book (at least the copies sitting on the shelves at Amazon; bookstores with a slow turnover may have earlier printings still around). 

Second, the maps are presented in very high resolution.  You will be impressed!  The photos are available in lower resolution.  (But who reading this newsletter needs more photos of the Bible lands anyway, right?)  Third, you access the materials through WORDSearch.  Though the program is free with this code, I would have preferred to have avoided the hassle of installing another program.  If you have a Mac, you'll have to run WORDSearch through WINE or a Windows environment.  From this point, you can save the images in png or pdf format.  (Or you can do as I did and just poke around in your Program Files or Program Data folder to find all of the images and copy them to a more convenient location if you do not plan to access them via WORDSearch.)

I commented on the blog a few months ago that I really appreciated the publisher's wisdom in making the ESV Bible Atlas maps available to its users and I noted my hope that others would get on board.  I'm delighted to see another publisher following suit.

You can search the internet for information about this, but I don't think you'll find anything.  If you're thinking this is all too good to be true, I've uploaded the official document giving the details.  Of course, I cut off the part encrusted with noodles first.

>>You may subscribe to the free newsletter here


Friday, April 15, 2011

Franz: No Crucifixion Nails with Caiaphas

One advantage that a scam artist has over his victims is preparation time.  He can skillfully prepare his scam over months and years, but when he springs it on the mainstream media, they take his pre-packaged story and go to press with it immediately, lest all of the audience read the story at other outlets.  If you take two or three days to investigate, the news is now old.  Fortunately for both the purveyor and conveyors of the story, the audience is not so concerned with details and by the time the scam is revealed, the audience is entertained by the newest sensation.

The problems with Jacobovici’s “Nails of the Cross” are in the details.  Gordon Franz has done some rather elementary detective work that suggests that Jacobovici is purposefully misleading his audience in order to sell his show. 

Jacobovici’s theory is that these two nails from Jesus’ crucifixion were buried with Caiaphas because he converted to faith in Jesus.  The problem, as Franz notes, is that these two nails were not buried with Caiaphas.  The burial cave in question held dozens of people and six ossuaries (bone boxes).  Two of the ossuaries have inscriptions related to Caiaphas (#3 and #6), but no nails were found in either of these ossuaries.  One nail was found inside Ossuary 1, and the other was found in a burial niche.  Jacobivici’s presentation assumes that Caiaphas’s remains were interred in Ossuary 3, but this ossuary contained only the bones of women and children.  Ossuary 6 had the bones of a 60-year-old man, possibly the famous high priest, but this beautiful and intact stone box did not contain any nails.

Second, Franz observes that there are very obvious reasons for nails being found in a burial tomb.  Sometimes lids were attached to ossuaries by means of a nail.  In this tomb, names were scratched into the sides of several ossuaries, and this was done using nails.  As Franz writes:

It is highly probable that the nail found in Kokhim IV was used for scratching the names of Caiaphas on Ossuary 6, but it is important to note that it was not found inside the ossuary of Caiaphas and thus not a talisman with divine power to protect Caiaphas in the afterlife as Jacobovici would like to claim.

Third, Franz questions whether a nail only three inches long could have sufficiently held an adult man to a cross.  The only nail known to have been used in a crucifixion was longer than four inches.

Jacobovici has said he spent three years making this video, yet if he had spent three hours in a library looking at a handful of articles he would have known that the evidence does not support his theory.  But since his reporting depends on these very same articles, it is impossible for him to claim that he is ignorant of this data.  The success of his show is dependent upon the ignorance of his viewers, something that his highly selective presentation is intended to maintain. 


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Teaching Archaeology to College and K-12 Students

Teachers of archaeology may benefit from four presentations from the 2010 annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research now posted online.

This Forum stems from the session “Teaching Archaeology to Undergraduates and K-12 Schoolchildren” co-chaired by Ellen D. Bedell and Eric H. Cline at the 2010 ASOR Annual Meeting in Atlanta. The theme of the 2010 session was the use of technology to teach archaeology. Four of the presentations are being made available on Dig-it-al NEA in hopes that these papers inspire others to incorporate similar techniques and technology into their own curriculum.

By Ellen D. Bedell and Eric H. Cline

Bringing the Near Eastern Past To Life (pdf)
By Stephanie Langin-Hooper and Terri Tanaka

Finding One’s Own Voice (pdf)
By Lisa C. Kahn

The Old (World) and New (Technologies) (pdf)
By Elaine Sullivan

Creative Teaching: Using Digital Media in the Classroom (pdf)
The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal (iMovie)
By Stephanie P. Elkins

See the site for links to the files.


James Ossuary Inscription: Experts Support Authenticity

Recent commentary on fraudulent discoveries sometimes includes sideswipes at the ossuary inscription of James, brother of Jesus.  If forgeries are still being manufactured, then obviously the James Ossuary inscription is a forgery is as well, apparently goes the logic.  Recently, Gideon Avni, employee of the Israel Antiquities Authority, published an article in which he argued not that the inscription is a forgery, but that such is old news and we can now look back on the debate as a historical footnote.

Oded Golan, one of those accused of forging the inscription, has written a lengthy defense of the antiquity of the James Ossuary inscription and the Jehoash Tablet.  If he speaks accurately of the testimony at the trial (and I believe that he does), then the situation is entirely different than Avni has portrayed.  He lists nine world-class scholars who testified in court that they believe the inscription is authentic or possibly authentic.

André Lemaire – testified that he has no doubt the entire inscription is ancient.

Ada Yardeni – “If this is a forgery, I quit.”

Haggai Misgav – found no indication of forgery in the inscription.

Shmuel Ahituv – sees no support for the allegation that the inscription is a forgery.

Yosef Naveh – found no indication that the inscription is a forgery.

Y. L. Rahmani – sees no indication that any part of the inscription was forged.

Esther Eshel – testified that her doubts are not based on scientific grounds and cannot rule out the possibility that entire inscription is ancient.

Ronny Reich – “Each of the features of the inscription on its own and together, without exception, indicate that this is an authentic inscription from the late Second Temple Period.”

Gabriel Barkay – knows of no scientific evidence to doubt the authenticity of the entire ossuary inscription.

In short, one can maintain that (part of) the inscription is a forgery, but it is inaccurate to claim that all or even most scholars in the field hold this position.  Golan observes that Yuval Goren, one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of forgery, re-visited his study and identified ancient patina in the one letter of the word “Jesus.”  He concluded in his court testimony, “Therefore, ultimately, if you are asking me here to draw some conclusion, the conclusion is that I am undecided.  I am deliberating.”

According to Golan, at the conclusion of the closing arguments, the prosecutor observed that the State would probably dismiss the forgery charges concerning the James Ossuary if the indictment did not also include other charges.

Whether or not the inscription refers to two figures mentioned in the New Testament is a separate issue, but it seems clear that there is no consensus that the James Ossuary inscription is forged.  Indeed, the best scholars in the field are on record testifying to its authenticity.  Accepting that the entire inscription may be ancient does not require one to believe that Golan is an honest individual, that antiquities trade should continue, or that forgeries are not prolific and profitable.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Haifa Bahai Temple Renovation Completed

From the Associated Press:

Followers of the Bahai faith unveiled their newly renovated holy site on the coast of Israel on Tuesday, drawing attention to one of the Holy Land's lesser-known religions.

The renovation of the Shrine of the Bab, a UN-designated World Heritage site, lasted two-and-a-half-years and cost $6 million dollars, according to the Bahai leadership.

The structure has been refitted and strengthened to withstand an earthquake, and the building's dome - the most distinctive feature of the landscape in the Mediterranean port city of Haifa - has been covered with 11,790 new gold-glazed porcelain tiles.

The full story is here.


MEGA-Jordan: Archaeological Sites on the Map

I have lamented before the lack of a good map of Jordan showing the archaeological sites.  Today that shortcoming is partially resolved with the unveiling of MEGA-Jordan, an online database of that locates 11,000 archaeological sites on a Google Earth-type interface.  The database was created by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund. 

The opening page includes 11 tutorial videos, but if you are interested you should watch them before you enter the site because a bug in the website will prevent you from returning from the map section to the entry page.  (You can work around this by opening the site in a different browser.)

From the Associated Press:

Jordan on Tuesday launched the world's largest online antiquities database, which details every archaeological site in the country and aims to help preserve its treasures. Its creators said the Web platform could be a model for Iraq, where looters have plundered its ancient heritage.

Experts said the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities is the first such countrywide system. The site uses Geographic Information System, similar to Google Earth, to map 11,000 registered sites in the country , and a click on each reveals inventories of what they contain and reports on their conditions.

The public can use the material for planning visits. Scholars and inspectors approved by Jordan's Antiquities can update the information in a user-friendly way for other professionals to follow and for authorities to keep track of threats to the sites.

Jordan hosts a number of World Heritage sites, most famously the 2,000 year-old rose rock city of Petra , but also Umm er-Rassas, a city dating back to the 5th century that features ancient Byzantine churches, and Qasr Amra, an 8th century Islamic castle. It is also dotted with sites dating from the Neolithic Age, through Biblical times to the Crusades.

The $1 million MEGA program was developed in cooperation with Getty Institute of Los Angeles and the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

"Jordan is at the forefront of safeguarding its heritage," Getty's director Tim Whalen said at an Amman press conference with antiquities chief Ziad al-Saad unveiling the system.

The story continues here.  I tested the site by searching for and quickly finding Tal Jalul, Hesban, and Gadara.  The database does not appear to contain entries for the biblical sites of Penuel/Peniel and Mahanaim.

Our gratitude goes to the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund for creating this work and for the country of Jordan for allowing it.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Barkay on the Nails from the Tomb of Caiaphas

Gabriel Barkay is probably the world’s leading scholar on tombs in Jerusalem.  He is quoted in a story by the Agence France-Presse.

Gabi Barkai, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University who has 40 years of experience excavating tombs in Jerusalem, confirmed the nails dated back to the first century, but said it was impossible get a more accurate date.

"Nails are a rare things in tombs from Second Temple period Jerusalem," he told reporters, noting that there was no bone residue attached to them.

There were several theories as to why they might have been put inside a grave, one of which was that crucifixion nails were believed to be powerful amulets for the afterlife.

But there was "no proof whatsoever that these nails came from the cave of Caiaphas," he said.

Asked if he believed they were used in the crucifixion, Barkai was cautious.

"It's a possibility," he said.

I take the last quote in the sense of, “It’s not absolutely impossible that these nails were used in a crucifixion.”  It should also be noted that Barkay was likely a paid consultant for his appearance in the movie, and he would have been reluctant to completely dismiss the movie’s basic premise at a news conference sponsored by the film producer.

Time magazine has this:

Also unclear: Why would a priest be buried with a nail? Jacobovici points to scholarship indicating crucifixion nails were regarded by contemporary Jews as holding special healing powers. The bit of paganism was apparently tolerated, even in priestly circles: a woman's skull found in the same tomb contained a Roman coin, presumably included to pay the boatman steering souls across the River Styx.

Gaby Barkay, a professor at Bar Ilan University and probably the most prominent archeologist in Israel, offers another explanation. Jews at the time of Christ "were impurity freaks," Barkay says. Anything in the vicinity of a corpse was thought to be contaminated by death, even a nail stuck in a nearby wall. "Therefore it would probably be removed and put into the grave," he says.

The professor quibbles with other assumptions as well, but notes that "nails in general are a rare thing in tombs of the Second Temple Period," and his presence at a crowded news conference has added weight to Jacobovici's effort.

Barkay may be one of the most credible archaeologists in Israel, but he’s certainly not the most prominent.  While it is true that crucifixion nails were considered sacred amulets in the ancient world, that is usually the explanation given for why nails are not found in tombs.

The Christian Post adds:

According to the documentary’s guest archaeologist, Gaby Barkay, iron nails were rarely found in tombs and were normally used to carve names in the stone ossuaries.

“There’s no proof that the nails are connected to any bones or proof from textual data that Caiaphas had the nails for the crucifixion with him after the crucifixion took place and after Jesus was taken down from the cross,” Barkay said. “On the other hand, those are possible things.”

Everything is possible.  The question is, what is likely given the evidence?  Should profit motives influence our evaluation of a claim? 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Latest Scam: Nails from Jesus’ Cross

There are a few things to be learned from today’s story that the nails from Jesus’ cross have been found.  First, Simcha Jacobovici is a scam artist.  He will say anything to make a buck.  Second, the media will carry any story about Jesus the week before Easter.  If you ignore all of these for the rest of your life, there is little chance you will miss anything of value.

Robert Cargill does a good job of evaluating Simcha’s “logic” and I would recommend that if you simply can’t ignore this story altogether.  He sums things up this way:

Because Caiaphas is mentioned in the story of Jesus, and the nails “disappeared” for a time, they must be the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion?????

Cargill’s citation from Billy Madison nails it.  The difference is that Simcha knows exactly what he is doing, and he is laughing all the way to the bank.

Jim West makes a good observation that the “sad thing about idiotic archaeological claims

Is that – because Simcha Jacobovici and others have so often presented unsubstantiated and unfounded claims about stirring and important ‘discoveries’  - if anything real is ever discovered very few people will believe it.

It’s too bad that there is any interest in the nails, wood from the cross, thorns from the crown, or any other silly relics.  But if one wants to take attention away from the only person who ever died and came back to life, this seems to be an effective strategy.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Weekend Roundup

If you would like to try your hand at identifying objects found in an archaeological excavation, the team at the Temple Mount Sifting Project is now soliciting input from those who may have information related to their finds.  You can head over to the photo gallery to begin.

Zahi Hawass is back as Egyptian Minister of Antiquities because he learned that “antiquities cannot live away from me.”  The nation’s trials have not ended and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is again closed.

The spring season at Tel Burna has wrapped up, and the website now has links to photos and an easier way to donate.

Ferrell Jenkins recently explained the connections of Libya to the New Testament.

G. M. Grena debunks the claims that the earliest depiction of Jesus was found in the lead codices from Jordan.

Gerald Mattingly lectured yesterday afternoon at Lee University on the topic: “Is Anybody Finding Anything Important Over in Jordan: The Top 10 Discoveries from Transjordan that Relate to the Bible.”  Perhaps he will turn the presentation into an article one day.

Iran has cut ties with the Louvre.  It’s too bad it’s not the other way around.

Glo users now can access the program on all of their PCs, Macs, iPads and soon iPhones.

Logos has released an updated version of Shibboleth and Mark Hoffman explains why it’s good and when an alternative may be better for you.

Only rarely does one see an original copy of the Survey of Western Palestine maps (26 sheets) for sale.  A bookseller in the UK has one listed now, if you act quickly and are ready to part with $3,826 plus shipping.  Alternately, you can get an electronic copy for $35 (including shipping) from us.  In either case, you’ll benefit from the 160-page index (which we have painstakingly digitized).

HT: Jack Sasson

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lead Codices Update

James McGrath notes that there are dozens of photographs of the objects online.

Jim Davila provides a concise and compelling summary of the case against the authenticity of the lead codices:

Let's take stock. The Greek is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958. The forger couldn't tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda. The Hebrew script is taken from the same inscription. The Hebrew text is in "code," i.e., is gibberish. The "Jesus" face is taken from a well-known mosaic. The charioteer is taken from a fake coin. The crocodile has a suspicious resemblance to a plastic toy.

Davila also observes the utter failure of the media to confess their sins.

The only other noteworthy news is the lack of it. Trust me, the mainstream media have been informed about the true status of the fake codices. The lack of coverage is not due to ignorance, it's due to unprofessional indifference. Think about that. When the media report a sensationalist story and it proves to be bogus, they feel no responsibility to inform their readers of the truth. I suppose they might if they think they can get another sensation out of the correct story, but if not, they can't be bothered. Journalists used to feel a professional obligation to their audience. No more.

The priority of too much journalism today is not truth but market share.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Rosenberg Review, March 2011

In his monthly “Archaeology in Israel Update,” Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg summarizes five stories:

  • Bethlehem Church, UNESCO Heritage Site?
  • Jericho’s Ancient Tower
  • Atlantis and Tarshish Identified?
  • New Ground-penetrating Technology
  • Three Brief Notices: Second Temple Coins, Headless Roman Statue, Byzantine Mosaic


Friday, April 08, 2011

New Blog: Corinthian Matters

A relatively new blog that may be of interest to readers here is Corinthian Matters.  Focused on “the history and archaeology of Corinthia, Greece,” the site is the creation of David Pettegrew, Assistant Professor of History at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  His dissertation was entitled Corinth on the Isthmus and was completed in 2006 at the Ohio State University.

Recent posts include links to recent scholarship, news articles, new digital resources, a new section of maps, and even a music video.  Links in the top navigation bar lead to a photo gallery, bibliographic resources, and more maps.

Students and teachers of Acts and the letters to the Corinthians will find this a very useful resource.

HT: Gordon Franz

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna

I have long wanted to do a little work to debunk the endlessly repeated myth that the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) was a perpetually burning trash dump.  There simply is no evidence to support the idea, but because it seems a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” writers and preachers accept and propagate the story.

Yesterday Louis McBride raised the issue (HT: BibleX).  He writes:

I consulted over a dozen study Bibles on Matthew 5:22 and no less than eight of them made a reference to the rubbish heap. Almost every major commentary on Matthew that mentions Gehenna also spoke of the garbage dump.  I’ve always thought that this was an established fact.

Then he quotes Peter Head, G. R. Beasley-Murray, and Lloyd Bailey in tracing the origin of this notion to Rabbi David Kimchi in AD 1200.  Specifically, Bailey states:

[Kimchi] maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.

As with the legend about the rope around the high priest’s ankle, this popular myth seems to have originated in Jewish circles in the Middle Ages.  McBride has more details and the sources in his post.

The explanation for the “fire of Gehenna” lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children.  Jeremiah is explicit that such occurred here:

Jeremiah 7:31–32 (ESV) — And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

Isaiah had already envisioned Topheth as the fiery destiny of an enemy of God.

Isaiah 30:33 (HCSB) — Indeed! Topheth has been ready for the king for a long time now. His funeral pyre is deep and wide, with plenty of fire and wood. The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, kindles it.

Thus already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked.  That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing. Isaiah closes his book with these words:

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) — “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

It is not difficult to see, from these and other texts (e.g., 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3, 33:6; Jer 32:35), why Jesus and his contemporaries used the word Gehenna (“valley of Hinnom”) as synonymous with the place of everlasting fiery torment.  Indeed, there is no reason to search further for ancient burning piles of discarded newspapers, product packaging, and junk mail.

UPDATE (4/29): The views of various scholars on the matter is presented in a new post.

Hinnom Valley with Sultan's Pool from south, db6607262508

Hinnom Valley from south, 1966.
Photo by David Bivin.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Western Wall Clean-Up

If you don’t check your mail for a while, at some point the mailbox will begin to overflow.  The problem is increasing at the Western Wall with more and more visitors placing notes in the cracks between the stones.  Authorities are now considering adding a third annual clean-up.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Armed with wooden poles, Western Wall employees on Wednesday removed millions of handwritten notes, faxes and email printouts from between the ancient stones. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which gives the Kotel such a face-lift twice a year - before the upcoming Passover and ahead of the Jewish New Year – are considering a third annual clean-up, due to the growing influx of requests and notes.

The notes will be placed in a repository in accordance with Jewish law, with the laborers – working under the supervision of Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz – taking care to not read their content.

The full story is here.

Western Wall men cleaning out prayers6, tb090402880

Removing prayer notes from the Western Wall

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Mount Carmel, Then and Now

If you’ve driven through the two Druze communities on Mount Carmel, you may have wished you could have found out more about this Arab group that is loyal to the State of Israel.  A recent article in the Jerusalem Post gives some insight into their culture and cuisine.

“Sometimes when people come here and talk to the Druse, they learn about the conflicts that Druse have as young Israelis and young Druse. They learn about how they fit in with the society. One of the conflicts we have is how we are seen by Druse in Syria and Lebanon, who are loyal to the countries they live in. We are often in a position of being between a rock and a hard place. We are seen as enemies of their countries but we are also related to them by faith, religion, and also our family relations.”

Zidane spoke of other conflicts, like the state’s plan to build gas lines passing through the village’s agricultural lands, or the way that he is always taken aside for extra questioning at Ben-Gurion Airport because he has an Arab name, and how that makes him feel as an officer in an IDF reserve unit.

More than anything else, Zidane spoke about Druse and the army. This is mainly because it’s what Israelis most know about the Druse, and what they often want to talk about. Like other aspects of being Druse, Zidane said it is not all very simple.

“I think that when people think of Druse, the first thing they think of is the army. Yes we like the army, we serve in it, but I think all the citizens should do it, even an Arab Muslim or Christian should. We are loyal and we have proven it, and now I don’t want to only be treated by this subject. I don’t think we should stop serving in the army, but it’s not the only thing we can do.

For a perspective on the ancient significance of Mount Carmel, see this recent JPost column by Wayne Stiles.

Daliyet el-Karmel, Druze village, tb040100100

Daliyet el-Karmel, Druze village on Mount Carmel


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Museums and Cultural Heritage

In an earlier post, we mentioned a dispute between Turkey and Germany over a gate sphinx which had been excavated at the Hittite capital of Hattusa and which is now on display in Berlin's Pergamonmuseum. Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism had threatened to withdraw Germany’s permit to excavate Hattusa if Germany did not return the sphinx. Previous requests by Turkey had been rejected, but now it seems Germany is willing to discuss the return of the sphinx. You can read more here.

Iran has "cut ties" with the Louvre, according to this report. The Louvre did not meet a deadline to decide which Persian objects in its holdings it would loan to Iran for exhibition. The same article makes mention of the Cyrus Cylinder which the British Museum loaned to Iran. The Cylinder was supposed to be returned in January, but the British Museum has agreed to extend the loan for an additional three months (see here).

Saudi Arabia has been showing 300 objects, including pre-Islamic artifacts, from its cultural heritage in an international exhibition named “Roads of Arabia.” We made mention of the exhibition here. A lengthy article (for the web, at least) in Aramco World gives some historical background to the exhibition. “Roads of Arabia” has already shown at the Louvre and in Barcelona. According to the article, the exhibition "will visit St. Petersburg, Berlin and Chicago through 2013." (The map which accompanies the article is interesting. I cannot determine what scheme was used for labeling countries. Some modern states are labeled, such as Yemen, Qatar, and Kuwait. Other countries are not labeled, such as Iran and Israel. Turkey is labeled "Minor Asia.")

HT: Jack Sasson

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