Monday, October 31, 2011

The Tomb of Jesus: More Coming

Simcha Jacobovici is in Jerusalem this week working and filming in the area of the “tomb of Jesus” in the Talpiot neighborhood. Jacobovici previously claimed that he had discovered the actual tomb of Jesus and he is currently producing a new documentary with compelling new “proof.”

One possible strategy is that Jacobovici will take patina samples from the “tomb of Jesus” and claim that they match those from the James ossuary. Since this ossuary is inscribed “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus,” Jacobovici can argue that this was the family tomb of Jesus.

Much of this has been discussed at great length in past years, and with the exception of his partner James Tabor (who benefits financially from Jacobovici’s work), I don’t know of any scholars who accept this claim. Simon & Schuster’s website promotes their forthcoming book and promises a “primetime Discovery television commentary” and press conference.

A few basic points may be recalled:

1. The tomb of Jesus’ family was likely located in his hometown of Nazareth.

2. The economic status of Jesus’ family makes it unlikely that they could afford an expensive rock-hewn tomb.

3. The names Jesus, James (Jacob), and Joseph were very common in the first century.

4. Jacobovici is attempting to do what no one in the first century could do: prove that Jesus is still in the tomb.

5. Jacobovici has made it clear in interviews that his primary interest is entertainment, not truth. Tabor appears ready to chase after anything that will undermine the historic Christian faith.

6. As long as people will buy, Jacobovici will keep selling his sensational stories, especially before major Christian holidays.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Roundup

A miniature prayer box from the 6th-7th centuries was discovered recently in the excavations in the Central Valley south of the Dung Gate of Jerusalem.

Haaretz: “The High Court of Justice yesterday criticized the agreement by which a private association, Elad, operates the City of David national park in Jerusalem, but said the agreement was legal.” One potential change to the agreement would open the site to tourists on Shabbat. The Jerusalem Post covers the story here.

A local watchman of the lower Herodium sued archaeologist Ehud Netzer days before his death. Recent court proceedings rejected all of the plaintiff’s claims and observed that the watchman had been extorting the archaeologist for years. The article is in Hebrew, with a Google translation here.

China will help build a railway to Eilat. Israeli officials hope that this boosts tourism to the Red Sea resort city.

Time Magazine gives five reasons to visit Beirut.

“The largest collection of biblical artifacts ever displayed outside Israel” opened yesterday in New York City.

Shmuel Browns gives readers a tour of the four sites run by the East Jerusalem Development Company: Ramparts Walk, Roman Plaza, Zedekiah’s Cave, and the Davidson Archaeological Park.

Joe Yudin recommends hiking to Ein Akev in the Negev Highlands. (Am I the only one offended that the Jerusalem Post publishes material with very basic mistakes in English grammar?)

Peter Williams’ lecture on “New Evidences the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts” primarily discusses data from recent studies of names, but he also includes a geographical section in minutes 36-42 of this Lanier Library Lecture now posted at Youtube. (He shares a photo from, but by using a low-res web version his viewers have a hard time making out what he’s trying to show.)

HT: Joseph Lauer, Yitzhak Sapir, A.D. Riddle

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Govier in CT: Excavations in Turkey

The earthquake in eastern Turkey prompts Gordon Govier to look at the country’s relationship with foreign archaeological expeditions in Christianity Today. Sites mentioned include Antioch of Pisidia, Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Tel Tayinat. He also provides some statistics.

[Mark] Wilson said that in 1990, the total number of excavations was 38. Last year more than 200 excavations took place, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

However, Hurriyet reports that the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry has begun cancelling excavation permits for some foreign archaeologists and turning the permits over to Turkish archaeologists. Ministry head Ertuğrul Günay said many foreigners simply weren't in the country enough. "If they don't work on it, they should hand it over."

"The government's goal is to have universities in each of Turkey's provinces, and an archaeology department in each of these universities," said Wilson. This means the number of archaeologists is expanding rapidly. Foreign archeologists now run less than 25 percent of Turkey's 200 current digs.

One statistic that I doubt is Wilson’s claim that “two-thirds of the New Testament was written either in Turkey or to churches or people in Turkey.” I count 1 long (Revelation) and 7 short books written primarily to people in Turkey (Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Philemon, 1-2 Peter). I count 1 book likely written from Turkey (1 Corinthians). If one includes John’s other four books (the gospel and 1-3 John), that boosts the word count considerably. But without the three longest books in the NT (Matthew, Luke, Acts), as well as the longer letters of Romans and 2 Corinthians, I think the truth may be closer to one-third.

Read the whole article here.

UPDATE: Using word counts from the Greek New Testament (NA27) compiled here, I’ve determined that using the most generous collection listed above (13 books), 34.1% of the NT was written to/from a site in Turkey.

HT: A.D. Riddle

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

In follow-ups to yesterday’s story, Nadav Shragai writes that the Mughrabi Bridge must be built. The city engineer is threatening to destroy the temporary bridge. The Muslim Waqf says that they are sovereign over all.

A preliminary report from excavations at Gezer from 2006-2009 is now online. Elsewhere excavator Sam Wolff writes that they are a season or two away from floor levels associated with the (Solomonic) six-chambered gate.

Jerusalem plans to develop an extensive archaeological site 30 feet (10 m) below the plaza at Jaffa Gate in order to share with the public a 220-foot (70-m) aqueduct, a Byzantine bathhouse, and other remains.

Haaretz’s Week’s End has an interesting article on the Cairo Geniza and ambitious plans to digitize all 350,000 fragments.

A couple of Tel Aviv archaeologists would like to move some of historic Jerusalem from the City of David to the Rephaim Valley. Lipschits and Na’aman have proposed that the King’s Garden was located not where the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys meet but on one end of Emek Refaim Street in west Jerusalem.

The Oriental Institute in Chicago will run an exhibit entitled “Picturing the Past: Imaging and Imagining the Ancient Middle East” from February 6 to September 2, 2012.

A Biblical Chronology from Abraham to Paul is a new book by Andrew E. Steinmann. Justin Taylor has links to his OT and NT Chronologies as well as a 48-page excerpt from his book. It seems to agree with standard conservative views except that Jesus was born in 1 BC. [Note: be prepared for sticker shock. Perhaps you can ask your library to purchase a copy.]

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has begun a list of Archaeological Excavations in 2012.

A photograph of McDonalds at Masada has prompted the site archaeologist to write an article in Haaretz. The photogapher [sic] has rejected the charges.

Thousands of people pass by the place where the ark of the covenant rested every day. Wayne Stiles explains the significance of Kiriath Jearim (and, unlike most, he gets the chronology right!).

The Big Picture celebrates Sukkot.

Israel’s prime minister and education minister are urging everyone to vote for the Dead Sea as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The Dead Sea is one of 28 finalists. Voting ends on November 11.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Sunrise over Dead Sea at En Gedi, tb021906180

The Dead Sea at sunrise

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Western Wall Bridge Deemed a Safety Hazard

The bridge from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount has been in the news frequently since the collapse of the earthen embankment in 2004. Arutz-7 reports on the latest in the saga:

Jerusalem’s engineer demands that the ”Mughrabi” bridge for Jews to the Temple Mount be repaired or closed because of dangers.

The complaint of its stability could not come at a worse time for Israel. The bridge, also known as the Rambam Gate, has been a potential explosive subject involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Jerusalem engineer Shlomo Eshkol wrote a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and demanded that the safety hazard in the temporary structure be fixed within 30 days. Although “temporary,” the structure has existed for several years after the collapse of the old permanent bridge.

Eshkol said authorization for a new bridge was granted last May, but action has been stalled because all parties involved disagree over who has the authority to tear down the current bridge and finance a new one.

The story continues here. For background, see here and here.

Ramp from Western Wall prayer plaza to Temple Mount

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Monday, October 24, 2011

InscriptiFact: A Better Way To Read Inscriptions

The technology of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) can change the way you read ancient inscriptions. Developed by HP Labs and utilized by USC with its collection of 40,000 inscriptions, RTI enables the viewer to see the ancient inscription—from Ugaritic texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls—with lighting from all different angles.

Bruce Zuckerman, professor of Hebrew Bible and director of the West Semitic Research Project, has penned a column in this month’s issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (available online in its entirety) explaining the technology and its availability online through InscriptiFact. Registration is free. Zuckerman explains how the technology works.

It involves taking a series of successive images all around an object with the light for each picture situated at a different angle and height but always from about the same distance. This can be done in a light dome or by moving a single light around an object and taking a series of pictures, thus building a virtual light dome. A software program then takes the data from these pictures (a typical set is 32) and builds from them a master image, called a texture-map, which can be displayed on a computer.

You can see the technology in action in this three-minute video. You might want to skip the first 50 seconds to jump right to the display of RTI. It’s fantastic.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Underground to the Western Wall

Tom Powers has posted today his experience in traveling through the drainage channel up from the City of David to the street below Robinson’s Arch. You’ll need to go there for the dozen photos and a step-by-step description, and I’ll encourage you to do that with a couple of sections from his conclusion:

MY TAKE on the experience:  It’s hard to see this underground route turning into a major tourist draw on the order of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. I see it being more for the hard-core afficionado (like me). For one thing, after the initial novelty of traversing an ancient sewer wears off, it gets a bit, well… tedious – it’s 650 meters from Siloam up to the Davidson exit!....

I anticipated entitling this post “Final Section…” but it turns out there is obviously more to come in terms of opening these underground spaces. First, where the present route makes its final jog to the east to run along the foundation courses of the Temple Mount, the cleared drain channel continues straight ahead, northward, but is still blocked/gated. However, a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) said he found the way open a few weeks ago — and follwed it. He went quite a ways, he said, until there was no more lighting and he had to turn around; he estimated he might have been under the Western Wall prayer area....

I appreciate Tom’s careful work to allow all of us to “visit” this newly opened excavation in Jerusalem.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Book: Archaeology in the Israel Museum

When teaching a group in Israel, one never lacks for books to recommend. The major exception to this is a resource for the Israel Museum. The archaeology wing is a natural place to conclude one’s studies in Israel, viewing many of the artifacts that we have talked about during the course. But a tour of several hours only provides just a taste and students are always disappointed when I inform them that there is no book surveying the collection. A brief and limited work was published in 1984 but this has been difficult to find.israel-museum

A book review in the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review reveals that this significant gap has now been closed. Chronicles of the Land: Archaeology in The Israel Museum Jerusalem is a 352-page work that takes the reader on a tour of the most important discoveries on display in the newly reopened archaeology wing. Steven Fine’s review (pages 64-65) is enthusiastic: “This is more than just a coffee-table book to be schlepped home by excited tourists....Scholars from many fields will find much here than enhances their work....Chronicles of the Land marks an event to be celebrated by all readers of BAR, by scholars and by all who delight in marvelous museums.”

With 326 full-color illustrations, the book is not inexpensive ($58). Since the book is published by the Israel Museum, I was not expecting to find it available outside of the gift shop. But I see that Amazon has a few copies, discounted to $48. For those not on a student budget, this is a happy day.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

Writing on the Malta Independent Online, Mark Gatt reviews Robert Cornuke’s The Lost Shipwreck of Paul and concludes that it is “fraught with mistakes and manipulated facts.”

Alan R. Millard will speak on “Are there Anachronisms in the Books of Samuel?” at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on Monday, Nov. 14. For details, see this flyer (pdf).

The International Women's Club English Lecture Series at Tel Aviv University has some interesting topics slated for the coming months. The semester theme is “From Copper to Bronze: the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages.”

The Israel Exploration Journal is among a new group of journals available in JSTOR.

A Swiss architect is trying to save the mosaics of Hisham’s Palace near Jericho.

Work has resumed in the project to lower the ground water threatening five Egyptian temples in Luxor.

Wayne Stiles’ weekly column explains how Scripture uses water imagery to teach valuable lessons.

Eisenbrauns has conference discounts posted online for the benefit of all. Among the deals are two books by Eilat Mazar and one by Ronny Reich. Amnon Ben-Tor’s Back to Masada is 20% off.

Logos Bible Software is taking bids for Austen Henry Layard’s Nineveh and Its Remains (2 vols). Projected price is currently $20.

El Al is quietly cutting their luggage limit on international flights to one bag.

HT: A.D. Riddle, Jack Sasson, Gordon Franz

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Largest Mosaic Discovered in Antioch

The largest mosaic discovered to date in Turkey has been unearthed in the ancient city of Antioch. The mosaic measures 9,150 square feet (850 sq m) and will be preserved within the hotel being constructed on the site. Antioch, located in southeastern Turkey today, was the home of a significant first-century church that sent Paul out on his three missionary journeys (cf. Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3).

The construction of the hotel is still continuing under the protection and controls of museum officials, said Yastı. The officials constantly control the drilling process and preserve the new artifacts unearthed, she added. The 850-square-meter mosaic is not damaged and in very good condition, she said, adding that it is the first time a mosaic like this has been unearthed in Turkey.

There was also a 3,000-square-meter marble floor discovered during the drilling process, she said, adding that the construction process never damaged the artifacts.

Businessman Necmi Asfuroğlu who owns the construction project said they did not want to damage the artifacts discovered during construction. There will be a 17,000-square-meter museum to exhibit those artifacts, he added. The hotel, on the other hand, will have 200 rooms.

The full article is here. Some photos are included in articles in Turkish including one showing the construction site and another with a small photo of the mosaic.

Last month we noted that the museum in Antioch currently has on display a total of 906 square meters of mosaic. The present find nearly equals that.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Roundup

The seal impressions of the biblical figures Gedaliah and Jehucal excavated by Eilat Mazar in the City of David will be on display for the first time ever in Edmond, Oklahoma from January to August, 2012.

The excellent Zondervan Atlas of the Bible (Revised Edition) is now in electronic format for Android, BlackBerry (with card), iPad, iPhone, and Symbian Series 60 v5.

Egypt has requested a loan of the Rosetta Stone for the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum. The British Museum is studying the request.

All of the Emar texts are now included in the Middle Euphrates Digital Archive.

Changing your money to shekels at the airport in Israel will now cost you more.

I was planning to write this week a summary and response to a new article (not online) by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun arguing that Hezekiah’s Tunnel was not built by Hezekiah. As this roundup is about to be finalized, I see that Tom Powers has tackled the issue. I have not yet read his analysis, but I’m happy to see that he is not convinced by the article either.

HT: Jack Sasson, Charles Savelle

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy Sukkot!

Today is the first day of Sukkot. In doing some research this afternoon, I stumbled across a page with photos that I created a few years ago after visiting the Western Wall during the celebration. I think it is still relevant and interesting.

As joyous as this festival is, I am more encouraged by knowing that one day the Messiah will not be forced to release terrorists in order to gain freedom for the captives but he will defeat those who fight against Jerusalem. Then, Zechariah says, “the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zech 14:16).

Hag Sukkot Sameah!

Man with four species of Sukkot at Western Wall, tb100906953

Sukkot prayers at the Western Wall

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

Tom Powers describes the City of David excavation over which Eilat Mazar is up in arms.

The Jerusalem Post has ten photos of the Samaritan celebration of Sukkot.

Joe Yudin recommends five family hikes in Israel for the holiday: Nahal Zavitan, Nahal Oren, Nahal David, Nahal Zin, and Mount Zephahot.

Wayne Stiles explains the importance of the Pool of Siloam to an event in Jesus’ life besides the healing of the blind man.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg provides the Archaeology in Israel Update: September 2011, with summaries of the Two-Horned Alter [sic] from Tell-es Safi [sic], Damascus Gate Restored, Kenyon Institute, Continuous Occupation at Yavne Yam, the Underground Passage from Robinson’s Arch to Siloam Pool, and TCorpus of Graffiti Inscriptions.

A Palestinian archaeologist is attempting to bring Israel to trial at the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity for their excavations near the Temple Mount. Professor Hamdan Taha is also the Palestinian Authority minister responsible for antiquities and culture and he is currently leading the restoration of Shechem (Tel Balata) previously mentioned here.

The Art Newspaper reviews some of the latest political goings-on in Turkey with regard to archaeology, permits, and Germany.

All is not well with the Dead Sea Scroll digitization project, say some scholars.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mikveh Discovered near Biblical Zorah

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of a Jewish ritual bath 1.2 miles (2 km) north of Kibbutz Zorah. Biblical Zorah is about 1.2 miles northeast of the kibbutz.
A plastered building, probably a ritual bath (miqve), dating to the Second Temple period (first century BCE-first century CE) was exposed in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted prior to the installation of a water line by the Mekorot Company at an antiquities site, c. 2 kilometers north of Kibbutz Zor'a.
The excavation revealed a square structure that has three walls treated with a thin layer of plaster that facilitated the storage of water. A channel used to drain water into the ritual bath was installed in a corner. In addition, a plaster floor and three stairs that descend from it to the west (toward the hewn openings in the bedrock) were exposed.
According to archaeologist Pablo Betzer, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first time that any remains dating to the Second Temple period have been exposed in this region. We knew from the Talmud and from non-Jewish sources that on this ridge, as in most of the Judean Shephelah, there was an extensive Jewish community 2,000 years ago that existed until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Yet despite the many surveys and excavations that have been carried out to date no remains from this period have been discovered so far”. According to Betzer the name of the Jewish settlement that the ritual bath belonged to is still unknown.

There’s a lesson here too about the limitations of archaeological surveys.

Samson was born and buried between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judg 13:24-25; 16:31). This new discovery dates to about 1,000 years after the period of the judges.

The link for high-resolution photos is now working. The link to the press release is here.

Sorek Valley and Zorah aerial from south, tb010703366
The Sorek Valley separates the modern city of Beth Shemesh (bottom) from the tree-covered ridge where biblical Zorah was located. Kibbutz Zorah is located in the valley on the left side.

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Eilat Mazar Denied Opportunity To Finish Palace of David Dig

Eilat Mazar is upset that she is not in charge of a small dig at the entrance to the City of David, blasting Elad and the Israel Antiquities Authority for carrying out excavations that are nothing more than a “tourism gimmick.” Elad claims Mazar is motivated “for reasons of ego and credit only, camouflaged as pseudo-professional complaints.” The story is reported by Haaretz.

"To my astonishment I discovered that for over a year Elad, together with the Antiquities Authority, has been secretly planning a tourism gimmick called the 'Jeremiah's Pit Project," writes Mazar in her letter, noting that the excavation is only two meters away from the excavation area that she directed between 2005 and 2008. She says that she wanted to continue digging in the present area, but was prevented from doing so "for logistical reasons, since north of the site the Antiquities Authority permitted Elad to build a special events hall," and because of the area's proximity to a residential building and a road.

Mazar claims that the excavation in the area of the pit contravenes several accepted practices in archaeology, among them, the digging up of an unusually small area of a mere "two squares," or 10 square meters, which makes it difficult to analyze the findings in relation to the overall area. An excavation of this size, claims Mazar, is made only in situations where there is no other choice.

Mazar is also critical of the diggers' intention to destroy the wall of the pit, which has not been properly investigated. She also notes that the dig "interferes with the nearby excavations," which will undermine her ability to complete the research in the area. She claims that it is not acceptable to transfer an area being excavated by one archaeologist to another one, without the former's consent.

Mazar’s 2005-2008 excavations were funded by Elad. I don’t think she would act this way if she thought there was any hope of ever working with them in the City of David again. The article contains more details and the responses of the IAA and Elad. There is surely more to this story than what is contained in letters and legal replies. Mazar may feel a bit like a spurned lover, refused the opportunity to dig in the last available area near her palace of David.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Jezreel is one of my favorite biblical sites and I’m happy to see that excavations will begin again under the direction of Norma Franklin of Tel Aviv University and Jennie Ebeling of the University of Evansville. A new website has the details.

The Sea of Galilee dropped nearly a foot last month and is now 17 inches below the red line.

Shmuel Browns went on a Photo Walk in Jerusalem and would like our feedback in deciding which image he should submit to the competition.

Browns is also offering a free guided tour of Khirbet Qeyiafa on October 14 at 9 am.

A volunteer at the Gezer excavation this summer writes of her experience on the ASOR blog, noting that they ended the season on what they believe is a 10th-century floor.

The Virtual Amarna Project is now online. “This archive resulted from the 3D digitisation of objects from the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna using a Konica Minolta Vivid 9i system. Data includes images, 3D PDF files, meshes (obj) and point clouds (ascii).”

Another resource is the Amarna Tablet Photograph Database Online where you can view the inscriptions held by the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin.

Aaron Burke is interviewed about the excavations in Jaffa (Joppa) on the LandMinds radio show (part 1, part 2).

Jimmie Hardin will be lecturing on the archaeology of David and Solomon at the University of Mississippi on October 26.

One million visitors viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls in their first week online.

HT: ANE-2, Jack Sasson

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Sale: Aerial Atlas of the Holy Land

As one of their “Fabulous Friday” specials, CBD is offering slightly imperfect copies of the Aerial Atlas of the Holy Land for $15 (retail: $50; perfect copies are $38). I have not seen this 2008 work, but with photographs by Sonia Halliday I would expect the best. The text is written by John Bowker. The publisher’s description lists some of the sites featured:aerial-atlas

Now, thanks to aerial photography from a single, exceptionally high-quality and up-to-date source, the Aerial Atlas of the Holy Land reveals the ancient crossroads of Galilee, Samaria and Judea as never before seen in book form. Included are 36 sites of great Jewish, Christian or Muslim significance dating to Roman, Persian and Crusader times. The informative text adds historical, religious and cultural context to this superb photographic survey of the Holy Land. Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are featured, as are such other key locations as Caesarea, Philippi, Cana, Qumran, Jericho, Mount Hermon, the Carmel Caves, Tiberias, Dor and the Sea of Galilee.

Amazon has the same work (but without the imperfections?) for $20 and that qualifies for their free shipping with Prime or orders of $25. They also list used (but like new) copies starting at $8.74. Back to the CBD special, regular shipping in the US costs $6.

Amazon lists the same book but with a different publisher and cover here.

HT: Charles Savelle


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Social Archaeology and Qumran

A new study using “social archaeology” concludes that the traditional view that the inhabitants of Qumran were Essenes is “extremely plausible.” From the Biblical Archaeology Society:

By physically dividing up and demarcating spaces—walls, doorways and entrances that are used on an everyday basis—the architecture thereby classifies and controls the movement of people and the spaces they inhabit. Studying these spaces can help archaeologists answer the question, “Who were the Essenes?”

In a detailed analysis of the physical spaces of the Qumran community, [Eyal] Regev finds the occupied area is divided into different space segments, “each connected to a controlling central passage with minimal connections between segments.” The spaces within segments are also “minimally connected.” Access to most spaces is therefore “limited, and several boundaries must be crossed to reach most spaces from any starting point on the site.”

The large rooms (such as the dining room and the so-called scriptorium) used by the Essenes of Qumran “were not easily accessible and were out of view of casual entrants.” This, says Regev, means that “social encounters between the inhabitants were quite uncommon.”

The full report is here.

HT: Daniel Wright

Qumran dining room, tb040900306

Dining room at Qumran


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bronze Age Cemetery in Jerusalem

Back in 2006 we reported on the excavation of an ancient cemetery underneath the location of the Holyland Hotel’s model of Jerusalem. At the time we knew only what we could see, but now publication of the excavations provides more details. Haaretz gives a popular account of the article published in Kadmoniot.

No less than 80 graves were found in the area, in which, according to the archaeologists' estimates, some 210 bodies were buried. Luckily, unlike most burial caves throughout the country, the Holyland caves were not broken into or raided prior to the scholars' arrival, allowing them to find many whole items that shed light on life and death in Jerusalem during the Bronze Age.

Thus, for example, one of the caves revealed the grave of a warrior of the period. His skeleton was laid out in a supine position, with his personal belongings and gifts for the afterlife positioned near his head. Among other things, his "battle kit" was discovered, as one of the article's authors put it - including an axe, a wide copper belt and a dagger. Also unearthed nearby were a number of delicate yet whole clay utensils.

For Greenhut, the axe was a particularly exciting find. Some 19 years earlier, in 1987, he had worked on an excavation site just beneath the hill, at the current spot of the popular Malha shopping mall, where he discovered the exact same axe. "Apparently it was made at the same workshop, by the same blacksmith; it is the other axe's twin," Greenhut says.


An excavation carried out at the site recently, in preparation for the project's next stage, also revealed artifacts from a much earlier time - the Chalcolithic Period, dating from 6,500 years ago.

The full story is here. For photos, see our 2006 post.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Identification of Eshtaol: A Brief Case-Study in Recent Research

Several years ago I began a study on the location of Eshtaol that was interrupted by a leg injury. Last week I had the occasion to conclude the research and summarize it for another project I’m working on. While this is a bit more technical than most of the blog fare here, there are some insights that may be of interest, even if you are not so concerned with the location connected with the birth and burial of Samson (Judg 13:25; 16:31)

The reason for this study is to reveal a confusion about the site location of Eshtaol that has developed in recent literature. As you will see below, the site of Eshtaol has been “moved” without the guilty parties apparently being aware of what they were doing. This brief review may serve to identify failures in the process and encourage careful work in future study of this and other sites.

1. Michael Avi-Yonah was not the first involved in the identification of this site, but he is a convenient starting point for the purposes of this study. He believed that Eshtaol was located at Tell Abu el-Qabus (Kh. Deir Abu Qabus) on the hill above the Arab village of Ishwa, and he noted that Iron Age remains were found at the site (Encyclopedia Judaica, 1st ed., 6: 280).

2. In 1983, Anson Rainey agreed with Avi-Yonah’s identification, noting that Ishwa preserves the name of Eshtaol, just as many modern names in the Shephelah preserve the ancient ones (“The Biblical Shephelah of Judah,” BASOR 251: 7).

3. In 1986, Zechariah Kallai rejected Deir Abu el-Qabus on grounds that “the finds are incompatible,” preferring instead Kh. Deir Shubeib (Historical Geography of the Bible, 368). Kh. Deir Shubeib is located 1.6 miles (2.7 km) northwest of Tell Abu el-Qabus.

4. In a brief article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), Raphael Greenberg likewise identified Eshtaol with Khirbet Deir Shubeib, but he was imprecise in claiming that it is “near the village of Ishwa, which retains elements of the ancient name” (2:617).

5. Aaron M. Gale, writing in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000), confused the two sites, identifying Eshtaol with Khirbet Deir Shubeib, but locating it at the site of Tell Abu el-Qabus, 1.5 miles east of Zorah, near Ishwa (425).

6. Rainey in The Sacred Bridge (2006) apparently followed Greenberg/Gale in this mistake, as he writes, “Eshtaol is evidently to be located at Khirbet Deir Shubeib beside the village of Ishwa‘” (141). Kh. Deir Shubeib is 1.8 miles (3 km) west of Ishwa; Tell Abu el-Qabus is next to Ishwa.

On the basis of the observations above, some conclusions may be suggested:

1. Greenberg’s brief article made it unclear that there were two candidates and his imprecision led to later confusion.

2. Gale combined data from the ISBE and ABD articles and in doing so he incorrectly gave the name of Khirbet Deir Shubeib to the site of Tell Abu el-Qabus.

3. Rainey perpetuated Gale’s mistake in his 2005 work. Because The Sacred Bridge will be the standard reference work for historical geographers for the next generation, this mistake may live a long life.

4. The site of Eshtaol has “shifted” not because of convincing evidence but because of careless research and writing.

5. The identification of Eshtaol at either of the sites must be determined on the basis of archaeological study of the two proposed sites. It is doubtful, contrary to initial impressions, that Rainey was intending to follow Kallai’s identification over Avi-Yonah’s. Without further archaeological data, we prefer the conclusion of Avi-Yonah and the initial conclusion of Rainey that Eshtaol is located in the immediate vicinity of the Arab village that preserves its name.

The map below was made by British Mandate authorities, with Israeli additions in purple. The two sites in question are clearly identified. Google Earth users can find Kh. Deir Shubeib at 31.798000°, 34.985200° and Kh. Deir Abu Qabus at 31.785790°, 35.009930°.

My thanks to A.D. Riddle for his assistance with this study.

Eshtaol candidates

The vicinity of biblical Eshtaol in the eastern end of the Sorek Valley

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Bible and Archaeology Fest #14

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the 14th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest that is coming up next month. I attended the conference several years ago and found it to be very instructive and enjoyable. You can go to the website for a complete list of speakers and their topics, but I’ll just note a few I would not miss.

James Charlesworth, Does the Gospel of John Accurately Describe Jerusalem Before 70 CE?

Aren Maeir, The Horned Altar of Gath: Recent Discoveries from Tell es-Safi

Jodi Magness, Roman Jerusalem: Hadrian’s Aelia Capitolina

Alan Millard, Folk Tales and Biblical History

Rami Arav, Twenty-Five Years of Excavations at Bethsaida: How Bethsaida Has Helped Shape Biblical Research

Many other well-known scholars will be speaking, including Mark Wilson, Steven Ortiz, Eric Cline, and Ben Witherington III. All the details are here. I know of no better forum for non-scholars to learn the latest in archaeological and biblical research than this one.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Did the synagogue save Judaism? Paul V. M. Flesher answers the question in a new essay at the Bible and Interpretation, observing that “Judaism is the only Mediterranean religion that was practiced in 50 BC that still flourished in 500 AD.” He also addresses the “two-hundred-year gap” when there were allegedly no synagogues in the Holy Land.

NUMIDAT is a new one-of-a-kind online database of ancient coins, containing nearly 90,000 records.

Wayne Stiles hears echoes of Rosh Hashana in the ruins of the Temple Mount. Yoni Cohen recommends a six-hour hike in the Negev.

Now that 1,200 mines have been cleared, excavations have begun at ancient Carchemish. The team is comprised of 25 Italian and Turkish archaeologists who hope to transform the site into an archaeology park. One official eager for tourists said, “I hope [the excavation] does not take very long.” (Background and photos here and here.)

Leen Ritmeyer notes upcoming lectures at the Palestine Exploration Fund in London.

The Preserving Bible Times Collection (5 vols) for Logos Bible Software quickly received the minimum number of orders and is now under development. The discount is valid until the collection ships.

The Israel Museum is selling some of its artwork.

If you are looking for results for an excavation in Israel, particularly of a smaller site, the search page for Hadashot Arkheologiyot is the place to start. The content is all free.

ASOR has a roundup of stories in the broader world of archaeology.

I thought that the photo below was hilarious. If you’ve always wondered what that combustible city of Nablus looks like, you can find the answer in William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World (Hendrickson, 2008). (To see what they cropped out of the photo, compare it with this one.) HT: Benj Foreman


“The city of Nablus”

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