Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Top Stories of 2011

For the year now concluding, this blog had 366 posts. According to Blogger statistics, our readers come from many countries, the top 5 countries of which are:

#1: United States

#2: United Kingdom

#3: Israel

#4: Canada

#5: Germany

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

Significant Stories in 2011:

Threats to Cairo Museum (and here)

A Fishless Sea of Galilee?

Germany Agrees to Give Sphinx of Hattusa to Turkey (and here)

Early Christian Lead Books (and here)

Zahi Hawass Resigned, Returned, Was Sentenced to Jail and Was Fired

Seven Years of Drought in Israel (and here)

The Latest Scam: Nails from Jesus’ Cross (and here and here)

Turkey Cancels Excavations of Foreign Countries (and here)

Mughrabi Bridge Ordered Closed

Eilat Mazar Denied Opportunity To Finish Palace of David Dig

Gospel Trail Inaugurated in Galilee and Jesus Trail vs. Gospel Trail

Noteworthy Posts:

Ancient Slinging Techniques, by Seth Rodriquez

Titus Tobler – A Neglected Pioneer, by Chris McKinny

Beth Haccherem – A Site Identification: Primer, by Chris McKinny

Hieroglyphic Luwian and King Taita, by A.D. Riddle

The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna (and here)

James Ossuary Inscription: Experts Support Authenticity

Maximalists vs. Minimalists: A Good Survey

2011 Excavation Blogs

Gaddafi and the Bible

How To Spell Bible Places

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

“Noah’s Ark”: Analysis of C14 Results

New Evidence for Israel in 1400 BC (and here)

Favorite Resources in 2011:

Daughter of Lachish, by Tim Frank

American Colony Photos for Accordance

Chart: The Kingdom(s) of Israel, by Chris McKinny

Excavating the City of David, by Ronny Reich

Seven Churches of Revelation, by Leen Ritmeyer (photo CD)

Maps for the Ancient World

Rose Guide to the Tabernacle

Free: Ashkelon Excavation Reports

Archaeology in the Israel Museum

Ancient Israel: Highlights from the Collections of the Oriental Institute University of Chicago, by Gabriel Novacek

Unearthing Jerusalem, edited by Katharina Galor and Gideon Avni

As 2012 begins, we wish our readers all the best in the coming year.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea


Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Stories of 2011

Looking back over the year is a profitable exercise for me personally because I forget so much and so quickly. Perhaps it is the volume of information coming from all corners of the globe that trains the mind to retain very little. A review of the posts here over the past year reminds us of recent history but it also allows us to judge what was more important and what was less.
I have compiled several lists of “top stories.” Today we will review major discoveries, top technology-related stories, and losses. Tomorrow we will survey significant stories, noteworthy posts, and favorite resources of the year.
I do not deny that what is judged “top” in these reviews may tell the reader more about us than it does about the world of biblical archaeology. These lists are entirely subjective, and since they are based on what we decided to post (and not to ignore), they are doubly subjective. The primary criteria for selection was that the story was posted on this blog and then it caught my eye when I reviewed the year’s stories. The lists follow a roughly chronological order.

Top Discoveries of 2011:
Jerusalem Water Channel (and here and here and here and here)
Ossuary of Caiaphas’ Granddaughter Recovered
Lion Statue Found at Tell Tayinat, Turkey
Philistine Two-Horned Altar from Tell es-Safi (and here)
Golden Bell Discovered in Jerusalem and Recording Released 
Ancient Sabbath Boundary Inscription in Galilee (and here)
Hercules Statue Discovered in Jezreel Valley
Roman Sword and Menorah Depiction Found in Jerusalem
Largest Mosaic Discovered in Antioch
Mikveh Discovered near Biblical Zorah
Western Wall Discovery: IAA Desperate for Headlines (and here)
Mysterious Marks in the City of David (and here)

Top Technology-Related Stories of 2011:
Archaeology in Saudi Arabia with Google Earth
X-ray Vision for Archaeologists: The "Multi-PAM" Tool
Kinect Game System To Be Used in Jordan Excavation
Five Dead Sea Scrolls Online in High Resolution
InscriptiFact: A Better Way To Read Inscriptions (and here)  

Anson F. Rainey (and here)
Joseph Naveh
Giovanni Pettinato

Ossuary of Caiaphas’ Granddaughter
Photo by Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Christmas, Another Brawl in Bethlehem

The Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests are at it again. From Haaretz:

The annual cleaning of one of Christianity's holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity battled each other with brooms until police intervened.

The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations: Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox.

Wednesday's fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim.

The monks were tidying up the church ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, following celebrations by Western Christians on Dec. 25. The fight erupted between monks along the border of their respective areas. Some shouted and hurled brooms.

The full story is here. A video of the scene is posted online here.

HT: ShalomIL

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Sneak Peak: Rose Guide to the Temple

Earlier this year I expressed my enthusiasm for the Rose Guide to the Tabernacle. The quality and quantity of the illustrations led me to conclude that “I know of no better resource for an initial study of the tabernacle or for teaching it.”

Word is now out that the Rose Guide to the Temple is nearing publication. I could tell you how great it is, but you might as well see for yourself (see preview at bottom of page).rose-guide-temple

The book was written by Randall Price, and the venerable Leen Ritmeyer served as a consultant. The book includes a free poster originally published in National Geographic of the Temple Mount through history. (Thanks to a reader here, I’ve had that same poster hanging in my office for several years now.)

If they sold stock for books, I’d certainly invest in this one. I predict it will be a best-seller and an award-winner.

Amazon is taking pre-orders for $30 with a February 21 publication date. Amazon also lists three glowing endorsements. The publisher’s website indicates that you can also purchase the book for pdf download, which would make it much easier for use in the classroom. Professors may request a desk copy.

HT: Daniel Wright

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Book: The Fire Signals of Lachish

Earlier this year Eisenbrauns published a collection of essays in honor of David Ussishkin, The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin.

The book gets its name from Lachish Letter #4 in which the writer is looking for some indication that Lachish has not fallen to the Babylonians. David Ussishkin was a long-time professor at Tel Aviv University and his noteworthy excavations include the Silwan tombs in Jerusalem (1968-71), Lachish (1973-94), Tel Jezreel (1990-96), and Megiddo (1992-present).image

The book includes 25 essays; the ten that I would read first are these:

Close Yet Apart: Diverse Cultural Dynamics at Iron Age Beth-Shemesh and Lachish, by Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On: The Possible Destruction by Earthquake of Stratum VIA at Megiddo, by Eric H. Cline

Tel Azekah: A New Look at the Site and Its “Judean” Fortress, by Yehuda Dagan

Why Did Nebuchadnezzar II Destroy Ashkelon in Kislev 604 B.C.E., by Alexander Fantalkin

The Evolution of the 8th-Century B.C.E. Jerusalem Temple, by André Lemaire

Comparative Aspects of the Aramean Siege System at Tell Eṣ-Ṣāfi/Gath, by Aren M. Maeir and Shira Gur-Arieh

The Shephelah according to the Amarna Letters, by Nadav Naʾaman

The Persian Period City Wall of Jerusalem, by Margreet Steiner

The Waters of Shiloah (Isaiah 8:5–8), by H. G. M. Williamson

On the Toponymy of the Jezreel Valley and Adjacent Plains, by Ran Zadok

The book is now available from Eisenbrauns, and you can get more details, including a complete listing of the contents, here (pdf). The cover photo is one that I provided from the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, volume 3.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Western Wall Plaza Excavation Results

Over the years I’ve mentioned the excavation at the “back” of the Western Wall prayer plaza. The latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a report by the excavators on their discoveries at the site from 2005 to 2010. Since I expect some curious student to ask me in a couple of days about the big hole in the ground, the article arrived at a good time for me. I made a few notes as I read the article that I thought I’d share here.

The earliest remains at this spot indicate that it was used as an Iron Age quarry.

Later in the Iron Age, a four-room house was constructed here. This was a Jerusalemite’s home sometime after Hezekiah fortified the Western Hill with a new wall (part of which is known today as the “Broad Wall.”) The house may have been destroyed by the Babylonian assault in 586, but this is not certain. Several personal seals were found in the building, including one depicting an Assyrian-style archer.

Curiously, there is no evidence of occupation at the site in the Babylonian, Persian, or Hasmonean periods (586-50 BC).

In the New Testament period, the Lower Aqueduct ran through this area, bringing water from “Solomon’s Pools” to the Temple Mount. The only other discovery from the 1st century was a ritual bath (mikveh).

The most impressive remains at the site are that of a monumental street. This cardo is similar in size and design to its counterpart to the west, located today in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, but the archaeologists say that the eastern cardo was constructed in the Roman period by Hadrian (whereas the southern extension of the western was built by Justinian c. 530).

All the details are presented in a much more interesting style in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The article, with all of its illustrations, is currently available online, no subscription required.

(Yellow box = present excavations; red box = Byzantine Valley Cardo previously revealed)

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051908178

Western Wall prayer plaza with excavations, May 2008

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Purity Inscription Discovered in Jerusalem

The process of wet-sifting debris from excavations below Robinson’s Arch on the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount has revealed a 1st-century seal impression inscribed with “pure for the Lord.” Scholars believe that this mark was used to certify offerings as acceptable for temple use. The Aramaic inscription is about 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) in diameter and has six letters.

IMG_8833Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

Excavation directors Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich commented on the value of the object:

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period.

The full press release includes more details from the Mishnah about ritual tokens. The Israel Antiquities Authority has also released five high-resolution photos of this and related discoveries (zip file).


Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

The Jerusalem Post has a three-minute video interview with Ronny Reich. The article’s statement that the inscription was found near the Pool of Siloam contradicts the official report of the IAA that the object was found next to the Temple Mount. The story is also reported by the AP, Reuters, and Arutz-7.


Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Wayne Stiles’ weekly column provides the best and most concise review of the significance of Bethlehem that I have read. You might bookmark this one for future lessons or sermons.

Yoni Cohen investigates some sites in Israel related to the festival of Hanukkah.

One of 107 cuneiform texts recently published depicts the great king Nebuchadnezzar.

Oded Borowski reviews Eilat Mazar’s new book Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem: A Remarkable Archaeological Adventure.

Did the Magi give Jesus frankincense and myrrh because they cure arthritis?

Travelujah has the full run-down of Christmas services in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

A retired professor, preaching tomorrow about Bethlehem in north Texas, has been to Israel 69 times. The Star-Telegram tells his story.

Merry Christmas to all!

Bethlehem from north, tb092405372

Bethlehem from the north

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Vandals Destroy Antiquities Site in the Jezreel Valley

Horvat Tevet, a site with remains from the Iron Age (1200-600 BC), has been attacked and damaged by vandals. The site is located in the Jezreel Valley about 6 miles (10 km) south of Nazareth. Horvat Tevet is next to Afula Illit and along the route of a future bypass road. From the Jerusalem Post:

Vandals attacked and heavily damaged an Antiquities Authority site near Afula overnight Wednesday, destroying findings dating back to the First Temple era.

“All the signs” pointed to a group of haredi activists as the main suspects, due to their opposition to what they describe as the desecration of graves, Dror Barshad, an archeologist for the authority’s northern district, told The Jerusalem Post.

“They rioted at another archeological site nearby, at Yakuk,” Barshad said. “With no legal authority, they take the law into their own hands and try to dictate where roads and tunnels can or can’t be built.”

The same group vandalized a second archeological site near the Kinneret last month, he said.

The full story and photos are here. The Hebrew version of the Ynet article includes a photo of the site before the destruction. A report of the 2008 excavations and a photo of a Late Bronze tomb was published last month in Hadashot Arkheologiyot.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Archaeological site near Afula after attack (Photo: IAA)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Multiple Exoduses from Egypt?

Last week I linked to Bryant Wood’s article on new evidence for Israel’s existence in 1400 BC. According to three European scholars, an inscription mentions Israel several hundred years earlier than the Merneptah Stele.

There are several ways to respond to this proposal. James Hoffmeier, an advocate of the late-date exodus (1230 BC), says that the inscription should not be read as Israel and thus is irrelevant to the question of the exodus.

In an article published in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (HT: G. M. Grena and Shmuel Browns), Hershel Shanks summarizes the recent studies and concludes with a discussion about multiple departures from Egypt by Israelite tribes at different times. Earlier advocates of such include Albrecht Alt, Yohanan Aharoni, and Abraham Malamat.

Such an approach is wrong-headed, I believe. In the first place, it can only be reconciled with the biblical account by considering the latter to be only an elaborate and glorious myth created hundreds of years later (and peppered liberally with shameful acts of those who devised the myth). Second, such an approach replaces one exodus for which there is no record in Egyptian sources with many exoduses for which there are no record in Egyptian sources.

A better approach is to take a step back and reconsider the issue afresh. The reason why scholars argued for a 13th century BC date for the exodus/conquest in the first place was because of an apparent lack of evidence for Israel in Canaan at an earlier time. The Merneptah Stele, paired with the appearance of hundreds of agricultural villages in the 12th century, has been considered to provide evidence for the earliest Israelites. This evidence does not, however, tell us anything about Israel’s entrance into the land. It tells us only when Israel was already in the land (and defeated by Egypt). Last year I showed how the Merneptah Stele gives evidence for Israel’s invisible (to archaeologists) presence in the land of Canaan for some time before they settled down in the hill country villages.

The recently published inscription, if the reading of Israel is accurate, provides even earlier evidence for the nation’s existence. As with the Merneptah Stele it does not tell us anything about the exodus or the conquest. To theorize that there were multiple exoduses when these inscriptions provide evidence for none is the wrong course indeed.

The best historical reconstruction takes into account all of the evidence. Israel fled from Egypt in about 1450 BC. They arrived in Israel in about 1400 BC. They continued their pastoral way of life that they were used to from the time of the patriarchs, their time in Egypt, and their time in the wilderness. This lifestyle left relatively little discernible and distinctive archaeological evidence from 1400-1200 BC. Some factors (weather?, political turmoil?, invasions?) forced the Israelite tribes to settle down at the beginning of what archaeologists call the Iron Age. This corresponds well with the record in the book of Judges in which the first indication of a settled existence is mentioned in the time of Gideon, who led the nation in about 1200.

Merneptah Stele, tb110900398

Merneptah Stele

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

A Byzantine-period bathhouse has been discovered near Moshav Tarum north of Beth Shemesh.

A cuneiform inscription discovered in the Tas-Silg sanctuary on Malta is now the westernmost such inscription known.

Haaretz reports on an archaeologist who believes he is close to finding the true tombs of the Maccabees.

Preston Sprinkle asks if Jesus was born at an inn and if he was a carpenter.

Leon Mauldin shares some photos of the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and of a stone manger possibly similar to one used for the newborn.

Ferrell Jenkins links to some previous posts about the birth of Jesus and Christmas.

Aren Maeir’s idea of a Hanukkah/Christmas gift is to share one letter from an inscription found at Gath.

As far as we know, he was never known as “Herod the Great” during his lifetime. Ferrell Jenkins explains why a better appellation is “Herod the Small.”

The Bible and Interpretation is sharing one of my favorite photos of Jerusalem today (click on the thumbnail for large version).

Bryant Wood will be giving a series of lectures at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary on March 14, 2012. His topic will be “Archaeology and the Conquest: New Evidence on an Old Problem.”

The Daily Mail publishes an illustrated account of one visitor’s five-day visit to Jordan and its main attraction, Petra.

The Jerusalem Post suggests 10 things to do over Christmas in the Holy Land. For the first time ever, live-size nativity scenes will be set up in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Item 9 explains how you can celebrate Christmas three times this season.

HT: Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Manuscript of Napoleon’s Research Destroyed in Egypt

If one studies the history of scientific research in the Middle East, one begins with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. Though most famous for the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the campaign included a team of draftsmen and scholars who studied and recorded the land’s temples and tombs. The publication of their study awakened Europe to the treasures of the ancient past and spawned modern Egyptology and biblical archaeology.

The original manuscript of Napoleon’s Description de l’Egypt has been kept in Cairo at the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research. In an attack by protestors on Saturday, 166,000 works were reportedly destroyed including the Napoleonic work.

The story is reported by Ahram Online, Haaretz, and others. If only the manuscript had been displayed (or stored) at the British Museum or the Pergamum Museum, this loss would have been avoided.

If you’re interested in the beautiful drawings from the French campaign, a new edition published in 1987 made the work much more accessible to the public. A nice two-volume box set with all 421 plates from the original edition was published by Princeton Architectural Press. I had the happy opportunity to pick up Monuments of Egypt: The Napoleonic Edition some years ago, and I see that Amazon still has a few copies available.

UPDATE: Reuters has published a story today with the latest details. It notes that there are four other handwritten copies of Napoleon’s work. (HT: Jack Sasson)


Monday, December 19, 2011

Excavator Finds Evidence of Destruction at “Sodom”

Since excavations began at Tall el-Hammam in 2005, Steven Collins has been advocating the site’s identification as biblical Sodom. He believes that the biblical data indicates that Sodom should be found on the northeastern side of the Dead Sea and now he has been searching for archaeological confirmation in his six years of work at the site.

Last week we noted a report that the team was preparing to announce that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed in a “heat event.” An interview posted at ASSIST News Service sheds more light on that cryptic notice (HT: Mondo Gonzales). Collins makes some interesting statements about the Middle Bronze destruction of the city:

To put it simply, we have uncovered evidence of a massive, violent destruction.

To begin with, ash and destruction layers in the terminal Bronze Age strata MB-2. But the real big news is that we found skeletal remains that demonstrate a quick, violent death.”

They [two osteologists] found the bodies splayed out, face down, joints twisted, toes hyper-extended, with many signs of violent burial within collapsing debris. In short, the bodies were extremely traumatized in their death.

But generally speaking, skeletal remains were found throughout the area, following the same patterns. One skeleton seems to be crouching, as if in fear, protecting itself from the destruction.

It may be too early to say, but initial evidence points towards a large-scale destruction from a catastrophic event. I say this because, in that area, the skeletal remains were traumatized by an east-to-west directional event, demonstrating that the catastrophe came from a particular compass point.

Collins’ discoveries sound intriguing, but I still contend that every bit of evidence he uncovers for a destruction towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1600-1500 BC) makes it all the more unlikely that he is excavating Sodom. The chronology simply will not work, unless you imagine that Abraham died when he was about 30, his son Isaac died when he was about 30, his grandson Jacob died when he was about 30, Joseph died when he was about 30, the Israelite sojourn in Egypt lasted about 40 years, and the wilderness wanderings lasted about 40 years. In short you have to massively compress all of the numbers in the biblical narrative to make everything “fit.” (By “compress” I mean to deny and invent your own to suit your theory.)

Collins cites several authority figures in the interview and so perhaps a word about authority is appropriate here. I’ve noticed over the years of reading updates written personally by Collins or sent by his organization that he is very careful to refer to himself as “Dr. Collins.” Since his title is clearly important to him, I took a look at his university profile and learned that his PhD is from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary, an online distance education program for “self-directed adult learners.” (This is not the same school where Collins is now the Dean and “Distinguished Professor of Archaeology,” also a distance educational program without accreditation.) Collins appears to be a professor of archaeology who has never earned a degree from a school with an archaeology program.

It is to be expected that Collins would want to bolster the credibility of his work with scholars who have degrees in archaeology and he mentions two in this recent interview. Robert Mullins, an expert in Bronze Age pottery, is said to confirm Collins’ conclusions that “our findings are correct.” I suspect that Mullins has found some of Collins’ dating of material to the Middle Bronze Age to be accurate, but I doubt that he is endorsing the sensational claims concerning Sodom.

Collins also claims that Leen Ritmeyer was once skeptical but now believes that Tall el-Hammam is “the best candidate for Sodom.” This would be surprising to me, and it would be the first person whom I trust to come close to endorsing this identification.

I agree with Collins on one matter: Tall el-Hammam is a very important site and a careful excavation will be a great service to the world. My concern is that believers of the Bible who are less knowledgeable about biblical chronology and archaeology will be convinced by Collins’ exuberance and not realize that most evangelical scholars find his claims incompatible with Scripture.

For more detail about the chronological problems involved with identifying Tall el-Hammam with Sodom, see this post.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekend Roundup

If you are looking for unique Christmas images, the Accordance Blog tells you where to find them.

A scroll containing the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy has just been put on display at Discovery Times Square in New York City.

Iraq’s second largest museum is paying smugglers to return the artifacts.

If you’ve been intrigued by the title of Jodi Magness’ latest work, BAR has posted a review by Shaye J. D. Cohen of Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. The book is available for $16 at Amazon or $20 at Eisenbrauns.

A bulla with the name of a biblical town has been discovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. According to ANE-2, Gabriel Barkay will present it at a conference at Bar Ilan University at the end of the month.

The new Egyptian Minister of Antiquities has announced new policies for his department.

Ferrell Jenkins has written an illustrated series appropriate for the season:

Fishermen using illegal nets in the Sea of Galilee have been caught and detained.

The Biblical Archaeology Society has released a new edition of its free eBook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Discovery and Meaning. The new material looks at the War Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the Book of Enoch. If you have not already, you must register to receive the eBook.

Olive Tree Bible Software now has the ESV Bible Atlas for sale for $22, the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible for $26, and the Holman Bible Atlas for $20. These atlases are supported on the Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and soon the PC.

If you ever hear the name Ron Wyatt in connection with some amazing archaeological discovery, run the other way. His death in 1999 did not prevent his frauds from being perpetuated in email forwards and on various websites. His alleged discovery of chariot wheels in the Red Sea and research claimed to date the objects based on the number of spokes is worthy of being featured as the latest post at PaleoBabble.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Friday, December 16, 2011

New Evidence for Israel in 1400 BC

Over at, Bryant Wood presents some new evidence for the existence of Israel in an Egyptian inscription dating to about 1400 BC.

The first two names are easily read—Ashkelon and Canaan. The name on the right, however, is less certain. Görg restored the right name as Israel and dated the inscription to the reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279–1212 BC) in the Nineteenth Dynasty, based on a similarity of names to those on the Merenptah Stela (ca. 1210 BC).1 Görg also concluded, based on the spellings of the names, that they were copied from an earlier inscription from around the time of Amenhotep II (ca. 1453–1419). Israeli Egyptologist Raphael Giveon (1916–1985) previously dated the inscription to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC) (1981: 137). If these two scholars are right, this extra-Biblical Egyptian inscription would place Israel in Canaan at about the time of the Biblical date for the Conquest.

Wood then goes on to describe the results of a new published study by three European scholars who confirm this reading. He also notes an objection by James Hoffmeier. Wood and Hoffmeier have previously debated the date of the exodus and conquest in a series of articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Conference: Olive Trees, Olive Oil, and Their Products

A conference will be held at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev (Beersheba) on January 19th, 2012. Entitled “‘In the Shadow of the Olive Trees’ - Olive Trees, Olive Oil and Their Products,” the conference is being organized by the Southern District of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Department of Bible, Archaeology and Near Eastern Studies of the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

This announcement was circulated on the Agade list. Presumably all lectures are in Hebrew. For more information, contact the sponsors.

9.30-11.00 First session. The olive and the production of olive oil. Chairman: Dr. Gideon Avni.

Prof. Nili Liphschitz. The domestication of the olive in the land of Israel

Dr. Ianir Milevski. The barter of olives during the Early Bronze Age

Prof. Avigdor Horowitz. "I have been anointed with fresh oil" - The oil in the Bible and the Ancient Near East

Prof. Avi Faust. The Assyrians and the introduction of the olive industry from the north

11.15-12.30. Second session. The olive press and the products of the olive oil. Chairman: Prof. Steve Rosen.

Mr. Yeoshua Drei. The evolution of the oil presses

Dr. Eitan Ayalon. The two screw oil presses in the land of Israel

Dr. Akiva London. Did olive tree nurseries exist during the Roman and Byzantine periods in the land of Israel?

Mr. Tawfiq Da`adli. Soap and soap factories during the Ottoman period

13.30-14.30. Third session. Panel and general discussion. Prof. Nili Liphschitz, Dr. Eitan Ayalon, Dr. Yigal Israel.

14.45-16.00. Archaeological news in the southern district. Chairman: Dr. Peter Fabian.

Dr. Hayim Goldfus. The excavations at Horbat Zalit.

Dr. Daniel Varga and Mr. Vladic Lipshitz. Underground houses in Beersheva during the Byzantine period

Mr. Gregory Seri and Prof. Yulia Ustinova. The excavations of Ashkelon, Neve Yam D neighborhood, and the Greek inscriptions

Dr. Gunnar Lehmann. News from the excavations at Qubur el Walaydah

Mr. Oren Shmueli. An arched building and an underground oil press at Horbat Anim

Olives closeup, tb112103241

Olives in the Shephelah (late November)


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

On Sunday the Mughrabi bridge was closed. Hamas called the closure a “declaration of religious war.”  The mayor of Jerusalem called the bridge “ugly and dangerous.” Today the bridge was re-opened with a fire truck standing by.

Gordon Franz has written an detailed guide to the “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times” exhibit in New York City. He has made it available for free on his blog.

The Jerusalem Post has a story and video about the solid gold menorah on display in the Jewish Quarter.

One government committee approved the construction of a hotel complex in the Timna Valley, but an Israeli cabinet minister has vowed to stop it.

It could take 100 years to restore Israel’s rivers, according to the State Comptroller. The report looks at 31 of the country’s major rivers and streams.

The Herodium reminds Wayne Stiles of the Christmas story that never appears on Christmas cards.

Antiquities thieves plundering a second-century site near Shaar HaGai (Bab el-Wad) have been arrested.

The ASOR Blog has links to news in the broader world of archaeology.

The latest issue of DigSight is online.

The Megiddo Expedition is recruiting volunteers for the 2012 excavation.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Largest Nativity Scene in the World


MEXICO CITY – City authorities have set up a nativity scene --  certified by Guinness Records as the largest in the world -- as part of their Christmas festivities.

The nativity scene, which cost $2 million to create, sprawls across the parking lot of the giant Azteca stadium.

The scene, which covers 215,000 square feet -- larger than four football fields, has 5,000 figures portraying 57 biblical passages related to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Organizers said that it took architects, engineers, designers and historians 70 days to create the project, which was unveiled by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard on Wednesday, 17 days before Christmas.

The full story and a photo is here. NTD has a two-minute video news report. They expect more than one million visitors in the next month.

HT: BibleX


Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas-Related Posts

Some of our Christmas-related posts from previous years may be of interest to readers who were not with us then or who may enjoy a review.
“No Room in the Inn” – there is no “inn” in the story of Jesus’ birth
The Star of Bethlehem – an attempt to explain why the church ornament has 14 points
Bethlehem Booked for Christmas – last year there was no room in the inn
Top Ten Things To Do in Jerusalem in Winter – you might also consider watching the sun rise over the Mount of Olives from atop the “Tower of David”
Watching Their Flocks by Night – a pastoral scene recalling the angelic announcement
Merry Christmas – a nativity scene from Bethlehem in the early 1900s

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weekend Roundup

A new study suggests that the Dead Sea nearly dried up in the ancient past.

As of December 1, the water level of the Dead Sea was 1,361 feet (425.36 m) below sea level. The Sea of Galilee is still 27 inches (69 cm) below the red line.

A blogger reports that the Tell el-Hammam team is preparing to announce that their site must be Sodom because it was wiped out in a “heat event.”

Will Varner has posted a PowerPoint presentation of the Messianic Hope of the Hebrew Scriptures. He utilizes a number of our Christmas-related photos and welcomes readers to use the presentation as they wish.

A 3.8 magnitude earthquake was felt in the Galilee earlier this week.

A medical doctor in western Galilee has been arrested for leading a ring of antiquities thieves.

One group is unhappy with Israel’s plans to develop a national park east of the Mount of Olives.

Leen Ritmeyer has a roundup of recent stories of Jerusalem in the news.

Wayne Stiles expected to be disappointed by his visit to Nazareth Village.

Shmuel Browns explains why hiking is a national pastime in Israel. He gives his recommendations on the best hikes.

Leon Mauldin shares a video of a potter fashioning vessels on the island of Rhodes.

The concrete of ancient Rome is weaker than the modern version, but it lasts longer. One of the secret ingredients was volcanic ash.

Claude F. Mariottini links to ten places to visit in Bethlehem. (Though worthy spots, half of them are not in Bethlehem.)

$12 will get you a beautiful 2012 calendar of the Lands of the Bible.

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Boca Symposium: Jesus and the Temple

A lecture series will be held next weekend in Boca Raton, Florida, with leading scholars of the Second Temple period. The conference is open to the public and free of charge. The purpose of the meetings is described as follows:

Focal Question: How significantly and in what ways did the Temple and its cult help define the social and spiritual life of early Jews, including Jesus and his earliest followers?

Purpose: To correct the popular impression that Jesus despised the Temple and its cult because he attacked the money changers and was apparently condemned by the leading high priests [the historicity of each event must be discussed]. To raise questions which are focused on pre-70 Jews, Jesus, his followers and the Temple and to seek a new consensus on the grid questions.

Lectures include:

Leen Ritmeyer: “Imagining the Temple Early Jews Knew”

Response: Dan Bahat: “Imagining and Excavating the Temple Area”

Dan Bahat: “The Architecture of the Temple”

Motti Aviam: “Temple Symbolism and the Lives of Galilean Jews”

Lawrence H. Schiffman: “The Importance of the Temple for Early Jews”

Dan Bahat: “Worship in the Temple”

James H. Charlesworth: “Jesus, the Temple Cult, and the Temple”

Gary A. Rendsburg: “The Davidic Psalms and the Temple”

James H. Charlesworth: “Jesus' Followers and the Power of the Temple”

Harold W. Attridge: “The Temple and the High Priestly Jesus in New Testament Texts”

Loren Stuckenbruck: “The Temple in the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses”


An extension of the symposium is being held on Dec 18-19 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Though I have serious misgivings about the stated purpose of the symposium, I would certainly attend if I was able.

Full details are here. An RSVP is requested.

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Proposals for Mysterious Marks in City of David

More than 20,000 people have offered suggestions as to the purpose of the mysterious marks recently uncovered by archaeologists in Jerusalem. From the Jerusalem Post:

Last week, Ir David Foundation head archeologist Eli Shukron told reporters he was so puzzled by the shapes – three V’s about 50 cm. long and 5 cm. deep – that he couldn’t begin to guess their function. The figures were found in a room near a spring, an important ritual area for the ancient city.

But Shukron’s bewilderment hasn’t stopped people around the world from offering their conjectures. Among the most interesting ideas: a torture device, drainage for ancient urinals, the original McDonald’s sign, an abbreviation for “veni vidi vici” (Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered”), a footprint from King Solomon’s pet dinosaur, molds for smelting iron to make tools, the Trinity, a representation of mountains or the symbol for water, signs to the exit, an alien cryptogram, or support for a wooden structure.

Or perhaps, as one reader commented, “3,000 years ago, a worker said to his buddy, ‘I know how to drive archeologists crazy...’”

marksThe marks remind me of preparation to cut a board. If these engravings are directly above Hezekiah’s Tunnel (and I don’t know that they are), I’d surmise that the outer arrows mark the edges of the cutting and the middle one marks the center point.

The full story is here. You can read the 20,000 comments and make your own here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mughrabi Bridge Ordered Closed

Jerusalem’s city engineer has ordered that the only access route for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount be closed immediately. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has one week to submit objections. Haaretz reports:

Jerusalem municipality officials stressed that the wooden bridge poses a severe security threat since it is highly flammable and in danger of collapsing. They warned that if a fire breaks out it could spread to the Temple Mount.

I can’t help but thinking that this is a political move, not primarily an issue of safety. The bridge has been made of wood since it was constructed and did not become “highly flammable” yesterday. As for a fire spreading to the Temple Mount, the doors at the gate might burn, but everything else in the area is made of stone. In other words, there seem to be other reasons for this urgent order. Of course, is there anything in Jerusalem that is not political? Yet the news reports make no such suggestion, so it seems worth pointing out to those less familiar with the situation.

A brief review of recent history of access to the Temple Mount may be helpful:

Sept. 2000 – Muslims close access to Temple Mount and its shrines to all non-Muslims.

Aug. 20, 2003 – Israel re-opens the Temple Mount to tourists over Muslim objections (photos here). Shrines remained closed.

Feb. 14, 2004 – The earthen ramp to the Mughrabi Gate collapses after a snowstorm (photos here).

Mar. 2005 - A wooden bridge is constructed to permit access to the Temple Mount.

Jan. 2007 – Excavations begin on the earthen ramp (photos here). Muslims protest after being told by their leaders that the Temple Mount is being undermined. Israelis halt the excavation in June.

Mar. 2011 – Construction of a new bridge is authorized by an Israeli judge.

June 2011 – Israel delays construction of a new bridge until September.

Oct. 2011 – Jerusalem’s city engineer orders that the Mughrabi bridge be repaired or closed.

Nov. 2011 – Prime Minister Netanyahu orders that closure of the ramp be postponed.

This review excludes other relevant events, including the opening of the Western Wall tunnel, the illegal excavations on the Temple Mount, the resultant bulges on the southern and eastern walls, and the continuing political impact of these events.

Today’s story is reported by the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. An aerial photo with the relevant sites labeled is posted here.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Mysterious Marks in the City of David

Archaeologists working near the Gihon Spring are confounded by a series of “V” shapes cut into the floor of a room. Archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich date the marks to 800 BC or earlier, and they note a similar mark from the excavations of Parker, but they cannot explain the purpose of these 1.5-feet-long (0.5-m) carvings in the limestone. From the Associated Press:

Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 50 centimeters long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.

The archaeologists in charge of the dig know so little that they have been unable even to posit a theory about their nature, said Eli Shukron, one of the two directors of the dig.

"The markings are very strange, and very intriguing. I've never seen anything like them," Shukron said.

The continuation of the story gives more information about the “V” found by Parker, the unique nature of the room, the standing stone found nearby, and a couple of nice photos.

The City of David Facebook page is asking readers who have seen anything similar elsewhere in the world to share their knowledge.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Jesus Trail vs. Gospel Trail

We noted last week the inauguration of the “Gospel Trail,” a 40-mile route that runs from Nazareth to Capernaum. Tom Powers has noted an article in Haaretz that discusses the need for a $700,000 expenditure to create a trail with essentially the same purpose and route as one established several years ago.

All well and good, but a brief perusal of the map of Israel reveals that another route was dedicated three years ago and goes by a few names, among them the "Jesus Trail." It follows a slightly different route, 65 kilometers in length, with orange trail markings, from Nazareth to Lake Kinneret, and caters - until recently, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the Tourism Ministry - to exactly the same clientele.

The creation of the older route began as an initiative of Maoz Yinon, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who owns the Fauzi Azar hostel in Nazareth, plus another hostel in Jerusalem. At the time Yinon won the support of many groups for his plan, among them the Tourism Ministry, the Israel Trails Committee (part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel ) and several local authorities. Together with an American Christian named David Landis, he developed a route based on three principles: It would have a connection to Christian tradition, it would feature hiking in beautiful landscapes and it would encourage the involvement of local communities.

Tom references a blogpost (that I cannot locate) on the Jesus Trail site which distinguishes between the two trails. In Tom’s words (slightly reformatted):

The new Gospel Trail does not

  • take into account hikers’ need for regular water sources,
  • it bypasses too many important Christian sites,
  • it was not planned in cooperation with local communities,
  • and the places visited are not truly representative of Galilee’s diverse social fabric – more specifically, it steers the trail users away from Arab towns and villages in favor of Jewish areas.

I’m sure that the Israeli Ministry of Tourism will have a different perspective to justify their expenditure of 3 million shekels.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Ferrell Jenkins has produced an interesting series of posts this week on an important stop on Paul’s first and second missionary journeys:

Shmuel Browns has been off Hiking Nahal Og. This is a loop hike not far from Jerusalem that takes two hours. The photos confirm his introduction:

This is a real gem of a hike. Nahal Og is less than a half hour from Jerusalem in the Judean desert. It’s picturesque in a rugged, desert kind of way so it’s a good opportunity for taking photographs of the scenery and of course your family/group.

A recent conference at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem “discussed the geography and history of the country and how to better organize pilgrimages and prepare pilgrims so when they arrive at their destination, they may have a greater awareness of their experience.”

A new visitor’s center has apparently opened in Jaffa (biblical Joppa). “We built new galleries, we opened a new visitors’ center. We tell the stories of the history of the city from the time of the Bible, the Ottoman and Roman Empires, and the Egyptians in Jaffa.” The report includes a two-minute video.

Penn Museum has announced its Online Collections Database. “Currently, the online database contains more than 314,000 objects records representing 660,000 objects with 46,000 images illustrating 21,000 object records. Based on current workflows, we expect the number of objects records to increase by roughly 7,000 records every six months, with an additional 5,000 object photographs added as well.”

A large statue of Amenhotep III has been discovered at the pharaoh’s mortuary temple in Luxor.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Kursi Beach Development Compromise Reached

An old tradition identifies the area of Kursi as the place where demon-possessed pigs drowned themselves in the water. Developers planning to construct a vacation village have now been granted permission as long as they provide public access to the beach and construct a promenade to connect with a path around the Sea of Galilee. From the Jerusalem Post:

A compromise was approved by a district court last Thursday between Adam Teva V’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense and vacation village developers, that will allow for guaranteed public access to the beaches and infrastructure developed at a Kinneret beach on the Golan Heights, both sides confirmed on Tuesday.

Along with local residents, Adam Teva V’Din had filed a petition arguing that the Kursi resort project should not be allowed to go forward without public access to the beach and open areas.

The parties eventually reached a compromise, allowing for the continued construction of the village, but with an officially mandated agreement that will allow for public access to the beach and surrounding nature spots. In addition, the developers will be responsible for building a public parking lot and a promenade that connects with the existing path that surrounds Lake Kinneret, according to Adam Teva V’Din.

The full story is here. According to the best NT manuscript evidence, no pigs died at Kursi. The site of the swine dive should be located in the territory of the Gadara on the lake’s southeastern shore.

Kursi cliff view to north, tb102602013

View north from the slope of Kursi

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

New Book: Unearthing Jerusalem

Last month Eisenbrauns released a new book that looks fantastic. Unearthing Jerusalem: 150 Years of Archaeological Research in the Holy City has a rich collection of articles authored by those who know the subjects best [with one glaring exception]. I have not read the book, and will not be able to for several months, but I know that some of the readers here will want to get this on their Christmas list. GALUNEART

The Eisenbrauns website has the publication details, but more helpful than the two-paragraph description is the table of contents. I’ve re-formatted that below for easier reading.

It should be noted that the book is based on a conference held in 2006 and thus those looking for the latest results from excavations will want to check elsewhere.

Frank E. Peters, Where Three Roads Meet: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Part 1: The History of Research

Shimon Gibson, British Archaeological Work in Jerusalem between 1865 and 1967: An Assessment

Ulrich Hübner, The German Protestant Institute of Archaeology (Deutsches Evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes)

Joan R. Branham, The American Archaeological Presence in Jerusalem: Through the Gates of the Albright Institute

Dominique Trimbur, The École Biblique et Archéologique Française: A Catholic, French, and Archaeological Institution

Michele Piccirillo, The Archaeology of Jerusalem and the Franciscans of the Studium Biblicum

Ronny Reich, The Israel Exploration Society

Jon Seligman, The Departments of Antiquities and the Israel Antiquities Authority (1918–2006): The Jerusalem Experience

Part 2: From Early Humans to the Iron Age

Ofer Bar-Yosef, Prehistory of the Jerusalem Area

Aren M. Maeir, The Archaeology of Early Jerusalem

Israel Finkelstein, Jerusalem in the Iron Age: Archaeology and Text; Reality and Myth

Part 3: The Roman Period

Joseph Patrich, The Location of the Second Temple and the Layout of its Courts, Gates and Chambers: A New Proposal

Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, Has the Adiabene Royal Family “Palace” Been Found in the City of David?

Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, The Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem of the Late Second Temple Period and Its Surroundings

Zvi Greenhut, A Domestic Quarter from the Second Temple Period on the Lower Slopes of the Central Valley (Tyropoeon)

Donald T. Ariel, Coins from Excavations in the Domestic Quarter of the City of David, Jerusalem

Hillel Geva, On the “New City” of Second Temple Period Jerusalem: The Archaeological Evidence

Jodi Magness, Aelia Capitolina: A Review of Some Current Debates about Hadrianic Jerusalem

Part 4: The Byzantine Period

Oren Gutfeld, The Urban Layout of Byzantine-Period Jerusalem

Leah Di Segni, Epigraphic Finds Reveal New Chapters in the History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the 6th Century

Jon Seligman, The Hinterland of Jerusalem during the Byzantine Period

Part 5: The Early Islamic and Medieval Periods

Gideon Avni, From Hagia Polis to Al-Quds: The Byzantine–Islamic Transition in Jerusalem

Donald Whitcomb, Jerusalem and the Beginnings of the Islamic City

Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Early Islamic and Medieval City Walls of Jerusalem in Light of New Discoveries

Mahmoud Hawari, Ayyubid Jerusalem: New Architectural and Archaeological Discoveries

Robert Schick, Mamluk and Ottoman Jerusalem

One last comment: the natural choice for the presentation/article on Iron Age Jerusalem is Gabriel Barkay. He knows the city and this period far better than Israel Finkelstein and he does not suffer from the biases that make the latter’s work unreliable. Perhaps a logistical reason made Barkay’s participation impossible.

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