Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Construction May Destroy Ancient Port of Gaza

A report from the Media Line describes plans to construct a boardwalk along the beach of Gaza City. Archaeologists are concerned that the construction will destroy remains from the city’s past.

The Tourism and Antiques Ministry in Gaza has come out against the plan to give displaced residents land in the Beach Camp, saying they have archeological remains of an ancient port from the Roman era.

“These lands are the location of very important archeological sites. Excavations were conducted on this site from 1995 till 2005 by the French School of Antiques and Excavation,” says Hayam Al-Bittar, the head of the ministry’s museums department. “We should be doing our best to protect this site, not to offer it as compensation for people to build on it who don’t appreciate their heritage and history.”

She has vowed to file a complaint to the cabinet and, if all else fails, will resign from her position. “Not on my watch,” Hayam warns. “We will not rest until we ensure the safety of this location.”

The United Nations Education and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) and the French School of Antiques and Excavation are backing her, but an informal survey of Gazans about the corniche and its impact finds little concern about the damage to the archeological remains.

The full article is here.

Beach in Gaza Strip, tb040305579

Beach south of Gaza City

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Reconstruction of Herod’s Tomb Criticized

Last week a model of Herod’s tomb was erected at the Herodium. The 13-foot (4-m) high structure cost $13,000 and is made of light plastic. Plans have been drawn up to create a full-size replica of the entire mausoleum which would serve as a visitor’s center.

Haaretz runs the story with the headline “Top archaeologists condemn Israeli plan to rebuild ancient tomb.” Unfortunately the story doesn’t support the headline. The primary criticism cited comes from an archaeologist who asked to remain anonymous. Journalistic ethics should preclude Haaretz from quoting an anonymous source on a subject of this nature. A named critic is Haim Goldfus, the head of the archaeology department at Ben Gurion University, who believes that a reconstruction would only be a distraction. Gideon Foerster observes that there are still too many unknowns to justify a reconstruction.

Whether or not a monument that helps the public to visualize the tomb (and thus increases visits to the site) is a good thing or not can be debated. Haaretz misleads, however, in suggesting that there is a widespread movement among archaeologists against a plastic model. A more accurate headline would be: “Two archaeologists condemn Israeli plan to rebuild ancient tomb.”

An unmentioned factor in the story is the contention that the tomb of the “king of the Jews” belongs to the Palestinians because Arab armies held this territory at the conclusion of the War of 1948. Thus Israeli archaeologists should not be excavating, let alone reconstructing, any site in the West Bank.

Tom Powers provides another perspective on his blog.


Model of Herod’s Tomb erected at the Herodium. Photo: Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

UPDATE (2/2): Joseph Lauer notes that the article was re-published with a revised headline, “Archaeologists slam plan to rebuild Herod’s tomb.”


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Roundup

The “Roads of Arabia Exhibition,” mentioned here in February, opened this week in Berlin. The transfer of the collection from St. Petersburg was quite a challenge. In the fall the exhibition is scheduled to move to Washington, DC.

Luke Chandler explains exactly where the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon was discovered.

The process of wine-making in ancient times is described in the Jerusalem Post (but the editor chose to illustrate it with a photo of an olive press).

Aren Maeir is always ahead of the curve, but now he outdoes himself by restoring pottery from the 2012 season. The photos show that they’re digging up some great artifacts.

Students of Ephesus may be interested in a new historical work by Hans Willer Laale. Ephesus (Ephesos): An Abbreviated History From Androclus to Constantine XI is now available from Amazon ($26-34 for paperback or hardcover; $4 for Kindle).

The Biblical Archaeology Society has produced a 9-minute video on the excavations at Bethsaida.

Zahi Hawass is writing a book.

The ASOR Blog has a round-up of news from the world of archaeology.

The Jerusalem Post has a story on the top 5 bookstores in the city.

Bethsaida Iron Age gate with stela replica, tb011412618

Iron Age gate at Bethsaida

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Lectures in Houston

The Lanier Theological Library in Houston was recently profiled in the Baptist Standard. This private research library is building its impressive collection of 100,000 volumes by purchasing the libraries of retiring scholars. They have announced a series of free lectures for the spring.

John Monson, Physical Theology: The Bible in its Land, Time, and Culture, February 11 (abstract and details). Responses by Emanuel Tov, Steven Lancaster, and Mark Lanier. Note: Registration is now full.

Sy Gitin, Ekron of the Philistines: From Sea Peoples to Olive Oil Industrialists, March 18 (abstract and details)

Peter Williams, Things Which Ought To Be Better Known About The Resurrection of Jesus, April 7 (more information)

Olive oil jugs at Ekron Museum, tb031500014

Olive oil jugs, Ekron Museum of the History of Philistine Culture

HT: Charles Savelle


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two New Views in Jerusalem

A couple of new buildings in the Jewish Quarter provide good views from the rooftop or balcony. Both cost but both provide unique perspectives that are worth the price of admission.

A one-hour tour of the Hurva Synagogue concludes on the balcony with views in all directions.

Jewish Quarter courtyard from Hurva Synagogue, tb010312412

Jewish Quarter from the Hurva Synagogue

For 10 shekels, you can get access to the rooftop of Aish HaTorah and its unobstructed view of the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount.

Western Wall prayer plaza from southwest, tb010312492

Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount from Aish HaTorah

Aish HaTorah also has a model of the temple on display on the roof.

Temple model overlooking Temple Mount, tb010312511

Temple model on rooftop of Aish HaTorah

While on the rooftop a few weeks ago, I could see down into the area of the Temple Mount ramp that is otherwise blocked from public view by a fence. An archaeologist employed by the IAA was with a group of workers, leading me to wonder if any (quiet) progress is being made in the excavations there.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Excavate at Khirbet el-Maqatir in 2012

After some years away from the site, the Associates for Biblical Research have recently returned to excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir, a candidate for the city of Ai destroyed by Joshua.

The location of Joshua's Ai has been a matter of mystery and controversy since the beginnings of archaeological research in Israel. Scholars have concluded that the location of Joshua’s Ai is at et-Tell. They have also used this conclusion to discredit the Biblical account of Joshua 7-8 because there is no evidence of occupation at et-Tell during the time of Joshua. We believe they are incorrect, not the Bible.

Since 1995, under the direction of ABR Director of Research Bryant G. Wood (PhD, University of Toronto), ABR research and excavation has uncovered important archaeological finds at Khirbet el-Maqatir, just .6 miles (1 km) west of et-Tell. The discoveries include a city gate and wall system, large amounts of pottery from the time of Joshua, evidence of destruction by fire, ancient coins, a house dating to the first century AD, and a Byzantine monastery. This area is located about 9 miles due north of Jerusalem, near the modern villages of Beitin and Deir Dibwan.

I’ve worked at the Maqatir excavation for a number of seasons and I would offer three reasons for you to seriously consider joining the team this year.

1. The opportunity to be part of a dig which has the potential of revolutionizing our archaeological understanding of Joshua’s Conquest.

2. The opportunity to work and live alongside committed Bible believers, including first-class scholars such as Bryant Wood and Eugene Merrill.

3. The opportunity to learn about biblical archaeology and Joshua’s conquest through evening lectures.

In addition, the team is based at the beautiful Yad HaShmonah, a guest house in the Judean hills overlooking the coastal plain. Because this excavation runs for two weeks, you are not required to make a longer commitment of three to six weeks as at other digs.

More information about the site, its potential significance, and volunteering this summer is available at maqatir.org.

Khirbet el-Maqatir, tbs99

Excavating at Khirbet el-Maqatir

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Updated: Bible and Archaeology

Last year I recommended a visit to Bible and Archaeology, a virtual museum of artifacts related to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The site is significantly improved now, with a chronological ordering of 50 major artifacts connected to Scripture.

As before, the site features high-resolution images and helpful explanations. I appreciate Mike Caba’s work in creating a single resource where I can go when asked the question, “Does archaeology contribute to our understanding of the Bible?”

The site could also serve as the basis for a list of most important artifacts as well as provide inspiration for a lecture (or series) on archaeology’s value to the Bible reader today.

Baal figurine from Ugarit, tb060408296

Baal figurine from Ugarit (Louvre Museum)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

More Excavation in the Western Wall Tunnels

In his column today at the Jerusalem Post, Wayne Stiles traverses the length of the Western Wall underground, recommending this as an ideal way to get more out of your day in Jerusalem.

Traveling though these excavated tunnels a few weeks ago, I saw several discoveries made in recent years. The steps of a very large mikveh (ritual bath) are visible about 10 meters below the modern path (noted previously on this blog here).

Mikveh near Western Wall, tb010112167Eastern steps of mikveh built next to western wall of Temple Mount

Last month, they finished excavating and opened up to visitors a new portion of the Struthion Pool. This is located to the east of the part of the pool that once served as the terminus of the tour.

Struthion Pool, tb010112215Struthion Pool

Excavations continue in the Great Hall, not far from the location of the largest stone in the Temple Mount.

New excavations in Western Wall tunnels, tb010112171Excavations in the Great Hall, January 2012

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weekend Roundup

In Old City Odds ‘n Ends, Tom Powers reports on the clean-up of Hezekiah’s Pool, repairs at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and construction in Solomon’s Quarries. He also lists some posts he hopes to write in the months ahead.

Luke Chandler has some new photos of Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Over on the Accordance Forum, David Lang asks whether commercial graphics collections are useful in light of Google Images.

Larry Hurtado highly recommends the Atlas of the Early Christian World (1958).

The reformatted Soncino Babylonian Talmud is now available online.

In recent weeks, Wayne Stiles has taken readers of his column at the Jerusalem Post to Masada and the Citadel of David.

A 64th tomb has been discovered in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. (The tomb of King Tut was number 62.)

Some thieves were caught looting a site in the Judean wilderness near Tekoa.

The Harvard Semitic Museum is baking thousands of ancient clay tablets.

HT: Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

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Friday, January 20, 2012

New Animal Coming to Hai-Bar Yotvata

Fans of Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve have something to look forward to:

Cheetahs coming to Haibar sign, tb010712117

Notice: This cage will soon be populated with cheetahs.

If you like challenging work with wild animals, Hai-Bar is looking for volunteers.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Excavations Slated for Azekah

One of the most significant cities in the Shephelah of Judah, Azekah has never been scientifically excavated. Victim to the spades of Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister and Frederick J. Bliss in 1898-99, Azekah’s secrets have remained hidden while major expeditions have studied the nearby cities of Gezer, Beth Shemesh, Gath, and Lachish. Now the Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar of Heidelberg University has joined with Tel Aviv University to lead an international consortium in a survey and excavation of the site and vicinity.

The excavation will be directed by Oded Lipschits and Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University along with Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University. The first season runs from July 15 to August 24, 2012 and volunteers are encouraged to apply. Three courses are offered for credit for university students.

The importance of Azekah is clear from its mention in Assyrian and biblical texts.

  • The Canaanites escaping from Joshua’s attack fled as far as Azekah (Josh 10:10-11).
  • The Philistines and their giant Goliath were camped between Azekah and Socoh (1 Sam 17:1).
  • Rehoboam fortified Azekah (2 Chr 11:9).
  • An Assyrian king, possibly Sargon II, said of the city, “Azekah is a stronghold which is situated in the midst of the mountains, located on a mountain range like a pointed dagger, it was like an eagle’s nest and rivaled the highest mountains and was inaccessible even for the siege ramps and for approaching with battering rams it was too strong.”
  • Azekah was one of the two last cities holding out against the Assyrian king Sennacherib (Jer 34:7; cf. Lachish Letter #4).
  • Azekah was resettled after the Babylonian exile (Neh 11:30).

HT: G. M. Grena

Azekah and Elah Valley aerial from east, tb011606799

Azekah and Elah Valley from the east

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Israel’s Biblical Landscape Reserve

Neot Kedumim is a treasure in the heart of Israel that too few visitors know about. This biblical landscape reserve is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and includes 620 acres of trees, plants, flowers, and fauna that were common in Israel in the biblical period.

A new three-minute video does a great job of showing the park in its glory (HT: Biblical Flora).

I brought a group of seminary students to Neot Kedumim last week and it was a valuable time for all. This is one of the few places where one learns with all of the senses. One could spend as little as two hours on a tour or as much as a week without seeing it all. If you have not yet been, you should put this site on your list for your next visit.

The books of founder Nogah Hareuveni are excellent, and I see that Amazon has a few used copies for very good prices (and some copies at very high prices):

Nature in Our Biblical Heritage (from $3.96)

Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage (from $2.86 and $9.99)

Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage (from $84.97)

Neot Kedumim sells these books in their shop for about $30. Shipping is extra.

Tamarisk tree at Neot Kedumim, tb011012331

Tamarisk tree at Neot Kedumim, January 2012

Genesis 21:33 (NIV) "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God."

1 Samuel 22:6 (NIV) "Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul, spear in hand, was seated under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing around him."

1 Samuel 31:13 (NIV) "Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days."

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Q&A: Comprehensive Multimedia Teaching Materials

Question: I teach Sunday School to teens and plan on teaching adult Bible studies as well. Do you know of any comprehensive multimedia teaching materials that would cover all the books of the Bible, allowing me to read line by line from Genesis to Revelation and explain the spiritual meaning while also being able to simultaneously project photos, maps, charts, etc. relating to these scriptures to add depth to the teaching/preaching? –P.K.

Answer: A really good resource that does just this is Glo. I selected nearly 1,300 photos from my collections that were most relevant to each book of the Bible. Digital Immersion added hundreds of videos, charts, and graphics, all organized by biblical book and chapter. The software is very impressive, and remarkably inexpensive (~$60).

Readers who have other suggestions are welcome to post a comment.



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Museums and the Bible

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle)

In addition to taking a trip to Israel or attending a class, museums are another excellent way to learn about the world of the Bible, but sometimes you do not always know what to look for or how to connect it to the Bible.

Clyde Fant and Mitchell Reddish, noted before on this blog for their guidebook to biblical sites in Turkey and Greece, have produced a book (a few years ago) that will help with just that:

Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

The subtitle of the book is more informative: "Understanding the Bible through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums." The book's contents are divided into eight sections that correspond to historical periods or to types of biblical literature.
Creation and Flood Stories
Israel's Ancestral, Exodus, and Settlement Periods
The Period of the Monarchy
The Period of the Babylonian Exile
Poetry and Wisdom Literature
The Persian Period
The Hellenistic Period
The Roman Period

Two additional sections cover "Ancient Biblical Texts" and "Sensational Finds: Genuine or Forgery?" The richest sections are "The Period of the Monarchy" and "The Roman Period." Within these ten sections, the book contains 107 entries, with some entries covering a single museum object and other entries covering a group of related objects. Each entry is about four-five pages in length and nearly all of the entries include a black-and-white photograph of the museum object. Entries begin with a description of the object(s): dimensions, language (if inscribed), provenance, date, museum location and number. This is followed by a prose description of the discovery of the object and its historical context. The authors provide a satisfying amount of detail in this section and it seems to be well-researched. The final section for each entry discusses the "Biblical Significance" of the object. Some objects, of course, have a more direct biblical connection than others, but others will draw your attention to details of the Bible that maybe you have not noticed before. Where the biblical significance is (or has been) disputed by scholars, Fant and Reddish present the options in a fair-handed way. For example, it used to be argued that the creation account in Genesis directly depended on Mesopotamian creation accounts, but Fant and Reddish are careful to point out both the comparisons and the contrasts.

The book includes objects from about 30 museums in the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere. The book is made even more useful by including a scripture index, an index of museum numbers, and an index of objects organized by museum. So, for example, say you are going to visit the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, you can look up the museum in the index and see a list of objects on display so that you have an idea of where you might want to concentrate your attention while you are there. Or, say you are studying Acts and want to show how Luke was quite accurate and precise in many of the details he gives, you can use the scripture index to look up relevant entries.

There are, of course, many more objects and other museums that could have been included, but Fant and Reddish give good coverage of the most important objects (and many less familiar ones) and the most important areas of connection with the Bible. I think you will be pleased and impressed with the level of detail and the quality of research.

A Hittite plaque made of ivory from Late Bronze Megiddo,
Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago.
Not included in Lost Treasures of the Bible.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Q&A: Printed Vintage Maps of the Middle East

Question: I was wondering if you know of any websites that sell maps of Israel (4 x 3 feet or so) for decorative wall mounting? I found some information about Palestinian Exploration Fund linen maps selling for $200-400, dating back to 1800s but that's about it. I prefer a vintage look over a modern National Geographic look. If you have any leads, could you pass them on? Thanks! –J.K.

Answer: I don’t know of anywhere to purchase printed maps like these, but perhaps you could find some high-res ones online that you could enlarge and print. Because any created before 1923 are no longer under copyright restriction (in the U.S.), many are available online. I would recommend that you begin with the following sources:




Another possibility is the collection of Survey of Western Palestine maps that we produced. These are very high resolution on the CD (~7500x6500 pixels) and in my archive I have even higher-resolution images available by request.

Readers who have other suggestions are welcome to comment below.

Jerusalem center, SHEET_17

Survey of Western Palestine (1880), a section of Sheet 17


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Promised Land Does Not Include Transjordan

Yesterday I gave the arguments for the view that includes Transjordan within the Promised Land. This was the position of the other two faculty when I was teaching in Israel. I held to the opposing view, namely that the Jordan River is the eastern border of the “Promised Land.” Biblical evidence in support of this position includes the following:

1. The land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was “Canaan.” “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Gen 17:8; cf. Exod 6:4; Lev 14:34). Countless passages make it clear that the land aspect of the promise included only Canaan. The biblical or extrabiblical descriptions of Canaan never include territory east of the Jordan River.

2. In preparation for the conquest, God said that the eastern border of the land they were to inherit would run from “the Sea of Kinnereth...down along the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea” (Num 34:11-12).

Wadi in Gilead mountains, tb110603119

The mountains of Gilead

3. Moses was forbidden from entering the promised land; consequently he stood on Mount Nebo (which had already been given to the tribe of Reuben) to “view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession” (Deut. 32:49).

4. If the land of the Amorites in Transjordan was part of what God had originally determined to give the Israelites, Moses would not have bothered sending a request for safe passage through the territory of Sihon the Amorite. In any dealings with the “promised land,” Moses and Joshua simply destroyed the population without making any requests of them (e.g., Jericho, Ai, Hazor). It was only because Sihon refused to allow Israel to pass (perhaps thinking that the Israelites would leave him alone as they had done previously with the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites) that the Israelites destroyed his army and their cities. As a result, the land was available for settlement and the two and a half tribes came to Moses with this special request.

5. After the Conquest, the two and a half Transjordanian tribes reported back to Joshua in order to receive permission to return to their land. Joshua said that this was “the land that Moses gave you on the other side of the Jordan,” explaining that it was legitimate for them to live there, but that it was not part of the original land of promise (Josh 22:4). Joshua also said that this land was “acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord” (Josh. 22:8), also indicating that such a notice was necessary because this was not part of Canaan granted to Abraham.

6. The construction of an altar by the two and a half tribes nearly resulted in a civil war. The Cisjordanian tribes accused their brethren of rebelling by building the altar near the Jordan River. Note their statement: “If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the LORD’s land, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us” (Josh 22:18). “The land” here clearly means “the land of promise.” The Transjordanian tribes respond that they built it only to prevent a future division between the tribes: “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD” (Josh 22:24-25). God indeed had made the Jordan a boundary, not only a natural one, but one that defined the borders of the promised land and one that potentially threatened the nation’s unity.

7. In a period still future (best understood as applying to the earthly millennial kingdom), God will divide the land among the twelve tribes (Ezek 47:13-23). It will be divided equally among the tribes, with Joseph receiving two portions. “This land will become your inheritance.” The border is clearly demarcated on the eastern side of the Jordan River. “On the east side the boundary will run...along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel, to the eastern sea” (Ezek 47:18).

Concluding Thought:

The issue is not whether or not it was legitimate for the two and a half tribes to settle in Transjordan. Clearly this was granted by God. The question is whether or not this land was considered part of the everlasting “promise.” If the Transjordanian territory falls within the definition of “inherited” but not “promised” land, it may best be understood as the temporary but not eternal possession of the Israelites.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Promised Land Includes Transjordan

When I taught in Israel, the faculty was split on the question of whether the Promised Land includes territory on the east side of the Jordan River or not. None of us questioned whether or not God had promised to give the land of Canaan on the west side of the Jordan River to Abraham and his descendants, but we could not agree on whether the land given to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh should be considered to be in the Promised Land or not.

Today I will present the affirmative side of the debate. Those who believe in a literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies will recognize the potential ramifications of this issue.

1. The “land of the Amorites” was included in the original promise (Gen 15:21), and Sihon, king of the Amorites, lived in Transjordan (Josh 12:6).

2. There are specific statements by God that the land inhabited by the Amorite kings in Transjordan would be given to Israel (cf. also Deut 2:12, 24; 3:2, 18).

  • Deut 2:31. “The Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you; begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’”
  • Psalm 136:19-22. “…who slew famous kings...Sihon…and Og…and gave their land as a heritage… to Israel His servant.”

3. By the command of God, cities of refuge and Levitical cities were established east of the Jordan (Num 35; Josh 20, 21). Ten of the forty-eight Levitical cites were in Transjordan. The Levitical cities are on both sides of the Jordan in accordance with divine proscription, impossible if Transjordan territory is not included in the inheritance of Israel.

4. Numbers 34, which designates the Jordan River as the eastern boundary, in context, must specifically refer to the land that yet remained unconquered in Cisjordan. Note especially Numbers 34:2, 13-15. In this passage Moses clearly states that Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh already have their inheritance east of the Jordan. The remaining territory, the Land of Canaan, west of the Jordan, was yet to be divided up by lot to the other nine and a half tribes.

Jordan River at Yardenit, tb052908536

The Jordan River

5. Israel could expand the promise to the point that more cities could be added (Deut 19:8-10).

6. The land that Moses “gave” on the other side was “acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord” (Josh 22:4-5, 9).

7. Manasseh’s “inheritance” is east of the Jordan. This is the same term used for the other tribes (Josh 13:8ff; cf. Judg 11:23-24).

8. A prophecy of the end times speaks of Israel’s presence in Transjordan: The Israelites “will lay hands on Edom and Moab and the Ammonites will be subject to them” (Isa 11:14; cf. Ezek 25:4-14).

The eminent geographer Barry Beitzel is one who holds a view similar to that presented here (The New Moody Atlas of the Bible, 26-29). Tomorrow I will present the arguments for my view.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Q&A: Viewing the Dead Sea from the Mount of Olives

Question: I read in a commentary the claim that the Dead Sea is visible from the top of the Mount of Olives. When I was there we didn’t go all the way to the top. Is this true? –K.P.

Answer: On most days you would not be able to answer this question because the air is so hazy. On a rare clear day, you would have this view just up the slope from Bethphage, with a sliver of the Dead Sea visible below the horizon.

Bethphage from Mount of Olives showing wilderness, mat02531

View of the Dead Sea from the Mount of Olives (photo source)

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Speculating on the Mysterious Marks in City of David

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle.)

At Urartian sites in northeast Anatolia, archaeologists have discovered geometric "rock signs" that were cut into bedrock. Some 134 signs have been found at 20 different sites (fortresses, canals, graves) in modern Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. The signs are circular, "U"-shaped, "V"-shaped, or sickle-shaped, and they are dated to the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. Regardless of location, the signs are all very similar in shape and dimensions to one another, with the signs from the later period being slightly smaller than the earlier ones.

Belli 2001: 365, fig. 2

Belli 2001: 367, fig. 7

It was originally thought the rock signs were used for grape presses, but this has been ruled out. Other ideas included quarries, hieroglyphs, or some religious function, but the conclusion is "there are no definite answers for now" (Belli 2001: 368).

In 2006, Erkan Konyar suggested that the rock signs were molds for shaping wooden chariot parts, and perhaps other wooden implements. (A pdf of his essay can be downloaded here.) He was able to identify the same component parts in depictions of chariots in Urartian and Assyrian reliefs, and the rock signs appear to correspond in shape and dimension to wheels, axle-braces, spokes, yokes, and hooks.

If he is correct, the "V"-shaped signs would have been molds for braces, spokes, and/or yokes.

Belli 2001: 367, fig. 8

The dimensions of the "V"-shaped signs are fairly close to the dimensions given for the "V" marks in the City of David (see here and here). The City of David marks are 5 cm deep and the Urartian rock signs are 4-10 cm deep. The City of David marks are 50 cm in length, and the Urartian "V" rock signs vary between 60 and 70 cm in length.

So, could the City of David marks be molds for shaping wooden implements? The wood would have to be softened in water first, and the marks appear to be conveniently located near Jerusalem's water source. It would be irresponsible to suggest anything further at this point since we still have not heard many of the details about the marks from the City of David's excavators, but the similarities with Urartian signs and the interpretation of them by Konyar are intriguing.

Belli, Oktay.
2001 “Surveys of Monumental Urartian Rock Signs in East Anatolia.” Pp. 365-369 in İstanbul University's Contributions to Archaeology in Turkey (1932-2000). Ed. O. Belli. Istanbul: İstanbul University Rectorate Research Fund.

Konyar, Erkan.
2006 “An Ethno-Archaeological Approach to the 'Monumental Rock Signs' in Eastern Anatolia.” Colloquium Anatolicum 5: 113-126.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Q&A: Mount Carmel and the Sea

Question: Does your collection include a picture of where Mount Carmel runs into the sea?  I recall seeing a picture once showing the impracticability of travel along the sea. –J.B.

Answer: There actually is a narrow strip of land along the water’s edge that is traversable, unlike the cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean at Rosh HaNiqra. But in ancient times and modern, travelers have preferred the passes through Mount Carmel. One of the reasons for this in antiquity was the difficult, marshy conditions in the Haifa area.

This first photo comes from the “Acco” group on volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Acco sunset with Mt Carmel from north, tb122100211

This second one comes from the “Haifa” set on volume 1 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.

Haifa and Mount Carmel, mat07135

Both give a sense for the proximity of the edge of Mount Carmel to the sea. You can also check out the view on Google Earth.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Your Take: Dever on Israel’s Emergence

While I’m traveling, I thought I might provoke readers with a statement written by William G. Dever in his article “Archaeology, Syro-Palestinian and Biblical,” published in 1992 in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, page 366.

Thus the book of Joshua and the works of the Deuteronomistic historians (Joshua-Kings) portray the emergence of Israel in Canaan as the result of a sudden, unified military conquest of the Twelve-Tribe League under the leadership of Joshua—a miraculous gift of Yahweh. Archaeological evidence, however, shows beyond doubt that most Late Bronze Age Canaanite sites in Palestine were not destroyed ca. 1200 B.C., and that nearly all the identifiable early Israelite settlements were established peacefully on virgin soil (Finkelstein AIS). Therefore, from the point of the secular historian, the ascendancy of Israel was part of a gradual, exceedingly complex process of socioeconomic change on the Late Bronze–Iron I horizon, not a “miracle” at all.

How many problems do you see with this statement? How does bad Bible reading lead him to faulty conclusions? What parts of his statement are true?

Bethel excavation, 1954, house from Judges period, mat13006

Excavations at Bethel (Beitin), once believed to support the late date theory of the conquest
Source: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, volume 1

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

New Book: The ANE in the 12th-10th Centuries BCE

The proceedings of a conference at Haifa University in 2010 will soon be available in a 620-page book entitled The Ancient Near East in the 12th–10th Centuries BCE: Culture and History, edited by Gershon Galil, Ayelet Gilboa, Aren M. Maeir, and Dan’el Kahn.

Some chapters of particular interest to readers of this blog may include:

Walter Dietrich, David and the Philistines: Literature and History

Gershon Galil, Solomon’s Temple: Fiction or Reality?

Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Michael G. Hasel, The Iron Age City of Khirbet Qeiyafa after four Seasons of Excavations

Moti Haiman, Geopolitical Aspects of the Southern Levant Desert in the 11th–10th Centuries BCE

Larry G. Herr, Jordan in the Iron I and IIB Periods

Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, Yhwh’s Exalted House Revisited: New Comparative Light on the Biblical Image of Solomon’s Temple

Dan´el Kahn, A Geo-Political and Historical Perspective of Merneptah’s Policy in Canaan

André Lemaire, West Semitic Epigraphy and the History of the Levant during the 12th–10th Centuries BCE

Aren M. Maeir, Insights on the Philistine Culture and Related Issues: An Overview of 15 Years of Work at Tell es-Safi/Gath

Troy Leiland Sagrillo, Šîšaq’s [Shishak’s] Army: 2 Chronicles 12:2–3 from an Egyptological Perspective

Ephraim Stern, Archaeological Remains of the Northern Sea People along the Sharon and Carmel Coasts and the Acco and Jezrael Valleys

Christoffer Theis and Peter van der Veen, Some “Provenanced” Egyptian Inscriptions from Jerusalem: A Preliminary Study of Old and New Evidence

And there is much more.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Biblical Problems with Locating Sodom at Tall el-Hammam

(Guest post by Bill Schlegel at The Master’s College, Israel Bible Extension)

As Todd has noted previously, there are archaeological and chronological problems with identifying Tall el-Hammam with Sodom. Here are some scriptural/textual considerations. A main reason that a northern location is sought for Sodom is the belief that Gen. 13:10-12 places Sodom in the region of the “Plain (kikkar) of the Jordan” that is, north of the Dead Sea (Gen 13:10). However, I don’t think Gen. 13:10-12 restricts Sodom to the Kikkar of the Jordan. Yes, Lot chose the Kikkar of the Jordan and travelled east from the Hill Country. However, Genesis 13:11-12 implies passage of time during which Lot moved around. That Lot “pitched his tent as far as Sodom” suggests a geographical separation from the “Kikkar of the Jordan.” Also, the word kikkar does not exclusively refer only to the area of the Rift Valley just north of the Dead Sea. “Kikkar of the Jordan” can refer to the area as far north as Sukkoth (1 Kings 7:46). The word kikkar may be used to refer to other parts of the Rift Valley in general, especially when not accompanied by the appellation “of the Jordan” (Gen. 19:17, 28; 2 Sam. 18:23). In other words, Sodom could be in the kikkar, without being in the Kikkar of the Jordan.

In favor of a southern location, Scripture associates Sodom geographically with the “Valley of Siddim, which is the Salt Sea” an area distinct from the Kikkar of the Jordan (Gen. 14:3, 8, 10). The meaning of Siddim, “lime, whitewash” (LXX “salty”) and the pits in the region suggest a more southern location for Sodom. Also, locating Sodom and Gomorrah in the south fits better the post-destruction environment described by the prophets (Deut. 29:23, Isa. 13:19-20, Jer. 49:18, 50:40; Zeph. 2:9) and a later battle between Judah and Edom at the site of Zair (from the same Hebrew word as Zoar to which Lot fled, 2 Kings 8:21).

I believe we will always have problems trying to locate Sodom and Gomorrah. Besides significant geological/geographical changes to the region associated with the divine destruction (Gen. 13:10), the divine destruction probably didn’t leave much (any?) of the cities to be found. The Hebrew for these cities’ destruction is unique (a combination of shachet “destroy” and hafach, “turn upside down”). It is unlikely that any of these tells/ruins in the Rift (north or south) are Sodom or Gomorrah. More likely is that these ruins represent peripheral cities, perhaps one was Zoar, which were spared the divine judgment.

Tall el-Hamman is an interesting dig. There’s no question that this is the region where Israel camped before striking across the Jordan. Tall el-Hamman may be Abel-Shittim (Num. 33:49). But this could be a problem for the excavators—identifying the Iron Age remains at Tall el-Hamman with another Israelite town goes against identifying Tall el-Hamman with Sodom, because it is unlikely that what once was Sodom became the Israelites’ Abel-Shittim.


Plains of Moab and Tall el-Hammam from the west

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Q&A: Where is the Hinnom Valley in Jeremiah?

While I’m traveling these weeks, I thought I might begin a new series of questions and answers. Over the last few months, I’ve written replies to inquiries from various friends and I will post one every few days.

Question: I have been working in Jeremiah and in 7:31 there is a reference the Valley of Ben Hinnom. Holladay suggests in his commentary (Jeremiah 1, 268) that the best identification of this valley is the Tyropoean Valley. The relevant paragraph is below. What do you think? –C.S.

The name of the valley is variously given as The Valley of Hinnom, The Valley of Ben- [= the Son of] Hinnom, or The Valley of Bene- [= the Sons of] Hinnom. Most authorities, following Gustaf Dalman, identify the valley with wādi ar-rabābi, the “Western Valley” which runs north-south, west of the Old City of Jerusalem, and then cuts east, meeting the Valley of Kidron. But other identifications have been proposed: Hugo Gressmann suggests wādi an-nār, the valley south of the junction between the Western Valley and the Valley of Kidron (and one notes that the Arabic name means “Valley of Hell”); and recently A. Douglas Tushingham has argued persuasively for the Tyropoean Valley, that is, the “Central Valley” running south from the southwest corner of the temple mount. Given the areas of occupation of Jerusalem in preexilic times, the Tyropoean Valley seems the best candidate.

valleys-of-jerusalemThe valleys of Jerusalem from the southwest

Answer: I don’t think I’ve run across this before, which by itself means that since this proposal was made in 1971 probably no one has accepted it (except apparently one commentator). Without reading Tushingham, but looking at Jeremiah 7:31, I can tell you that Tushingham’s motivation likely comes from his association with Kathleen Kenyon who believed, in 1971, in the “minimalist” view of Jerusalem—that the city never included the Western Hill before the Hasmonean period. So the Central Valley would fit the scenario described in Jeremiah 7 in that view.

But since we now know that the Central Valley was enclosed within the walls during the time of Jeremiah (and no one questions that anymore), the theory never gained any traction. Holladay published his commentary in 1986. By that time, there was unanimous agreement against the minimalist view. If Holladay had carried out research with more recent sources, he would have avoided this error.

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Interpretation in Archaeology

William Dever:

There are few “facts” in archaeology. There are artifacts which can become “data,” but only when they are properly excavated in context, interpreted in relation to a pertinent question, and published (i.e., “given”) in full. The notion that the archaeologist is an “objective” scientist, who approaches a site with a mind that is a tabula rasa, is incredibly naïve—and dangerous. We see in the dirt only what we are sensitized to see; and unfortunately, we unwittingly destroy the rest of the evidence in getting it.

Source: William G. Dever, “Archaeology, Syro-Palestinian and Biblical,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary 1: 362-63.

Megiddo excavation of Solomonic palace, db6704060512

Excavations of Megiddo under Yigael Yadin, April 1967
Source: Views That Have Vanished