Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Recovered Gezer Boundary Inscription

Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan have written an article for the Baptist Press about their success this season in discovering a new Gezer boundary inscription and recovering one lost for more than 100 years. The article includes a photo of the recovered inscription (#4), and promises a full report in a journal in due course.

This lost boundary inscription was discovered in 1881 by Charles Clermont-Ganneau and his description of the episode helps to explain why scholars failed to locate it in the last century. From Archaeological Researches in Palestine 2:232:

In 1881, seven years after this incident, I had occasion to return to Palestine, and resumed, on my own account, the exploration of the neighbourhood of Gezer, which had been so unduly broken off. I had been persuaded all along that some more inscriptions must be in existence, similar to those I had discovered, marking out the boundary of the town towards the north-west. I started searching in this quarter, with the help of the fellahin, as on the previous occasion; it was not long before my labours were crowned with success, for about two or three hundred yards to the northwest of the first inscription I discovered some large characters, absolutely similar to the former, and cut into the face of a rounded rocky platform with almost perpendicular sides.

I have no record of these characters, but a rough sketch hurriedly made in my note book. I meant to go back and take a squeeze of them, fix the exact position of the inscription, and pursue my investigations on the spot; but, unfortunately, I was suddenly recalled to France, and was unable to carry out this intention. I regret this, for I am convinced that there still remains quite a series of these texts to be collected round about Gezer, I am certain that a search of this kind would not be unfruitful, and recommend it to future Palestine explorers.

As of this month, 13 boundary inscriptions have been found near Gezer, but I have to ask, did no other cities have similar markers?


Clermont-Ganneau’s sketch of “Inscription D”

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview at BibleX

Over at the BibleX blog, Charles Savelle has interviewed me about the new photo collection and its value for those teaching the Bible. He asks:

1. How does understanding the geography and archaeology of the Holy Lands contribute to the practice of Bible exposition?

2. You have just released a revised and expanded edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (PLBL). How have you used pictures like those in the PLBL in your own teaching and preaching ministry?

3. The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands contains more than 17,500 images. Do you have any suggestions for relatively new Bible teachers on how best to use these images without getting overwhelmed?

4. How can a Bible teacher be more effective by using the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands?

The full interview is here.


Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Revised and Expanded edition, released earlier this month


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Judge Proposes Destruction of James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription

From the Jerusalem Post:

A Jerusalem judge will announce on Wednesday whether he has decided to order the destruction of a burial box that could have held the bones of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed tablet that could have come from the First Temple.

At a Jerusalem District Court hearing in April, Judge Aharon Farkash said he might exercise “the judgement of Solomon” and order both items to be destroyed.

It’s hard to believe that the judge was being serious, especially since he has concluded that the artifacts may be authentic. Advocates on both sides of the forgery debate are against destruction of the objects.

Andre Lemaire, the Sorbonne scholar who published the first analysis of the ossuary in 2002 and has stood by its authenticity, said its destruction would be “scandalous” and “a manipulation of historical evidence.”

“It would be necessary from a scientific point of view to start a new suit, on a real basis this time, for voluntary destruction of historical evidence and tentative manipulation of history,” Professor Lemaire told The Jerusalem Post.

Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Emmanuel Christian Seminary who appeared as a prosecution witness, said “it is never prudent to destroy antiquities, regardless of the controversy surrounding them.”

“I would certainly not wish to see the Ya'akov ("James") Ossuary destroyed. Indeed, to destroy the ossuary would only fuel the controversy, effectively turning this ossuary into an archaeological martyr of sorts. I wish to see it returned to its legal owner,” he said.

The full article is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Not a Forgery: Jehoash Inscription

Five geologists have written a new article in light of the judge’s acquittal of Oded Golan on charges that he forged the Jehoash Inscription. The geologists believe that the inscription is genuine and make their case in a 30-page document recently published by The Bible and Interpretation. The abstract:

The carbon particles in the patina yield a radiocarbon age of approximately 2250 years BP (third century BCE). The presence of micro-colonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. No modern elements related to the use of modern tools were found. All evidence indicates that the production of the tablet and the carving of its inscription occurred at essentially the same time..... We would like to emphasize that we found nothing suspicious to indicate that the JI [Jehoash Inscription] is a forgery. We came to the conclusion that our analyses strongly support the antiquity of the patina, which, in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription of the JI is authentic.....

It’s possible that these five experts have been fooled by someone more brilliant in geological matters, but it’s too much to ask me to believe that they are part of a conspiracy to conceal a forgery.

I do not recall hearing of the alleged provenance of the inscription (before it was sold on the antiquities market), but the article claims that it was found “near the southeastern corner of the wall of the Temple Mount complex where it was used as a secondary building stone in a tomb.” New tombs have been dug in this Muslim cemetery in the last decade, but whether or not this claim is true is impossible to know apart from some trustworthy witnesses. Some had speculated previously that it came from the Muslim construction of an exit for a mosque in “Solomon’s Stables.”

Temple Mount southeast corner from south, tb091306324

Southeastern corner of Temple Mount where the Jehoash Inscription was allegedly recovered (photo source)


Monday, May 28, 2012

New Gezer Boundary Inscription

A thirteenth boundary inscription near Tell Gezer was discovered last week in an archaeological survey led by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. They also re-discovered inscription #4, one initially located by Charles Clermont-Ganneau but not seen since. Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister doesn’t come out looking very good in this story either. From SWBTS:

The new boundary stone inscription located by the Gezer survey team this season is the first to be found in over a decade, increasing the total number of known Gezer boundary inscriptions to 13. The new inscription is very weathered and is a bilingual inscription like many of the others, with some minor differences. It is a three line inscription, rather than the typical two, with the Greek name Alkiou on the first line (literally “belonging to Alkios”), remnants of the Hebrew word for “region of” on the second line and small remnants of the letters spelling “Gezer” on the third line. The Greek letters are larger than in other inscriptions and both the Greek and Hebrew lines are oriented in the same perspective. The survey directors will seek to publish the inscription as soon as possible in an academic publication.

The second inscription discovered this season has not been seen by scholars in over 100 years. Originally discovered by a 19th century French explorer, a later excavator RAS Macalister admitted to having spent considerable time during his 1902 through 1909 expeditions searching for this particular boundary stone. Unable to find the inscription, he concluded that it must have been defaced to unintelligibility in the years subsequent to its discovery. Based on a published field sketch of the stone, this boundary inscription and the 19th century discovery are one and the same.

The full story is here. Sam Wolff, who mentioned this report on the ANE-2 list, writes that the two inscriptions are 50 meters apart. When Ronny Reich discovered inscription #12 about a decade ago, he and Zvi Greenhut published a survey of all the inscriptions, with GPS coordinates, in Israel Exploration Journal 52/1 (2002): 58-63. The SWBTS article states that survey directors Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan have written an article on the first five survey seasons to be published soon by Hadashot Arkheologiyot.

See this month’s issue of the BiblePlaces Newsletter for a photo of inscription #8.

Gezer boundary inscription number 12, tb061307232

Gezer boundary inscription #12 (source). Bottom line reads “of Alkios” (in Greek); top line reads (from the other side, in Aramaic) “the boundary of Gezer” (taham gezer).

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg reviews significant discoveries in his Archaeology in Israel Update—April 2012.

The Washington Post has a good slideshow of the gold hoard from Megiddo.

Wayne Stiles considers the difference between the “reunification” of Jerusalem and the “restoration” that the Bible predicts.

The Good Book Blog has an infographic depicting the Rulers of Israel and Judah.

Sensation Before Scholarship: Gordon Govier writes in Christianity Today about the problem of media hype in archaeological and textual discoveries.

The ASOR Blog has a new Archaeology Weekly Roundup.

Eisenbrauns has announced their 2012 Mug.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Evidence for April 3, 33 CE Crucifixion Earthquake?

by Chris McKinny

A recent study of seismological activity carried out in the Dead Sea region by geologist Jefferson Williams claims to have found evidence for an earthquake that can be dated to April 3, 33 CE. This study then goes on to make the claim that this earthquake relates to the crucifixion earthquake mentioned in Matt. 27:51. However, later in the article Williams concedes that the earthquake could have happened some time "before or after the crucifixion" at which point it was "borrowed" by the "author of the Gospel of Matthew." Jennifer Viegas writes in Discovery News: 

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea. Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.  

In terms of the earthquake data alone, Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.” If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion - darkness. Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 PM after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a dust storm, he believes. Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the early first century Jerusalem region earthquake. 

This last paragraph effectively shoots holes in the somewhat sensationalistic exactness of the claim. What's the point of arguing for the calendar week and day in which Jesus was crucified if you are going to say it could have happened any time in 33 CE? Moreover, the fact that he is looking for naturalistic ways of explaining the phenomena mentioned in Matt. 27 reeks of the formula used in "The Exodus Decoded." So prepare yourself for a Discovery channel documentary in the near future. That said - if the report is to be trusted - it is quite interesting that there is seismological activity in the period in question. In fact, this lines up quite well with the late Harold Hoehner's chronology in Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (see pg. 95-114). However, given the caveat of the geological analysis proving to be accurate, this evidence still proves relatively nothing. I suspect scholars will line up along party lines with inerrantists claiming infallible evidence and the rest claiming allegorical etiological explanations (e.g. Arad, Ai/Et-Tell, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.)

Update 6/1/2012
Geologist Jeff Williams has sent me an email clarifying his team's findings and subsequent interpretations. I have reproduced his clarifications and personal input with his permission below. Based on his response which expresses a strong desire to maintain objectivity, it is my feeling that this is not a case that should be lumped into the growing sensationalistic pseudo-archaeological, pseudo-scientific "discoveries" related  to Jesus. You can also check out some more of there research here.

An early first century earthquake shows up in the Dead Sea sediments for which the historical record (that we know of) shows no plausible candidates. However, there is mention of this earthquake in the New Testament. In fact, we added no new information about the date of the crucifixion. We took previous work by other authors largely based on astronomical calculations pertaining to the Jewish Lunar Calendar which assigned a range of likely dates for the crucifixion and compared them with our geologic estimate of the age of the earthquake; which was dated to have occurred between 26 and 36 AD. We also performed a geomechanical analysis to examine all historically reported earthquakes within a 40 year time span around 30 AD to see if it was likely that any of them would have deformed the sediments. None appeared to be likely candidates. Then we made some conclusions which are listed in the abstract of our article. 
The abstract of our article is reproduced below :
 This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.

Finally, I think I should explain who I am and what I am about.
I am first and foremost a scientist. I am also agnostic. I assume the New Testament is a human document that contains errors. I am not trying to prove or disprove the Bible. I am treating the statement by Matthew that there was an earthquake on the day of the crucifixion as a hypothesis that needs to be tested. I will publish whatever I can coax out of the sediments; whether this supports or contradicts biblical accounts. I have much respect for people of faith but I personally do not rely on faith. I am naturally curious and don’t know what the end result will be of the research I am undertaking.

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Politics and the City of David

An article this week at The Christian Century doesn’t break any new ground on the political dimensions of the excavations in the City of David, but for those looking for an introduction to the subject, this is an easy place to begin.

The Israelis have continued to dig all around Jerusalem, while the Palestinians have tried to stop digs that they see as infringements on their sacred territory. In the 1990s, Muslims undertook their own dig on the southeast corner of the Temple Mount as part of providing new access to the Marwani Mosque (also known as Solomon’s Stables). The dig was criticized by Israelis for taking place without the proper archaeological supervision, and some Israeli archaeologists charged that the Muslim excavators hid evidence of ancient Jewish presence at the site.

Recently, attention has been focused on a site known as the City of David, which lies just south of Jerusalem’s Old City. Archaeologists are exploring a site on and around the stream of Gihon, a site associated with the origins of the city. Jerusalem, like so many cities, was founded on or near a water source.

The article has a few basic mistakes, and each side will disagree with parts of the presentation, but as an introduction to the subject, it serves its purpose.

City of David and Mount of Olives from southwest, tb091306406

City of David (center) and Silwan (right) from south (source)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Excavations in Israel and Jordan 2012

There may be a record number of excavations this summer, and I’ve taken the list at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site and supplemented it with sites listed at Biblical Archaeology Society and a few others.

Particularly popular regions are the Shephelah with 7 digs (Gezer, Tel Burna, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel 'Eton, Tell es-Safi/Gath, Socoh, and Azekah) and the Huleh Basin with 4 digs (Omrit, Abel Beth Maacah, Dan, and Hazor). If you prefer to work near the ocean, you have 5 options (Tel Achziv, Ashkelon, Jaffa, Tel Akko, Apollonia-Arsuf) and 4 more if you want to be close to the Sea of Galilee (Bethsaida, Tiberias, Tel Bet Yerah, and Hippos).

The excavations are listed in the chronological order from the starting date.

Already Concluded

Ein Gedi Jan 2-26

Caves of the Judean Desert April 29 – May 10

Currently In Progress

Hurvat Eres May 15 – June 25

Qumran May 16 – June 10

Omrit May 16 - June 22

Tel Achziv May 19 – June 15

Tell Jalul May 20 – June 8

Abel Beth Maacah May 22-24

Shikhin/Asochis May 22 – June 21

Tel Megiddo East May 24 - June 12

Beginning Later This Month

Khirbet el-Maqatir May 26 - June 9

Tel Gezer May 27 - June 15

Beginning in June

Ashkelon June 8 - July 21

Tel Burna June 10-29

Abila June 15 – Aug 1

Megiddo June 16 - Aug 2

Bethsaida June 17-30

Tel Dan June 21 - July 19

Tiberias June 24 - July 20

Khirbet Qeiyafa June 24 - July 21

Tel Hazor June 24 - Aug 3

Kfar HaHoresh June 24 - Aug 3

Tel 'Eton June 24 - July 6

Tel Bet Yerah June 24 – July 26

Jaffa June 29 – Aug 3

Tel Akko June 30 - July 28

Beginning in July

Hippos (Sussita) July 1-26

Tell es-Safi/Gath July 1-27

Tel Akko July 1-28

Marj Rabba July 10 – Aug 17

Socoh July 15 – Aug 3

Azekah July 15 - Aug 24

Beginning in August or Later

Apollonia-Arsuf Aug 6-31

Khirbet Feinan Oct 1 – Nov 21

Tell el-Hammam Jan 10 – Feb 21

In addition, excavations are on-going at Magdala, Maresha/Bet Guvrin, Jerusalem, and other sites with salvage digs under the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Tiberias excavations, tb052808502

Excavations in Tiberias (source)


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seal Impression from Bethlehem Discovered in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today the discovery of a seal impression with the name of Bethlehem.

The first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem, which is mentioned in the Bible, was recently discovered in Jerusalem.

A bulla measuring c. 1.5 cm was found during the sifting of soil removed from archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David. The sifting is underwritten by the 'Ir David Foundation' in a project being conducted in the Emek Tzurim National Park.

A bulla is a piece of clay that was used for sealing a document or object. The bulla was impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object, and its integrity was evidence the document or object was not opened by anyone unauthorized to do so.

Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla:

בשבעת Bishv'at  [in the seventh]

בת לחם Bat Lechem [Bethlehem]

[למל]ך [Lemel]ekh  [for the king]

According to Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (it is unclear if the king referred to here is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem. The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE. The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

Shukron emphasizes, “this is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods”.

Too much can be made from this discovery, especially with the emphasis of the last sentence above. The existence of Bethlehem in the period of the Old Testament is not disputed, and an inscription this late is not as helpful as one would be from the time of Ruth or David. Nonetheless, it is a nice discovery which adds another piece of data to our understanding of the Judean kingdom.

The closest biblical connection that one can make to this time period (late 8th or 7th century) is the prophet Micah, who derided the failed leadership of his day (chapter 3), predicted a restored Davidic kingdom (chapter 4), and expected that Bethlehem would produce the awaited king, one whose origins are from ancient times and who would “be their peace” (chapter 5).

The full press release is here and a high-resolution photo is here (also below). The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Reuters, the Associated Press, and many others.


Bethlehem bulla.
Photograph by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gold Jewelry Discovered at Megiddo

We first noted this discovery in March, but more details are available now that the media has picked up the story. From the Jerusalem Post.

The Megiddo cache is notable for its abundance of gold jewels, including nine large earrings and a ring-seal. It also includes than a thousand small beads of gold, silver and carnelian – a semi-precious stone of orange-to-amber hue. All of the artifacts are in good condition.

One of the collection's most remarkable items is a gold basket-shaped earring bearing the figure of a bird, possibly an ostrich. Experts believe one of the items may be the first of its kind ever discovered in Israel, and that its use of gold points to possible Egyptian influence. Megiddo, the Armageddon of Christian Scripture, was for centuries a major trading post on the Egypt-Assyria trade route.

So far 25 Iron Age jewelry hoards have been uncovered in Israel, with most of them containing only silver artifacts.

"The hoard includes a lot of gold items, which have origins in Egypt," said Eran Arie, a Tel Aviv University archeologist who was supervising the dig at the time of the jewels' discovery.

The full story is here. More photos of the Iron I objects are posted at the Megiddo website.

Last night I was reading an interview with Cyrus Gordon, who made an interesting comment about the discovery of gold in the land of Israel.

I also went to see [W. M. Flinders] Petrie at Tell el-Ajjul, which he thought was ancient Gaza. He was wrong, but he found more gold in that one year than archaeologists have found in the past hundred years in every site combined (Scholars on the Record, p. 163).

Petrie worked at Tell el-Ajjul from 1930 to 1934; the interview with Gordon was first published in BAR Nov/Dec 2000.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

$100 Million for Biblical Tourism in Jerusalem

On the 45th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the Prime Minister’s cabinet approved spending nearly $100 million to develop sites in the city. The Jerusalem Post has limited details:

Tourism in Jerusalem dominated the agenda at the meeting, where the cabinet approved NIS 350 million over the next seven years to develop sites and infrastructure in the capital, with a focus on biblical tourism. Israel hosted 2.8 million foreign visitors in 2011.

Eighty percent of them visited Jerusalem and 30% stayed at least one night in the city.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, every million tourists add NIS 5.5 billion to the economy and create 30,500 jobs.

Approximately NIS 20m. of the tourism funding will be directed toward the Mount of Olives Cemetery.

The plan is to renovate 15,000 graves and install 150 security cameras to stop desecration and stoning attacks.

Part of the money will also go to improve the “green lung” of Jerusalem’s parks and open spaces.

The money will be used to develop the Slopes of Mount Scopus national park, next to the Arab neighborhood of Isawiya, which residents oppose because it will stop their neighborhood from expanding.

Netanyahu tasked the Jerusalem Development Authority with overseeing the development of biblical tourism sites. “[The money] will enable us to build biblical sites in the city that will enhance and explain our link to the land of the Bible, to Zion, and also allow millions of people, no less, millions of people to have a direct appreciation of Israel’s heritage as it finds expression in the Bible,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

The full story is here.

Mount of Olives cemetery from west, tb011610684

Cemetery on Mount of Olives (source)

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekend Roundup

A Byzantine olive press has been discovered in Modi’in.

Christopher Rollston argues that the script of the Qeiyafa Ostracon is “definitely not Old Hebrew.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that was on display at Discovery Times Square in New York City has moved to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia where it will remain until October 14.

James Charlesworth adds his voice to the discussion of the Talpiot Tomb II and the “Jonah Ossuary.” Among other things, he writes that “it is as absurd to claim that the Patio Tomb clearly
preserves the remains of some of Jesus’ first followers as it is unwise to pronounce such a possibility as

The ASOR Blog reviews the broader world in their Archaeology Weekly Roundup.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012


Following on from the success of 2011, we are happy to announce that this year’s Day of Archaeology is scheduled for June 29, 2012! Last year’s event brought out 400+ archaeologists, and almost 450 separate posts including lots of photos, video, audio and more. You can read more about the Day of Archaeology at About the Project, but the general hope is that by raising awareness about the truly diverse nature of archaeology, we will also in turn emphasize the vital role that archaeology plays in preserving our past for everyone’s future.

We want anyone with a personal, professional or voluntary interest in archaeology to get involved, and help show the world why archaeology is vital to protect the past and inform our futures.

Sounds interesting. You can check out the website here. You can read entries from last year here.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Neither Solomon’s Quarry Nor Zedekiah’s Cave

The traditional names for the massive quarry underneath the northern part of Jerusalem’s Old City are likely incorrect. Nadav Shragai reports on the cave, its likely origin in the time of King Herod, and its significance for Freemasons over the last 150 years.

Since that time, the Freemasons in Jerusalem have been unable to return to the Temple Mount. The alternative has been Zedekiah's Cave, just a short distance from Damascus Gate. This huge chalky cave, which has always been shrouded by mystery, stretches across 9,000 square meters underneath the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City and continues until the Via Dolorosa in the Christian Quarter just north of the Temple Mount.

A number of historical sources claim that the cave continues southward to the Temple Mount area, yet we now know that these claims have no basis in fact. A mapping of the cave undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority in recent years debunks this theory.

Ancient traditional beliefs that posit the cave – which eventually became a giant quarry – was source for stones that were used in the construction of Solomon's Temple also do not square with the facts. (In English, the cave is known as King Solomon's Quarries.) There is no indisputable archaeological evidence that traces quarrying activity in the cave back to the days of the First Temple. It has been widely believed that Zedekiah, the king of Judea, fled the Babylonians through the cave.

Still, Dr. Yechiel Zelinger, the IAA's excavation director, who led the exploratory digging of the cave in recent years, reveals that a great deal of evidence indicates traces from the Second Temple period. This has led experts to the more likely possibility that the cave was one of the primary sources of stone utilized by Herod the Great when he built the temple 2,000 years ago.

This assessment is based on findings that indicate hallmarks of the style of quarrying acceptable in those times. These hallmarks are evident on the cave walls as well as in the stones, whose size is characteristic of the stones that made up the walls surrounding the Temple Mount.

Another factor was the cave's proximity to the Temple Mount as well as its relatively higher altitude compared to the mount, which suggests that it was easier to move the stones. This theory rests on more solid footing than the fairy tale linking the area to Solomon's Temple.

The full story is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Solomon's Quarries, tb051706547

“Solomon’s Quarries” underneath the Old City of Jerusalem (source)


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Major Announcement: New Photo Collection

Before my recent travels, I teased that upon my return there would be a major announcement here. I believe I used a superlative to describe its significance. If you were hoping for some amazing archaeological discovery, or some conclusive evidence against an alleged archaeological discovery, that’s not what I was hinting at. Surely I would not be the only one with such knowledge, in any case.

This new photo collection is “the most important announcement in the history of this blog” because it is the foremost achievement in our many years of research, teaching, and photography. We have been working on this particular project longer than we have been blogging.

The Revised and Expanded edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is superior to anything we have ever created. While the previous edition of the Pictorial Library (published in 2003) was well received, this new edition has been the focus of our labors (outside the classroom) for the last nine years—more than double the time we spent developing all previous editions of the collection.

Length of time does not make a project great, and users will have to decide whether the collection is as valuable as we believe, but the scope and depth of the Pictorial Library is remarkable. We do not know of any collection that covers as much ground as this one. We believe that the quality of the photos is high. The winning combination is the availability of high-quality photos of biblical sites, scenes, and objects for pennies per photo.

Furthermore, we believe that “pennies for photo” is the best possible price. Paying $50-$100 per photo is impossible for most Bible teachers and students. Getting photos for free often comes with a catch, a condition, or a hassle. Our photo collection comes with broad rights and no hassles.

You can see what’s new here, read about the contents of all 18 volumes here, check out the free photos here, find answers about the discount for upgraders here, and place an order here. If you believe that this is a valuable collection, we’d be delighted if you’d tell your friends, teachers, students, and co-laborers in the ministry.


Museum for King David Opens in Tel Aviv

From Arutz-7:

A new museum in Tel Aviv – the Beit David Museum, dedicated to the House of David – offers two fun-filled free days honoring the holiday of Shavuot, which is also celebrated as the 3,025th birthday of greatest Jewish king ever.


The museum, located on 5 Brenner St. in central Tel Aviv, opened just four months ago. It contains archeological exhibits from First and Second Temple times and includes artifacts of special significance in the story of King David: for instance, one section displays slingshot stones found in the Emek HaEla [Valley of Elah] region, where David killed Goliath with a single accurate stone to the head.

In another room, a video shows the life of King David, from his humble beginning as a lonely shepherd until his anointment as king. Another video explains the art of lyre-making, and based on writings that describe how King David built the lyres he played.

The museum prides itself on the Genealogy Center, a database that traces the descendants of King David to this very day.

The museum seems to have some interesting material, but I’m surprised they chose Tel Aviv for its location. The full story is here.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Lack of Shade Lamented at Western Wall

Relief from the afternoon sun is not in sight at the Western Wall prayer plaza because of a rabbinic decree that forbids anything that will overshadow the Wall. From Haaretz:

It was a beautiful, partially cloudy spring day in Jerusalem on Tuesday, with temperatures reaching 25 degrees Celsius in the shade. A perfect day for strolling around nearly any part of the city, with one truly glaring exception: the Western Wall Plaza. The glaring whiteness of the plaza pavement reflected the heat, and the complete absence of trees, buildings and pergolas ensured that there was not a speck of shade. The result is an almost unbearable experience for worshipers and tourists who congregate at Judaism's holiest site. The situation will only become worse with the arrival of summer.


"I was at a bar mitzvah on the eve of Passover, which isn't yet summer, and people said it was impossible to concentrate on the prayers," recalls Ofer Cohen, chairman of an NGO, called the Lobby for Jewish Values. "Anyone who prays when it is hot has to finish the prayer quickly - it isn't praying with a focused mind," says Cohen, who has asked the ministers of tourism and religious affairs to try to solve the problem.

Tour guides are also irked by the harsh conditions at the plaza.

"The problem exists all year around, both in the rain and in the sun," says Jerusalem guide Ben Lev Kadesh. "In this whole huge space there isn't a single covered corner. Many of the tourists come from Europe and it isn't easy for them to stand in the sun."


Indeed all ideas for providing some kind of cover or shade in parts of the plaza have been rejected. The problem has been under discussion for decades, say officials in Rabinovitch's office. "There have been discussions about how to deal with heat in summer and rain in winter. But most people from the areas of planning, history and archaeology have felt strongly that for the sake of the Wall's splendor, glory, and the memory of the past, the Western Wall should be revealed without means of shading," say the officials.

The full article is here.

Western Wall prayer plaza from southwest, tb010312492

Western Wall prayer plaza in afternoon sun (source)

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

IAA Refusing to Return Alleged Forgeries to Oded Golan

Matthew Kalman reports on the sentencing hearing this week for Oded Golan, convicted of three minor charges in connection with the James Ossuary case.

The Antiquities Authority, backed by State Attorney Moshe Lador, has launched a desperate rearguard action to reverse its humiliating defeat in a seven-year trial that ended with the acquittal of an Israeli collector accused of faking the burial box of [James] the brother of Jesus and an inscribed stone [Jehoash] tablet that may have hung on the wall of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

The latest twist came during a routine sentencing hearing at the Jerusalem District Court last Tuesday, two months after the stunning collapse of the high-profile prosecution.

Prosecutor Dan Bahat revealed that the Antiquities Authority was determined not to return dozens of items, including the burial box and the stone tablet to their owner, despite his acquittal on all the relevant charges.

Bahat compared it to returning drugs to a dealer acquitted on a technicality.

The rest of the article indicates that the IAA is playing the role of the sore loser but the judge isn’t falling for their dirty tricks.


Weekend Roundup

In excavations beginning at Abel Beth Maacah this summer, Robert Mullins expects to find a very large citadel at the northern end of the site and possibly an Assyrian siege ramp.

Now online: A lecture by Sy Gitin on “Ekron of the Philistines: From Sea Peoples to Olive Oil Industrialists.”

A 3D model of the Giza pyramids and necropolis was unveiled this week at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

An investigation into the eBay sale of stones from the Western Wall determined that the seller was offering only gravel.

A medieval “monk’s mill” near Sepphoris was vandalized last week.

Can the Dead Sea be saved? A $4 million project, financed by the EU, is being launched this weekend to draw up a plan to make the area a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

What is ORBIS? “The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World reconstructs the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel in antiquity. The model is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. It broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE but also covers a few sites and roads created in late antiquity.” Very impressive.

If you like to be the very first to know, here’s your chance.

HT: Wayne Stiles, Luke Chandler, BibleX, Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

Dead Sea shoreline with salt crystals, tb022806387

Dead Sea shoreline

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Qeiyafa Shrines: Garfinkel Responds

Yosef Garfinkel, excavator of Khirbet Qeiyafa, has written responses to some of the recent questions about the cultic material uncovered at the site.

To Aren Maeir he addressed questions concerning calling the shrines “arks.” He argues that a more appropriate term than shrine or building model is the biblical term “ark.”

I proposed that the technical term of such items, in their own time, was “Aron Elohim” (box for keeping god symbols). Each religion kept different gods or goddesses in such boxes. In Middle Bronze Ashkelon such example was found with a small calf figurine inside it. The bible described a portable shrine (“Aron”) in various traditions and it was translated into English as: “The Ark of the Covenant”, “The Ark of the Lord”, and other names. I am not talking about this ark, or any other specific ark mentioned in the biblical tradition, but that the term “Aron Elohim” was used to describe this category of objects.

Maeir responds at length, rejecting the proposal. He writes, in part:

There is simply no supporting archaeological, biblical and ANE textual sources that imply this directly (and as far as I know, even indirectly). To this one can add that if “Ark/Aron” was the term used for these and various other types of objects, I think one should expect some extra-biblical mention of this term. Even if these small models were called “arks” – it is clear that the “Aron Elohim” referred to in the biblical text was envisaged as something quite different – see the Aron Brit Adonai that the Philistines capture in the battle of Eben Ezer and moves around Philistia – would it be moved around in a wagon drawn by oxen if so small?

In a comment on that post, Victor Hurowitz rejects the use of the term ark, insisting that these are actually temple models.

The temple models from Yossi’s dig should be compared with well known parallels from Yavneh and elsewhere. In my opinion they resemble the miniature shrines you can find in private houses and on street corners in the far east.. No Temple was found at Keiyafah, and these two models probably came from private homes and represent a family parallel to the official cult.

Garfinkel addressed several other issues on the blog of Luke Chandler, including concerns raised about his claims of aniconism.

Indeed one of them has two guardian lions and birds on the roof, but these are clearly different from similar items in Canaanites, Philistines, Edomite and even sites of the Kingdom of Israel, where naked goddesses were found attached to the models. We never talk about monotheistic cult here, but instead draw attention to the absence of iconic representations. I think that aniconic cult evolved over a large period of time, with deep struggles between those who accepted it and those who still believed in graven images. In Khirbet Qeiyafa we see a strong attitude toword aniconic cult. This needs to be addressed and discussed.

Yesterday I was interviewed about the Qeiyafa discoveries on the Science News Flash produced by Reasons to Believe. A link on that page will take you to a previous post on “Avoiding Crackpot Archaeology.” Krista Bontrager offers some good advice on how to evaluate the latest sensational claim.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

More on the Qeiyafa Shrines

A lot has been written about the recent announcement of two portable shrines discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. I might draw your attention to a small portion of what has been written in the last two days.

To get a better sense of just what is depicted on the shrines, start with the captions on Luke Chandler’s post.

Luke also addresses the question of whether the shrines are “aniconic,” though as discussion in the comments there indicate it seems best to recognize that while the shrines have depictions of animals, this does not necessarily violate the biblical command against worshipping images.

John Hobbins says that the new discoveries are “boring” because “they are compatible with biblical traditions about the time period in question.”

When you see similar shrines such as those posted by Tom Verenna and Owen Chesnut, the uniqueness of these discoveries is certainly diminished.

Leen Ritmeyer rejects any connection between these shrines and the temple, declaring that “their origin is patently Pagan and not Biblical.”

Nadav Na’aman believes that the shrines were Canaanite and “had no connection to Jerusalem.”

Aren Maeir makes some brief observations and asks, “Why does this prove ANYTHING about the accuracy of the bible, the existence of the United Monarchy, etc.?”

James McGrath provides a lengthy list of links.

Finally, it may be worth observing that much of the present discussion concerns the sensational interpretation of the objects and that if the excavators did not promote theories without sufficient evidence these discoveries would be like all the others—described in excavation reports and unknown to most. The question, then, is whether increased publicity is worth inflated or inaccurate claims.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Byzantine Quarry with Large Columns Discovered in Jerusalem

This quarry with a particularly hard type of limestone was discovered in a neighborhood about a mile west of the Old City of Jerusalem. The destination of the large columns may have been the Nea Church, an enormous basilica located on the southern end of today’s Jewish Quarter. From Haaretz:

Recent construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood Rehavia, may have revealed the site of this miraculous quarry. Under the foundations of an old building demolished to make room for new construction a large stone chiseled in the shape of a column.

Upon discovery of the column, the Israel Antiquities Authority halted the construction project and began studying the find, which is 20 ft (6 m) tall and 30 in (80 cm) wide. These proportions correspond to building practices of the period.

The site had no other finds that could be used to time the column but Evgeny Kagan of the Antiquities Authority, believes that it is from the Byzantine period based of the stone type and the methods used by the stonemasons. The stone bares the Arabic name "Mizi Achmar," meaning red stone, which could correspond to the "flames of fire" described by Procopius.

This kind of stone is considered very difficult to work with. According to Prof. Yoram Zafrir it was hardly used until the introduction of explosives in the 19th Century, except during the Byzantine era. The builders of the Jerusalem Temple for example used a softer stone.

The full story gives a Byzantine account of the provision of giant red stones. A high-resolution image is viewable here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Cultic Objects Discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Recent discoveries of a cultic significance were announced today in a press conference at Hebrew University. Archaeologists Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor believe that they have found religious objects from the time of King David at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah of Judah.

The three shrines are part of larger building complexes. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples - separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. The biblical tradition described this phenomenon in the time of King David: "He brought the ark of God from a private house in Kyriat Yearim and put it in Jerusalem in a private house" (2 Samuel 6).

The cult objects include five standing stones (Massebot), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.

The two portable shrines are of great interest and may help us to understand some difficult terms in the Hebrew Bible.

Two portable shrines (or "shrine models") were found, one made of pottery (ca. 20 cm high) and the other of stone (35 cm high). These are boxes in the shape of temples, and could be closed by doors.

The clay shrine is decorated with an elaborate façade, including two guardian lions, two pillars, a main door, beams of the roof, folded textile and three birds standing on the roof. Two of these elements are described in Solomon's Temple: the two pillars (Yachin and Boaz) and the textile (Parochet).

huQeiyafapotteryKhirbet Qeiyafa pottery altar (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements. The first are seven groups of roof-beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the "triglyph," is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone, a landmark in world architecture.

The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of doors or windows is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. This was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.

huQeiyafastonearkKhirbet Qeiyafa stone ark (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The press release has more details. The archaeologists believe that the site is Israelite because of the absence of pig bones and graven images.

Do these discoveries undermine the biblical narrative of Israelite monotheism? Such is the insinuation of the archaeologists.

The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures). However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.

In other words, the presence of cultic material outside of Jerusalem challenges the biblical claim that Israelites worshipped only one God in one place. But there is no such biblical claim. Scripture is very clear that though the Lord commanded the Israelites to worship only at the central altar (Deut 12), the Israelites perennially failed to keep this command. The Bible is very open about this failure, recording stories such as Gideon’s idolatry (Judg 8:27); Micah’s shrine (Judg 17-18), and Saul’s pursuit of witchcraft (1 Sam 28). David was very mindful of the temptations:

Psalm 16:4 (NIV) — The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.

What discoveries like these from Qeiyafa show is not that monotheism evolved only late in Israel’s history but that God’s covenant people failed to worship in the prescribed way, just as the Bible records.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Why Bible Geography Matters

Wayne Stiles in the Jerusalem Post:

Studying historical geography, in my own experience, has permanently marked my life and changed the way I understand the Bible. Places and names, which I used to pass over, now immediately bring to mind a site’s history, its geographical pros and cons, its scenery, and even its smells. Having knowledge of a passage’s geography gives me a head start as I attempt to understand why events took place—sometimes repeatedly—in certain locations.

Walking the land of Israel has provided me with a deeper appreciation of God as Lord of world history and of seemingly minor details—both of which bring comfort to my life.
My experience is not unique. I have conducted and videotaped a number of interviews with those who have both studied geography and also been to Israel. Their testimonies illustrate the importance of understanding and experiencing historical geography—not just from a knowledge-based perspective but also as it benefits one’s spiritual life.

My research revealed that those who understand and experience historical geography enjoy a sharper comprehension of the Bible, a clearer direction to its application, and a more effective communication of truth. The study of historical geography provides a greater confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and instills a greater love for the God of the Bible. Those who study geography, coupled with time in the land, experience an even greater benefit than those who simply read books.

Read the whole thing. The research to which Stiles refers is available here.

Judean hills near Guvrin Valley, tb030407741

The hills of Judah near the Guvrin Valley


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Weekend Roundup #2

A local imitation of an Athenian tetradrachma was discovered on the surface of Tel Azekah recently. Excavations begin at the site in July.

The Egyptian government has announced that “a big archaeological slab dating back to the era of Ramesses III” was found at the Karnak Temple.

Last week I was looking down on Tel Jokneam (Yokneam) from Muhraqa on Mount Carmel and wondering what was going on there. Joe Yudin has the answer: “Tel Yokneam is in the midst of a vast restoration project by the local communities’ schoolchildren in conjunction with the Antiquities Authority and the National Parks Authority.”

Wayne Stiles: “Perhaps because of the atrocities of Manasseh, Jesus used the Hinnom Valley as an illustration of eternal torment (Matthew 18:9).” Stiles compares the redemption of the evil king with the transformation of the valley today.

Ferrell Jenkins is posting photos of his current tour in western Turkey and Greece, including Smyrna, Pergamum, and more.

I like the photo of the Hidden Waterfall at En Gedi now posted at The Bible and Interpretation.

Aren Maeir was interviewed on the LandMinds program (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).

As a follow-up to the recent post on Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it may be noted that only 1 manuscript (4Q118) with 4 complete words is preserved of the much longer 1-2 Chronicles (ABD 1:995).

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Hinnom Valley from east, tb091306311

Hinnom Valley from the east

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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Weekend Roundup #1

The Samaritans celebrated Passover on Mount Gerizim yesterday. Because the holiday fell on Shabbat, the sacrifice was held at noon, making photography a bit easier. The ceremony was previewed by Gil Zohar in the Jerusalem Post.

Israel Hayom has side-by-side photos of the new Mattaniah seal with a seal impression.

Luke Chandler expects that Yosef Garfinkel’s press conference next week will be about cultic finds from the 11th-10th centuries at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Aren Maeir has heard that the announcement will be “very special” and he makes a few guesses.

Archaeologists have now found five ritual baths in the “caves of refuge” in the Arbel cliffs.

I was at the Israel Museum a few days too early and entrance to a display of the earliest coins ever minted was blocked. Featuring 500 coins from two private collections, the “White Gold” exhibit opens on Tuesday and continues through March 2013.

Shmuel Browns reports, with photos, on the destruction of a mosaic floor in a monastery near the Elah Valley. A photo showing graffiti painted by the vandals is posted at Ynet News.

It’s hard to beat the $1.99 price tag at on The Bible and The Land, by Gary M. Burge. (112 pages, softcover, mentioned previously here; $10 at Amazon).

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Arbel cliffs from northwest, tb022107201

Cliffs of Arbel with caves

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Friday, May 04, 2012

King Taita's Inscription at Aleppo

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle.)

Since 1996, Kay Kohlmeyer has conducted excavations at the storm-god temple atop the citadel of Aleppo.

Aleppo Storm-god Temple (Gonnella, Khayyata and Kohlmeyer 2005: 112).

In 2003, a Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription was discovered in the temple which belonged to a king named Taita. We first mentioned the inscription last March. Now, full publication of the inscription by J. D. Hawkins has appeared in the latest issue of Anatolian Studies (vol. 61 [2011]: 35-54). The inscription is in the Hieroglyphic Luwian script and is designated ALEPPO 6 (there are other Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions from the temple, some also by Taita). The 11-line inscription is positioned behind a relief of Taita who faces the storm-god.

Relief of Taita with Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscription (Kohlmeyer 2009: 198).

The text of the inscription names Taita, the king of Palistin, and mentions his honoring the image of the storm-god of Aleppo. The majority of the inscription is given to ordering the kinds of offerings that should be brought, depending on whether (1) one is a king, prince, country-lord, or river-land lord, or (2) one is a lower-level ruler of some sort.

Drawing of ALEPPO 6 (Hawkins 2011: 42).

In our first post, there was a brief discussion of an article by Charles Steitler, in which he suggests identifying Taita with Toi/Tou, the king of Hamath mentioned in the Bible (2 Sam 8:9-11; 1 Chr. 18:9-11). At this time, there are three issues which make it hard to know for certain if Taita is Toi/Tou. First, it is hard to say why the additional -ta element at the end of Taita would have dropped off. Steitler identifies this element in other Hurrian personal names, but as far as I understand, it is not known for sure what it means, and if we do not know what it means, then we cannot explain why it would be lost. Second, Steitler suggests the shift in vowels from a to ō can be explained by the "Canaanite shift," but this shift is thought to have taken place in the 14th century B.C., long before David, Toi/Tou, 2 Samuel or 1 Chronicles. (A friend has pointed me to an article by Joshua Fox [1996] which discusses a similar Phoenician vowel shift, but it is not clear to me how Phoenician would explain the change when moving from Luwian [or Hurrian] to Hebrew.) Third, Hawkins originally dated Taita to 900-700 B.C., and later adjusted this to sometime in the 11th and 10th centuries B.C., so pinning down the date is an issue for whether Taita could be Toi/Tou. But now, with the publication of ALEPPO 6, this last question concerning chronology has taken a new twist.

In the new article by Hawkins, he makes two modifications to his previous historical reconstruction. First, he is more confident about dating Taita to ca. 1200 B.C. (11th century B.C.). This date is reached on the basis of (1) archaic features noted in the paleography of the ALEPPO 6 inscription, (2) radiocarbon dating of the storm-god temple phase associated with Taita, and (3) stylistic comparison of the sculptures from the Taita phase of the storm-god temple with the sculptures at the temple of 'Ain Dara. Second, the archaic features in the ALEPPO 6 inscription indicate it is earlier than the other Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions connected with Taita which were found at Shaizar and Muhradah (about 13 miles northwest of Hamah, Syria). Hawkins suggests the possibility of two kings named Taita: Taita I and Taita II. But because the inscriptions of Aleppo, Shaizar, and Muhradah share many similarities—Taita's name and title, and unique epigraphic features—Hawkins believes that Taita I and Taita II were separated by perhaps not more than a single generation, with Taita II possibly being the grandson of Taita I. Thus, Taita I who was responsible for the Aleppo inscription would have ruled in the 11th century B.C., and Taita II would have ruled in the early 10th century B.C.

It will be interesting to see how the historical picture continues to change as more information is obtained from excavations and studies, and then, what light this might shed on the time of David and our understanding of biblical history.

Image sources
Gonnella, Julia; Wahid Khayyata; and Kay Kohlmeyer.
2005    Die Zitadelle von Aleppo und der Tempel des Wettergottes: Neue Forschungen und Entdeckungen. Münster: Rhema.

Hawkins, J. D.
2011    “The inscriptions of the Aleppo temple.” Anatolian Studies 61: 35-54.

Kohlmeyer, Kay.
2009    “The Temple of the Storm God in Aleppo during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.” Near Eastern Archaeology 74/4: 190-202.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Why No Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Probably every tour guide who visits the site of Qumran makes note of the fact that a portion of every Old Testament book was discovered in the nearby caves with the exception of Esther (given that Ezra-Nehemiah were a single book). You may have heard a suggestion or two offered for this lack, but I found helpful a summary of possibilities given by Sidnie White Crawford in her article on the Book of Esther in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1: 269).

1. The fact that no fragments have been preserved is simply owing to accident or chance. The book is relatively short and may have been in existence in the community but simply not preserved or discovered.

2. The male community at Qumran was not interested in a book in which the hero was a female.

3. The Qumran community was opposed to the book which describes a Jewish woman marrying a Gentile king and not following the Jewish laws.

4. The book of Esther was not known in the land of Israel in the first century.

5. The book was written too late to be included in the body of sacred scrolls.

I would be inclined to believe that because of #2 and #3, #1 is true. It may also be observed that the book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament, nor is Purim mentioned.

Qumran cliffs with caves aerial, tb010703350

Cliffs near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Seal of Mattaniah Discovered in Jerusalem

A seal from the days of the First Temple has been discovered below the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. From the press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority:

The remains of a building dating to the end of the First Temple period were discovered below the base of the ancient drainage channel that is currently being exposed in IAA excavations beneath Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. This building is the closest structure to the First Temple found to date in archaeological excavations.

In the excavations, underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, a personal Hebrew seal from the end of the First Temple period was discovered on the floor of the ancient building. The seal is made of a semi-precious stone and is engraved with the name of its owner: “Lematanyahu Ben Ho…” ("למתניהו בן הו..." meaning: “Belonging to Matanyahu Ben Ho…”). The rest of the inscription is erased.

Two people with the name Mattaniah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 25:4, 16 and 2 Chronicles 29:13.

The full press release is here. Leen Ritmeyer comments on the location of the find. Joseph Lauer passes on word that some information in the press release is incorrect. According to Zachi Dvira (Zweig), “This was not sifted at our site. And the visitors sift only the debris from the Temple Mount. Only our staff workers do the sifting for other excavations."mattaniah-seal-jerusalem-iaa_0105

Mattaniah seal. Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Real Indiana Jones

It’s May 1, not April 1, but it might as well be with an article entitled “The Real Indiana Jones” that includes an interview with me. Originally published in the excellent Insight’s Archaeology Handbook, the interviews with Bryant Wood and me are now online. Here’s a snippet:

What can archaeology prove or teach us about the Bible? What are its limitations?

BW: Archaeological findings have revolutionized our understanding of the Bible. Through the discoveries of archaeology, we have ancient texts that help us better understand the original languages of the Bible as well as the world of the Bible. The people, places, history, religion, and material culture of the Bible are much better understood as a result of archaeological finds. Many finds are limited in that they are “silent,” and have to be interpreted. This leads to a variety of understandings by various scholars.

TB: Archaeology illuminates the world of the Bible. The Bible was written to a contemporary audience, who didn’t need an explanation of what a house looked like, how a city gate functioned, or what types of tombs people were buried in. Its original readers knew all of this and much more. But today we live in a different world and culture, and archaeology helps to bridge the gap so that we can more properly understand the context in which the Bible was written. Archaeology cannot prove the Bible as a whole, but it can support and confirm the Bible’s records of events. Some people today think that the Bible was a myth written hundreds of years after the events it purports to describe, but archaeological evidence reveals the names of people and places that confirm that the Scriptures were written by first-hand witnesses. Archaeology cannot prove many aspects of the text, such as the faith of the people or the supernatural work of God. Furthermore, archaeology has a significant weakness: All discoveries are subject to a human interpreter, who is fallible. Many archaeological discoveries have been misinterpreted, both by those who believe the Scriptures and by those who deny them. This is the nature of the discipline of archaeology, and believers should not place too much confidence in the discoveries of archaeology per se because of the ambiguity involved in much of the evidence.

The full article is here. Now where’s my bullwhip? Smile

Tell Deir Alla excavators, tb061104012

Archaeologists interpret stratigraphy at Tell Deir Alla (Succoth?)