Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Charles Jones has put created an excellent Roundup of Resources on Ancient Geography. Bookmark this one!

There are enough scholars who have serious doubts about the authenticity of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that when a report circulated that Harvard Theological Review had decided to not publish the article, many scholars believed it. Brian LePort has some of the back and forth.

Mark Hoffman excavated at et-Tell (Bethsaida?) this summer and is sharing his photo book of the dig. (No account is needed to flip through it, and full screen provides the best view.)

Jodi Magness is interviewed in the WAMC Academic Minute about her excavations of the Huqoq synagogue.

Cornell University has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating research in the Near East.

A conference at Tel Aviv University in late October will focus on Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel: Interactions and Parallels (10th to 4th Centuries BCE). The details are available here.

SourceFlix’s latest short is called “Fishers of Men.”

Biblical Archaeology Review is now available as a digital subscription, with the bonus that you get last year’s digital issues.

Robert Mullins gives a day-by-day account of the first season at Abel-beth-maacah. His excitement is justified.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Abel Beth Maacah from northwest, tb062900201

Abel Beth Maacah from the northwest
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Picture of the Week: Patmos, View of Island Panorama

This week's photo focuses on what is arguably the last of the "Bible Places."  If the Garden of Eden is the first Bible Place, the island of Patmos could be considered the last. 

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 12 of the revised and expanded version of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which focuses on the Greek Islands.  The photo is entitled "Patmos, View of Island North from Acropolis Panorama" (picture ID # tb061606331).  If you have this volume, the photo can be found in the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on Patmos.  This photo is one of several beautiful panoramas that are available as part of the PLBL.  (Click on the photo for a higher resolution.)

Why is this the last of the Bible Places? The small island of Patmos is where John received his heavenly visions which were later written down in the last book of the Bible: the book of Revelation.  In Revelation 1:9 the apostle writes, "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (ESV).

Patmos is a small island: only 7.5 miles long and 6 miles wide. To walk from one end to the other would take only a few hours.  It is situated between modern Turkey and Greece, and is a volcanic island with rocky soil. The island was settled on and off throughout the centuries. During the Roman period, there is evidence that there was a temple to Artemis and a gymnasium there, so it is unlikely that John was alone during his stay. According to the notes in the PLBL, there have been over 300 churches built on the island over the last 2,000 years. With only 13 square miles of real estate, that means there has been an average of 23 churches per square mile!
But is this really the last of the Bible Places?  After all, there are still 22 chapters of scripture after Patmos is mentioned in chapter one. Within these chapters, several other locations are mentioned, such as Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), Sardis (Rev. 3:1), and Laodicea (Rev. 3:14). Yet Patmos is the last identified location of an apostle mentioned in scripture, so that counts for something. ;-) Mount Zion is mentioned in Revelation 14:1, but is this referring to the hill called Mount Zion during biblical times or the modern Mount Zion that was mislabeled by the Byzantines? Until the jury weighs in on that issue, Mount Zion is disqualified. "Babylon" is the focus of Revelation 17 and 18, but Bible scholars are divided about whether that refers to actual Babylon, to Rome, or to something else entirely, so that option should be ruled out. Some people probably would argue that the prize for the last Bible Place should be awarded to the new heaven and the new earth described in Revelation 21 and 22, but unfortunately John did not take any photographs for us and we can't take tourists there, so that's not really practical.  So in the end, with our tongue planted firmly in our cheek, we award the illustrious prize of the last BiblePlace to the tiny (yet significant) island of Patmos!
This and other photos of Patmos are included in Volume 12 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here.  More information on Patmos and additional photos can be found on the BiblePlaces website here.  For a more serious reflection on the biblical significance of the island and how this may have influenced John's description of the new creation in Revelation 21:1, check out my post at the Wild Olive Shoot blog here.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Tabernacle on Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur and I suggest you read Wayne Stiles’ lavishly illustrated article on the tabernacle and its significance for the Day of Atonement.

A full-scale replica of the Tabernacle stands in the very wilderness where Moses and the children of Israel wandered for forty years.

It is like entering a doorway to history—and viewing a picture of your salvation.

Reading the Tabernacle’s dimensions in Exodus 35-40 is so different from seeing them with your own eyes—and in the same wilderness where the Tabernacle stood (Exodus 40:34-38).

The realistic replica echoes of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—when God forgave the sins of His people.

Read the full article here.

Tabernacle model from outside courtyard, tb030807084

Tabernacle replica at Timna Park


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Book: The Archaeology of the Holy Land

Readers here may be familiar with Jodi Magness from The Holy Land Revealed DVD course, her award-winning book The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, or her recent excavations of a synagogue at Huqoq.

Cambridge University Press has just released a new archaeological survey by Magness, The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest. According to the preface, Magness has wanted to write this book for more than 20 years.

The book has 17 chapters, including these:

2. The Topography and Early History of Jerusalem (to 586 B.C.E.)magness-archaeology-of-the-holy-land-from-the-destruction-of-solomons-temple-to-the-muslim-conquest

7. The Early Roman (Herodian) Period (40 B.C.E.—70 C.E.): Jerusalem

8. The ERP: Caesarea Maritima, Samaria-Sebaste, Herodian Jericho, and Herodium

9. The ERP: Jesus’ Birth and Galilean Setting

10. The ERP: Masada

11. Ancient Jewish Tombs and Burial Customs (to 70 C.E.)

The hardcover is not fairly priced, but the paperback is affordable ($28). Amazon has the “Look Inside” feature enabled, so you can get a feel for the text, maps, sidebars, and recommended readings.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Neolithic Jewelry Discovered near Sepphoris

Excavations along a highway in northern Israel revealed a 50-acre site dating to the Neolithic period. One of the most impressive discoveries was a small stone bowl with several hundred stone beads.

Among the special finds that were uncovered in the excavation is a group of small stone bowls that were made with amazing delicacy. One of them was discovered containing more than 200 black, white and red stone beads. Other important artifacts are clay figurines of animals (sheep, pig and cattle) that illustrate the importance of animal breeding in those cultures. The most importance finds are stone seals or amulets bearing geometric motifs and stone plaques and bone objects decorated with incising. Among the stone plaques is one that bears a simple but very elegant carving depicting two running ostriches. These objects represent the world of religious beliefs and serve as a link that connects Ein Zippori with the cultures of these periods in Syria and Mesopotamia. According to Milevski and Getzov, “The arrival of these objects at the ʽEin Zippori site shows that a social stratum had already developed at that time that included a group of social elite which used luxury items that were imported from far away countries”.

The full press release is here, and three high-resolution images are also available. The discovery is reported by the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz.


Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weekend Roundup

The University of Oxford and the Vatican Library plan “to digitize 1.5 million pages of texts from their collections and make them freely available online.”

A large 3rd or 4th century poolside mosaic has been uncovered in southern Turkey, not far from biblical Attalia.

The Saqqara Serapeum was inaugurated this week.

The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project has received a 3-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Hebrew University will begin offering online courses for free.

Check out Wayne Stiles’ descriptive and devotional thoughts about Tel Dan. “By providing alternative places of worship [at Dan and Bethel], Jeroboam appealed to the laziness of the human spirit.”

If you’re looking for full-color, poster-size maps of biblical history, take a look at WordAction’s Bible Teaching Maps. The $35 set includes 10 large maps bible-teaching-mapsand 10 reproducible charts. The maps were produced by Zondervan and Oxford University Press. They are easily mounted on foam board for display and transport. has many Bible atlases on sale this week, as well as Gary Burge’s The Bible and the Land for $1.99.

A number of distinguished scholars passed away this week, including Manfred Goerg, Bahnam Abu As-Souf, and Itamar Singer.

HT: Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Articles on Jesus’ Wife

I’ve been updating the previous post with links to good articles about the subject, including questions of the discovery’s authenticity, genre, and significance. The “blockbuster” documentary airs in 10 days and that rightly concerns everyone not making money off of it. There also is some movement afoot to use this discovery to support the spurious claims made by “Jesus Tomb” proponents who allege that Jesus had a wife and family. Here’s the updated list:

Darrell L. Bock: Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text

Michael S. Heiser: Ancient Coptic Fragment Has Jesus Alluding to His Wife

Mark D. Roberts: Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence.

James Davila: A Coptic gospel that mentions Jesus’ wife?

Associated Press: Harvard Claim of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Scrutinized

*Simon Gathercole: Did Jesus have a wife?

Michael Kruger: Apocryphal Gospels and the Mainstream Media

Luke Chandler: Ancient papyrus: Was Jesus Married? Don’t overlook this perspective…

David Bivin: Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor?

Thomas L. McDonald: The Gnostic Noise Machine and the “Wife” of Jesus

Preston Sprinkle: Did Jesus Have a Wife?

*Mark Goodacre: The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: The Story is Moving Fast!

Francis Watson: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed

Ross Douthat: The Jesus Conspiracy

Daniel B. Wallace: Reality Check: The “Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Fragment

Rob Bowman: Karen King’s Jesus Wife Papyrus

Francis Watson: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed: Introduction and Summary

AP: Harvard journal: Jesus 'wife' papyrus unverified

Henry B. Smith, Jr.: Brief Reflections on the So-Called "Jesus Wife" Fragment


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Picture of the Week: Corinth Shop

How would being a tentmaker be an advantage to Paul while he was on his missionary journeys?  Archaeology provides some possible insights.

The picture of the week comes from Volume 11 of the revised and expanded version of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands which focuses on Greece.  The photo is entitled "Corinth Shop on Western Side of Lechaion Road" (photo ID # tb031706129).  Click on the photo for a higher resolution.

Paul stayed in Corinth for about a year and half during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:11).  Here is how the book of Acts describes the beginning of his time in that city:

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla .... And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1-4, ESV)

The term translated "tentmakers" could refer to craftsmen who were skilled in all sorts of leatherwork, not just in making tents.  As Paul worked alongside Aquila and Priscilla, they may have worked out of a shop such as the one shown in this picture.  Here they would have made leather goods, repaired leather items, and also sold their wares to the public.  Shops such as this were located along the Lechaion Road in Corinth as well as in the North Market.  However, it should be stressed that the exact location of Aquila and Priscilla's shop (assuming they had one) cannot be determined.

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, in his book St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaology, describes some of the advantages that Paul would have had if he worked in such a shop:

The way the participle and main verb are combined in 1 Thess 2:9, "working we proclaimed," indicate that Paul did not separate work and preaching. Indeed, one of the advantages of leather-working was that he could easily do both; the environment was clean and pleasant, and the only sound the soft thump as the awl went in. ...
From a shop in a busy market or giving on to a crowded street Paul had access, not only to co-workers and clients, but also the throng outside. In slack periods he could stand in the door and button-hole those whom he thought might listen .... It is difficult to imagine that his dynamic personality and utter conviction did not quickly make him a 'character' of the neighbourhood, and this would have drawn the curious, not merely the idlers but also those genuinely seeking.
The workshop also provided other advantages. Those attracted by his message could come in to question or chat as he worked. Married women with their attendants, who had heard of him, could visit on the pretext of coming to buy. In times of stress, when persecution or simple harassment threatened, believers could encounter him as clients. The workshop also brought him into contact with municipal officials. ...
In sum, therefore, the workshop was a very astute choice for a missionary center, but it should not be imagined that Paul thereby had it easy. The average artisan of the period barely made ends meet ... and in Paul' case his wandering life made it difficult for him to build up the local reputation that outweighs competition. Long hours of exhausting toil were necessarily his lot, and how many times did he have to start all over again in another small shop in a strange city?

This and other photos of Corinth are included in Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here.  More information on Corinth and additional photos can be found on the BiblePlaces website here.  The quotation is taken from Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology, Good News Studies, vol. 6 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc, 1983), 169-170, and can be purchased here.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Somebody Once Believed Jesus Had a Wife

The problem with today’s headline story is not the discovery of an ancient document that suggests that someone once believed that Jesus had a wife. There were many false and unbiblical teachings in ancient times, just as there are today. The problem is the media can very easily make a minor story into something sensational that appears to threaten historic Christianity.

The lead paragraph of the USA Today article says it this way:

A papyrus fragment from the fourth century contains a phrase in which Jesus refers to "My wife," which a U.S. scholar says is the first evidence supporting the belief among early Christians that he was married.

That’s the version that most will read. Contrast that with first paragraph of the academic paper on which the story is based (bold font mine):

Published here for the first time is a fragment of a fourth-century CE codex in Coptic containing a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus speaks of “my wife.” This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century. Nevertheless, if the second century date of composition is correct, the fragment does provide direct evidence that claims about Jesus’s marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship. Just as Clement of Alexandria (d. ca 215 C.E.) described some Christians who insisted Jesus was not married, this fragment suggests that other Christians of that period were claiming that he was married.

A few observations:

1. We have known for a very long time that some people around the year 200 argued that Jesus had a wife.

2. A newly discovered but poorly preserved fragment may suggest that some people around the year 200 argued that Jesus had a wife.

3. Ancient texts that showed that some people believed that Jesus had a wife were non-existent until the discovery of this fragment.

4. There were many “Christian” groups in the first few centuries that had bizarre beliefs that contradicted Scripture.

5. The early church was in wide agreement that Jesus did not have a wife.

6. No first-century document ever mentions or hints at the possibility that Jesus had a wife.

7. Jesus understood his identity and his atoning death from the beginning of his earthly ministry, and he knew that marriage was not part of his mission.

Karen L. King, the author of the academic paper, gives a good introduction to the discovery on this video produced by Harvard Divinity School.

As I learn of good articles on the subject, I will add them below.

Darrell Bock: Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text

Michael Heiser: Ancient Coptic Fragment Has Jesus Alluding to His Wife

Mark D. Roberts: Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence.

James Davila: A Coptic gospel that mentions Jesus’ wife?

Associated Press: Harvard Claim of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Scrutinized

*Simon Gathercole: Did Jesus have a wife?

Michael Kruger: Apocryphal Gospels and the Mainstream Media

Luke Chandler: Ancient papyrus: Was Jesus Married? Don’t overlook this perspective…

David Bivin: Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor?

Thomas L. McDonald: The Gnostic Noise Machine and the “Wife” of Jesus

Preston Sprinkle: Did Jesus Have a Wife?

*Mark Goodacre: The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: The Story is Moving Fast!

Francis Watson: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed


New Book: Jesus and the Jewish Festivals

The Gospel of John could well be titled “Jesus and the Jewish Festivals,” given the author’s focus on Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem during Passover, Tabernacles, and Hanukkah. Gary M. Burge has just written the latest in his “Ancient Context, Ancient Faith” series, looking at the Jewish background that informs Jesus’ bold claims in the Fourth Gospel. The book answers many questionsburge-jewish-festivals2 that the Christian with less knowledge of the Old Testament and the Jewish world will naturally have, including:

  • How did Jesus exploit the central feature of Passover in feeding the 5,000?
  • How did Jesus use shock and irony in his claims at the feast of Tabernacles?
  • How did Jesus use Hanukkah to reveal his identity?

The 140-page book is loaded with great illustrations and should have a wide appeal to Christians of different backgrounds and educations. $10 at Amazon.

Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is the sixth volume in the series. Readers here may be interested in the other volumes as well:

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Lectures on the Exodus and Settlement

The Fall 2012 Lecture Series of the California Museum of Ancient Art (Beverly Hills) is entitled “The ‘Exodus’ and Settlement of the Land of Israel: Examining the Literary and Archaeological Evidence.” Four Monday evening lectures are scheduled:

Oct 15, 2012: "The Exodus from Egypt in Biblical Literature and Tradition" by Dr. P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., Johns Hopkins University

Oct 22, 2012: "The Exodus Narrative — Did it Really Happen? An Egyptologist's Perspective" by Dr. Donald Redford, Pennsylvania State University

Oct 29, 2012: "The Israel Stela of Pharaoh Merenptah: Earliest Extra-Biblical Reference to Israel" by Dr. Peter Brand, University of Memphis

Nov 5, 2012: "The Settlement of the Hill Country of Canaan around 1200 BCE" by Dr. Robert Mullins, Azusa Pacific University

I do wish they had asked someone to present the biblical view. Whether or not it’s “extremist,” it is at least as defensible as any other view. (If you attend, I’d appreciate knowing if anyone acknowledges the problem of Merneptah Stela.)

Lectures are $22, or $76 for the whole series, payable with a mail-in form and a check. More details about each lecture is available at the website. The recordings will be available on CD and DVD.

HT: G. M. Grena

Wadi Shagg and Jebel Catherine from northwest, tb062005823

The mountains of Sinai (photo source)

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Help Needed for Ur Excavation Documents

From UrCrowdsource:

Ever wonder if old archaeological excavations were really like they are in the movies?

Find out.

Help us document a 1922-1934 excavation by reading and transcribing letters, field notes, and reports from the dig in southern Iraq.

The site of Ur, one of the earliest cities in the world, was jointly excavated by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum for 12 years in the early 20th century. Despite many publications on the site, there is still much to learn. And new digital techniques mean we can get data to researchers more completely and efficiently.

We have a plethora of 90-year-old information to make digitally searchable. And we need help. With thousands of pages of typed letters and reports from the field and thousands more handwritten field notes in need of transcription, one or two research assistants just can't do the job.

You can sign up and get started here. Ur is mentioned in the Bible four times in connection with Abraham: Genesis 11:28, 31; 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7.

HT: Charles Jones

Ur, Ziggurat from east, mat13196

Ziggurat of Ur from the east
Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-13196

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Friday, September 14, 2012

New Excavations: Palmahim, Nahariyya, and Jerusalem

Three excavation reports were published yesterday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

In Palmahim, on the coast south of Tel Aviv, archaeologists uncovered a large and unique Chalcolithic cemetery with fourteen circular tombs and six ossuaries.

In Nahariyya, excavations revealed a portion of the Roman road running from Acco to Tyre.

On the west side of Jerusalem, an agricultural farmstead from the Iron, Roman, and Byzantine periods was excavated. The discoveries include three winepresses, a watchman’s hut, three quarries, a couple of caves, and farming terrace walls.

All of the reports include maps, plans, and photographs.

“Chain-type burials” from the Chalcolithic period near Palmahim.
Photo by IAA.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Picture of the Week: Cnidus Bull with Garlands

Acts 14 records an awkward situation that the Apostle Paul found himself in during his first missionary journey:
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. (Acts 14:8-18, ESV)
The ancient city of Lystra is located in central Turkey today.  A few pictures of the site can be found in Volume 9 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.  It was a mainly market town and, as can be surmised from this passage, it contained a temple to Zeus.

However, our picture of the day comes from Volume 10 of the revised and expanded edition of the PLBL, which focuses on Western Turkey.  The photo is entitled "Cnidus Architectural Fragments, Bull with Garlands" (photo ID #: tb062206733).  This picture illustrates verse 13 (in bold above) which mentions the priest of Zeus bringing "oxen and garlands" so that he could offer sacrifice.  This seems to have been a common practice, not only in Lystra but in several other places as well.  Several carvings of bulls with garlands have been found in this region of the world. 

The picture above is one example of this common architectural motif.  (Click on the picture for a higher resolution.)  This object was found at Cnidus, a city on the western edge of modern Turkey.  It is a fragment of a decorative pillar depicting a bull's head on each side.  The heads are connected by a garland, and tassels can be seen hanging down on either side of each bull's head.  Within the garland are clusters of grapes and possibly some other fruit.

At least four examples of this motif can be seen in the PLBL collection:

Volume 9
"Pisidian Antioch stone with bull and garlands, tb010201834"
Volume 10
"Cnidus architectural fragments, bull with garlands, tb062206733"
"Ephesus fragment with bull and garlands, tb041405323"
Volume 12
"Samos Pythagorio Roman baths fragment with bull and garlands, tb061606256"

Little insights from archaeology such as this can add interest to the retelling of a familiar story and grab the listener's attention.  Over the last few generations, many societies in the world (including the U.S.) have become extremely visually oriented.  Whether it watching television, going to the movies, or surfing the Internet, much of what people do today is visual.  Pastors and teachers should seek to meet people where they are and use multimedia resources to their advantage to communicate their message.  And similar to Paul and Barnabas, we need to make every effort that our message is not misunderstood.

This and other photos of the Cnidus are included in Volume 10 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here. More information and a photo of Lystra can be found on the BiblePlaces website here.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday Roundup

Eilat Mazar has resumed excavations in the (so-called) Ophel, and her partners at Armstrong College plan to provide regular updates. They begin with an on-location interview of Mazar.

Excavations continue to reveal Egyptian presence in Joppa from the New Kingdom period.

Mark Fairchild’s search for ancient synagogues in Turkey is profiled in the local press. The article includes an interesting video by Fairchild of his discoveries.

In light of an article in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Savelle reflects on the value of knowing biblical geography.

Ferrell Jenkins is back in Israel and he shares a rare photo of Jacob’s well.

King Tut and his predecessors may have been afflicted with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Did you forget to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Caligula’s birthday?

Clean-up of the polluted Kishon River is finally scheduled to begin, 12 years after divers were found to have contracted cancer.

The cedars of Lebanon are threatened by climate change.

As Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) begins in Jewish homes around the world at sundown on Sunday, Wayne Stiles reflects on the Gezer Calendar and other ways we keep time.

The 50th anniversary of Lawrence of Arabia inspires Anthony Horowitz to travel to Jordan.

HT: Explorator, Jack Sasson

Wadi Rum Jebel el Qattar, df070307712

Wadi Rum. Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Magazine: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible

Southwestern News has a full issue devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. Published by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, currently hosting an exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the magazine has some valuable content, including:

  • Historic photographs from the Ecole Biblique collection
  • A description of the current exhibition and how to prepare for a visitswbts-dss
  • A feature of the iScroll kiosks
  • The story of the initial Scrolls discovery (that buys into the lie of the innocent shepherd)
  • “Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter”
  • Suggestions for further reading
  • Information on the school’s M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Archaeology and Biblical Studies, including a list of offered classes
  • And more

The issue is available via issuu and may be printed or saved as a pdf file.

HT: Alexander Schick

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Conservation Work Completed on Jerusalem’s Old City Gates

Conservation work on the Lions Gate (aka St. Stephen’s Gate) has been finished, according to a press release issued by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The work of preserving and stabilizing the Lions Gate in the Old City’s eastern wall has been completed. This impressive gate is the last of the seven open gates of the city wall that were meticulously and professionally treated in recent years by the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority. This was done within the framework of the comprehensive project of conserving and rehabilitating the Old City walls, at the initiative of and with funding provided by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Prime Minister’s Office.

At the start of the conservation work on the Lions Gate the project engineers discovered that the sentry’s post situated above the gate’s entrance, which was where the soldier guarding the tower once stood, was in danger of collapse. The sentry’s post was entirely dismantled, broken stones in it were replaced and it was returned and secured to its original place on the wall. The two lions carved on either side of the gate also underwent conservation and cleaning.

Within the framework of the conservation work carried out on the Old City walls in Jerusalem, which lasted five years, the walls were conserved which had been built and renovated in the mid-sixteenth century by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I. Both sides of the wall were treated for a total distance of c. 3,800 m. Each and every one of the stones in the wall was photographed with a laser, documented and studied. Approximately 1,000 deteriorating stones were stabilized; c. 2,000 square meters at the top of the wall were stabilized and sealed to prevent the penetration of water; c. 350 merlons and embrasures were conserved and the stone work in them was completed; c. 2,000 square meters of stones in the wall were dismantled and rebuilt due to vegetation that had taken root in them and a total of c. 5,000 square meters of the walls’ surface were cleaned.

The press release includes quotes from several officials as well as 12 high-resolution photographs of the work on seven of the Old City gates.

St Stephen's Gate, mat00878

Lions Gate circa 1910 (photo source)


The Location of the Royal Palace in Jerusalem

Where was the royal palace in Jerusalem during the time of the monarchy? Most scholars have assumed that it was located to the south of Solomon’s temple, between the ancient city and the summit of Mount Moriah. In a 2009 article, David Ussishkin suggests that the palace was built to the north of the temple for the following reasons:

1. It is more logical that the king would desire to isolate his royal compound from the population so that everyone traveling from the city to the temple would not pass by it.

2. In a number of ancient cities, the palace was built at the edge of the acropolis. This was true at the Hittite capital of Hattusha, the Late Bronze cities of Ugarit and Megiddo, as well as a nymber of Assyrian cities including Calah, Nineveh, and Dur-Sharrukin.

Ussishkin notes some difficulties with his hypothesis:

1. Some biblical texts indicate that the palace was south of the temple (Neh 3:25-29; 12:37).

2. The royal acropolis was located in the center of some cities, including Samaria and Zincirli-Sam’al.

I would also question the premise that Solomon would desire to be isolated from the people. God’s intention for Israel’s king was that he would represent the nation to God and vice versa (Deut 17:14-20; 1 Kgs 3:7-10; Ps 72:1-4). The first story of Solomon’s kingship is his adjudication of the case of the dead infant (1 Kgs 3:16-29). The isolation that may have been desired by other kings of the world may not have been appropriate for the king in Jerusalem.

Absent archaeological investigation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it is impossible to confirm the location of the home of Judah’s kings.

Ussishkin’s proposal is a small portion of his article “The Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the First Temple Period: An Archaeologist’s View,” found on pages 473-83 of Exploring the Longue Durée: Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager, ed. J. David Schloen. This thick book is loaded with many articles of interest to students of biblical archaeology.

Temple Mount aerial from north, tb010703228

The Temple Mount from the north. Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 3.

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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Nadav Shragai has written an extensive and interesting report of the newly discovered reservoir near the Temple Mount. If you’re interested in Jerusalem in the Old Testament period, this is a must-read.

2.5-minute video takes you inside the reservoir (Hebrew).

The Western Wall has passed its annual health check-up.

Excavation reports on the Mount of Olives reveal settlement in the OT and NT periods.

“I am the gate for the sheep,” said Jesus. A new 2-minute video short from SourceFlix illustrates what that means with footage from the Middle East.

Whether you love the water-soaked landscape of Caesarea Philippi or the parched terrain of the Judean wilderness, you can enjoy some great weekend reading, illustrated with slideshows and videos.

BibleX points to a couple of publications now online for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The IDF has begun clearing 700 mines from the Jordan Valley.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, is marked down to $2.99 for Amazon Kindle for a few days. has some good deals on reference works beginning today:

HT: Joseph Lauer

Judean wilderness at sunset, tb021107716

The Judean wilderness at sunset

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Friday, September 07, 2012

Picture of the Week: Euphrates River

An interesting way to study or teach the scriptures is to take a site or geographic feature and collect all the verses that refer to that location.  Such a diachronic study reveals connections that aren’t otherwise readily apparent.  An excellent example of this is the Euphrates River which is mentioned in both Genesis and Revelation, as well as other places in the Bible.

This week's photo comes from Volume 9 of the revised and expanded edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which focuses on Eastern and Central Turkey. The photo was taken by A.D. Riddle and is entitled "Euphrates River North of Carchemish View East" (photo ID #: adr1005191623).

In addition to our picture of the week, I would also like to highlight the valuable annotations that come with the PLBL collection.  The collection is not just a group of high resolution photos.  It also includes Microsoft® PowerPoint® files with excellent notes providing valuable information about the sites and images.  Over the years, I’ve found these notes to be a helpful, quick reference when I’m studying a certain site.  Often these notes will include a brief biblical survey of a particular location.  For example, the following information is provided in the PowerPoint® file on the Euphrates River:

The Euphrates River figures prominently in Scripture, being mentioned dozens of times from its first reference in Genesis 2:14 to the last reference in Revelation 16:12. The source of the river is in the mountains of Armenia northwest of Lake Van at an elevation of more than 10,790 feet (3,290 m). The river then flows through the modern countries of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq before merging with the Tigris River and emptying into the Persian Gulf, traveling a total distance of about 2,000 miles (3,200 km).
The Euphrates River in the Bible
1.   The Euphrates River is one of four that flowed from the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:14).
2.   The Lord promised to give Abraham the land between the Euphrates River and the river of Egypt (Gen 15:18; cf. Deut 1:7; 11:24; Josh 1:4; 24:2).
3.   Jacob fled from Laban across the Euphrates River (Gen 31:21).
4.   King David built a monument along the Euphrates River (2 Sam 8:3; 1 Chr 18:3).
5.   Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms as far north as the Euphrates River (1 Kgs 4:21, 24; 2 Chr 9:26; cf. Ps 72:8).
6.   The Lord promised to bring an invader from the other side of the Euphrates River (Isa 7:20; 8:7), but also to bring them back from exile from beyond the Euphrates River (Isa 11:15) and restore their dominion over the land “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:10, LEB).
7.   Jeremiah accused the Israelites of faithlessness to the Lord by asking why they went to “drink the waters of the Euphrates” (Jer 2:18, LEB).
8.   The sixth angel will pour out his bowl on the Euphrates, causing it to dry up and allow passage of the enemy kings to attack Israel (Rev 16:12).

As you can see from the numerous verses listed above, a study of the Euphrates River takes you on a journey from Genesis to Revelation.  Along the way, you encounter Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others.  A study of this one geographic feature provides a platform for you to review (or have your students review) the entire arc of the biblical story, and it can provide a creative way for you to test your students’ knowledge of the Bible.  Try this as an essay question or an ice breaker in your next OT survey class:

“The Euphrates River is mentioned in Gen. 2:14, Gen. 15:18, Gen. 31:21, 2 Sam. 8:3, 1 Kgs. 4:21, Isa. 7:20, Jer. 2:18, and Rev. 16:12.  What is the biblical period and approximate date of each of these references?”

If a student can answer that question, then they know their stuff.  Most likely, you could drop them anywhere in the Bible and they will have their bearings.

This and other photos of the Euphrates River are included in Volume 9 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Massive Reservoir Discovered near Temple Mount

Excavations west of the Temple Mount have revealed a massive water reservoir from the Old Testament period. Over the last few years, archaeologists have been excavating the path of a 1st-century street and drainage channel leading from the City of David to the Temple Mount, and the reservoir was discovered during this work. The reservoir is similar to contemporary systems excavated at Beth Shemesh and Beersheba. From the Jerusalem Post:

The recently discovered reservoir, with an approximate capacity of 250 cubic meters, is one of the largest water reservoirs ever discovered from the First Temple period. Due to its size, archaeologists believe the reservoir was designed for and used by the general public.

According to Eli Shukron, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the exposure of the current reservoir, as well as smaller cisterns that were revealed along the Tyropoeon Valley, unequivocally indicates that Jerusalem’s water consumption in the First Temple period was not solely based on the output of the Gihon Spring water works, but also on more available water resources such as the one we have just discovered."

The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release with more details.

According to Dr. Tvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist of the Nature and Parks Authority and an expert on ancient water systems, “The large water reservoir that was exposed, with two other cisterns nearby, is similar in its general shape and in the kind of plaster to the light yellow plaster that characterized the First Temple period and resembles the ancient water system that was previously exposed at Bet Shemesh. In addition, we can see the hand prints of the plasters left behind when they were adding the finishing touches to the plaster walls, just like in the water reservoirs of Tel Be’er Sheva, Tel Arad and Tel Bet Shemesh, which also date to the First Temple period.” Dr. Tsuk says, “Presumably the large water reservoir, which is situated near the Temple Mount, was used for the everyday activities of the Temple Mount itself and also by the pilgrims who went up to the Temple and required water for bathing and drinking.”

The exposure of the impressive water reservoir that lies below Robinson’s Arch joins a series of finds that were uncovered during recent excavations in this region of the city, indicating the existence of a densely built-up quarter that extended across the area west of the Temple Mount and predating the expansion of the Temple Mount. It seems that with the expansion of the Temple Mount compound to the west and the construction of the public buildings and the streets around the Temple Mount at the end of the Second Temple period, the buildings from the First Temple period and early Second Temple period were dismantled in this region and all that remains of them is a series of rock-cut installations, among them the hewn water reservoir.

A presentation about the discovery will be made this evening at the City of David Archaeological Conference. The Israel Antiquities Authority has released three high-resolution photos. The story is also reported by Arutz-7.


Iron Age reservoir in Jerusalem


Iron Age reservoir in Jerusalem. Photos by Vladimir Naykhin, IAA.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Exhibition of Finds from Temple Mount Sifting

From The Temple Mount Sifting Project:

On Thursday evening this week, September 6, 2012, the City of David will be hosting their 13th Annual Research Conference sponsored by the Megalim Institute. The program begins with an open house from 16:00 to 18:30 to give you an opportunity to visit the City of David and see all the newly excavated areas including the Second Temple Period street and water channel from the Siloam Pool up to the Temple Mount. The formal part of the program begins at 18:30. Admission is free and no registration is required, but space is limited.

During the open house from 16:00 to 18:30, the Temple Mount Sifting Project will host an exhibit of finds recovered during the past 7 years of work.  The display, in the courtyard just inside the entry gates of the City of David, will include ancient seals and coins, personal items such as hair combs and jewelry, arrowheads, dice and game pieces, clay idols, weights, Herodian architectural elements and paving tiles that were once part of the Temple Mount plaza. This is the first time that these artifacts have been available for public viewing.

Later in the evening as part of the Conference, at about 21:00, we will give a presentation [in Hebrew] of the Sifting Project's important finds since our last Research Conference report, given in 2007. We will also be updating the public on our ongoing research and our new understandings about the Temple Mount's past.

Please stop by the City of David on Thursday evening to view this amazing exhibit of artifacts that helps tell the history of the Temple Mount.

More information about the City of David Archaeological conference is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Sifting Temple Mount debris, tb110906729

Temple Mount Sifting Project

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

ARTIFAX Magazine

ARTIFAX Magazine is a little-known secret of biblical archaeology. If you are a member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Society (NEAS), you receive the quarterly magazine as part of your membership. If you do not, it’s quite possible that you’ve never heard of this magazine even though it’s now in its 27th year of publication.

In every issue, ARTIFAX provides updates from the world of biblical archaeology, often excerpting articles from the local press of Israel, Jordan, Greece, and other countries. ARTIFAX also features original articles by various scholars, some you’re probably familiar with, and others you may not know. I’ve written several articles for the magazine over the years, and I always find it an interesting read.

I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a subscription simply because there’s never been an easy way to subscribe. A new website changes that, and you can now subscribe with a few clicks of the mouse. I encourage you to check it out.

Artifax, Spring 2012


Monday, September 03, 2012

Recent Archaeological Reports

About half a dozen new excavation reports were published yesterday at the IAA’s Hadashot Arkheologiyot, including three from Jerusalem:

Mishkenot Sha’ananim – a section of the Low-Level Aqueduct from the Roman-Byzantine period and an earlier unknown period. This aqueduct brought water from Solomon’s Pools to Jerusalem.

St. Claire’s Monastery, Talpiot – a section of the High-Level Aqueduct from the 1st-2nd centuries AD.

Zedekiah’s Cave – co-sponsored by the [Ron] Wyatt Museum of Tennessee, this 2011 excavation focused on two areas in the lower level of the cave. Remains were found from the Arab and Crusader periods, but the ark of the covenant was not located.

All reports include maps, plans, and photographs.

Several other discoveries have been mentioned in recent days:

Byzantine-era remains of Jewish town found 9 miles (15 km) north of Beersheba will require the re-routing of Israel’s new north-south toolway.

Imported pottery from Cyprus discovered at Tel Burna in the Shephelah has been photographed.

A figurine was discovered on the surface of Tell es-Safi/Gath by a student.


Water channel excavated at St. Claire’s Monastery. Photo by IAA.

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Weekend Roundup

The north of Israel received a surprise August rainfall this week.

Haaretz has more about the rabbi who was accused of stealing bones from an archaeological site near Beth Shemesh.

Israel will return two sarcophagi lids stolen from Egypt.

The BBC describes Lidar archaeology and some debate about its value.

Joe Yudin recommends the view from an inactive volcano in the Golan Heights.

I think that Wayne Stiles somehow managed to get all of my favorite Masada photos in this article.

The ABR bookstore is now offering free shipping on all orders over $35. They offer a number of books under $10.

HT: Jack Sasson, Paleojudaica

Syrian city northeast of Quneitra from Mount Bental, tb121802203

View towards Damascus from Mount Bental (photo source)

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