Thursday, February 28, 2013

Conference: Temple and Cult in the Bronze and Iron Ages

Temples and Cult in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin During the Bronze and Iron Ages. Conference Marking the Retirement of Prof. Eliezer Oren and the Appearance of a Festschrift in His Honor

The Department of Bible, Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Thursday, March 7, 2013. Minkoff Senate Hall, Ayerton University center Marcus Family Campus, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva

10:00 Morning Session. Prof. Shmuel Ahituv, Chair

On Prof. Victor Avigdor Hurowitz z”l

Presentation of Festschrift - All the Wisdom of the East: Studies in Near Eastern Archaeology and History in Honor of Eliezer D. Oren, Orbis Biblicus et Orentalis 255, Fribourg and Göttingen, 2012

10:40 The Bronze Ages

Keynote Address: Gods and Rulers in Mycenaean Citadels: A Very Special Relationship. Prof. Josef Maran, University of Heidelberg (English)

Aspects of Temples and Cult in the Early Bronze Age in the Land of Israel. Prof. Pierre de Miroschedji, CNRS, Nanterre (English)

The Cultic Precinct at Nahariyah: New Aspects of Cult during the Middle Bronze Age in the Land of Israel. Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, Hebrew University, Jerusalem (English)

13:30 Afternoon Session. Prof. Gunnar Lehmann, Chair

13:30 The Bronze Ages

Hathor in Canaan in Light of the Decorations on Jewelry Boxes. Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

The Temple Precinct at Megiddo; A New Look after Twenty Years of Excavations. Prof. David Ussishkin, Tel Aviv University

The Temple and the City: The Cases of Jericho and Batrawy in the Bronze Age. Prof. Lorenzo Nigro, Universita degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza” (English)

Distribution of Cultic Implements in the Tel Haror Temple: Spatial Analysis. Pirhiya Nahshoni, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

15:30 The Iron Age. Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, Chair

Evidence for Cult and Religious Activity in the 9th and 10th Centuries at Tel-Rehov. Prof. Amihai Mazar, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

The Arad Temple and its Cancellation: A Reevaluation. Prof. Zeev Herzog, Tel Aviv University

Popular Belief and Popular Art: Sacred Implements from the Favissa of a Philistine Temple at Yavneh. Dr. Irit Ziffer, Eretz Israel Museum

Summary and Conclusion. Prof. Eliezer Oren, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

The full conference announcement is here. Lectures not marked as English will be given in Hebrew.

HT: Jack Sasson


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

10.5 Million Visits to the Western Wall in 2012 – The increase in tourism requires a doubling in restroom capacity.

Archaeology in Israel Update—February 2013 - Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg selects the top five stories of the month.

48 hours in the Negev - Onnie Schiffmiller provides a two-day itinerary beginning at Beersheba and moving south.

How to Prepare for a Holy Land Tour – Wayne Stiles recommends ways to prepare mentally, practically, physically, and spiritually.

8 Tips to Maximize Your Holy Land Tour – Stiles follows up his preparation post with suggestions on what to do once you’re in Israel, including what photos to take and not take, how to keep up, and why you should ask lots of questions.

Men praying at Western Wall during Sukkot, tb100906912

A “full house” at the Western Wall prayer plaza during the feast of Tabernacles. Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 3.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Arguments Against Locating Sodom at Tall al-Hammam

The proposal that Sodom has been found on the northeastern side of the Dead Sea has been around for a decade or so, but with the publication of an article by Steven Collins this month it will receive the widest hearing to date. I thought it might be helpful for readers of Biblical Archaeology Review to know where to go for another perspective.

The proposal that Tall al-Hammam is Sodom fails on at least two counts, and these are helpfully summarized by two experts in their respective subjects.

Geography Fail: Bill Schlegel, professor in Israel for 25 years and author of the Satellite Bible Atlas, explains why the biblical text does not fit the geography of Tall al-Hammam.

Chronology Fail: Eugene Merrill, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, shows in a recent Artifax article that for Tall al-Hammam to be Sodom one must deny all of the biblical dates before the time of the judges.

I’ve written about the issue several times as well:

Excavator Finds Evidence of Destruction at “Sodom” (Dec 2011)

Video: Search for Sodom and Gomorrah (Aug 2009)

Tall el-Hammam: Sodom, Abel Shittim, Abila, or Livias? (Jan 2009)

Sodom Identified? (May 2006)

One final point: the excavator of Tall al-Hammam insists that by identifying the site as Sodom he is supporting the historicity of the Bible. In fact, if his theory is true, we cannot trust the Bible for accurate details about times and places. Tall al-Hammam is certainly a significant site, but Sodom is surely to be found elsewhere.

Dead Sea northern end aerial from west, tb010703242

Northern end of the Dead Sea
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal Deemed Feasible

The Red to Dead canal is moving along faster than I realized. THe last hearings are being held now before the World Bank issues a final report. The Inter Press Service provides a good summary of the plans and problems.

The World Bank has declared the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project feasible. Designed to “save the Dead Sea”, “desalinate water and/or generate hydroelectricity at affordable prices in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority”, and “build a symbol of peace in the Middle East”, the scheme, green groups warn, is fraught with environmental hazards.

Currently at 426m below sea level, the Dead Sea, Earth’s lowest elevation on land, is drying and dying in the desert by roughly 1.1 metres a year. Its surface area has shrunk by a third during the last 50 years from 960 square kilometres to 620 square kilometres.


What could save the Dead Sea from death foretold is a 180-km development project called the ‘Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance’.

This is how it would work: marine water would be pumped from the Red Sea. A pipeline conveyance system with six pipes and a tunnel would then flow the water by gravity, exploiting the difference in elevation at and below sea level, to a high-level desalination plant and two hydroelectric plants.

The high-salinity brine reject would be discharged to the Dead Sea to halt and, eventually, reverse its decline.

After a decade-long argument, the World Bank released a series of studies last month which deem the proposed ‘Red-Dead Canal’ (as the ambitious scheme is dubbed) technically, environmentally and socio-economically feasible.

The main objectives would thus be fulfilled, the World Bank assesses. All that for a total capital cost of 9.97 billion dollars, the World Bank estimates; half of it amortised by selling desalinated water and hydroelectricity, the other half financed out of international aid to development – “a win-win situation,” hails Shalom.

The rest of the article discusses objections to the plan, including chemical problems, earthquakes, groundwater contamination, and damage to the Red Sea coral reef. The article concludes with a forecast: “The canal could be built within six years and start operating in 2020, reaching its maturity stage by 2060.”

HT: Charles Savelle

Dead Sea from Masada, tb010810995

The disappearing Dead Sea, as seen from Masada
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

Three Syrian Historical Sites under Threat (Here & Now)

Archaeology Weekly Roundup! 2-22-13 (ASOR Blog)

Exclusive video of the work to save the two colossal statues of Amenhotep III (Luxor Times)

Exclusive footage: The Sphinx Avenue lit up for the first time (Luxor Times)

Collection of Graeco-Roman tombs uncovered in Alexandria (Ahram Online)

Ancient Stolen Artifacts Discovered in Beit Jann (Arutz-7)

Pillaging of Gaza Antiquities an Archaeological Tragedy (Al-Monitor)

New Testament Scholar: Chasing Biblical Manuscripts Is Nothing Like 'Indiana Jones' (Christian Post) Interview with Daniel Wallace.

HT: Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson

Luxor Temple Avenue of Sphinxes, tb110500232

Avenue of Sphinxes leading to Luxor Temple
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 7

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Roundup, Part 1

Information on the second Qeiyafa inscription coming later this year (Luke Chandler)

The Tel Burna Archaeological Project (ASOR Blog)

Israel approves drilling for oil in Golan Heights (Jerusalem Post)

John the Baptist: The First Christian Martyr (Bryant Wood)

Review of The Unsolved Mystery of Noah’s Ark (Gordon Franz and Bill Crouse)

NIV Study Bible for Kindle marked down to $6.64 (Amazon)

Ferrell Jenkins has begun a series on famous people buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion, including Horatio G. Spafford and James Leslie Starkey.

Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences (New York Times) Includes an interview with Raphael Golb.

Oak forest on Golan Heights, tb020506169

Oak forest on Golan Heights
Photo from Galilee and the North

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Friday, February 22, 2013

King Herod Roundup

Several articles this week are related to King Herod and the new exhibit at the Israel Museum. With a lengthy list for tomorrow’s roundup, I thought a separate post might be worthwhile.

Herodium, home of the most reviled monarch in Judea – Miriam Feinberg Vamosh writes about Herod’s fortress in a free article in Haaretz.

A King on Exhibition: Herod is Ready for His Close-Up – Karl Vick gives some background on the new exhibit in Time. There are errors.

In Search of Herod’s Tomb – This article by the Herodium’s excavator, Ehud Netzer, was published posthumously in Biblical Archaeology Review.

Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey – Suzanne F. Singer describes the museum exhibit in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. A slideshow is included.

Over the years, I’ve written about sites important to King Herod, including Masada, Herodium, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. See also King Herod: Ten Things You Didn’t Know.

HT: Jack Sasson

Jerusalem model Herod's Palace from southwest, tb020101208

Model of Herod’s Jerusalem palace, now on display at the Israel Museum. Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Picture of the Week: The Disappearance of Philae

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

From the legend of Atlantis to the recent ABC television series called Lost, disappearing islands have always fascinated people.  Modern history tells the story of another disappearing island, but unlike other stories, there is little mystery about why it happened.

Our picture of the week (the second image displayed below) comes from Volume 5 of The American Colony and Maston Collection which focuses on Egypt and Sinai.  To show the development of the site over the last century, I have also included a drawing from Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt and a photograph from the revised Pictorial Library of Bible Lands in this week's post.

From the Roman Period until the late 19th century, the island sanctuary of Philae looked similar to the image below.  A temple to Isis was built on the site in the Roman Period and later was converted to a Christian worship site.

Philae in the 1800s

In 1898, the British constructed the Aswan Dam near the first cataract of the Nile.  The dam helped control the flow of the Nile River but it also flooded the area to the south, including the island of Philae.  The ruins of Philae were partially submerged, as can be seen in the photo below.  This photo was taken sometime between 1910 and 1920.  (Volume 5 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection includes a couple of pictures of the Aswan Dam when it was in use, and of tourists visiting Philae by boat.) 

Philae in the Early 1900s

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the High Dam was built which raised the waterline even further.  So if you visit the area today, there is nothing left of the island of Philae.  Fortunately, the ruins on the island were dismantled and moved to the nearby island of Agilika, so you can still see the ruins of Philae ... you just can't see them in their original spot.

Philae Today

The photograph of the partially submerged ruins of Philae and over 450 others images of Egypt and Sinai are available in Volume 5 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $15 (with free shipping).

The drawing of the island before the dams were built is from Volume 4 of Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt which can be purchased for $20 here (with free shipping).

The photo of Philae today is from Volume 7 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Revised and Expanded Edition which can be purchased here for $34 (with free shipping).

Additional images and information on Philae can be found here on and here on

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Byzantine Winepress Excavated in Jaffa

The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release on the latest discovery:

Recently impressive remains of an industrial installation from the Byzantine period which was used to extract liquid were exposed on Hai Gaon Street.

Installations such as these are usually identified as wine presses for producing wine from grapes, and it is also possible they were used to produce wine or alcoholic beverage from other types of fruit that grew in the region. Yafo’s rich and diverse agricultural tradition has a history thousands of years old beginning with references to the city and its fertile fields in ancient Egyptian documents up until Yafo’s orchards in the Ottoman period.

According to Dr. Yoav Arbel, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first important building from the Byzantine period to be uncovered in this part of the city. The fact that the installation is located relatively far from Tel Yafo adds a significant dimension to our knowledge about the impressive agricultural distribution in the region in this period. The installation, which probably dates to the second half of the Byzantine period (sixth century – early seventh century CE), is divided into surfaces paved with a white industrial mosaic. Due to the mosaic’s impermeability such surfaces are commonly found in the press installations of the period which were used to extract liquid. Each unit was connected to a plastered collecting vat. The pressing was performed on the mosaic surfaces whereupon the liquid drained into the vats. It is possible that the section that was discovered represents a relatively small part of the overall installation, and other elements of it are likely to be revealed in archaeological excavations along adjacent streets which are expected to take place later this year.”

The full story is here. Three high-resolution images are available here. Haaretz has a report here.

inst west-east

Byzantine winepress excavated in Jaffa. Photo by IAA.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Online Museum: Bible and Archaeology

Fifty important artifacts and discoveries are listed in chronological order at The collection includes photographs from a variety of sources. If I only had time to teach ten to a class, I would choose these:

  • #2: Merneptah Stele
  • #3: Ten Dan Inscription
  • #6: Kurkh Monolith
  • #7: Black Obelisk
  • #8: Mesha Stele
  • #13: Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  • #16: Lachish Reliefs
  • #20: Ketef Hinnom Amulets
  • #28: Cyrus Cylinder
  • #43: Pool of Siloam
  • #46: Gallio Inscription

Alternately, you can just pass on the link to your class (or friends or pastor) and they can get a quick study in the world of biblical archaeology.


Hezekiah’s Tunnel
(photo source)

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some environmentalists are not happy with a plan to save the Dead Sea with a pipeline from the Red Sea.

Archaeology in Egypt has suffered from the political turmoil and resulting loss of tourist dollars.

Residents of Modi’in are protesting plans to build where someone else used to live a long time ago.

Seth Rodriquez provides insight into the Broken Wall of the Sluggard.

Rubén Gómez has a new website for his Spanish-speaking tour of Israel later this year.

The History Channel shares six “secrets” of King Tut.

In honor of Ehud Netzer, the Biblical Archaeology Society has made a collection of Ehud Netzer’s articles available for free, including the recent “In Search of Herod’s Tomb.” Click on each title to read.

The ASOR Blog provides a weekly roundup of stories in the broader world of archaeology.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Report Published for Gezer Regional Survey

The Gezer Excavation Project includes a major regional survey under the direction of Eric Mitchell. A preliminary report of the first five seasons (2007-2011) has now been published in Hadashot Arkheologiyot. Some excerpts:

Purpose: “The purpose of the project is to carry out a systematic high resolution archaeological survey of the region, within 1 km of Tel Gezer, and to locate and publish all features therein. This survey will aid in gaining a better understanding of the historical development of relationship between the ancient city of Gezer and its surrounding landscape.”

History: “The immediate vicinity of Tel Gezer has been investigated by R.A.S. Macalister who noted over 200 archaeological features within 1.5 km of the tell (Macalister 1912 III: Pl. VIII). In recent years, A. Shavit conducted a survey of the entire Gezer Map. Shavit noted that his survey was intensive but he was selective in the surveyed areas.”

Methodology: “To date, 1260 features have been recorded during the current investigations. Features are defined as any individual cultural element deposited on, built on, or carved into the landscape. Therefore, with features such as winepresses, which include a basin, vat, channel, and cupmarks, each individual feature was added to the total and thus, the number of sites can be reduced significantly.”

Tombs: “Forty-one tombs were accessible for interior survey. Seven basic categories of tomb type have been encountered during the survey. These include tombs with irregularly shaped interior plans (6), simple bench-style tombs (4), arcosolium or recessed bench tombs (5), a distinct simple double arcosolia type (5), loculus or kokhim tombs (9), tombs with multiple styles (3), and tombs that are incomplete, partially filled, or otherwise do not fit into the above categories (9).”

Surface Visibility: “While modern and old disturbances could have easily hidden the existence of tombs, caves, and presses where agricultural land now stretches, the ploughed fields and orchards now offer excellent surface visibility and provide ample opportunity to observe and collect pottery, tesserae, and chert flake scatters, which would otherwise have been obscured by dense brush.”

Conclusions: “The results of the 2007–2011 Tel Gezer Survey seasons have been encouraging in terms of both artifacts and features documented, as well as total area covered. At the current rate, it is estimated that two to three additional seasons will be necessary to complete surveying a 1 km radius around Tel Gezer. Our goal for the future is to publish a catalog of features within our survey area, as well as articles on the tombs and presses of Tel Gezer. At the end of the project, we will analyze all our GPS location data for features and artifacts from every season via mapping software. Using this data, we can construct a clearer understanding of distribution patterns for various features, as well as draw wider conclusions about the use of the land around the ancient city of Gezer.”

The full report includes five images. Check out the official website for information about joining the team.


View of arcosolia in Gezer tomb
Photo by Tel Gezer Regional Survey

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Picture of the Week: Gerasa in the 1920s

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

What is it about old photographs that make them so fascinating? 

I think part of the answer lies in our natural curiosity about the past.  What did things look like back then?  And to a student of archaeology, old photographs of archaeological sites can be especially fascinating because it raises the question: What did things look like when the first archaeologists stepped onto the scene?

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 4 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, which focuses on Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. In the photo below, you can see the southern theater and the forum at Gerasa (a.k.a., Jerash) in the modern country of Jordan.  Gerasa was one of the cities of the Decapolis, and "the country of the Gerasenes" is mentioned in Mark 5:1, Luke 8:26, and Luke 8:37.

The photo was taken sometime between 1920 and 1933. Another early photograph of the forum can be found here on By way of contrast, this page on shows you what Gerasa looks like today, after the archaeologists have excavated, cleaned up, and reconstructed these ruins. The differences between then and now are striking.

The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection is a wealth of information and has a variety of uses:

  • For the archaeologist, this collection provides photographs of early digs and of sites as they looked before excavations. For better or worse, this was an age when a lone scholar stood over a team of local workers who moved tons of dirt in a single season (and this practice can be seen in the collection). Yet this was also a period when things were fresh and exciting as archaeologists were digging into sites for the first time.
  • For the preacher and teacher, this collection provides additional material which can be used to transport your listeners back to a culture and landscape similar to biblical times. It also can be used to discuss geography or illustrate particular sites.
  • For the historian, this collection provides windows into this dramatic period of history. This was the period of the late Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate when Jewish immigrants were migrating to Palestine and establishing new settlements. It was also a time when technology was on the rise: electric stations and telephone stations were being built, railroads were being constructed, and automobiles and airplanes were coming onto the scene.
  • For the artist and graphic designer, this collection provides many beautiful, crisp, black & white photos of places in the Holy Land that can be used in a variety of ways.  These photos still capture people's attention and fire their imaginations.
This photograph and over 700 others are available in Volume 4 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Historic images of other Roman cities can be seen here, here, and here on

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

A cave above En Gedi is revealing well-preserved artifacts from the first century AD.

Luke Chandler has word that Yosef Garfinkel plans to follow his Khirbet Qeiyafa dig with excavations at Lachish.

The Daily Mail has photos of the newly opened exhibit of King Herod at the Israel Museum. Shmuel Browns has more.

Some are claiming that the Waqf is destroying more antiquities on the Temple Mount.

Gordon Franz evaluates Robert Cornuke’s use of a computer model to predict the location of Paul’s shipwreck on Malta.

A website for the excavations of Tel Abel Beth Maacah is now online.

En Gedi and Nahal David aerial from northwest, tb010703272

Aerial view of Nahal David and En Gedi

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three Groups of Biblical Archaeologists

You might want to put down your coffee before you read how David Ussishkin classifies himself in relation to other archaeologists. This description is from his chapter in Understanding the History of Ancient Israel. He writes:

“The biblical archaeologists of our time can in fact be divided into three groups according to their approach to the use of the biblical text.610ojNdqnGL._SS500_

“The first group includes the fundamentalists, who believe in the reliability of the biblical text in all its details, and that the text forms the basis and guide for their archaeological work. I can mention, for example, Bryant Wood and his work on Jericho (e.g. Wood 1990), and Adam Zertal, who restored an imaginary altar on Mount Ebal on the basis of the biblical text (e.g. Zertal 1986–87). Both of them, as well as other scholars of this group, are good, professional archaeologists, but their archaeological work is clearly biased and distorted by their views on the biblical text.

“The second group should be termed the ‘Followers of Albright’. This group includes the majority of biblical archaeologists practising today. Prominent among them are the American scholars who have been introduced to archaeology through theology and biblical studies. I can mention people like Albright himself, Ernest Wright or William Dever. The ‘Followers of Albright’ also dominate biblical archaeology in Israel. Yigael Yadin, who was a follower of Albright, was the leader of this school of thought in Israel, and its present centre is Jerusalem. Significantly, neither Yadin nor the majority of Israeli biblical archaeologists are religious, hence their adherence to this school of thought does not stem from religious beliefs.

“The basic concept of the ‘Followers of Albright’ is the acceptance of the framework of biblical history as the basis for their archaeological studies. They take the archaeological data and fix them into this framework in exactly the same way that children assemble a jigsaw puzzle: also in this game one follows a known general framework, and then whenever an additional piece is identified, one puts it into its proper position in the framework.

“The third group includes a small number of scholars, whom I labelled ‘the Followers of Hercule Poirot’ for lack of a better term, and at present their centre is at Tel Aviv. I shall mention here Aharon Kempinski, Ze’ev Herzog, Israel Finkelstein and myself, and there are several others. These scholars believe that in recent years the discipline of biblical archaeology has developed tremendously and reached maturity, that huge amounts of significant data have accumulated, and also new research techniques and methods have been adopted and applied. As a result, biblical archaeology has slowly become an independent discipline, and archaeological research can now be conducted in an objective manner without leaning on the biblical text.”

Source: David Ussishkin. “Archaeology of the Biblical Period: On Some Questions of Methodology and Chronology of the Iron Age.” In Understanding the History of Ancient Israel, ed. H. G. M. Williamson, 131–41. Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 143. Oxford: Oxford University Press for The British Academy, 2007. (Amazon, Worldcat)

Comment: If only those backward fundamentalists would come around to realizing that biblical archaeology has reached maturity, that huge amounts of significant data have accumulated, that new research methods have been adopted, and that objective archaeology doesn’t lean on the biblical text.

Ussishkin’s dating of the Jezreel compound to the time of Ahab is a parade example of leaning (falling? laying prostrate?) on the biblical text. I think he’s right to do it, but it does call into question his categories.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Recent Excavations in Israel

Tel Kison (Tell Keisan): Two excavation areas revealed remains from the Chalcolithic, Iron I-II, and Persian-Hellenistic periods, including a rich repertoire from the Persian era. The site may be identified with biblical Achshaph and may have been one of the cities of Cabul given by Solomon to Hiram.

Dabburiya: A survey of the area revealed 11 ancient sites including caves, industrial installations, and a quarry. The site preserves the name Deborah and is located on the western side of Mount Tabor.

Ramla: Excavations southeast of the city uncovered 11 strata, the most important dating from the Early Islamic period. An impressive Roman pottery kiln was also discovered.

Regevim, West: Located near remains of a Roman road connecting Caesarea and Megiddo, this site was the location of 6 limestone quarries and 6 tombs, one of which had a rolling stone in situ. The quarries may have served for construction of the Roman road.

Shihin: James Strange directed a survey of the area northwest of Sepphoris which identified 111 ancient features and indicated the site’s prominence in the Early Roman period.

Tell Jatt: Excavations on this tell 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Karmiel exposed three strata from the Middle Bronze IIA and Iron I-IIA.

Megiddo: An excavation north of Kibbutz Megiddo identified 22 quarries, 2 tombs, and a road, all probably used primarily by the Sixth Roman Legion stationed here in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD.


Roman burial cave near Megiddo.
Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Weekend Roundup

After seven dry years, Israel’s water crisis is over, according to Israel’s Water Authority. Nearly half of Israel’s drinking water needs is supplied by the country’s three desalination plants. That number will go up to 75% in two years.

Aren Maeir has prepared a photo essay on Gath of the Philistines. The 16 photos capture well the exciting history of the site.

The maternal origin of cultivated olives is the Middle East, according to a new study.

Wayne Stiles recommends 5 Holy Land Blogs You Should Follow.

The One Hundred Most Important Cuneiform Objects” is now posted on a wiki managed by staff and students at the University of Oxford. Many high-res photos are included.

Now free online: The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria(704-681 BC), Part 1, by A. Kirk Grayson and Jamie Novotny.

The Deal of the Weekend at Eisenbrauns is Ancient Damascus, by Wayne T. Pitard. List $45; sale: $18.

A Visual Guide to Bible Events, by James C. Martin, John A. Beck, and David G. Hansen is on sale this weekend at for $15 (Amazon: $26). I’ve recommended it before here.

HT: Jack Sasson, David Coppedge

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Q&A: Did Herod Plant Sycamores in Jericho?

Question: Many years ago I read that Herod the Great had planted sycamore trees lining the street at Jericho. If true, the irony would be when Zacchaeus climbed one such tree to see Jesus. I cannot locate that reference. Have you come across this? –L.M.


1. I have not heard of this.

2. It sounds suspicious ("too good to be true"; "preaches too well").

3. The only primary source I can think of that would mention this is Josephus. A search of the works of Josephus showed only one reference to sycamore and it is related to King Solomon.

4. I checked two good commentaries on Luke and neither of them say anything about it.

I would guess it's one of those urban legends. If anyone knows anything else, please comment below or send me an email.

Sycamore-fig tree, Jericho, tb052205965

Sycamore tree in Jericho
(photo source)


Thursday, February 07, 2013

More Lectures in Chicago

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

These are all free and open to the public.

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 7:00-8:30 pm
John Walton, “Origins Today: Genesis with Ancient Eyes” followed by responses from Richard Averbeck and Lawson Younger.
ATO Chapel, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL.

Sat, March 2, 2013, 5:00 pm
Kathryn Bard, “Harbor of the Pharaohs to the Land of Punt: Excavations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis 2001-2011.”
American Research Center in Egypt - Chicago Chapter.
LaSalle Bank Room, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
See website for more details.

Wed, Mar 6, 2013, 7:00–8:00 PM
T.J. Wilkinson, “Canals, Kings and Hydraulic Landscapes in the Ancient Near East: An Archaeological Perspective” followed by reception in the museum.
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Register at
See website for more details.

Fri-Sat, Mar 15-16, 2013
University of Chicago Oriental Institute Symposium.
“Household Studies in Complex Societies: A (Micro) Archaeological and Text Combined Comparative Approach.”
The schedule for the symposium is given below. See website for more details.

Friday, March 15:
Opening Remarks, 9:00-9:30 AM

Session 1: Method and Theory, 9:30-11:10 AM
Adelheid Otto “How to Reconstruct Daily Life in a Near Eastern Settlement: Possibilities and Constraints of a Combined Archaeological, Historical, and Scientific Approach”
Kate Spence “Ancient Egyptian Houses: Architecture, Conceptualization and Interpretation”
Paolo Brusasco “Interaction between Textual Materials and Social Space in the Definition of Family Composition in Mesopotamia”

Session 2: Activity Area Analysis, 11:10-1:00 PM
Peter Pfälzner “Activity-area Analyses of Room and Grave Contexts in Third- and Second-millennium BC Syria”
Lynn Rainville “Everyday Life in an Assyrian City: Microarchaeological and Ethno-archaeological Approaches to the Study of Activity Areas”
Felix Arnold “Clean and Unclean Space in Houses on Elephantine”
Lisa Nevett “The Use and Abuse of Artifact Assemblages in Classical Greek Domestic Contexts”

Session 3: Social Stratification, 2:30-3:30 PM
Miriam Müller “An Ancient Egyptian Middle Class as Revealed in a Neighborhood of Tell el-Dabʿa/Avaris”
Heather Baker “Family Structure, Household Cycle, and the Social Use of Domestic Space in Urban Babylonia”

Session 4: Ethnicity and Identity 4:00-5:00 PM
Nicholas Picardo “Hybrid Households: Institutional Affiliations and Household Identity in the Town of Wah-sut (South Abydos)”
Aaron Brody “Living in Households, Constructing Identities: Ethnicity, Boundaries, and Empire in Iron IIB–IIC Tell en-Nasbeh”

Reception: 5:00-6:00 PM

Saturday, March 16
Session 5: Private and Political Economy, 9:00-10:00 AM
Jens-Arne Dickmann “Crucial Contexts: A Close Reading of the Household of the Casa del Menandro at Pompeii”
Kristin de Lucia “Micro-archaeology and the Identification of Household Multicrafting among Lakeshore Communities in Pre-Aztec Central Mexico”

Session 6: Urban-Rural and Core-Periphery Relations 10:00-10:40 AM
Peter Miglus “Private House or Temple: Decoding Patterns of the Old Babylonian Architecture”

Responses and Roundtable Discussion 11:00-1:00 PM


Picture of the Week: Jordan River Flooding in 1935

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Joshua 3:15 makes the following comment in passing: "now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest" (ESV). In the context of this chapter, Israel is about to cross into the Promised Land over a miraculously dry riverbed and this comment is included to give greater significance to the miracle. But before you rush to the Jordan with your camera during the next harvest season to snap a photo of this natural phenomena, let me save you some shekels by telling you that the flooding of the Jordan River is not something that happens today.

According to a 2010 report about the Jordan River (noted previously on this blog here), the Jordan River contains only 3% of the water that it did 100 years ago.  According to that report, the river discharged 1.3 billion cubic meters of water in the 19th and early 20th centuries (but see a more conservative estimate in the quotation below from the Encyclopaedia Judaica).  The report contrasts this with the current discharge of the river which is 20 to 30 million cubic meters.  Or to put it in numerical form:

  • 1,300,000,000 cubic meters per year in the past.
  •     30,000,000 cubic meters per year today.
 So "overflowing all its banks" is not a phrase that is typically used when describing the Jordan River today.

Fortunately, we have photographs from the first half of the 20th century that can help us illustrate this biblical phrase.  Our picture of the week (and a bonus picture) come from Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection which focuses on Southern Palestine.  To show the contrast in the river's levels, I have included two photos from that collection.  The first photo is a picture of the newly constructed Allenby Bridge with the Jordan River flowing peacefully about 30 feet below it.  (As a side note, this is not the Allenby Bridge/King Hussein Bridge used today, but merely a forerunner of the modern bridge.)

The date of the photograph above is around 1920.  The photograph below was taken in February, 1935.  This was an unusually high year for the Jordan River and it "overflowed all its banks," damaging and destroying surrounding buildings and roads.

If you look closely in the upper right section of the photo you can see the Allenby Bridge with its bottom edge touching the water.  A closer view of the bridge can be seen in another photo from the collection which is posted here.

This flood year is mentioned in passing in the Encyclopaedia Judaica:

The Jordan discharges c. 875 million cu. m. into the Dead Sea a year; its yearly fluctuations are great and are caused mainly by the Yarmuk: in 1933, 287 million cu. m. and in 1935, 1,313 million cu. m.

According to this statistic, the Jordan River discharged 50% more water that year than the yearly average.  There is no way of knowing how much water was discharged during the year that Joshua and the Israelites crossed, but we can be certain that the photograph above is a much better illustration of how it looked than any picture that could be taken today.

Fortunately the future of the Jordan River is looking brighter.  This last summer, this blog noted a report about a plan by Israel to divert some additional water to Jordan River (see post here).  Perhaps future generations will again be able to see the Jordan overflow its banks.

These photographs and over 550 others are available in Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Other historic images of the Jordan River can be seen here and here on, as well as a page devoted to illustrating Joshua and the Israelites "Entering the Promised Land" here

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

The Times of Israel takes its readers into the new Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum one week ahead of its opening. The article includes many photos, but may be slow loading.

Wayne Stiles has put together some great visual resources of Caesarea, including photos, video, map, and Google Street View.

City Lights over the Middle East – NASA has posted a short video taken from the International Space Station.

Air pollution has been a problem since the days of ancient Rome.

The Oriental Institute has launched its Integrated Database. Phase II will include images.

Metro publishes the “Top 10 archaeological finds of all time.”

Yosef Garfinkel will be lecturing on “Sanctuaries and Cult at Khirbet Qeiyafa” at the Southern Adventist University’s Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum Lecture Series.

Keith Schoville is retiring from The Book & The Spade radio program.

I am excited to announce that our photo collection Views That Have Vanished is now available as a module for Accordance. The collection now has all the bells and whistles you would expect from Accordance.

HT: Daniel Wright, Aren Maeir, Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson


Screenshot from Views That Have Vanished

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Beth Shemesh and the Israelite-Philistine Border

Bloomberg runs a story on the excavations at Tell Beth Shemesh, describing the recent discovery of a cultic site as well as the absence of pig bones.

We are standing in the middle of Israel on a quiet hill overlooking a fertile green valley.

Some 3,000 years ago, this peaceful place was right at the center of conflict, says archaeologist Shlomo Bunimovitz.

“The border lies somewhere between here and there,” he says, pointing to the west. He is co-leading excavations which have found the remains of a temple which was later desecrated and used as animal pens.

This is Tel Beth-Shemesh, the ancient meeting point of the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. The Bible describes it as the northern border of the Tribe of Judah. The area also features in the story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant, earlier captured by the Philistines. King Solomon ruled the district and it was the site of the battle between Joash and Amaziah, the respective kings of Israel and Judah.

“We are looking for evidence that this was a border, tangible evidence in the material culture that reflects this,” says Bunimovitz, from Tel Aviv University.


He produces plastic-covered charts that show how as excavations moved eastward, there were less remains of decorative Philistine pottery and a complete disappearance of pig bones.

“The Philistines wanted this fertile valley,” Bunimovitz says, “but had this pain in the neck here at Beth Shemesh.”

Before the Philistines settled, the Canaanites did eat a little pork, he says. Then they seemed to want to set themselves apart from newcomers and maintain a distinct culture.

“There is a modern example of this, in the wearing of keffiyehs (headscarf),” he says. “Israelis always wore them until Yasser Arafat adopted it. Now you won’t see any Israelis with it. Suddenly the keffiyeh becomes an ethnic marker.”

The full story includes more illustrations. The most striking contrast on the chart below is between Timnah and Beth Shemesh, located only 5 miles (8 km) apart. In the time of the judges, Beth Shemesh was an Israelite city and Timnah was Philistine (Judg 14:1; 1 Sam 6:9).

HT: Joseph Lauer


Comparison of percentage of pig bones found at sites in ancient Philistia compared with ancient Israel. Source: Beth Shemesh Excavations via Bloomberg.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Why Is There Little Evidence for David’s Kingdom?

Several dozen helpful articles are included in the recent work edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. In one of the articles, Michael G. Hasel addresses the lack of evidence for the United Monarchy in Israel. I thought that the points were worth sharing.

1. The heartland of the kingdom of David and Solomon is largely inaccessible to archaeologists because of the political situation in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”).

2. Of the sites excavated, many have not been fully published. Jerusalem is one such example.image%255B3%255D

3. Archaeological remains have faced massive destruction over the centuries.

4. The ancient peoples left limited texts to help us assess what they left behind.

5. Interpretations are tentative and can change within a season. Hasel cites the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription against those who were then claiming that David and his kingdom were mythical.

For development of each point, see “New Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Early History of Judah,” pages 477-96 in the book. For a full list of articles, see this previous post. The paperback sells for $23, and the Kindle version is under $10.


Saturday, February 02, 2013

Two Lectures in Chicago

Here are two free lectures for those in the Chicago area. Apologies for such short notice.

American Research Center in Egypt - Chicago Chapter lecture.
Today, Feb. 2, Saturday at 5:00 pm.
Peter Brand, “All in the Family: The Royal Family of Ramesses II.”
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, LaSalle Bank Room.
Website for details.

Oriental Institute lecture.
Feb. 6, Wednesday at 7:00 pm.
Elizabeth Stone, “City and Hinterland in ancient Mesopotamia: An examination of continuities and developments in the fabric of urban and rural settlement from 5,000 B.C. until the time of Christ.”
Free Registration required here.
Website for details.


Weekend Roundup

Shmuel Browns has a roundup of interesting items he has discovered as a guide this week, and he’s soliciting suggestions for a name for the series.

Seth Rodriquez illustrates each region of the land of Israel.

The presentations from "Managing Archaeological Data in the Digital Age: Best Practices and Realities" are now online.

Nearly $2 million has been spent to restore the archaeological remains of the Nabatean city of Avdat after vandals attacked it.

The Cyrus Cylinder will make its first appearance in the U.S. on March 9 at the Smithsonian.

GigaPan has some extremely high-resolution panoramic images of Jerusalem.

HT: Jack Sasson, Michael Oliver

Avdat Byzantine Church of St Theodore, tb030607886

The Nabatean city of Avdat
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Friday, February 01, 2013

Video below the Temple Mount

After reading Seth’s post yesterday on the interior passageway of Barclay’s Gate, Daniel Wright went looking and found some video taken in the same room.

This first video is a short clip of just that room, today the Mosque of Buraq (Muhammad’s horse).

This second video is a little longer and goes through other rooms underneath Al Aqsa Mosque. Here again the ancient spaces are put to use. In some places you can see Herodian stones. The video ends, I believe, with a walk through the “Double Gate” passageway.

These videos are valuable because very few non-Muslims are allowed to see these places.

Note: Those receiving this by email will need to click through to view the videos.

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