Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Research Plan Posted for New Jerusalem Excavations

When Tel Aviv University announced plans to excavate in Jerusalem’s City of David, some liberal voices responded with anger. What is the most liberal archaeological department in Israel doing working in an area associated with a history they deny? The apparent (but unconfirmed) funding of the dig by the conservative organization Elad grated all the more, for as the liberals know, the Bible-confirming results that come out of excavations in the City of David are controlled by these radical Jewish settlers.

More details about the planned excavations are now online. Yuval Gadot has posted his research plan for excavating on the eastern slope south of the Gihon Spring in Shiloh’s Area D3. He plans to excavate six squares in the first four-month-long season.

Gadot hopes to discover houses as well as the eastern wall of the city in order to address two questions: (1) How does household archaeology illuminate social order and cultural identity? (2) What was the size and growth pattern of Jerusalem? In regard to the second question, Gadot wants to determine if the massive wall that Reich and Shukrun found in the Kidron Valley was a city wall or a revetment wall.

Before excavation begins, the archaeologists have to remove the dump of previous excavations. The area will be open to visitors and a 24-hour webcam will broadcast the work on the site.

HT: Joseph Lauer


City of David from east with excavation area marked
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Grotto of Saint Paul in Ephesus

(Post by Michael J. Caba)


The Grotto of Saint Paul, located in the foothills on the southern side of ancient Ephesus, has recently yielded intriguing finds related to early church history. The cave has been used from the early Christian era until the late 19th century for worship purposes, but was only “rediscovered” by modern researchers in 1995.


The grotto is adorned with numerous inscriptions and illustrations with the visual portrayals covering the gamut from Old Testament saints to soldiers from the Byzantine Middle Ages. The artwork itself ranges in age from the 4th century to the 12th/13th century, and the theme is consistently Christian. The actual grotto enclosure is in the form of an elongated cavern measuring approximately 15 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2.3 meters high. The main passage leads back to a slightly expanded rectangular area measuring about 2.7 meters wide.


In the late 1990s Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna discovered an early fresco on the western wall of the grotto’s passageway that includes a clear picture of the cave’s namesake, the Apostle Paul. The painting, which had been plastered over by subsequent occupants, is dated by Pillinger to the late 5th to early 6th century AD. The illustration also includes two women: Thecla to the left and her mother Theocleia to the right.


In the center of the image, Paul is shown seated with a book on his lap and his right hand raised with two extended fingers in a manner depicting a preaching gesture.


His discourse is the object of interest to the young woman Thecla, who is depicted on the left side of the fresco peering out a window.


The mural is actually a portrayal of an episode found in the apocryphal book, Acts of Paul and Thecla. Dated to the mid-2nd century AD, this text relates a story in which the betrothed Thecla listens from a window to Paul preach on “virginity and prayer.” Upon hearing Paul preach, Thecla reportedly decides to forgo her marriage and remain a lifelong God-fearing virgin, a decision for which she victoriously endures the heated opposition of friend and foe alike. Indeed, the hostility is so fierce that even her own mother (Theocleia) cries out, “Burn the wicked wretch.”

Not dissuaded from either her religion or chastity, Thecla is miraculously delivered from assorted ordeals and is reportedly even commissioned by Paul to “teach the word of God.” In this regard, Tertullian responded in De Baptismo:

But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name, claim Thecla’s example as a license for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office.

The fact that Tertullian (c. 200 AD) was aware of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, and felt it necessary to comment on it, indicates both the text’s widespread circulation and its antiquity.

However, it appears that Tertullian’s denouncement of the book had little effect on the artist in Ephesus who portrayed one of its central scenes in a prominent manner in the cave.

Unfortunately, in order to protect its delicate contents, the grotto is not typically open to the public at large.

(Quotations from Acts of Paul and Thecla taken from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pages 487-492. Tertullian quote taken from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, page 677.)


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Plans to reconstruct Herod’s tomb at the Herodium have been scrapped.

The same article reports that the Herod exhibition at the Israel Museum has been extended to January 2014.

Tuesday’s Samaritan Passover ceremony is described in a Haaretz article. (I believe the first photo caption is wrong, for the animal is not slain until sunset.)

105 million euros is not enough to save Pompeii from deterioration, according to a New York Times video.

Ferrell Jenkins is back in Israel and he recently spent a morning with Shmuel Browns.

The Spring 2013 season at Tel Burna is over and they have found evidence of a destruction in the 9th century. There are still a few days left to sign up for the summer season.

Haaretz’s “Tourist Tip #218” describes the significance of the Broad Wall of Jerusalem.

The temporary bridge to the Mughrabi Gate next to the Western Wall still stands, but next month a committee is going to meet in Paris to discuss its replacement.

FoxNews reports on apps for archaeology.

Berlin’s Pergamon Museum has a new exhibition on the Mesopotamian city of Uruk. Better photos are available here.

Christianbook.com is now selling The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.) for only $99.99. (That’s 75% the $400 list.)

A rare, original set of the 13 volumes of the Survey of Western Palestine has just been listed by a UK bookseller for $6,400. For $35 more, you can pick up a digital copy of the oversized maps.

HT: Jack Sasson

Key Map for the Survey of Western Palestine. All 26 maps (plus one from Transjordan) are for sale here.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Secret Places: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum

(Post by Chris McKinny) 

For an introduction to this series see here.

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum at the Church of the Flagellation - Old City Jerusalem, Muslim Quarter 

View Secret Places: BiblePlaces in a larger map

Use the above map to find the Church of the Flagellation (it is near Hadrian's Arch on the Via Dolorosa). Some nearby sites are Lion's Gate (Rampart's walk), the Western Wall Tunnels and the Pools of Bethesda. If you would like to visit the museum in conjunction with a tour of the Old City you might consider stopping at the museum after visiting the Temple Mount (use the northeastern exit near Lion's Gate) or the Western Wall Tunnels (after exiting the tunnels walk directly across the street to the Church of Flagellation). The SBF museum is just inside the courtyard near the walkway to the bathrooms.

Operating Hours and Admission
The official website for the museum is here.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-1:00; 2:00-4:00
Entrance Fee - 5 NIS

Museum Information and Touring Suggestions
Biblewalks has a nice overview of the Church of the Condemnation/Monastery of the Flagellation's history. Since our goal is to discuss the museum only we will leave the Church and its (historically problematic) tradition to others.

The SBF museum is by no means a "new" museum as it was originally founded in 1931 (it seems no coincidence that this followed the laying of the foundation of the Rockefeller Museum in 1930). Since then the museum has added to its collection through excavations sponsored by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Some of these excavations include: Bab edh-Drah, Mt. of Olives (including Dominus Flevit), Nazareth, Bethlehem, Herodium, Machaerus, and Capernaum. Recently, the SBF museum has undergone a facelift and its exhibits are a bit more accessible. Their website describes the layout of the museum as follows:
Three rooms were dedicated to the excavations at Nazareth, Capharnaum and Dominus Flevit, respectively. This prominence was due in view of the importance these sites had in commencing a new era of Christian archaeology in the Holy Land, in unraveling the problem of Christian origins, especially the history of the Judaeo-Christian communities of Palestine. In order of importance the other rooms are subdivided among other excavations made on the Mount of Olives, in the sanctuaries of Jerusalem and its vicinity, in the desert of Judea, in Transjordan, and in two Herodian fortresses Machaerus and Herodion. The purpose is to characterize the SBF collection in such a way as to be correctly perceived as Jerusalem's archaeological Museum of Christian origins, at the service of scholars and pilgrims who, in ever greater numbers, visit the Holy Land.

In addition to these important collections, the SBF museum has a great collection/display of pottery from the Chalcolithic to Byzantine periods showing the different forms of vessels (e.g. jug) and their development through time. Of special note is their collection of lamps from the Early Bronze Age-Byzantine period—I know of no better location to witness the major shifts in the development of the lamp form. This is a great location to point out the difference between an Iron Age II "lamp unto my feet" (Psalm 119:105) and the kind of Roman lamp that the "ten virgins took...to meet the bridegroom" (Matt. 25:1).

Reconstruction of 1st cent. CE/AD house from Capernaum (i.e. Peter's house)

As you might expect from a Catholic School/Monastery in Jerusalem the main thrust of the museum is directed towards Christian Archaeology (first century CE–Byzantine era), but that does not mean that there is not important material from earlier periods. There are some fantastic local Canaanite and imported Cypriot vessels from the Early Bronze-Late Bronze Age that come from the excavations in and around the ancient city of Jebus (cf. 2 Sam. 5). There are also some very nice Egyptian and Hyksos seals in the scriptorium room. For those interested in the early Canaanite period, do check out the back room where there is an exhibit on Bab edh-Dhra (Early Bronze–Intermediate Bronze, ca. 3300–2000 BCE).

For all of its strong points, the SBF museum's artifacts do lack sufficient labeling for most of its materials. However, this seems to also be changing as they continue their facelift with plans of even adding a multimedia room in the near future.

In conclusion, the SBF museum should not be on your "must see" list whenever you visit Israel, however, if you have an extra half-hour to spend in the Old City it is well worth a visit even for first-time visitors. It is a decent stand-in for the Israel Museum if you don't have enough time for a visit (although I would recommend the nearby Rockefeller Museum before the SBF). For returnees to the country I would strongly recommend checking out this small museum, as it will both inform visitors on the archaeology on some of Christianity's most heralded sites, as well as help understand the development of Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land over the last century-and-a-half.

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Shiloh Church Discovery Clarified

A report of the discovery of an ancient church building at Shiloh struck me as questionable. Because several churches have been discovered at Shiloh in the past (including one in 2006), I wondered if this was a recycled report. You can read the story as reported by Israel HaYom, YourJewishNews, and Algemeiner.

Yisrael Medad, a resident of modern Shiloh, clarifies that the discovery is simply more of the Byzantine basilica excavated by the Danish expedition in the 1920s. The new excavations revealed a destruction layer which may be dated to the time of the Samaritan Revolt in AD 529. Medad’s blog has photos of the new excavations.

Shiloh Byzantine basilica from south, tb041106377

Area of Byzantine basilica of Shiloh with 20th century protective building. Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Picture of the Week: High Place of Dan

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

"Why go to Israel?"  Perhaps you've asked yourself that question before or someone else has asked it of you.  If you have been to Israel (or live there now) then you can probably think of several reasons why someone should go.  But for someone who has never been, this is a valid question.  After all, for most people in the world, it is a serious investment of time and money (and a certain amount of risk) to travel to the Holy Land.  Why go through all the trouble?

My favorite way to answer that question is to tell people that the Bible comes alive and somehow becomes more real when you go to Israel or any of the other lands of the Bible.  From our armchairs in what the Bible refers to as the "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), it is all too easy to fall into the trap of reading the Bible like you would read a fictional book.  Even if you believe every word is true, those times and places are so far removed from your everyday life that it is difficult to remember that the heroes in the Bible were real people who faced real challenges and who had to exercise real faith.  However, traveling to biblical lands removes much of distance between you and the people in the Bible.  You see the biblical places with your own eyes and you become aware that you are standing in the same spot as David or Ruth or whomever.  Suddenly it hits you ... "This is where it happened!" ... and a biblical story will jump off the page into real life.

In my experience, such moments happen in different places for different people when they visit Israel.  Our picture of the week is of one of the places where it happened to me.  It comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands which focuses on Galilee.  It is a photograph of the High Place at Dan.  In the foreground is a reconstruction of a horned altar that once stood at that spot, and behind it are steps leading up to an elevated platform where one of Jeroboam's golden calves once stood.

I was familiar with the story of Jeroboam's idolatry when I first visited the site and could even point out for you on a map where Dan and Bethel were, the two places where Jeroboam erected golden calves for the Israelites to worship.  But it wasn't until I was standing there, close to the spot where this picture was taken, that I ever stopped to think that there was an actual place on the globe where a golden calf had stood and where sacrifices were offered to it.  The absolute certainty of the place drove home to me the reality of 1 Kings 12:26-30.

Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.  If this people go up to offer sacrifieces in the house of the LORD at Jerualem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah."  So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for your to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt."  He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. (NASV)

So why go to Israel?  Well, for one thing, the Bible will come alive for you in ways you don't expect.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Libary of Bible Lands which is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Additional photographs of Tel Dan and links to more information about the site can be found on the BiblePlaces website here.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Close-out Sale on Archaeological Tools

The Trowel Shop is closing its doors on April 30 and their Final10cm-london-marshalltown-trowel-flex Sale provides an opportunity to pick up any archaeological tools you might need this summer or in seasons to come. They carry Marshalltown trowels, pickaxes, brushes, and much more. Quantities are limited.

HT: Jack Sasson


Roads of Arabia Exhibition: Update

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Aryn Baker wrote a piece for Time Magazine entitled "Saudi Arabia to Tourists: We Are Just Not That Into You" in which she describes how Saudi Arabia has put out a "do not disturb" sign for foreign tourists. Thus, it would seem, there are few opportunities for people to gain access to the archaeological finds from this country. That is what makes the "Roads of Arabia" exhibition so significant. "Roads of Arabia" showed in several European museums before coming to the United States. The exhibition just finished up at the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and is now headed to Pittsburgh. The exhibition has a website with hi-resolution photographs of exhibition highlights, including this pedestal or altar discovered at Tayma (biblical Tema [Job 6:19]).
Here is the schedule for upcoming shows of the exhibition:

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Pittsburgh, PA
June 15 - Nov 4, 2013

The Museum of Fine Arts
Houston, TX
Dec 22, 2013 - Mar 9, 2014

Asian Art Museum
San Francisco, CA
Oct 17, 2014 - Jan 18, 2015

Previous posts about the exhibition can be found here and here

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Royal Architecture Found Near Jerusalem

Joseph Lauer has passed along word of a report in the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon that is currently available in English only in The Jewish Press. Specifics are limited, perhaps because of fears of vandalism or political maneuvers.

The article mentions an “ancient column with a crown,” but the photo in Makor Rishon shows a proto-Aeolic capital. More than three dozen of these royal capitals have been found throughout Israel, including one in the City of David and ten at Ramat Rahel. They clearly date to the time of the kings of Israel and Judah and the quality of construction indicates that these capitals are part of royal architecture.

The capital was found in a cave between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Yaron Rosenthal believes that an entire building from the time of Judah’s monarchy may be waiting to be unearthed.

The story in The Jewish Press mostly focuses on the political angle, reporting on the allegation that the Israel Antiquities Authority has known about the discovery for the last year and a half but is ignoring it for political reasons.


Photo by Yossi Aloni, Makor Rishon

Proto-Aeolic capital at Ramat Rahel, tb031905802

Replica of Proto-Aeolic capital on display at Ramat Rahel excavations

Ramat Rahel excavations, Proto-Aeolic capitals, tb113002564

Reconstruction of Judean palace with Proto-Aeolic capitals at Ramat Rahel

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Picture of the Week: Laodicea Main Street

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Last week, a link was provided on this blog to some fascinating 360-degree panoramas of the remains at Laodicea.  So our "picture of the week" comes from Volume 10 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands which focuses on Western Turkey.  The image captures the remains of the main street in Laodicea.

It is worth noting the biblical significance of this site, which is mentioned six times in the New Testament.  Paul refers to the city four times in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 2:1; 4:13; 4:15-16), and Jesus addresses the city in his Revelation to John:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Rev. 3:14-22, ESV.)

The cultural background of this passage is discussed in the PowerPoint notes included in the PLBL collection.  (As a side note, in my humble opinion, these notes are one of the most valuable features of the Pictorial Library.  They are a handy, concise source of reliable information about biblical sites.)  The notes in the Laodicea PowerPoint file state this:

Laodicea in Revelation
1. The church in Laodicea was the last and southeasternmost of the Asian churches addressed by John in Revelation (3:14-22). It was the only one of the seven letters written to churches of Asia Minor bearing no commendation ...
2. This letter to the Laodiceans is filled with local allusions which would have brought his message to life for the people of the city.
   a. The church is said to be “poor,” contrasting with Laodicea’s role as the banking center of the province of Asia. Laodicea was famous for its wealth, changing money and minting its own coins since before the 1st century AD. Even when an earthquake destroyed their city in 60, the Laodiceans refused aid offered by Rome and rebuilt the city at their own expense.
   b. John also says that they are “blind”; Laodicea was the chief medical center of Phrygia. Nearby a temple and great medical center/school was dedicated to the Roman god Men Karou (identified with the Greek god Zeus), famous for its production of eye-salve from “Phrygian powder,” said to cure weak eyes. The irony is that these people, who took great pride in their medical skill, were unaware of their own spiritual blindness.
   c. The church is also said to be “naked,” a local allusion which relates to the major industry of the entire region: the manufacture and preparation of textiles. Laodicea’s glossy, black wool earned her a grand reputation, and her citizens wore black garments with pride, contrasting John’s advice to the Christians of the city to buy “white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed.”
So, like so many of the prophets in the Bible, Jesus uses the cultural environment of the hearers to drive home spiritual truths.  Understanding that cultural background leads us to a deeper understanding of the text.

This photo and over 900 others are available in Volume 10 of the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands and is available here for $34 (with free shipping).  Additional images of Laodicea and links to other pages that discuss the site are available on the BiblePlaces website here.  Images and information about textile industries are available on the LifeInTheHolyLand website here.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekend Roundup

A sonar survey has identified a large stone structure on the floor of the Sea of Galilee. It may be related to the contemporary third-millennium BC site of nearby Beth Yerah (Khirbet Kerak). The scientific article includes illustrations.

Archaeologists have discovered a port on the Red Sea from the time of Pharaoh Cheops.

Admission to the Israel Museum is free on Independence Day, April 16.

Sharks are rare in the Mediterranean Sea but not in the Red Sea. One came close to swimmers in Eilat last week.

Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, has inaugurated its Archaeology Museum Gallery.

If Israel was ever mapped out on the game of Monopoly, Megiddo would be Boardwalk.

Kyle Pope has written a good article on “The Hinnom Valley and Jesus’ Teaching on Final Punishment.” Barry Britnell shares a photo of the valley.

Details for volunteers for this summer’s dig at Tel Burna are now available. Apply before May 1.

zmetro has four 360-degree panoramas of Laodicea. The excavators and restorers are making great progress at the site.

HT: Charles Savelle, Tony Lawrence, Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer


Stone structure under the Sea of Galilee
Illustration by Shmuel Marco

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Secret Places: Benshoof Cistern Museum

(Post by Chris McKinny)

For an introduction to this series see here.

The Benshoof Cistern Museum houses the remains of three Late Bronze-early Iron Age I (1550-1100) tombs discovered at Tel Dothan (Genesis 37:17, 2 Kings 6:13) during the Joseph Free-lead excavations in the 1950-1960s. The small exhibit is inside of a Roman/Byzantine cistern on the campus of St. George Cathedral and College in East Jerusalem.


View Secret Places: BiblePlaces in a larger map

This small museum is situated next to several important historical, archaeological and research sites such as, The Tombs of the Kings, the Garden Tomb, exposed sections of Josephus' Third Wall, the American Colony, the Albright Institute, and the Ecole Biblique (French Archaeological School). It is also very close to several of Jerusalem's largest hotels (e.g. Olive Tree, Dan Panorama, etc.) near highway 60.

To get to the museum it is advised that you use the above Google Map to find St. George Cathedral as backroads (and sometimes main roads) in Jerusalem are notoriously tricky for new visitors and even long-term residents. Upon entering St. George, either from the main entrance on Nablus/Shechem Street or the back entrance on Salahdin Street, you should walk through the campus to the center of the compound where you will find a door with a nice welcome sign (see picture below), which will lead you down into the exhibit.
Entrance to Benshoof Cistern Museum
Entrance Information
Admission is free. The hours of operation are from 8:00 am-2:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment for other times (972-2-626-4704). The lady who curates the museum is quite pleasant and very excited to show off the remains for those interested - even if your visit is slightly after hours or unannounced (personal experience on both counts).

Touring Suggestion
Depending on your level of interest and the size of your group you should estimate between 20-30 minutes to view the cistern exhibit.

Museum Information and Some Personal Thoughts
The materials in the museum were excavated by Joseph Free in the 1950s, but were not published until the mid-1990s by Robert Cooley who was in charge of publishing the rest of the material from the site (see here for the most recent final publication of Dothan from the excavations carried out on the tell). The majority of the objects come from Tomb 1 - which according to the museum pamphlet is "one of the largest single-chambered cave burials of the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages to have been excavated in the Levant." It is estimated that 250-300 Canaanites were buried inside of this cave, over 3,000 pottery vessels, ca. 100 personal ornaments, ca. 100 weapons were found with the skeletal remains (per pamphlet).

One of the great strengths of this exhibit is the well-defined organization of the various types of pottery.  Someone interested in such things as ceramic typology of the Bronze-Iron Age might be intrigued by seeing whole shelves filled with LB-Iron I lamps, chalices/goblets (see picture below), kraters, bowls, pyxides, lamps, and more (links to wikipedia description are meant to describe the form of the vessel not the specific type that you would see at this museum).

Low-quality picture of High-quality Canaanite Late Bronze Age Chalices and Goblets found in the Western Cemetery of Tell Dothan

I was especially intrigued by their large collection of chalices, as these seem identical to the types of chalices and goblets that our team has been uncovering inside of a very interesting, seemingly cultic related Late Bronze age building at Tel Burna. Shameless plug alert! Come join us in a week-and-a-half for our spring season - April 21-25, or June 2-21 for our summer season and find these for yourself. :) 

Due to the high quantities of consuming and serving vessels, particularly the large amount of kraters of a wide-variety of forms (used for wine-mixing), and the existence of animal bones the excavators concluded that these tombs were used for feasting in commemoration of dead ancestors. This funerary feast is commonly referred to as the marzeah, based upon some biblical references (Amos 6:7, Jeremiah 16:5; 8) and extra-biblical parallels (e.g. Ugarit). In relation to this, the museum pamphlet (this seems to have been written by Robert Cooley) says the following: 
Burial is described in scripture as "gathered to his people;" a time of reuniting with family members (Gen. 25:8-10; 17, 49:29-33, Judges 2:10. et al) The remains in the tomb corroborate these texts and also point to the practice of a memorial feast with an inordinate consumption of wine (Jer. 16:5-9). At the time of death the body was taken to the family tomb and either laid on the floor or on top of the debris or previous burials. It is believed a funeral banquet was held and a portion of the feast given to the deceased, and left to provide sustenance for the journey to the next world... When a subsequent death occurred the chamber was reopened and the remains of the previous burial unceremoniously swept aside, often destroying the skeletal remains and offerings. The newly deceased's body would be carefully laid to rest and another funeral meal would ensue. Scholars infer that at the time of death an individual was considered animate, requiring food for his other journey. Decomposition of the flesh seems to have signalled the departure of the deceased to the netherworld. Thus the remains no longer held any significance. 

Where does this museum fit into the wider spectrum of available archaeological exhibits in Israel? It  certainly should be considered "specialist" in the sense that it is quite small and deals with a single period related to a single people - the Canaanites. However, it is also "special" in that it allows visitors to visit a significant element of a site that is largely inaccessible (Dothan) and to better understand the enigmatic ancient Near Eastern practice of ancestor funerary feasting. Which if nothing else gives a great ancient background for the modern urban practice of "pouring one out for your homies." :)  

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Picture of the Week: Iron Age Gate with Benches

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Perhaps one of the largest obstacles to understanding what life was like in Bible times is the difference between a modern city and an ancient city.  A modern city spans hundreds of square miles, but an ancient city was typically only a few acres.  A modern city has no protection around it, but an ancient city was protected by a massive wall.  A modern city has dozens of roads leading in and out of it, but an ancient city had (at most) a handful of gates leading in and out, and often had only one.  So when a modern reader opens the Bible and reads about Boaz doing business transactions at the city gate (Ruth 4) or gossipers sitting in the gate (Psalm 69:12) or Amos calling for justice in the gate (Amos 5:15), the full significance of those passages may be lost.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and shows the remains of the Iron Age gate at Beersheba.  Actually it shows only one chamber within that gate.  During this time period, it was common for gates to have rooms on either side of the passageway.  For example, a double chambered gate had two rooms on one side of the passage and two on the other side.  It was shaped like an E and a 3 facing each other: E3.  These chambers sometimes were lined with benches, such as in the picture below.  This would provide a place for people to sit while carrying out the various types of business that happened in the city gate ... and there was a wide variety of action here. 

Since there was always a small number of gates in an ancient city, all the foot traffic coming in and out of the city was funneled though this one place.  Consequently it became an ideal place for people to sit and do business transactions, talk about current events, or sell their wares.  It also was a convenient place for the elders and rulers to decide legal matters or prophets to  proclaim a message from the Lord.  In times of battle, these rooms provided the soldiers of the city with space to fight an enemy that had managed to break through the door.

Oded Borowski, in his book Daily Life in Biblical Times, describes the city gate this way:

When discussing the gate, one should realize that this was more than just a door; it was a gate system. Many cities, such as Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Lachish, and Dan, had a series of gates, outer and inner, through which traffic found its way in and out of the city.  … The main gate was a formidable structure that had two or more stories to provide space for the activities undertaken by the civic and military administrations and by the citizenry. … The street-level floor had one to three chambers on each side …. The gate area, including the chambers and the open space around it, was used in peacetime for judicial, commercial, and social activities.  The city elders, as well as the king or the regional governor, met in the gate to hold court. At Tell Dan, the remains of a low podium for an elaborate seat and canopy were found by the gate adjacent to the open area.  The chambers in the gate at Gezer contained low benches along the walls to provide seating, possibly for the elders or for merchants.  The gate was also where certain cultic activities took place (2 Kgs 23:8), as illustrated by the standing stones discovered at Dan and other sites.

In the age of computers, automobiles, and sprawling cities, there really is no good modern equivalent of the city gate.  It was the mall, the courthouse, the army base, the television, and Facebook all rolled into one.  In many ways, it was the center of daily life in the city.

Excerpt from Oded Borowski, Daily Life in Biblical Times, Society of Biblical Literature: Archaeology and Biblical Studies, No. 5 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), pp. 47-48.

This photo and over 700 others are available in Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $34 with free shipping.  Additional pictures of ancient gates can be seen herehere, and here on the BiblePlaces website.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unique Ritual Bath Complex Excavated in Jerusalem

Archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently excavated a unique ritual bath (mikveh) in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem (southwest of the Old City). Three separate collecting tanks (otzar) were carved into the rock in order to collect as much rainwater as possible.

The IAA press release quotes Benyamin Storchan, director of the excavation:

Numerous ritual baths have been excavated in Jerusalem in recent years, but the water supply system that we exposed in this excavation is unique and unusual. The ritual bath consists of an underground chamber entered by way of steps. The miqwe received the rainwater from three collecting basins (otzar) that were hewn on the roof of the bath, and the pure water was conveyed inside the chamber through channels.

The ritual baths known until now usually consist of a closed cavity that was supplied with rainwater conveyed from a small rock-cut pool located nearby. The complex that was exposed at this time is a more sophisticated and intricate system. The bath was apparently associated with a settlement that was situated there in the Second Temple period. Presumably, due to the rainfall regime and arid conditions of the region, the inhabitants sought special techniques that would make it possible to store every drop of water.

It is interesting to note that the bath conforms to all of the laws of kashrut, like collecting the water in it naturally without human contact, and ensuring that the water does not seep into the earth which is why the bath was treated with a special kind of plaster.

The full press release is here, and three high-res photos are available in a zip file. The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7.


Archaeologist Benyamin Storchan stands in the immersion chamber of the mikveh.


Aerial view of the excavations


Aerial view of three storage tanks and channels

All photos courtesy of the IAA. The second and third are by Skyview.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Excavation Reports: Megiddo, Gezer, Sepphoris

Several significant excavation reports will be published in the next couple of months and Eisenbrauns is offering major discounts on pre-orders.

Megiddo V: The 2004-2008 Seasons

Gezer VII: The Middle Bronze and Later Fortifications in Fields II, IV, and VIII

Sepphoris I: The Pottery from Ancient Sepphoris

MegiddoVcover.inddWith the ongoing debate over the chronology of the Iron Age II, the Megiddo volumes may receive the most attention from scholars.

Eisenbrauns has a number of other excavation reports on sale, including volumes on Bab edh-Dhra, Lahav (volumes I-II), Tell el-Hesi (volumes II-V), Gezer (volumes I-III, V), and Dothan. For those interested in a popular work, the Timnah volume is now marked down 50% (to $15).

There doesn’t seem to be a direct link to the sale page, so go to the home page, read about their phenomenal new “Online/Offline Backup Service” (announced on April 1), and follow the link to the sale from there.

A couple of recently published excavation reports are reviewed in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. In the article now available online, William G. Dever reviews Ashkelon 3: The Seventh Century B.C. and Hazor: The 1990–2009 Excavations: The Iron Age.

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh has written an article on the little-known Church of St. Mark near the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to tradition in the Syriac Orthodox church, this was the place of the Last Supper.

A Byzantine winepress has been excavated at Hamei Yo’av near Kiryat Gat. High-resolution photos are available here (zip).

If you’re traveling to the Middle East, it’s worth preparing not only for the sites, but also for the food. Debra Kamin has four rules for eating hummus.

The LMLK Blogspot has a “modern ancient art mystery” for savvy biblical archaeology sleuths.

The AP has more about the new excavations in the city of Ur.

Scientists are studying a battering ram found in a Greek or Roman ship sunk off the coast of Libya.

The ruins of ancient Palmyra are being threatened by the fighting in Syria.

Some new maps of the ancient world are now going online at the Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Aren Maeir will be lecturing on “The Search for Goliath” on April 18 at William Jessup University.

Yesterday’s quotation was by William Dever, long-time crusader against biblical archaeology. It’s from page 14 of Archaeology and Biblical Studies: Retrospects and Prospects. Evanston, IL: Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1974.

HT: Jack Sasson

Syrian Orthodox Church, St Mark's Convent, traditional house of Mark and Upper Room, tb010312374

Entrance to Church of St. Mark
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Jerusalem volume (available at Amazon for $220 or at BiblePlaces.com for $39)

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Secret Places: 1st Century Synagogue at Magdala

(post by Chris McKinny)

For an introduction to this series see here.

It seems only a short time ago that archaeologists were saying that there were only 3 positively identified 1st century CE synagogues in Israel - Herodion, Masada and Gamla (See "Synagogues" in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Meyers 1992: 6.255). In the case of Herodion and Masada - these are relatively late synagogues as they were both converted from Herodian structures during the first Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE). The Gamla synagogue represented the only tangible archaeological evidence of a synagogue built for the primary purpose of being a synagogue (versus later retrofitting). The 2009 discovery of the first century CE synagogue at Magdala changed that perception. We have discussed this discovery on several occasions, including a debate regarding the function of the building and the possibility of excavating at the site with costs covered by the excavation. I asked on a recent visit and this offer still stands, according to the staff at the site. Also from what I gathered their work will continue long after 2013, as they had stated previously - see here for pictures of volunteers from fall 2012.


View Secret Places: BiblePlaces in a larger map (toggle between different map view in top left corner - other views might provide easier driving directions)

Getting to the first century remains at Magdala is quite simple - from Tiberias it is a mere five-minute drive to the north of town - make a right at "Magdala Hawaii" and turn into the construction site - there will be a sign that says "Magdala" and two small office buildings on each side of the road in front of the excavations.

Touring Suggestions 
Upon arrival you will be met by a security guard who will ask you to donate money to the project (there is no admission fee) - he will also give you instructions on where you can and cannot go on the site. The guard might also offer a few words of insight about the site - take what he says with a grain of salt. The following instructions are tentative as visiting protocols will change as the Magdala Center project develops (for comparison note the complete absence of buildings in this area in the Google Maps view above).
Update 4/8/2013 - Entrance information: Opening time  Monday-Friday 8-1pm. Email contact (HT: Shmuel Browns)

Historical Background and Discussion
Magdala means tower (Hebrew - migdal). It is never mentioned by name in the Gospels, rather the site name only appears when identifying Mary Magdalene apart from the other Marys (e.g. Matthew 27:56). Had the other Marys been named Salome instead of the ubiquitous "Mary" it is likely that even "Magdalene" would not be part of the New Testament record.

Before the founding of Tiberias as capital of Galilee in 20 CE under Herod Antipas, Magdala (Josephus calls the site Taricheae, which means fish) was the main administrative center (toparchy) of eastern Lower Galilee beneath the authority of Sepphoris, Antipas' Galilean capital. In 20 CE, the capital shifted from Sepphoris to Tiberias and Magdala lost its administrative significance, but remained an important site. Later on in the 50s CE the site was ceded to Herod Agripa II (son of Agrippa I, grandson of Aristobolus, great-grandson of Herod the Great) and later still in 66 CE it was the site of a  naval battle between the Romans under Vespasian the result of which was the total defeat of the Jewish forces (including the execution of thousands inside the stadium at Tiberias). This naval war also produced one of the most interesting archaeological finds of all-time - the so-called "Jesus Boat," which probably owes its exceptionally rare preservation to the unique events that transpired during the onset of the first Jewish Revolt. (For more information regarding Magdala's historical background see James Strange “Magdala Magdalene,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:463).

Magdala from the eastern side of Mt. Arbel looking east towards the Sea of Galilee

The synagogue is on the left side of the road, as of March of 2013 visitors could still not go into the synagogue itself, but you will be able to view the beautiful synagogue from a distance. As fascinating as the synagogue is - what caught my eye was the extremely well-preserved, presumably first cent. CE street ca. 30 meters south of synagogue (see picture above). Along this street one can easily make out several mikvaot (ritual baths) that seemed to be fed by means of a canalization system and remains of the foundations of buildings constructed from basalt (black volcanic rock typically used in construction in the Golan Heights).

Magdala Street - notice the slabs in the center of the street that cover the canalization/sewage system, the mikvaot are to be found on the left side of the picture (that is the south side of the street - the picture is looking west to the foot of Mt. Arbel with highway 90 in the distance)

Mikvaot? There are at least four of these along this street, notice the extremely well-preserved steps and opening for presumably filling the pool. 

While final say will go to the excavators of this important site, it seems quite clear that the remains around the synagogue, including the street with presumed mikvaot, all date to the same time period - the excavators have claimed that the synagogue is first century CE on the basis of coinage and pottery. It therefore seems likely that the connected buildings date to the same time period. Beyond the clear connection of this site to Mary Magdalene of the Gospels this Early Roman town has the potential to illuminate many details of first century, Galilean village dynamics.

In conclusion, this exciting new site should be considered a "required" stop on any trip to Israel that makes it to the Sea of Galilee. In the opinion of this author, Magdala is a more important site for folks interested in New Testament and Second Temple Judaism than say, Tabgha or Chorazin (primarily 4-5th cent. CE Byzantine remains with New Testament textual connections). Magdala has the potential of illuminating our understanding of first century daily village life (i.e. the very time of Jesus' ministry) in the same way that Qatzrin has illuminated our understanding of everyday Jewish life in Mishnaic/Talmudic times. 

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Secret Places

(Post by Chris McKinny) 

One of the exciting things about living in Israel is how quickly archaeology can change the landscape of our understanding of the biblical world. Our picture of the ancient Near Eastern world is constantly developing and becoming more nuanced, largely due to the work of archaeologists operating in Israel.

Israel, home to an estimated 30,000 archaeological sites (and counting), produces large quantities of archaeological architecture and materials of biblical significance that are often passed over by tourists, students and even scholars who visit the Land. While readers of this blog are considerably more well-informed regarding biblical archaeology's rapid developments than the general public - there still remains a bit of a gap between exposure to the information and first-hand experience through visiting the various "secret places" scattered throughout the country.

With this in mind, the purpose of this upcoming series is three-fold: 1.) to expose the reader to off-the-beaten path locations, new archaeological sites and museums, and significant views and overlooks; 2.) to inform the reader on the importance of these locations by connecting the site with the historical/biblical data; and 3.) to show the reader how to get to these locations when visiting Israel.


Who Said This?: Archaeology and New Understandings of the Bible

What’s surprising about this statement is not as much what it says as who said it. You’re free to guess in the comments below or make any observations. I’ll include the author and title of the book in tomorrow’s roundup.

It may be sufficient to remind you that nearly every scholarly “breakthrough” which has helped to bring about a revolution in Biblical studies has been the direct result of archaeological discoveries, whether accidental finds or the products of deliberate excavations. The new materials which have brought about a new understanding of the Bible have come out of the ground—and barring a direct descent of the Holy Spirit, it is hard to see how there could be any other source of new information.

Take for example the recovery of the cuneiform literature of Mesopotamia over the last hundred years, which has given us parallel accounts of the Creation and Deluge; which has illuminated the whole era of the Patriarchs; which has provided a radically new understanding of Israelite law; which has filled in the background of the period of the Assyrian and Babylonian destructions; which for the first time in modern Biblical studies has fixed the chronology of many Biblical events. Or we may note the recovery of the Egyptian records, which has thrown such light on the period of the Patriarchs, the Amarna Age, the Exodus and Conquest, and most recently in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts has promised a revolution in New Testament and Early Patristic studies in some way comparable to that occasioned by the discovery of the Qumran scrolls a few years ago. From Anatolia the recovery of the Hittite literature has rescued from obscurity a people known to us previously only from the Bible.

Amarna Letter from Yapahu of Gezer, tb112004945

Amarna Letter from Yapahu of Gezer (EA 299),
now on display in the British Museum


Thursday, April 04, 2013

Picture of the Week: Western Wall in 1960s

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Someone who has been to the Western Wall today and has seen the big, beautiful plaza that spreads out before the wall may be surprised to learn that for much of the past few centuries, the Jews worshiped at the wall in a much smaller space.  What's more, for about 20 years in the middle of the last century, they couldn't worship there at all.

Our picture of the week comes from a collection called Photographs of Charles Lee Feinberg, which is available for purchase at LifeintheHolyLand.com.  Dr. Feinberg was a Bible professor who took several trips to the Middle East between 1959 to 1968.  His collection is a rare jewel of color photographs from a period when the region was less densely populated and developed.

Pictures from the 1800s and photographs like the one below from the mid-1900s show that the old "Western Wall Plaza" wasn't much of a plaza.  It was more like a hallway ... or maybe just a closet.  However, it was still revered by the Jewish people because it was the closest they could come to the place where the temple once stood, and the wall itself was part of the temple complex during the first century A.D.  (It was and still is part of a retaining wall that holds up part of the Temple Mount.)

During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, the Jews lost control of the Old City of Jerusalem and with it lost access to their most revered place of worship: the Wailing Wall ... or as they call it these days, the Western Wall. (When I was in college, one of my Jewish-born professors said that they didn't call it the Wailing Wall anymore because they had done enough wailing.) So from 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967, the Jews were not allowed to worship at their most holy site.

All that changed in 1967 when Israeli soldiers defeated the Jordanian forces and captured the Old City. In his book, The Battle for Jerusalem, Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur captures the emotions of that fateful day as he and his men visited the Western Wall for the first time in over 20 years:

We came to the narrow little gate, known as the Mograbi, and lowered our heads to duck through it to the top of the gloomy, crooked, steep, narrow stairs.  We heard the sounds of praying as we went down the steps.  The space in front of the wall was packed with people.  Soldiers were praying, some swaying devoutly as if in synagogue, although they were still wearing their stained battle dress.
To our right and above us was the wall: huge blocks, gray, bare, silent.  Only shrubs of hyssop in the cracks, like eyes, gave the stones life.  We saw that somebody had set up an Ark, brought from a military synagogue, and that in front of it stood Rabbi Goren praying in a hoarse voice.  he had been praying non-stop now for two hours. 
The site, the prayers, the great victory, the thoughts of the fallen seemed to release the paratroopers from their armor of iron and many of them wept unashamedly, like children. ...
I drew near the crowd of soldiers praying, and when they noticed me they indicated I should go to the front.  I thanked them but stayed at the back. 
Despite the great congregation, I had to undergo my own private experience.  I did not listen to the prayers, but raised my eyes to the stones and looked at the paratroopers praying, some with helmets on their heads and some with skullcaps.  I scanned the buildings closing in on us from three directions, which gave the square a very intimate character.
I remembered our family visits at the wall.  Twenty-five years ago, as a child, I had walked through the narrow alleys and markets.  The impression made on me by the praying at the wall never left me.  My memories blended in with the pictures that I had seen at a later age of Jews, with long white beards, wearing frock coats and black hats.  They and the wall were one.

Shortly after this, the modern, spacious Western Wall plaza was created.

Excerpt from Mordechai Gur, The Battle for Jerusalem, trans. by Philip Gillon (New York: Popular Library, 1978), pp. 376, 378.

This picture and over 400 others are included in a collection called Photographs of Charles Lee Feinberg, and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Additional images of the Western Wall throughout the last two centuries can be found here, here, and here.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

Wayne Stiles wonders why the largest ancient site in Israel has been largely forgotten today.

Leen Ritmeyer provides context to the recent excavations of the “gate of hell” in Hierapolis.

On April 1, Luke Chandler revealed a stunning new translation of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon.

Few tourists are visiting Egypt these days and it’s hurting many who work in the industry.

Travel Weekly recommends how to spend a day visiting the harbor city of Jaffa (biblical Joppa).

A review of the new excavations of Azekah is available in a professionally-made 12-minute video.

HT: Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson

Azekah from northeast, tb030407700

Azekah from the northeast
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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