Thursday, May 30, 2013

Picture of the Week: Qumran Caves

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

This seems to be a week where Hebrew scrolls are in the news more often than normal (see herehere, and here), so our picture of the week focuses on the Qumran caves where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  If you have ever studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, you have probably heard statements such as "The Copper Scroll was found in Cave 3," or "The Habakkuk Commentary was discovered in Cave 1," or "Cave 11 contained 30 scrolls."  The scrolls are even labeled using the cave number as part of the reference, such as 2Q3 from Cave 2 at Qumran and 11Q19-20 which was found in Cave 11 at Qumran.

Yet with eleven caves in the area with written texts, it quickly becomes difficult to keep them all straight.  Fortunately the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is available to help walk you through the location of each cave, provide pictures of the outside of each cave (and sometimes pictures from within!), and helpful commentary on which scroll was found where.  It is a great way of exploring the caves without the cost of traveling to the Dead Sea, without hiking through the blistering heat of the desert, and without any of the risks involved in climbing onto the edge of steep cliffs with loose gravel below your feet.  (Thanks for doing all the legwork, Todd!)

The picture above is a prime example of the resources available in the Qumran Caves collection in Volume 4 of the PLBL (click the image to enlarge).  The site of Qumran is to the right, outside of the frame. The photographer is facing west, looking at the edge of the hills of the Judean Wilderness.  In the shot, you can see six out of the eleven Qumran caves: Caves 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. (Please note that the image above includes the labels from one of the PowerPoint® slides. The photograph by itself without any labels is also provided in the collection.) Much of Caves 7 through 10 have eroded away, but their positions can still be seen.  Cave 4 yielded a large number of scroll fragments and is typically the one photographed in Bible dictionaries and other reference works.

The value of a shot like this becomes apparent when you are trying to give a lecture to your students on the Dead Sea Scrolls. With a picture like this, you can easily explain the arid terrain, the difficulty of reaching the caves, and their relative positions to one another.  Within the collection, each cave is photographed from various angles so that you can get a feel for its size and shape.

The collection is also useful if you are planning a trip to the site.  I only wish I could have had these pictures and diagrams with me the last time I visited Qumran so that I could pick out the location of each cave while standing there.  The PowerPoint® notes even include instructions on how to get to some of the harder to reach caves when you are on-site (although the reader is cautioned against visiting Caves 1 and 2 because of the difficult terrain).

So whether you are preparing for a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls, are packing for a trip to Israel, or just want to learn more about the place where the scrolls were found, the PLBL offers a valuable guide to the Qumran caves.

This photo and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 4 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $39 with free shipping.  For additional photos and information on the Qumran caves, visit this page on the BiblePlaces website.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

Gary Byers summarizes the result of the first week of excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir. He thinks it may have been the best first week of finds at the site.

Shimon Gibson will be resuming his excavations on Mount Zion from June 16 to July 11. Volunteers are welcome.

A list of papers for the Noah's Ark conference at Sirnak University in Turkey has been announced. Among the list is this one by Gordon Franz: “Did Sennacherib, King of Assyria, Worship Wood from Noah’s Ark?”

Don Wimmer, director of excavations at Tall Safut in Jordan, died last week.

Worsening conditions at the Cairo Museum are causing concern.

The Green Scholars Initiative Series on Early Jewish Texts is a new book series to be published by Brill and led by Emanuel Tov.

Scholars are using artificial intelligence programs to help reassemble more than 100,000 manuscript fragments from across the Mediterranean world.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has written the latest Archaeology in Israel Update—April 2013.

Luke Chandler is leading a tour of Italy this fall.

The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.) is now marked down 78% to $90. Until Friday.

HT: Jack Sasson, Bill Soper

Pompeii Consolare Street and Modesto Street intersection, tb111505131

Preserved ruins of Pompeii
Photo from Pictorial Library, Italy and Malta

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Dead Sea Scrolls for Sale

By the Associated Press:

Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are up for sale — in tiny pieces.

Nearly 70 years after the discovery of the world’s oldest biblical manuscripts, the Palestinian family who originally sold them to scholars and institutions is now quietly marketing the leftovers — fragments the family says it has kept in a Swiss safe deposit box all these years.

Most of these scraps are barely postage-stamp-sized, and some are blank. But in the last few years, evangelical Christian collectors and institutions in the U.S. have forked out millions of dollars for a chunk of this archaeological treasure. This angers Israel’s government antiquities authority, which holds most of the scrolls, claims that every last scrap should be recognized as Israeli cultural property, and threatens to seize any more pieces that hit the market.

“I told Kando many years ago, as far as I’m concerned, he can die with those scrolls,” said Amir Ganor, head of the authority’s anti-looting squad, speaking of William Kando, who maintains his family’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection. “The scrolls’ only address is the State of Israel.”

Kando says his family offered its remaining fragments to the antiquities authority and other Israeli institutions, but they could not afford them.

“If anyone is interested, we are ready to sell,” Kando told The Associated Press, sitting in the Jerusalem antiquities shop he inherited from his late father. “These are the most important things in the world.”

The article continues to describe recent purchases by Azusa Pacific University, Southwestern Seminary, and the Green Collection. For the largest available fragment the dealer is asking $40 million.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Qumran Cave 1 wide, tb011703346

Qumran Cave 1, location of discovery of first Dead Sea Scrolls
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Barry Britnell has the scoop on the forthcoming update to Google Maps and he shares some impressive examples.

Following the discovery of the mosaic near Bet Qama, Miriam Feinberg Vamosh provides a “flying [mosaic] carpet”-themed itinerary through Israel.

Matti Friedman follows up on an article in Biblical Archaeology Review to find out whether wooden beams on the Temple Mount might date back to the time of Solomon’s or Herod’s temples.

Smithsonian magazine reports on the Rise and Fall and Rise of Zahi Hawass.

Two months of excavations annually for the last 56 years is not enough, so a Turkish team will join the Italians and excavate the ruins of Hierapolis year-round.

Phase 2 of Eilat Mazar’s Ophel Excavation is now underway.

The University of Liverpool’s second annual conference on Archaeology and the Bible focused this year on “Egypt and the Bible” with lectures by James Hoffmeier and others.

HT: Daniel Wright, Jack Sasson

Hierapolis view from east, tb041305832

The ruins of Hierapolis
Photo from the Pictorial Library, Western Turkey

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Picture of the Week: Tabernacle Replica

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Most readers of this blog are familiar with reconstructions, sketches, and diagrams of the Tabernacle.  From our reading of the text and with some help from Bible encyclopedias and study Bibles, we know the Tabernacle inside and out ... the courtyard, the altar, the tent itself with its various coverings, the outer room, the Holy of Holies, the various articles in the rooms, how the items were arranged in the court and in the tent, etc., etc.

But did you ever stop to think what the Tabernacle looked like to an ancient Israelite?  I'm not talking about the priests and Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle, but just your average Israelite man or woman who would have passed by the Tabernacle on their way from one side of the camp to the other.  What it would have looked like to their kids as they approached the Tabernacle, bringing the sacrificial animals that God had required?  How much of God's tent could the average person see from outside the courtyard?

Our picture of the week seeks to portray just that:

This photo comes from Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands which focuses on the Negev and the Wilderness.  Within this volume you will find a collection of pictures that captures a life-sized replica of the Tabernacle that stands in the Timna Valley in Israel.  The PLBL states the following about the replica's history:

The model was created in 1986 by the Bible Center Theological Vocational School in Breckerfeld, Germany. It was displayed at exhibitions in seven European cities, mainly in Germany and Switzerland, before being erected in the Timna Valley.

You can see better pictures of the model on the BiblePlaces website here, but this particular image caught my attention because it is what the average Israelite would have seen on an average day.  The outer screen of the Tabernacle's courtyard blocked most of the tent from view (Exod. 27:9-18), but someone standing outside could still see the top of the Tabernacle itself over the top of the screen.  We know this because the height of the Tabernacle was at least 10 cubits (Exod. 26:15-16) while the height of the screen was around 5 cubits (Exod. 27:18), so the screen was only half as high as the tent.

A cubit is the length from the tip of your fingers to the tip of your elbow, thus in modern measurements a cubit is approximately half a meter or 18 inches.  So to be more exact, the Tabernacle stood at least 5 meters (15 feet) tall and the screen was about 2.5 meters (7.5 feet) high.  You would not be able to see anything if you were standing right next to the screen (unless you were extremely tall, like Goliath), but if you stood back away from the screen, the top of the Tabernacle could be seen towering over its surroundings.

On the one hand, the screen would have served as a reminder of the separation between a holy God and sinful man.  Yet on the other hand, the tent itself was a visible reminder of the nearness of God.  The book of Exodus teaches that God didn't deliver Israel from Egypt and then just walk away, but instead He delivered them so that He could dwell among them:

Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. (Exod. 29:45-46.)

This image and over 700 others are available in Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here for $34 (with free shipping).  Additional information and images of the Tabernacle model can be seen here and here on the BiblePlaces website.  For my thoughts about what happened to the Tabernacle after it was retired, see my posts on the Wild Olive Shoot blog here and here.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

Matti Friedman posts new photos and information about the royal (proto-Aeolic) capital discovered in a water tunnel not far from Bethlehem.

The first official Israeli exhibit in the Louvre is the Lod Mosaic. It opens tomorrow and runs through August 19.

Wayne Stiles explains why Nazareth Village is not just another tourist trap.

The Jewish Voice suggests 13 Must-See Museums in Israel.

Jerusalem Experience has a new video of the Pools of Bethesda.

All of the articles of the latest issue of Atiqot are now online.

Ferrell Jenkins recommends the new Satellite Bible Atlas for tours anywhere in Israel.

Rockefeller Museum entrance, tb042403209

The Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem
Photo from the Pictorial Library, volume 3

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How the British Museum Protects Its Collection

The BBC has an interesting piece on how they protect their seven million objects from six million visitors annually. Threats include curious hands, inadvertent bumps, and chewing gum.

David Saunders, head of conservation and scientific research at the museum, said there had been very little malicious damage.

"The most worrying thing is people bumping into them," he said.

"On a busy Saturday the museum can be very crammed and we obviously keep things in cases but not everything can be cased.

"Massive statues and architectural monuments can't be so these have to be on open display."

To protect them, the placement of every object is carefully considered.

Those that are vulnerable to breaking, such as porcelain statues, are placed in cases while bigger objects are placed behind a screen.

The FOI figures also show several objects - including a first century Roman marble statue and a Middle-eastern alabaster statue had to have chewing gum removed from them.

"It's a strange thing to do, to stick a piece of chewing gum on an object," said Mr Saunders.

"It's very easy to remove and although we think of chewing gum as being something that is extremely sticky, it doesn't pull away the surface when you remove it... [but] it's a nuisance.

"Anything that has a surface where we absolutely would not want a piece of chewing gum attached to it we wouldn't have on display."

The full article is here. In my opinion, the British Museum is the best in the world for students of the Bible. An excellent guide is that by Peter Masters.

HT: Jack Sasson

Black and White Obelisks, tb112004859

Some ancient Assyrian monuments, including the White Obelisk and Black Obelisk, are protected by a low glass wall that does not block the visitor’s view.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Shmuel Browns has posted a series of high-res photos of the new mosaics at Bet Qama.

Donald Trump wants to build Israel’s second 18-hole golf course. It will be located along the coast between Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Israel’s Water Authority will begin allowing 1,000 cubic meters of water per hour to flow out of the Sea of Galilee into the Jordan River.

Wayne Stiles shows why Beth Shemesh is an appropriate place to reflect on the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost).

Coastal plain south of Ashdod aerial from south, tb121704850

Coastal plain south of Ashdod once claimed by the Philistines and now the proposed location of Donald Trump’s golf course.
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Picture of the Week: Graf Zeppelin Over Jerusalem

Our picture of the week is one of the most surprising images in any of the collections available on and  It was taken on April 11, 1931 and displays a German dirigible floating over Jerusalem.

Several familiar landmarks can be clearly seen in the photograph. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)  The dirigible is hovering over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock can be seen in the background just above the church's dome.  To the right is the tower of the German Lutheran Church, and framing the whole scene in the background is the Mount of Olives.

The photo comes from Volume 2 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection which focuses on Jerusalem.  There is another photo of this zeppelin in that collection which shows a clear profile of the airship as it passed by the Citadel of David near Jaffa Gate.

How and why did a zeppelin get here in 1931?  The PowerPoint® notes in the collection provide the following explanation (hyperlinks in the quote were added for the convenience of our readers):
The viewpoint is a rooftop, or perhaps the city wall, in the Christian Quarter, west of the Holy Sepulcher. The photo documents the visit of the German dirigible “Graf Zeppelin” to Jerusalem on April 11, 1931. The famous airship began its journey on April 9th in Friedrichshafen, Germany and it landed at Heliopolis near Cairo at dawn on the 11th. It then set off on a one-day, round-trip excursion to Jerusalem, reaching there at 10 a.m. The airship reportedly hovered for some time, with its engines stopped, about 100 meters above the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and that seems to be exactly what was captured in this photo. That date–April 11, 1931–being Holy Saturday in the Eastern calendar, the dirigible’s passengers were almost certainly viewing the colorful spectacle of the annual “Holy Fire” ceremony being played out in the streets below.  Without touching down in Palestine, the Graf Zeppelin (average speed approx. 60 miles (100 km) per hour) returned to Egypt and landed in Cairo at 4 p.m. the same day.  [Source: web-site of the German Embassy in Cairo,]

This particular zeppelin traveled the world over the course of a decade.  It crossed oceans, traversed hemispheres, made a "round the world" voyage, and even helped explore the Arctic.  With such a colorful career, I guess it couldn't resist squeezing in a quick trip to Jerusalem at some point.

This photograph and over 650 others are available in Volume 2 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, and is available here for $25 (with free shipping).  Further information and images of Jerusalem in the 1800s and early 1900s can be found on here, here, and elsewhere.  Further information on the Graf Zeppelin can be found here and here.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

A proposal to create a large platform for mixed prayers along the Temple Mount’s western wall south of today’s prayer plaza has evoked some cries of protest. Though the elevated platform would create space for visitors to tour the archaeological remains below, this is “absolutely not an option,” says Eilat Mazar. “It’s a sacred archaeological site.” Nir Hasson’s article in Haaretz is superior to the reporting in the Jerusalem Post.

If you’re interested in the history of the Western Wall, from the earliest Jewish prayers to the present day, Ofer Aderet’s article in Haaretz is quite interesting. The final quotation implicitly reveals why the Jewish people no longer refer to it as the Wailing Wall.

The LMLK Blogspot reports on a letter written from Jerusalem in 1868 by a member of Charles Warren’s excavation team.

The Times of Israel: Gleaning just like Ruth would have done, if she’d had Google Maps

Leen Ritmeyer links to an interview with archaeologist Yuval Gadot who describes the earliest results from his excavation in the City of David.

The Spring 2013 issue of the electronic newsletter DigSight is now online. The focus is on Southern Adventist University’s upcoming excavations of Lachish.

There is an explanation for the photo showing a Ferris wheel on the Temple Mount.

HT: BibleX, Mike Harney

Western Wall, mat00027

Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, early 1900s
Photo from the
American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Beautiful Mosaic from Byzantine Period Discovered near Beersheba

A beautiful mosaic from the Byzantine period was discovered at a site north of Beersheba in a salvage excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. From the press release:

A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the 4th–6th centuries CE was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council. The mosaic was discovered within the framework of an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the construction of an interchange between Ma’ahaz and Devira Junction, undertaken and funded by the Cross-Israel Highway Company.

Remains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation being conducted on the kibbutz’s farmland and directed by Dr. Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main building at the site was a large hall 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wide and its ceiling was apparently covered with roof tiles. The hall’s impressive opening and the breathtaking mosaic that adorns its floor suggest that the structure was a public building.

The well-preserved mosaic is decorated with geometric patterns and its corners are enhanced with amphorae (jars used to transport wine), a pair of peacocks, and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet.

Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools and its walls were treated with colored plaster (fresco).

Archaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources.

More information, including details about tours for the public, are available on the IAA website. High-resolution photos are available here.




Photos by Yael Yolovitch

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Weekend Roundup

A rare film from 1913 shows footage of Jerusalem and the train ride up from Jaffa. Footage of prayers at the Western Wall are shown at about the 4-minute mark. (The audio is in Hebrew.)

Leen Ritmeyer explains why he disagrees with the belief that the Shushan Gate had to be directly opposite the entrance to the Temple.

Wayne Stiles has an excellent post on the City of David and its significance in history. If you haven’t seen the new 3-D film shown at the City of David Visitor’s Center, you can watch it here.

An ultra-marathoner has completed the 600-mile Israel Trail in just 15 days.

Despite warnings that it will lead to a sharp drop in tourism, the Israeli government has approved adding an 18% tax (VAT) on services to non-Israelis.

Highlight Israel shares a 30-second time-lapse video of the sun setting over the Old City of Jerusalem.

Menachem Kaiser praises the Israel Museum’s exhibit of King Herod for not only representing his great buildings but for revealing the man himself.

The 2012 Bethsaida field report is now online. Figure 2 is a scarab dated to the 8th century and possibly connected with Israel’s royal house. Previous field reports are available here.

Geza Vermes died this week. Mark Goodacre reflects on his legacy.

One of the best Bible collections in the world opened Thursday evening in Dallas. The Museum of Biblical Art houses the new Charles C. Ryrie Library with more than 100 rare Bibles, including the Wycliffe New Testament (1430), Tyndale’s Pentateuch (1530), Bomberg’s Biblia Hebraica (1521), the Complutensian Polyglot (1520), and the “Wicked Bible” (1631).

HT: Judi King, Mark Hoffman


Biblia Hebraica, published by Daniel Bomberg in 1521, now on display in the Charles C. Ryrie Library.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Recent Excavations Near the Temple Mount

It’s difficult to tell what, if anything, is new in this article about excavations near the Temple Mount, but if you need a refresher on the goings-on there for the past several years, you may find this helpful. From the Algemeiner:

Old City expert Rabbi Barnea Selevan, a veteran licensed tour guide and co-director of Foundation Stone, is excited about a series of archeological digs taking place in the vicinity of the Western Wall. For the past several years, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has sponsored excavations at the back of the plaza, and workers have uncovered part of a Roman colonnaded street dating back to the 2nd century C.E.

But what was ignored until recently, according to Selevan, are several small stone buildings, overgrown and blocked by material from the dig.

“When I look down from the street in front of the Chabad building several levels above the site, those old walls are the most exciting thing I see,” Selevan tells “There’s no question they’re from First Temple times.” Seals from the Temple were found nearby. The walls, according to some archeologists, are from homes that were abandoned but not destroyed by the Roman onslaught on Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Selevan notes that the streets exposed at the back of the plaza lead to the Temple Mount in the Robinson’s Arch area and provide evidence that the Romans stayed in Jerusalem and used the Temple Mount during the early Roman period.

The article continues to describe excavations at the Givati Parking Lot as well as conservation work on the walls of the Old City.

Valley Cardo excavations near Western Wall, tb010312457

Excavations of the Byzantine Cardo near the Western Wall.
Photo from the Jerusalem volume.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Picture of the Week: The Ascent of Adummim

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Jesus began one his parables by saying, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead." (Luke 10:30, ESV.)  Thus began the well-known "Parable of the Good Samaritan."  Although that particular route would have been well-known to Jesus' hearers, most readers of the Bible today are not familiar with it.

Enter the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands ... One of the most admirable features of the PLBL is that it takes you to out-of-the-way places that you have never visited but always wished that you had.  Our picture of the week is from Volume 4 of the PLBL and shows us the remains of the Roman road that led from Jerusalem to Jericho in Jesus' day.  Elsewhere in the Bible, this route is referred to as the Ascent of Adummim (Josh. 15:7; 18:17).

In the picture, the viewer is looking east toward the rugged hills of the Judean Wilderness that lie between Jerusalem and Jericho.  In the foreground the remains of the road can be seen stretching out before the feet of the photographer.  The small cliff to the right seems to be man-made and was probably cut to give more space for the road. Only the foundation of the road remains today.

The PowerPoint notes from the PLBL provide the following insights into this significant road (the links have been added to the notes for the benefit of our readers):

The “Ascent of Adummim” was the main route from Jericho to Jerusalem in antiquity. It followed a ridge located south of the Wadi Qilt and north of Nahal Og, and near Jerusalem was forced to cross the Nahal Og at a more passable location. Among the biblical events which likely occurred on this route were David’s flight from Absalom (2 Sam 15-16), Zedekiah’s flight from the Babylonians (2 Kgs 25:4), the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and Jesus’ travels from Jericho to Jerusalem (e.g., Luke 19:28).

How long does it take to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem? On one recent occasion, it took a group of hikers 8 hours to cover the distance of 15 miles (24 km), with an elevation gain of about 3,400 feet (1,060 m). Not counting breaks, we walked for six and a half hours. Had it been hotter or had we run into any difficulties, the journey would have taken longer.

Jesus traveled this route many times. He likely came this way most of the times that he journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, though we know of at least two occasions when he attempted to travel through Samaria (John 4; Luke 9:52-53). Scripture records at least two trips by way of Jericho, but he probably went this way dozens of times in his life. It’s a reasonable conclusion that Jesus’ parents had to climb back up this route to Jerusalem after realizing that their twelve-year-old son was not in their caravan (Luke 2:41-50). Parts of the Roman road are still visible in places, and the way today is safe and pleasant.

This picture and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 4 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  More photos and information about this region are available on the BiblePlaces website here.  For further discussion and images that illustrate the story of the Good Samaritan, see this page on


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Jerusalem Quarry Discovered

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a quarry from the Herodian period north of the Old City of Jerusalem. The quarry was revealed in the course of construction of Highway 21. The IAA press release describes the results of the excavation.

An enormous quarry from the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed in recent weeks in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the paving of Highway 21 by the Moriah Company. A 2,000 year old key, pick axes, severance wedges etc are also among the artifacts uncovered during the course of the excavation.

According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings. What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment. Some of the stones that were quarried are more than 2 meters long. The giant stones were probably hewn for the sake of the construction of the city’s magnificent public buildings”.

Zilberbod explains, “The pick axes were used to cut the severance channels around the stone block in the bedrock surface and the arrowhead-shaped detachment wedge, which is solid iron, was designed to detach the base of the stone from the bedrock by means of striking it with a hammer. The key that was found, and which was probably used to open a door some 2,000 years ago, is curved and has teeth. What was it doing there? We can only surmise that it might have fallen from the pocket of one of the quarrymen”.

The enormous quarries that were exposed – totaling a 1,000 square meters in area – join other quarries that were previously documented and studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Research has shown that the northern neighborhoods of modern Jerusalem are situated on Jerusalem’s “city of quarries” from the Second Temple period.

The rest of the press release considers the questions of why this area was attractive to ancient quarriers and how they moved the stones to the building sites.

In September 2007 another Herodian quarry (location, photos) was discovered in the same neighborhood. In July 2009 a quarry was found on Shmuel Hanavi Street. Today’s story is also carried by the Times of Israel.


Aerial view of the quarries. Photo by Skyview Company.


Artifacts discovered in quarry. Photo by Clara Amit.


Key from the time of Jesus discovered in quarry. Photo by Clara Amit.

All photos courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Crusader Tzuba and Biblical Zobah

The Crusader fortress of Tzuba overlooks the route coming up to Jerusalem from the coast. Jacob Solomon gives an introduction to the site in Haaretz (free access with registration).

Fortress Tzuba is a nice little bonus that transforms the otherwise ordinary Tel Aviv-Jerusalem drive into an excursion. Find it by accident, and you’ll gasp – “Am I suddenly on the wrong side of Europe?” You won’t be completely wrong, either. Fortress Tzuba looks like a medieval Scottish Border castle that somehow missed the attention of restorers.


This fortress – which they named Belmont – controlled the key route between Jaffa and Jerusalem. As you explore, you can identify features common to citadels built during this period in Israel – and all across Europe, for that matter – such as the double walls that protect the inner keep, and the outer vaulted chambers with their herringbone ceilings. This structure is likely to have been erected toward the end of the reign of Baldwin III (1131-1174), the king of the Crusader Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which in its heyday extended from Eilat to Beirut.

The word "explore" is the operative word here. Unlike the Crusader citadels of Monfort and Belvoir farther north, Belmont has not been restored. Entrance is free, but you'll have to be your own guide, especially in working out which parts of the recently excavated site are from the age of the Crusaders, and which belong to the later Muslim Period. (This is part of what makes the site such a curiosity – to be sure, there are no detailed, multi-lingual signs to lead you.) As a general rule, the structures made of larger, rougher-cut stones that fit together like a 3-D puzzle are from the Crusaders. Those made of smaller, pebble-like stones held together by mortar come from the later Turkish Period, when the fortress accommodated generations of village leaders.

The article does not mention that Tzuba may preserve the name of the biblical site of Zobah, mentioned in the city lists of Judah in the Septuagint text of Joshua 15:59.

Zobah castle and village ruins, tb020305207

Ancient ruins of Tzuba, possibly biblical Zobah
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Tom Powers has created a map identifying visible remnants of the ancient aqueducts in Bethlehem.

“Thessaloniki’s Pompeii” will be preserved.

Israel Knohl speculates that a second Gabriel Stone may exist. The display of the first Gabriel Stone at the Israel Museum has produced a number of articles.

The Lowell Thomas Travelogues are now featured in an exhibit at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

A new exhibit open until July: Mapping the Holy Land: Cartographic Treasures from the Trevor and Susan Chinn Collection in the Israel Museum.

A video of Aren Maeir’s recent lecture on Gath at William Jessup University is now available along with his PowerPoint presentation.

“Issa is the Name, Basketball is the Game” – If you’ve seen the signs in the Old City and wondered what the story was, this article explains it all.

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Issa is the Name, Basketball is the Game, sign in Old City, tb010310723

“Issa is the Name” sign in the Old City
Photo from “Signs of the Holy Land

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Friday, May 03, 2013

New Excavations at Ashdod-Yam

A new excavation is beginning this summer at Ashdod-Yam that you may want to consider joining. If its location on a beautiful Mediterranean beach appeals to you, you can skip the rest of this post and sign up here.

While the site was settled for several millennia and includes an impressive Early Islamic and Crusader fortress (see photo below), the excavation will focus on the Iron Age enclosure with particular interest in the late 8th and early 7th centuries (the time when Hezekiah and Manasseh were ruling in Judah). The project’s website lists five goals for the planned five seasons of excavation:

  • To understand the history of the site during the period of Assyrian domination and hopefully to discover an Assyrian emporium.
  • To learn about the sea trade that occurred at the site.
  • To study pottery from the first half of the 7th century.
  • To discover evidence of Greek mercenaries stationed at the site on behalf of Egypt.
  • To shed light on the Philistines after their conquest by Babylon in the 6th century.

The excavation website provides more information about the history of the site, excavations during the 1960s, and a diagram of the ruins. You can also see a list of the extensive staff and support the project through a donation. The home page includes some impressive images of the site. The excavation is co-directed by Prof. Angelika Berlejung of the University of Leipzig and Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University. Registration is now open!

Ashdod-Yam aerial from west, tb121704854

Crusader fortress of Ashdod-Yam
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Picture of the Week: Late Bronze Palace at Hazor

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

When you understand the age of archaeological remains in the Middle East, it is almost comical to visit “old” historic places in the United States.  For example, half an hour down the road from where I live is My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.  I visited the site last year with my family.  As you walk through the old house, which is filled with pictures and artifacts from the 19th century, it is amazing to think of how that building has been standing for 200 years.  And yet that statistic pales in comparison to another building I was able to walk through on my last trip to Israel.  The Late Bronze Palace at Hazor is about 3,400 years old!

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and features one of the most impressive archaeological finds in Galilee.  A large, modern, freestanding roof covers the remains of the Late Bronze monumental building which was most likely constructed by the Canaanites in the early 14th century B.C.  The 1,300-square-meter roof was necessary to preserve the mud-brick walls that were found here preserved to a height of about 2 meters.  This building has been interpreted as a ceremonial palace by one excavator and as a temple by another.

Over the course of the current excavation project (which started in 1990) the whole building was excavated along with a large, paved courtyard in front of the building.  The courtyard contains a large altar that was built with ashlars in its first phase, and at a later phase was crudely expanded to the east.  (The altar can be seen in the foreground of the picture.)  The building is approached by a broad staircase with four steps; at the top, two massive pillars stood on either side.  Only the basalt bases of the pillars have survived, leading the excavators to suggest that the pillars were made of wood, like so many other features of the palace/temple.  Large, wooden pillars have been reconstructed and stand on the bases today.  The two pillars stood on the edge of a wide porch which was retained by a long row of basalt orthostats.  After passing the pillars, a visitor then crossed the porch to enter the building through the main doorway.  Similar to the porch, the walls of the building had a long row of basalt orthostats at their base, and the upper portions of the wall were made of mud-bricks inlaid with wooden beams to give greater stability (only the negative image of the wooden beams remains, but new beams have recently been placed in the walls as part of the restoration efforts).  The walls are almost 15 feet thick.

Once inside, the visitor was standing in a large room, 40 by 40 feet, that was lined with walls that had even more orthostats along their bases.  Amazingly, the floor of this room seems to have been made up of wooden beams: the artifacts inside this room were found below the level of the orthostats in a level of ash.  The ash was tested and found to be cedar of Lebanon.  This is the first wooden floor that has been discovered in any excavation in Israel and it illustrates the luxurious nature of this building and, by extension, the wealth in the city of Hazor in the Late Bronze period. This large room is interpreted as the throne room by one of the excavators and it is surrounded on three sides by smaller rooms.  The pattern of the building is similar to a palace that has been discovered at Alalakh, north of Ugarit.

In the 13th century B.C., the building was destroyed in an intense fire, over 2350° Fahrenheit, that partially melted the mud-brick walls and even cracked the basalt orthostats.  The intensity of the fire was due to the large amount of wood in the structure, the large quantities of olive oil that were being stored there, and probably the high winds that typically come at mid-day.  This was explained to me during a tour of the site by Amnon Ben-Tor who directed the excavations for many years.  Ben-Tor attributes the destruction to Joshua and the Israelites, but following an early date for the Exodus and the Conquest, I would propose that this destruction should be attributed to the Israelites during the time of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4).

So if you would like to take a tour through an “old” building, come visit the historic, 19th-century home here in Kentucky.  But if you want to redefine what you mean by “old” then I recommend you visit the Late Bronze palace at Hazor.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Further images and information about Hazor, including external links to other sites, are available on the BiblePlaces website here.  Information about the ongoing excavation project at Hazor is available here.  Information about visiting the site is available here.


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

Mount Arbel does indeed provide a panorama of Jesus’ ministry. Wayne Stiles shares photos and a video. I certainly agree with his conclusion: “No visit to Mount Arbel is ever long enough. It remains one of the most beautiful, inspiring, and instructive sites in Israel.”

Exploring Bible Lands marvels at the many biblical events that occurred within the frame of one photo of Jezreel and the Harod Valley. (By the way, you can get that photo and a thousand others for pennies each here.)

Ferrell Jenkins visits the Beit Sturman Museum at Ein Harod and describes its large collection of Roman milestones.

The highest and lowest places of dry ground on the planet are being united by an exchange of stones from Mount Everest and the Dead Sea.

The Gabriel Stone goes on display today at the Israel Museum.

The pyramid complex of Dashur is being threated by looting and construction.

The website of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is reviewed in the CSA Newsletter.

Archaeology programs from the BBC are now online for free viewing.

The recent back-and-forth between Turkish and German authorities over the return of antiquities is reviewed in DW.

HT: Jack Sasson

Dashur Red Pyramid with Bent Pyramid, tb110400454

The Red and Bent Pyramids of Dashur
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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