Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lebanon Archaeology

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle)

Unlike its neighbor to the south, Lebanon has only a handful of excavations currently in progress and there is no systematic archaeological survey of the entire country presently available. Sadly, archaeological work is only being carried out at a total of five (or so) sites: Sidon, Tell Arqa, Tell el-Burak (link 2, link 3), Baalbek, and Kamid el-Loz.

Tell Arqa in northern Lebanon.

Naturally, one would think that the paucity of archaeological work (and tourism, for that matter) is due to present security conditions. But that is only part of the story. Hélène Sader, a historian and archaeologist at the American University in Beirut, has written a piece for the ASOR blog entitled, "Archaeology in Lebanon Today: Its Politics and Its Problems," in which she paints a fairly bleak portrait of the current situation.

The outdated antiquities law which established the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) “as the sole authority” limits the DGA’s staff “to five archaeologists, five trainee archaeologists, and five architects in charge of regular and salvage excavations, restoration and conservation of historical and archaeological monuments, and the curatorship of the national and regional museums collections!” Following the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the Lebanese government set out to rebuild Beirut’s Central District. The DGA was then faced with the task of not only rebuilding the National Museum, but also “supervising the largest urban excavation site in the world with practically no qualified personnel, no funds, and no political support.” Since 2000, “the DGA has become extremely restrictive regarding long term excavation projects” and is “reluctant to issue permits to foreign institutions.” Numerous salvage excavations go unpublished and the excavated remains are “regularly bulldozed or disfigured by irresponsible urban planning without any objections.”

Sader concludes:
The DGA has been without leadership for the last four years. The last Director General resigned three years ago and the appointment of a new one is still blocked by political rivalries. The failure to build a new generation of professional and well-trained archaeologists is so dramatic that it is very hard today to find even a small pool of competent candidates for the position of Director General from within or outside the department of antiquities. Several DGA archaeologists and architects have lately resigned out of frustration and it seems that the institution is back to square one: no director general, insufficient numbers of qualified professionals, no reforms of the laws regulating archaeological work, no funds, and first and foremost, no vision and no direction for the future of archaeology in Lebanon.

We keep our fingers crossed that the future leadership of the DGA will have the political and financial support of the Lebanese government to build a modern institution and to promote archaeological research. Maybe then, like a phoenix, Lebanese Archaeology will rise from its ashes.


Answer: Most-Eroded Site in Israel

The site identified as the most eroded site in Israel is Tell Jemmeh, located on the bank of the Nahal Besor about 7 miles (12 km) due south of the city of Gaza. The site was identified as biblical Gerar by W. J. Phythian-Adams and Sir Flinders Petrie. Benjamin Mazar’s suggestion that Tell Jemmeh is Yurza is now commonly accepted. Yurza is mentioned in Egyptian and Assyrian texts but not in the Bible. The source of the quotation is the “Jemmeh, Tell” article by the late Gus W. Van Beek in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 3, page 677.

We had a number of good responses in the comments yesterday, all of which show that there are many severely eroded tells in Israel. The correct answer was given by Dr. Carl Rasmussen, but if you’re feeling bad that you lost out, you can take comfort in the fact that you lost to someone who has written one of the best Bible atlases!

Tell Jemmeh side washed out by Nahal Besor, tb050701352

Tell Jemmeh, showing erosion caused by the Nahal Besor.
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands,
volume 5

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Name the Place: Most-Eroded Site in Israel

Can you identify this site?

“[The site] originally occupied a mesa encompassing an area of 4.92 hectares (12.15 acres). It is the most-eroded major site in Israel, the N end having been destroyed by flash floods in Nahal [X], and the S end by severe erosion. The area on the top of the mound is now reduced to 0.26 hectares (0.64 acres) from an estimated original area of 3.04 hectares (7.51 acres). The site is the highest point in the landscape, reaching a height of 22 m (71 feet) above present ground level. Its upper 15.50 m (50 feet) is occupation debris of successive towns.”

If you know the answer, you’re welcome to post it in the comments below. If you discover the answer by research, please do not post it in the comments below. I’ll post the answer, source of the quotation, and a photo tomorrow.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weekend Roundup

The best way to get up to speed on the major discoveries at Hazor from the Bronze Age is with Amnon Ben-Tor’s article on the ASOR Blog.

A brief report of the finds and surprises from the season at Gezer has been written by the excavators.

This year’s excavations of Gath are over, but Aren Maeir is making us wait for a summary of “one of the most productive, interesting and overall great seasons we have had since the project began (in 1996…).” Check out the rest of his blog for season-end photos.

Though most tourists skip Ashkelon, this Haaretz article reveals how the site is “a treasure full to bursting.”

I failed to note previously a couple of articles following up on the discovery of the “palace of David” at Khirbet Qeiyafa. A Baptist Press article provides some balanced coverage. And excavation volunteer Luke Chandler gives his personal perspective.

The theater in Assos is being renovated to accommodate events for up to 5,000 people.

Mark Wilson provides some background for 1 Corinthians 3:17 from the destruction of the Ephesian temple of Artemis.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology is now reduced to $235. It’s currently out of stock, and I don’t know how long the discount will last. (This is an unusually large discount when compared with other Oxford sets such as OAENE, OEAGR, and OEBB.)

HT: Jack Sasson

Assos theater and acropolis from below, tb041605082

The theater and acropolis of Assos
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Western Turkey

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Picture of the Week: Ancient Harbor of Susita/Hippos on the Sea of Galilee

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

In the 1970's and 1980's, the remains of several ancient harbors were identified around the Sea of Galilee. At least 13 harbors have been identified, all of which most likely date to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. A map of the various harbors can be seen here. The work of archaeologists in this area (most notably, the labors of Mendel Nun) have provided us with significant insights into what life was like for fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee during these periods.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and shows the remains of the main breakwater of the harbor of Susita (a.k.a., Hippos) on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The photo was taken at a time when the water level in the lake was extremely low, so the breakwater stands several meters from the shore. However, in ancient times this breakwater would have provided boats with shelter from dangerous storms that can occur on the lake (for example, see Matt. 8:23-27).

This harbor was a typical one on the Sea of Galilee during this period. The breakwater was man-made and extended from the shore, enclosing an area of about an acre with a gap on the south end for boats to pass in and out.  In the map referenced above, the Hippos harbor can be seen at the bottom right.  Mendel Nun, in his book Ancient Anchorages and Harbours Around the Sea of Galilee (Kibbutz Ein Gev, Israel: Kinnereth Sailing Co., 1988), describes this harbor in the following way:

The harbour of Susita was built to fit the conditions of the sandy shore. The central breakwater is 120 meters long; its base is five to seven meters wide. The stone breakwater projecting from the shore turns to the south and runs nearly parallel to the shore at a depth of -211.25 meters [693 feet below sea level] for another 85 meters.
At the far end it curves sharply to the west and extends into the lake to a depth of -212.5 meters [697 feet below sea level]. This shape makes for a long inner area open to the south; a second breakwater was therefore constructed which extends from the shore for 40 meters. The inner part of the harbour thus formed a closed basin enclosing an area of about an acre. A small jetty leading north from the breakwater was for passengers embarking and disembarking, saving them the tedious procedure of passing through the narrow harbour entrance.  Indications that this entrance was deepended [sic.] may still be seen.
The total lenght [sic.] of all the breakwaters in this harbour comes to 180 meters.  The sides were built of rows of stones, the interstices filled with smaller rocks, re-used building stones, fragments of lime columns. During the past few years of low water, the silt filling the harbour has been overgrown by shrubbery.  (Nun, Ancient Anchorages and Harbours, pp. 13-14.)

Harbors such as this bear witness to the thriving economy around the lake during the time of Christ. Although people have probably always fished in the lake, the Roman Period was a time when fishermen were especially active and an unusually high number of settlements were constructed around the Sea of Galilee. According to Mendel Nun, "all settlements on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, even the smallest, had an anchorage, each built to suit local conditions and requirements." (Ibid., p. 27.) So harbors such as this would have been part of the everyday life of people living next to the lake. Insights such as this add color to our reading of the stories in the Gospels.

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).  Additional images of the Sea of Galilee can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on LifeintheHolyLand.com here.  Images and information about fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in the 19th century can be found here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.  Additional information about the ancient harbors around the Sea of Galilee can be found here.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

The discovery of an ancient olive press in Jerusalem was announced yesterday.

The “Naked Archaeologist” is suing one of its many critics in Israeli court.

Megiddo V: The 2004-2008 Seasons is now available from Eisenbrauns.

The warm springs of Sachne/Gan HaShlosha are one of the best places to swim in Israel, particularly on a school day when the crowds are absent.

The BibleMap App connects every chapter of the Bible with Google Maps.

Chris McKinny has been leading students from The Master’s College IBEX program at the Tel Burna Excavation Project for several years. His work is the subject of a new article on the college’s website.

Luke Chandler shares a 7-minute video of a recent field trip to the important site of Gezer.

Tourists will surely be affected by the massive renovation of Highway 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Sachne warm springs, tb103002104

The warm springs of Sachne/Gan HaShlosha
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Analysis: Archaeologists Find Prophet Elisha’s House

Whenever you see a sensational claim such as the discovery of a specific item mentioned in the Bible, you should be suspicious. In most cases, the archaeologist seems to be driven more by a desire for attention than by the evidence (e.g., the Cave of John the Baptist, the palace of David, or anything announced by Yosef Garfinkel in the last six years).

This one is immediately different than others in that the archaeologist is Amihai Mazar, a scholar of impeccable reputation. On the other hand, it was first reported by CBN, a ministry under the leadership of Pat Robertson. (As of this writing, it is not reported in any other news outlets. A carefully prepared CBN video of the story is here.)

Mazar has suggested that a room found in his excavations at Tel Rehov was inhabited by Elisha on the basis of (1) two incense altars found nearby, (2) a table and a bench discovered in the room, and (3) a fragmentary inscription reconstructed to read Elisha. In addition, the location of Tel Rehov is situated along a route that Elisha traveled between his home in Abel Mehola and the woman’s house in Shunem (2 Kings 4:8ff). According to the article, Stephen Pfann “calls the evidence compelling.”

The article does not attempt to evaluate this sensational claim. While there are or will be critiques by scholars who dismiss the veracity of the biblical account, this analysis comes from one who believes in the accuracy of the Old and New Testaments.

Before accepting the suggestion that the home of Elisha has been discovered at Tel Rehov, you should consider the following:

1. The inscription that mentions Elisha is incomplete and the reading is reconstructed. This article does not make it clear how many letters are missing, but some have been supplied by scholars. This conjecture may or may not be correct.

2. There is no reason to believe that there was only one person named Elisha in ninth century Israel. Though only one is named in the Bible, others may well have existed.

3. Even if this inscription reads Elisha, there is no reason to believe that Elisha inhabited the building where it was found. Many other scenarios can be imagined apart from his residence here. 

4. There was presumably more than one room in ninth-century Israel that had a table and a bench. Though 2 Kings 4:10 says that Elisha’s room in Shunem had a table, bed, chair and lamp, this does not indicate that every room in Israel with a table and a bench belonged to Elisha.

5. The presence of incense altars is not particularly unique as they have been found in many locations. I would argue that the presence of such altars is evidence against Elisha’s presence, for surely he would have advised for their destruction because they violated God’s law (cf. 1 Kgs 3:3; 2 Kgs 12:3).

6. While the location of Tel Rehov seven miles (12 km) from Elisha’s hometown of Abel Meholah is interesting, it seems an unlikely place for Elisha to have a lodging place only a two-hour walk from home. 2 Kings 4 says that the Shunamite woman prepared a room for Elisha and this makes sense given its position midway between his destinations of Abel Meholah and Mount Carmel. It is not clear why Elisha would need another one, and there is no evidence in the Bible that he stayed at Tel Rehov.

It is not impossible that this discovery is everything that the article suggests, but adding improbability to improbability does not make the case stronger. The quotation near the end that this is “one more proof [of biblical accuracy] for what we call the doubting world” is an all-too-common example of failing to analyze the data when the proposal fits your beliefs. It happens on both sides, but it bothers me more when it happens on mine.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Tel Rehov aerial from east, tb121704086

Tel Rehov, aerial view from east
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 2


Area of Elisha’s ministry; Tel Rehov is near Beth-shan.
Map from the Satellite Bible Atlas

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Hebrew U Tours of Tel Dor, Ein Qashish, and Nahal Ein Gev

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem issued the following press release this morning:

August Archaeology Outings: Hebrew University Invites the Public to Visit Fascinating Sites Throughout the Country

Jerusalem, July 22, 2013 — Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology are inviting the public to participate in free guided tours of three diverse archaeological sites.

On August 2, 8 and 20, the archaeologists will lead tours that shed light on the rich history of some of Israel's most fascinating ancient sites. At each of these locations they will offer a guided tour: Tel Dor (August 2), Ein Qashish (August 8), and Nahal Ein Gev (August 20).

Admission is free and there is no need to register in advance. Participants must bring hiking shoes, an adequate supply of water and a hat. Sunblock is recommended.

For more information, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

The tours:

Tel Dor

Host researcher: Prof. Ilan Sharon

Site visit date: Friday, August 2 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Hamizgaga Museum at Nachsholim

The site: Tel Dor is located on Israel's Mediterranean coast, about 30 km south of Haifa. The documented history of the site begins in the Late Bronze Age and ends in the Crusader period. The port dominated the fortunes of the town throughout its 3000-odd year history. Dor was successively ruled by Canaanites, "sea peoples," Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Its primary role in all these diverse cultures was that of a commercial entrepot and a gateway between East and West.

Map (how to get there) at http://dor.huji.ac.il/

Ein Qashish

Host researcher: Prof. Erella Hovers

Site visit date: Thursday, August 8 at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Ein Qashish is an open-air Middle Paleolithic site located on the bank of the Qishon River, close to many of the major Middle Paleolithic cave sites in northern Israel, in an area where practically no open-air sites have been known before. The site was discovered in 2004 by survey teams of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Work at the site was carried out in 2005 and then again in 2009-2010 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Map (how to get there): http://archaeology.huji.ac.il/qashish

Nahal Ein Gev

Host researchers: Prof. Anna Belfer Cohen, Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef and Dr. Leore Grosman

Site visit date: Tuesday, August 20 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Entrance to Kibbutz Ein Gev

Nahal Ein Gev is located about 2 km east of the shores of the Kinneret. The site belongs to the Natufian period, about 11,500 years before our time, and exposes a village of the last hunter-gatherers who lived on the eve of the Agricultural Revolution, leaving complex and fascinating remains.

According to the incoming Head of the Institute of Archaeology, Prof. Erella Hovers, "A lot of the Institute of Archaeology's activity is conducted on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, but each summer the Institute's scholars go to work on a large number of archaeological sites from different periods and in different regions in the country, thus taking research out of the lab and into the field. This is an opportunity for us to invite the public to experience the extensive research activities of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology as they unfold before us."

Prof. Hovers added: "The archaeological sites are cultural treasures of the State of Israel and we are happy to reveal them directly to its people by hosting visitors our dig sites. We will gladly present how archaeological field work is done, what research questions led us to these excavation sites, and what 21st century archaeological science is all about."

For information about the tours, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

Dor temples area, tb090506882

Tel Dor
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Prosecutors Withdraw Appeal on Jehoash Tablet

Yesterday the State Attorney’s office in Israel announced that it was withdrawing its appeal on the allegedly forged items in the collection of Oded Golan. Hershel Shanks has written a brief update on the situation.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is scheduled to return the famous ossuary, or bone box, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” to Oded Golan, the Israeli collector who owns it, after a five-year trial charging that he forged the Jesus reference in the inscription.

In March 2012, the trial judge Aharon Farkash acquitted Oded Golan of the forgery charge. Stung by the verdict, state prosecutor Dan Bahat (not the eminent Israeli archaeologist of the same name) mounted an appeal of some aspects of the verdict, but not the James Ossuary. The government apparently accepted as final the judge’s decision regarding the ossuary. On July 18, Bahat’s superiors in the office of the State’s Attorney announced to the Israel Supreme Court that it was withdrawing the appeal on other aspects of the verdict.

The update continues here. I have noted in the past that most experts believe that the James Ossuary inscription is authentic and many believe that the Jehoash Tablet is as well.


Picture of the Week: Almond Blossoms

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

I still remember the first time I studied the descriptions of the Tabernacle in detail. I was a college student at the time and was taking an Old Testament Survey course. I combed through the descriptions of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-30 and did the best I could (with the limited knowledge that I had) to picture what the various items looked like and how they fit together.

A case in point is the description of the lampstand in the tabernacle, or as it is commonly called: the menorah. The Bible describes the lampstand in the follow way:

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (Exod. 25:31-40, ESV)

Now some of the Hebrew terms in this passage are difficult to accurately interpret (for example, the word translated "calyx" in the ESV is translated as "bulb" in the NASB), but it is clear that the menorah in the Tabernacle incorporated elements of almond blossoms. So to get an idea of what the menorah looked like, you need to know something about the shape of almond blossoms. Unfortunately, as a college student from the suburbs of Southern California, I had no clue what an almond blossom looked like.

So to remedy that situation (for myself and for the sake of others like me) our picture of the week comes from Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This is an entirely new volume that was added when the collection was revised and expanded last year and it focuses on "Trees, Plants, and Flowers of the Holy Land."  (For another sample from this collection, see my post here.)  The photograph below shows a branch of almond blossoms on a tree near Aijalon in Israel.  You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Almond blossoms are white or pink in color and appear on the tree in early spring, before any of the leaves are produced. The petals of the blossom form a cup and, as you can see, several flowers grow next to each other on a single branch.  In the upper left section of the photograph you can see some new buds forming with the calyx covering. (A "calyx" is the leafy covering around a bud or flower.)

Given an image like this, it is not difficult to imagine what the branches of the Tabernacle's lampstand may have looked like. Each of the six outer branches of the menorah incorporated three almond blossoms and the center branch somehow incorporated four blossoms. Although we may not be able to reconstruct the exact details of the lampstand with certainty, a picture like this goes a long way in enlightening our reading of the text.

This photograph and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $34 (with free shipping).  Additional photographs from that collection can be seen here, here, and here on the BiblePlaces website. For one reconstruction of the Tabernacle's lampstand, see images of the Tabernacle replica here and here.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Claim: Palace of David Discovered in the Foothills of Judah

Professor Yosef Garfinkel has announced the discovery of two royal public buildings in his excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa. According to the press release, one is the palace of David and the other was the king’s storehouse.

Two royal public buildings, the likes of which have not previously been found in the Kingdom of Judah of the tenth century BCE, were uncovered this past year by researchers of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority at Khirbet Qeiyafa – a fortified city in Judah dating to the time of King David and identified with the biblical city of Shaarayim.

One of the buildings is identified by the researchers, Professor Yossi Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as David’s palace, and the other structure served as an enormous royal storeroom.

Today (Thursday) the excavation, which was conducted over the past seven years, is drawing to a close. According to Professor Yossi Garfinkel and Sa'ar Ganor, “Khirbet Qeiyafa is the best example exposed to date of a fortified city from the time of King David. The southern part of a large palace that extended across an area of c. 1,000 sq m was revealed at the top of the city. The wall enclosing the palace is c. 30 m long and an impressive entrance is fixed it through which one descended to the southern gate of the city, opposite the Valley of Elah. Around the palace’s perimeter were rooms in which various installations were found – evidence of a metal industry, special pottery vessels and fragments of alabaster vessels that were imported from Egypt. The palace is located in the center of the site and controls all of the houses lower than it in the city. From here one has an excellent vantage looking out into the distance, from as far as the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Hebron Mountains and Jerusalem in the east. This is an ideal location from which to send messages by means of fire signals. Unfortunately, much of this palace was destroyed c. 1,400 years later when a fortified farmhouse was built there in the Byzantine period”.

A pillared building c. 15 m long by 6 m wide was exposed in the north of the city, which was used as an administrative storeroom. According to the researchers, “It was in this building the kingdom stored taxes it received in the form of agricultural produce collected from the residents of the different villages in the Judean Shephelah. Hundreds of large store jars were found at the site whose handles were stamped with an official seal as was customary in the Kingdom of Judah for centuries”.

The palace and storerooms are evidence of state sponsored construction and an administrative organization during King David’s reign. “This is unequivocal evidence of a kingdom’s existence, which knew to establish administrative centers at strategic points”, the archaeologists say. “To date no palaces have been found that can clearly be ascribed to the early tenth century BCE as we can do now. Khirbet Qeiyafa was probably destroyed in one of the battles that were fought against the Philistines circa 980 BCE. The palace that is now being revealed and the fortified city that was uncovered in recent years are another tier in understanding the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah”.

The exposure of the biblical city at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the importance of the finds discovered there have led the Israel Antiquities Authority to act together with the Nature and Parks Authority and the planning agencies to cancel the intended construction of a new neighborhood nearby and to promote declaring the area around the site a national park. This plan stems from the belief that the site will quickly become a place that will attract large numbers of visitors who will be greatly interested in it, and from it one will be able to learn about the culture of the country at the time of King David.

To my conservative friends, I’d urge caution before making any bold claims based on Garfinkel’s work. Or any claims at all. Let’s wait and see how credible archaeologists evaluate his stratigraphy. If he’s correct, we’ve lost nothing by being patient.

For previous posts related to Khirbet Qeiyafa, see here. The high-resolution images below are available from this link.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has some background on the previous years of excavation. The Arutz-7 headline dubs the find as “King David’s ‘Suburban Palace.’” The Times of Israel includes a review of Eilat Mazar’s alleged excavation of David’s palace in Jerusalem.

Haaretz largely ignores the press release and gives Garfinkel’s arguments for Qeiyafa’s significance in proving the existence of David’s kingdom along with counter-arguments. The subhead gets right to it: “Some archaeologists claim that three rows of stones found in Khirbet Qeiyafa prove the existence of a kingdom shared by two biblical kings - David and Solomon; other scholars beg to differ.”

UPDATE #2: Joseph Lauer has noted an essay by a David Willmer, a former supporter of Garfinkel, at Foundation Stone. He provides some important context, including this:

It's no coincidence that on the last day of excavation an announcement so "momentous" should be made. It's all about attention, fund raising, the lecture circuit, the headlines. But it's not about archaeology. Nor is it about history. And it calls into question the right to call oneself an academic. When science, research and intellectual honesty are held hostage to sensationalism, then the public, the truth, and the legitimacy of showing the deep roots of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel are done terrible damage. The archaeologists become a laughing stock - and those wishing to delegitimise the State of Israel are given another arrow in their bid to destroy that connection. That the IAA would enable this unprofessional and egregious charade is nothing less than shameful.

SKY_0677e (Custom)

Aerial view of Khirbet Qeiyafa from the north

SKY_0635c (Custom)

Aerial view of “David’s palace” and Byzantine farmhouse


Pottery from excavations.
First two photos by Sky View courtesy of the Hebrew University. Third photo by Clara Amit. All photos courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

The Jerusalem Post has a feature story on the current excavations at the Philistine city of Gath. For daily updates, see the excavator’s blog. In particular, you may want to check out this remarkable 3-D image of Area A.

The Post also reports on a new virtual tour of the Temple Mount, online at HarHakodesh.co.il.

The sphinx found at Hazor is described by the archaeologists in a 3-minute video. Apparently this was the last of 24 years of excavations at the site. UPDATE (7/19): My interpretation that this was the final season was incorrect. See comments below.

Tel Aviv University is offering a free online course via Coursera on “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem,” taught by Professor Oded Lipschits, Ph.D. and Ido Koch.

John H. Hayes died last week at the age of 79.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Hazor upper city aerial from west, tbs112040011

The upper city of Hazor
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Resource: Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology

Daniel M. Master is the editor-in-chief of a new reference that will be of interest to many here. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology is a 1200-page work that includes 130 lengthy essays on biblical sites, regions, and lifeways. The editorial board includes Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Avraham Faust, Beth Alpert Nakhai, and L. Michael White.

From the publisher’s description:

For many years, under Albright's influence, the hybrid field of Biblical Archaeology had a life of its own in the United States and was considered a coherent discipline. But many outside of Albright's sphere were unsure whether this field was a division of biblical studies or part of the broader world of general archaeology and saw these two pursuits in some disciplinary tension. At the same time, biblical scholars grew increasingly skeptical that archaeology could provide context for the specific events of the biblical text. Individual excavations persisted, but work ceased to be framed by research designs derived from the questions of Biblical Archaeology. Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology 9780199846535

Yet archaeologists of the last twenty years have continued to produce material for biblical studies that is too critical to be ignored: inscriptions such as the Tel Dan stele or Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon, debates on the chronology and stratigraphy of the 10th century BCE or the stratigraphy of the Shechem temple, and publications such as those of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem or Herodian Jericho. Shifts in archaeological theory and biblical scholarship now present new potential for rapprochement between archaeology and the Bible. Recent archaeological work has uncovered the lifeways of the biblical world and begun to suggest how understanding these lifeways transforms the reading of the biblical text.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology represents a new way of conceiving of the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies that allows the results of a wide cross-section of excavations and regional studies to contribute to the interpretation of the biblical text through an elucidation of the lifeways of the ancient world. By going beyond mere chronology and focusing on the social organization of biblical society, the Encyclopedia is an important methodological breakthrough for the study of the Bible and archaeology.

Amazon lists the 2-volume work for $281 and shows it being released on Monday, July 15. Dove Booksellers has it for $265 plus $7 shipping.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Earliest Alphabetic Inscription in Jerusalem Discovered

Eilat Mazar is claiming to have found the earliest alphabetic inscription ever discovered in Jerusalem. Readers may recall that she found the earliest written inscription several years ago in a fragmentary cuneiform tablet. She is dating this one to the tenth century BC, but the basis for this date is not given. Mazar has been heavily criticized in the past for dating her discoveries to the time of David in order to attract more publicity.

From the Hebrew University press release:

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city’s history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE.

A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

The discovery will be announced in a paper by Dr. Mazar, Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University, following their extensive research on the artifact. Prof. Ahituv studied the inscription and Dr. Ben-Shlomo studied the composition of the ceramic materials. The paper, "An Inscribed Pithos From the Ophel," appears in the Israel Exploration Journal 63/1 (2013).

The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type. The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period (10th century BCE).  An analysis of the jars’ clay composition indicates that they are all of a similar make, and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.

According to Prof. Ahituv, the inscription is not complete and probably wound around the jar’s shoulder, while the remaining portion is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription's meaning is unknown.

The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.

The full press release is available here. The story is also reported by The Times of Israel and Arutz-7. Some brief thoughts are offered by George Athas and Paleojudaica. The latter wishes the inscription read “for King Solomon.” The closest thing to an official blog for Mazar’s excavations is this one, but it does not yet mention the discovery.

UPDATE: A seven-minute video about the discovery has been posted on youtube. Mazar explains that the inscription dates to the 10th century because the storage jars are from this period. Shmuel Ahituv reads the inscription and identifies it as proto-Canaanite. HT: Joseph Lauer


Eilat Mazar holds the recently discovered inscription.


The inscription was written around the top of a storage jar.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Ouria Tadmor.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Sphinx Fragment Discovered at Hazor

The Hebrew University has announced the discovery of a fragment of an Egyptian sphinx. From the press release:

At a site in Tel Hazor National Park, north of the Sea of Galilee, archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have unearthed part of a unique Sphinx belonging to one of the ancient pyramid-building pharaohs.

The Hazor Excavations are headed by Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, the Yigael Yadin Professor in the Archaeology of Eretz Israel at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, a lecturer at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology.

Working with a team from the Institute of Archaeology, they discovered part of a Sphinx brought over from Egypt, with a hieroglyphic inscription between its front legs. The inscription bears the name of the Egyptian king Mycerinus, who ruled in the third millennium BCE, more than 4,000 years ago. The king was one of the builders of the famous Giza pyramids.

As the only known Sphinx of this king discovered anywhere in the world — including in Egypt — the find at Hazor is an unexpected and important discovery. Moreover, it is only piece of a royal Sphinx sculpture discovered in the entire Levant area (the eastern part of the Mediterranean).

Along with the king’s name, the hieroglyphic inscription includes the descriptor “Beloved by the divine manifestation… that gave him eternal life.” According to Prof. Ben-Tor and Dr. Zuckerman, this text indicates that the Sphinx probably originated in the ancient city of Heliopolis (the city of 'On' in the Bible), north of modern Cairo.

The Sphinx was discovered in the destruction layer of Hazor that was destroyed during the 13th century BCE, at the entrance to the city palace. According to the archaeologists, it is highly unlikely that the Sphinx was brought to Hazor during the time of Mycerinus, since there is no record of any relationship between Egypt and Israel in the third millennium BCE.

More likely, the statue was brought to Israel in the second millennium BCE during the dynasty of the kings known as the Hyksos, who originated in Canaan. It could also have arrived during the 15th to 13th centuries BCE, when Canaan was under Egyptian rule, as a gift from an Egyptian king to the king of Hazor, which was the most important city in the southern Levant at the time.

The full press release is available here.




All photos courtesy of archaeologists Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman (shown above).

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Monday, July 08, 2013

Roman Road Discovered near Jerusalem

Last month the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a Roman road running from Jaffa to Jerusalem. From the IAA press release:

An ancient road leading from Yafo [Jaffa] to Jerusalem, which dates to the Roman period (second–fourth centuries CE), was exposed this past fortnight in the Beit Hanina neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. The road remains were revealed in an archaeological excavation the IAA conducted in Beit Hanina prior to the installation of a drainage pipe by the Moriah Company.

The wide road (c. 8 m) was bounded on both sides by curbstones. The road itself was built of large flat stones fitted to each other so as to create a comfortable surface for walking. Some of the pavers were very badly worn, indicating the extensive use that was made of the road, and over the years the road also underwent a series of repairs.

According to David Yeger, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Several segments of the road were previously excavated by research expeditions of the IAA, but such a finely preserved section of the road has not been discovered in the city of Jerusalem until now”.

“The Romans attached great importance to the roads in the empire. They invested large sums of money and utilized the most advanced technological aids of the period in order to crisscross the empire with roads. These served the government, military, economy and public by providing an efficient and safe means of passage. Way stations and roadside inns were built along the roads, as well fortresses in order to protect the travelers. The construction and maintenance of the roads was assigned to military units, but civilians also participated in the work as part of the compulsory labor imposed on them by the authorities.”

The press release includes more information and three high-resolution images are available here.


Roman road discovered near Jerusalem.
Photo by Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Picture of the Week: The Church of All Nations ... Even the U.S.

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Where can you see the American seal in Jerusalem? In honor of Independence Day in the United States, this week's "Picture of the Week" will show you.

The photo above was taken in the Church of All Nations (also known as the Basilica of the Agony) on the Mount of Olives. The church is built over the traditional location of the place where Jesus prayed the night he was arrested. The modern church was completed in 1924, but it sits on the location of two earlier churches: one from the fourth century and another from the twelfth century.

The photograph shows the interior of one of the church's twelve cupolas. The American seal can be seen at the bottom of the photo (click the picture to enlarge it). The ceiling of this church actually contains the seals or coats-of-arms of several countries, all of whom donated money to help construct the building. Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the U.S. are all represented.

In his book, The Holy Land, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor provides the following information about the church:
This church ... built in 1924, is located on the traditional site of the garden in which Jesus collapsed. No one can be sure of the exact spot at which he prayed, but this limited area was certainly close to the natural route leading from the Temple to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany.
The present edifice ... is the latest in a series of three churches. It covers 'the elegant church' (Egeria) built between AD 379 and 384 ... on the site where the pre-Constantinian Jerusalem community commemorated the prayer of Christ. Willibald, in 724-5, is the last pilgrim to mention this church; it was destroyed by an earthquake some twenty years later. The Crusaders first built an oratory in the ruins which they later (c.1170) replaced by a church .... The fate of this building is unknown; still functioning in 1323, it was abandoned in 1345.
Additional information about the modern church (as well as additional pictures) can be found on the Franciscan Cyberspot here. A 360-degree image of the inside of the church is available here.

This photo and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 3 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which can be purchased here for $39 (with free shipping). Additional photos and information about the Mount of Olives is available here on the BiblePlaces website. This page on LifeintheHolyLand.com includes a photograph of the area taken in the 1890s before the Church of All Nations was built.

Excerpt was taken from Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 128-129. The fifth edition of this book is available here.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Claim: Evidence Discovered of the Tabernacle at Shiloh

Archaeologists who have been excavating for several years at the biblical site of Shiloh are now claiming to have discovered evidence for the location of the tabernacle. From Israel HaYom:

Archaeologists discover holes carved into the ground in Shiloh which could have held the beams of The Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, which, according to the Bible, housed the Ark of the Covenant.

The Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting -- which, according to the Bible, housed the Ark of the Covenant -- was a temporary structure made of wooden beams and fabric, not materials cut out for thousands of years of survival.

Nevertheless, undaunted, archaeologists have searched for evidence of the Tent of Meeting for years, which they posited would be found in ancient Shiloh (next to the settlement of Shiloh in the Binyamin region). Now it appears their efforts have borne fruit, yielding assumptions that the Tent of Meeting indeed stood there.

The findings, which will be presented at a conference of the Shiloh Association scheduled to take place this week in ancient Shiloh, include the discovery of holes carved into the ground which could have held the beams of a temporary structure.

Because the Tent of Meeting and Ark of the Covenant were portable, archaeologists are considering the possibility that the Tent of Meeting stood there. The Tent of Meeting served as a place of prayer and sacrifice until the First Temple in Jerusalem was built by King Solomon.

Near the holes, in the northern part of Tel Shiloh, structures were unearthed that correspond to the dates when Joshua first settled the land of Israel until the period of King David's reign.

One of these structures was found to contain ceramic vessels as well as three large taboon clay ovens.

The article explains why archaeologists believe these vessels were used in the tabernacle. Thee excavators also found a section of the city wall of Shiloh. Arutz-7 also reports on the discovery. Background and photos of the site of Shiloh are here, and images of a tabernacle replica in southern Israel are here.

Shiloh area of tabernacle, tb051808076

Area of tabernacle discovery before excavations.
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands,
volume 2.

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