Saturday, August 31, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Leen Thobias has some impressive 360-degree images of Israel and Jordan here.

It must be a bit discouraging when you find in your sealed excavation locus a beer bottle cap. (Photos here.)

Theories about the identity of Khirbet Qeiyafa are discussed in this Haaretz article. The most helpful section is what everyone agrees on.

A Tel Aviv professor wants to know if a mound of stones in the Sea of Galilee marks the place where Jesus walked on water.

If you’ve been waiting to see the new Samson mosaic found last summer at the Huqoq synagogue, you should check out Jodi Magness’s new article in Biblical Archaeology Review, currently online for free.

The anarchy in Egypt has not been good for archaeological sites and museums.

Archaeologists have found evidence that cinnamon was produced on the northern coast of Israel in ancient times.

Fifteen foreign archaeological teams are preparing to begin fifteen projects in Saudi Arabia.

Foundation Stone shares a 7-minute video showing some results from this summer’s excavations at Azekah.

Leen Ritmeyer has created some new reconstruction drawings of Jerusalem throughout its history.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Private Museum Reopens in the Old City of Jerusalem

Ynetnews reports on the recently reopened Siebenberg House.

Miriam Siebenberg lives in a very unusual house – unusual because of the fact that her home was built on top of another home, one that existed over 2,000 years ago.

Within the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, Miriam and her husband Theo purchased a house after the Six-Day War, eventually discovering that it contained a treasure trove of history buried deep underground.

In the Siebenberg’s house, a collection of archaeological artifacts discovered after years of digging in the basement, appear on display. Arrowheads, ink-wells, coins, ancient pottery, a glass cup and pieces of jewelry including a bronze key ring, likely used in the Second Temple era by a woman to unlock her jewelry box, can all be seen in the display.

But even more intriguing is what lies beneath their home. One can see the remains of an ancient Jewish residence and a way of life that dates back to the days of King Solomon and the Second Temple period.

“The further we dug, the more history we uncovered,” Seibenberg told Tazpit News Agency in an exclusive interview.


During more than 18 years of unearthing, the Siebenbergs discovered a ritual bath, known as a mikveh used by Jews during the Second Temple era, an aqueduct, a Byzantine water cistern, and even empty burial chambers believed to have been used by Jewish royalty in the 10th century B.C. during King Solomon's reign.

Eventually, the remnants of the base wall of what is believed to be a Jewish home that stood 2,000 years ago, were also uncovered as were ancient Hasmonean stones, including one with a menorah engraving. Evidence of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. was also discovered – a line of ash sealed into sedimentary rock was sent to a special lab in South Africa for testing, which found that the ashes were indeed from that time.

The full story is here and includes photos.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Picture of the Week: Rock Badgers

(Seth M. Rodriquez)

Last week, our "Picture of the Week" was of camels: an animal that most people are familiar with, even though we don't see them on a regular basis. This week, we will focus on an animal you may have never seen before but is highly praised in the Bible ... the rock badger.

This type of animal is also called a "hyrax" or, as the KJV translates it, "coney." In the Law of Moses, the rock badger is identified as an unclean animal which the Israelites were not allowed to eat (Lev. 11:5; Deut. 14:7). These animals are also mentioned in Psalm 104:18. While exulting the Lord for the amazing world that He created, the psalmist states, "The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers" (ESV).

However, the rock badger's claim to fame is how it is described in Proverbs 30. In that passage, it is listed among "exceedingly wise" animals:

Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings' palaces.  (Prov. 30:24-28, ESV)

In other words, ants demonstrate wisdom by storing up food for the winter, rock badgers demonstrate wisdom by choosing to live in well-protected places, locusts demonstrate wisdom by moving together like an army, and lizards demonstrate wisdom by somehow getting into kings' palaces even though it is a lowly creature.

The PowerPoint annotations included in Volume 17 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (where this picture can also be found) has the following description of the rock badger:

The Syrian coney, also known as the hyrax or rock badger (Hebrew shaphan) looks like an overgrown guinea pig. It can easily move about on rocks and difficult terrain because its feet have built-in suction. Its diet consists of plants and various grasses, but although it does have a three-part digestive tract, it does not ruminate. As is necessary for survival in the desert, the coney can maintain water well, but has difficulty with direct heat, and thus hides in the rocks.

Last week we talked about how a photograph can help a bible teacher or preacher transport their listeners back to the world of the Bible. Yet sometimes a photograph can do even more. Sometimes, things that were familiar to someone living in ancient Palestine are completely outside the experience of someone living in the 21st century, so you not only need to transport your listeners back to the world of the Bible ... you need to paint a picture for them about what they would have seen there! You need to educate them about things that existed in that world. That is what makes a collection like the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands so valuable. With just a picture or two, you can deepen someone's understanding of the Bible forever.

This photograph was taken at the Hai-bar Nature Reserve in Israel, where many animals mentioned in the Bible are on display. This photo and over 1,000 others are available in Volume 17 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and can be purchased here for $34 (with free shipping). An additional photo of a rock badger can be found on the BiblePlaces website here, along with several other biblical animals.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Canaanite Altar Discovered at Tel Rekhesh

Tel Rekhesh (Tell el-Mukharkhash) is located on the northern side of Nahal Tabor, five miles (8 km) southeast of Mount Tabor. Yohanan Aharoni identified it as biblical Anaharath (Josh 19:19), a city also mentioned in the records of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, as well as in the Amarna Letters.

From The Jewish

An archaeological discovery in the Tel Rechesh excavations at the Tabor River Reserve in northern Israel: a joint archaeological expedition, which included researchers from the University of Tenri, Japan, and the Institute of Archaeology of Galilee Kinneret Academic College, have unearthed a Canaanite cult altar.

The excavations in this area have been going on for six years now.

The same excavations also revealed large parts of a Jewish farmhouse dating back to the Second Temple. Researchers were able to establish that this was a place of Jewish dwellers based on typical stone tools, oil lamps and coins minted in the city of Tiberias.

“The diggers received a big surprise,” said Chairman of the Institute of Archaeology of Galilee Kinneret Academic College Dr. Mordechai Avi’am. “In the ruins of the second floor of the farmhouse, they discovered a Canaanite cult statue, similar to a statue that stood in the sanctuary of a temple which is yet to be located.”

The full story is here. The basis for the report is this press release (Hebrew). The official excavation website is here. Excavations began at the site in 2006.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Tell Rekhesh Pan southeast 1 dd

Tel Rekhesh from northwest. Photo by David Dorsey.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Great Study Program in Jordan

Today a river separates Israel from Jordan leading many to assume that the east side includes little of interest to biblical studies. In ancient times, Israel lived on both sides of the river and many biblical characters traveled in what is now the country of Jordan, including David, Jacob, Ruth, Jephthah, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

The best study program in Jordan is that led by Dr. Ginger Caessens. I participated in the course ten years ago and I learned a lot. I highly recommend it.

The course is entitled Historical Geography of the Bible II, Jordan, and it is offered through the University of the Holy Land. I believe that you have the option of taking it for graduate credit or for pleasure. The cost is very reasonable: $2,200 for two weeks with full board sharing a double room.

All of the information, including a detailed itinerary, is available at the UHL website.

Jabbok River with Penuel, tb060403030

Jabbok River with possible site of Penuel near ford where Jacob crossed (Gen 32:22).

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Picture of the Week: Camels Feeding at Nazareth in 1890s

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

This week I have been working my way through the book of Job. In chapter 1 we read that Job owned 3,000 camels (v. 3) and that these camels were stolen from him by the Chaldeans:

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." (Job 1:17, ESV.)

I'm willing to bet that most readers of this blog probably don't see 3,000 camels on a regular basis (but I would not be surprised if a few of you do!). Like you, a large herd of camels is not part of my everyday life, so this verse stuck out to me. I know where the zoo is in my city where I can see a couple of camels, and I've even kissed a camel before at Jericho (a little trick that tourists do where you put a date between your lips and allow the camel to eat it from your mouth). Yet seeing a whole herd of these animals roaming free in a field would be remarkable.

Thus, our picture of the week is of (you guessed it) a herd of camel. This particular herd lived in the 1890s and wandered the fields near Nazareth. This photo comes from a collection available at called Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee.  (A few months ago I wrote about another picture of Nazareth from this collection; that post is available here.)

The original book where this photo was published has the following caption for this picture:

CAMELS FEEDING AT NAZARETH.- The Bedouins ... live by cattle breeding, and possess immense herds of sheep and camels, as we said under a former picture. The eastern branch of the plain of Esdraelon and the valley of Jezreel, are the home of the wandering Bedouins who often pitch their tents near there. The little town of Nazareth is often harrassed by the quarrels of the Arab chiefs and the predatory attacks of the Bedouins. Their herds feed upon the grassy slopes, the camels seeking the sunshine, or loaded with tents and the multifarious furniture of the camp, go roaming abroad "for fresh fields and pastures green." To the stranger the slow-paced camel with his soft-cushioned feet, his noiseless solemn tread, imperturbable patience imprinted upon his dun colored face, seems a picturesque and amiable animal, but to one who knows him well he is cross, discontented and often treacherous. H. M. Field in his “Review of Recent Events in Egypt'' says: "As my camel and I were to be on somewhat intimate terms, I approached to make her acquaintance, and even tendered her some little caressing. I attempted to stroke her gently; she instantly swung around her long neck and gave me a vicious snap which warned me not to presume on any familiarity." The camel, with all its faults, is an interesting animal. The riding camel, which forms an indispensable feature in processions of special character, when smartly caparisoned with shawls and strings of coins, is exceedingly artistic.

Fortunately for Job, at the end of his adventure, a herd of camel was restored to him (Job 42:12). Actually he received twice as many camels as he started with! But unfortunately for the rest of us, the importance of camels as a means of transportation in the Middle East has seriously diminished in the last 120 years. Air conditioned cars, trucks, and buses have taken the place of this "interesting animal" and thus the modern world looks vastly different from the world of Job. That is why collections such as Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee are such valuable tools for the modern teacher and preacher. Photos such as this help us to turn back the clock and place our listeners in the world of the Bible.

This photo and almost 400 others are available in Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee which is available here for $20 (with free shipping). Additional images of and information about camels are available on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on the LifeintheHolyLand website here and here.  Almost 20 photos of camels are included  in Volume 17 of the PLBL which is available for purchase here. To see a traffic sign warning drivers of passing camels, see the post I wrote a few months ago here.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Answer: Nabi Yoûnis

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

The answer to yesterday's challenge is Nabi Yoûnis (or Nebi, Neby, Yunus, Younes, Yunas—there are a variety of English spellings. I will use the spelling "approved" by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names). It was answered correctly and quickly in the comments, so maybe next time, we should leave out the Google Earth view. The name Nabi Yoûnis is Arabic for Prophet Jonah, and the site commemorates the location where the great fish spit Jonah out onto dry land. It is located in Google Earth at 33.660894°, 35.418515°.

At 8:10 am on Tuesday, June 26, 1838, Edward Robinson passed by Khan Nabi Yoûnis on his way from Sidon to Beirut. He mentions that nearby was "Wely Neby Yunas, with a white dome, marking the place where, according to the Muhammedan legend, the prophet Jonas was thrown up by the fish" (Biblical Researches 3: 430-431). A nearly identically-worded description is found in Picturesque Palestine 3: 40. 

Drawing of Nabi Yoûnis from Picturesque Palestine, vol. 3.

Today, the Muslim shrine described by Robinson is surrounded by the Shiite village named Nabi Yoûnis and bears little resemblance to the drawing above. Also, the dome is now green.

Modern Nabi Yoûnis. 

The Muslim shrine occupies the site of an earlier Byzantine church which was apparently destroyed by earthquake. Some remains from this church can be seen in reuse inside the shrine. During the Mamluk period, the structure was rebuilt and converted into a Muslim shrine.

Nabi Yoûnis, Corinthian capital from Byzantine church reused in modern Muslim shrine.

I have no way for evaluating whether or not this tradition is historically accurate, that Nabi Yoûnis is the place where Jonah was spit out. It is interesting to note that according to 2 Kings 14:25, a prophet named Jonah son of Amittai lived during Jeroboam II's reign. This verse explains that Jonah announced large territorial gains for the kingdom of Israel in the time of Jeroboam II. For a brief moment in history, the boundary of the kingdom extended north to Lebo-Hamath, identified with modern Labwe in Lebanon. The Aramean kingdoms of Damascus and Hamath were also subjected to Israel. Nothing is said concerning the Phoenician coastal cities, so I do not know if Nabi Yoûnis would have been under some kind of Israelite control or not at this time as well.

Further note: a small side room in the Nabi Yoûnis shrine supposedly houses the tomb of Jonah. As with Noah, there are apparently multiple sites that are believed to be Jonah's burial place. Another such tomb of Jonah is located in el-Meshhad, Israel, the site identified with Jonah's hometown, Gath-hepher (see Picturesque Palestine 2: 61, illustration on 56).

Harb, Antoine Khoury.
2008     The Roots of Christianity in Lebanon. Beirut: Lebanese Heritage Foundation.

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Wednesday Roundup

For last year’s Water in Antiquity Conference, Chris McKinny provided some brief notes. Now the papers and PowerPoints are available for many of the presentations.

Archaeologists in Turkey are claiming to have found a long-lost city where Abraham lived.

Carl Rasmussen considers why Paul skipped the ship and walked to Assos. The photo of the Roman road is available for download. Mark Wilson interacts with the discussion in the comments.

Leen Ritmeyer has the scoop on where and when the Jerusalem IMAX movie will be showing.

The Ancient Near East Today, produced by Friends of ASOR, is a good resource for staying up-to-date. You can sign up for free here.

HT: Jack Sasson

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Where in the World . . .?: Jonah's LZ

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

"The LORD commanded the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon dry land" (Jonah 2:11, JPS).

Can anyone name the place where, in church tradition, Jonah was vomited back onto land? Here is a Google Earth view to get the ball rolling.

Post your answers in the comments below, and tomorrow we will post a follow-up with photo. I think it is safe to allow research for this one. Please give some indication of your source(s).


Sunday, August 18, 2013

7th Century BC Inscription Found in City of David

Archaeologists working in the City of David have discovered an inscription from the 7th century that may have had the name of Zechariah the son of Benaiah (2 Chr 20:14). The inscription was found in a layer of thousands of pottery sherds, oil lamps, and figurines near the Gihon Spring.

From the IAA press release:

While not complete, the inscription presents us with the name of a seventh century BCE figure, which resembles other names known to us from both the Biblical and archaeological record (see examples below) and providing us with a connection to the people living in Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple period. This fascinating find will be presented at Megalim's Annual Archaeological Conference which will take place on Thursday, August 29th in the City of David.

The most similar name to our inscription is Zechariah the son of Benaiah, the father of the Prophet Jahaziel. The name Zechariah the son of Benaiah appears in 2 Chronicles 20:14 where it states that Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, prophesized before the Biblical King Jehoshaphat before the nation went off to war against the ancient kingdoms of Ammon and Moab.

Israel Antiquity Authority archaeologists Dr. Joe Uziel and Nahshon Zanton, who discovered the bowl while excavating remains associated with the First Temple period destruction, explained that the letters inscribed on the shard likely date to the 8-7th centuries BCE, placing the production of the bowl sometime between the reign of Hezekiah and the destruction of Jerusalem under King Zedekiah. The archaeologists also explained that the inscription was engraved on the bowl prior to firing, indicating that the inscription originally adorned the rim of the bowl in its entirety, and was not written on a shard after the vessel was broken.

The press release also includes an analysis of the inscription. Three high-resolution images are available here. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and others.

Details about the City of David 14th Annual Archaeological Conference are here.


Pottery sherd with inscription “ryhu bn bnh”


Figurine heads, oil lamps, and seal impressions from the debris in which the inscription was found. Photos by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Fortifications from the 8th century BC were discovered in the first season of excavations at Ashdod-Yam, the harbor city of Philistine Ashdod. The official website is here.

Gordon Govier and I talk this week on The Book and the Spade about the latest archaeological discoveries in Israel, including the Samson mosaic at Huqoq and the Sphinx fragment at Hazor (direct link here).

The Israel Exploration Society recently observed its centennial, an event celebrated by an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post.

Amnon Ben-Tor reviews the finds from the controversial tenth century BC at Hazor.

Ferrell Jenkins describes Assyrian ruins that will soon be flooded by the Tigris River.

Exploring Bible Lands has a break-down of places shown in the Jerusalem IMAX 3D trailer. The movie opens in theaters next month.

Ziyaret Tepe, citadel Neo-Assyrian Bronze Palace with later pits, adr1005212203

Neo-Assyrian Bronze Palace at Ziyaret Tepe
Photo from Eastern and Central Turkey

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Picture of the Week: Sinai Peninsula

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our Picture of the Week comes from the Sinai Peninsula: a rugged, mountainous area in eastern Egypt. This region was in the news this week due to violence and unrest in the area related to the political turmoil of the last couple of months. On Tuesday, one reporter stated,

"Sinai is always a bit of a sort of lawless area, but it's especially that way now. There's been daily attacks there ever since the takeover by the military from President Morsi six weeks ago. And some of these checkpoints - military checkpoints, police checkpoints - have been shot at 50, 60 times. You can see the bullet holes, you can see the burn marks where grenades have been fired at them." --Robert Worth, in "Sinai Peninsula Sees Increasing Violence Since Morsi Takeover," NPR ©2013,

The statement that the Sinai Peninsula is a "lawless area" has been an apt description of the region throughout history. It has always been an area that was difficult to control, and often times has been a haven for those who sought refuge from civilization. For example, Elijah sought refuge in this area when he was fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kgs. 19:1-8). Not much has changed from then until now. It is still a relatively desolate place where those who want to avoid authorities can thrive.

A nineteenth century traveler once described the region in the following way:

Through the whole journey in the peninsula, or in the “Desert of the Wanderings,” is noticeable in the clear luminous air the deep silence. The Arabs conducting the distinguished Niebuhr declared that their voices could be heard from shore to shore of the Gulf of ’Akabah. Exaggeration doubtless, but exaggeration of a fact—that in these silent regions the human voice travels a long way. Noticeable also is the fragrance of the Desert. Most of the low shrubs, which seem more dead than alive on one’s stony path, are aromatic. But notice-worthy beyond everything is the desolation and mountain confusion. Most desolate, most barren—for the little oases of verdure we have mentioned are lost out of sight in any general view of the mountains—these hills of Sinai are the “Alps unclothed.” A naked Switzerland, even though its glaciers and snows should remain, seems inconceivable; but Sinai is naked as to any verdure of forest tree, or fir, or pine, or moss, or flowery pasture. Strange lichens grow on the boulders and rocks in some parts, as weird in form as vivid in colouring. Such a path as that which leads up Jebel Katharína is all the world over much the same as a Swiss mountain-path, but the illusion vanishes when one looks for the shade of the trees which beguile the way up a ravine in Switzerland. Then the confusion—the intricate complication of peak and ridge! One traveller (Sir Frederic Henniker) says of the view from Jebel Músa, that it is as if “Arabia Petræa were an ocean of lava, which, whilst its waves were running mountains high, had suddenly stood still.”

The Sinai Peninsula is perhaps best described as a rugged, "in between" place. It's the perfect setting for those who want to remove themselves from the rest of the world, which makes it a dangerous place for those who are just passing through.

The picture and excerpt are taken from "Sinai" by C. Pickering Clarke in Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt, Vol. 4, edited by Charles Wilson (London: J. S. Virtue and Co., 1881; electronic ed. by Todd Bolen, 2004 ). The excerpt can be found on p. 17. This image and an electronic copy of the book is included in Picturesque Palestine, Volume IV: Sinai and Egypt which is available here for $20 (or you can purchase all 4 volumes for $55). More images of the Sinai Peninsula are available on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on here and here.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

The Preliminary Report of the 2013 Jezreel Expedition Field Season has been posted at The Bible and Interpretation. Three areas were excavated in the inaugural season.

Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick discuss a recent suggestion to date Hezekiah’s Tunnel to Manasseh. They note that the four years that geologists claim would have been required for construction would fit between Hezekiah’s revolt in 705 and the arrival of Sennacherib in 701.

The Biblical Archaeology Society has announced its 2013 Publication Awards Winners. They include works on Ashkelon, Gath, and Isaiah.

A summary of the contents of the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review is now online.

Wayne Stiles proposes the best way to use your time in Jerusalem after the sun goes down.

BibleX has a preview of a four-part series by National Geographic entitled “The Lost Faces of the Bible.”

Pedestrians won’t have to compete with motorists when visiting the Roman Forum and Colosseum.

Colosseum from west, tb112105088

The Colosseum of Rome
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Monday, August 12, 2013

The IAA and the Jehoash Inscription

Nir Hasson reports in Haaretz on the continuing saga of the Jehoash Inscription.

The Jehoash Tablet is a stone bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew describing the renovation of the First Temple by the Jehoash, King of Judea. If it is authentic, it is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last century. But for many years, in one of the most complex cases ever to come before an Israeli courts, the state has claimed that it was a fake.

The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the state failed to prove that the tablet was a fake, paving the way for the defendant, antiquities collector Oded Golan, to be cleared of most of the charges against him. But the state has gone to the Supreme Court to seek possession of the tablet – perhaps because maybe, just maybe, it’s real after all.


Over the course of seven and a half years, the court heard testimony from 130 witnesses, including dozens of Israel’s most prominent experts in geology, chemistry, microbiology and ancient scripts. In the end, Judge Aharon Farkash ruled that the state had failed to prove its case.

The state did not challenge most of the exonerations, but as for the Jehoash Tablet – that’s another story. The state wants it.

The state still claims that the tablet is a forgery because the letters of the inscription did not have a patina that was consistent with its purported age.

But that is only one element in which the court must be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt, Golan and his attorney, David Barhum, stated in their response. It must also be persuaded that “scratches on the tablet [which the state claims are signs of forgery] are indeed ‘fresh,’ and that the collective opinions presented to the court, that it impossible for this inscription to have been made in the past 50 years, are baseless and mistaken.”

Go to Haaretz to read the full story (registration required). Matthew Kalman reported on the story earlier this month.

HT: Jack Sasson


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Weekend Roundup

On this week’s broadcast of The Book and the Spade, Gordon Govier and I talk about the recent discoveries of the Elisha inscription at Tel Rehov and the Roman Legion base at Megiddo. Listen here.

Ferrell Jenkins discusses the discovery of huge columns at Laodicea.

Luke Chandler had a fantastic day visiting sites in Samaria and recommends his tour guide to others.

An article in Haaretz explains why women in Tel Aviv have been enjoying archaeological lectures in English for 40 years now.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Picture of the Week: Kishon River

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our "Picture of the Week" focuses on the small, but significant, Kishon River. It is not a place that you would visit on a typical trip to Israel. In fact, I've been to Israel four times (two of which were extended stays) and I have never stopped there. Perhaps that is because the river does not look very impressive. Nevertheless, a couple of significant biblical events took place along this watercourse, and the geography surrounding and forming the river have played a crucial role throughout history.

The Kishon River drains much of the water from the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee. The Bible mentions this river by name a total of five times (Judg 4:7, 13; 5:21; 1 Kgs 18:40; Ps 83:9). It was here that Deborah and Barak defeated the 900 chariots of Sisera after gathering their forces at Mount Tabor, and it was here that Elijah had the prophets of Baal slain after the showdown on Mount Carmel.

In Judges 5:21, the Kishon is referred to as a "torrent," but a visit to the site reveals that most of the time it is a rather timid river. In his book, The Geography of the Bible, Denis Baly describes the Kishon by saying:

Dry in its upper courses in summer, and only a trickle when it passes Harosheth [near its end], this famous stream is often a sad disappointment to visitors ...

Yet on that fateful day in history, the river swelled with rainwater and swept away Sisera's retreating army of chariots (Judg. 5:21).

The image above was a sketch of the river as it looked in the 1870s. At this location, the Kishon leaves the Jezreel Valley and enters the Plain of Asher through a narrow pass where the hills of Lower Galilee almost touch Mount Carmel. This choke-point is one of the reasons why the Jezreel Valley contains such rich soil. As the soil erodes into the valley from the surrounding hills, the river is not able to carry it out to sea. Instead, the river is blocked: first by a low ridge of volcanic rock that cuts across the valley in a northeast line starting near Megiddo, and then again by the foothills of Western Lower Galilee. Baly describes the outcome of these geographical features in this way:

The Kishon, small though it is, has to carry away the entire drainage from the surrounding hills, but it is twice hindered in this formidable task, once by the volcanic causeway and then again by the narrow defile through which it finds its way to the Bay of Acco. In consequence the two basins thus formed are only too easily flooded in winter, sometimes for prolonged periods, and W. M. Thomson, who knew the country well a century and a half ago, speaks of having "no little trouble with its bottomless mire and tangled grass." In February, 1905, Gertrude Bell wrote even more feelingly of riding from Haifa to Jenin: "The road lay all across the Plain of Esdraelon ... and the mud was incredible. We waded sometimes for an hour at a time knee deep in clinging mud, the mules fell down, the donkeys almost disappeared ... and the horses grew wearier and wearier." ... Yet it was always "the rich valley," for once dried out, the bottomless mud bears notable harvests.

So the Kishon River is not much to look at most of the time and until the rise of modern transportation it caused all sorts of difficulties for travelers during the rainy season when it flooded the valley. Yet for all this, it has played a key role in making the Jezreel Valley into a region of rich farmland. The fertile soil in this valley combined with the valley's strategic location along the international trade route made the control of this area a coveted prize for many nations throughout history.

This image and 150 others (along with the entire text of Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, Vol. 3) are available in Picturesque Palestine III: Phoenicia, Philistia, and the South. This digital volume can be purchased here for $20, or you can purchase all four volumes of the work for $55. Additional images of the Jezreel Valley can be seen here on the BiblePlaces website. Excerpts were taken from Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible, new and revised ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 144, 146-147.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Wednesday Roundup

An enormous refuse pit from the Byzantine period was recently excavated near Apollonia-Arsuf.

A large Crusader hospital in the Muristan of Jerusalem’s Old City has recently been revealed to the public following recent excavations and renovations. The project is covered by other new sources including the Jerusalem Post.

Grave robbers are taking advantage of Egypt’s political mayhem to loot the tombs of Saqqara, Dashur, Luxor, and Aswan.

Sean Freyne passed away on Monday.

The Kindle version of the Holman Bible Atlas is on sale for $4.74.

HT: Jack Sasson


A group of Samaritan oil lamps found near Apollonia-Arsuf. Photograph by Pavel Shargo, courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Jewish Village of Shikhin Excavated in Galilee

From the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists say they have found remains of the ancient Jewish village of Shikhin, located in the central Galilee, which could be instrumental in the study of Jewish life in the region and the origins of Christianity.

Dr. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College’s Institute for Galilean Archeology and co-director of the Shikhin expedition, said on Sunday the findings so far include evidence of an ancient synagogue and remnants of pottery production.

The expedition is a joint project led by Aviam, Samford University Religion Professor James Riley Strange and Kentucky Christian University Biblical Studies Professor David Fiensy.

Aviam said the project, which has included two years of excavations thus far, would help to answer crucial historical questions surrounding the identity of the Galileans.

“Who were the Galileans?” he asked. “Where they remnants from the First Temple period? Were they people who came from Judea? Were they people who converted [to Judaism]?” Aviam noted that the village is mentioned along with neighboring city Sepphoris (modern Tzipori) by first-century historian Flavius Josephus, and in the Talmud as a village home to many potters.

The story continues to describe the record number of oil lamp molds that have been discovered at the site.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Hershel Shanks has weighed in on the Israeli government’s astonishing about-face on the Jehoash Inscription.

Gordon Govier and I discuss the “palace of David” discovery in this week’s broadcast of The Book and the Spade (direct link here).

Luke Chandler has an exclusive scoop on recent finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Ferrell Jenkins has posted a beautiful aerial photo of Gezer.

Wayne Stiles writes about 5 Christian Sites in Jerusalem You Should Know About.

My memory of whitewater rafting on the Jordan River is more thrilling than what this Haaretz writer describes, but maybe it’s just grown with the telling.

This article about antiquities thieves in Jordan reveals that some ancient sites are guarded by powerful genies.

The Garden of Eden is to become a national park in Iraq. (If you don’t see a guard armed with a flaming sword, it may be a swindle.)

Accordance is ending the summer with some deals sure to interest those who love Bible geography, history, and archaeology.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson


Walls of alleged “palace of David” at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Photo by Steven H. Sanchez

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Friday, August 02, 2013

IAA: Jehoash Tablet Is an Antiquity

Matthew Kalman has a very interesting article on the latest in the Jehoash Ossuary trial, reporting that the Israeli government is now demanding to keep the artifact on the basis that it is authentic! Kalman reports:

In a stunning about-turn, after losing a 10-year legal effort to prove that an Israeli antiquities collector faked an inscription from Solomon’s Temple, Israel’s deputy state attorney begged the high court in Jerusalem on Wednesday to allow the Israeli government to keep the artifact on the grounds that it is “an antiquity.”

Oded Golan, the Israeli antiquities collector who was acquitted of forging the Jehoash Tablet after a seven-year criminal trial, said he had offered to loan it to a museum for study and public display, but he would fight the attempts by the state to confiscate it.


Following Golan’s arrest, a panel of experts appointed by the Israel Antiquities Authority declared the Jehoash Tablet and the James ossuary fakes. Golan and four others were indicted in December 2004 on multiple counts of forgery and accused of being members of an international antiquities forgery ring. None of the charges held up in court.

A year after Golan’s acquittal, Judge Farkash ordered the prosecution to return the Jehoash Tablet, the James ossuary and the other items to Golan.

But after arguing for a decade that the Jehoash Tablet was a fake, the prosecution has suddenly decided it is an antiquity, and therefore the property of the state under the 1978 Israel Antiquities Law.

Read the full report for quotations from the prosecutor and defendant. Kalman concludes with the hint that a compromise may be in the offing. See here for expert analysis that the inscription is genuine.

J Tablet 2013-2

Jehoash Inscription.
Photo by Matthew Kalman

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Picture of the Week: The Bema at Corinth

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

You can have Athens . . . I'll take Corinth.

As I prepared to write another post on a site in Greece, I was drawn once again to Corinth. It is such a fascinating site in so many different ways: archaeologically, geographically, and biblically. After searching around for another site to write about (for the sake of variety) I'm throwing in the towel . . . Our picture of the week comes from Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and focuses once again on Corinth.

The picture below is entitled "Corinth bema and Acrocorinth." The Acrocorinth is the tall mountain that rises in the distance. The bema (also called the "tribunal" or "judicial bench") is the structure in the left half of the picture. It was a platform on which a judge would sit as the people brought their cases before him while standing in the plaza below. This is one of those rare places where we can say that a certain biblical event took place. This place of judgment is mentioned in Acts 18, when Paul was brought before Gallio.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12-17, ESV)

The PowerPoint® notes in the PLBL provides the following background information:
The Roman tribunal where Paul was dragged before Gallio has been uncovered in the center of the agora. This was the bema, where Roman officials would appear before the public.... Had Paul’s trial been more formal, it likely would have been held at the North Basilica instead of the Bema. In Christian times, a church was built atop the bema.
So we know where this trial (or would-be trial) took place, but the story doesn't stop there. F. F. Bruce in his book, New Testament History, points out that this trial had particular significance in Paul's ministry:
Sir William Ramsay regarded Gallio's ruling as 'the crowning fact in determining Paul's line of conduct', because it provided a precedent for other magistrates, and thus guaranteed Paul's freedom to prosecute his apostolic mission with the assurance of the benevolent neutrality of the imperial authorities for several years to come. One thing at least is certain: if Gallio had given an adverse verdict against Paul, it would have been pleaded as a precedent by Paul's opponents for the rest of his life; and a precedent established by so exalted and influential a magistrate as Gallio—a much more important personage than the politarchs of Thessalonica—would have carried great weight.  The mere fact that Gallio refused to take up the case against Paul may reasonably be held to have facilitated the spread of Christianity during the last years of Claudius and the earlier years of his successor.

Thus, this site can not only be tied to a biblical event, but it can be tied to a biblical event that is more significant than can be observed at first glance. The event that happened in this humble location helped determine how the rest of New Testament history played out.

This photo and over 800 others are available in Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $34 (with free shipping). Other photos of Corinth and its surrounding territory can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here. The excerpt was taken from F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, 1969), p. 317, and is available for purchase here.

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