Monday, September 29, 2014

New Evidence for AD 363 Earthquake at Hippos

From the Jerusalem Post:

University of Haifa archaeologists announced Monday that they have recently discovered items which have shed light on an earthquake that occurred in 363 CE in the ancient city of Hippos which overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

Hippos, near modern-day Kibbutz Ein Gev, was the site of a Greco-Roman city-state. Archaeologists digging at the Hippos excavation site, known as Susita in Hebrew, uncovered a woman's skeleton and a gold dove-shaped pendant under the tiles of a collapsed roof. In addition, they found the marble leg of a statue and artillery from some 2,000 years ago.

"Finally the findings are coming together to form a clear historical-archaeological picture," Dr. Michael Eisenberg, the head of the excavation said.

The excavation at the site has been ongoing for the past fifteen years. Hippos, which was founded in the second century BCE, was the site of two major, well-documented earthquakes, the first of which took place in 363 CE. The earthquake caused major damage but the city recovered. The second earthquake, in 749 CE, destroyed the city which was then abandoned, never to recover.

The full article includes photos. I don’t believe there is much dramatic archaeological evidence for the earthquake of 363, though according to fifth-century church historians, this earthquake ended efforts to build a third temple in Jerusalem. Wikipedia provides a few references. David B. Levenson recently published a more technical article in the Journal of Late Antiquity: “The Palestinian Earthquake of May 363 in Philostorgius, the Syriac
Chronicon miscellaneum, and the Letter Attributed to Cyril on
the Rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.”

Hippos South Church with fallen columns, tb040606148

South Church of Hippos, destroyed by later earthquake
Photo from Galilee and the North

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Roundup

An Egyptian scarab with the name of Pharaoh Shishak has been discovered in the copper mines of Feinan in southern Jordan.

Has evidence of human sacrifice been uncovered near Amman, Jordan? Hershel Shanks presents the evidence and the debate.

Also in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review: a survey of readers’ views of the Bible. The poll has one question and does not require registration.

ASOR is working with the State Department to identify and document destruction of ancient sites in Syria.

Dura Europos is reportedly suffering severe looting under the control of ISIS and archaeologists fear for the world’s oldest synagogue located there.

The new director of the Louvre plans to give the museum a makeover that may take decades.

Charles Savelle shares a chart comparing the crossing of the Red Sea with that of the Jordan River. I would add one more contrast: Enemies behind vs. Enemies ahead. (One of those requires more faith!)

Gordon Franz’s article on Ancient Harbors of the Sea of Galilee is now online.

Ferrell Jenkins notes that Daniel I. Block’s book, Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? is deeply discounted for Kindle for a short time.

Martin Klingbeil will be lecturing at Southern Adventist University on “Excavating War and Destruction in Ancient Judah” on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.

Nyack College in partnership with the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins is hosting a conference on “Unearthing Magdala” on October 20.

David Eitam will be lecturing at Yeshiva University on Monday, September 29 on “The Oil Enterprise at 7th Century BCE City-Kingdom of Ekron, Philistia: A Window into an Ancient Levantine Economy.”

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade

Hippos harbor looking south, tb101399201

Remains of the harbor of Hippos on the Sea of Galilee
Photo from Galilee and the North

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Artifact of the Month: Stela of Zakkur

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

This inscribed basalt slab is known as the Stela of Zakkur. It refers to the Aramaic king Hazael who is also referred to in the Bible in such passages as 1 Kings 19:15. The item was discovered in 1903 at Tel Afis in Syria and dates to approximately 800 BC. The artifact is about 24 inches tall and the language is Aramaic. It is now located in the Louvre.

Of interest to historical studies is the interplay of the biblical text and this stela. To begin with, 1 Kings 19:15 says, "The Lord said to him [Elijah], 'Go back the way you came and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram . . .'" (NIV).   In comparison to this, the text on the stela reads, "I am Kakkur, king of Hamath and Luash . . Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings . . ."

In effect, we have a web of connections linking Yahweh, Elijah, the Bible, Hazael, and this stela.

For information on similar artifacts related to the Bible, see Bible and Archaeology - Online Museum.

(Photo: Significant resource for further study: The Context of Scripture, volume 2, page 155.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rooms of Emperor Augustus Now Open to Public

At the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Emperor Augustus was enjoying a luxurious life on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Restorations of some of his rooms have been completed and are now being opened to the public. From ArtDaily:

Lavishly frescoed rooms in the houses of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia are opening for the first time to the public Thursday, after years of painstaking restoration.

The houses on Rome's Palatine hill where the emperor lived with his family are re-opening after a 2.5 million euro ($3.22 million) restoration to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Augustus's death -- with previously off-limit chambers on show for the first time.

From garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds to majestic temples and scenes of rural bliss, the rooms are adorned with vividly coloured frescoes, many in an exceptional condition.


The complex was intended to symbolise not only his power but that of his wife and advisor Livia, who is said to have wielded great influence over him and went on to play an important role in Roman politics after his death.

"Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire," Conti said.

The frescoes in Livia's house in particular are one of the most important examples of the period's style, according to Barbera.

The full story is here.

HT: Ted Weis

Palatine Hill from northeast, tb012001701

Palatine Hill in Rome

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Joseph Patrich and Benny Arubas offer four reasons against identifying the mausoleum discovered at the Herodium with the tomb of Herod. Unfortunately, they do not suggest an alternative identification.

Some IAA photos of the Byzantine monastery uncovered near Beth Shemesh are available for download. [link has expired]

The oldest known Jewish prayer book just went on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

3 Sea of Galilee Sites You’ll Pass But May Not See. Before you click, see if you can guess the three.

Ferrell Jenkins looks at two outstanding architectural remains in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin: the Miletus Market Gate and the Altar of Zeus.

Leon Mauldin has two illustrated posts about the two Temple boundary inscriptions: the complete one on display in Istanbul and the fragment in the Israel Museum.

The Baptist Press runs a story on the Bronze Age water system of Gezer.

Wheaton’s Archaeology Lecture Series 2014-2015 has two lectures remaining.

An electronic edition of supplementary volume of The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land is now available to all members of the BAS Library.

Subscriptions are now available to the Loeb Classical Library, but the prices aren’t cheap and you must inquire by email.

In stock on Monday: the first volume of the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity, edited by Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson ($20).

HT: Joseph Lauer


Byzantine monastery near Beth Shemesh
Photo by Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Byzantine Monastery Unearthed Near Beth Shemesh

In construction work south of the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, archaeologists recently discovered a large monastery dating from the Byzantine period.  From the Jerusalem Post:

According to a joint statement issued by the excavation’s co-directors, Irene Zilberbod and Tehila Libman, an archaeological survey conducted along the hills south of Beit Shemesh brought the findings to light several weeks ago.

“Blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface,” the archeologists said. “These clues to the world hidden underground resulted in an extensive archaeological excavation there that exposed prosperous life dating to the Byzantine period, which was previously unknown.”

Zilberbod and Libman said the compound is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided on the inside into two regions, including an industrial area and an activity and residential area.

Additionally, an “unusually large press in a rare state of preservation that was used to produce olive oil was exposed in the industrial area, as well as a large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”

Despite not finding a church or inscription of any kind indicating religious worship, the excavation’s co-directors said they still believe the site served as a monastery.

“It is true we did not find a church at the site… or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship; nevertheless, the impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” they said. Based on that criterion, the archeologists noted it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations, and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.

The full story is here. The IAA press release is here.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Value of Biblical Archaeology

What is the value of archaeology to a Bible reader? Gary D. Myers provides his perspective in a Baptist Press article.

This leads some to ask why biblical archaeology is important to Christians. For me, an archaeologist-in-training with only four digs under his belt, the answer is context and a love for Scripture. I think the same can be said for travel in the Bible lands.

Archaeology and Bible lands travel create a framework for more informed, thoughtful study of the Bible. For me, there are great reasons for evangelical Christians to keep digging.

As a child attending First Baptist Church in Calvin, Okla., my image of the Holy Land looked like eastern Oklahoma, filled with rolling hills and oak trees. As I read the Bible, I pictured what was familiar to me. The Jordan River looked like the South Canadian River. I imagined David picking up smooth stones from a brook similar to Sandy Creek near my home. Later, as I saw photographs of biblical places and terrain, my contextual understanding grew.

Then in 2005, I took my first trip to Israel.

I expected the trip to be a spiritual mountaintop experience and it was in some ways. But, as I visited the places where Jesus walked, the Old Testament cities and Jerusalem, it was the lay of the land and the ruins that made an impression on me. It was real to me in a new way. Travel like this creates a framework for study of the Bible. Archaeology exposes ancient ruins and provides clues to the way people lived so we can better understand the cultures and people mentioned in the text.

The article continues here.

Gezer watersystem, tb070506104

Gezer water system
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crescent-Shaped Stone Structure Studied in Galilee

A site in the Galilean hills that formed the basis for a master’s thesis is the subject of an article published by Live Science.

A lunar-crescent-shaped stone monument that dates back around 5,000 years has been identified in Israel.

Located about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northwest of the Sea of Galilee, the structure is massive — its volume is about 14,000 cubic meters (almost 500,000 cubic feet) and it has a length of about 150 meters (492 feet), making it longer than an American football field. Pottery excavated at the structure indicates the monument dates to between 3050 B.C. and 2650 B.C., meaning it is likely older than the pyramids of Egypt. It was also built before much of Stonehenge was constructed.

Archaeologists previously thought the structure was part of a city wall, but recent work carried out by Ido Wachtel, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, indicates there is no city beside it and that the structure is a standing monument.

"The proposed interpretation for the site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population," Wachtel wrote in the summary of a presentation given recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

The story continues with more details of the site and its purpose, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in the interpretations offered. We just know too little about the region in this time period. The Times of Israel includes a map of the area.

Rujm en-Nabi Shueib2

Map of the area of Rujm en-Nabi Shueib
From Google Earth; click for enlarged view


Monday, September 15, 2014

Free Book: Tell Abu al-Kharaz in the Jordan Valley

The Iron Age volume by Peter M. Fischer is available for free download at Open Access. Tell Abu al-Kharaz was identified as Jabesh Gilead by Nelson Glueck and is located about 7 miles southeast of Tel Rehov (near Beth Shean) and 2 miles east of the Jordan River. The table on page 516 shows a complete chronological history of the site, including continuous occupation through the Iron Age with destructions in approximately 1050, 930, 850, 800, 770, and 732 BC.cover

The book’s abstract seems to begin with an error:

Tell city of Abu al-Kharaz is situated in the central Transjordanian Jordan Valley and excavated by the author from 1989 to 2012. The town flourished in the Early Bronze Age, and after an occupational lacuna of more than thousand years the site was re-occupied in the second half of the Middle Bronze Age and remained permanently occupied until the end of the Iron Age. The new volume is No. III in a series of three (The Early Bronze Age Vol. I, published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press in 2008, and the Middle and Late Bronze Ages Vol. II, in 2006).

The table of contents:

Preface 9

Chapter 1 Introduction and Vade Mecum 13

Chapter 2 Stratigraphy, Architecture and Finds 31

Chapter 3 The Pottery: Typo-Chronological Conclusions  389

Chapter 4 Radiocarbon Dating  457

  • I. Radiocarbon Dates from Tell Abu al-Kharaz by E.M. Wild and P.M. Fischer 457
  • II. Reflections on the Radiocarbon Dates from Pella by P.M. Fischer 461

Chapter 5 Discussion and Conclusions 465

  • I. The People and their Land: Environment, Subsistence, Settlement and Ethnicity 465
  • II. Written Sources, Administration and Politics 481
  • III. Economy, Exchange of Goods and Communication Routes 482
  • IV. Architectural Features and Installations 483
  • V. Chronology 501
    • A. Relative chronology 501
      • 1. Local chronology 501
      • 2. Regional synchronization by P.M. Fischer and T. Bürge 501
      • 3. Interregional synchronization 512
    • B. Absolute chronology and chronological conclusions 515


  • Appendix 1 Figurines  517
  • Appendix 2 The Sphinx Handle  531
  • Appendix 3 Cosmetic Palettes of Stone 535
  • Appendix 4 Notes on the Glyptic Material and Ostraka  539

Bibliography  545

The report is pretty technical, but if you’ve ever wanted to see what the end result of an excavation is, this is an easy way to do so. One of my assignments for an introductory archaeology class is to spend an hour just browsing a final excavation report. You can learn a lot from the experience.

Fischer favors his site as ancient Jabesh Gilead over the more commonly proposed Tell al-Maqlub, and he gives some reasons on pages 481-82. The author’s general aversion to biblical connections is apparent from the fact that the 572-page work never mentions Jeroboam, Ahab, Hazael, Jehu, Ben-Hadad, Jehoash, or even Tiglath-pileser III.

The volume is available in print from Amazon for $165. The author’s website has more photos and information, though it is not up-to-date.

HT: Agade

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Roundup

The largest ancient tomb ever discovered in Greece dates to the time of Alexander the Great and is located near Amphipolis. Archaeologists are hoping that the tomb is intact.

Beth Alpert Nakhai is leading a Survey on Field Safety and needs you to answer a few questions.

Another good one from Wayne Stiles: 3 Golan Heights Sites with Odd Names and Curious Histories.

Clyde Billington is on the Book and the Spade discussing the latest discoveries at Huqoq and the shovel survey at Khirbet el-Araj.

Construction begins next month on the yet-unnamed Bible museum being built by Steve Green in Washington, DC.

There are now more private museums than public in Turkey.

Ferrell Jenkins describes his balloon ride over Cappadocia. And a separate post includes a spectacular photo.

BibleX shares a quote on the importance of biblical geography from an older commentary on Joshua. (Alas, the anticipated survey of Palestine east of the Jordan was never completed.)

Olof Pedersén has created a set of more than 2,500 ANE Placemarks for Google Earth.

This list of “12 must-see secular destinations” in Israel may give you ideas for your next trip.

On sale for Kindle: All the Names in the Bible ($3.99) and The Secret of the Talpiot Tomb ($2.99).

Here’s a new book you might find valuable, co-written by a Christian and agnostic to give an objective perspective: The Context of Christ: The History and Politics of Judea and Rome, 100 BC – AD 33 ($2.99).

HT: Agade

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Israel’s National Treasures Online

The Israel Antiquities Authority has launched a new online museum, featuring objects from the Israel Museum, Rockefeller Museum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The National Treasures website currently has more than 5,000 artifacts with more to be added regularly.

The artifacts on the site are arranged both chronologically (according to archaeological periods) and typologically (according to the type of artifact), allowing either a gradual guided entry through the main title pages to the artifact's information card, or directly to the artifact's information card using an advanced search box.

The artifact's information card presents detailed archaeological data about the selected artifact, including provenance, type, dimensions, material, site where discovered, dating and bibliography. In addition, hi-resolution images of on-line artifacts may be purchased on-line from the photographic archives of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

It would be great if they would also organize the artifacts by site. This is particularly important because of the variety of spellings of some sites (not Ekron nor Mikne nor Muqanna, but Miqne). You can check it all out here.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Outstanding Archaeology Resources for Accordance

Accordance Bible Software has some terrific resources related to archaeology on sale this week. If you haven’t already added these to your collection, this is a great opportunity to do so. I’m particularly fond of these first two photo sets:

Historic Views of the Holy Land: Bible Places—American Colony Collection – more than 4,000 spectacular photos, many of scenes you’ll never seen again. The sale has reduced the price from $149 to $99.90.

Historic Views of the Holy Land: Bible Places—Views That Have Vanished – another collection that is close to my heart. Nearly every day I come across these images as I browse through my broader collection searching and I just love these early color photographs taken by the wonderful David Bivin. Now reduced to $26.90!

The sale includes some other outstanding resources, including (1) Archaeological Study Bible Notes – I took many of these photographs and wrote some of the articles; (2) Biblical Archaeology Review Archive – hundreds of issues of the best archaeology magazine instantly searchable; and (3) the one and only The Sacred Bridge, 2nd edition, for only $109.

These resources will pay you back in deeper knowledge and valuable illustrations many, many times over for years to come. And the search capabilities of Accordance makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for. All of the details are here. The sale ends on the 15th.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Saqqara Step Pyramid Restoration Controversy

From the International Business Times:

Activists are angry with Egypt's Minister of Antiquities, Mamdouh Eldamaty, for choosing to re-hire a company to restore one of Egypt's oldest pyramids after the firm caused damage and major deterioration to the structure while trying to repair it.

According to the Non-Stop Robberies movement, the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, located in the Saqqara necropolis, sustained serious damage while being restored by a company called Shurbagy. This led to major deterioration and the collapse of a section of the pyramid.

"Technically, the company and officials of the Supreme Council of Antiquities committed a full-fledged crime," Amir Gamal, a representative of Non-Stop Robberies, told the Egypt Independent.

"New walls were built outside the pyramid as if the pyramid were a modern construction, which is opposite to international standards of restoration, which prevents adding more than 5% of construction to antiquities if necessary.

The story continues here.

HT: Agade

Saqqara Step Pyramid of Djoser from northeast, tb010705916

Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
Photo from Egypt


Saturday, September 06, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Here’s a photo of the Temple Mount ramp that is being dismantled.

Mike Rogoff’s article in Haaretz describes the various baptismal sites on the Jordan River and gives guidance on which one is best.

Matt Glassman writes about his time excavating this summer at Khirbet el-Maqatir.

This article on “gender studies” at Tel Abel Beth Maacah is really just a piece about someone’s experience on the dig.

A conference this week in the City of David focused on gold treasures discovered in Jerusalem. The article ends with an insightful comment by Gabriel Barkay.

The re-discovery of a fragment of a lead coffin from Tyre prompted a lengthy article about the subject in Haaretz. Paleojudaica suggests its relevance for the forged lead codices.

The land of 10,000 caves is profiled in this piece on Beit Guvrin’s bell-shaped quarry caves.

Ferrell Jenkins has collected his articles related to the route of the Exodus and the location of Mount Sinai.

Aviva Bar-Am details the history and significance of Ashkelon, the first national park in Israel.

Wayne Stiles has all the visual aids you need for thinking about Jericho: photos, videos, and a map.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer

Ashkelon tell aerial from northwest, tb121704841

Tell Ashkelon from the northwest
Photo from Judah and the Dead Sea

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Temple Mount Bridge To Be Dismantled

Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered that a new foot bridge providing access to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims be dismantled. From the Jerusalem Post:

The Prime Minister’s Office ordered the dismantling of a foot bridge under construction from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount to supplement the  Mughrabi Bridge, government officials confirmed Wednesday.

The officials said that the move came at the request of the Jordanian government. According to the officials, the PMO has ultimate jurisdiction – because of the sensitivity of the area – for the site.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made it clear at a press conference on August 6 that he had no intention of altering the status quo on the Temple Mount, a highly sensitive issue in Jordan and throughout the Muslim world.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that Israel respects and will continue to respect the status quo on the Temple Mount,” he said. “We know that there are arrangements there, including the traditional role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and we are not about to change it."

One government official said that the new footbridge to the Mughrabi Gate was a private initiative taken “without any coordination with the PMO, or permission.”  He said that the Jordanians made it clear that any change in the area created problems for them and asked that it be dismantled.

The article continues here. According to the Times of Israel, dismantling work began yesterday. Access to the Temple Mount will apparently continue to be allowed via the temporary wooden bridge erected in 2004.

Temporary wooden bridge leading to Mughrabi gate of Temple Mount, tb050312541

Temporary wooden bridge leading to Temple Mount built in 2004;
photo taken in 2012

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Conference on Khirbet Qeiyafa

The Swiss Society for Near Eastern Studies (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Orientalische Altertumswissenschaft) is holding its autumn conference this Saturday in Bern, Switzerland. The conference is devoted to a single site in Israel and is organized by the Institute of Biblical Studies.


Venue: University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 6, 2nd Floor, Room 205

09.30–09.45: Prof. Dr. Silvia Schroer, University of Bern: Welcome and Introduction

09.45–11.00: Prof. Dr. Yosef Garfinkel, Hebrew University, Jerusalem: Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Kingdom of Judah

11.00–11.45: Prof. Dr. Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan: Khirbet Qeiyafa in Its Regional Context: A View from Philistine Gath

11.45–12.45: Response 1 & 2: Archaeological and Historical Aspects - Prof. Dr. Thomas Römer, University of Lausanne / Collège de France & Dr. Stefan Münger, University of Bern

14.00–14.30: Plenary Discussion - Discussion Moderator: Prof. Dr. Thomas Römer

14.30–15.15: Prof. Dr. Silvia Schroer, University of Bern: Iconographic Finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa

15.15–16.00: Prof. Dr. Benjamin Sass, Tel Aviv University: The Epigraphic Finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa in Context

16.00–16.30: Response 3: Prof. Dr. Axel Knauf, University of Bern

16.30–17.15: Panel Discussion

The conference flyer has all of the details including abstracts of the presentations.

HT: Agade

Khirbet Qeiyafa west gate, tb010412815

West gate of Khirbet Qeiyafa, looking towards Azekah 
Photo from Judah and the Dead Sea

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