Saturday, December 31, 2016

Luke & Acts: Historical Reliability - 1

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

This ongoing series of posts considers the historical reliability of the New Testament books of Luke and Acts by examining the relationship between the texts and other ancient sources. Primarily intended to assist those with a teaching ministry, it will cover both well documented and obscure correlations and will include periodic summaries and source references as relevant. Public domain photos, or those whose author has given permission for use, will also be provided when available.

To begin with, the first two verses of the third chapter of the Book of Luke contain references to eight individuals in prominent positions at the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. The text itself is shown below. 

"In the fifteenth year of the reign of  Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness." (Luke 3:1-2, NIV)

Starting with the first individual in the list, Tiberius Caesar is obviously a well known figure who is referenced in numerous sources. These include the coins which contain his name such as the one shown here that is released to the public domain.

Future posts will continue to explore this list of eight people as well as other correlations between the books of Luke and Acts with various ancient sources. 

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

(Photo: Released to public domain by owner, Michael J. Caba)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ancient Wall Collapses at City of Dan

The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz are reporting the collapse of an Israelite-period wall at Tel Dan following heavy rains. From the Jerusalem Post:

The stone wall, located near the entrance gate to the ancient city of Tel Dan, collapsed on top of five tombstones located at its base, according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The wall was made of a combination of the original ancient stones and reconstructed pieces, the INPA said.

Rainfall last week was estimated at approximately 8 inches (200 mm). Authorities hope to rebuild the wall in the coming months.

The Post includes a photograph of the damage, but it’s difficult to see the location without some context. In the aerial photograph below, we have marked the area of the collapse.

The Iron Age city of Dan flourished during the reigns of the Israelite kings Jeroboam I, Ahab, and Jeroboam II.

Dan Iron Age gate aerial from southeast, ws040616068ed

Iron Age gate complex at Tel Dan;
photo by Bill Schlegel

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Weekend Roundup

A stone bowl inscribed with the name “Hyrcanus” was discovered in the City of David. Since the name was common in the Hasmonean period, it is not clear if it belonged to one of the two rulers with this name. High-res images are available here.

A bronze coin with the image of Antiochus Epiphanes was discovered during maintenance work in the Citadel of David Museum in Jerusalem.

Mary Shepperson, a free-lance archaeologist working on five projects in Iraq, describes work in the new excavations of Charax Spasinou.

Archaeologists have discovered a large “lost city” about 150 miles north of Athens.

The Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL Lab) at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago would like to announce that a substantial subset of its digital holdings of maps and geospatial data are now available for online public search and download.”

The Temple Mount Sifting Project is asking readers to Name That Find!

The IAA has completed a detailed survey of the village of Lifta ahead of its planned replacement by a new neighborhood.

Before and after photos reveals the significant war damage in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Ferrell Jenkins recounts his 2002 visit to Aleppo and its museum.

New research suggests some ancient Egyptians believed a deceased woman had to briefly become male in the afterlife in order to be reborn. Reader Ted Weis notes that this theory corresponds with saying #114 in the Gospel of Thomas.

Egypt is trying to stop the auctioning of Egyptian relics around the world.

A stolen relief of Queen Hatshepsut has been restored to Egypt.

Bricks of ancient Babylon have been used in rebuilding houses in the area.

The Tower identifies “seven fascinating discoveries Israeli archaeologists made in 2016.”

Kudos to Dr. Chris McKinny!

Carl Rasmussen describes an “unknown” Christmas site near Bethlehem.

We wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! We’ll be traveling for several weeks and roundups will return when we do.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Charles Savelle, Ted Weis

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Discovered in Cave Excavations

Haaretz reports on the discovery of new fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls.

New fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found in the Cave of the Skulls by the Dead Sea in Israel, in a salvation excavation by Israeli authorities. The pieces are small and the writing on them is too faded to make out without advanced analysis. At this stage the archaeologists aren't even sure if they're written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or another language.

“The most important thing that can come out of these fragments is if we can connect them with other documents that were looted from the Judean Desert, and that have no known provenance," says Dr. Uri Davidovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among the scientists investigating the caves.


The latest finds, two papyri fragments about two by two centimeters with writing and several fragments without discernible letters, were made during a three-week salvage excavation in the Cave of the Skulls this May and June by a joint expedition of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were led by Uri Davidovich and Roi Porat of the Hebrew University, together with Amir Ganor and Eitan Klein from the IAA.

Read the full story here.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Upcoming Release of “Following the Messiah”

I have mentioned previously the “Following the Messiah” video series being created by Appian Media. They’re wrapping up post-production now and have scheduled two public showings of Episodes 1 and 2 in January. Tickets are free and the event is open to the public.

You can find out more and secure tickets for the January 14 showing in Indianapolis here, and for the January 21 date in Birmingham here.

You can check out the trailer for the videos here. All five videos will be available for free at Appian Media on January 14th.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

If you’re interested in excavating in Israel next year and need a scholarship, the Tel Burna team has compiled a list of opportunities.

A new exhibit on Khirbet el-Maqatir opens next month at the University of Pikeville.

Translation is the focus of an exhibit showing through March, 2017 at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM) in Marseille, France.

An Iranian archaeologist who has cataloged nearly 50,000 ancient paintings and engravings across Iran, many featuring the ibex deer, is hoping newfound access to the Western resources will reveal more insight into these works.

The British Museum has finished phase one to digitize their collection of Hebrew MSS.

K. Lawson Younger explains why he wrote a book on the Arameans.

Richard Averbeck has started a series of posts at the Carl F. H. Henry Center's blog on Gen 1. The first and second posts are about the comparative method.

The ASOR Blog has a photo update on Nimrud following its liberation from ISIS.

HT: Ted Weis, A.D. Riddle

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A winepress from the 1st century BC has been discovered in Ashkelon.

A gang of antiquities thieves were caught in the act of plundering ancient tombs in Galilee.

Heritage Daily lists the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2016, including the ancient shipwreck found at Caesarea.

The January/February 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes stories on Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Pool of Siloam.

Wayne Stiles’s post on Bethlehem includes lots of photographs.

SourceFlix has released a new video short entitled “Born in Bethlehem.”

Ferrell Jenkins has created an index of his numerous articles related to Bethlehem.

National Geographic History: “How King Herod Transformed the Holy Land

Israel’s supreme court is hearing a petition to identify the Western Wall Tunnels not only as a holy site for Jews but also for Muslims and Christians.

A staff member explain why the Temple Mount Sifting Project is so important and you should consider supporting it.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Charles Savelle, Paleojudaica

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Weekend Roundup

A tomb with a number of well-preserved frescoes from the Hellenistic or Early Roman periods has been discovered in northern Jordan.

A dozen sculptures recently unearthed at Perga are now on display in the Antalya Museum.

The BBC runs an interesting story on the Muslim families that lock and unlock the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each day.

“A crew of facial reconstruction experts have successfully recreated the face of a male who lived in the Biblical city of Jericho.”

Scanning technology has provided 3-D images of unwrapped mummies from ancient Egypt.

A pair of mummified knees are most likely those of the famously beautiful spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II.”

James Davila considers the reemergence of the Jordanian lead codices and links to an insider perspective.

Archaeologists working in the Wadi Feinan region of Jordan believe that they have found evidence of the world’s first polluted river.

The breed known as “Jacob’s sheep” have returned to Israel.

The Jerusalem Post runs a story on Douglas Petrovich’s theory that the earliest alphabet was Hebrew.

The US and Egypt have come to an agreement regarding the importing of looted archaeological artifacts.

Recent damage to the ancient site of Mari is discussed by archaeologist Pascal Butterlin in a short video (in French).

Relics looted from Syria's ancient city of Palmyra have been recovered in Switzerland.

“Radiocarbon dating remains a reliable tool if it is supplemented by 13C measurements.”

“Why would the Lord first announce the Messiah’s birth to lowly shepherds?” Wayne Stiles explains.

In light of the recent excavation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Gordon Govier at Christianity Today explains why there are two competing sites for the place of Jesus’s burial.

The late Charles Ryrie’s Bible collection has been sold to various collectors for more than $7 million. Daniel Wallace was one of the bidders and he provides more details. I wonder how many of the purchases will show up in the Museum of the Bible.

The Westminister Bookstore has a big sale on the ESV Bible Atlas, described by them as “‘National Geographic’ meets world class Biblical Scholarship.” You can look inside here.

HT: Charles Savelle, Explorator, Ted Weis, Agade, Joseph Lauer

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Thursday, December 08, 2016

New Excavations at el-Araj, Possible Bethsaida

For thirty years now, Rami Arav has led excavations at the site of et-Tell. Since the beginning, he has identified the ruins with the New Testament site of Bethsaida. This identification was quickly adopted by Israeli road sign makers, and most popular literature today calls the site “Bethsaida.” Arav has argued strenuously that his site is Bethsaida, and the titles of all of the excavation reports begin with “Bethsaida.” The problem is that as excavations progressed, the site turned out to be primarily an Iron Age city, with little remains from the first century AD.

That has bothered a number of scholars for several decades now, and the site of el-Araj has been suggested as the true site of the fishing village where several of Jesus’s disciples lived. This past summer, Mordechai Aviam began excavations to determine if el-Araj is a more suitable candidate for Bethsaida.

A preliminary summary posted online gives a bit of the background as well as brief descriptions of the two excavation areas. Of the western area, Aviam writes:

Underneath the Crusader level we discovered remains of a dwelling dated to the late Byzantine-early Islamic period. An unusual large bronze jar was uncovered, which has been sent to the laboratory for conservation. Coins and pottery dating from the 6th-8th centuries were uncovered on the floors. The most surprising find was a group of gilded glass tesserae, which are used in the construction of wall mosaics. These type of tesserae are typical to large and important churches. Which means, even before finding the church itself, it is possible to suggest that in the Byzantine period, el-Araj was identified as a holy place, most likely Bethsaida. One of the walls contains a large, reused, monolithic, limestone pillar, and nearby, outside of the excavation area, there is another limestone double "heart-shaped" pillar, which are both typical to late Roman Jewish synagogues in Galilee.

Concerning the period of interest, he summarizes:

Both areas yielded a large number of typical early Roman pottery. As of yet, structures from the early Roman period have not been uncovered.

He concludes:

After this initial season of excavation, our primary conclusions are: 1) the site of el-Araj was most likely identified as Bethsaida during the Byzantine period, and a church, probably a pilgrim monastery was erected at the site. 2) The site of el-Araj was inhabited during the early Roman period; therefore, it remains a good candidate for the identification of Bethsaida. 3) We will continue to excavate el-Araj in the coming years.

I think he’s on solid ground on point #3. The other two points are clearly premature. While making these claims may help the team raise money and support, scholarship is not well served by making such bold assertions so early in the process. This in fact is what troubles many about Arav’s identification. He made the claim early on and now it’s not easy to admit failure. If Aviam’s site is indeed Bethsaida, he can take his time to collect the evidence that will make a compelling case.

A two-minute video (mostly in Hebrew) provides footage of excavations at both candidates for Bethsaida, with a cameo by Indiana. Nyack College has a couple of dozen photos on its Facebook page.

I’m told that donations would be appreciated for next year’s excavations. You should be able to do that through the Center for Holy Lands Studies.

El-Araj aerial from south, ws033115038

Aerial view of the vicinity of el-Araj, possible location of Bethsaida

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Was Paul Heading for Alexandria?

At last month’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Mark Wilson suggested in a lunch gathering sponsored by Tutku Tours that Paul’s original destination on his first journey was not Galatia but Alexandria. This talk was based on an article that he co-authored with Thomas W. Davis that is available at the website of Pharos Journal of Theology. I thought that a brief sketch of their argument might be of interest to readers here.

The discovery that the proconsul Sergius Paulus hailed from Antioch near Pisidia has previously led to speculation that it was his influence that led Paul and Barnabas to travel there from Paphos. This seems even more reasonable given an understanding of the island of Cyprus. Paphos had strong ties with Alexandria, a situation encouraged by the prevailing winds which made sailing south from Paphos the norm, but sailing north to Perga unusual. If Paul had been intending to head north, Wilson argues that he would have traveled not to Paphos but to Cyprus’s northern coast.

John Mark’s desertion at Perga also may suggest that Paul’s plan had changed. With the new itinerary, Mark may have felt freed from his commitment to serve the team. Later Paul and Barnabas parted ways because of their disagreement over Mark, and Barnabas took his cousin back to Cyprus. It could well be that from there Barnabas and Mark continued on to the original destination of Alexandria.

That Mark did missionary work in Alexandria and North Africa is supported by his Gospel and church tradition. In Mark 15:21, the writer mentions Simon of Cyrene (in North Africa) and his sons Alexander and Rufus, a comment that suggests personal acquaintance. The church historian Eusebius writes that Mark started the church in Alexandria and was later martyred there. His tomb is located in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. This suggests that Mark did indeed spend time here, and it may support the theory that Paul’s original destination was Alexandria. As for why Paul never traveled to this city, given that it held one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, it may be that by the time that Paul turned his gaze back in that direction, he recognized that this was no longer an area “where Christ was not known” and so he opted to travel elsewhere.

You can read the full argument of Davis and Wilson in their journal article. You might also enjoy Wilson’s 2016 article in Adalya, “Saint Paul in Pamphylia: Intention, Arrival, Departure,” available through his academia page.

Alexandria, Saint Mark's Cathedral, adr1603268481

St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Archaeologists have finally discovered the port of ancient Byblos.

Philippe Bohstrom looks at the history of the city of Dan and the tribe of the Danites in a well-illustrated Haaretz article.

Wayne Stiles beat me to the new Virtual Reality tour at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and I asked him to write about it. He did.

Albawaba has a short slide show of the pre-Islamic Middle East.

New tests on the (probably fake) lead codices from Jordan suggest that the lead is ancient.

The Jewish Virtual Library posts a list of significant archaeological discoveries in Israel from 2004 to present. The list seems to be more complete for the last two years than for earlier ones.

Leon Mauldin visited the largely ignored site of Tirzah on his recent trip to Israel.

The Jewish Press posts a 15-minute video entitled “Secrets of the Machpela in Hebron.”

Amazon has a $5 off code good through Sunday on any book(s) that total $15 or more. Enter GIFTBOOK at checkout. Here are three books that qualify:

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Agade

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Inscription Discovered Underwater Naming Roman Governor of Judea

Haaretz reports on this new discovery:

An underwater survey conducted by divers off Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean Sea, yielded an astonishing find: a rare Roman inscription mentioning the province of Judea – and the name of a previously unknown Roman governor, who ruled the province shortly before the Bar-Kochba Revolt.

Historians had thought that based on Roman records, the leaders Rome imposed on its provinces were all known.

The rock with the 1,900-year-old inscription was exposed by a storm on the seabed at a depth of just 1.5 meters in the bay of Dor. The town had been a thriving port in Roman times that even minted its own coins, which proudly proclaimed the city to be "Ruler of the Seas".

Found by Haifa University archaeologists surveying the remains of the ancient Roman harbor at Dor in January 2016, the rock, 70 by 65 centimeters in size, was partly covered in sea creatures when it was found.

The article continues with many large photos. For more information, see the University of Haifa press release, the Times of Israel article, and blog postings by Ferrell Jenkins and David Graves.

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Agade

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Travel in Egypt

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

As mentioned before, I took my first trip to Egypt this year. The main part of the trip was led by James Hoffmeier (Trinity International University) and was organized by Shepherd Travel. For those interested in traveling to Egypt, I am happy to recommend Shepherd Travel, and in particular, our guide Maged. At the end of the Hoffmeier trip, a friend and I remained a few extra days to visit additional sites. Maged was an enormous help during our extended time.

Egypt possesses many amazing places and artifacts to see, but travel in Egypt can present a few challenges. If we had not had Maged as our guide, it would have been extremely difficult (maybe impossible) to visit and photograph all the sites that we did.

Our Egyptian guide Maged

Here are four ways having a good guide helped us:

Negotiation. First, everything in Egypt must be negotiated—from transportation, to prices and tips, to permission to enter some of the sites and permission to photograph. All of this takes time and knowledge of how things work (the ability to speak Arabic is also huge advantage). There were a few sites that were "closed" or where photography was forbidden, but Maged was able to negotiate our way into nearly every one of them. In addition, if we had been by ourselves, we surely would have paid more and tipped more (or less) than we needed to, because we are not familiar with the customs. Maged made sure we avoided these situations. (In Egypt, everything you can imagine requires a tip, and you have to be willing to give each transaction plenty of time to "transpire." If you are in a hurry, you will probably miss out.)

Transportation. Second, we had to rely on local transportation. In other Middle East countries I have visited, it is not difficult to rent a car and do all of my own navigating, but I would not recommend this in Egypt. Instead, we utilized local drivers, trains, and subways for transportation. Some of this we could have figured out on our own, but it would have taken us twice as long and in some cases we probably would have paid (much) more than we should have. Maged arranged all our transportation needs to maximize our schedule and negotiated fair prices. In places where Maged was not with us, he made sure we had a driver, that the driver knew where we wanted to go, and that we knew how much we needed to pay and tip.

Security. Third, Egypt is very protective of tourists, excessively even at times. During the Hoffmeier trip, we noted at one site that the number of police and guards exceeded the 40-something members of our tour group. Travel to some sites and use of the desert highway require police escort, and it was helpful to have Maged explain our intentions to authorities, to procure their assistance when needed, and to keep us informed of everything that was going on. Maged also knew which sites are located in military zones and therefore off-limits, thus saving me wasted time and effort trying in vain to reach them. Finally, Maged could verify whether it was safe for us to travel to some of the out-of-the-way sites.

Expertise. Fourth, Maged studied Egyptian archaeology and ancient Egyptian language in university. He showed us his comprehensive exams in Egyptian hieroglyphs, hieratic and Coptic, and they looked quite impressive. He has participated in excavations and was familiar with all of the sites on my itinerary—even the ones that I thought were ultra-obscure. In addition, Maged is quite knowledgable about the history, sites, doctrines, and traditions of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Many American Christians probably are not too familiar with traditions related to Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt (Matt 2), the martyrdom of Mark in Alexandria, the ostensible fulfillments of Isaiah 19, the Desert Fathers, or the differences between the Latin and Eastern Church. And not least, Maged speaks very good English.

If you are thinking of taking a trip to Egypt, I recommend Shepherd Travel and ask for Maged to be your guide. You can find more at Shepherd Travel's website or on Facebook.

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