Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Pool of Siloam

Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron excavated what I consider to be one of the most interesting discoveries of recent years related to the New Testament. Their work at the southern end of the City of David began when construction work on a sewer line accidentally revealed several beautiful stone steps. After several years of work, the entire northeastern side of the first-century Pool of Siloam was revealed. Our IBEX students worked with the excavators on this project a few days at a time over the course of several years, and so the published results are of particular interest to me.

As with other chapters in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, the archaeologists wrote the report. They begin by sketching out the history of excavation in the area, with the surprising note that five steps from the southern side of the pool were already revealed by Biss and Dickie in their excavations in 1898. But they didn’t realize what they had found.

The pool itself measures 50 meters on the exposed side, and an estimated 60 meters on the perpendicular sides. They uncovered the entire length on the northeastern side, including both corners. Why didn’t they go further? The article only hints at the reason: The pool “is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church.” A less professional report would have added, “and it is ironic that it is Christians who obstinately refused to allow excavation of an important site mentioned in the New Testament.”

The pool was built in two phases, and this is more important than you might think. The first phase was made of plastered stairs, but these could not withstand the large numbers of people who used the pool. But here’s the interesting part: the construction style of this phase indicates that the pool was built by workmen who specialized in constructing ritual baths.

It is, of course, tempting to dismiss the identification of the Pool of Siloam as one large ritual bath on the grounds that the lead excavator (Reich) did his doctoral dissertation on ritual baths, and we know how you end up seeing your own specialty everywhere you look. But Reich supports this theory with two additional points: (1) holes to support modesty partitions have been found in the stone steps; (2) the design of the staircase, with five steps between landings, is ideal for people trying to reach the water level at varying levels.

The date of the pool is not controversial. The first phase was built in the mid-first century BC and the pool went out of use in the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70).

On the northern end of the excavation area, the archaeologists uncovered a paved esplanade that was made of stones similar to those in the Herodian street below Robinson’s Arch. They identified the location of a row of columns and found a number of column drums in various places in their excavations. One of those drums had a mason’s mark with two Hebrew letters (het, tsadi) and three vertical lines. A street led from this esplanade to the north, underneath which they found a large drainage channel. This has been publicized in the past because it was apparently used as a hiding place for refugees in the Jewish Revolt.

This is a brief summary of the whole. The article is 11 pages long and includes 12 photos and 2 diagrams, many of them large and excellent.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Weekend Roundup

A resident of the northern Israeli village of Araba discovered a Bronze Age settlement on his way to work.

This week Bryan Windle looks at el-Araj, the other candidate for Bethsaida. He provides the evidence both for and against this identification.

The Kingdom of Copper: Copper Production and Social Complexity in Iron Age Faynan, Jordan, is a good story that has been very creatively produced. (The subdomain “storymaps” is suggestive.)

In the last few years, Zedekiah’s Cave (aka Solomon’s Quarries) has become “a major venue for concerts and cultural events.”

Jerusalem looks as it has for the thousands of years, but that’s all about to change, writes Michael Kimmelman in the NY Times, because they are building a cable car to the Western Wall. (I think a case is considerably weakened when it is grossly overstated. And the cable car does not go to the Western Wall.)

Tourism to the West Bank is growing.

A high-tech analysis of the Temple Scroll helps to explain why this very thin parchment was so bright and possibly why it was so well preserved.

The excavations at Gath made it on Jeopardy this week. And you can now register for the penultimate season there.

Leon Mauldin shares several photos from Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem.

If you enjoy virtually touring Israel, you can join John DeLancey as it posts daily about his current trip.

Tomorrow Duke is celebrating the conclusion of its years of excavating at Sepphoris.

Ahmed Shams describes the Library of Congress’s collections of photos related to the Sinai Peninsula Research project.

Archaeology in Jordan (AIJ) is a new, biannual open access (OA) newsletter published online by ACOR aimed at raising scholarly awareness of archaeological and cultural resource management projects being carried out in Jordan and to make this information accessible to a wider audience.”

I am on The Book and the Spade this week, talking with Gordon Govier about my visit to Susa, the Persian capital where Esther lived.

There will be no roundups for several weeks.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Ophel

I am personally very interested in Jerusalem in the Old Testament period (aka First Temple period), so I’m going to indulge myself by writing yet again on a third article (of four total) from that era in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Archaeological Discoveries, 1998-2018. This article is also by Eilat Mazar, and it is entitled “The Royal Quarter Built by King Solomon in the Ophel of Jerusalem in Light of Recent Excavations (2009-2013).”

As before, I am handicapped by not being able to show you the diagrams and archaeological photos in the article. There really are some spectacular views, without overgrown weeds, faded placards, or some tourist who just won’t move out of your way! But my goal in these brief summaries is to give you a sense for what they’ve found, along with a pointer to where you can read more.

Let’s start with a definition: the Ophel, according to this article, is the area between the City of David (to the south) and the Temple Mount (to the north). I’m not so sure that this is how the Bible uses the term (cf. 2 Chr 27:3; 33:14; Neh 3:26-27; 11:21), but that’s how it is used here. If you want to see these discoveries in person, you need to go to the “Southern Temple Mount Excavations,” later renamed the “Jerusalem Archaeological Park” (as if there is only one), and marked by the Davidson Center near the entrance.

This article focuses on Mazar’s work on the southern end of the excavation area (just north of the modern road that takes buses to the Western Wall). Here she found some monumental architecture which she dates to the time of Solomon. In fact, four of the five buildings date to the time of Solomon, with the fifth from the time of David. She writes, “One gets the impression that the construction of buildings in the Ophel ended during the third quarter of the 10th century BCE.”

Building I she identifies as “the Far House,” proposing that it served King David and his allies when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam 15:17). The NASB translation reads, “The king went out and all the people with him, and they stopped at the last house.” Mazar writes, “The features of bayt ha-merhaq [the far house] as described in the Bible match in date and location those of the early structure in the Ophel and it is possible that they are the same building.” I think I would have more confidence in that conclusion if we had other buildings from this time period to compare it with (and thereby determine that this in fact was the “farthest” one), but we don’t.

Building II was a fortress-tower even further than the “far house,” but she dates it to a few decades later. She estimates its size at 50 by 40 feet, though much of the structure has not yet been uncovered. But she thinks it fits with a description in Nehemiah 3:27 of “the great projecting tower.”

Building III is the gatehouse and casemate wall. Other archaeologists aren’t so sure that this was a gatehouse (only a portion of the structure was preserved), but if it is, this is the only known gatehouse from Jerusalem prior to the “Middle Building” mentioned in the Babylonian conquest description of Jeremiah 39.

Building IV is the “Straight Wall” and it has a length of more than 100 feet, with a width of 8 feet. Nehemiah mentions a portion of the wall that is called “straight” (Neh 3:25), and Mazar believes that she has found it.

Building V is the casemate wall, also built during the time of Solomon, as one of the elements in “the wall of Jerusalem” (1 Kgs 3:1). So Mazar has found this as well.

This is all truly fascinating, especially given the almost complete lack of material elsewhere in Jerusalem from the time of David and Solomon. My advice, though, to someone who has identified so much is to stop digging before you run out of biblical names to associate with your discoveries.

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Monday, September 09, 2019

Name of Adonijah, the Royal Steward, Discovered in Jerusalem

A seal impression was recently discovered in the City of David that reads “belonging to Adonijah, the royal steward.” The inscription dates to the 7th century, the period when Jerusalem was ruled by Manasseh and Josiah. The royal steward was the king’s “chief of staff,” and this position is mentioned in Isaiah 22:15 in reference to Shebna.

There is some question about whether this might be the same individual who was buried in the “tomb of the royal steward” in the Silwan necropolis opposite the City of David.

Also of interest is the fact that this man had the same name as David’s son who attempted to seize the throne before his father had died (1 Kgs 1). The Times of Israel reports:

The most famous Adoniyahu occurs some 300 years before this newly attested Adoniyahu, and is a son of King David and Haggit. He is called both Adoniya and Adoniyahu.

There are two other notable Adoniyahus recounted in the Bible. One, a Levite, appears during the reign of Jehoshaphat (circa 870–849 BCE), who is recounted in Chronicles. The other noteworthy Adoniyahu is found during the rule of Nehemiah, which occurs during the Persian era of the Second Temple period circa 465-424 BCE.

Perhaps next time the Times reporter can look up the English spelling of the name so that English readers will more readily understand. (Many other news reports perpetuate the same problem, making me think that these stories are simply regurgitated, without the necessary care.)

For the full story, including photos and a video, see The Times of Israel.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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New Resource: Encountering the Holy Land (with Carl Rasmussen)

What is the best way to prepare for a trip to the Holy Land? This is a question that I get frequently. There are a number of good answers, but the best answers will surely make sure that the preparation goes beyond passport applications and luggage allowances. The best preparation is that which will help you get the most out of what you are seeing.

I have long recommended Carl Rasmussen's Zondervan Atlas of the Bible as an excellent resource for learning the land. The combination of the geographical overviews and the historical survey is ideal. So I'm quite happy suggesting that people read all or portions of this atlas before their trip.

Now Dr. Rasmussen has a new resource available: Encountering the Holy Land: A Video Introduction to the History and Geography of the Bible. Thirteen sessions, each about 20 minutes, give a solid introduction to the biblical places and events.

I tend to be a book (over video) guy, but for this subject, video has tremendous advantages. The resource was filmed on location in Israel, and the high quality of production makes full use of drone footage, charts, diagrams, and maps. This makes the video format superior in many ways to a book for studying the land of Israel.

I really like how Zondervan is making this resource available through multiple channels, reducing the obstacles for people with different preferences. Old-fashioned guys like me can buy the course on DVD (only $35). It's also available on Amazon Prime Video. And Zondervan has a new MasterLectures program which gives you full access to all of their line-up for a modest monthly subscription of $20. By pairing excellent instruction with first-rate production and wise distribution, I predict this series will be very successful.

Here's how I would use it. Before taking a church or student trip to Israel, suggest or require the participants to watch the series. It's also a great review when you return. (OK, it's probably not truly a "review," because in all likelihood, Dr. Rasmussen explains many things that your tour guide won't.) This is a series designed to increase your knowledge and love for the Bible and the land where God revealed himself. Dr. Rasmussen has a high view of Scripture, and I have no reservations in recommending it to all. I'm very thankful to have such a great resource to recommend from now on.

You can watch the first session for free at the MasterLectures site or below (email subscribers will need to click through).

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Weekend Roundup

The latest sensational claim in biblical archaeology is that Kiriath Jearim is Emmaus.

“Archaeologists have discovered a new sanctuary preceding the ancient city of Troy in Turkey's western Çanakkale province.”

156 cuneiform tablets, brought illegally to the UK, are being returned to Iraq with the help of the British Museum.

One of the big controversies in biblical geography in recent years is the location of Bethsaida, with two candidates. Bryan Windle provides a good survey of the criteria for Bethsaida along with an evaluation of the first candidate, et-Tell.

Mark Barnes has some good observations in the similarities and differences between Elisha’s and Jesus’s raisings of boys on either side of the hill of Moreh.

Megan Sauter explains the value of inscriptions in understanding worship in the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.

The two most popular national parks for Israelis this summer were Sachne and Nahal Senir.

Wayne Stiles has released a new book on Kindle: Top 10 Places in Jesus’ Life: Why They Matter in Yours.

Eisenbrauns has put thirteen of their most popular textbooks on sale.  

Joel Kramer is leading a study tour of Israel in March 2020.

Ferrell’s Favorite Foto #26 – Shepherds by Night

A tourist bought a shwarma in Jerusalem and when he returned home, he found that it cost him 10,100 shekels.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer, Ted Weis

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Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Palace of David

Eilat Mazar excavated the palace of David. That’s what she claims, and it’s an amazing possibility to consider.

Mazar summarizes her excavations of the summit of the City of David in a chapter in the new Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Archaeological Discoveries, 1998-2018. I told you last week that if you wanted fewer questions and more answers, you would prefer Mazar’s excavation report to Reich and Shukron’s.

The chapter proceeds through the excavation chronologically beginning with the earliest periods. But the discoveries were very limited from all of the pre-Iron periods, and so I am going to skip right over them in this summary. The lack of early evidence in this area may indicate that this area was outside of Jerusalem until the time of David.

As with all of the articles in this book, we are treated to some great photos. This article also has three fantastic plans that help you see what Mazar is explaining. The main feature is the “Large Stone Structure.” This is what Mazar (and others) believes is the palace of David. Or more precisely, she considers it to be “a new significant addition to the already existing Canaanite-Jebusite Palace-Fortress or Mezudat Zion; an addition built by King David during his initial rule in Jerusalem.” So I interpret that to mean that this is David’s pre-Hiram residence. (In another study I’m working on, I reject the notion that David built a pre-Hiram residence, but that’s another discussion.)

Just how “large” is this “Large Stone Structure”? Unfortunately the excavation area was limited and the building extends beyond the edges in several directions. But the outer eastern wall is 20 feet wide, and a portion of it stands on a rock cliff that was chiseled to a height of 22-25 feet. Kathleen Kenyon discovered a royal (proto-Aeolic) capital just below this, but Mazar did not find any more in her area.

A quarried channel discovered behind the Stepped Stone Structure (which is the large foundation of the Large Stone Structure, readily visible in “Area G)” dates to the early Iron Age IIA (= time of David), and Mazar identifies this with the tsinnor mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:8, by which David’s men conquered the city.

Did I mention how much I like the color diagrams?

The finds of later periods were not quite so impressive, and it’s surely disappointing that none of the royal treasures escaped the greedy hands of the many plunderers of Jerusalem. But we can note a few discoveries in brief:

  • A wall possibly constructed ahead of Shishak’s invasion
  • A Hebrew seal impression with the name of Jehucal son of Shelemiah son of Shevi (cf. Jer 38:1)
  • The wall built by Nehemiah
  • A seal inscribed slmt that may have belonged to Shlomit the daughter of Zerubbabel (1 Chr 3:19).

Much of this material has appeared before in news reports and BAR articles, but this article provides a single summary that pulls it all together in a convenient fashion, with great illustrations.

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