Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jaffa Gate, Early 1900s

Jerusalem, looking down moat toward clock tower, mat08549

Jaffa Gate vicinity from southwest, 1907-1920

I cannot locate a “today” version from this perspective, but you can just imagine the changes: 1) the Crusader moat in the foreground has been completely filled in; 2) the shops on the left side of the photo have been torn down; 3) the clock tower has been dismantled; 4) the fountain has been removed.  Other than that, it looks pretty much the same today.

If a reader has a photo from this perspective that they want to share, feel free to send it to me and I will post it here.  I’ve walked this way many times, but I guess I just considered it too ordinary to photograph. It was 19 years ago that I walked this way on my first date with (now) wife.

This photograph is from the newly released Jerusalem CD, volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The collection includes 685 photographs, including 26 in the Jaffa Gate set, revealing the dramatic changes in this area from 1898 to 1946. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-08549.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Tiberias Theater Exposed

Two years ago I noted the anticipated excavation of the Roman theater of Tiberias (with photo).  The Israel Antiquities Authority has publicized some of its work and today Haaretz carries a report on it, albeit with a misleading headline. 

A 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre was finally revealed after 19 years of excavation work since its first discovery.

15 meters bellow [sic] ground remnants of a Roman amphitheatre peak through the sand in a place which was "a central meeting point" according to Archeologist, Doctor Valid Atrash, from the Israel Antiquities Authority....

Only at the beginning of 2009, 19-years after the primary discovery, did the uncovering of the theatre in its entirety begin.

The late Professor Izhar Hirshfeld and Yossi Stefanski, the archeologists heading the excavation, initially assessed the remains to belong to the 2nd or 3rd century CE, but quickly realized that they go all the way back to the beginning of the 1st century CE, closer to the founding of Tiberias.

"The most interesting thing about the amphitheatre," said Hirshfeld upon the discovery, "is its Jewish context. Unlike Tzipori, which was a multi-cultural city, Tiberias was a Jewish city under Roman rule. The findings demonstrate the city's pluralistic nature and cultural openness, a fact uncommon in those days."

A theater is a semi-circular structure used for performance of the dramatic arts.  An amphitheater (amphi means “both” or “around”) is a circular building used for athletic and gladiatorial contests.  (For more explanation, see this page at the U of Chicago.)

The Hebrew version of the Haaretz article has a small photo.  The IAA report has two medium-sized photos, but I’m having trouble figuring out how they relate to each other.

In any case, this excavation is a welcome development in revealing the city of Tiberias from its earliest periods.  Founded in A.D. 20 by Herod Antipas, Tiberias was the young capital of Galilee during Jesus’ ministry.  Though there is no report that Jesus visited the city, its location on the western shore would have made it difficult to completely avoid.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Nimrod’s Fortress

If I ever made a list of best places to visit in Israel, the site that would probably take the award for “best place to explore” would be Nimrod’s Castle.  Also known as Subeibeh and Banias Fortress, the castle on the slopes of Mount Hermon was long believed to be one of a string of Crusader castles found throughout the Levant.  More recent archaeological investigation has determined that the fortress was built by the Ismali’is (c. 1130) and then expanded by Malik el-Aziz Uthman (c. 1230).  The Crusaders held the castle for a brief time, but they were not responsible for its initial construction or its later expansion.

Nimrod's Fortress from east, tb040903258

Nimrod’s Fortress from the east

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has written a good summary of the castle’s history and beauty in the Jerusalem Post this week. 

The best way to tour the extensive castle is to follow a path along the walls, which passes all sixteen towers, each one bearing a different, elaborate, stonework design. At first glance, the architecture looks to be styled by the Crusaders, but further examination reveals that the arches do not bear the vintage pointed, gothic trademark, and the lintels over the doorways have double corbels and decorated relieving arches, which is typical Arab style. However, obvious similarities inevitably exist given that Muslim work is contemporary with that of the Crusaders, and the locals clearly absorbed some of the fine French designs of their enemies.

Of the sixteen towers, the large, semi-circular structure on the southern wall - appropriately dubbed, the “Beautiful Tower” - is of particular note. The massive central pier is asymmetrical and octagonal, and reconciles the outer semicircle, composed of five sides, to the inner rectangular plan of three sides. The vaults from the pier to the outside walls, although now partly destroyed, reflect the complicated curved surfaces that had to be cut in stone to achieve the precise reconciliation between the curved and rectangular layout of the tower.

Visiting the site with children can be enormously enjoyable, given the many strange and interesting staircases, as well as the stepped, “secret passage” which serves as an exit on the west end. The passage was either an elaborate postern or hidden pedestrian entrance, and was uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 1994. Some of the towers, as well as the keep, have retained their original stone roofing, and from there one can appreciate the extensive view over the deep, adjoining valleys of the Sa'ar and Guvta wadis. Those who launched attacks against the fortress from these low points must have either been intensely brave or profoundly insane.

The full article is here.  HT: Joe Lauer

Subeibeh, Nimrod's Fortress, mat01121

Nimrod’s Fortress, 1900-1920

Nimrod's Fortress view from keep, tb040903264View of Nimrod’s Fortress from the keep with Huleh Basin and mountains of Upper Galilee

Black and white photo from Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01121.  Color photographs from Galilee and the North CD of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Series: Ancient Context, Ancient Faith

I recently received from the publisher two books in a new series that will be of interest to readers here. The series is entitled “Ancient Context, Ancient Faith,” and the first two books in the series were released this summer. The writer of both of these books is Gary M. Burge, but it’s not clear to me if he will author the entire series.

Both books are very attractive and once you pick the books up, you’ll immediately be impressed by the beautiful maps and photos (disclosure: some are mine). I like the books’ handy size, layout, and logical presentation of these important subjects. burge

The Bible and the Land. I’ve taught a course similarly titled (flip the order of the words) for years, but this book is not a historical geography of Israel. Instead, you get a sense for the contents from the one word titles of the chapters: Introduction, Land, Wilderness, Shepherds, Rock, Water, Bread, Names. These are subjects that are often not carefully dealt with in a Bible atlas, geography course, or tour of Israel, but are very much part of the fabric of the biblical world.

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller. This book is dedicated to Kenneth E. Bailey, “who taught me [Burge] how to read a parable.” Those familiar with Bailey’s excellent work will see similarities, even in the fact that all but one of the parables studied are from the Gospel of Luke. Like Bailey, Burge seeks a more accurate understanding of Jesus’ parables by considering cultural elements from the 1st century land of Israel. The chapter titles indicate the parables included: the Friend Who Came at Midnight, Stories about Excuses, Stories about Compassion, Stories of Forgiveness (Matt 18), Finding the Lost, and the Foolish Builder.

The books are not long (c. 100 pages each), and they quite possibly will whet your appetite for deeper study. I think that many will find them welcome gifts for birthdays or Christmas. More advanced readers will want to continue with Bailey’s latest work, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.

Another beautiful book that came out this year that was co-authored by Burge is The New Testament in Antiquity, which was positively reviewed a few days ago by my colleague at The Master’s College, Dr. William Varner, on his new blog.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gordon’s Calvary, Then and Now

General Charles Gordon was a well-known British leader when he came to live near Jerusalem in 1882, often visiting the home of Horatio and Anna Spafford, founders of the American Colony.  From their quarters atop the northern wall of the Old City, Gordon had a view of a rocky escarpment in which he identified the features of a skull.  He identified this location as the “Place of the Skull” (Aramaic: Golgotha; Latin: Calvary).  Around the corner was an ancient tomb which he believed was the empty tomb of Christ.  A decade later, the property was purchased by a concerned group of Christians in England and the Garden Tomb Association was formed.

Gordon's Calvary, mat06666 The area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” early 1900s

In this photo, taken between 1898 and 1914, the view is similar to the one that Gordon had from the American Colony home.  The caves that form the eye sockets of the skull are visible just left of center.  The tomb is out of view behind the wall on the left side.  On the top of the hill some tombs of the Muslim cemetery can be seen.  The camels are walking east along what is today a busy four-lane street.

The photo below was taken in 2006 and the most prominent feature is the bus station.  The two “eye sockets” are visible, but most of the rest of the landscape is covered.  If you believe that Jesus was crucified in this area, you’ll do better using the black and white photo to visualize the event.

Gordon's Calvary from south, tb122006023 The area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” present day

Concerning the tomb’s authenticity, Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister wrote in 1907:

It is a pity that so much is claimed for [this tomb]; the prejudice raised thereby is apt to blind one to the fact that it is a remarkably interesting sepulchre. . . . In conversation with tourists at the hotel in Jerusalem I constantly hear such a remark as this: ‘I came to Jerusalem fully convinced that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the true site; but I went to the Church and saw all the “mummery” that goes on there, and I saw the Muhammadan soldiers guarding the place to prevent the Christians fighting. Then I went to that peaceful garden: and then I knew that the church was wrong, and that Gordon had found the real site.’ This is the most convincing argument that can be advanced in favor of the tomb, and it is obviously quite unanswerable (Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1907, p. 232).

The top photo is one 15 photographs in a presentation of the Garden Tomb in the newly released Jerusalem CD, volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The presentation includes a carefully researched history of the area.  Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06666.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BAS Lecture Series in New Orleans

The Biblical Archaeology Society is sponsoring the 12th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest in New Orleans from November 20 to 22.  A full schedule is not yet out, but a preliminary posting of speakers and lecture titles is now available at the BAS website.  The line-up is outstanding, and I’m planning on attending.  Below are the lectures that look most interesting to me.

Anson Rainey, Tel Aviv University: Whence Came the Israelites and Their Language?

Aren Maeir, Bar Ilan University: Fleshing out the Bible at Philistine Gath: The Interface of Bible and Archaeology

Avraham Faust, Bar Ilan University: The Assyrian Peace: A Reexamination

Dan Schowalter, Carthage College: Architecture and Power: Excavations of a Roman Temple Site at Omrit in Northern Israel

James Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary: Should the Gospel of John be Used in Jesus Research?

James Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte: Media Hype, Academic Squabbles, and the James Ossuary: Getting the Facts Straight

Jim Hoffmeier, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Exploring David’s Strange Antics after Defeating Goliath

Leonard Greenspoon, Creighton University: Ten Common Misconceptions about Bible Translation: How I Learned to Live with—and even Love—Modern Versions of the Bible

Mark Wilson, Asia Minor Research Center: In the Footsteps of Paul in Asia Minor: Are there Still Roman Roads to Follow?

Steve Mason, York University: The Historical Problem of the Essenes

Sean Freyne, Trinity College, Dublin: The Archaeology of Roman Galilee: What we have and have not learned about Jesus the Galilean

Yosef Garfinkel, Hebrew University: *Plenary Session Speaker*: Khirbet Qeiyafa: Not Shaaraim, but Ephes-dammim. 

Just kidding on that last title.  (If you don’t get it, you’ll have to slog through last year’s posts on the subject, especially here, here, and here.)  The true title is: Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Fortified City in Judah from the Time of King David.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Siloam Street Excavations Extended

Excavations continue to reveal more of the large 1st century city street that ran from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has issued a press release and made available two high-resolution photographs of the street and drainage channel.

The street is beautifully paved and though only 6 feet (2 m) in width have been exposed, the full width of the street is estimated to be 25 feet (8 m).

As far as I can tell, this story is not relating a new discovery but indicates that excavation work (once halted) has continued with success. It was mentioned on this blog before in December 2005, December 2006, and September 2007. In the 2005 post, I wrote:

The archaeologist told me that he would like to reveal the entire length of the road from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. I told him he was crazy. Unless he is thinking of digging a tunnel underneath all of those houses. Then he's still crazy :-).

Leen Ritmeyer believes that the report concerns a different street, namely a side street on the east side of the Byzantine/upper pool. He has a helpful drawing that illustrates that. In the articles I have read, it has not been clear to me that a separate street has been found, but Ritmeyer may have first-hand knowledge. (See update below.)

You can ignore any reports which describe these excavations as undermining Al Aqsa Mosque. The mosque is 1600 feet (500 m) distant. You should also ignore the ubiquitous comment in the news stories that the dig is funded by Elad. Such a note insinuates that the archaeologists distort their results, and anyone who knows Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun knows that that is a falsehood.

Joe Lauer has sent along links to the story in various sources, including Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Arutz-7. A previously mentioned IAA video of a tour of the City of David includes this street.

UPDATE (9/16): Ritmeyer has posted a correction.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

En Gev, Then and Now

One of my favorite places in Israel is not visited by most tourists.  (Come to think of it, that’s true of most of my favorite places.)  I like tells and I love panoramic vistas.  But I also love to sit back, put my feet in the Sea of Galilee, and relax.  Give me a book or give my kids a raft and it’s all the better.  I’ve probably watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee from here more than 200 times.

En Gev holiday village from Sea of Galilee, tb101105949ddd En Gev Holiday Village

The place is En Gev, and it hasn’t always been a beautiful holiday resort.  In biblical times, people were settled on the tell in the middle of today’s kibbutz.  Some have identified it as “Lower Aphek.” 

In the 1930s, courageous Jewish pioneers settled this uninhabited area with a “tower and stockade.”  The compound became a kibbutz, and from 1948 to 1967 residents lived below the Syrian-controlled mountains of the Golan Heights.  Shelling was frequent and bomb shelters became bedrooms.  Since 1967, Israel has controlled the Golan Heights and Kibbutz En Gev has developed a flourishing tourist industry, including the holiday village, tourist boats, and fish restaurant.  Ein Gev lookout tower with sea beyond, mat03684

En Gev settlement with watchtower. Date of photograph: 1934-39

As you drive along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee today, there is relatively little development.  One reason for that is the hostile conditions until 1967 and the uncertainty since then of the Golan Heights’ future. 

The second photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-03684.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

1st Century Synagogue Found at Magdala

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced, with a rather mild headline, the discovery of a synagogue at Magdala (Migdal) dating from 50 B.C. to A.D. 100. I would consider this big news, even though, as far as I can tell, no one is reporting it yet (except Joe Lauer, who always seems to know everything first).

Magdala was the home of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples. That, together with the fact that its location was near the center of Jesus’ ministry (Capernaum, Chorazin, Gennesaret, etc.), makes it quite likely that Jesus visited Magdala. Matthew records that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,” and I see no reason that Magdala would be excluded (Matt 9:35; cf. 4:23). Thus it is likely, in my opinion, that Jesus visited this synagogue.

Magdala from above, tb052000203 Magdala from above

This is not the same thing as saying, as they did last year, that “archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.” This is not the first synagogue excavated that Jesus visited. He almost certainly was in (an earlier version) of the Capernaum synagogue, may have been in the Chorazin synagogue (though there is a dating problem), and could have been in the Gamla synagogue. We know of other 1st century synagogues, but it is most unlikely that Jesus visited those at Herodium and Masada, particularly since they were constructed after his death.

The discovery is most significant to me because it puts Magdala “on the map,” so to speak. Before this synagogue was found, visitors would only zip by the site on the highway while a rushed tour guide cried out, “there is Magda...well, too late. It was behind those trees and next to the ferris wheel.” More intrepid explorers could do no better than stand at a fence and look at a few old walls. Hopefully these new excavations will give the world a chance to see a portion of this ancient town.

The IAA has three high-res photos you can download (zip file), and the press release begins as follows:

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars).

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the Second Temple period”.

The full release is here. I don’t know enough yet to comment on the relationship of this newly excavated building to another previously excavated at Magdala which was identified (with controversy) as a synagogue. From the photos and the decoration, there should be little debate as to the function of this building.

Magdala from north, mat07447 Magdala from the north, early 1900s

This photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07447 (but currently misidentified there).

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Oil Consortium to Drill at Dead Sea

Arutz-7 reports:

An oil drilling consortium which includes companies that found billions of dollars in natural gas off the Haifa coast will begin in October to look for black gold in an area along the Dead Sea, according to Delek Group chief executive officer Yitzchak Tshuva.

He said that the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has consented to the drilling after the consortium agreed to invest half a million dollars to protect the rich nature reserves in the area from damage during the exploration.

Investors' hopes of finding oil in Israel are based on seismic surveys that estimate that Dead Sea oil reserves are worth nearly half a billion dollars.

Delek heads the consortium that earlier this year discovered rich gas reserves approximately 50 miles west of Haifa, and estimates of the value of the gas have more than doubled since the first reports. Tshuva said last month that he foresees Israel becoming self-sufficient in energy in the near future, with the Jewish State possibly becoming an exporter of gas.

The complete article is here.


Mt Zion Inscription is Cryptic

The previously-reported discovery of a stone cup with an inscription dating from the 1st century A.D. is covered by National Geographic.  The inscription is proving quite difficult to decipher.

"These were common stone mugs that appear in all Jewish households" of the time, said lead excavator Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina.

"But this is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel" of this type.

Deciphering the writing could provide a window into daily life or religious ritual in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus Christ.

Working on historic Mount Zion—site of King David's tomb and the Last Supper—the archaeologists found the cup near a ritual pool this summer. The dig site is in what had been an elite residential area near the palace of King Herod the Great, who ruled Israel shortly before the birth of Jesus.


What sets the newfound cup apart is its inscription, which is still sharply etched but so far impossible to understand.

Similar to intentionally enigmatic writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the cup's script appears to be a secret code, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the two written languages used in Jerusalem at the time.

"They wrote it intending it to be cryptic," Gibson said.

In hopes the script can be deciphered, Gibson's team is sharing pictures of the cup with experts on the writing of the period. The researchers also plan to post detailed photos of the cup and its inscriptions online soon.

One thing the team is sure of, though, is that whoever inscribed the cup had something big in mind—and didn't want just anyone to know.

"They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], could have incantations or curses. But it's not going to be something mundane like a shopping list."

The complete article is here and it includes a nice photograph (enlarged here).  A friend of mine dug this cup out of the dirt, but as with all excavations, the credit goes to the archaeologists, not to the laborers, and you’ll never see his name in print.  The official excavation website is here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

?, Then and Now

Let’s do this post a little differently than the previous ones, with a little reader interaction.  Instead of me describing the photo, I’ll give you the opportunity.  Write in the comments below as much as you can about this picture, including its name(s), major features visible, and anything else that indicates why this photograph is useful today for understanding the geography and history of ancient Israel.

Aerial photo with stones, dirt, trees, water

The answer I deem best wins the Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, with 600 high-resolution photos of Acco, Benjamin, Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Ephraim, Galilee Hill Country, Haifa, Huleh, Jaffa, Jezreel, Mount Carmel, Mount Hermon, Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Samaria, Sharon, Shechem, Sea of Galilee, Tabgha, Tel Aviv, and Tiberias.

P.S. Searching on the Library of Congress website won’t really help you, because the name of this place is not given in the description.

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Bar Kochba Coin Cache Discovered

A press conference by Hebrew University is being reported at GNews, with beautiful photographs of the finds.

The largest cache of rare coins ever found in a scientific excavation from the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt of the Jews against the Romans has been discovered in a cave by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University.

The coins were discovered in three batches in a deep cavern located in a nature reserve in the Judean hills. The treasure includes gold, silver and bronze coins, as well as some pottery and weapons.

The discovery was made in the framework of a comprehensive cave research and mapping project being carried out by Boaz Langford and Prof. Amos Frumkin of the Cave Research Unit in the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University.

The discovery included 120 gold, silver, and bronze coins, many in excellent condition. You can read the rest of the article here. As other news sites prepare stories, you can find them via this Google News link.

As for the “Cave Research Unit,” when word gets out about that, I bet they get lots of applicants!

UPDATE: The story is now covered by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Arutz-7.

UPDATE (9/16): Joe Lauer notes a link with interviews (mp3) of the archaeologists who discovered the coins.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Free Video Lectures: Israel and Aram

Video from the Plenary Session of the Fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies (August 2-6, 2009) is now online.  The session was entitled, “Israel, Aram and Assyria: Between Bible and Archaeology,” but as moderator Mordechai Cogan notes at the beginning, the papers are more about Aram and Israel (not Assyria), especially in the 9th century BC.  Each presentation is in English and is 30 minutes long.

Tallay Ornan, Northern Inspiration: Aramean and Neo-Hittite Finds in Ninth–Eighth Century BCE Israel

Aren Maeir, Hazael in Southern Israel: The Campaign to Philistia and the Conquest of Philistine Gath

Amihai Mazar, Israel, the Arameans and Assyria: A View from Tel Beth-Shean and Tel Rehov

Doron Ben Ami and Nili Wazana, Enemy at the Gates: The Phenomenon of Fortifications in Israel and Judea Reexamined

HT: Aren Maeir


Monday, September 07, 2009

Herod’s Temple at Sebaste, Then and Now

King Herod built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, but not as many people are aware that he built three other temples in the land of Israel, all to Gentile deities.  The ancient capital of the northern kingdom, Samaria, was renamed Sebaste by Herod in honor of Emperor Augustus, and he constructed a temple here dedicated to the emperor. 

Samaria/Sebaste was first excavated by Harvard University from 1908 to 1910 under the direction of George Andrew Reisner.  The photo below shows the foundations of Herod’s temple shortly after those excavations.

Samaria, Herodian temple remains, mat07375Remains of Herod’s Temple at Samaria/Sebaste.  Photo taken between 1908 and 1914.

Today this area is largely filled in and overgrown, with only a few walls and pillar bases visible.  The political situation today makes it difficult for most tourists to visit the site.

Samaria Herodian temple, tb070507748dxo

Herod’s temple foundations, view from northwest

Samaria Herodian temple, tb050106512ddd

Herod’s temple foundations, view from southeast

The first photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07375.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Defense to Testify in James Ossuary Forgery Case

Time Magazine has an article this weekend on the continuation of the trial of Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch for forging the James Ossuary and other spectacular artifacts.  Matthew Kalman, the Jerusalem correspondent who has been the primary reporter on this case for the last couple of years, spends the better part of the article on a technical discussion on the issue of patina in the inscribed letters.  Here are a few portions of the report:

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the "tip of the iceberg" of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

Next week, defense attorneys will present evidence suggesting that scientists testifying for the prosecution have disproved their own findings against the ossuary. The scientific evidence against Golan is largely based on measurements of the oxygen isotopic composition (in technical terms, d18O — Delta 18 Oxygen) of the thin crust — or patina — covering the ossuary inscription....

The trouble with this kind evidence is, of course, that the formation of patina isn't yet explainable in science everyone can agree on. The patina on one letter could be the result of one particularly wet winter that happened to leave its evidence on the ossuary — but perhaps not in a stalagmite in a cave. Or vice versa. "The analogy between the formation of cave deposits and the formation of patina on archeological objects is imprecise and more work is needed," says Professor Aldo Shemesh, an isotope expert at the Weizmann Institute who was also called as a defense expert. In the end, it is a numbers game — figuring on averages of statistics over which all the experts disagree. Says Shemesh: "Scientific debates should be discussed and resolved in peer-reviewed literature and scientific conferences, not in court."

The full article is here.


Weekend Roundup

A PhD student has discovered a fragment of Codex Sinaiticus under the binding of an 18th-century book. The parchment contains part of Joshua 1:10 and dates to A.D. 350.

Azusa Pacific University has purchased five Dead Sea Scrolls fragments from a book dealer in southern California. “This acquisition will set Azusa Pacific University apart from all other Christian institutions of higher education in the world,” said Paul Gray, vice provost for graduate programs and research and dean of the University Libraries. As an educator, I think this is a publicity stunt which will do little more than give them bragging rights for recruiting. How about this as an idea for setting apart a school and improving education: build an extension campus for your students in Israel.

CNN carries the story of the Middle Bronze passageway discovered in Jerusalem, together with a 2.5 minute video that includes interviews with archaeologists Reich and Shukrun.

A carved stone with Egyptian signs from the First Dynasty has been discovered at Tel Bet Yerah (Khirbet Kerak) on the southwestern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee (photos here).

HT: Joe Lauer and Ferrell Jenkins

UPDATE (9/11): NPR has a 4-minute radio interview of Ronny Reich (with written transcript)

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Recommended Book: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

This summer I read a book sent to me by one of the authors that I am happy to recommend to my readers here. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus is subtitled “How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith.” The essence of the book is to reveal aspects of Jewish life that inform how we (should) read the New Testament. feetrabbi

Ann Spangler teamed up with Lois Tverberg to write an engaging study of first-century customs that would have been familiar to Jesus and his disciples, but are unknown to most readers today. The book includes chapters focusing on rabbis and disciples, education, prayer, blessings, Jewish feasts, Torah, and the kingdom of God. The appendices and glossary provide much helpful information.

Quite a bit of work has been done in the last few decades in the area of Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament, but much of it I cannot recommend. This book distinguishes itself in several ways. First, the research upon which the book is based is trustworthy. I don’t agree with every bit of analysis, but they use the best sources. Second, while the first point would lead you to expect that this is a “scholarly” work, it is, in fact, written to a popular audience and the writing style is superb. Third, the book is not an academic exercise, but the writers are very interested that their discoveries impact the reader’s faith and daily life. Altogether, these three realities combine to make an excellent book.

There were a few things I would change, and I note these more as testimony that I carefully read the whole book than to affect my positive endorsement. I haven’t read too many books that were co-authored, but these writers often told personal stories and the use of the first-person singular (“I”) sometimes felt awkward. Another issue was the way that a chapter would end so that it led to the next chapter. Perhaps it was the intervening page-long study/thought questions that made the transitions not work as well as I think they were intended. Theologically, I am more and more uncomfortable with the way that the definition of the “kingdom” is derived from later church history than from Jesus’ Bible, but the authors can certainly claim to belong to a larger subset of modern Christianity in this regard than I do.

Brief quotations cannot communicate the argument of a book, but as they may give a sense for the tone, I include a few below:

“Instead of making our hearts burn, sometimes Scripture makes us scratch our head in confusion” (12).

“One day, when the presiding rabbi was having trouble generating group discussion, he fired off question after question, finally tossing out a provocative comment to stir things up. But still the group was silent. Exasperated, the rabbi exclaimed, ‘Come on people! Somebody disagree with me! How can we learn anything if no one will disagree?” (29)

“When Jesus called himself a ‘shepherd’ in John 10, he was hinting at his identity as the messianic king, the future ruler of God’s kingdom” (46).

“While the Gospels record many instances of Jesus instantly healing people’s illnesses, we know of not even one instance in which he simply waved his hand to immediately fix an ugly habit for one of his disciples. Instead, he simply kept teaching and correcting them, giving them time to grow” (56).

Of all the popular “Jewish background of Jesus” books that I have read, this one was the best.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shechem, Then and Now

Those who have traveled with me can readily attest that one of my favorite sites in the land of Israel is the Shechem area.  In recent years, I’ve been able to do no more than stand on top of Mount Gerizim or view the area from the east, but even that is quite satisfying.  My love for the area is not necessarily related to anything the eye can see today.  There are other hills, valleys, tells, and impressive views.  But the acts of God make this area unlike any other.  Here the Lord promised the land to Abraham.  Here Jacob erected an altar and apparently dug a well.  Here the twelve tribes recited the blessings and curses.  The list goes on, and it is long and rich.

Shechem from above, tb041106601 locations

Shechem area from Mount Gerizim, 2006

Standing atop Mount Gerizim and gazing over this panorama is one of my favorite things to do.  But it could be better.  It would be better if dense urbanization did not obscure the historic sites.  It would be better if the loud noises of modern city life did not disturb my thoughts.  It would be better if Israeli soldiers weren’t on guard around the corner.  And it would be better if there was peace in the land and I could walk down the slope, into ancient Shechem, and then up the slope of Mount Ebal.

If I had lived 100 years ago, I could have done all of that.  I can’t do that, but I can enjoy the beauty of old photographs.  This is one of my favorites.

Looking north from Mount Gerizim, mat05142 locations Shechem area from Mount Gerizim, 1900-1920

This photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05142.

If you prefer to view the photos in a PowerPoint file where you can flip back and forth between them, you may download that here.

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