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

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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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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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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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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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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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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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Beth Shean, Then and Now

Many students have commented to me at the end of a semester that the most impressive site in Israel is Beth Shean.  They are referring to the prominent Roman and Byzantine remains of the lower city that have been excavated and reconstructed in the last 20 years.

If you had visited before that time, the tell was striking, but there was little evidence that a glorious city was buried in the dirt.  I’ve heard, but not seen in a photograph, that there was a lone column sticking out of the ground prior to excavations.

The natives visible in the photo below certainly don’t have any idea of what lies beneath their feet.  Then again, that’s probably true for hundreds of cities around the world today.

Beth Shean from south, site of recent excavations, mat02786

Beth Shean from the south.  Date of photograph: 1920-1933

Beth Shean excavations with tell, tb011506672

Beth Shean from the south

There is another impressive photo comparison of Beth Shean mid-way down this page at www.lifeintheholyland.com.

The top 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-02786.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Capernaum Synagogue, Then and Now

Today visitors to Capernaum are impressed by the white limestone remains of an ancient synagogue.  Archaeological excavations indicate that this synagogue was built over the remains of an earlier synagogue dating from the time of Jesus.  Thus we can say with some measure of confidence that this is the place where Jesus healed the demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-28) and preached the sermon on the bread of life (John 6:25-59).

Capernaum synagogue from Peter's house, tb060105618

Capernaum synagogue, view from Peter’s house, present day

Visitors may not be aware that the synagogue did not survive in this condition since ancient times.  The photograph below shows what the synagogue looked like in the early 1900s.  The staircase in the foreground of the photo below is on the far right (middle) of the photo above.

Capernaum, ruins of synagogue, mat10654sr

Capernaum synagogue, early 1900s

The second 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-10654.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ein Harod, Then and Now

This is the first in what I plan to be an extended series of blog posts illustrating the value of historic photos using examples from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  I’ve written much elsewhere about how the biblical lands have been altered in the last 100 years, but there’s no better way to illustrate this than with photographs.

A good example of how the land has changed in the last hundred years is Ein Harod, also known as Gideon’s spring.  Here the timid warrior gathered thousands of Israelites to fight the Midianites, but the Lord gave him a plan to sift the men by separating the lappers from the kneelers (Judges 7).  Today the spring has been nicely “improved” so that it’s very difficult to understand how such a selecting procedure would have occurred.

Ein Harod spring cave, tb011400101srEin Harod spring cave, present day
(Source: Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

One hundred years ago, there was no fence to keep tourists out and no paving stones to walk across.  Not only that, the flow of the spring has apparently been greatly diminished because of modern wells in the area.  It is likely that the way the spring looked like in A.D. 1900 is the way that it looked in 1100 B.C. when Gideon brought his men here.

Ein Harod, Gideon's Fountain, mat01077 Ein Harod, 1900-1920

George Adam Smith described it this way: “It bursts some fifteen feet broad and two deep from the very foot of Gilboa, and mainly out of it, but fed also by the other two springs, flows a stream considerable enough to work six or seven mills” (Historical Geography of the Holy Land [1909]: 397-98).

This is one of 600 high-resolution photographs in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01077.

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