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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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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Saturday, September 05, 2009

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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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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Friday, August 21, 2009

Aphrodite and Odeon Found at Hippos

The University of Haifa has announced some discoveries from its 2009 season of excavations at Hippos/Sussita, reported in a press release (Hebrew) and in an English article in Ha’aretz

Remains of an ancient cult to the goddess of love have come to light in the southern Golan Heights site of Susita.

At the site, on a 350 meter-high-plateau overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret, archaeologists found a cache of three figurines of Aphrodite (whom the Romans called Venus), dating back about 1,500 years. The figurines, made of clay, are about 30 centimeters tall. They depict the nude goddess standing, with her right hand covering her private parts - a type of statue scholars call "modest Venus."

I’m personally more interested in another find, described at the conclusion of the article:

Another special find at Susita is an odeon - a small, roofed theater-like structure with seats for about 600 people, uncovered for the first time in Israel, according to the excavators. They said such structures were fairly common in the Roman period and were used for the reading of poetry and musical presentations to a select audience, in contrast to theaters, which could seat around 4,000 people.

The claim that this is the first odeon discovered in Israel is not true; another has been excavated at Aphek/Antipatris (NEAEH 1: 71, with photo).

The press release includes several photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Photo CDs: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

I am very excited to announce the release of a new photo collection from BiblePlaces.com and LifeintheHolyLand.com.  The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection includes more than 4,000 high-resolution photographs taken by professional photographers living in Jerusalem from 1898 until the 1940s.  I’ve worked with a team for the last five years organizing and improving this collection so that the photos are the highest quality, accurately identified, carefully organized, and elucidated by observations of well-known 19th-century explorers.

The collection spans 8 CD volumes and is being released one volume a month beginning this week.  Volume 1 is “Northern Palestine,” and it includes 600 photos organized in the following categories:

  • Acco (11 photos)
  • Benjamin (43 photos)
  • Caesarea (31 photos)
  • Caesarea Philippi (14 photos)Northern Palestine CD cover
  • Ephraim and Manasseh (34 photos)
  • Galilee Hill Country (20 photos)
  • Haifa (27 photos)
  • Huleh Basin (12 photos)
  • Jaffa (51 photos)
  • Jezreel Valley (47 photos)
  • Mount Carmel (15 photos)
  • Mount Hermon (20 photos)
  • Mount Tabor (12 photos)
  • Nazareth (32 photos)
  • Samaria city (19 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee (41 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Capernaum (31 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Tabgha (15 photos)
  • Sea of Galilee, Tiberias (39 photos) – free PowerPoint here
  • Sharon Plain (17 photos)
  • Shechem area (22 photos)
  • Tel Aviv (43 photos)

All images are included in high-resolution jpg format as well as in annotated PowerPoint files.  The cost for the CD is now only $20, with free shipping in the U.S.  While volumes 2-8 are not yet available individually, the complete collection is available in DVD format for $99.

I believe this is the finest collection of historic photographs of the Middle East available anywhere in any format.

You can read more about the collection here:

Volume 1: Northern Palestine

Complete Collection: Volumes 1-8

As with everything we do, the goal is your complete satisfaction.  If you don’t like it or need it, return it for a full refund.  If you do like it, we would really appreciate it if you’d pass the word on.  Review copies are available by request.

I plan to post on this blog some interesting images from the CD over the next few weeks.

Nazareth and Mt Tabor, mat05532 Nazareth with Mount Tabor in the distance
Date: between 1900-1920

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Biblical and Modern Jezreel

Aviva Bar-Am has written an informative article about ancient Jezreel and its modern counterparts in the Jerusalem Post.  The first half discusses the battles around the village in 1948 and the kibbutz that was established there.  The second half describes the biblical and archaeological significance, including this part:

Although archeologists have uncovered portions of a tower, found the city gate and dug to the bottom of the moat, the biblical Jezreel is overgrown with weeds and there isn't much to see (I am also not sure how safe it is - there are open pits). It is much more fun to spend time at the tel's excellent recreation site, centered by a striking monument to Palmah troops who fell here in 1948. From the heights of the tel you have a fantastic view of the Harod and Beit She'an valleys. Enjoy the shade produced by the fruit trees in the lovely reconstruction of Naboth's plot.

You can also follow a lovely biblical trail on the northern edge of the mountain down the slope for about 35 minutes (allow about 50 minutes for walking back up). A delightful surprise awaits you at the bottom: the Jezreel Spring. It is one of 48 freshwater, full springs that lie under the mountain, the result of geological changes that occurred when the Syrian African Rift raised Mount Gilboa and lowered the valley.

Before you jump into the inviting pool, set within a grove of eucalyptus trees, look for a shaft a few meters from the end of the trail. It leads underground to a tunnel which you and your kids can enter (with a flashlight!), walk through water and end up on the other side of the road in a canal that leads directly to the pool.

The spring, of course, is mentioned in the Bible (isn't everything in this region?) "The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel..." [I Samuel 29:1].

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Harod Valley, Mt Gilboa, Jezreel aerial fr w, tb121704019 captions Tell Jezreel and Mount Gilboa from west

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tel Kabri 2009 Excavation Results

Eric Cline writes on the ANE-2 list:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP) would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2009 excavation season is now available at:
http://digkabri.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/preliminary-report-on-the-results-of-the-2009-excavation-season-at-tel-kabri.pdf

If the direct link does not work for some reason, please go to http://digkabri.wordpress.com/, click on "2009 Season," and then click on the link there to download the pdf.

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) are also listed at http://digkabri.wordpress.com/, under the "Previous Results" link
KAP Publications which have already appeared are:

E.H. Cline and A. Yasur-Landau, "Poetry in Motion: Canaanite Rulership and Aegean Narrative at Kabri," in EPOS: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology: 157-165, S.P. Morris and R. Laffineur, eds. Aegaeum 28. Liège: Université de Liège. 2007.

A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline, and G.A. Pierce, "Middle Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Western Galilee, Israel," Journal of Field Archaeology 33/1 (2008) 59-83.

The report’s abstract reads:

The 2009 excavations at Tel Kabri, the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, lasted from 21 June to 30 July 2009. A highlight of the season was the discovery of numerous fragments of painted plaster, from both a previously-unknown Minoan-style wall fresco with figural representations and a second Aegean-style painted floor.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Battle over Megiddo International Airport

This article will set some to thinking about how their tour itineraries will change.  Others will wonder how this might play into the fulfillment of the “battle of Armageddon.”  From the Jerusalem Post:

A battle is raging over the pending construction of a new international airport in Megiddo, in the Jezreel Valley.

According to the Transportation Ministry, the number of people flying to and from Israel annually is expected to double, from 15 million to 30 million, in the next 20 years, creating urgent necessity for a new airport. The regional council in Megiddo, however, vehemently opposes the initiative.

"It [the airport] is absolutely absurd and does not serve the national interest of the State of Israel, which is the preservation of open areas, including the preservation of the significant agricultural land reserves of the Jezreel Valley, tourism development and rural areas with ecological environmental sensitivity," the Megiddo regional council said in a statement this week.

Though officials say the airport would undoubtedly increase tourism to the area, local authorities, residents and environmental organizations are actively opposing its construction. Yoel Sigal, the strategic planner for the Megiddo Municipality, is leading the campaign against the project.

"The selling of the Jezreel Valley" represents one of the worst elements of Israeli development policy, he said on Tuesday. Under the National Development Plan, the valley is defined as an area for farming. If the region became an urban center, it would effectively merge Afula, Nazareth and Haifa and would destroy one of the most important agricultural zones of the country, he said.

Furthermore, the airport project would reduce agricultural output and add to the country's increasing dependency on imported field crops.

Previous transportation minister Shaul Mofaz appointed former OC air force Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger to head a committee on the future of air transport in Israel. The Bodinger Committee's recommendation to build an international airport in Megiddo was approved by the cabinet on February 1.

The 400-dunam (40 hectare) airport site, which is 60 km. away from Ben-Gurion Airport, is projected to cost $35 million. It is not at the same location as the existing Megiddo Airport, which handles local traffic.

Continue reading here.

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley aerial from west, tb121704968

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley, view to northeast

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hazor and the James Ossuary

Gordon Franz has just posted three transcribed interviews with staff members of the Hazor excavations, including Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and Orna Cohen.  

“Hazor is Number One...”: An interview with Amnon Ben-Tor

“Where is the Archive at Hazor?”: An interview with Sharon Zuckerman

“It is the Best Job in the World”: An interview with Orna Cohen

Cohen is a conservator, and she comments on the controversy of the James Ossuary.  She believes that the second half of the inscription is original, but the first part is forged.

I had the pleasure of looking at and checking the James Ossuary and I gave my comments on it.  I think the ossuary is authentic and a real one, but the inscription on it, I am convinced there are two hands that wrote the inscription.  To my opinion, part of the inscription is faked, part is original.  Of course, there are things that go on in trial now.  They are still trying to figure out what is faked and by whom it was made.  To my opinion, the name Joshua [on the ossuary] is real.  The inscription reads: “Ya’acov bar Yosef achi Yehoshua.”  [Translation: Jacob, or James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus].  So the first part, I think is added.  My professional opinion is almost against all the others that think the last name [on the inscription]; “bother of Jesus” (Joshua) is a fake.  So my opinion was against the others [at the trial].  I checked and it’s according to the patina in the letters.  There was a fake patina of just dirt that was put in these letters on purpose so I cleaned part of it and underneath there was the original, yellowish patina that based on my experience, was the original one.  It was not on the first part of the inscription but it was on the last part of the inscription.  That is what I gave as my opinion.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Pope, Islam, and Nazareth

The Pope has begun a week-long visit to Jordan and Israel with words of respect for Islam.  From the JPost:

"My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam," Benedict said shortly after landing in Amman.

A traveler sends along photos from Nazareth of Muslim preparations for the Pope’s visit.  The large building in the background is the Church of the Annunciation, which the Pope is scheduled to visit on Thursday.

nazareth_welcome nazareth_welcome2

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Website and Video: Pope’s Visit to Israel

If you’re interested in the visit of the Catholic Pope to Israel next month, the Israel Ministry of Tourism has established a website: Holyland Pilgrimage: A Bridge for Peace.  Questions of just how interested in peace the pope is have been raised following reports of his plans to meet with a terrorist-supporting mayor in Galilee.

The ministry has also created a 5-minute video in preparation for the visit.  The video features stunning aerial photography of numerous sites in Israel and is worth watching even if the pilgrimage doesn’t get you excited.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dan Middle Bronze Gate Restored

From Haaretz:

The Nature and National Parks Protection Authority yesterday opened "Abraham's Gate" at Tel Dan in the north, for visits by the public.

The ancient structure from the Canaanite period of the Bronze Age is made of mud and is thought to have been built around 1750 B.C.E. The authority named the archaeological site for Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people, indicating that it dates from the period of Abraham.

The gate was uncovered in 1979 but more recently underwent restoration. It is composed of three arches and constructed of sun-dried mud brick on a foundation of large basalt stones. The gate, which in ancient times stood seven meters tall, has been restored to its original height. It features two towers and a horizontal structure linking them below the arches, the oldest arches ever found in the Land of Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

Dan Middle Bronze mudbrick gate2, tb011500 Middle Bronze gate before restoration (Jan 2000)

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Perfume Bottles Found at Magdala

There is something important to this story, but it’s not what you might think.  What is exciting is that ancient Magdala is being excavated.  Perhaps that will increase our knowledge of this ancient city that was home to Mary Magdalene.  Perhaps it will result in the site being opened to visits by tourists.  Perhaps there will be silly sensational claims made before analysis is done – oh wait, that wish has already come true.  From the Telegraph, written by Nick Pisa in Rome:

Archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.

This sentence should immediately clue you into the fact that this is a “made-for-TV” story, fashioned for maximum publicity without regard to truth.  You know this because:

1. It is quite incredible that of all the vases in the ancient world, the first ones the archaeologists find at this city are related to this biblical event.

2. Mary was from Magdala, but since there is no record that Jesus was ever in Magdala, his feet were not anointed there.  Perhaps, though, Mary carried the bottles back to her hometown.

3. Except that it’s hard to believe that Mary only poured some of the contents out and left the rest for archaeologists to find.

4. Most important to ignore in order to make this story fly is the fact that the Bible nowhere says that Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet.  A different Mary anointed him the week before his crucifixion (John 12:1-8).  And a sinful woman anointed him at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).  She is never named and Mary Magdalene is introduced by Luke two verses later (Luke 8:2) with no indication that this was the same woman.  Furthermore, the unnamed woman used an alabaster jar.  Did the excavators find an alabaster jar?  Mary Magdalene did plan to anoint Jesus’ body one Sunday morning, but she failed in her attempt (Mark 16:1-8).

The Italian team have been digging for several months at the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala – from where Mary gets her name.

In Mary’s day, Magdala was in the district of Galilee.  Today, its ruins are in the state of Israel.  It was not then, and is not now, a Palestinian town, except for those who wish to see the Jewish nation replaced by an Arab one.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex....

Speaking of the discovery Father Stefano De Luca who is leading the dig, said: "The mud-filled condition of the site allowed us to find these truly extraordinary objects, which were intact and sealed and still contain greasy substances.

"We think these are balms and perfumes and if chemical analysis confirms this, they could be similar to those used by Mary Magdalene in the Gospels to anoint the feet of Christ.

I have a revolutionary idea.  Analyze the contents, and then tell us what they are.

"The discovery of these vases is very important. We have in our hands the cosmetic products from the time of Jesus. It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these products, or ones similar in organic composition and quality."

Frankly, this story could have been written long before the excavations.  They already knew the site was inhabited in the 1st century A.D.  All they needed was to find some vases, any vases, and they could say that these were related to Mary.  And the reporters would come, and the donations would flow.

HT: Joe Lauer

Magdala from above, tb102702020 Magdala from west

UPDATE (12/12): An article in Italian is longer and includes a photograph.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Popular Sites in Israel for Christian Tourists

From the Caspari Center Media Review:

A column in the Calcalist (December 3) surveyed the "Most popular sites in Israel visited by Christians." In first place, rather surprisingly, came the Western (Wailing) Wall: "Despite the fact that Christians have no religious connection to the Wall, its proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa has made it one of the four sites everyone has to visit in Jerusalem." The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was second: "Although not all Christian denominations concur that Yeshu was buried here, this church in the heart of the Christian Quarter is of great importance . . ." Third was the Via Dolorosa, "along which Yeshu passed on his way to his crucifixion, stopping at nine places . . ." The fourth site was the Mount of Olives - "mentioned in the New Testament as the place whence Yeshu ascended to heaven and to which he will also return in the end times." In fifth place was Capernaum, where "after he left Nazareth, Yeshu transferred his activities . . . and also chose his apostles." The information was credited to the Ministry of Tourism, the statistics to the first half of 2008.

Tourists visiting Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee will now be able to experience a "reconstruction" of one of Jesus' miracles, according to a report in Israel HaYom (December 4). Having caught an enormous St. Peter's fish (musht), the kibbutz's veteran fisherman has decided to "preserve" it, put a gold coin in its mouth, and present it to tourists as a visual aid to Jesus' catch of a "huge" fish, the proceeds from the sale of which he used to pay the border tax owed by his disciples.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dan and Hazor

A brief report of the finds from the 2008 season at Hazor is now posted (click link at top or directly here).

Tel Dan may be even more lush and beautiful the next time you visit following an agreement for the neighboring kibbutz to take water from the lower spring rather than the one next to the tel.  The article from the JPost, in part:

Rather than pumping from the higher-altitude Tel Dan spring, the kibbutz will receive its water from the lower Dan spring, which can supply the kibbutz in a more sustainable manner.

Reclaiming the Tel Dan spring for the nature reserve will rejuvenate the aquatic habitat, which has languished and dried out due to the lack of water, the authority said. In addition, the diversion of the fish pond water to agriculture will prevent it from flowing into the streams that feed the Jordan River, thereby reducing pollution. It will also free up 1 million cu.m. of water per year for nature....

"The right of nature to water is protected by law since 2004, but it doesn't mean our work is done - rather, it has just begun. We've [also] managed to increase the amount of water in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and to revive the Ein Gedi Stream after 50 years, and today we are taking an important step forward in increasing the amount of water in the streams which feed the Jordan," he said.

Dan headwaters of Jordan, tb011500028 Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Sea of Galilee Down 6 Feet in 6 Months

Since April 3 this year, the Sea of Galilee has dropped 6.4 feet (2.0 m), a new record for the size of drop in this amount of time.  Israel has had four years of below average rainfall.  If the water level drops another 2.6 feet (0.82 m), all pumping from the lake will cease.  The Jerusalem Post reports:

The water level in Lake Kinneret dropped two meters this year, the Water Authority said Thursday, a steeper annual drop than in any previous year.

The hydrological year ended on September 30 with the Kinneret at 214.05 meters below sea level, down from its height of 212.05 meters below sea level reached on April 3.

The Kinneret's "black line," newly coined this year, is 214.87 meters below sea level. When the black line is reached, the pumps in the lake are exposed to the air, and they can no longer send water into the National Water Carrier.

In July, the lake dropped below the "red line," at which the concentration of pollutants rises to undesirable levels.

Since spring 2004 the Kinneret has lost 5.13 meters, which is equivalent to 850 million cubic meters of water, the authority said. That is roughly equivalent to an entire year's worth of household water use.

This was the fourth consecutive year of dwindling rainfall and the forecast for the next couple of years is just as bleak.

You can read the rest here.

Sea of Galilee at dusk, tb040306012ddd

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Monday, September 01, 2008

New Book: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

A new book is out this week that I want to recommend highly.  Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ combines passion with humor in a unique "tour" through Jesus' life.  Author Wayne Stiles has not written a "life of Christ" book, nor has he produced a work recounting the geographical background of Jesus' ministry.  What he has done, through his deep knowledge of Jesus' life and land, is to take the reader on a delightful and challenging journey to the physical and spiritual places where Jesus lived and taught.Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus Cover

Stiles' skill as a writer and "tour guide" makes the book engaging and rich with insights.  As a pastor for many years, Stiles is gifted in making lofty ideas of Scripture readily understandable to the average person, and he does so with many fun anecdotes and helpful analogies from his travels in Israel.

From Bethlehem, to Galilee and Jerusalem, and ending in Patmos, the book largely travels "in the footsteps of Jesus."  Here is a snip related to the wilderness:

I have walked in the wilderness where Satan tempted Christ, just west of where He was baptized. Good grief, what a place. This is the wilderness of Judea where God shaped the character of the future King David in “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). Here David prayed, “my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). David wasn’t kidding. Endless piles of rocks, steep hills, no trees, modest vegetation, little water, slight shade, and lizards. As far as my eye could see, it was empty, dry, and depressing. I tried to imagine the silence, solitude, and struggle Jesus would have endured here for over a month. But I could not.

We can barely stand to fast for a day or two. Can you imagine fasting forty days? Jesus did so in preparation for temptation—and became desperately hungry and needy. And in His moment of need, the devil slipped in. He waits for moments like these.

“If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3).

The devil is no idiot—and also no gentleman. When he tempts, he plays dirty. No rules. No concessions. No mercy. He waited for a moment of vulnerability and then tempted Jesus to satisfy His legitimate need for food in an illegitimate way: “Turn this stone to bread—use your power to gratify your need.” What a cheap shot. Every stone would then become a temptation. And believe me, the Wilderness of Judea has plenty of stones! Jesus’ reply—although He was physically hungry—showed that He was spiritually full.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

If you haven't yet been on a trip to the Holy Land, you'll enjoy visiting it virtually through this book.  If you have been, you'll see it in ways that you haven't before, even if you've visited countless times.  This journey combines so many of my favorite things in one book: the places of the land of the Bible, the life of Christ, fascinating stories, excellent writing, and God-exalting, people-challenging truth.  Pick this up for your next plane ride to Israel (or anywhere) and enjoy!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Plastered Skulls Found in Galilee

From Arutz-7:

Archaeologists have discovered three 9,000-year-old skulls at the Yiftah'el dig in the Lower Galilee, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday. Experts said the placement of the skulls confirms the worship of ancestors from during that time, practiced by displaying skulls inside houses.

The skulls were apparently placed on benches in a house where they would inspire the younger generation to continue in the ways of their forefathers. A similar custom was also identified in Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

The skulls are 8,000-9,000 years old and were buried in a pit adjacent to an excavated large public building. They were discovered during excavations for a new highway interchange at the Movil Junction, a major intersection.

"The skulls were found plastered – that is to say sculpted – which is a phenomenon that is identified with the New Stone Age," said site director Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily. "The practice included the reconstruction of all of the facial features of the deceased by means of sculpting the skull with a variety of materials such as plaster that was specifically intended for this. On the skulls that were found in the excavation the nose was entirely reconstructed."

The story continues here.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sepphoris Temple and More

A Roman temple from the 2nd century A.D. has been excavated at Sepphoris.  The temple was about 40 by 80 feet (12 x 24 m) and its facade faced the decumanus, the main east-west street of the city.  A church was later built over the temple.  The story is reported by ScienceDaily, Physorg, and the Jerusalem Post.  The first two links each have a photo.

Zondervan Academic has a new blog and they have, among other things, links to the online programs for the national meetings of AAR, ETS, and SBL.  I also liked John Walton's post on bad things people do in teaching children the Bible

The JPost has a short article about "Genesis Land," a tourist site that recreates patriarchal life midway between Jerusalem and Jericho.

Some people know General Charles Gordon because of his work in China and Sudan, and others for his popularization of "Gordon's Calvary" or the Garden Tomb.  NPR has a five-part series on China and Sudan, in which Gordon's influence is discussed in part one.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kabri Archaeological Project Results

From the archaeologists:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP), Assaf Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline, would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2008 excavation season at Tel Kabri is now available at:

http://digkabri.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/report-on-the-results-of-the-2008-excavation-season-at-tel-kabri1.pdf

If the direct link does not work for some reason, go to

http://digkabri.wordpress.com/ and click on the link there to download the pdf.  

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, and 2007) are also listed at http://digkabri.wordpress.com/

KAP Publications which have already appeared are:  

E.H. Cline and A. Yasur-Landau, “Poetry in Motion: Canaanite Rulership and Aegean Narrative at Kabri,” in EPOS: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology: 157-165, S.P. Morris and R. Laffineur, eds.  Aegaeum 28.  Liège: Université de Liège.  2007.  

A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline, and G.A. Pierce, “Middle Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Western Galilee, Israel,” Journal of Field Archaeology

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Byzantine Period Olive Press Discovered

A "very formidable and rare olive press" was discovered recently in Western Galilee.  It is one of the largest known from Israel and dates to the 6th-7th centuries A.D.  From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A unique and impressive complex for producing oil that dates to the Byzantine period, which is also one of the largest uncovered in the country so far, was discovered recently during trial excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Moshav Ahihud, in the Western Galilee. The excavations are being carried out as part of a development plan to enlarge the village....

In the middle of the building a central crushing mill (a large round stone) was uncovered upon which a millstone (referred to as a memel) was placed. It was customary to harness an animal to the axle of the millstone which would turn the stone and thereby crush the olives.

After crushing and breaking them, the olive pulp was brought for pressing in aqalim (baskets woven of coarse fabric or ropes). The aqalim were squeezed in a press and the olive oil was extracted as a result of this action. The baskets served as a filter whereby the liquid dripped out leaving the pits and pulp waste behind in the baskets. 

Three screw type press beds and a stone weight that was originally connected to the end of a. beam were revealed at the site.

The rest of the story, and photographs, are here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Stories

A Byzantine cemetery has been discovered in construction work at the hospital of Ashkelon (JPost).

An arsonist set several fires in the Tel Dan nature reserve, burning half of the 120-acre park.  They hope to re-open the park later this week (JPost).

A rare marble discus was discovered underwater at Yavne-Yam.  The disk, 8 inches in diameter, was used to ward off the evil eye in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. (IAA; Arutz-7; Haaretz; JPost).

The hotel where Mark Twain stayed in Jerusalem has been identified (Haaretz).

Israeli, Palestinian, and German scholars will be studying bones unearthed at Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon in order to study the DNA so as to identify genes that made the ancient inhabitants more or less susceptible to tuberculosis (Guardian).

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg discusses two Jewish temples known from Egypt, one at Leontopolis (Tell el-Yehudiyeh) and the other on Elephantine Island (Yeb, Aswan) (JPost).

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Water Crisis in Israel

From the JPost:

"This is the worst crisis since records started being kept 80 years ago," Water Authority head Uri Shani declared Tuesday morning at a special press conference in Tel Aviv. "Like most countries, Israel is dependent on rainfall and the amount of rainfall is decreasing. There is a drop of 100 million cubic meters per year."

Shani described a situation of increasing damage to Israel's main natural water sources. The Coastal Aquifer "has dropped below its black line," which means that it will suffer rapid damage, possibly irreversible damage, Shani said.

The water level in the Mountain Aquifer was currently a meter above its Lower Red Line, but was also expected to reach its bottom limit - the Black Line - by this year. He added that water levels in the aquifers had never been this low.

Shani predicted that Lake Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] would reach its Black Line by December 2008. The Kinneret dropped below its bottom limit on Monday, 213 meters below sea level. The lake's Black Line is 214.87 meters below sea level.

The story continues here.

Sea of Galilee water level sign, tb052808512 
New sign in Tiberias displays the present water level in the Sea of Galilee, a main source of fresh water for Israel today

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bike Ride Mission to Israel

Arutz-7 reports on an up-coming bike ride in Israel:

From September 21-27, 2008, athletic tourists will be able to visit and tour the country in a unique style: Bicycling their way through the upper Galilee and the Golan Heights on the Jewish National Fund’s first annual Bike Ride Mission to Israel.

"Participants will traverse over 200 miles of breathtaking terrain," the JNF literature announces, "during four days of fully supported riding (all ability levels are welcome), and will be rewarded with exclusive accommodations at the 5-star Mitzpe Hayamim Hotel and Spa and The Carmel Forest Spa Resort."

The bicycle tours will include stops in towns, army bases, and JNF sites such as security bypass roads, forests, and nature reserves.  The participants will also hear talks from public officials and IDF officers, will learn about Israel's water problems and the JNF's efforts and successes in solving them, and will take part in rafting and wine-tasting activities.

The cost: $3,600 per rider (double occupancy), not including airfare. Participants can either bring their own bicycle or rent one here....

For more information on the bike mission, visit www.jnf.org/bikeisrael.

Bicyclist on road of patriarchs, tb111106873

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mysterious Stone Piles in Sea of Galilee

From Haaretz:

A marine scientist has discovered a series of mysterious stone patterns on the lake bed of drought-stricken Lake Kinneret.

The man-made piles of stone, which are now above water, jut out from the freshwater lake, and sit 30 meters from each other along a 3.5-kilometer stretch of the eastern shore, from the Kinneret College campus to Haon resort.

Gal Itzhaki of Kibbutz Afikim first noticed the stones while strolling along the lake's receded shoreline. He says the patterns are a "fascinating phenomenon" and are part of an "impressive building enterprise."

Though they have not yet been scientifically examined, there are several hypotheses as to what functions they fulfilled. One theory postulates that they were part of a boundary between the ancient lakeside towns of Hippos, also known as Sussita, and Gadara. Both towns were part of the Decapolis, a group of 10 towns that flourished in the eastern part of the Roman province of Palestina, and are mentioned in the New Testament. Others have hypothesized that the patterns were part of a string of watchtowers or small buildings, or were used to set up fishermen's nets.

Read the rest here.  The Hebrew version includes a photo.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Golf Where Jesus Prayed

I've heard talk about a golf course planned on Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee for years, but this JPost article makes it sound like it's getting closer to realization.  (Interpreted for those unfamiliar with the Israeli system, that means that there are now less than 472,325 legal obstacles remaining.)  Here are a few numbers mentioned in the article:

2: Number of 18-hole golf courses in Galilee

150: Cost of the ultra-luxury resort (in millions of dollars)

8: Cost of water treatment plant already built (in millions of dollars)

The official website: www.israelbythesea.com

There will also is a golf course planned for Eilat, and JPost has a computer-generated image of what it might look like.

This blog post title is an allusion to the idea that Arbel may have been the mountain on which Jesus withdrew to pray (Matt 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12).  I should trademark it and trade it to the developers for one of the gazillion-dollar memberships.

Sea of Galilee and Arbel cliffs panorama, tb0221007888sr
Arbel and the Sea of Galilee from the west

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Earthquake Damage at Hazor Museum

I noted here a couple of days ago that the Hazor Museum is closed indefinitely.  That closure apparently contributed to the delay in noticing that 700 objects in the museum were damaged in the recent earthquake. From the Jerusalem Post:

An earthquake that shook Israel 10 days ago damaged some 700 archeological artifacts displayed in a museum at Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar in northern Israel, Channel 1 reported Wednesday evening.

Most of the artifacts were excavated at the nearby Tel Hazor site. Heavy rains have prevented researchers from ascertaining whether the site itself was affected by the quake.

The damage was discovered only several days after the event, since the museum has been closed recently due to a lack of visitors. Dr. Zvika Zur, the exhibit's curator, told Channel 1 that while some of the items - many of which date back to the Canaanite era - could be mended, many others had been damaged irreparably.

HT: Joe Lauer

Vessels from 14th c Hazor tomb, tb032905956
Vessels from 14th century B.C. tomb on display at Hazor Museum (before earthquake)

UPDATE (3/3): A few photos of the damage can be seen at the Hebrew version of articles at Haaretz and MSN.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Sites in Galilee

The Jerusalem Post has an article today on Hazor, guiding the virtual visitor on a tour of the largest tell in Israel and noting that the Hazor Museum is closed indefinitely.

Haaretz's article, "Five Stops in Galilee," covers the new "Jesus Trail," among other sites.

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