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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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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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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Thursday, September 10, 2009

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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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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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Massive Canaanite Wall Found in City of David

The discovery of a massive fortified walkway leading to Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring has been announced by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun. Excavations so far have uncovered a portion of a Middle Bronze wall that is 26 feet (8 m) high and 75 feet (24 m) long. The wall apparently protected a passageway that led from the fortified city of Jerusalem down the eastern slope of the City of David to the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley.

The discovery is reported in a press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a story in Arutz-7, soon to be followed by all the major news outlets. There are some parts of the story that don’t make sense or are inaccurate.

“This is the most massive wall ever discovered in the City of David,” Reich said. “It is tremendously large in terms of its dimensions, thickness, and size of the rocks used. It appears that they protect a walk-way used to walk down from some tower atop the hill towards the spring.”

That statement is fine, but then Reich is quoted as saying,

This is the first time we have found such massive building in Jerusalem from before the period of King Herod.

But he said the same thing years ago, for his excavations of the Pool and Spring Towers reveal monumental construction from the Middle Bronze Age. Perhaps he means that collectively all of his excavations in the past decade have found such construction “for the first time.”

The new double wall/passageway is apparently related to the Pool and Spring Towers which protected Jerusalem’s water supply at this same period. When discovered, there was a mystery as to whether these were free-standing towers outside of Jerusalem’s wall. My guess is that this new wall “connects the dots” and explains how Jerusalemites accessed these towers without exposing themselves to enemy attack.

Connecting discoveries to biblical figures increases interest, but few people would agree with the article’s assertion that this was the time period of Abraham. The wall dates to 1800-1700 BC, while the biblical chronology puts Abraham’s death closer to 2000 BC.

My favorite quote of the article is a statement I’ve often heard archaeologists make, but which rarely seems to make it into print.

The new discovery shows that the picture regarding Jerusalem’s eastern defenses and the ancient water system in the Middle Bronze Age 2 is still far from clear.

And then this:

Despite the fact that so many have excavated on this hill, there is a very good chance that extremely large and well-preserved architectural elements are still hidden in it and waiting to be uncovered.

The IAA release invites you to see the discoveries in person.

The fortification will be revealed to the public for the first time tomorrow (Thursday, September 3), within the framework of the 10th Annual Archaeological Conference on the discoveries in the City of David. Admission to the conference is free and the public is invited. Unique artifacts from all of the excavations at the site, such as the gold earring that was found in the excavation at the Givati Car Park, will be presented in the conference. In addition, before the conference, visitors can participate in any of 17 different tours that will be guided by scholars there.

Two high-resolution photographs of the wall are available here or here (direct link to zip file).

The official (and beautiful) website of the City of David is here.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Virtual Walking Tour of Temple Mount

Some months ago I learned about a new Virtual Walking Tour of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), but being short of time, I filed it for later.  Today seems to be a slow news day and so I started it up and enjoyed the tour.  It is excellent.

Created by Saudi Aramco World, the tour focuses on the present Muslim structures at the site, but it does not deny the previous existence of the two Jewish temples.

The tour begins with a five-minute narrated introduction (which you can skip) and then includes 32 360-degree panoramic views, each of which is explained both by an audio recording and a written transcript.

The visitor starts with two views of the Temple Mount from the east and west before surveying the grounds of the complex with approximately 18 more scenes.  A particularly unique image is #25, taken atop Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Tourists to Israel today can see most of these views if they visit during the open hours of the Temple Mount (approximately Sun-Thurs, 7:30-10:00 am, 12:30-1:30 pm), but since 2000 the holy buildings have been closed to non-Muslims.  Thus the images inside the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque will be especially appreciated by those who have been denied entrance.

A couple of practical comments: 1) You can turn the audio off and read the text; 2) the full-screen view is very high quality, but may be slow on your internet connection; 3) to get “inside” the Dome of the Rock, select #8 and new options will become available; 4) to get “inside” Al-Aqsa Mosque, select #26.

The creators did a fantastic job with this.  The photography is superb, the narration is helpful, and the location is one of the most religiously (and politically) important in the world.

Dome of Rock from southwest, tb122006949dxo2 Dome of the Rock from southwest

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jerusalem Insider’s Guide

I’ve recently learned about a new website devoted solely to the city of Jerusalem.  If you are planning a trip to the city, this site has a number of pages that may help you to get the most of your time.  For instance:

Best Jerusalem Old City sites – this “top 10” list has 12 recommendations and I would basically agree with the selections.  The hours and prices are helpful as well, as long as they remain up to date.  Some extra links reflect the extra time spent developing the website, such as the tips about appropriate attire for Hezekiah’s Tunnel and information about the Jerusalem mp3 tour.

The Museum Guide gives eight recommendations, including full pages about three of them.  The Israel Museum page gives a good summary of the major highlights, though it will be worth mentioning here that the Archaeology Wing is closed until 2010 (Middle East Time).

I’m not sure how many times I’ve had to explain how to get from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem, but this page gives all the details you need to know except the price for a shared taxi (about $11 or NIS equivalent).

There are some points I would disagree with – such as women in pants being required to wear skirts at the Western Wall prayer area (I’ve never seen that) – but overall the advice seems sensible and accurate.

Some sections are still under development, such as “Where to Eat,” but overall visitors will find much to help them plan their trip in the city.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Roman Building Excavated in City of David

A third-century A.D. Roman building has been excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem.  Excavations in this past and future parking lot located in the Central (Tyropean) Valley have formerly revealed a first-century A.D. palace believed to have belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene.

From the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A spacious edifice from the Roman period (third century CE) – apparently a mansion that belonged to a wealthy individual – was recently exposed in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the 'Givati Car Park' at the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations are being conducted at the site on behalf of the IAA and in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, together with Yana Tchekhanovets, “Although we do not have the complete dimensions of the structure, we can cautiously estimate that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns. Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs”.

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs. Its architectural richness, plan and particularly the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins bear witness to the unequivocal Roman character of the building. The most outstanding of these finds are a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.

The full release can be found here (temporary link).

Three high-resolution photos can be downloaded from the IAA website, including photos of the earring and statue and an aerial photograph of the building.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Temple Model Overlooks Temple Mount

I was traveling last week when the Jerusalem Post reported on the installation of a model of the Second Temple above the Western Wall plaza, but readers who didn’t see it elsewhere may be interested.  You can see another photo of the model at Arutz-7; it looks very similar to the model at the Israel Museum (formerly Holyland Hotel).

Some 50 people gathered on Wednesday to watch the installation of a Second Temple model on the roof of a yet-unfinished Aish HaTorah yeshiva building, across from the Western Wall and just a few hundred meters from where the real thing once stood.

With the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa Mosque standing conspicuously in the background, a crane lowered the 1.2-ton model onto the roof.

It took about a year for Michael Osanis, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who has built a number of other Temple models, including one in the Temple Institute, also in the capital's Jewish Quarter, to complete this model, which is made from gold, silver, wood and Jerusalem stone.

The model will sit on a new educational building for Aish HaTorah's short-term outreach programs, which is set to open in December.

Aish, which provides a network of educational programs for Jews around the world, is also building a new "Exploratorium" - an interactive museum on Jewish history, which it expects will host 300,000 visitors annually after it opens in two years.

"What could be more appropriate than to have here, as people are standing looking out over our holiest place, the Temple Mount, a sense of what it was really like to have the Temple here?" asked Ephraim Shore, director of Aish's programs in Jerusalem.

The yeshiva hopes that this model will help people to visualize the Temple and therefore forge a stronger connection with Judaism and Jewish history.

"It is hard for us to imagine a Temple and to feel that we are praying inside the Temple," said Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, the head of Aish's Jerusalem yeshiva.

"But now, everyone who comes and sees this Temple model, it will be much easier for them to connect to the Temple and to direct their prayers to the Holy of Holies."

As the crane lowered the model into place, an argument broke out about which direction it should face. Should it mirror the way the actual Temple sat in relation to the Temple Mount, or sit the opposite way, making it easier for large crowds to see it?

Osanis swiftly decided that ease of access was more important, and positioned the model accordingly. Not everyone in the crowd was happy with the decision.

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

New Book: Eilat Mazar, The Palace of King David

The first preliminary report of Eilat Mazar’s excavations of the City of Davidmazar_palace is provocatively entitled, The Palace of King David.  The cover art shows an artist’s reconstruction of the palace, based on far more than what Mazar has excavated in her first three seasons.  The 100-page work is subtitled Excavations at the Summit of the City of David: Preliminary Report of Seasons 2005-2007, and it is to be published by Shoham Academic Research and Publication in 2009.  Eisenbrauns has it available for pre-order for $22.50.

The publisher’s description is as follows:

The preliminary report of the excavations at the top of the City of David hill in 2005-2007 summarizes the main findings from the Chalcolithic (the 5th millenium [sic] BCE) through the early Islamic (the 11th century CE) periods and presents initial conclusions of great importance to the study of the ancient history of Jerusalem.

UPDATE (8/10): The book is now shipping.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jerusalem Excavation Photos

Years ago I would say that no city had been excavated more than Jerusalem.  Today I think it’s also true to say that no city is currently being excavated more than Jerusalem.  Peter Wong has shared a few photos that he took last week.

Mount Zion excavations, by Peter Wong 7014

Excavations on Mount Zion. See here for more information about the summer’s discoveries.

Tyropoean Valley excavations, by Peter Wong 6524Excavations in the Central (Tyropoean) Valley. See here for the report of the discovery of Queen Helene's palace in this area.

Western Wall excavations, by Peter Wong 6097

Excavations in the Western Wall plaza.  See here and here for earlier photos.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Temple Institute Building Jerusalem’s Sacrificial Altar

I’m a day late on this article, but some will undoubtedly be interested anyway.  From Arutz-7:

The Temple Institute will begin building the sacrificial altar on Thursday, Tisha B’av, a fast day when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago.

The sacrificial altar was located in the center of the Temple, and upon it the Kohanim (priests) offered the numerous voluntary and obligatory sacrifices commanded in the Bible.

The Temple Institute, which has already built many of the vessels for the Holy Temple, such as the ark and the menorah, has now embarked on a project to build the altar. Construction begins Thursday in Mitzpe Yericho (east of Jerusalem) at 5:30 p.m.

“Unfortunately, we cannot currently build the altar in its proper place, on the Temple Mount,” Temple Institute director Yehudah Glick said. “We are building an altar of the minimum possible size so that we will be able to transport it to the Temple when it is rebuilt."

Even a minimum size altar will work out to be approximately 2 meters tall, 3 meters long, and 3 meters wide. Workers have collected around 10 cubic meters of rocks weighing several tons already.

The rocks were gathered from the Dead Sea area and wrapped individually to assure they remain whole and are not touched by metal, as the Bible requires.

“The Torah says that no iron tools should be used on the altar’s stones,” Glick explained. “The altar represents a connection to life and to the creation of the world. Iron is the opposite – it is used to build tools of war, death, and destruction.”

The story continues here and includes a photo, a video, and an illustration.

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The Quran vs. Muslims on the Existence of Jerusalem’s Temple

On the traditional anniversary of destruction of Jerusalem’s two temples, Stephen Rosenberg writes an article in the Jerusalem Post on the evidence for the existence of the temples in light of the Muslim denials.

There is a persistent narrative by the Islamists to deny any past Jewish presence on what they call Haram al-Sharif. Like the cult centers of Mecca and Medina, they call it the Noble Sanctuary rather than the Temple Mount. The propaganda is spreading throughout the Arab world, and would deny any legitimacy to our claim to have experienced the destruction of two Temples on the site.

All the evidence, the propaganda goes, is written by Jews and is therefore suspect. The claim for the building of the First Temple comes from the Book of Kings. It is a detailed description, but nothing of the structure has been found. The inscription on a little pomegranate showing it to have been part of a priestly scepter from the First Temple has recently been denounced as a later forgery. The parallels with temples in Syria are fine, but no proof that one existed in Jerusalem.

What evidence is there that a Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians? There is a tablet in the British Museum that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem in his seventh year (597 BCE) and captured the city, but he destroyed no temple and only set up a "king of his own heart" (Zedekiah). The tablet goes up to the year 594 and then stops. The following years are missing and the next tablet restarts in 556 BCE. The crucial year 586 is lost.

The article continues here.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ten-Line Inscription on Mount Zion

A “clear but cryptic” ten-line inscription from the 1st century A.D. found in excavations of Mount Zion is reported in an article in the the Jerusalem Post.  This discovery was mentioned previously on this blog here and by excavation director James Tabor on his blog here

A unique ten-line Aramaic inscription on the side of a stone cup commonly used for ritual purity during Second Temple times was recently uncovered during archaeological excavations on Jerusalem's Mount Zion, The Jerusalem Post learned on Wednesday.

Inscriptions of this kind are extremely rare and only a handful have been found in scientific excavations made within the city....

The new Aramaic inscription from the first century CE is currently being deciphered by a team of epigraphic experts in an effort to determine the meaning of the text, which is clear but cryptic. The dig also produced a sequence of building remains dating back to the First and Second Temple periods through to Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.

From the Second Temple period, archaeologists uncovered a house complex with an mikve (purification pool) with a remarkably well preserved vaulted ceiling. Inside this house were three bread ovens dating back to the year 70 CE when Titus and the Roman troops stormed the city.

The Jerusalem Post article includes a photo of two lines of the inscription.  I do not recall seeing an image of the inscription in previous reports.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Roundup

The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted a 9-minute video tour of the City of David led by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun.  Sites visited include Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Siloam Tunnel, the Pool of Siloam, and the recently discovered Herodian street.

The cover story of this month’s Smithsonian magazine is the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium.  If you don’t have access to the beautifully illustrated print edition, you can read it online here.

A review of last year’s work at Khirbet Qeiyafa (aka “Elah Fortress, Shaarayaim) is the subject of a two-part radio interview at Arutz-7.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the government must establish a national park along part of the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in order to protect important antiquities from the expanding Muslim cemetery.

Five well-preserved Roman shipwrecks dating from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. have been found off the western Italian coast. 

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just produced a free 45-page e-book entitled, From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West. The four articles are:

  • The Genesis of Genesis, by Victor Hurowitz
  • Backward Glance: Americans at Nippur, by Katharine Eugenia Jones
  • Europe Confronts Assyrian Art, by Mogens Trolle Larsen
  • Firsthand Report: Tracking Down the Looted Treasures of Iraq, by Matthew Bogdanos

Elad has asked the city of Jerusalem for permission to construct in the City of David “several apartment buildings, a 100-car-capacity parking lot, a synagogue, a kindergarten, roads and additional tourism infrastructure.”

HT: Joe Lauer and Explorator

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Roman Temples on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

The Jerusalem Post has an article which summarizes the conclusions of a new work by Hebrew University Professor Moshe Sharon.  The article’s final section is the most interesting.

In the final section of his work Sharon builds on the research of Tuvia Sagiv, attempting to prove that the foundations and design of Al-Aksa replicated the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which the Roman Emperor Hadrian had built on the Temple Mount.

Noting that all Roman Temples of Jupiter had an almost identical design, Sharon compares the schematic of the ruins of a Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek to that of the Al-Aksa complex.

"Jupiter's Temple in Baalbek had exactly the three features which we find in the Al-Aksa complex: the polygon building in the front where the worshipers assembled, the open space where the god's statue stood and the rectangular main temple. The same symmetrical line which goes through the three components of Jupiter's Temple also goes through the Al-Aksa complex, and both plans fit each other perfectly," writes Sharon.

Sharon and Sagiv's theory is potentially incendiary because it suggests the Al-Aksa complex was built on pre-existing foundations and was not designed according to Muhammad's famous Night Journey to Jerusalem.

Sharon's research, which questions the Islamic justification for the Dome's existence and describes similar patterns in Jewish and Muslim worship, has inflamed some figures in Israel's Islamic community.

"We Muslims believe that Jews have no right to a single inch in front of the Al-Aksa Mosque, the whole complex - everything within the walls of the holy site. Jews have no right to worship there - under the ground, above the ground or in between the skies," said MK Sheik Ibrahim Sarsur, who heads the Islamic Movement in Israel.

The entire article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jerusalem 17th Top City for Tourists

From Arutz-7:

An annual poll by the Travel and Leisure Magazine has named Jerusalem its 17th top city for tourists throughout the world – ahead of Los Angeles, Paris, and more.

In its 14th annual survey of the best cities around the world to visit, the magazine ranked Jerusalem number 17, ahead of London and most American cities. In the United States, only New York and San Francisco place ahead of Judaism’s holiest city....

In first place on the list was the relatively unfamiliar city of Udaipur, India. This year’s survey marked the first time that results were included from readers in South Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Australia and New Zealand, Turkey and Mexico.

Behind Udaipur on the list are Capetown, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai (Thailand),  Florence (Italy), Luang Prabang (Laos), New York, Rome and San Francisco.

The complete list is posted at

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mount Zion Excavations, 2009

Dr. James Tabor gives an illustrated report of the first three weeks of the current excavation on Mount Zion.  Here is an extract:

The results have been simply astounding, the finds quite spectacular, and the whole area has been transformed....

Our major goals this season have been to remove much of the garden fill and rubble that has accumulated over the past decades so as to get down to the archaeological layers that lie below, with particular emphasis on the 2nd Temple period levels that are preserved to an extraordinary height of 10-12 meters....

We will, of course, publish full reports on our Web site later this year but in terms of an overview here are some of our more spectacular finds so far:

1. A stone vessel with an ancient inscription of ten lines written in an archaic Jewish script.... We have found a dozen or more on our site over the past three years. However, to have ten lines of text is unprecedented.

2. Murex snail shells with holes drilled through them....

3. A fire pit that can be precisely dated to just after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE and the rebuilding of the city by Hadrian following the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135 CE....

4. The threshold of a magnificent Fatimid period double gate....

5. An arched doorway with mosaic floor and plastered wall....

6. Exposure of several well preserved 2nd Temple period vaulted chambers likely containing mikvot (ritual baths) and storage areas....

The report concludes with an urgent appeal for funds:

Funding has been extraordinarily tight this season with North Carolina state funds frozen entirely and many donors feeling the pinch of the recession. In order to complete our season, plus a minimum of conservation and post-excavation work, we have inaugurated a Web fund drive ( to raise $50,000 by July 15th and we are about 1/3 there. Gifts have ranged from $25 to $3000, with the average around $100. I hope you will join this fund drive and pass on the word to others. I think by pulling together a few hundred of us can easily meet our goal.

You can read the whole report here (also in pdf format).

HT: Jim West via Joe Lauer

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Quarry of Herod Discovered in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post:

An ancient quarry covering approximately one dunam and dating back to the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered during excavations on Shmuel Hanavi Street in Jerusalem ahead of the construction of residential buildings, Israel Antiquities Authority said on Monday.

According to Dr. Ofer Sion of the Authority, who directed the dig along with Yehuda Rapuano, the 2,300 year-old site was probably the source of the stones used to build the Second Temple walls.

"The immense size of the stones indicates it was highly likely that the large stones that were quarried at the site were destined for use in the construction of [legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem King] Herod's magnificent projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple walls," Sion said.

The article continues here.

The article gives conflicting dates for the quarry.  It is dated to the “end of the Second Temple period,” which is the years before A.D. 70.  But it was used for Herod’s projects, and he ruled in Jerusalem from 37-4 B.C.  But the site is 2,300 years old.  Given the monumental construction of Herod’s rule, I would guess that it dates from this period.

The location of the site is Shmuel Hanavi Street, which is a major thoroughfare about one mile north-northwest of Damascus Gate, running between Sanhedria and Mea Shearim.

Other major quarries from roughly the same time period have been discovered in Ramat Shlomo (location, photos), Sanhedria, and “Solomon’s Quarries” near Damascus Gate.  The quarry at Ketef Hinnom (now covered by the Menahem Begin Heritage Center) may date to the same period.

Ketef Hinnom new excavations, tb090299803

Ketef Hinnom quarry, September 1999

UPDATE: Joe Lauer notes that a couple of high-resolution images are available from the Israel Antiquities Authority here (zip).  The press release is posted here, and Arutz-7 also has an article.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jerusalem Festival of Lights

From Arutz-7:

The Jerusalem Festival of Lights is a large scale artistic event, the first of its kind in Israel, taking place between June 10 and June 16.

The Light Festival brings to Israel the greatest light sculptors and light designers in the world, who exhibit their artworks throughout the streets and alleys of the Old City, in major tourist sites and public spaces.

For photos, see the article.


The Low-Level Aqueduct and Sultan’s Pool

One of the most impressive building projects of King Herod and others of his period is the aqueduct system that brought water to Jerusalem from the area south of Bethlehem.  Most people aren’t familiar with this project, or if they are, they really can’t fathom how remarkable the system is.  This is because unless you get out and hike around for at least a few hours, it is difficult to get a sense for the obstacles that were overcome.

Several aqueducts brought water to a series of three massive pools known today as “Solomon’s Pools.”  Two aqueducts then transported the water to Jerusalem.  The upper-level aqueduct led to the area of Herod’s Palace on the Western Hill and the lower-level aqueduct fed the pools and cisterns around the Temple Mount.

The relationship and date of Sultan’s Pool (photo below) to the low-level aqueduct has never been clear.  The pool is located in the Hinnom Valley on the western side of Jerusalem, and recent excavations suggest that it was only constructed in the Byzantine period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that they have discovered a channel that diverted water from the low-level aqueduct into Sultan’s Pool.  Built in the Byzantine period (330-640), the channel was repaired multiple times in the Ottoman period (1517-1917).

The IAA has issued a press release and two high-resolution aerial photos (zip).  Arutz-7 has the story (“Jerusalem’s Secret Revealed”) and includes low-res photos in the article.

From the press release:

The Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered the main aqueduct that conveyed water to the Sultan’s Pool during an excavation prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum in Mishkenot Sha’ananim by the Jerusalem Foundation. The ancient aqueduct supplied pilgrims and residents with water for drinking and purification.

Most Jerusalemites identify the Sultan’s Pool as a venue where large cultural events are held; however, for hundreds of years it was one of the city’s most important water reservoirs.

In an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority recently conducted prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum, which the Jerusalem Foundation plans to build in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, an aqueduct was uncovered that conveyed water to the Temple Mount and also served as the principal water supply to the Sultan’s Pool. The excavation, directed by Gideon Solimany and Dr. Ron Beeri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, focused on a section along the course of the Low-level Aqueduct, on the western side of Ben Hinnoam Valley above the Derekh Hebron bridge.

According to Dr. Ron Beeri, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with a very impressive aqueduct that reached a height of three meters. Naturally, one of the first things Sultan Suleiman I hastened to do in Jerusalem (along with the construction of the city wall as we know it today) was to repair the aqueduct that was already there which supplied the large numbers of pilgrims who arrived in Jerusalem with water for drinking and purification. Suleiman attached a small tower to the aqueduct, inside of which a ceramic pipe was inserted. The pipe diverted the aqueduct’s water to the Sultan’s Pool and the impressive sabil (a Muslim public fountain for drinking water), which he built for the pilgrims who crossed the Derekh Hebron bridge and is still preserved there today”. Dr. Beeri said, “It is evident that the location of the aqueduct was extremely successful and efficient: we found four phases of different aqueducts that were constructed in exactly the same spot, one, Byzantine, from the sixth-seventh centuries CE and three that are Ottoman which were built beginning in the sixteenth century CE. The last three encircle a large subterranean water reservoir that was apparently built before the Ottoman period”.

Sultan's Pool with St Andrew's Church, mat12447 Sultan’s Pool in the Hinnom Valley, September 1943
Library of Congress, matpc-12447
From the forthcoming photo CD: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem

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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Battles Within the Holy Sepulcher Church

If you’ve ever wondered what the background is for the fistfights, the unmoving ladder, or the eternal state of disrepair of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this essay by Raymond Cohen at The Bible and Interpretation is well worth reading.  Cohen goes back to the Crusader period to explain where the “Status Quo” came from and how it has evolved over the centuries.  The following paragraphs may stir your interest, and if the article itself does not satisfy, you can pick up Cohen’s recent book, Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Out of communion for centuries, six ancient churches are represented today at the Holy Sepulchre by communities of monks. The three major communities administering the Holy Sepulchre, the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics—represented by the Franciscan Order—and Armenian Orthodox have their own chapels and share common areas, which include the stone of unction, the edicule containing Christ’s tomb, and surrounding paving. Two minor communities, the Coptic Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox, have rights of usage, but no say in the running of the church. The tiny Ethiopian Orthodox community, living on the roof, has no rights in the Anastasis....

In some respects, the Status Quo functions like a railway timetable, specifying for every day of the ecclesiastical year the time and place of services and processions conducted by the communities in public areas of the church. It also acts as a sort of property register, detailing possession of every stone and nail. Not a carpet can be laid, a candle lit, or a step swept unless it is the custom....

In the end, an inoffensive compromise design was agreed upon by church leaders and inaugurated in January 1997, enabling the scaffolding disfiguring the rotunda to come down. However, the restoration was unfinished: The edicule was left untouched, visibly disintegrating and only held together by steel bands; paving throughout the church was cracked and shabby; the electrical and sewage systems badly needed renovation, as did the malodorous public latrines....

You can read the whole thing here.

Holy Sepulcher ladder closeup, tb090402202 Facade of the Church the Holy Sepulcher, with ladder allegedly placed for repairs that were never agreed upon by church authorities.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hebrew Inscription Discovered on Mount of Olives

Earlier this week a discovery was announced of an inscription of “Menahem” from an excavation on the southern end of the Mount of Olives (JPost or, with photo, Arutz-7).  The name “Menahem” gets attention because it is the name of one of the last rulers of the northern kingdom (c. 752-742 BC).  There is some difficulty with this reading, and other proposals have been made, including that it says “M / Nahum” or “[B] N (son) / Nahum.”  It sure seems like there have been a lot of Old Testament-era Hebrew inscriptions found in Jerusalem (and Judah) this decade.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seal of “Saul” Found in Jerusalem

A seal of a person named Saul dating from the time of Hezekiah (c. 700 BC) has been discovered in the City of David in Jerusalem.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has released a high-resolution photograph and a press release:

The seal, which is made of bone, was found broken and is missing a piece from its upper right side. Two parallel lines divide the surface of the seal into two registers in which Hebrew letters are engraved:



A period followed by a floral image or a tiny fruit appear at the end of the bottom name.

The name of the seal’s owner was completely preserved and it is written in the shortened form of the name שאול (Shaul). The name is known from both the Bible (Genesis 36:37; 1 Samuel 9:2; 1 Chronicles 4:24 and 6:9) and from other Hebrew seals.

According to Professor Reich, “This seal joins another Hebrew seal that was previously found and three Hebrew bullae (pieces of clay stamped with seal impressions) that were discovered nearby. These five items have great chronological importance regarding the study of the development of the use of seals. While the numerous bullae that were discovered in the adjacent rock-hewn pool were found together with pottery sherds from the end of the ninth and beginning of the eighth centuries BCE, they do not bear any Semitic letters. On the other hand, the five Hebrew epigraphic artifacts were recovered from the soil that was excavated outside the pool, which contained pottery sherds that date to the last part of the eighth century.

The press release continues here (temporary link).

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Israel Museum Renovation

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is in the midst of a $100 million renovation and the Jerusalem Post has an update on the transformation.  Here are some snips:

There are two main aspects to the renewal project. The first is to create a completely new approach from the entrance of the museum to the center of the museum campus. To do this, the museum has hired New York architect James Carpenter, who has worked on a variety of high-profile projects, such as the new Hearst headquarters (which involved saving the original facade of an existing building), the podium light wall of the Seven World Trade Center building in New York, a proposed multi-use sports enclosure for the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Madison Square Garden renovation....

This second main aspect of the campus renewal - the reconstruction of the original museum complex from within - has been taken up by Tel Aviv-based Zvi Efrat of Efrat-Kowalsky Architects. Efrat, who is also the head of the architecture department at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, has created a central circulation point from which all the museum's main exhibit wings - Archeology, Judaica and Jewish Ethnography, Fine Arts, and Temporary Exhibitions - are accessible on the same level.

To achieve this internal redesign without, in Snyder's words, "increasing the breadth of the existing envelope," the museum is being gutted from the inside, its exhibit halls are reconfigured, and a number of connecting passages are being added. The key to the project, though, is turning an area previously dedicated to internal museum service activity into exhibition spaces, resulting in an additional 9,290 sq.m. of gallery space that does not involve expanding the museum campus....

One of the final touches to the renewal project was a revamping of the museum's central outdoor plaza, raising two-thirds of it by a meter to improve its position as a vista point, and to split its length to make it more human-sized. The east side will lead to the underground passage that connects with the museum entrance, and the west side will open up on a wide staircase that feeds into the Isamu Noguchi-designed sculpture garden, making it more central to the campus.

The TimeOnline has a story about the new Egyptian gallery at the British Museum in London.  (HT: Explorator)

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Monday, May 04, 2009

New Archaeological Garden in Jerusalem

From Arutz-7:

A new archaeological garden dubbed "Peace be within thy Palaces” will be dedicated outside the Knesset chambers on Tuesday, the day after the 18th Knesset begins what is likely to be a long, hot summer session....

If the MKs want to find some peace, they can stroll through the Knesset's new archeological garden, which includes 50 artifacts on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority. They date from the Second Temple period through the Ottoman period.The heaviest item is a five-ton stone from the Temple Mount wall, dating from the Second Temple period.

Also on display is an olive press, ancient inscriptions, large impressive mosaics and a large Ottoman drinking installation.

The story includes a photo of a beautiful mosaic from the Kidron Valley.

UPDATE: Joe Lauer sends along a link to the press release and 4 photos (zip) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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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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Monday, April 13, 2009

Weekend Roundup

The Jerusalem Post has a tourist article on “Bethsaida.”  The author, a senior fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute in Jerusalem, seems to be completely unaware of the disconnect between the archaeological and textual data that strongly throws into question the excavator’s identification of the site.  HT: Joe Lauer

Richard Freund, rabbi and archaeologist, will lecture in the Houston area on May 31 on “The Ten Greatest Archeological Finds of the Lands of Israel.”

Shimon Gibson has a new book out just in time for Easter, entitled “The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence.”  As the title suggests, this work explores the archaeological information for crucifixion and burial in Jesus’ day. One of the “discoveries” Gibson allegedly makes is that Jesus was on trial not at the Antonia Fortress but at Herod’s Palace, and this becomes the basis for an Easter story by CNN.  DailyMail has a similar story, but with a nice graphic that shows the alternate views.  (Gibson’s view has been held by many scholars for decades.)  I haven’t seen the book, but knowing Gibson’s usually careful work, I expect that this will be a very good resource for Bible students.  A friend tells me that the book has an up-to-date bibliography.

“No city ever made a more dramatic entrance.”  So begins a article in the Wall Street Journal on Petra, the impressive Nabatean city in modern-day Jordan.

UPDATE (4/14): Joe Lauer sends along a few updates of interest to the Shimon Gibson story above.  CNN has a 4.5 minute video with Gibson pointing out some of his discoveries.  Haaretz covers the story and includes a quote by Meir Ben-Dov.  Now before I tell you what it is, I’ll just note that whenever a story has a quote by this “senior archaeologist,” you are almost certain to be correct if you take the opposite view (MBD is like Jimmy Carter in that way).  Ben-Dov says that it is “utter nonsense” that the Antonia Fortress is not located next to the Temple Mount.  But, surely he (and the Haaretz article as a whole) has missed the entire point.  The New Testament says that Jesus was condemned by Pilate at the Praetorium.  The question is not where the Antonia Fortress was, but where the Praetorium was.  Gibson, like many scholars for many decades now, believes that the Praetorium was located at Herod’s Palace, south of the modern-day Jaffa Gate.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Jesus Tomb Unmasked

I have received early word that Expedition Bible has just released The Jesus Tomb Unmasked.  As you might expect from the title, this film reveals many of the falsehoodsunmasked and distortions that were part of the recent sensational “discovery” of the burial place of Jesus, his wife, and his child in Talpiot, south of ancient Jerusalem.

The DVD can be purchased from Amazon for $7 (free shipping) and/or watched for free online.  You can also view a trailer.  The movie features some great footage and interviews with a number of knowledgeable scholars in Jerusalem, including Shimon Gibson, Stephen Pfann, and others.  This movie deserves a much wider circulation than the $3 million production that this one refutes.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Possible Finds of Hezekiah, Mistress of Lionesses, and more

An inscription with six paleo-Hebrew letters has been found in the City of David.  The Israel Antiquities Authority strangely has a press release after the item has already been published in the Israel Exploration Journal (58:48-50) and Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2009).  You can download a photo of the inscription here.  The question of interest to Bible readers is whether the inscription preserves three letters of the name of Hezekiah.  For analysis, I recommend Chris Heard’s blogpost and comments.

A press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University describes a Late Bronze Age plaque that may depict a female king, known in the Amarna Letters as the “mistress of the lionesses.”  A copy of the article includes a high-res version of the plaque drawing.

The British Museum has plans to expand, but the Louvre had more visitors in 2008.

The Turkish Riviera Magazine covers the ancient city of Perge (Perga) in an article that includes some good photographs and diagrams.  Paul visited the city on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).

If you like to read the OT in Hebrew or the NT in Greek, but struggle with the vocabulary, you may have been attracted to one of the new “reader’s Bibles” that defines the less common vocabulary on the same page as the text.  Now John Dyer has created a “make your own” version that looks like it could be quite useful.  Even if you have a “reader’s Bible,” you could print off a chapter of the text instead of carrying multiple Bibles to church.  (It’s a new site, and there may be bugs.  Currently it’s not loading for me in Internet Explorer, but works in Firefox.  To change the reading, select the chapter at the top and type over it.)

Hattips to Joe Lauer, Explorator, and Justin Taylor

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Restoration of Western Wall in Jerusalem

Restoration work is beginning at the Western Wall, and the Israel Antiquities Authority has more information in a press release.  More information about the project is available in two Word documents (zip) and 34 high-res photos are available here (zip).  The photos are identified as follows:

1-8 Western Wall Compound and the Western Wall
9-29 Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall
31 Western Wall Tunnels – Hasmonean aqueduct
32 Western Wall Tunnels – The Model Hall
34 Western Wall Compound Excavations

Most of the photos show general views of the Wall or of the current restoration, but a few are unique angles that you won’t see anywhere else (such as from the top looking down).  A couple of them may make you want to keep your distance from the Wall until the restoration is complete.

From the press release:

The Inauguration of the National Project to Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall and the Establishment of the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department (Minhal Shimur) (April 5, 2009) 

The Western Wall and the monuments around it are among the most important cultural heritage sites in the world. Every year millions of people come to Jerusalem to see them. In order to ensure a safe and comfortable experience, the site should be constantly maintained and new services developed for the benefit of the visitors.

A year ago the Western Wall Heritage Foundation conducted a survey of the state of the wall, which revealed that the physical condition of the stones was deteriorating. It was against this background that the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to take urgent action: the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department conducted an extensive physical and engineering survey of the Western Wall’s condition which culminated in the submission of a work plan. Conservation measures are currently being carried out there.

The work is focusing on the conservation treatment of the stones in the Western Wall and their stability, in accordance with their degree of preservation and the level of risk they present to the visiting public.

The project to conserve the stones in the Western Wall in particular, and the conservation and development of the Western Wall compound in general, is one of the most complex projects of its kind ever undertaken in Israel. The Western Wall compound project is an example of the enormous task that confronts us in conserving and presenting Israel’s cultural heritage. Such a cultural heritage site that is important on both a local and international level which involves large number of visitors, the need for constant maintenance, and the conservation of the Western Wall’s original appearance for us and for posterity, is first and foremost a challenge. This undertaking requires knowledge and professionalism in a wide range of fields.

The article continues here.  For more information and photos about the Western Wall, see this BiblePlaces page, or take a look at how the wall looked in the 1800s and the 1960s.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PBS Special: Jerusalem: Center of the World

The 2-hour movie narrates the history of the city. Beginning at 9pm Eastern/Pacific, the documentary is narrated by Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Susan Wunderink of Christianity Today reviews the film:

The film starts with Abraham leaving Ur at a time when Jerusalem was already settled by Canaanite tribes. The documentary embellishes biblical history, adding in traditions that say, for example, that Jerusalem is also where God created Adam. jerusalem_pbs

Suarez goes into the details of the destruction and rebuildings of the Jewish Temple. Jesus' short life is given about 15 minutes of the two-hour run time. For viewers who know what happens up to 70 A.D.—and then nothing—it will fill in some big gaps.

The second half of the film explains how the city came to look as it does today, if you can keep up. Toward the end, the pace picks up as Suarez lists how "the world's most contested piece of real estate" changes hands among multiple Christian and Muslim rulers.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others fought, came, and went, sometimes leaving Jerusalem little more than a tourist trap. Mark Twain found it an unappealing, sleepy place when he visited. The Romans, after nearly wiping out the Jewish population, expelled the rest; Saladin's Muslims let them re-settle.

The full review is here. The producer’s website includes a trailer.

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Western Wall Prayer Notes Removed

From Arutz-7:

The ancient crevices of the Western Wall, filled with prayer notes tearfully tucked inside by tens of thousands of worshippers during the course of the year, underwent their twice-yearly cleaning-out on Sunday, under the watchful eye of the Rabbi of the Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.

The notes are emptied out of the Wall just before Passover and just before Rosh HaShanah. The purpose is to make room so that people can “insert their prayer notes at the Wall without fear that the notes will fall out and be trampled upon,” Rabbi Rabinovich explained.

The notes, many of which contain the full names of family members, as well as requests for health, sustenance, a spouse, solutions for personal problems, and more, are treated with great respect by the workers.  The workers even immerse themselves in a mikveh (ritual bath) before beginning the holy work of removing the notes.

The notes are removed without the use of metal bars or utensils – which stand for warfare and the taking of life (see Exodus 20,22) - but rather with wooden rods.  Following their removal, the notes are taken to the nearby ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery for burial.

Western Wall men cleaning out prayers, tb090402207 Removing prayer notes from Western Wall

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Biography of Kathleen Kenyon Reviewed

Kathleen Kenyon was recently the subject of a biography written by Miriam C. Davis.  Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging up the Holy Land was reviewed in Haaretz by Magen Broshi, an archaeologist and the former curator of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.  His review begins:

She never married, and her friends described her as a person whose world consisted of three loves: archaeology, dogs and gin. Kathleen Kenyon was also the head of a women's college at Oxford. She bombarded the press with anti-Zionist and anti-Israel articles and letters − she thought that the Muslims had preferential rights to the Land of Israel because they had been living there for 1,400 years, whereas the Jews had ruled the land only during the First Temple period (about 400 years) and for another 100 years, during the Hasmonean dynasty. She was, however, one of the most important archaeolokenyon_biography gists ever to dig in the Land of Israel.

That is not a negligible achievement, because more archaeological work has been done in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in other words in the State of Israel and the territories, than anywhere else in the world. There is no other country that has been so thoroughly researched, and the number of digs and surveys carried out here is incomparably greater than what has been done in far larger countries. Kenyon is not only one of the most important archaeologists to have worked here (and they number over 1,000), she is also the leading female archaeologist to have worked anywhere (along with the prehistorian Dorothy Garrod).

Broshi looks primarily at the three sites in the Holy Land that she excavated, Samaria, Jericho, and Jerusalem.  Concerning the last:

The final site excavated by Kenyon was Jerusalem, and here she was not so lucky. In effect, the digs there, as they are described in the book, were post-climactic. Despite the huge investment - seven digging seasons between 1961 and 1967 - with up to six sites operating simultaneously, employing hundreds of workers, the results were small in number and also unimportant. One reason for this is that while Jordan was still in charge of the old city, Kenyon was not permitted to work in the areas where other archaeologists - like Benjamin Mazar, who excavated south and southeast of the Temple Mount, and Nahman Avigad, who worked in the Jewish Quarter - later discovered many important finds. (Kenyon's work was restricted because the Waqf Muslim religious trust was opposed to excavations in the Jewish Quarter, since there were Palestinian refugees living there).

The second reason is related to the limitations of her modus operandi, the Wheeler-Kenyon method, which relied on examinations in a limited zone and refrained from exposing a horizontal area. Careful examinations in pits, as meticulous as they may be, are likely to lead to a result similar to that of the Indian fable about the three blind men who fell on an elephant but were unable to identify it correctly: The person who fell on the tail shouted "ropes," the one who encountered the legs declared "planks," and the third, who climbed on the tusks, yelled "swords." Only a dig that exposes a horizontal area is likely to take in the whole "elephant."

The review concludes:

The figure of Kenyon as portrayed in the book is a model of diligence and dedication. The book is based on thorough research, including written and oral testimony. It is well-written and the story is appealing. In my opinion it deserves high praise.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Excavations on Mount Zion, 2009

Shimon Gibson and James Tabor have posted a week-by-week summary of their 2009 season of excavations on Mount Zion at The Bible and Interpretation.  In the six weeks of work, they made numerous small finds from the 1st century A.D. to the modern period.  The description is accompanied by several beautiful photographs.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Proposal to Relocate Inhabitants of City of David

Excavations in the earliest part of Jerusalem have long been hindered by the presence of modern buildings. Many of the houses in the “City of David” were allegedly built without government permits, and the municipality has threatened to destroy them. This would allow for much more extensive excavation of the area. Recently, the city offered to transfer the affected families to another part of town. Naturally, the Arab residents are not enthusiastic about the plan. The article does not mention another reality: any Arab who gives up land to the Jews faces a death sentence. Haaretz reports:

The Jerusalem municipality may offer to voluntarily relocate some 1,500 Palestinian residents of the city's Silwan neighborhood - currently living on top of an archaeological site - to alternative lots in East Jerusalem, residents say.

The option was brought up by city council and East Jerusalem portfolio holder Yakir Segev, in meetings with the residents.

The 88 houses at issue were constructed without permits in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan and are slated for demolition. They stand in an area known as the King's Garden, defined as being of great archaeological importance by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to attorney Ziad Qa'awar, the last meeting took place early February and saw Segev proposing two alternative locations, one on a different hill in Silwan, and the other in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, in the northeast of the city.

The proposition was unanimously rejected by the residents.

"We told him that these were lands we inherited from our parents, and we were not going to give them up," said Fathi Abu Diab, a member of the residents' committee. "We were born here, and our children were born here too."

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Amihai Mazar Receives Israel Prize

Hebrew University Professor Amihai Mazar has recently been awarded the Israel Prize.  Mazar is the excavator of Tel Qasile, Tel Batash (biblical Timnah), and Beth Shean.  He is presently excavating Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley.  Mazar’s book, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, has long been a standard in the subject.  Professor Mazar was my first archaeology teacher, and he gave me my first opportunity to volunteer in a dig at Beth Shean.  He represents the best of Israeli archaeology and is most deserving of this prestigious award.

HT: Aren Maeir


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Remains of Antonia Fortress

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Jan/Feb 2009) includes an article by Ehud Netzer on the size and location of the Antonia Fortress (teaser here).  Built by Herod the Great, this imposing structure both protected the Temple Mount on its vulnerable northern side and it served as a convenient monitoring station for potential uprisings in the Temple area.  When Paul was accused of bringing a Gentile beyond the Court of the Gentiles, a riot began.  Paul’s life was spared by Roman officials who arrested him and took him to the Antonia Fortress (Acts 21:27-22:29).

Netzer is a renowned scholar, whose work on the Herodian sites of Jericho, Herodium, Caesarea, Jerusalem and elsewhere has led some to dub him “Mr. Herod.”  He realized a lifelong dream in 2007 with the discovery of King Herod’s tomb.  He has not excavated in the area of the Antonia Fortress because the Muslim authorities forbid any scholarly activity on the Temple Mount.

Leen Ritmeyer, a Temple Mount scholar, yesterday posted a response to Netzer’s article on the Antonia Fortress.  Ritmeyer believes that Netzer is mistaken both with regard to the size and shape of the building.  As always, Ritmeyer has beautiful and helpful illustrations.  The second diagram in his post reveals the existing remains of the fortress (in yellow).  The photo below shows the rock scarp and some of the Herodian masonry (on right).

Area of Antonia Fortress with bedrock, tb092103205

Remains of Antonia Fortress, north side of Temple Mount

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Roman Figurine Discovered in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority has reported the discovery of an ancient marble figurine.  The bearded man may be a Roman boxer and is believed to date to approximately A.D. 200.

The figurine was used as a suspended weight together with a balance scale. This is probably the only find of its kind from excavations in the country.

A figurine (bust) made of marble depicting a miniature image of a bearded man’s head was discovered in the excavations that the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the area of the Givati car park in the City of David, in the Walls around Jerusalem National Park.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary, while meticulously adhering to the tiniest of details. Its short curly beard, as well as the position of its head which is slightly inclined to the right, are indicative of an obviously Greek influence and show that it should be dated to the time of the emperor Hadrian or shortly thereafter (second-third centuries CE). This is one of the periods when the art of Roman sculpture reached its zenith. The pale yellow shade of the marble alludes to the eastern origin of the raw material from which the image was carved, probably from Asia Minor, although this matter still needs to be checked”.

The rest of the press release is here, and three photos may be downloaded in a zip file.  The story is covered by Haaretz and the Associated Press.  Reports of previous discoveries in this same excavation may be read here and here and here and here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Conference: New Light on the Period of King David

In the Fields of Archaeology, Ancient History, and Epigraphy


Ben-Gurion University
'David's Victory' Foundation

In the Fields of Archaeology, Ancient History, and Epigraphy

The conference will take place in the auditorium of the central building in the Industrial Park of Omer (near Beer-Sheva) on Thursday, February 12, 2009.

Program of the Conference:

16:00 – 16:30  Gathering and Light Refreshments

16:30 – 16:40  Greetings and Introductory Remarks:

  • Mr. Aharon Yadlin, Assistant Chairman of the Executive Board of Ben-Gurion University and Former Minister of Education and Culture of the State of Israel
  • Prof. Vladimir Berginer, President of the 'David's Victory' Foundation
  • Chairman of the Session: Prof. Chaim Cohen, Academic Advisor of the 'David's Victory' Foundation

16:40 – 17:30  Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Sa`ar Ganor, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "Sha`arayim – A Judaean City from the Time of King David in the Elah Valley"

17:30 – 18:05  Dr. Eilat Mazar, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "The Palace of David in the City of David"

18:05 – 18:40  Dr. Haggai Misgav, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "The Ostracon (the New Inscription) from Khirbet Qeiyafa"

18:40 – 19:00  Prof. Vladimir Berginer, President of the 'David's Victory' Foundation: "The 'David's Victory' Foundation and the Memorial Site Commemorating David's Victory over Goliath in the Elah Valley" [including the screening of a new six-minute film]


Free parking is available alongside the entrance gate to the Industrial Park of Omer, opposite the Luzzato Building.

The Academic Conferences Organized by the 'David's Victory' Foundation:
2003 – First Academic Conference
2006 – Second Academic Conference
2009 – Third Academic Conference

HT: Agade (via Joe Lauer).

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Then and Now: Western Wall Plaza

After the Israelis captured the Old City in June 1967, significant attention was given to the development of the Western Wall area.  During creation of the large prayer plaza that exists today, the ground level was lowered by about six feet (2 m).  Recently when working with the photographs of David Bivin, I came across this photo.

Wailing Wall with Nadir, db6401182012 Western Wall, January 1964

With the distinctive crack in the rock visible behind the young man’s legs, I set about finding a recent photo of the same rock.  The photo below shows the crack behind the man’s right hand.  In 1964, ground level was located at the position of his left hand.

Man putting prayer in Western Wall, tb092603035 Western Wall, September 2003

Note that he is standing on a chair.  This is the best illustration I know of that shows the change in plaza level after 1967.

You can see a photo taken by Amihai Mazar that shows a bulldozer clearing the area in the excellent book by Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, page 22.

Some other “Then and Now” photos from the Views That Have Vanished collection are posted here.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Hurva Synagogue Reconstruction

Until 1948, one of the largest and most important Ashkenazi synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem was the Hurva Synagogue.  Fighting in May 1948 left the building in ruins, but following the city’s capture by Israel in 1967, plans were discussed to reconstruct the synagogue.  The interested parties could not agree on a solution, and so in 1977 a memorial arch was erected.  In 2000, plans were approved to rebuild the synagogue following its original design, and in 2005, work commenced.

Hurvah Synagogue arch, tb010200207 Memorial Arch, January 2000

Hurvah synagogue under construction, tb051906304ddd Arch removed, May 2006

Hurvah synagogue under reconstruction, tb051508004dxo Reconstruction underway, May 2008

Hurva synagogue in construction, as111808042 November 2008 (Photo courtesy of Alexander Schick)

For more about the Hurva Synagogue, see the Wikipedia article or these Google links.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hezekiah’s Tunnel Q&A

The Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review carried an intriguing article that suggested that workers used sound signals from above in determining direction while carving Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  The apparent “consensus” theory that they followed a natural crack always seemed implausible to me, and thus I am interested in learning of other possibilities. 

A number of readers sent questions about the article and one of the scientists of the study responds in an online-only article.  Questions that he answers include:

  • How does Hezekiah’s Tunnel compare with the water tunnels of Megiddo and Hazor?
  • How could sound signals pinpoint direction through more than 100 feet of bedrock?
  • Did water flow uphill from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam?
  • How were the workers supplied with oxygen?
  • Isn’t there really a natural crack that the workers followed?

Ayreh Shimron has some good insights into these and other matters.

Hezekiah's Tunnel, tb110705532 Hezekiah’s Tunnel


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 8 of 2008: Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible

2008 was a good year for archaeology.  You can read about the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world this year, but my goal here is simply to suggest what I perceive to be the most significant discoveries for understanding the Bible and its world.  Both the selection and the ranking is purely subjective; there were no polls, editorial committees, or coin tosses.  For another opinion, take a look at the list of Dr. Claude Mariottini

1. Khirbet Qeiyafa (and inscription).  The new excavations of this fortified site in the Shephelah ranks as #1 for the following reasons: 1) The site was occupied for only a limited time during the reign of King David. 2) The site is located near the battle location of David and Goliath. 3) A strongly fortified site is indicative of a strong central government, at a time when scholars question the existence of such.  4) A early Hebrew inscription discovered this summer points to the site’s owners (Judeans) and the state of literacy in this period.  5) These discoveries will certainly shed light on what is currently the most debated issue in biblical archaeology: the nature of Israel/Judah during the 10th century.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779 marked Elah Valley from the west

2. Gath excavations.  It’s not a single discovery that puts the excavations of this Philistine city in the number two spot, but rather the cumulative results of a very profitable season.  This includes possible early Iron IIA material (see above debate), a 10th century seal impression, two Assyrian destruction layers, methodological advances, as well as other significant remains from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, Area E excavations from east, tb060906085dddGath excavations, Area E, Summer 2006

3. New discoveries at Herod the Great’s tomb.  The tomb was discovered and identified in 2007, but on-going excavation in 2008 revealed additional coffins, including one that may belong to one of Herod’s wives and another to one of his sons.  They also found a theater that sat 750 people and included a VIP room with beautiful wall paintings.  All of this further confirms the previous identification that Herod’s tomb was located on the slope of the Herodium.

4. The “First Wall” of Jerusalem.  A well-preserved portion of the Hasmonean wall (2nd century B.C.) was uncovered on the south side of Jerusalem.  While parts of this wall have been excavated previously, there are two advantages to the current excavation: 1) It is being carried out with the latest in archaeological knowledge. 2) The remains will be preserved and visible to visitors.

5. Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli. The Kuttamuwa Stele is a large well-preserved funerary inscription from the 8th century B.C. city of Sam'al (modern Zincirli) that sheds light on the beliefs of the afterlife of one of Israel’s northern neighbors.  For more on the content of the inscription, see this.  This is the only discovery on this list which is also on Archaeology Magazine’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2008.

6. Iron Age Seals from Jerusalem.  Many inscriptions were found in Jerusalem at different times this year, including the Seal of Shlomit (aka Temah), the Seal of Gedaliah, the Seal of Netanyahu, and the Seal of Rephaihu.  The first two were discovered in Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the potential area of “David’s palace,” and the other two were found relatively close by (Western Wall and Gihon Spring).  Gedaliah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:1, and Shlomit may be mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.  Some might rank these discoveries higher in the list, but I have not because so many have already been found, including many in this area and many that mention other biblical figures.

7. Pre-8th century B.C. neighborhood in the City of David.  This report received little notice, as far as I could tell, but could be quite significant in our understanding of the growth of Jerusalem in the earliest centuries of Judean rule.  While these discoveries were made in 2007, they were only publicized in 2008 (thus qualifying them for this list).  In short, the archaeologists found five Iron Age strata which included a group of houses that dated “earlier than the 8th century.”  Excavators rarely uncover houses in Jerusalem, and these would be the earliest I know of from the Iron Age.

8. Philistine temple near Gerar.  I heard very little of this discovery, but it makes the list because Philistine temples are both rare and of biblical interest (see Judges 16:23-30 and 1 Samuel 5:2-5).  Other Philistine temples have been excavated at Tel Qasile and Ekron (and Aren Maier has teased that he may have another at Gath).

Other discoveries that did not make the top 8 include the sarcophagus fragment of the son of the High Priest in Jerusalem, the “Christ Inscription” in Egypt, and a Jerusalem quarry found in Sanhedria.  The on-going Temple Mount sifting project deserves mention (and support).

Other finds that did not make the list are the perfume bottle that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus’ feet and the water tunnel that David used to conquer Jerusalem.  Perhaps more information or discoveries will convince me that these are more than attempts to gain publicity.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

264 Gold Coins Found in City of David

The excavations south of the Dung Gate, where previously an announcement was made of the discovery of the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene, is the site of a cache of Byzantine coins.  A Byzantine tourist volunteering at the dig made the find yesterday.  CNN reports:

Some Israeli archaeologists are having a particularly happy Hanukkah.

The Israel Antiquities Authority reported a thrilling find Sunday -- the discovery of 264 ancient gold coins in Jerusalem National Park.

The coins were minted during the early 7th century.

"This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem -- certainly the largest and most important of its period," said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Researchers discovered the coins at the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which started at sunset on Sunday.

One of the customs of the holiday is to give "gelt," or coins, to children, and the archaeologists are referring to the find as "Hanukkah money."

The 1,400-year-old coins were found in the Giv'ati car park in the City of David in the walls around Jerusalem National Park, a site that has yielded other finds, including a well-preserved gold earring with pearls and precious stones.

They were in a collapsed building that dates back to the 7th century, the end of the Byzantine period. The coins bear a likeness of Heraclius, who was the Byzantine emperor from 610 to 641.

Usually archaeologists do not want to publicize the discovery of gold during an ongoing excavation, as it can lead to unwanted attention.  Perhaps word got out before they could swear everyone to secrecy.

The rest of the story is here.  You can also read about it at Arutz-7, Jerusalem Post, and the government press release.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Two Important Coins Found in Temple Mount Rubble

Many interesting finds have been made from the pile of “trash” that was removed from the Temple Mount and dumped in the Kidron Valley.  The Jerusalem Post reports the latest discovery.

Two ancient coins, one used to pay the Temple tax and another minted by the Greek leader the Jews fought in the story of Hanukka, have been uncovered amid debris from Jerusalem's Temple Mount, an Israeli archeologist said Thursday.

The two coins were recently found in rubble discarded by Islamic officials from the Temple Mount. It is carefully being sifted by two archeologists and a team of volunteers at a Jerusalem national park.

The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE, said Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay, who is leading the sifting operation.

One side of the coin, which was found by a 14-year-old volunteer, shows a branch with three pomegranates, and the inscription "Holy Jerusalem"; the other side bears a chalice from the First Temple and says "Half-Shekel."

In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. At the time of the Temple's construction in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was ordered to make an obligatory symbolic donation of a half-shekel. This consistent yet small payment allowed all Jews, irrespective of socioeconomic position, to participate in building the Temple.

You can read the full story here.

In related news, the archaeologists in charge of this project face a significant funding shortfall.  A recent letter from Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig concludes:

The Temple Mount Sifting Operation is not a project for an elite group of archaeologists. It is now the property of the entire Jewish people, including the tens of thousands of volunteers who have helped us sift through the rubble over the years. Many times throughout history the most important projects are adopted by private donors who have the privilege to make a significant difference well before the state steps in to help. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is just such an opportunity. Please take part in this effort to save the Temple Mount Antiquities and help us to continue the educational programming which is having an immeasurable impact on thousands of visitors from all walks of Jewish life.

You can read more about this important project and learn how to make a contribution here

HT: Joe Lauer

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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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Friday, December 05, 2008

Temple Mount Poster in National Geographic

Leen Ritmeyer mentions that the current (December) issue of National Geographic includes a poster supplement of the Temple Mount.  He includes a picture of the poster and tells a little bit about his role in its creation.  He links to the NG website, but I cannot find a way to buy just a single issue.  My guess is that a newstand copy would not include the poster, and that a subscription ($15/year) ordered now would not include this issue.  But if you already have a subscription, don’t discard the poster insert before realizing what a resource you have.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jerusalem, Rome, and Alexandria

Zachi Zweig recently produced photographs of a Byzantine mosaic floor discovered under Al Aqsa Mosque between 1938 and 1942. Zweig is certain that this was part of a Byzantine church on the Temple Mount. To this point, it has generally been held that the Byzantines left the Temple Mount in ruins. The 6th century Medeba Map does not show any buildings in this area. Underneath the mosaic floor was a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh). The story is in the Jerusalem Post, and Leen Ritmeyer comments at his blog.

Google Earth has added a layer for Ancient Rome as it stood in A.D. 320. Judging from a 2-minute video preview, this is an extraordinary resource. As with the rest of Google Earth, it is free. It probably would not be difficult to remove a few buildings and create a layer for Rome in the 1st century. Perhaps someone will be so motivated.

Leen Ritmeyer has created a less detailed Jerusalem layer that shows the city in the 1st century. (UPDATE 11/20: This layer is no longer available.)

This story has been around before, but perhaps its re-circulation indicates that progress is being made. The JPost reports that plans are underway for the world’s first underwater archaeology museum in Alexandria.

"The whole Bay of Alexandria actually still houses the remains of very important archeological sites. You have the place of the Pharaohs - the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria - which is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. You have the Polonike Palace, which was the palace of Cleopatra, and there might also be the grave of Alexander the Great," she said.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Five Scholars Claim Authentic

The Jehoash Inscription is a total fraud and everyone knows that, according to some people.  Apparently these five scholars didn’t get the memo, as they conclude that the inscription is authentic.  The Bible and Interpretation has the article.  Here is the abstract:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina. Two types of patina cover the tablet: a thin layer of black to orange iron-oxide-rich layer, a product of micro-biogenic processes, and a light beige patina that contains feldspars, carbonate, iron oxide, subangular quartz grains, carbon ash particles and gold globules (1 to 4 micrometers [1 micrometer = 0.001 millimeter] in diameter). The patina covers the rock surface as well as the engraved lettering grooves and blankets and thus post-dates the incised inscription as well as a crack that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Radiocarbon analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yield a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340 to 2150 Cal BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting in the patina indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of a thermal event in close proximity to the tablet (above 1000 degrees Celsius). This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic. 

This isn’t the last word, but that’s the point.  Scholars must be allowed to study this inscription without desperate-sounding people trying to silence those they disagree with.

The best indication of the inscription’s authenticity that I know and understand (which doesn’t include archaeometric evidence) concerns the “obvious” linguistic error in the inscription.  It doesn’t make sense that someone brilliant enough to do so many things right on this inscription would make such an obvious mistake.  Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know everything about how Hebrew was used in the 8th century.

The Bible and Interpretation has published much more on this inscription in previous years.

UPDATE (11/17): The more scientific version of this article was mentioned previously here.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beautiful Earring Found in Jerusalem

From the Associated Press:

A luxurious gold, pearl and emerald earring provides a new visual clue about the life of the elite in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. And its discovery was a true eureka moment for excavators.

The piece was found beneath a parking lot next to the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. It dates to the Roman period just after the time of Jesus, said Doron Ben-Ami, who directed the dig.

The earring was uncovered in a destroyed Byzantine structure built centuries after the piece was made, showing it was likely passed down through generations, he said.

Archaeologists came upon the earring in a corner while excavating the ruins of the building under a parking lot. "Suddenly one of the excavators came up shouting 'Eureka!'" said Ben-Ami.

The find is eye-catching: A large pearl inlaid in gold with two drop pieces, each with an emerald and pearl set in gold.

"It must have belonged to someone of the elite in Jerusalem," Ben-Ami said. "Such a precious item, it couldn't be one of just ordinary people."

Archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who was not involved in the dig, said the find was truly amazing, less because of its Roman origins than for its precious nature.

"Jewelry is hardly preserved in archaeological context in Jerusalem," he said, because precious metals were often sold or melted down during the many historic takeovers of the city.

The story continues hereArutz-7 has a similar story.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Conference: New Studies on Jerusalem

The Ingeborg Rennert Center, The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, The Faculty of Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University invite you to

The 14th Annual Conference of The Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies

Thursday, November 13, 2008

8:20 gathering

8:45 opening remarks:
Prof. M. Orfali, Dean of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University
Prof. J. Schwartz, Director of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Prof. A Faust & Dr. E. Baruch, conference organizers

Session 1 – 9:00- 10:30
Chair: Aaron Demsky

Eilat Mazar
The Stepped Stone Structure in the City of David in Light of the New Excavations in Area G

Moshe Garsiel
The Elah Valley's Battle, the Duel of David's and Goliath and Why Goliath's Head and Weapons End Up in Jerusalem

Avraham Faust
Sennacherib's Campaign to the Judean Highlands and Jerusalem: A New Perspective

Tsvika Tsuk
"And Brought the Water to the City" (2 Kings 20, 20): Water Consumption in Jerusalem in the Biblical Period


Special Discussion- 10:50-11:40

Shlomo Bunimovits & Avraham Faust
The Archaeology of the Biblical Period in the Twenty-First Century: Towards a New Dialogue between Archaeology and the Bible


Session 2 – 12:00- 13:50
Chair: Ben-Zion Rozenfeld

Joseph Patrich
On the Chamber Called House of Stone (beth even), Which was Facing the Northeast Corner of the Temple Building (birah) (Mishnah, Parah 3:1)

Michael Ben-Ari
Recollections of the Temple: Between Yavne and Lod and Between the Ideal and the Real

Ehud Netzer
How to Handle the Different Reconstructions of the Temple and its Surrounding Courts

Joshua Schwartz
The Temple Cult Without the Sages: Prolegomena on the Description of the Second Temple Period Cult according to Sources of the Second Temple Period

Yehoshua Peleg
The Pre-Herodian Sanctified Temple Area and Outer Court.

Lunch Break

Session 3 – 14:50-17:00
Chair: Hanan Eshel

Eyal Baruch
The Palatial Mansion in Jerusalem: Class and Ideology

Yuval Shahar
The Concept of the Temple Mount in the Second Temple Period

Ram Bouchnick, Nimrod Marom & Guy Bar-Oz
"Rams from Moab and Ewes from Hebron": Herd Maintenance Strategies in the Late Second Temple Period in Jerusalem

Zachi Zweig
New Information from Various Temple Mount Excavations from the Last Hundred Years

Yair Talmor
Between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Nea Church - The Religious Space of Byzantine Jerusalem


Session 4 - 17:20- 19:10
Chair: Yvonne Friedman

Peretz Reuven
"A Female Slave from the Harem Who Became the Mother of the Caliph": a Suggestion to Connect an Unknown inscription from the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Mother of the Abbasid Caliph Al- Muqtadir."

Nissim Dana
The Prophet Mohammad's Night Ascent to Heaven: A Review of the Passage in the Qur'an and in Other Islamic Sources

Shelomo Lotan
The Symbolism of Jerusalem and the House of King David in the Teutonic Military Order Medieval Heritage

Josef Drory
The Contribution of Franciscan Documents for Esteem of the Local Minorities' Rights in Mamluk Jerusalem

Oded Shay
The Beginning of Historical Documentation and Modern Archives of the General Population in Jerusalem at the End of the Ottoman Period


The conference proceedings (app. 400 pp. including 2 articles in English and 20 articles in Hebrew, with English abstracts) will be on sale during the conference.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

King David’s Water Tunnel in Jerusalem

Last week Eilat Mazar announced that she had discovered a water channel connected to the building she has identified as the palace of King David.  Based on the tunnel’s date, location, and characteristics, she believes that she has identified “with high probability” the shaft used by David’s men to conquer Jerusalem.  You may recall the story:

On that day, David said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the tsinnor to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies” (2 Samuel 5:8).

The Hebrew word tsinnor is usually translated “water shaft.”  For many years, this shaft was identified with a 40 foot (13 m) vertical shaft near the Gihon Spring.  More recent excavations have suggested that this shaft was not accessible during the time of David.

The story gets the press-release-rehash in the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7The Trumpet, because of its close relationship with Mazar, has two photos.  Haaretz apparently wrote their story before the press release and has some strange information about the water system:

But Mazar believes the water system served to purify David's warriors, first among them his chief of staff, Joab, after the city had already been conquered.

She says that purification was necessary because the Bible states they had to fight against the "blind and the lame," and in so doing would have become impure. She notes the use in the relevant verse of the Hebrew root naga (touch) in relation to the "gutter," a word usually involving matters of purity.

Here are just a few thoughts (based on the articles, not the minimal information above):

It seems that this channel was discovered at the end of the last season of excavation, and much more work is required.

Both ends of the tunnel are currently blocked, so it is not clear where the tunnel begins or ends.

The tunnel runs north-south, that is, roughly from the area of “David’s palace” towards the Temple Mount, all within the city fortifications.  This does not seem to fit the type of passageway that would be needed to conquer the city.

Oil lamps from the end of the First Temple period (c. 600 B.C.) were found, but it’s not clear how Mazar knows the tunnel was in use in the time of David.  It’s usually easier to date the end of use of a water system than the beginning.

The attempt to also connect the tunnel with refugees fleeing from Jerusalem in the days of King Zedekiah seems stretched.

Both identifications of the tunnel to the Bible (David and Zedekiah) strike me as the sort of “biblical archaeology” that Bible believers like myself wish would go away.  By that I mean, you find a tunnel and without knowing where it begins or where it ends, you assume that it must be the very one that is mentioned in a famous story in the Scriptures.  How is it that such archaeologists, working in a very restricted area, always happen to find exactly what they are looking for?

The solution is not to refuse to make connections to the Bible, nor to deny that the Biblical record is historically accurate, but instead to carefully study all of the evidence, avoiding unwarranted and premature sensationalistic headlines.  It goes both ways; more often it is scholars on the other side who use a scrap of evidence as complete and compelling proof that the biblical story is false.  Abuses on one side do not justify abuses on the other.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Third Temple Preparations

The Jerusalem Post has a long, but very good, article on the preparations being made for the construction of the Third Temple by the Temple Institute.  If I had an extra couple of hours, I’d enjoy commenting on various statements made.  Since I don’t, I’ll simply refer you to the article, which begins:

For centuries Jews have remembered and mourned the destruction of the Temple through traditions such as crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall opposite the entrance to one's home - each stressing that nothing can be perfect or complete without the Temple.

Built by Solomon in about 950 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Temple was rebuilt about 70 years later but finally razed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Talmud scholar Rabbi Yohanan wrote: "During these times that the Temple is demolished, a person is not allowed to fill his mouth with laughter. This is because the verse [Psalms 126] says, 'Then our mouths will be filled with laughter,' and does not say 'Now our mouths will be filled with laughter.' And when is 'then'? 'Then' will be when the Third Temple is rebuilt."

In other words, "Jewish life without the Temple is like fish out of water," says Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the international department of the Temple Institute.

An author of 10 books on the Temple, Richman adds: "Do you realize that 202 commandments out of 613 must have the Temple to be fulfilled? Without the Temple, Judaism is a skeleton of what it's supposed to be."

To this end, the Temple Institute was founded in 1987 with the explicit goal of rebuilding the Temple. Located in the Jewish Quarter, some 100,000 visitors, about half of them Christian, visit the institute each year to learn about the First and Second Temples and preparations for the Third Temple.

The institute is presently involved in education, research and constructing vessels for use in the longed-for Temple.

You can read the full article here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Golden menorah for third temple, tb051408996dxo Golden menorah, prepared for Third Temple.  Estimated value: $3 million

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Arutz-7 published several articles related to the Sukkot (Tabernacles) celebration in Israel, including a photo essay of Sukkot, an article and video on the priestly blessing, and an article and video of the public reading of the Torah that occurs every 7 years.

Eisenbrauns has a remarkable deal going until October 31: anyone can get any of their conference (SBL/ASOR) specials at conference prices!  Not only does that save you a flight to Boston and conference fees, but if you’re going to Boston, it saves you from carrying an extra suitcase (which now results in a surcharge).  There is some fine print, but it’s all very reasonable.  The page probably of most interest to readers of this blog is the Carta page (this is the direct link in my browser, but no guarantees that it’ll work for you).  Another work that may be significant in the present archaeological controversy over the 10th century is Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: The Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context, edited by Ron E. Tappy and P. Kyle McCarter Jr.  That was just released on Thursday, includes a free DVD, and is available for only $26.

The Jerusalem Mosaic reports that a new park will be constructed at the Beit Zayit Reservoir.  Many visitors to Jerusalem drive right by this (on the south side of Highway 1 before the last ascent to Jerusalem), but soon will have reason to stop for a picnic or a boat ride.  In addition, a 35-mile (60-km) bike trail is being built to connect a series of parks in the Jerusalem area.

Publicized earlier this summer, but not noted here, is a fragment of Nehemiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Though small, this is the only known portion of this book from Qumran.  You can see the fragment and read about it here.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Autumn Nights in the Old City of Jerusalem

If you want to avoid the crowds and get a different glimpse of Jerusalem, there are some great opportunities in the Old City for the next two weeks.  From the JPost:

After putting their heads together, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the municipal Tourism Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the municipal company Ariel came up with a brilliant move called Autumn Nights in the Old City. Successful beyond their wildest dreams, it consists of special (free) Monday and Thursday programs offered from the beginning of September until the end of October. Among the goodies are two light-hearted guided tours, evening performances of vastly diverse music programs and discounted museums kept open until evening.

The article has lots of details of the sites that are open and the costs.  If you like to take photographs, I’d recommend the Ramparts Walk and the Tower of David.

Temple Mount southwestern corner at night, tb031505525ddd
Temple Mount and excavations from southwest

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Monday, October 06, 2008

“Son of the High Priest”: Sarcophagus Fragment Found

Arutz-7 reports:

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a sarcofagus - a stone coffin - belonging to a son of a High Priest.  The visible inscription reads, "the son of the High Priest" - but the words before it are broken off.  It thus cannot be ascertained which High Priest is referred to, nor the name or age of the deceased...

The precise location of the find is not being released, for security reasons. 

The sarcophagus cover fragment - 60 centimeters (2 feet) long by 48 centimeters (19 inches) wide - is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned, and bears a carved inscription in Hebrew letters that are both similar to today's script and typical of the Second Temple period.

A number of High Priests served in the Temple in its final decades - it was destroyed in 70 C.E. - and there is no way of knowing which one is noted in the fragment.  Among the known High Priests of the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) ben Chanan, Shimon ben Baitus, Chanan ben Chanan and others...

Other discoveries at the site include public and residential buildings, agricultural installations, pools and cisterns.

Tombs from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. are very common in Jerusalem.  There was a large upper class that built lavish stone tombs, approximately 1,000 of which have been found.

The full story (and a tiny photo) is here.

UPDATE: The Israel Antiquities Authority press release includes a link to a zip file with three high-res photos, including one of the excavation site and two of the inscription.  HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (10/8): Haaretz has the story with some new details, and the Jerusalem Post has a 2-minute video about the excavation and discovery.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Recent News and Resources

I’ve been collecting items of interest over the past week:

Archaeologist Shimon Gibson claims that a concert near Jaffa Gate would damage antiquities (JPost).

A Christian organization in Colorado Springs is spending $2.3 million on a replica of the Western Wall, and a building to showcase it.  50 million tons of stone will be brought from Israel.

King Tut comes to Dallas on Friday.

The JPost Magazine has a profile of Eilat Mazar, currently excavating in the City of David.  She says, "I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other. The Bible is the most important historical source."

The ESV Study Bible, which was mentioned before here, is due out in a couple of weeks and its visual components (maps, charts, drawings) gets further explanation in an interview with Justin Taylor.

Leen Ritmeyer, renowned for his architectural work on the Temple Mount, is now offering some of his excellent work in affordable PowerPoint files.

I’ve just added Ferrell Jenkins’ Travel Blog to the blogroll.

This is not new, but I do not remember really recognizing all that is here before, so perhaps you did not either.  The Archaeological Study Bible website has many dozens of photos, charts and maps (medium-resolution) available for download.  You can find your way around from here, or go directly to Introduction, Old Testament, New Testament, or Maps.

David Padfield has photos of a Roman army enactment performed at Jerash.  There are 15 free PowerPoint-size images.

If you’re an image junkie, you’ll save time downloading images from the last two sites if you have a download manager.  (I use Free Download Manager with FlashGot on Firefox)

Shana tova (happy new year)!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Student's Perspective on Israel

A friend who works for the Jerusalem Post has alerted me to the first in a new series of articles: perspectives on Israel from college students studying near Jerusalem.  You can read the first one about a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem here

The students writing in this series are studying at the Israel Bible Extension (IBEX) of The Master's College.  The school is located in the Judean hills west of Jerusalem, and students come from the United States to study biblical geography, archaeology, history, Hebrew, and more.  The semester-long program is very popular among students, and, in my opinion, is one of the best things a college student can do, anywhere, ever.  I'm not unbiased; I taught at the school for many years until my present study leave. 


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"First Wall" of Jerusalem found

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a press release today describing the discovery of part of the southern wall of Jerusalem during the time of Christ.  Built by the Hasmoneans sometime after 150 B.C., Josephus dubbed it the "First Wall," in distinction to Herod's (?) "Second Wall" and Herod Agrippa's "Third Wall."  The "First Wall" encompassed the city on all four sides (unlike the later two), and had sixty towers.  Archaeologists recently discovered one of those towers preserved to a height of 10 feet (3 m).  The wall was in use until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Some more details:

  • The wall was discovered on "Mount Zion," the modern name for Jerusalem's Western Hill.
  • The results were revealed in a press conference on Mount Zion today.
  • The area had been excavated 100 years ago by Frederick Jones Bliss and Archibald Dickie, once described in the Jerusalem Post as "archeologist Blis Vediki." No kidding! (In Hebrew, "ve" means "and.")
  • Archaeologist Yehiel Zelinger lectured on his discoveries about 6 weeks ago at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.
  • Portions of this wall have previously been excavated in Area G, the Citadel complex, south of the Citadel underneath the Turkish wall, and near the Broad Wall next to the "Israelite Tower" (unfortunately closed to the public now for years).
  • The chief contribution of this discovery will not be in revealing where the wall was (we already knew that), but in giving us more details about that wall, by means of careful stratigraphic excavation.  Bliss and Dickie excavated by digging underground tunnels, hardly the method for understanding the history of a structure.
  • The archaeologist is impressed: "This is one of the most beautiful and complete sections of construction in the Hasmonean building style to be found in Jerusalem."
  • Apparently the remains will be preserved in the Jerusalem City Wall National Park.
  • Remains were also unearthed of the Byzantine period wall constructed by Empress Eudocia.

The story is also carried by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and BBC (with two great photos).

UPDATE: The Israel Antiquities Authority has made five photos available for download.  The aerial photo reveals that the excavation is on the west side of the Catholic cemetery on the south side of Mount Zion.  The most famous inhabitant of the cemetery is Oskar Schindler.  His tomb is visible on the lower right of the photo.

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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 27, 2008

City of David Excavation Report

Excavations began in the parking lot below Dung Gate in 2003 and were resumed in 2007.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has just released a brief report on the discoveries from the 2007 season.  It should be noted that this report does not include results from 2008.

Excavations in Central Valley, tb051908109 
Excavations of area in May 2008

The longest portion of the report concerns the Second Temple period, which is primarily the 1st century A.D.  It reports one of the discoveries:

A large impressive edifice, whose northeastern corner has only been revealed to date, was in the southern unit. The eastern wall of the building (exposed length over 14 m, thickness c. 2 m, height more than 5 m) was built of large roughly dressed fieldstones, some of which were hundreds of kilograms in weight. The northern wall (width c. 1 m) was also preserved to a substantial height. The interior portion of the building, within the limits of the excavated area, indicated that the structure was divided into elongated halls, oriented northwest-southeast.

This is what was hailed in the media as the "palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene," though as the 1st century ruler's name is not mentioned in this report, some may have missed the connection.

The period of greater interest given the current discussion of the nature of Jerusalem in the Old Testament period is the section on the Iron Age, quoted here in full.

The remains of the period, exposed in five strata that represented most of the Iron Age, were founded directly on bedrock, marking the earliest settlement in this part of the City of David. This period was mainly characterized in this area by relatively densely built houses of careless and poor construction. The houses, built of one-stone-wide walls, contained a variety of domestic installations. These indicate a residential quarter that existed in the area during this period.

The early phase of the Iron Age was noted for the use of bedrock the builders had employed for setting the buildings’ walls and incorporating it within their built complex of structures. Thus, ‘habitation pockets’, confined between the buildings’ walls and bedrock outcrops, were discovered. This phase was dated earlier than the eighth century BCE, based on the abundance of ceramic finds. The later phase of this period dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE. No building remains from Iron I were discovered.

There are several significant points to note here:

  • The discovery of houses from the Iron Age in Jerusalem is unusual.  In most places, later destruction removed traces of building except for monumental structure (walls, water systems).  The best examples of houses were found on the other (that is, east) side of the City of David in Shiloh's excavation.
  • Caution should be taken before concluding that because some houses in Jerusalem at this time were of "poor construction," all were.
  • Some of the material is "earlier than the eighth century," which means 9th century (or possibly 10th, but distinguishing pottery between the two centuries is problematic at the moment).  This indicates that there was habitation in this area before the expansion in Hezekiah's day (late 8th century) when the Western Hill was fortified.  This should not be surprising, given indications in the biblical text.
  • That no remains were found from Iron I (or Bronze Age; see end of report) also fits the biblical narrative.  The city of Jebus was small and more closely located to the Gihon Spring when it was captured by David.  The city expanded to the north as David prepared for the construction of the temple.

In other words, the biblical account would lead us to expect to find remains earlier than the 10th century in the City of David, remains from the 10th century and later at the Temple Mount, with a likely "filling in" of habitation between the two sometime after the temple's construction.  Admittedly, there are other possibilities, but this one seems quite reasonable, and it appears to fit with the results of this report.

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of the area and the location of these excavations will better understand the last two points with the graphic below, which shows that the excavation area was outside the boundaries of the "City of David."

Aerial view of City of David, tb010703 givati parking diagram 
Jerusalem from the southwest
Click on graphic for high-resolution

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rabbis Want to Re-Ban Temple Mount Entrance


Israel's leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis are waging a new offensive against Jews visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Chaim Kanievsky and Ovadia Yosef sent a letter recently to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the overseer of holy places in the Western Wall complex, urging him to reiterate the religious decree signed 40 years ago by most rabbis in Israel forbidding Jews from entering the Mount.

The rabbis' efforts follow the publication in Haaretz last month of the visit of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the son-in-law of prominent U.S. rabbi Moshe Epstein, to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Tendler was photographed visiting the plaza atop the Mount, where the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine now sits, igniting a firestorm of controversy in the ultra-Orthodox community. Several other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis have ascended the Mount in recent years, including Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiberias, the husband of Elyashiv's granddaughter.

The rabbis' statement calls for a complete ban on entering any part of the Temple Mount complex for fear of compromising the "purity" of the area.

The declaration stated that "as time passed, we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies," referring to the inner sanctuary of the Temple tabernacle.

Temple Mount entrance forbidden by rabbis sign, tb122604453

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Conflict Over Upper Room Construction

The Jerusalem Post reports on the legal dispute over the building next to the Upper Room.

An ancient monastery adjacent to where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus ate the Last Supper, has turned into a legal battleground for Catholics and Jews.

Last week the High Court of Justice issued a temporary restraining order halting construction work by a Jewish organization in a Franciscan monastery on Jerusalem's Mount Zion adjacent to the Cenaculum, the Latin term for the room where the Last Supper was held.

The court also issued an order preventing the Jewish organization - the Institute for the Study of the Family and Family Laws in Israel - from moving people in to live in the monastery, known as the Franciscan house, just outside the Dormition Church.

David Bartholdy, spokesman for Tancredi, a Catholic organization that petitioned the High Court, said the construction infringed on Christians' freedom of worship.

"This is a holy place for Christians of all denominations," Bartholdy said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Work being done there is causing serious damage to a monastery with important historical and religious value. Construction workers have already uprooted ancient floor tiling, scraped off a layer of plaster from the walls, broken down antique, chiseled doors, and all this under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority.

"The construction work going on at the site raises the suspicion that someone is trying to Judaize a Catholic site and prevent freedom of religious expression."

The story continues here.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jerusalem Updates

Joe Lauer sends along a couple of articles worthy of notice.

The excavations at Ramat Rahel are featured in a 3-minute video by  It begins:

Deep inside of the hills of Jerusalem rests the Kibbutz of Ramat Rachel. Over the past 50 years many archaeologists have realized that hidden beneath this kibbutz are archaeological treasures beyond one’s imagination - the ruins of the palace of one of the king of Judah, along with relics from the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman era. At this site where space and time are mixed within the earth, another hidden treasure long buried underground has recently resurfaced. Just a few days ago, 15 silver coins dating from the Second Temple period were discovered inside of an ancient pot hidden in a columbarium.

The Jerusalem Post has an article on the increase of tourism to sites in east Jerusalem. 

The Company for the Development of East Jerusalem reported 28 percent growth in the number of visitors to the historical sites in and around the Old City's walls during the first six months of 2008.

"More Israelis have rediscovered Jerusalem this year and they visit it more frequently then they used to do in the past," Gideon Shamir, the company's director-general, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

During the first half of the year, 143,967 people visited the Ophel Archeological Park, situated at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, a 24% rise over the same period in 2007, the company said.

The Old City Ramparts saw 74,728 people walk on them from January to June, a up 29% from the same months in 2007. Both sections of the Promenade begin at the Jaffa Gate; one route passes through the New Gate, Herod's Gate and the Lions' Gate (aka St. Stephen's Gate), and the other stretches from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate.

Since January 1, 5,549 people visited Zedekiah's Cave, which was opened to the public in April 2007. During nine months of activity in 2007 the cave was toured by 9,356 people; visits during April to June 2008 are up 86% from the same period last year.

The article continues here.  I'm certainly happy to see these sites open again, but there has been a price.  Getting into the City of David with a group now requires an advance reservation, a fast pace to stay ahead of countless tour groups, and a wad of cash.  Zedekiah's Cave cost $1 before it closed in 2000; now they charge $5 a person to keep the lights on and a guard at the door.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barkay on Temple Denial

Lela Gilbert has an article in the Jerusalem Post on the recent trend of denying that a Jewish temple existed in Jerusalem.  It includes a lengthy interview with archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, and concludes:

IN SPITE of these discoveries, Temple denial remains a growing phenomenon in Europe and America, particularly in leftist intellectual circles. It is supported by the reality that there are no visible remains of the temples of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Barkay contends that there were remains still visible in the 1960s and 1970s, which have either been removed or covered up by gardens.

"The Islamic Wakf says, 'We are not going to let you dig, but show us any remains of the Temple.' You cannot have it both ways. If you don't allow people to dig, then don't use this absence of remains as an argument.

"Temple denial is a very tragic harnessing of politics to change history. It is not a different interpretation of historical events or archeological evidence. This is something major. I think that Temple denial is more serious and more dangerous than Holocaust denial. Why? Because for the Holocaust there are still living witnesses. There are photographs; there are archives; there are the soldiers who released the prisoners; there are testimonies from the Nazis themselves. There were trials, a whole series of them, starting with Nuremberg. There are people who survived the Holocaust still among us. Concerning the Temple, there are no people among us who remember.

"Still, [to deny the Temples], you have to dismiss the evidence of Flavius Josephus; you have to dismiss the evidence of the Mishna and of the Talmud; and you have to dismiss the writings of Roman and Greek historians who mention the Temple of Jerusalem. And you have to dismiss The Bible. That is, I think, way too much."

Previous related post: Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Western Wall Excavation Photos

Excavations continue at the western end of the Western Wall prayer plaza, and as the work proceeds further into the ground, the more interesting it gets (at least to those of us interested in pre-Byzantine periods).  Peter Wong from Hong Kong was at the site this week and sent me a couple of photos.  They show a remarkable level of preservation.



For context, here's a photo I took a few months ago that shows the excavation (at bottom) in relation to the prayer plaza.

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051908178

I have not seen anything reported on this excavation recently, but when I do, I'll make note of it.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gold Coins from 1st Century Found at Ramat Rahel

Haaretz is reporting on the discovery of a hoard of coins at a site three miles south of ancient Jerusalem.

A few days ago, archaeologists made a most surprising find at the bottom of such a columbarium, at a site at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem - a hoard of coins from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).

Late in July, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University identified, beneath the floor of the columbarium, a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century C.E. that held 15 large gold coins. "It's very special to find a hoard like this, and it's very exciting," related the director of the excavations at the site, Dr. Oded Lipschits, of TAU. "We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it."

What was a pot holding coins doing at the bottom of a cave used for raising pigeons? According to Lipschits, the pot was covered up in a way that indicates that it had been concealed in a hurry. "We know that coins like these were brought to the Temple," he says. "Possibly after the Temple was destroyed there was no place to bring the coins, and since the columbarium was no longer in use, they buried the coins here. This arouses sad thoughts as we approach Tisha B'Av," he added, referring to the Hebrew date (the ninth of Av) that traditionally marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

For photos, see the Hebrew version of the article. (HT: Joe Lauer).

Unrelated to the coin discovery is discussion of the function of the building that has previously been identified as a palace of the Judean kings (something akin to Camp David in the U.S.). 

Lipschits says that one of the aims of the current dig is to clarify the purpose of this structure. "The accepted claim is that it is a palace of the kings of Judea, but I'm dubious of that. The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away."

Lipschits believes that the palace was built during the period of the Assyrian subjugation. "This entire complex is, in my opinion, an administrative center for the occupying regime, a place where agricultural produce was collected, for delivery as a tax to the Assyrians."

During the period of the return to Zion (beginning 539 B.C.E.), the Assyrian regime was replaced by a Persian one, but the administrative center continued to operate. Many seal impressions from this period have been found, bearing the name "Pahwat Yahud," the name of the country under this regime. The Ramat Rachel excavation is is the main accumulation in the country of impressions of this sort, and Lipschits sees this as further proof that the site was an administrative center.

There's some confusion about this elsewhere, but I think the journalist has it correct.  What Lipschits is suggesting, contrary to his predecessors (Aharoni, Yadin, and Barkay) is that the palace was an Assyrian center, following the time of the Assyrian subjugation of Judah under Hezekiah.  While most would agree that Assyria maintained some sort of control over Judah for about 50 years after Sennacherib's failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Lipschits goes farther in claiming that Ramat Rahel was an on-site command post for Assyria.  Here's a brief summary of archaeologists' conclusions about this important and beautiful building:

  • Yohanan Aharoni: Palace of Judean king Jehoiakim (cf. Jeremiah 22); ca. 600 B.C.
  • Yigael Yadin (never missing an opportunity to disagree with YA):  Palace of Judean queen Athaliah; ca. 840 B.C.
  • Gabriel Barkay: Palace of Judean king Hezekiah; ca. 700 B.C. (possibly built, destroyed, and rebuilt during his reign)
  • Nadav Na'aman and Oded Lipschits: Assyrian headquarters in Judah; ca. 700 B.C.

If you're interested in more, you can start with the article by Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2006, pp. 34-44.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Seal of King Zedekiah's Official Discovered

Eilat Mazar announced yesterday that the seal of a government official was discovered in her excavations in the City of David.  The story was covered by several media outlets (JPost, the Trumpet), and here's my summary with a few thoughts.

What: The clay seal impression, about 1 cm (.4 inch) in diameter, has the name Gedaliah, son of Pashur.

Who: Gedaliah was a government official mentioned in the book of Jeremiah as serving the last king of Judah, Zedekiah.  Gedaliah was among those who intended to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  The relevant passage is Jeremiah 38:1-5.

Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, 2 “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. 3 Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” 4 Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5 King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you” (ESV).

Note: The man mentioned immediately after Gedaliah is Jucal the son of Shelemiah.  His seal impression was found nearby in Mazar's excavation three years ago. 

Where, specifically:  Trumpet reports:

”We found the bulla of Jehucal inside the palace structure,” Mazar told yesterday. “This time, we found the bulla of Gedaliah outside the wall, just at the foot of the same spot we found Jehucal.” The two must have been connected somehow, she said.

When: Zedekiah was king from 597-586 B.C.  The date of the seal impression's discovery is not given, as far as I can tell.  With the last discovery of a seal impression, Mazar announced it so fast that later she had to go back and apologize for mis-reading the inscription (backwards).

Photos: For photographs of the seal impression, see  For some excellent line drawings of the inscription by G. M. Grena, see the files posted at biblicalist. For a general photo of the excavation area, see my photo here.

A few additional comments on the JPost article:

The excavation at the history-rich City of David, which is located just outside the walls of the Old City near Dung Gate, has proven, in recent years, to be a treasure trove for archeologists.

Actually, on the whole, I'd say that the discoveries have been minimal.  This is a central area of the City of David and after three years of excavation, three seal impressions and two controversial building identifications is not what I'd call a "treasure trove."  A few meters down the slope Yigal Shiloh found an archive of more than 50 seal impressions, including one belonging to a government official more friendly to Jeremiah, Gemariah the son of Shaphan (Jer 36).  Of course, it is altogether possible that Mazar has made other significant finds but is choosing to publicize them in the future.

The archeologist, who rose to international prominence for her excavation that may have uncovered the Biblical palace of King David nearby, has been at the forefront of a series of back-to-back Jerusalem archeological finds, including the remnants of a wall from the Biblical prophet Nehemiah, also in the area.

It seems to me that there's a problem here when an archaeologist can "rise to international prominence" on the basis of a couple of sensationalistic identifications without peer review.  If those identifications prove untenable (and there is significant discussion among archaeologists about both of the above issues), will she still be internationally prominent?  Should an individual scholar be so elevated on the basis of his/her own unconfirmed claims?  I would note here that lots of Bible skeptics would say the same thing; I am not among them, but still am uneasy about some of the ways these matters have been handled.  Of course, this new seal impression is not part of the debate.

The current dig is being conducted on behalf of the Shalem center, a Jerusalem research institute, and the right-wing City of David Foundation, and was carried out under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Is there relevance to the fact that the City of David Foundation is "right-wing"?  Is the JPost suggesting that this discovery or its interpretation is affected by the political views of a funding organization?  Should the identity of the the financial supporter have priority over the identity of the academic authority?  Would the JPost have identified another institution as "left-wing"? 

UPDATE (8/3): In an email, the City of David Foundation includes this additional information:

Dr. Eilat Mazar completed the third phase her excavation of what she believes to be Kind [sic] David’s palace at the City of David site a month and a half ago and is currently sifting through the remains of that excavation. It was in this material that she found the seal. Much of the rubble from the dig has yet to be sifted and it is likely that more discoveries will be made.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Interview with Leen Ritmeyer

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has posted a two-part interview with Leen Ritmeyer.  Ritmeyer served as the archaeological and architectural reconstruction editor for the forthcoming ESV Study Bible, of which Taylor is the managing editor. 

Part one of the interview focuses on what theGolgotha and Jerusalem, ESV Study Bible place of Jesus' crucifixion looked like.  It includes a stunning, high-resolution reconstruction of the Temple Mount as it may have looked in the time of Jesus.

Part two of the interview concerns what the tomb of Jesus looked like.  It features a high-resolution image of what the "new tomb" may have looked like.

I have had the privilege of having an preview of dozens of graphics and hundreds of full-color maps that will be included in the ESV Study Bible and I concur with Ritmeyer's assessment:

It is vital for Bible students to have a correct knowledge of the background of the Bible, and I am sure that the Study Bible will be of tremendous help for those who love to study the Word of God. With its many exquisitely rendered reconstruction drawings and accurate maps, a new standard has been set for biblical illustration, raising the bar for many years to come.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has a posted (with a follow-up) on his identification of several stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount that are clearly pre-Herodian.  Ritmeyer dates them to the time of King Hezekiah, suggesting that he was the one to build the 500-cubit square Temple Mount that Ritmeyer has previously identified.  He includes some helpful illustrations and photos.

A review of current excavations in Turkey is given at Today's Zaman.  New Testament sites being excavated include Alexandria Troas, Miletus, Hierapolis, Sardis, Smyrna, and Laodicea.  There are many other sites as well.  Many of these cities have very impressive remains, unlike many sites in Israel.  Today's Zaman also has an article on recent discoveries at Sardis.

NASA has a photo of a street of Ephesus at night, with (the planet) Jupiter illuminating the way.

Across the way in Greece, the ancient hippodrome of Olympia has been discovered.  This is a good story that counters the myth that everything to be found has already been found.

A couple fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have now been published by James H. Charlesworth.  One of the fragments may be from the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the other appears to be from Nehemiah, making it the first portion of that book to be found among the DSS.  Paleojudaica gives more info and links.

If you're a tourist in Israel and have a question, you can now call the 24-hour tourist hotline.  It's easy (dial *3888), but it's not a toll-free number.

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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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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Free Software: Get Lost in Jerusalem

Some years ago Zondervan released a educational game on CD called "Get Lost in Jerusalem."  The goal of the game was to navigate through the Old City of Jerusalem with the help of clues.  shabanMany American students were particularly delighted to find that "home base" in the game is the shop of the famous Shaban (photo at right).  The copyright on the game has now reverted to its creator, Ted Hildebrandt, and he is making it available for free download.  So if you're hankering for a stroll down the historic narrow alleyways of Christian Quarter, minus the odors, you're in luck.  You can check out Hildebrandt's page with the download (and lots more), get more information at Amazon, or take a look at Biblical Studies and Technological Tools to get some helpful instructions before downloading and installing the 550 MB file.


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Student Finds LMLK Handle

Last month I was in Israel when a friend called and said that one of the students in a group he was leading found a jar handle with a LMLK seal impression laying on the ground at Ramat Rahel (two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem).  I've led student groups around Israel for 15 years and none of them has ever found a LMLK handle and my friend is three days into his first trip when one is found.  Within a day or so, he had sent a photo of the seal impression to "Mr. LMLK" (who immediately published an analysis of it here) and got the expert opinion of Dr. Gabriel Barkay.  Yesterday, the story made it into the newspaper.  If you're recruiting for next year's tour, you can try enticing your students with the hope of such a discovery.  And you might take a closer look at that next potsherd before you toss it.

Lemelek, found by Sanchez
LMLK seal impression; photo by Steven Sanchez

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Archive of First Protestants in Jerusalem

Haaretz has an interesting article on the historical archive of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Some excerpts:

Tucked away in Jerusalem's Old City, between the entrance to the David Street market and the Armenian Quarter is one of Jerusalem's unsung treasures - a small room chock full of books, letters and documents in the historic Christ Church complex. Many of the documents are hand-written in the flowery style of the 19th century or earlier, written by Europeans, particularly the British, who lived and worked here. Coming to the documents' hopeful rescue is a recently initiated project that applies a combination of cutting edge technology and devotion to history to set them on their way toward digitalization as a means of preserving the stories they tell for future generations....

To explain what the library is all about, Arentsen's supervisor and Christ Church's new rector, Rev. David Pileggi pulls out one of the thousands of glass slides the library also owns. He holds it up, illuminating it in the afternoon Jerusalem sunlight streaming though the windows from the Christ Church courtyard. This one depicts nurses standing next to the beds of patients on a ward of the first hospital in Jerusalem, founded by the missionaries. "Life is complicated," Pileggi says, using the slide to segue into what is obviously a pet subject of his--dispelling the notion that nineteenth-century European Christians "were only interested in converting Jews to hasten Jesus' second coming."

Pileggi, an affable and talkative Floridian who has lived in Israel for 28 years broaches an issue that raises hackles in Jewish and Israeli society. He concedes the hospital's missionary purpose, but seems intent on getting across that it was "mixed with a deep sympathy for the Jews that came from reading the Bible. When you read the Bible and immerse yourself in its culture, as they did in places like England, Holland, and parts of Germany, you begin to identify with the main characters. That's certainly part of what these people were doing....

The precious documents found in the rare holdings closet put the Conrad Schick Library on a list of over 50 priceless collections whose preservation and digitalization is the goal of the Historical Libraries and Archives Survey, a project under the wing of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. Along with the Conrad Schick Library, the survey aims to preserve and digitize collections throughout Jerusalem - from the Afeefi family's 43 Arabic manuscripts on astronomy and other science kept in their Jerusalem home to the library in the ancient Syriac Orthodox St Mark's church with at least 300 manuscripts, the Al Aqsa Mosque repository with about 1,000 manuscripts and hundreds of ancient Korans, and the collection of the Admor of Karlin with more than 800 manuscripts, some centuries old. Dr. Merav Mack, 35, a Cambridge University-educated medieval scholar and a fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, is a consultant on the project along with colleague Peter Jacobsen. "We think the project is important because the city's written treasures are of such enormous educational and cultural value to our global heritage."

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Video: Priestly Blessing

SourceFlix Productions has a 5-minute video on the Jewish Priestly Blessing.  The video includes footage of the blessing at the Western Wall, an interview with a priest, and an explanation by Gabriel Barkay about his discovery of the priestly blessing on a silver amulet in Jerusalem.  The video is interesting and instructive.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Jerusalem Quarry Discovered

Like the quarry found last year, this one is north of the Old City.  From the Jerusalem Post:

For the second time in the past year, archeologists have uncovered a Second Temple Period quarry whose stones were used to build the Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The latest archeological discovery was made in the city's Sanhedria neighborhood, located about two kilometers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

The quarry was uncovered during a routine "salvage excavation" carried out by the state-run archeological body over the last several months ahead of the construction of a private house in the religious neighborhood.

The quarry is believed to be one of those used to build the Jerusalem holy site because the size of the stones match those at the Western Wall.

"Most of the stones that were found at the site are similar in size to the smallest stones that are currently visible in the Western Wall, and therefore we assume that the stones from this quarry were used to build these structures," said Dr. Gerald Finkielsztejn, director of the excavation.

The stones were dated by pottery found at the site, he added.

"This is a rather regular quarry except that there are really big stones," Finkielsztejn said.

The largest of the stones found at the quarry measures 0.69 x 0.94 x 1.65 m, while some of the stones were apparently ready for extraction but were left in place.

The quarry was probably abandoned at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 CE, he said.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Interview with Leen Ritmeyer

Many readers of this blog are familiar with Leen Ritmeyer from his articles in Biblical Archaeology Review, his reconstruction drawings of the Temple Mount, and his recent book, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  You can gain some insight into the man and how he came to create his wonderful reconstructions in an interview at the Bible Illustration Blog


Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Temple Replica Coming to Jerusalem

Ynet is reporting that Aish HaTorah is currently building a large museum opposite the Western Wall which will feature "an elaborated massive replica of the Temple."  The rest of the brief article discusses the museum and no other details are given about the model.

The three-storey museum, whose construction is valued at nearly $20 million will be erected in the Aish HaTorah ("Fire of the Torah") Yeshiva complex. The museum will feature a journey through Jewish history, from the days of Abraham to the present, emphasizing the message and significance of the Jewish people’s presence in the Land of Israel and their degree of accomplishment in world improvement....

In addition to the great lavish interior, the museum’s crowning glory is no doubt the massive amphitheater, whose cost is being sponsored by veteran Hollywood star Kirk Douglas, and his no less famous son, Michael.

The amphitheater will feature a three-dimensional film depicting the history of the Jewish nation over a huge glass screen through which one can see the Western Wall. The museum will also include a learning center with a VIP wing to host movie stars, politicians and other celebrities from Israel and abroad.

The brief article is here.

Western Wall plaza excavation, tb091306080
The Aish HaTorah building is on the left, marked with an arrow.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Interview with Jerome Murphy-O'Connor

The Book and the Spade radio program now features an interview with Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, author of The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (mentioned before here).  There are two parts, each about 15 minutes each.  Part two is currently posted, but this link should get you part one.  If you're interested, grab them now as the mp3 files are archived relatively quickly and I don't think the podcast link is currently working.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Holy Sepulcher Brawl

Did Jesus ever imagine that a few hundred yards from where he told the disciples that Christians would be known by their love that Jewish authorities would break up a brawl among his followers?  And not just once, as "brawls are not uncommon at the church."

Israeli police rushed into Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre to break up fist fights between dozens of Greek and Armenian worshippers on Orthodox Palm Sunday, witnesses said.

Some 20 officers intervened after Armenian worshippers threw a Greek Orthodox priest out of the church, sparking a free-for-all, they said.

Several worshippers then started beating the police officers with palm fronds they were holding for the Palm Sunday celebrations that mark the return of Jesus to the Holy City a week before he was crucified.

After the incident, dozens of members of Jerusalem's Armenian community marched from the church to the Old City's police headquarters in protest at the detention of two Armenians.

Brawls are not uncommon at the church, which is shared by various branches of Christianity, each of which controls and jealously guards part of site -- considered one of the holiest in Christianity.

Precisely in order to prevent such disturbances, two Muslim families have been entrusted for the past 800 years with opening and closing the gates of the church, a cavernous labyrinth of chapels and crypts built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

The full story is here.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passover Preparations

Arutz-7 has a helpful photo essay showing preparations for the Passover in Jerusalem.  Subjects including cleaning out leaven, kashering pots, making matza, and an "educational" sacrifice.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Video: Passover Sacrifice in Jerusalem

Recently I noted an article about a planned animal sacrifice in Jerusalem.  This event was controversial because 1) there is no temple or altar in Jerusalem today; 2) killing an animal makes some people mad.

Friends in Jerusalem went to the Old City that day and saw a guy they suspected of carrying a ritual knife in his briefcase and followed the guy through a wild maze of streets in pursuit.  It turned out they followed the right guy.  They filmed the service.

We talked about the appropriateness of putting this online.  The 5-minute video is as graphic as it gets.  More and more people today don't realize that meat doesn't originate at a grocery store.  They have little concept of an animal being raised and then slaughtered.  Furthermore, almost no one in the Western world has ever sacrificed an animal for religious purposes. 

I think, however, that is precisely why this *graphic* video should be shown.  We read about sacrifice in the Bible but we don't really understand what that means.  We read passages that talk about the "life being in the blood," but those are just words that we don't really consider.  We "know" that the wages of sin are high, but we don't get the life lesson that the ancient Israelites received every year.

The point of sacrifice was simply this: you deserve to die because of your sin.  This animal is dying in your place.  Watching the priest slice his throat and watching the blood drain out drove the point home much better than reading a chapter of Leviticus.

Today New Testament believers know that the blood of bulls and goats is not enough to take away sin.  But I think that we can often just take for granted Jesus' death in our place.  We don't think about his innocent blood draining away because we can't conceptualize it.  We don't always appropriate the idea of substitute because we've never seen a living object die in our place.  But our loss can be this: sin is easy because forgiveness (we think) is cheap.

The video was made by SourceFlix Productions.  Instead of dubbing over the scene with English commentary, they chose to include some explanatory text below.  Don't watch this video while eating, and if you're thinking about showing your children, watch it yourself first.

Link to Passover Sacrifice video

Passover begins Saturday at sundown.

Related: for photos and explanation of the Samaritan Passover, see (modern photos) or (19th century photos and text).  Several years ago I wrote an article about a visit to the Samaritan Passover sacrifice (En Gedi Resource Center).


Western Wall Stones Crumbling

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that stones in the Western Wall are crumbling.  A little background:

The "Western Wall" is a 60-meter section of a 480-meter long western compound wall of Herod's Temple Mount.  This portion of the wall has been revered by Jewish people for centuries as a place of prayer because the temple does not exist and access to the temple court areas has been forbidden (either by rabbis or Muslim rulers or both).

Three distinct sections of construction are visible in the prayer portion of the Western Wall today.  The lowest seven courses (blue box in photo below) were constructed by King Herod in the 1st century B.C.  The wall above this was destroyed, probably mostly in the Roman destruction of A.D. 70.  Arab rulers in the 7th-8th centuries rebuilt part of the wall and these stones are visible above the Herodian stones (between blue and red boxes). 

In the 19th century, there were problems with Muslims throwing objects and trash from the Temple Mount down on Jewish worshipers at the wall and so the British-Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore donated so that the wall could be built to a higher level.  It is these stones (in red box) that are the subject of this JPost story.  Read the article to learn more about whether the rabbis will permit restoration or not.

Western Wall, tb122006991
The crumbling stones are the smallest and most recent stones (red box). 
The original Herodian stones are in the blue box.

Update (4/17): Leen Ritmeyer has a lengthy explanation of the situation on his blog.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Weekend Roundup

There are a number of stories I've noted over the past week or so that may be of interest.

The Philistine city of Gath has been "civilized" with the creation of a new national park.  I think they should have called it the Gath National Park, instead of the Tel Zafit National Park, as no one seriously questions the identification any more.  The site is now off-limits to 4-wheel drive vehicles (that makes it a climb to the top!) and signs are posted around.  See the Official/Unofficial Gath Blog for details.

A special exhibit this summer will feature a long portion of the Isaiah Scroll.  The first 28 chapters (8 feet; 2.3 meters) will be displayed at the Shrine of the Book from May 13 to August 15, 2008.  The Isaiah Scroll was once on display in the center of the exhibit, but because of stress on the manuscript, it was replaced by a replica many years ago.

You don't have to go anywhere to see these 12 stunning photos of Egypt from National Geographic (HT: Dr. Claude Mariottini).

The biographer of Kathleen Kenyon recently gave a lecture on the archaeologist at Baylor University.  This link is to a (flawed) news report and not the lecture itself.  I mentioned the biography itself before here.

Here's a good little article on the excavations in the City of David around the possible palace of David.  If you've kept up on the story, you won't find anything new here, but it is an informed presentation.  CBN has another, less helpful, tourist visit to the City of David.  (HT: Joe Lauer)

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rehearsal Set for Passover Sacrifice in Jerusalem

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have celebrated the Passover sacrifice, but without a *sacrifice.*  It's one thing when you're an oppressed minority in Europe, but it's another when you're the ruling majority in your own land.  One would think that this would be the cause of great discussion, but it seems that the intervening years have muted the felt need for a sacrifice for most.  But not all.  From Arutz-7:

The demonstration of the Paschal sacrifice is part of a study day scheduled to take place on Sunday, the First of Nissan (April 6), at the Kotel Yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. The study day is a joint project of the Temple Institute, the Sanhedrin and the King David Museum. It was originally planned to take place one week later, but the organizers decided to dedicate it to the memory of the eight yeshiva boys murdered in Jerusalem recently, and to hold it on the 30th day after their death.

The study day is to include a public sacrifice which is being termed a "general rehearsal" for the actual Pesach sacrifice on the Temple Mount, a ritual prescribed by the Torah but currently forbidden by the Israel government and courts.

Glick told Ynet Monday that according to Jewish law, abstaining from performing the sacrifice is an extremely serious offense, comparable in its severity to avoiding a brit (circumcision ceremony) for one's newborn boy. He explained that although Jewish law forbids Jews in an impure state (which all Jews are in as long as the Temple rites are not renewed) from entering the Temple area, an exception is made for public sacrifices like the Pesach sacrifice. 

The Temple movement recently sent a formal request to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter, to allow them to conduct the sacrifice on the Temple Mount. "Making the Paschal sacrifice is part of the religious freedom which is a basic human right and a cornerstone of democracy," they wrote.  Glick said, however, that the organizers "have no intention of trying to ascend to the Mount without permission from the police....

Another animal rights activist, Etti Altman, said the sacrifice has no place in an "enlightened country" like Israel and quoted from the ancient Sifri biblical commentary which says: "As God is called 'compassionate,' so should you be compassionate."

The full story is here.

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King David Museum Opened

A new museum of sorts has opened in the Old City.  From Arutz-7:

A rich mix of Jerusalemites came out on a brisk Jerusalem night in early March to celebrate the city's newest museum: The King David Museum and Genealogy Center

Located in the heart of the Old City, the museum is a celebration of the most celebrated king in Jewish history, the author of the Book of Psalms and a major subject of the biblical Book of Samuel. The museum tracks the unbroken Jewish connection to the city Jerusalem, that was first conquered and made the capital of Israel by King David.

The permanent exhibition features artifacts from the first and second temple periods including earthenware, ceramics, coins, arrowheads, and more. There is also a section dedicated to printed matter about King David and the Temple Mount, featuring the first known printed book of Psalms, published in 1511, and a swath of original printings that date from 1696 to modern times. Another section of the museum features a series of jarred spices. Mixed together in the correct proportions, the spices were combined to create the incense that was offered daily in the Holy Temple....

The King David Museum and Genealogy Center is located at 19 Tiferet Yisrael Street in the Old City of Jerusalem. Opening Hours are Sunday- Thursday, 9 am – 9pm, Friday 9 am – 1pm. For more information, please call (02) 628-1502

The full story is here.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Temple Mount Sifting Project: Video

I've mentioned the on-going sifting operation of the Temple Mount debris before (here and here), but I haven't noted a relatively new video about the project.  The video is about 5 minutes long and gives a good overview of what they are doing and why.  If you're interested in participating in the "excavation," but don't want to go alone, there's a group going with the Associates of Biblical Research this summer.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land, 5th Ed.

The best archaeological guide to Israel is now out in its fifth edition.  The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor is the best companion for a trip to ancient sites jmoanywhere in Israel.  The section on Jerusalem is especially lengthy (150 pages in the 4th edition), and the whole is accurate and readable.  Don't expect to find out about hotels or restaurants - this is a guide to archaeological sites only!  The 4th edition came out in 1998, so while I haven't yet seen the new edition, I expect it will have significant updates.  The author has lived in Jerusalem longer than I have been alive.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

City of David Excavation Halted by Court

From Haaretz:

The High Court of Justice issued a temporary restraining order against the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), ordering a halt to an archaeological dig in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem, after local Arab residents complained that the excavations were being carried out underneath their homes and without their approval. They claimed that according to the law, the IAA is required to notify property owners if they want to dig under their property. After the suit was filed, the police arrested three of the seven plaintiffs. (Meron Rapoport)

This is a reference to the excavations headed by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun in the vicinity of the Pool of Siloam.  This excavation has been covered before here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Siloam street with steps from south, tb021907910
Herodian Street from Pool of Siloam to Temple Mount


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iron Age Seal Found in Jerusalem: Netanyahu son of Yaush

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of an Iron Age seal from the excavations in the Western Wall plaza.  This is the second of two seals previously reported and it reads "[belonging] to Netanyahu ben Yaush."  Both names are known from the Bible, but this particular person is not mentioned.  This seal was found a debris layer dating to the end of the Iron Age (c. 586 B.C.) underneath the "Eastern/Valley Cardo."  The area of the excavations is shown in the photo below.  More information about the discovery and a photo of the seal is available in the IAA press release (and repeated by Arutz-7).

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051707664
Excavations in Western Wall plaza, May 2007

Medeba map, Jerusalem, tb031801034
Medeba Map depiction of Jerusalem, 580 A.D.

The following paragraph from the press release seems strange to me, and if it wasn't the IAA reporting it, I'd not believe it:

In addition to the personal seal, a vast amount of pottery vessels was discovered, among them three jar handles that bear LMLK stamped impressions. An inscription written in ancient Hebrew script is preserved on one these impressions and it reads: למלך חברון ([belonging] to the king of Hebron).

My guess is that this is a standard LMLK seal impression, and it simply gives one of the four place names that are listed on LMLK seals (Hebron, Ziph, Socoh, MMST).  The place name is a royal distribution center, and is not a reference to the domain of the king.  "To the king" means that it was royal property.  "Hebron" is the place of distribution.  All of this is well-known (and you can learn more than you ever wanted to know at, which makes me wonder if this discovery is something different, or if the press report was written by a secretary.

UPDATE (3/17): The JPost now has an article on the discovery, which essentially covers the same ground, including repetition of the error of the seal "belonging to the king of Hebron."  The article ends with details I don't recall seeing:

The newly-found remnants of the city's past will be preserved next to a new Western Wall Heritage Center, slated to be built at the site, and whose planning prompted the salvage dig.

The construction of the building, which is expected to take several years and is being underwritten by the American media mogul Mort Zuckerman, will include an educational center, a video conference room, a VIP lounge and a police station.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Two JPost Articles on Jerusalem Archaeology

The Jerusalem Post has a couple of recent articles related to Jerusalem and archaeology.

Police stop Islamic work on Temple Mount - The police won't stop the Muslims from digging up the ground but they'll stop them from replacing tiles.  I wouldn't call this progress.

Digging too deep? - A report on the political aspects of the excavations in the City of David.

As always, don't believe everything you read.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Seals Found in City of David

I don't remember seeing this published elsewhere and you might miss it under the title "What Happened to the Clerks and Merchants of the 8th Century BCE?"  Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun have discovered more seals in the City of David, these from the 8th century (the time of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah).  These excavators had previously discovered a collection of seals from the 9th century, and these did not bear inscriptions.  But they recently found two stone seals and three bullae (seal impressions), all inscribed with Hebrew names.  The best preserved has the name "Rephaihu (ben) Shalem."  The article is brief and includes a photo of the complete seal.  Though they operate without much fanfare, Reich and Shukrun's excavation in Jerusalem over the last 13 years has produced more interesting results than probably any other dig in Israel, including discovery of the two towers at the Gihon Spring, the reinterpretation of Warren's Shaft, the discovery of the Pool of Siloam, and many other related architectural features and small finds.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Report Released on Temple Mount Destruction

If you're keeping up on the damage caused to the Temple Mount by multiple "excavations" of dubious legality, you'll be interested in the report, "The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount," published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.  The report surveys the situation since the 1990s, most of which is well-known to those who have followed the news, but this report handily summarizes the main points.  The major focus of the article is who is in control and thus who is responsible.  It concludes:

The Waqf, the Islamic Movement, and various Islamic groups have exploited the situation and have seriously damaged Temple Mount antiquities. The Israel Police plays the dominant Israeli role and its activities are coordinated with the prime minister's office and the office of the attorney general, while the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem municipality have only limited influence over what is done at the Temple Mount.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse over Jerusalem

Yahoo has many photos of last night's total lunar eclipse, including a number of pictures taken in Jerusalem.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Excavations and Politics in the City of David

The AP has a nothing-else-to-report-today article about the Israeli excavations in the City of David, focusing particularly on the political aspects. The thesis of the article is summed up in this paragraph:

Israel says it's reconnecting with its ancient heritage. Palestinians contend the archaeology is a political weapon to undermine their own links to Jerusalem.

The article interviews both sides, though it's not in-depth enough to satisfy either side. My contribution to the story is a photograph of the City of David that shows the area sometime in the first half of the 20th century, but without most of the buildings.

08433uJerusalem from south Kidron Valley, mat08433
City of David from the south
Source: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-08433

Some information and photos about ancient sites in the area can be found at these pages: City of David, Hezekiah's Tunnel, Warren's Shaft, and Pool of Siloam.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eight Inches of Snow in Jerusalem

From the AP:

A rare snowstorm swept the Middle East on Wednesday, blanketing parts of the Holy Land in white, shutting schools and sending excited children into the streets for snowball fights.

The weather in Jerusalem topped local newscasts, eclipsing a government report on Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.

Men in long Arab robes pelted each other with snowballs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, came to a standstill.

"I'm originally from Gaza where snow never falls," said Bothaina Smairi, 28, who was out in Ramallah taking photographs. "The white snow is covering the old world and I feel like I am in a new world where everything is white, clean, and beautiful."

Jerusalem's Old City was coated in white. A few ultra-Orthodox Jews, wearing plastic bags over their hats to keep them dry, prayed at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

Snow falls in Jerusalem once or twice each winter, but temperatures rarely drop low enough for it to stick. The Israeli weather service said up to 8 inches of snow fell in the city.

By late morning, the snow changed to rain, turning the city into a slushy mess. But forecasters said temperatures were expected to drop, and the snow would continue through Thursday morning.

Heavy snow also was reported in the Golan Heights and the northern Israeli town of Safed, and throughout the West Bank.

The story continues here. You can see some photos of Jerusalem in the snow from previous years here.


New Western Wall Tunnel Approved

Haaretz reports the approval of the construction of a tunnel near the Western Wall. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority has decided to dig a tunnel under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, close to the Temple Mount. Two weeks ago, the IAA denied such a decision had been made. The tunnel will connect those under the Temple Mount and the site of Ohel Yitzhak, some 150 meters from the Temple Mount wall. The decision to begin the dig was taken in spite the fact that no plan was filed to the planning authorities. Moreover, the Palestinians under whose homes the tunnel will pass were not consulted, even though the law grants them ownership over the territory under their property. (Meron Rapoport)

The third sentence should be corrected to read: "The tunnel will connect the Western Wall 'rabbinic tunnels' and the site of Ohel Yitzhak...."  Such a mistake might be excusable if not for the fact that dozens were killed as a result of a similar falsehood perpetuated by Yasser Arafat in 1996.  He inaccurately claimed that Israel was digging under the Temple Mount and 85 Muslims and 16 Israelis died in the riots that resulted

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tomb of Jesus, Last Time

About a week ago there was a press release from the Third Princeton Symposium which clearly had Simcha Jacobovici's hands on it (he's the guy he made the multi-million dollar video-claim in the first place). Though I had no personal knowledge of the conference, I could smell deceit (well, it wouldn't be the first time he tried to pull a fast one), so I ignored it here. Others did not (including JPost), so if you were one of those who bought his line that most scholars thought there's a good chance that Jesus' tomb was in fact discovered, you should be aware of the scholars that are denying his claim. The two places to go are the NT Gateway Weblog for a statement by a dozen scholars, and The View from Jerusalem blog by Stephen Pfann that includes the individual statements of other scholars.

In short, there may be a handful of scholars who think that this might be the tomb; the rest of the scholars are rushing to deny the possibility and denounce the misleading press release. For the record, many scholars don't accept a bodily resurrection of Jesus, but they just don't think the evidence that this is the tomb is compelling. Hopefully, I'll never need to say anything else about it here.

Update (1/26): The Jerusalem Post has a lengthy editorial on the conference. The Biblical Archaeology Society has compiled a list of statements from various scholars.

Update (1/28): Organizers of the symposium, have posted a statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website. They note that the conference papers will be published in 2 volumes by Eerdmans.

Update (2/14): James Charlesworth has an article on "Rebutting Sensational Claims Concerning a Symposium in Jerusalem" on the SBL site. Charlesworth was the symposium organizer and moderator.

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