Monday, September 07, 2009

Herod’s Temple at Sebaste, Then and Now

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

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

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

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

Samaria Herodian temple, tb070507748dxo

Herod’s temple foundations, view from northwest

Samaria Herodian temple, tb050106512ddd

Herod’s temple foundations, view from southeast

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

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shechem, Then and Now

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

Shechem from above, tb041106601 locations

Shechem area from Mount Gerizim, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Photo CDs: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the collection here:

Volume 1: Northern Palestine

Complete Collection: Volumes 1-8

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

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

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

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Biblical and Modern Jezreel

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

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

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

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

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

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) Highlights

Bryant Wood has posted some highlights of this season’s results at Khirbet el-Maqatir. The review includes a map, photos, and summaries of geographical and archaeological correspondences between Maqatir and biblical Ai.  You can read the whole; I’ll just quote here a portion of the introduction and a portion of the conclusion.

From the introduction:

After a hiatus of nine years, ABR has resumed work at Kh. el-Maqatir, a promising candidate for Joshua’s Ai (Joshua 7–8). The site is located approximately 9 mi north of Jerusalem and 0.6 mi west of et-Tell, the site most scholars identify as Joshua’s Ai. There is a major problem identifying et-Tell as Joshua’s Ai, however, as the site was unoccupied at the time of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. ABR was founded 40 years ago to examine this problem and field work has been conducted both at Kh. Nisya (1979–2000; Livingston 2003) and Kh. el-Maqatir (1995–2000 [Wood 1999b, 1999c, 2000, 2008] and 2009) as part of the investigation. At Kh. el-Maqatir evidence has been found for five major periods of occupation:

Middle Bronze Age, ca. 1800–1500 B.C.—pottery only on the southeast slope of the site
Late Bronze Age I, ca. 1500–1400 B.C.—fortress on the southeast slope, the focus of the ABR expedition
Iron Age I, ca. 1100 B.C.—squatter occupation on the southeast slope
Hasmonean, ca. 167–37 B.C.—fortress on the southeast slope
Byzantine, ca. A.D. 500–600—church and monastery on the summit of the site.

From the conclusion:

Excavations in the gate passageway revealed apparent evidence of severe burning in the form of reddened and fragmented bedrock, and burned and calcined building stones. On the west side, a 5 m length of the fortress wall was exposed and a 4 ft wide trench cut through it to provide a cross-section of its construction. At this point the wall is 12 ft wide at its base and preserved to a height of 4 ft. Several exploratory squares excavated on the south and east sides of the fortress in an effort to locate the fortification wall in these areas proved unsuccessful.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir, Week 2

The excavations of the site proposed to be biblical Ai continued for a second week, with a brief description and photos posted on the website of the Associates for Biblical Research.

Significant discoveries continued to be made during the second and final week of the ABR excavation at Kh. el-Maqatir, June 1-5, 2009.  During the first week ABR Board President Gary Byers cleared the gate entry way and found considerable evidence for an intense fire, evidenced by the limestone bedrock turning red.  Oral Collins of the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies continued the excavation of a section of the western wall of the fortress discovered in 2000.  The wall at this point proved to be 3.3 meters wide and is preserved to a height of 1.2 meters.  Just inside the gateway of the fortress ABR Director of Research Bryant Wood uncovered a portion of a building, perhaps an administrative center.  In the northeast corner of the 6 x 6 meter excavation square a deposit of four vessels from the time of Joshua were found: a storage jar, a small cooking pot, a trumpet-base bowl and a dipper juglet.  The four restorable vessels will provide important evidence for dating the fortress.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mosaic Museum Opens at Good Samaritan Inn

The Jerusalem Post reports on a new museum that has opened at the traditional Inn of the Good Samaritan.

The Museum of the Good Samaritan, which is located on the Jerusalem-Jericho Road near Ma'aleh Adumim, was officially opened Thursday evening after a nine-year archeological excavation at the site.

The official dedication of the NIS 10 million museum, which displays mosaics from the West Bank and Gaza, coincided with US President Barack Obama's long-touted Middle East speech in Cairo in which he reached out to the Muslim world....

The site, known as the Inn of the Good Samaritan, received its name in the Byzantine period when it was identified with the inn mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament.

The site lies on the upper end of the ascent on the main road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which pilgrims followed when traveling from the Galilee and Transjordan to the Holy City.

Over the last decade, archeologists have uncovered remains dating back to the Second Temple period at the site.

During the Byzantine period, the site was revived as a way station for Christian pilgrims, and an inn was constructed that included a large church, a cistern, residential quarters, and a fortress to protect pilgrims from brigands.

In the Crusader period, with the expansion of pilgrimage to Jericho and especially to baptismal sites on the Jordan River, the inn was renovated and a fortress erected above it to guard the road to Jerusalem.

The structure housing the museum was built in the Ottoman period as a guard post, which remained in use until recently.

The mosaics on display at the museum were discovered in the West Bank and Gaza and belong to Jewish and Samaritan synagogues - including a mosaic from a Gaza synagogue - as well as churches.

The full story is here.

Good Samaritan inn, tb113006626dxo Traditional Inn of the Good Samaritan with Jerusalem in the distance

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) Excavations

After nine years of being unable to excavate Khirbet el-Maqatir because of its location near Palestinian cities in Israel, the Associates of Biblical Research has resumed work on the site under the direction of Bryant Wood.  Wood believes that the site may be the city of Ai destroyed by Joshua in the Israelite conquest of the land (Joshua 7-8).  A brief report of the first week’s excavations is now online, along with some photos.

Efforts this season are focused on the west, south and east walls, and several structures inside the fortress.  On the east, Eugene Merrill (Dallas Theological Seminary) discovered a pavement which may be a section of a ring road which circled the site inside the fortress wall.  On the west, Pastor James Luther (Florida) uncovered a 5 meter long section of a one meter wide wall that is part of a substantial structure inside the fortress.  Dig director Bryant Wood exposed several walls that were part of a building complex just inside the main gate on the north side of the fortress.  One of the guest volunteers working in Dr. Wood’s square found a large section of a pithos rim and neck which can be accurately dated to the 15th century BC, the time of the Conquest.

Wood’s latest article explaining the rationale for identifying Kh. el-Maqatir as Ai is given in an article in Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Eisenbrauns, 2008), available online in pdf format here.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Foot-Shaped Stone Enclosures Discovered in Israel

This discovery announced by the University of Haifa today could be very interesting.  There’s not enough information here for me to be bold enough to offer my thoughts, but I look forward to learning more about it. 

The article is entitled “Exceptional Archaeological ‘Foot’ Discovery in Jordan Valley”, and a summary is given:

Researchers at the University of Haifa reveal an exceptional archaeological discovery in the Jordan valley: Enormous "foot-shaped" enclosures identified with the biblical "gilgal" stone structures. "The 'foot' structures that we found in the Jordan valley are the first sites that the People of Israel built upon entering Canaan and they testify to the biblical concept of ownership of the land with the foot."

You can click on over to read the entire article and view the two photographs (large size: 1, 2).  Among the things I would like to know more about are the locations of the five structures, including how many are in the Jordan Valley.  The skeptic in me wonders how much imagination is required to see a “foot” in each one.  Regardless of the shape, they could be quite helpful in our understanding of ancient Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE: A.D. Riddle sends along the coordinates for a couple of sites that may be among the five.  You can download them in Google Earth format here.  Both are on the south side of the Wadi Farah (aka Faria), about 3 miles (5 km) north of Alexandrium/Sartaba.

UPDATE (4/9): Joe Lauer sends along notice of a couple of articles on the discovery: Haaretz and Science Daily.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Acoustics of Mounts Gerizim and Ebal

In 1879, J. W. McGarvey made a tour of the Holy Land.  His visit to the area of Nablus (biblical Shechem) is particularly interesting because of his acoustical test.  Today tourists are not able to visit this area, and if they were, the urbanization of the area has made a similar experience impossible today.  This section is from Lands of the Bible, originally published in 1880, pages 506-8 (emphasis added). A limited preview is available at Google Books (some copies for sale here).  Thanks to Paul Mitchell for discovering this nugget and sending it on.

“On reaching Shechem we called on Brother El Karey, the only Baptist missionary in Palestine. I had a letter of introduction to him, given me by a Baptist preacher from London whom I met at Naples. He received us very cordially, explained to us his missionary labors, and, being a native of the place, though educated in England, he was full of the local information for which we were in search. We especially wanted to learn the best way to reach Aenon, the locality of which was definitely fixed by Lieutenant Conder, but which our dragoman had never visited. He gave us the desired information, and the next morning, leaving our tents pitched at Shechem, we made an excursion to that interesting spot.

Mt Ebal and Shechem from Mt Gerizim, tb070507676

Mt. Ebal, view north from Mt. Gerizim, July 2007

Our route took us back through the valley, and we resolved that while passing between the two mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, in the still morning air, we would try the experiment of reading the blessings and curses. It will be remembered by the reader that, in compliance with directions given before the death of Moses, Joshua assembled all the people on these two mountains, stationing six tribes on one, and six opposite to them on the other, and he stood between and read to them all the blessings and curses of the law (See Deut 27-28, Josh 8:30-35). It has been urged by some skeptics that it was impossible for Joshua to read so as to be heard by the whole multitude of Israel. It is a sufficient answer to this to show that while Joshua read, the Levites were directed to repeat the words “with a loud voice” (Deut 27:14), and that it was an easy matter to station them at such points that their repetitions, like those of officers along the line of a marching army, could carry the words to the utmost limits of the multitude. But it is interesting to know that the spot chosen by God for this reading is a vast natural amphitheatre, in which the human voice can be heard to a surprising distance. About half-way between Shechem and the mouth of the valley in which it stands there is a deep, semicircular recess in the face of Mount Ebal, and a corresponding one precisely opposite to it in Mount Gerizim. No man with his eyes open can ride along the valley without being struck with this singular formation. As soon as I saw it I recognized it as the place of Joshua's reading. It has been asserted repeatedly by travelers that, although two men stationed on the opposite slopes of these two mountains are a mile apart, they can read so as to be heard by each other. We preferred to try the experiment in stricter accordance with Joshua's example; so I took a position, Bible in hand, in the middle of the valley, while Brother Taylor and Frank, to represent six tribes, climbed halfway up the slope of Mount Gerizim; and Brother Earl, to represent the other six tribes, took a similar position on Mount Ebal. I read, and they were to pronounce the amen after each curse or blessing. Brother Taylor heard me distinctly, and I could hear his response. But Brother Earl, though he could hear my voice, could not distinguish the words. This was owing to the fact that some terrace-walls on the side of the mountain prevented him from ascending high enough, and the trees between me and him interrupted the passage of the sound. The experiment makes it perfectly obvious that if Joshua had a strong voice,--which I have not,--he could have been heard by his audience without the assistance of the Levites. As to the space included in the two amphitheatres, I think it ample to accommodate the six hundred thousand men with their families, though of this I cannot be certain. If more space was required, the aid of the Levites was indispensable.”

UPDATE: Biblical Studies and Technological Tools has found and posted better images of the natural amphitheater, using Google Earth, HolyLand 3D and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

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