Friday, August 28, 2009

The Petra of Saudi Arabia

Madain Saleh is a beautiful Nabatean site that few know about because of restrictions from the Saudi Arabian government.  The AP has a good article about it, and you can see some beautiful photos at

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Much of the world knows Petra, the ancient ruin in modern-day Jordan that is celebrated in poetry as "the rose-red city, 'half as old as time,'" and which provided the climactic backdrop for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

But far fewer know Madain Saleh, a similarly spectacular treasure built by the same civilization, the Nabateans.

That's because it's in Saudi Arabia, where conservatives are deeply hostile to pagan, Jewish and Christian sites that predate the founding of Islam in the 7th century.

But now, in a quiet but notable change of course, the kingdom has opened up an archaeology boom by allowing Saudi and foreign archaeologists to explore cities and trade routes long lost in the desert.

The sensitivities run deep. Archaeologists are cautioned not to talk about pre-Islamic finds outside scholarly literature. Few ancient treasures are on display, and no Christian or Jewish relics. A 4th or 5th century church in eastern Saudi Arabia has been fenced off ever since its accidental discovery 20 years ago and its exact whereabouts kept secret.

In the eyes of conservatives, the land where Islam was founded and the Prophet Muhammad was born must remain purely Muslim. Saudi Arabia bans public displays of crosses and churches, and whenever non-Islamic artifacts are excavated, the news must be kept low-key lest hard-liners destroy the finds.

The rest of the article is here.

HT: Agade via Joe Lauer


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.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 07, 2009

“Bible Valley” Park

Yediot Ahronot has an article which was summarized in the Caspari Center Media Review about a subject that I have not read about elsewhere.  Nor have I heard of a “Judaean valley,” but from the context I believe this refers to what geographers sometimes call the “Chalk Moat” on the eastern side of the Shephelah, near biblical Adullam.

In an article entitled "Bible Now," Eldar Beck looked at the background to the opening of a new "Bible valley" in the Judaean valley. The person responsible for the idea, Amos Rolnick, grew up on a Shomer HaTza'ir kibbutz which cancelled its Purim festivities due to Stalin's death....

Rolnick, a kibbutznik who broke away to become a 'capitalist,' understood that Israel possessed the greatest financial potential in the world: lovers of the Bible. 'I understood the power of the Bible in the world,' he acknowledges. This understanding led him to conceive one of the most daring of tourist ventures now being planned in Israel: the creation of a 'Bible valley' park - a reconstruction of the biblical experience in a journey for Jewish history buffs, to be spread out over 100 dunams [25 acres] of land located in one of the central foci of the biblical story, in the Addulam strip in the Judaean valley, south of Jerusalem, not far from Beit Shemesh.

'The Bible valley' is defined as an interfaith project - Jewish and Christian - so that it will be possible to use it to link the hundreds of millions of those who also believe in the New Testament to the Land. It will be comprised of features devoted to the different biblical periods: it will contain a 'Forest of legends,' a 'Forest of the land of milk and honey,' a 'Forest of the prophets,' a 'Forest of kings,' and, of course, a 'Forest of the Song of Songs.' Via various technologies, visitors will be able to pass from our own time to the days of the Bible and to experience the course of history and faith ...

The heart of the park is intended to be the 'Bible house,' which will serve as permanent accommodation for the children's paintings ... as well as help in raising the funds for the next monumental project: 'The people of the world write the Bible,' in which framework the books of the Bible will be written by hand by people across the world, in their native language. The intention, explains Rolnick, is to get to at least 100 books, in 100 languages." The first books have already been written - in Taiwanese, Tamil, Finnish, Mandarin, Bengali - and are currently on exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem....

The project, supported by various individuals including academics and literary figures, is due to be built within the next five years, the Bible house being first on the list.

More information about the project is given in the article.

Labels: , ,

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

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pompeii’s Dead

A new book on Pompeii by classics scholar Mary Beard of Cambridge University is considered in a travel article in the Globe and Mail.  Beard believes that most of those who died were either slaves or those who intentionally chose to take their chances. 

Beard argues that Pompeii's population was smaller than previously thought, about 12,000, and that most escaped the volcanic eruption, taking the bulk of their possessions with them.

That would explain why relatively few corpses (1,100) and household effects were later found. Some citizens and slaves - half the population were slaves, many of them Jews brought from Israel after the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD - must have been stranded or chosen to stay. There were, after all, remains of 21 fresh bread loaves found in Pompeii's ovens, when excavations began in the mid-18th century.

Beard's book is too new to have changed the way local tour guides and historians treat the Pompeii saga, but for anyone contemplating a visit to one of the world's greatest archeological sites, it's a useful read.

The article continues with a look at the nearby ruins of Herculaneum and the modern city of Naples.  It ends with advice that I wish someone had given me: do not even think about driving a car in Naples.

Mt Vesuvius from south, tb111705547ddd Mount Vesuvius from the south

HT: Explorator

Labels: ,

Friday, June 19, 2009

Battle over Megiddo International Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading here.

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley aerial from west, tb121704968

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley, view to northeast

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Photos of Cappadocia

Turkey is a country full of beautiful sites and one of the most unique is the exotic landscape of Cappadocia.  The LA Times has a gallery of photographs (with descriptive captions) online, with some nice photos taken from a hot air balloon.  Cappadocia is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the destinations of the letter of 1 Peter.

HT: Explorator

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weekend Roundup (5/26/09)

Logos is set to release a new product entitled “1,000 Bible Images.”  The projected ship date is June 2, which means that the pre-publication price of $20 will soon expire.  From the screenshots, it appears that the illustrations are all black-and-white line drawings.  The collection’s description begins:

Now you can literally see the people, places, and events of the Bible text—right in front of your eyes! Bring your study of the Bible to life with this collection of 1,000 images, drawings, and illustrations—all produced by professional artists under the supervision of biblical scholars, in association with the German Bible Society. This vivid artwork shows the biblical sites, religious objects, plants and animals, archaeological findings, scenes from daily life in the Bible, and much more! As reliable documentation of biblical life, these images often give a better illustration and explanation than the text itself can give.

If you’ve ever considered a trip to Israel with young children, this NY Times article provides some ideas for what to do.  Depending on the length of your visit and where you call home, I would make a few more suggestions: Hai Bar Animal Reserve, Timna Park with the Tabernacle Model, snorkeling in Eilat, the Armored Corps Museum at Latrun, Mini-Israel, a canoe ride on the Jordan River, a beach on the Mediterranean such as Ashkelon, and yes, Yad VaShem.

Hiking in the Judean wilderness can be great fun, but if you do it, take all precautions.  Every year someone loses their life, and this weekend it was a 22-year-old hiking all alone.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Pope, Islam, and Nazareth

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

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

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

nazareth_welcome nazareth_welcome2

Labels: ,

Monday, May 04, 2009

Babylon Ruins Reopen

The New York Times reports on the reopening of the ruins of Babylon to the public.

BABYLON, Iraq — After decades of dictatorship and disrepair, Iraq is celebrating its renewed sovereignty over the Babylon archaeological site — by fighting over the place, over its past and future and, of course, over its spoils.

Time long ago eroded the sun-dried bricks that shaped ancient Babylon, the city of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, where Daniel read the writing on the wall and Alexander the Great died.

Colonial archaeologists packed off its treasures to Europe a century ago. Saddam Hussein rebuilt the site in his own megalomaniacal image. American and Polish troops turned it into a military camp, digging trenches and filling barricades with soil peppered with fragments of a biblical-era civilization.

Now, the provincial government in Babil has seized control of much of Babylon — unlawfully, according to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage — and opened a park beside a branch of the Euphrates River, a place that draws visitors by the busload....

Now with the support of some officials in Baghdad, the local government has reopened the excavated ruins of Babylon’s ancient core, shuttered ever since the American invasion in 2003. It has done so despite warnings by archaeologists that the reopening threatens to damage further what remains of one of the world’s first great cities before the site can be adequately protected.

The full story is here.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Ezekiel’s Tomb Renovation

The traditional tomb of Ezekiel is being renovated by the Iraqi government. From the Jerusalem Post:

The Iraqi government has launched a project to renovate the interior of the prophet Ezekiel's shrine in the small town of Kifl, south of Baghdad, and the country's Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities says it hopes to eventually repair and renovate other Jewish sites across the country.

"The ministry is concerned with all Iraqi heritage, whether it is Christian or Jewish or from any other religion," ministry spokesman Abdelzahra al-Talaqani told AFP. "The present plans do not include the synagogues in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Fallujah and other places because of lack of funding, but I think they will be included in future plans."

Iraqi Jewry was once one of the largest and most prominent Jewish communities in the Middle East.

But after Israel's establishment, more than 120,000 Iraqi Jews moved to Israel in the 1950s in a clandestine operation dubbed Operation Ezra and Nehemiah amid an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence.

Outside the shrine of the prophet - who followed Jews into the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC - is a 14th-century brick minaret, while the inside is shaped like a synagogue, with old wooden arks that used to contain Torah scrolls and the remains of a Mehitza - a separation for men and women....

The tombs of the prophets Daniel, Ezra, Nahum and Jonah are also purported to be located in Iraq.

You can add this to your list of sites to visit on your next trip.

Ezekiel's Tomb, Kifel, Iraq, mat13265Traditional tomb of Ezekiel, exterior, 1932
Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-13265

Ezekiel's Tomb interior, Kifel, Iraq, mat13271Traditional tomb of Ezekiel, interior, 1932
Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-13271


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.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spectacular Mosaic Floor on Display in Negev

From the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority (with link to photos, and direct link to photos):

One of the Most Spectacular Mosaic Floors Ever Discovered in Israel was Restored and Renovated and Can Now be Seen by the General Public (30/3/09) 

The 1,500 year old (!) mosaic is in the ancient synagogue at Ma‘on-Nirim
The mosaic, which is decorated with a seven-branched candelabrum and images of different animals, was conserved and returned to its original location. The site is now open to the general public and admission to it is free.

The site of the mosaic floor, which is part of a synagogue from the Byzantine period (fifth and sixth centuries CE), is located in the settlement of Ma‘on-Nirim, in the western Negev, and will be open to the public this week. This mosaic originally measured 3.70 x 7.80 m but was damaged when the road to Kibbutz Nir Oz was paved in 1957. The mosaic floor and the remains of the synagogue were discovered during salvage excavations that were undertaken on behalf of the Department of Antiquities in 1957. The mosaic’s state of preservation has deteriorated in recent years as a result of the unsuitable conditions in which the mosaic was kept and a lack of maintenance. Therefore, in 2006, it was removed from the site and transferred for treatment to the Conservation Laboratories in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem....

According to the archaeological findings the northern wall of the synagogue’s sanctuary was breached in the middle of the sixth century CE and an apse, which is a circular niche that protrudes outward, was installed in the opening. The level of the earlier floor was raised and a breathtakingly beautiful mosaic floor surrounded by marble columns was constructed on top of it in the northern part of the sanctuary. The synagogue had a basilica plan in which there was a nave with a mosaic floor that was flanked by two aisles paved with stone tiles. The ceiling was built of wooden beams and clay. The decoration on the mosaic floor consists of a vine tendril that stems from an amphora to form a trellis of medallions that are adorned with scenes of everyday life from the vineyard and from wine production and with different animals. The images portrayed in the upper rows include a seven-branched candelabrum that stands on three legs shaped like lion’s feet, and near them etrogim, a shofar and a lulav, and alongside the candelabrum – palm trees and lions, which are symbols of Judah. An Aramaic inscription is incorporated in the mosaic. The upper part of the inscription blesses all of the community followed by a dedication to three individuals who donated generous contributions.

The complete press release is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther

Today the feast of Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem (it was yesterday elsewhere in the world), and the Jerusalem Post carries a column on a site in Iran that tradition identifies as the tomb of Mordechai and Esther.  Iran has thus far been outside of my areas of travel, so I do not have anything to contribute to this particular discussion.  The Book of Esther is one of the most brilliant literary compositions, and as I read through it with family and friends on Monday night I was struck by Mordechai’s words to Esther: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (4:14).  My first response was to marvel at the way that God has protected his people, time and again, over the millennia.  My later response was to consider the striking parallel with the rise of a new Persian threat against Israel and those who will or will not act to stop it.  I will leave that for your own consideration and quote here the first few paragraphs of the JPost column by Michael Freund:

A few months ago, the normally hostile Iranian regime took the rather unusual step of adding a Jewish holy site to its National Heritage List. On December 9, 2008, Iranian news outlets reported that the tomb of Mordechai and Esther, the heroes of the Purim saga, would now be under official government protection and responsibility.

The move cast a brief spotlight on the site, which is well-known to Iranian Jews but largely unfamiliar to those outside the country. And with Purim being celebrated this week, it is worth taking a moment to ponder this relic of our ancient past.

The mausoleum housing the shrine of Mordechai and Esther consists of a simple brick structure crowned with a dome which was built five to seven centuries ago over the underground grave sites. It is located in the northwestern city of Hamadan, about 335 kilometers west of Teheran. According to tradition, Hamadan is believed to be the site of the city of Shushan, which played such a central role in the events described in the Book of Esther.

The column continues here.

Expedition members Purim party with Yigael Yadin, db6703260105Purim Party, Megiddo excavation team, March 1967
with Yigal Shiloh, Immanuel Dunayevsky, Yigael Yadin, and Amnon Ben-Tor

Children in Purim costumes, db810319p175Children in Purim costumes, 1981
Photos by David Bivin, Views That Have Vanished CD


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Tell Acco To Become Recreation Venue

The medieval ruins at Acco have been well preserved and restored, but a visit to the biblical tell of Acco is quite disappointing.  Plans are underway to improve conditions, with a government grant of more than $5 million (23 million NIS) for the “Tell Akko” Tourism Project. The Israel Antiquities Authority report describes part of the project: 

The tell is a historic site that extends across c. 200 dunams and constitutes an important landmark at the entrance to the city. The renewed site combines the historic spots that existed in the region with modern attractions for the entire family, and includes a system of footpaths and bicycle trails, vantage points, archaeological finds and stations providing information on archaeology, history and ecology. Among other things, it will be possible to learn there about the manufacture of glass and the production of purple dye as they were done in the past in the same region, remains of which were found on the tell.

In addition, in September 2009 an “open theater” will be established on top of the southern slope of the tell, which will be used for large public events such as theatrical and musical performances....

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Mr. Shuka Dorfman said, “This important enterprise is putting into practice the vision of the Antiquities Authority of exposing the archaeological remains to the public at large. The Israel Antiquities Authority is acting to make the antiquities sites as accessible and comprehensible as possible for the visiting public by means of preparing the sites, vantage points, archaeological exhibits and information stations that cover a variety of topics. In this way Tel Akko, which has not been fostered to date and was damaged over the course of time by development activity and natural hazards, will become a recreation venue for the residents of Akko and the region, and for tourists, and will connect them to the rich cultural heritage of Akko”.

Tell Acco excavations, tb100905637ddd

Tell Acco, October 2005

HT: Joe Lauer