BiblePlaces Newsletter
Vol. 4, #4 - August 17, 2005

August is typically a slow news month.  U.S. governmental officials go on vacation, as do many of the best journalists.  Most of Europe can be found at the beach, and I avoid campgrounds in Israel like the plague at this time (I go camping to get away from people).  But it has not been a slow month as far as archaeology related to the Bible is concerned.  This issue centers around five excavations in Israel and discoveries related to them that have recently been announced.

I recently received the new calendar from Messianic Jewish Communications.  The 5766/2006 Jewish calendar features photos of Jerusalem from, with the year's theme and photos focus on the biblical injunction to "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem."  I recommend the calendar, especially to those who want to keep up with the Jewish holidays.  And I really like the photos :-).

A big thanks to all who forwarded the last issue of this newsletter.  Some of you wrote to say that you had passed in to more than 5 - but to 20, 50 or even 200!  To the new subscribers, I say welcome and I hope that you find it a worthwhile read.

Todd Bolen
Assoc. Professor, The Master's College
Israel Bible Extension (IBEX), Judean Hills, Israel



Summer Excavations in Israel

A number of archaeological digs have taken or are taking place this summer, and at the end of the excavation season, press conferences often occur with announcements of the season's results.  Here we give you summaries, analysis, and photos of five of the most interesting summer digs.

Each photo is linked to a higher-resolution version which may be used freely for personal and educational purposes.  Commercial use requires separate permission.  For more high-quality, high-resolution photographs and illustrations of biblical sites, purchase the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands or the new Historic Views of the Holy Land series. 

Pool of Siloam

Many of you probably saw some of the intense coverage of the "discovery" of the Pool of Siloam last week.  That was prompted by a news conference held by the Biblical Archaeology Society, and the main story was carried by the LA Times.  If you've been a subscriber to this newsletter, you saw little that was new.  But it's fascinating to read and there are a few new pieces of information to the story.  I'm not going to say more here except to point you to the main stories and my reviews of them.

The LA Times broke the story, but it contained some errors (see my review).  Biblical Archaeology Review published it in their Sept/Oct magazine, and posted a full copy of the story online in pdf format.  I commented on it here.  A few TV shows carried the story, but the CNN interview with Eli Shukron (transcript) had the best photos. :-)  The Book and the Spade interviewed one of the excavators, Ronny Reich, and that is available as an mp3 download for a short time.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release describing remains from the First Temple period, which are not discussed in the other reports.  These include a pool, a dam, and fortifications.  I've heard through the grapevine that the archaeologists may not agree on the date of these items, though all acknowledge it is clearly earlier than the 1st century B.C.

The Area of the "Pools" of Siloam
Click on picture for high-resolution

The above photo was taken looking north up the Central (Tyropoean) Valley.  The Byzantine period pool, which has long been known and visited, is labeled in red.  The yellow arrow points to the area of the excavations of the 1st century pool, but the pool likely extends through the garden which is covered by the yellow label.

The Palace of David?

Of the archaeological stories this summer, this one caused the most ripples.  That's largely because some scholars don't believe that David was remotely like the biblical description.  The story was carried by the Jerusalem Post and the NY Times.  When finds like this are announced that have potentially dramatic significance for biblical studies, I prefer a wait-and-see approach to the sensationalism characteristic of much journalism (e.g., JPost: "could turn out to be the archeological find of the century").  Based on the news reports, I would make the following observations:

1. The best thing about this find is the location.  It's immediately above one of the largest Iron Age structures in Israel - the Stepped Stone Structure.  Everyone has always believed that it was built by the government for some monumental building.  This new building is directly above (and apparently supported by) this large stone foundation.

The Stepped Stone Structure
Click on picture for high-resolution

2. The dating is based on some pottery found in the corner of the palace which dates to the 10th and 9th centuries B.C.  Unfortunately scholars have been debating the dating of pottery from this time period for the last decade.  Expect that issue to enter into the discussion.

3. The suggestion that this excavation was initiated and is controlled by ultranationalistic Jewish agencies is off the mark.  The construction of a new entrance area for the City of David excavations gave the opportunity for a university professor to conduct a dig.

4. Here is where you can "fault" the archaeologists for being too biblical.  The identification as "David's palace" is based purely on biblical texts.  There was nothing in the dig itself that tied it to the man David or the building mentioned in Scripture.  So if you deny that the Bible is an accurate historical record, then all you are left with is a monumental building with walls at least 100 feet (30 m) long and 6 feet (2 m) thick on the summit of the hill where significant Israelite presence has been found from the Iron Age.  And they found a seal of a much later governmental official, suggesting that governmental activity may have continued in this structure for hundreds of years.

I don't have any photos of this because the dig was carried on in secrecy, with tarp-covered fences and people that shooed away onlookers.  But there are three photos I know of from the excavation that are of interest.  There's an aerial shot of the excavation in the Jewish Exponent.  The NY Times has a photo of the excavator Eilat Mazar standing next to a portion of the wall.  And the Taipei Times has the best photograph of a seal that was found that mentions the name of Jehucal son of Shelemiah, who is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 and 38:1.

While I don't have photos of the excavation itself, I can show you what no one else is showing - the location of the palace.  Indeed, this is important and some writers and bloggers say foolish things because they don't know where the palace was found or its relation to the area around it.

The City of David from the east
Click on picture for high-resolution

The Excavation of Goliath's Hometown, Gath

The Gath excavation was reported by Haaretz and reveals some new information about the Philistines.  More work has been done on the siege moat built by the Aramean king Hazael during his siege of the city mentioned in 2 Kings 12:17.  The moat surrounded the city for a length of 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and required the removal of 2.1 million cubic feet (60,000 cu m) of stone.  The article reports the size of the city at 125 acres (500 dunams), making it one of the largest cities in the Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.).  Scholars have long debated the location of Gath, and this excavation should end the dispute.

The Moat excavated at Gath
Click on picture for high-resolution

Another Year at Hazor, and No Archive

Apparently not much else was found either, judging from the long Jerusalem Post article that doesn't describe a single find from the season.  One dig volunteer told me that this year was one of "moving dirt."  The article has some good general information about the site, including this quote from excavator Amnon Ben-Tor about how close he is to finding the archive: "You could say that we are in the bank looking for the vault."

Excavations on the Upper City of Hazor
Click on picture for high-resolution

More Discoveries Outside the "Cave of John the Baptist"

Last year the "sensational" discovery of this cave was announced.  It was associated with John the Baptist because of evidence of water rites and a stick figure drawn on the walls (but see my comments here).  This year, Shimon Gibson and his team went to wrap up the excavation with a 2-week dig.  But the discovery of three pools and a staircase outside the cave kept them digging for 8 weeks.  This water system is compared by the excavator to those at the cities of Beth Shemesh and Gibeon.  The press release quotes Gibson as saying, "Never before has such a massive water system been found isolated in the countryside without a town or city attached to it."  Gibson thinks the system was constructed by the "kingdom of Judah," and related to the nearby town of Tsuba.  My impression after seeing the water system: the press release is more exciting.

Two pools outside the "Cave of John the Baptist"
Click on picture for high-resolution



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All contents (c) 2005 Todd Bolen.  Text and photographs may be used for personal and educational use.  Commercial use requires written permission.