ArenMaeir has just released an announcement that the Ackerman family of South Africa will now be funding 20 fellowships for this upcoming summer season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. This is great news for anyone interested in participating in an archaeological investigation!
Thanks to the generous funding of the Ackerman family of South Africa, we hereby are happy to announce an exciting new fellowship for students from all over the world, to assist in participation in the 2015 season of excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel.The fellowship (approximately 20 will be awarded), will cover the R&B costs for the entire 2015 season at the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Fellows will have to cover their travel expenses to and from Israel, and all expenses in Israel incurred not during the excavation itself (including costs of weekends during the dig).
You can read about the rest of the details here. This is a rare opportunity to spend a summer at one of the most important Bronze and Iron Age sites in Israel!
Prof. Yosef Garfinkel states that current excavations at Tel Lachish have discovered a new, earlier entrance to the city on the northeast side of the tel. This is the opposite side of the mound from the known Iron Age gate. People who have visited Tel Lachish will recognize the Iron Age gate in the photo below. It lies on the southwest side of the tel and was discovered in the 1930′s by Starkey and Tufnell. This gate and its approach ramp relate to the city levels destroyed by Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 BC and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587/6 BC.
Garfinkel believes the northeast section of the tel would have been a natural entrance point to the city in earlier times. The 2014 excavations exposed and clarified ancient fortifications in this area. Garfinkel gives the newly-discovered entrances a preliminary dating to the early Iron and Middle Bronze ages. (Biblically, this is the period ranging from the early kingdom years back to the Patriarchs.) The 2014 season at Lachish was cut short by the Israel-Hamas conflict, so these new entrances will be excavated in the 2015 season.
If this is in fact a gate that can be dated to the “early Iron Age,” then this is a very important discovery for reconstructing Israel/Judah’s geopolitical character in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE. Until now the fortifications (or lack thereof) of Lachish levels V-IV (generally dated to the 10th-9th centuries BCE) had remained an open question. Everyone agrees that Lachish level III (c. 760-701 BCE) is securely dated to the time of Hezekiah and Sennacherib based on the abundance of LMLK seal impressions, the siege ramp, the Nineveh reliefs and the biblical/extrabiblical texts that discuss the battle. This layer is followed by Level II that is characterized by another destruction of Nebuchadnezzar at the beginning of the 6th century BCE. This too, is well-accepted by everyone due to its clear connection with the biblical and extrabiblical sources (e.g. Lachish letters). But the periods between the well-dated Late Bronze levels (e.g. fosse temples, summit temple, etc.) and the 8th-6th centuries BCE (Iron IIB-C) were not nearly as well understood in either the First (Starkey) or Third (Ussishkin) major expeditions at the site.
Besides the very important ramifications related to the possible finding of the Middle Bronze Age gate (2000-1550 BCE), the possible finding of an Iron IIA gate at Lachish has the following ramifications upon the archaeology and history of Iron Age Israel/Judah:
It would allow for a better synthesis with parallels of other currently excavated sites. For example, this is very significant for Tel Burna, the site that I excavate at, since we have a casemate fortification that dates at least to the late Iron IIA (9th century BCE) if not earlier (we have not reached the base of the wall yet). We have always thought that our site is under the direct control of Lachish during this period and now it seems that there may be a physical connection.
It would make for a very important point of comparison of the fortifications and related finds at such sites as Tel Sheva, Arad, Tel Erani, Beth-Shemesh. This is also huge (!) for archaeological survey material, which has long used the sequencing at Lachish as the basis for dating ceramic finds at other sites (e.g. Yehuda Dagan – Shephelah Survey).
It would show that early divided Judah or a united Israel was actively building in the Shephelah at the most important site in the region. This has major effects upon our interpretation on the nature of the massive city-state of Philistine Gath in relation to Judah, our reconstruction of Judah’s rise as a territorial state, and our overall understanding of the borders and hinterlands of Judah in the 10th-9th centuries BCE. To put this in perspective, here are 3 major articles that have been devoted to this topic in the last couple of years (e.g. Na’aman 2013, Sergi 2013 (and dissertation), Lehmann and Niemann 2014). Not to mention that my own dissertation will largely be devoted to addressing this very question.
It would aid in determining the historical reliability of the Rehoboam fortification list of cities in 2 Chronicles 11:5-12, which includes the city of Lachish. Rehoboam lived in the late 10th century BCE, but this list is often dated to the time of Hezekiah, or even to the Hasmonean period (!) by Finkelstein.
These are just a few ramifications. If this in fact a gate, and it can in fact be dated to the “early Iron Age” (i.e. The Iron IIA) then it will have a major effect upon the field.
Lachish from northwest – Iron IIB-C gates are on the right of the tell. New gate should be locate above the palatial podium (center of tell).
The Iron Age II site of Moza (likely the biblical site of the same name, cf. Josh. 18:26) sits right in the path of the ongoing expansion of the Jerualem-Tel Aiv road (highway 1) right below the modern city of Mevasseret-Zion. In the course of salvage excavations to build the road on the slopes of Moza, the excavators encountered a unique Iron II temple with fantastic cultic finds that seems to date to the Iron IIA and Iron IIB (c. 1000-701 BCE). Stratum VII represents the first phase of the Iron II, which the excavators dated to the 10thcenturies BCE on the basis of a destruction that they relate to Shishak’s campaign (925 BCE, cf. 1 Kings 14:25). Stratum VI is the continuation of the Iron IIA habitation at the site in the 9thcentury BCE before the temple was renovated and the culticmaterial was buried in stratum V in the 8thcentury BCE (Iron IIB, perhaps by Hezekiah) (Greenhut and De Groot 2009; Greenhut 2012; Kisilevitz and Eirich-Rose 2013). Specifically, the altar and standing stones (masseboth) at the entrance of the temple were purposefully buried and the purpose of the building was changed from stratum VI to V.
Picture of Moza Iron II temple after last year’s snow (2013) – the stones between the two figures (I am the one on the right) has been interpreted as an altar
Could this site be an example of the ubiquitous statement of “the high places (that) were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places” (e.g. 1 Kings 22:43, cf. 15:14)? The writer of Kings indicates that these high places persisted until the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-4, 22) who removed them. Previously, archaeologists have sought to show Hezekiah’s (or Josiah’s) cult reformation at the sites of Arad and Beersheba (see below), perhaps the Moza temple is another example of this cult reformation. Similarly, its existence during the 10-9thcenturies BCE provides an important touchstone for the cultic descriptions of the various Judahite monarchs until Hezekiah.
It should be noted that Moza strata V and IV (Iron IIB-Iron IIC) show evidence of large grain storage in the form of silos and a public storage building (building 150) (Greenhut and De Groot 2009; Greenhut 2012). In light of this, it is worth mentioning that the ancient site sits very close to the ancient route from Kiriath-Jearim to the Central Benjamin Plateau. Interestingly, the narrative that discusses David’s moving of the Ark of the Covenant’s from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) indicates that David stopped the procession “at the threshing floor of Nacon” after Uzzah’s fatal touching of the ark and placed it in the house of “Obed-edom the Gittite” who was blessed due to its presence (6:7-11). Could there be a connection between the 10th century BCE temple (stratum V) and this narrative? Ultimately, it is impossible to say, but the parallels between grain abundance, geographical setting and archaeological sequencing are compelling. In any case, it appears that Moza stratum VI is a clear example of a 9thcentury BCE cult context that may be related to ongoing Judahite cult activity outside the Jerusalem temple.
For an actual threshing floor right below Kiriath-Jearim see here.
Greenhut, Z. 2012 Moza and Jerusalem in the Iron II: Chronological, Agricultural and Administrative Aspects Unpublished Official. IAA Website.
Greenhut, Z., and A. De Groot 2009Salvage Excavations at Tel Moza: The Bronze and Iron Age Settlements and Later Occupation. IAA Reports 39. Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
Kisilevitz, S., and A. Eirich-Rose 2013New Evidence of Religious Practice in the Jerusalem Environs during the First Temple Period, Based on Recent Excavations at Tel Moza. In Baltimore, November 20.
If you are interested in visiting Cave 1 (depsiteTodd’s health warning) then you should definitely refer to the post linked above. If you don’t plan on making the dangerous trek up the cliffs of the Judean Wilderness or if you just want a slightly better idea of what Cave 1 looks like up close check out the model below. Click on the option “3D Model” to get an interactive view.
Use the above map to find the Church of the Flagellation (it is near Hadrian’s Arch on the Via Dolorosa). Some nearby sites are Lion’s Gate (Rampart’s walk), the Western Wall Tunnels and the Pools of Bethesda. If you would like to visit the museum in conjunction with a tour of the Old City you might consider stopping at the museum after visiting the Temple Mount (use the northeastern exit near Lion’s Gate) or the Western Wall Tunnels (after exiting the tunnels walk directly across the street to the Church of Flagellation). The SBF museum is just inside the courtyard near the walkway to the bathrooms.
Operating Hours and Admission The official website for the museum is here. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-1:00; 2:00-4:00 Entrance Fee – 5 NIS
Museum Information and Touring Suggestions Biblewalks has a nice overview of the Church of the Condemnation/Monastery of the Flagellation’s history. Since our goal is to discuss the museum only we will leave the Church and its (historically problematic) tradition to others.
The SBF museum is by no means a “new” museum as it was originally founded in 1931 (it seems no coincidence that this followed the laying of the foundation of the Rockefeller Museum in 1930). Since then the museum has added to its collection through excavations sponsored by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Some of these excavations include: Bab edh-Drah, Mt. of Olives (including Dominus Flevit), Nazareth, Bethlehem, Herodium, Machaerus, and Capernaum. Recently, the SBF museum has undergone a facelift and its exhibits are a bit more accessible. Their website describes the layout of the museum as follows:
Three rooms were dedicated to the excavations at Nazareth, Capharnaum and Dominus Flevit, respectively. This prominence was due in view of the importance these sites had in commencing a new era of Christian archaeology in the Holy Land, in unraveling the problem of Christian origins, especially the history of the Judaeo-Christian communities of Palestine.
In order of importance the other rooms are subdivided among other excavations made on the Mount of Olives, in the sanctuaries of Jerusalem and its vicinity, in the desert of Judea, in Transjordan, and in two Herodian fortresses Machaerus and Herodion. The purpose is to characterize the SBF collection in such a way as to be correctly perceived as Jerusalem’s archaeological Museum of Christian origins, at the service of scholars and pilgrims who, in ever greater numbers, visit the Holy Land.
In addition to these important collections, the SBF museum has a great collection/display of pottery from the Chalcolithic to Byzantine periods showing the different forms of vessels (e.g. jug) and their development through time. Of special note is their collection of lamps from the Early Bronze Age-Byzantine period—I know of no better location to witness the major shifts in the development of the lamp form. This is a great location to point out the difference between an Iron Age II “lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105) and the kind of Roman lamp that the “ten virgins took…to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1).
Reconstruction of 1st cent. CE/AD house from Capernaum (i.e. Peter’s house)
As you might expect from a Catholic School/Monastery in Jerusalem the main thrust of the museum is directed towards Christian Archaeology (first century CE–Byzantine era), but that does not mean that there is not important material from earlier periods. There are some fantastic local Canaanite and imported Cypriot vessels from the Early Bronze-Late Bronze Age that come from the excavations in and around the ancient city of Jebus (cf. 2 Sam. 5). There are also some very nice Egyptian and Hyksos seals in the scriptorium room. For those interested in the early Canaanite period, do check out the back room where there is an exhibit on Bab edh-Dhra (Early Bronze–Intermediate Bronze, ca. 3300–2000 BCE).
For all of its strong points, the SBF museum’s artifacts do lack sufficient labeling for most of its materials. However, this seems to also be changing as they continue their facelift with plans of even adding a multimedia room in the near future.
Conclusion In conclusion, the SBF museum should not be on your “must see” list whenever you visit Israel, however, if you have an extra half-hour to spend in the Old City it is well worth a visit even for first-time visitors. It is a decent stand-in for the Israel Museum if you don’t have enough time for a visit (although I would recommend the nearby Rockefeller Museum before the SBF). For returnees to the country I would strongly recommend checking out this small museum, as it will both inform visitors on the archaeology on some of Christianity’s most heralded sites, as well as help understand the development of Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land over the last century-and-a-half.
The Benshoof Cistern Museum houses the remains of three Late Bronze-early Iron Age I (1550-1100) tombs discovered at Tel Dothan (Genesis 37:17, 2 Kings 6:13) during the Joseph Free-lead excavations in the 1950-1960s. The small exhibit is inside of a Roman/Byzantine cistern on the campus of St. George Cathedral and College in East Jerusalem.
This small museum is situated next to several important historical, archaeological and research sites such as, The Tombs of the Kings, the Garden Tomb, exposed sections of Josephus’ Third Wall, the American Colony, the Albright Institute, and the Ecole Biblique (French Archaeological School). It is also very close to several of Jerusalem’s largest hotels (e.g. Olive Tree, Dan Panorama, etc.) near highway 60.
To get to the museum it is advised that you use the above Google Map to find St. George Cathedral as backroads (and sometimes main roads) in Jerusalem are notoriously tricky for new visitors and even long-term residents. Upon entering St. George, either from the main entrance on Nablus/Shechem Street or the back entrance on Salahdin Street, you should walk through the campus to the center of the compound where you will find a door with a nice welcome sign (see picture below), which will lead you down into the exhibit.
Entrance to Benshoof Cistern Museum
Admission is free. The hours of operation are from 8:00 am-2:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment for other times (972-2-626-4704). The lady who curates the museum is quite pleasant and very excited to show off the remains for those interested – even if your visit is slightly after hours or unannounced (personal experience on both counts).
Depending on your level of interest and the size of your group you should estimate between 20-30 minutes to view the cistern exhibit.
Museum Information and Some Personal Thoughts
The materials in the museum were excavated by Joseph Free in the 1950s, but were not published until the mid-1990s by Robert Cooley who was in charge of publishing the rest of the material from the site (see here for the most recent final publication of Dothan from the excavations carried out on the tell). The majority of the objects come from Tomb 1 – which according to the museum pamphlet is “one of the largest single-chambered cave burials of the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages to have been excavated in the Levant.” It is estimated that 250-300 Canaanites were buried inside of this cave, over 3,000 pottery vessels, ca. 100 personal ornaments, ca. 100 weapons were found with the skeletal remains (per pamphlet).
One of the great strengths of this exhibit is the well-defined organization of the various types of pottery. Someone interested in such things as ceramic typology of the Bronze-Iron Age might be intrigued by seeing whole shelves filled with LB-Iron I lamps, chalices/goblets (see picture below), kraters, bowls, pyxides, lamps, and more (links to wikipedia description are meant to describe the form of the vessel not the specific type that you would see at this museum).
Low-quality picture of High-quality Canaanite Late Bronze Age Chalices and Goblets found in the Western Cemetery of Tell Dothan
I was especially intrigued by their large collection of chalices, as these seem identical to the types of chalices and goblets that our team has been uncovering inside of a very interesting, seemingly cultic related Late Bronze age building at Tel Burna. Shameless plug alert! Come join us in a week-and-a-half for our spring season – April 21-25, or June 2-21 for our summer season and find these for yourself. 🙂
Due to the high quantities of consuming and serving vessels, particularly the large amount of kraters of a wide-variety of forms (used for wine-mixing), and the existence of animal bones the excavators concluded that these tombs were used for feasting in commemoration of dead ancestors.
This funerary feast is commonly referred to as the marzeah, based upon some biblical references (Amos 6:7, Jeremiah 16:5; 8) and extra-biblical parallels (e.g. Ugarit). In relation to this, the museum pamphlet (this seems to have been written by Robert Cooley) says the following:
Burial is described in scripture as “gathered to his people;” a time of reuniting with family members (Gen. 25:8-10; 17, 49:29-33, Judges 2:10. et al) The remains in the tomb corroborate these texts and also point to the practice of a memorial feast with an inordinate consumption of wine (Jer. 16:5-9). At the time of death the body was taken to the family tomb and either laid on the floor or on top of the debris or previous burials. It is believed a funeral banquet was held and a portion of the feast given to the deceased, and left to provide sustenance for the journey to the next world… When a subsequent death occurred the chamber was reopened and the remains of the previous burial unceremoniously swept aside, often destroying the skeletal remains and offerings. The newly deceased’s body would be carefully laid to rest and another funeral meal would ensue. Scholars infer that at the time of death an individual was considered animate, requiring food for his other journey. Decomposition of the flesh seems to have signalled the departure of the deceased to the netherworld. Thus the remains no longer held any significance.
Where does this museum fit into the wider spectrum of available archaeological exhibits in Israel?
It certainly should be considered “specialist” in the sense that it is quite small and deals with a single period related to a single people – the Canaanites. However, it is also “special” in that it allows visitors to visit a significant element of a site that is largely inaccessible (Dothan) and to better understand the enigmatic ancient Near Eastern practice of ancestor funerary feasting. Which if nothing else gives a great ancient background for the modern urban practice of “pouring one out for your homies.” 🙂
The BiblePlaces Blog provides updates and analysis of the latest in biblical archaeology, history, and geography. Unless otherwise noted, the posts are written by Todd Bolen, PhD, Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s University.