Katyusha Tours

Israelis are now signing up for the latest in domestic travel: tours of the battle spots of the recent war with Lebanon. From the Jerusalem Post:

Beginning at Moshav Avivim, the scene of bloody fights between IDF special forces and crack Hizbullah squads, the tour winds through the hills of the Upper Galilee, stopping to view UNIFIL posts, overlook key Lebanese villages such as Maoun a-Ras, and view the damage caused by Katyusha rockets to both forests and houses. At Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, tours visit the improvised memorial at the place where 15 reservists were killed when a rocket hit the parking lot in which they were standing….Since the end of the war, tourists have paid NIS 100 per vehicle to participate in the tours, and while Alon is certain that the excitement will drop off, more tourists keep coming. Alon said the desire to see the sites connected with the war is natural. “It is one thing to see things on television, or on radio, and another thing to see it,” he said.

View into Lebanon from Israel’s border, before the 2006 war


Next Time in Israel, Skip the Bus and Take a Bike

Some good news for the hundreds of thousands of cyclists in Israel:

A new bike trail will allow bicyclists to ride across the Jewish State. The first 30 km (18 miles) will be opened during the holiday of Sukkot, six weeks from now….

The preliminary trail will be a circular route from the Ben Shemen Forest, near Modiin, to Nachal Sorek – the area where the villainess Delila, of the Book of Judges, lived.

The second stage of construction will create a circular route between the Elyakim interchange, near Haifa, and the Beit Kama Junction, near Sderot and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s HaShikmim Ranch.

Source: Arutz-7


Ramat Rahel excavations

Discoveries from the current season of excavations at Ramat Rahel are featured in this Jerusalem Post article. The most interesting paragraphs are these:

A highly sophisticated ancient water system dating back to the end of the Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE….

The water system, cut deep into the rock foundation, includes large underground water reservoirs, five open pools, small canals that transported water between the pools and three underground canals. The system continued to be functional, although with some alterations, during the Persian Era, the return to Zion after the destruction of the First Temple, the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BCE and through the Hellenistic Era in the Third Century BCE.

Along with 18 Jewish ritual baths from the Hellenistic Period, the archeologists uncovered a bathhouse and villa, and a large Byzantine village with a church, monastery, rooms and halls.

I suspect that the journalist got the date of the ritual baths mixed up; they are almost always from the late Hasmonean or Herodian period. About a dozen were known at the site before the present excavations, dated to the Herodian period. For more about previous excavations at the site, see the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review for an article by Gabriel Barkay.


The Exodus “Decoded”

Yesterday the History Channel showed “The Exodus Decoded,” written by Simcha Jacobovici and directed by James Cameron. Given its high budget (for a documentary) of $3 million, there’s a good chance you’ll have the opportunity to see this either as a re-run or possibly at your church’s evening service. I have not seen it, but have a few comments based on the press coverage.

First, you can read about it in the New York Times (poor), or the Associated Press (a bit better), or the Miami Herald (best). Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, has posted a lengthy correspondence between him and Jacobovici. Wikipedia covers the main aspects of the theory. And there’s always the official website with a 5-minute trailer.

From the trailer and reviews it is apparent that this is one slick production. That immediately suggests to me their facts aren’t good and they’re trying to hide it with fancy graphics. That of course doesn’t necessarily follow, but it has been true often enough that I’m wary.

The essence of the theory is that the Israelites are the Hyksos and the exodus occurred during the time of the eruption of Thera (Santorini) about 1500 B.C. Is this possible? Well, I have never read one scholar who believes either of those suggestions. Some believe that the Hyksos may have been in power when the Israelites began their sojourn (assuming 430 years in Exodus 12:40 refers to time in Egypt and Canaan, a less preferred textual variant). But no one believes that the Hyksos were the Israelites and that the Hyksos expulsion is the same thing as the Israelite exodus.

There’s also a problem with the dating. The Biblical dates, if taken literally, add up to an exodus around 1450 B.C. (cf. 1 Kings 6:1). There’s no way to push that number back (to 1500 or earlier) without suggesting the biblical numbers are not literal. Now many scholars do reject the biblical numbers, but they always push the date of the exodus down (to about 1250 B.C.) The rest of the scholars believe that there was no large exodus of Israelites from Egypt. But no one dates the exodus to 1500 because there is no biblical or non-biblical evidence for it. (Those who favor the biblical evidence typically prefer an exodus date of 1450; those who favor the non-biblical evidence date it to 1250).

The movie locates Mt. Sinai at a site that has no major proponents, if any. That doesn’t make it wrong, but before you buy it, you might ask yourself how a moviemaker found it when no one else could. I think the miracle explanations are bound to fall apart as well.

There are a number of other pieces to the “Code,” but they hang on the above. Having skimmed the Shanks-Jacobovici correspondence, I would commend Jacobovici’s motivation but not his data.


A Favorite Reference Work

I have a lot of books in my office, but only a few are within arm’s reach. Those are ones that I refer to most often. One of the best research tools for biblical sites is the New Encyclopedia for Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. I use this four-volume set frequently, as it is the single best source for detailed information about archaeological data about sites in Israel. In looking over my online “book list,” I noticed that the price is now lower than it ever has been – $150 with free shipping at Eisenbrauns (compared to Amazon’s $335). I also see that there are only 4 in stock. I don’t know if that’s the last four or if there are more that they can order. In any case, I highly recommend it for $335; at $150, it is a great deal! I am told that there is a “fifth volume” with updates of certain sites in process, but as far as I know, it hasn’t been released yet. Here are the full details from Eisenbrauns.

The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land - 4 Volume Set

The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land – 4 Volume Set

Edited by Ephraim Stern
Carta, Jerusalem, 1993
1552 pages with 3000 photos + 32 plates + 700 maps, charts, drawings, English
ISBN: 0132762889
List Price: $335.00
Your Price: $150.75


Newsletter on Biblical Archaeology

If you’re wondering when the next BiblePlaces Newsletter will come out, the editor is as well. Soon, hopefully. It’s not the war, it’s other things like family, vacations, projects, and real work.

I can, however, recommend another free newsletter which is faithful to its monthly schedule. The ABR Electronic Newsletter is published mid-month, every month, by the Associates for Biblical Research. In keeping with the twin foci of the organization, the newsletters usually have articles on biblical archaeology and creation/evolution issues.

This month’s issue, which came out today, has the best report on the 2006 season at Hazor that I’ve seen anywhere (without the puff that seems to typify mainstream news sources on archaeology digs this summer). And there’s a column on the religious origins of the “Big Bang” theory. Unlike some other e-newsletters, the commercial aspect of it is minimal.

I do not see how you can get a copy of this month’s newsletter; it is apparently not online. But you can subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to abrnews at dejazzd.com with the subject line “Newsletter” (without quotes).

UPDATE: G.M. Grena has found an archive of all back issues of the newsletter.


Megiddo Church/Prayer Hall

The “Megiddo church” has (already!) a published excavation report. The title gives away the conclusion of what the excavators believe the building was: A Christian Prayer Hall of the Third Century CE at Kefar ‘Othnay (Legio). I wonder if it would have attracted any attention if they had first announced it as a “prayer hall” instead of a “church.”

It’s 59 pages, due out in October, and costs $20. Get it from Eisenbrauns.



Those Pottery Makers at Qumran

As is often the case, the publication of a book is accompanied by an article in a popular magazine and a summary in a newspaper article. Unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t seek out mainstream scholars to get their take, and so from reading their article, you might conclude that scholars no longer believe that Essenes live at Qumran. That is just not so.

The book The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, edited by Katharina Galor, Jean-baptiste Humbert, and Jurgen Zangenberg includes a chapter on which the articles are based.

The magazine article, Qumran – The Pottery Factory , is in the Sept/Oct edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review ($50 subscription to read online; much less to subscribe to the print edition).

That Qumran was not home to the Essenes has been suggested before, with theories that identify the site as everything from a Roman villa, military fortress, fortified farm, and now a pottery factory. To be sure, Magen and Peled are respected scholars who have excavated at Qumran. But their view is clearly in the minority. When you read a statement like this, “There is not an iota of evidence that it was a monastery,” red flags should be flying. That the majority of scholars would hold to a certain interpretation without one iota of evidence tells us more about the speaker than the theory. That the only outside scholar that the NYT quotes is Norman Golb should cause all the bells to be sounding. Anyone who has spent time in the area has to just bust out laughing when reading Magen’s idea that these caves are “the last spot they could hide the scrolls before descending to the shore” of the Dead Sea. I can just picture these guys running away from the Romans and just stopping by Cave 1 to drop off some scrolls! Oh wait, we need some jars for these – quick, run to the pottery factory and bring some back here! Those who have been to Cave 1 will understand the humor more; it’s not exactly “on the way” (Cave 2 even less so). The proximity of Caves 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 to the site is telling as well. They are all less than 50 meters from the inhabitation. The attempts to separate the scrolls from the site are an utter failure.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading the articles or the book about this theory. But here’s the problem: too often these minority theories get the sensational coverage and people read about them and, lacking any other knowledge, are taken in. Instead, they should be first directed to the theories which have long been held and tested. After reviewing the mountain of evidence that Qumran was an Essene settlement, then go and weigh it against the latest view.

There are a lot of good books on the subject, but one of the best is Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another advantage to this route: this book will cost you $13 instead of $147 for the one above.

There’s a video to go along with the NYT article here.

Side point: if scholars can’t agree on the function of a site in a relatively late period where there is lots of archaeological and historical evidence, how is it that they can be so certain about events much earlier in history for which almost no evidence has been preserved? The less evidence we have, the more certainty that scholars have.


BAS Column and Updates

The Biblical Archaeology Society seems to have gone after William Dever this week, with its publication of a non-complimentary book review of Did God Have a Wife? in the Sept/Oct issue. And Anson Rainey has a (web-only) column which also skewers Dever:

As Frank Cross, usually considered the dean of paleographers, once said to me, students who could not handle the languages went instead into archaeology. Sad but often true, as in Dever’s case.

The interesting thing is that if Rainey and Dever can’t get along, it really shows just how fragmented the biblical-archaeological studies spectrum is (both claim to stake the “middle ground” as they fight off “minimalists” and “fundamentalists”). Time permitting, I’ll have more to say about this in the future. It really says a lot about the state of the evidence.

BAS has links to some “breaking news” this week, as well as an update of this summer’s archaeological excavations in Israel and Lebanon.


“We Sell Hope”

Robert Cornuke has led many to believe that he has found the route of the Red Sea crossing, the location of Mt. Sinai, the place of Paul’s shipwreck, and, most recently, the Ark of Noah. Because of his failed track record, his imitation of the charlatan Ron Wyatt, and his own website dubbing him as “Indiana Jones,” I view Mr. Cornuke’s claims with suspicion. Yes, by the world’s standards, I am crazy: I believe the biblical account is historically reliable. But I’m not crazy enough to buy what Mr. Wyatt or Mr. Cornuke are selling. But now we find out that he’s selling something else.

In an interview in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Mr. Cornuke said,

I guess what my wife says my business is, we sell hope. Hope that it could be true, hope that there is a God.

The problem with this is that the standard needed to establish an item as justifying “hope” is substantially lower than establishing an item as actual, genuine, or persuasive. In the case of Noah’s Ark then, Mr. Cornuke need only have something that looks like wood. It doesn’t need to be wood; it doesn’t need to be the right kind of wood; it doesn’t need to be on the right mountain; and it doesn’t need to be from Noah’s Ark. It simply needs to resemble what Cornuke’s audience is looking for. If it’s possible, then you’ve succeeded. You’ve provided “hope.”

The problem with this, of course, is that hope dashed is worse than hope never raised. There’s perhaps no better example of this than Noah’s Ark. Noah’s Ark has been “discovered” so many times that the most devout Bible believer with any knowledge of the former “discoveries” simply won’t be taken in again. Some, no doubt, tire of the fraud perpetuated by “Bible believers” and choose another way. The world, perhaps at times curious if there really is some truth in the Scriptures, simply laughs at the foolish gullibility and rationalizes that such gullibility must also account for their belief in the Biblical stories. In the end, all are worse off for the perpetuation of fraudulent “discoveries.”

There is an alternative. If there is a Noah’s Ark that still exists, conduct the study carefully (1-2 years is not carefully!). Bring in well-regarded experts to study the relevant issues (geology, geography, archaeology, etc.). Do not let professional policemen promote Scriptural interpretations which run counter to the consensus of Bible-believing scholars (don’t let that scholar word scare you: scholar means “professional” – it means they do this all their life; it means they know the sources and resources and are not easily deceived). And lastly, don’t publicize. Yes, I know that you love the publicity. You love the book sales and you love the contributions. But wait. Make sure that everything is in order. Make sure that there are no holes. Make sure that you really have it this time. This is the test if what you really desire is truth or fame.

You see, we already have “hope.” There are so many confirmations of the biblical record from the historical and archaeological sources that we have hope that Scripture is trustworthy. We have thousands of confirming evidences, and we don’t need that extra one if it is in fact a false hope.