I count myself a member of the Google Earth fan club.  The latest update to the software gives you the ability to overlay historic maps over the globe.  Of interest to biblical studies is the “Middle East 1961” map, which is a combination of two maps from Keith Johnston.  This map itself is interesting, but maybe no more than that because the detail is so limited.  The map covers a large swath from Turkey to Afghanistan.  A more detailed map like the Survey of Western Palestine would be more useful.

To view this map, or others such as Lewis and Clark 1814, Asia 1710, or Buenos Aires 1892, you must first install the most recent version of Google Earth.  Then in the “Layers” section, under “Featured Content,” choose the Rumsey Historical Maps section.

For more on this development, see the ZDNet blog or the comments by the map owner, David Rumsey, on the Official Google Blog.


Scholars have long debated the identity of those who lived at Qumran.  Most believe that the site was inhabited by Essenes, an ascetic group that separated themselves from the corruption of Jerusalem and the Temple.  There at Qumran they eked out an existence and copied scrolls by night.  Even in recent months the consensus theory has been challenged by those who believe that Qumran was a place of pottery manufacture.

Results from a recent study of the soil around Qumran strengthens the majority view.  Israeli paleopathologist Joe Zias found remains of human excrement about 500 meters north of the site.  The intestinal parasites in the remains prove that the remains were of human origin, and the burial of the feces indicates that they aren’t from Bedouins, as the latter do not bury their excrement.  It seems unlikely at best to suggest that pottery makers or inhabitants of a Roman villa would travel such a distance to relieve themselves, and thus this discovery supports the Essene hypothesis.

The results of the article will be published in Revue de Qumran, but the Jerusalem Post has the best synopsis online.  The story is quite fascinating and it would have been a perfect article for Biblical Archaeology Review, but the poor relationship between Shanks and Zias precludes such a possibility.

Zias goes further in the study to suggest that the short life expectancy of the Qumranites (as evidenced in a study of the cemeteries) was the result of their sanitary practices.  The Qumranites would pick up parasites as they walked through the defecating field which would then be passed on to everyone through the daily immersions in the ritual baths.

The article in Nature ends with this non-sequitur from Zias:

If his theory is correct, it might therefore carry a lesson about religious fundamentalism, Zias adds. “It shows what happens when people take biblical things too fundamentally or literally, as they do in many parts of the world, and what the ultimate consequences are.”

Qumran from southwest