Recommended Articles and Guide

My friend Tom Powers is something of an independent scholar and I was happy to note recently that he has made several of his studies available online.  His ground-breaking article on the ossuary of Simon of Cyrene (who carried Jesus’ cross) was published by the Biblical Archaeology Society, which is quite a notable feat for one not formally trained as an archaeologist.  A version of that article, and a recent follow-up, is available at Tom’s site.  Among others, Tom has posted:

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Some Perspectives from History, Geography, Architecture, Archaeology and the Holy Scriptures – this is an extensive article on the history of the church.  If you have only one hour and want to get the story of the church, this is highly recommended.

The Ancient Aqueduct System of Jerusalem – Tom and I spent a full day recently tracing various aqueducts south of Solomon’s Pools.  They are more fascinating (and better preserved!) than you imagine.  Tom’s study synthesizes some of the more difficult and expensive works on the subject.

Horatio & Anna Spafford and Jerusalem’s American Colony – I read this several years ago and asked Tom if I could put it online so that others could read it.  I am happy to see that it now is available for all.

I should note that Tom is a trained tour guide living in Israel, and his knowledge is voluminous.  I could relate some anecdotes to illustrate that, but I’ll suffice with saying that I’m happy to recommend both his articles and his guiding.


Jesus Tomb update

Interest in the “Jesus Tomb” seems to be fading, but here are a few recent stories of interest:
The Jerusalem Post headlines their story “Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack.”  I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.  In reality, there were never any scholars besides James Tabor (and possibly Shimon Gibson) supporting the claim.  The story explains how the statistician revised his claim, so perhaps that is the point of the headline.

The article is largely based on (but without a link) a recent essay by Dr. Stephen Pfann entitled, “Cracks in the Foundation.”  He summarizes the problems with the theory and cites scholars who claim to have had their remarks taken out of context.

As before, you can get the other side of the story from the blog of Dr. James Tabor.  He has just left Jerusalem and promises more information in coming days.  Ironically, he says this:

I have wanted as much as I can in my own work on the Talpiot tomb to separate the site and its evaluation from the discussion of the issues related to the film itself and its role in the ensuring heated discussion. That is of course not wholly possible and my intent is to address, as much as possible, the factual matters related to this later flash of media coverage on Talpiot. In the end I am confident that the truth will win out and that a time will come when the Talpiot tomb site, and all we can know about it, will be considered in a less biased manner and with a more professional style and approach.

This, of course, is what all the other scholars claimed was the problem from the start.  Tabor appears to be claiming that he is the victim of the media sensationalism, when it seems that he was party to creating it.  The existence of non-disclosure agreements contribute to the impression that the film and its supporters were not interested in a professional, non-biased discussion of the factual matters.

I spoke last week with an Israeli archaeologist who was present at the excavation of the “Jesus tomb.”  As far as I know, he has not been quoted in any of the discussion, but Dr. Gabriel Barkay is highly respected in the field and without any personal interest in the matter.  In his words, the tomb is “not news.”


M.A. in Archaeology and Bible at Southwestern

Periodically I am asked where one can go to study biblical archaeology. The list is quite short, but just increased by one. I’m not quite sure what they mean that this is the only M.A. in archaeology and biblical studies. Wheaton has one, and there are others. I still favor studying biblical archaeology in the land of the Bible, and the best place I know of for a Master’s degree in the subject is Jerusalem University College. One significant advantage of the program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is that Professor Steven Ortiz is heading up an excavation at Gezer. Thus, you’re guaranteed to get plenty of hands-on experience, both in the field and in the lab. Here’s the press release:

Archaeology degree approved Trustees unanimously approved what is the nation’s only program currently offering a Master of Arts in archeology and biblical studies. The program will be administered through the School of Theology. This graduate-level degree offers advanced work in the classical archaeological disciplines of archaeological methods; fieldwork; archaeological, historical and biblical backgrounds; and ancient biblical and cognate languages. “It is a 98-hour, comprehensive program that will be the premier program of its kind in the United States” said David Kammler, chairman of the trustees’ Academic Administration committee and professor of mathematics at Southern Illinios University at Carbondale. “I am personally delighted that the seminary is going in this direction,” said trustee chairman McClain. “As a professor of Old Testament, I know there is a great need.” “Our new archeology program is developing and is critically important [because] archaeology programs in our seminaries have ceased to exist,” said President Paige Patterson. “Yet there is both apologetic and educational value in these studies.” Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern’s Charles C. Tandy Museum, was impressed by the trustees’ action. “I am encouraged by the boldness and visionary leadership of the trustees to support our new archaeology program,” Ortiz said afterwards. “This program will be preparing students for the field of archaeology and also bringing Southwestern back as a major contributor to current biblical archaeological research.”


Review (#2) of the Pictorial Library

I think in the year and a half that this blog has been going, I’ve only mentioned one review of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.  Today I’m linking to another.  The fact that both were posted in the span of one week may trouble those who are looking for more than self-promotional material. 

But since this blog is written by a real person who has worked very hard to make this collection of photos, I confess it’s sometimes good to hear how it benefits others.  In this case, twice in one week.

More on other matters soon.


More Palace of David Discovered?

This story is about a week old, but I didn’t have time to comment on it before.  Here is the complete text from the Jerusalem Post.

First Temple wall found in City of David
A wall from the First Temple was recently uncovered in Jerusalem’s City of David, strengthening the claim that it is the site of the palace of King David, an Israeli archeologist said Thursday.
The new find, made by Dr. Eilat Mazar, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center’s Institute for the Archeology of the Jewish People, comes less than two years after she said she had discovered the palace’s location at the site just outside the walls of the Old City.
The monumental 10th century BCE building found by Mazar in 2005 following a six month dig has ignited debate among archaeologists about whether it is indeed the palace built for the victorious David by King Hiram of Tyre as recounted in Samuel II:5.
A 20-meter-long section of the 7-meter-thick wall has now been uncovered. It indicates that the City of David once served as a major government center, Mazar said.
Mazar estimates less than a quarter of the entire wall has been uncovered so far, and says that it is the largest site from King David’s time ever to have been discovered.
The dig is sponsored by the capital’s Shalem Center, with academic backing from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A few comments:

1) As noted elsewhere, the headline is unfortunate.  Mazar did not find, and does not claim to have found, any portion of a wall of a temple.  The missing word is “period” – Mazar found a wall from the “First Temple period,” which is equivalent to Iron Age II (1000-586 B.C.).

2) This story strikes me as a publicity-getter, as it lacks much substance.  No photos or diagrams are included, and details are sparse.  This accords with the rather secretive approach being taken in this dig.  I can give personal examples, but will not.

3) I have trouble believing that a 7-meter-thick wall was found, and if it was, I hardly believe that it belonged to a palace (and not to the city itself). That’s the same thickness as the Broad Wall, which is one of the largest fortification walls in the entire country.  The City of David is a small area; a 7-meter wall would take away a significant percentage of the living area.

4) I am also suspicious of Mazar’s dating until more is published (and the experts confirm it). That’s not because I don’t believe in the biblical account of David (actually, I do), but because I think that sometimes archaeologists jump to desired conclusions too quickly.

5) I have significant objections to Mazar’s interpretation of the Bible as regards David’s palace.  Elaboration on that will have to wait for another time.

Excavation area from the east


Review of the Pictorial Library

Bible Software Review has recently posted a helpful review of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Rubén Gómez lives in the Mediterranean basin, but has not traveled to the biblical lands.

The saying goes that an image is worth a thousand words, and this is truer than ever in the case of The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (PLBL). No review can make justice to the fine pictures and excellent presentation of this product. It is the next best thing to actually being there! I love it!

He put the Pictorial Library to the test in preparing a sermon.

Since the proof of the cake is in the eating, I used the slides on Capernaum (Figure 2), among others, to prepare a series of sermons on John 6. I can assure you that watching the shots from the Sea of Galilee and spending some time looking at the remains of the synagogue in Capernaum, built on the earlier basalt level where the original edifice once stood — and where Jesus most likely delivered his bread of life discourse –, brought everything to life and certainly helped a lot in seeing the whole picture of the episodes found in that chapter. It certainly enriched me in no small degree.

The review includes several helpful screenshots that illustrate several of the methods to access the photographs and notes.  Ruben’s kind words are greatly appreciated, as is his faithful work in reviewing various Bible software products.  His site is a beneficial resource to all!


Muslims Open Temple Mount to Excavators

Muslim leaders in Jerusalem today announced that they have no opposition to Israeli archaeologists excavating on the Temple Mount. Such work would be invaluable to understanding the history of one of the most sacred places in the world, and they have acknowledged that their previously-held objections are surpassed by the potential gains.

Israeli archaeologists do not have any immediate plans to excavate, but now that the invitation has been made, experts expect that the several proposals will quickly be made from leading universities.

One of those on QAWF, the Islamic committee that approved the move, denied that the Muslims feared the recovery of Jewish remains on the mount. Muhammad Husseini was quoted as saying, “We recognize that every historical source agrees that the Jewish temple was on the site of our holy mosque. Finding archaeological evidence for that building will not change history.” Another religious official, Ali Abdullah, indicated that this move was intended to show good-will. “There is no reason why we must deny the Jewish people access to their most holy place. We will be delighted if they accept our invitation to excavate and increase their understanding of their ancestors.”

Some scholars, however, are skeptical. Dr. Yosef Rosenthal suggests that the excavation will never begin, because “the Israeli people will debate the matter endlessly, and in the end, the Muslims will look magnanimous and the Jews will never move one spade of earth.”

Muslims authorities have made it clear that excavation will only be permitted outside of Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and that prayer services may not be disturbed. Israeli archaeologists are still thrilled because the large majority of the enclosure lies outside of the sacred structures.

This change of position is a most unexpected one, especially in light of recent violent protests because of an Israeli removal of an earthen ramp outside of the Temple Mount adjacent to the Jewish holy area of the Western Wall. Such a radical shift may be largely explained by the fact that today is April 1.