Church at Shiloh inscription

The newly discovered church at Shiloh was discussed on this blog last December, but Israel Today has a little blurb online with some details I unaware of.  The full story is available only by subscription to the print magazine, but this much is online:

The floor of the worship sanctuary is decorated with brightly colored mosaics and many of the inscriptions refer to Yeshua (Jesus). The original church was built in 380 AD. It was probably destroyed by a flood and later replaced by a new building, based on information gleaned from the inscriptions. Aharonovitch says one of the inscriptions is particularly unusual as it mentions the name Shiloh: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Seilun [Shiloh] and its inhabitants, Amen.” “This is very rare and indicates that the early Christians revered this place as a holy shrine,” Aharonovitch said.

I don’t see anything else online with more details than were initially reported.

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Touring Israel: My Approach

I taught my first college-level tours in Israel when I was 21, and for the past 14 years, I have led many student groups of various shapes and sizes. Here are some suggestions that I believe make for a better tour of Israel, with varying applicability depending upon the group.

1. Do the more mentally challenging sites in the morning. Students are more ready to learn when they are less tired. For instance, if you’re visiting the sites north of the Sea of Galilee, I think it’s better to go to Hazor and Dan in the morning and drive across the Golan Heights in the afternoon.

2. Whenever possible, keep subject-related sites together. For instance, in the Galilee area, I find it best to group the sites related to the life of Christ together on a single day. This is preferable to bouncing back and forth between various periods. This is not always possible, as, for instance, it isn’t practical to visit En Gedi (more OT-related) and Masada (more NT-related) on different days.

3. Always prepare the group. Surprises are usually bad. Warn them the day before if the next day is going to be especially physical, or particularly late, or generally boring. Almost more important than reality are the expectations. I can almost make a lame site good just by thoroughly disparaging it in advance!

4. Don’t talk too much. If you do, they won’t hear what is important. The goal is not to show off how much you know but to help them understand.

5. Sometimes less is more. It might be better for the group to skip a site than to squeeze it in. It may be better for you to skip an explanation than to give it.

6. Skip more impressive (non-biblical) remains in favor of a less impressive site with a biblical story. I’ll skip Beth Shearim, but never Tel Jezreel. I’ll skip Sepphoris, but not Nazareth. I’ll skip Avdat, but not Arad.

7. Read the Bible where it happened. Don’t skip this for your explanation. You can’t always read every biblical story on site, but it is better to err on the side of too many than not enough.
Todd pointing over Dead Sea, tt021603

8. Don’t be afraid to confess ignorance. If you pretend you know and are then shown to be in error, you lose credibility. If you don’t have credibility, you’re just a chauffeur.

9. Lunch breaks are for eating. When you’re done eating, get moving.

10. Do what the group does, even if you’ve done it a hundred times and hate it. If you skip walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel, or you skip watching the Qumran video, it communicates that this is your job and not your passion.

11. Try hard. They’ll see it and they’ll follow your example.

12. Leave on time. If everyone is not there, leave anyway. If you don’t, they learn that deadlines don’t matter and within a week, you’ll consistently be 15 minutes (or more) late leaving everywhere. And then you miss cool things or won’t be able to do #7.

13. Wait for the group. When you’re at a site, wait until everyone catches up before beginning the explanation. This communicates that what you say is important, and it reduces the number of questions about the things you already said.

14. Give them time to take pictures after the explanation. If you don’t, they’ll take pictures when you’re teaching and they won’t be listening.

15. Love what you do. For me this means not giving tour after tour after tour. If I do, I am not excited anymore. Many tour guides are boring because they are bored. And no wonder, when they do the same tired itinerary week after week.

16. Different guides have different priorities that define the day. Here are some of mine:

  • The first view of the Sea of Galilee is from Arbel, always in the afternoon. This creates a lasting memory.Sea of Galilee and Plain of Gennesaret from Arbel, tb032507712
  • Take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee in the afternoon. This is a good change of pace, and afternoons need changes of pace more than mornings. In the summer, it’s a refreshing break from the heat.
  • Visit Mount Carmel (Muhraqa) in the afternoon. It is one of the top three views in the country and there is often poor visibility in the morning.
  • I never skip the Cove of the Sower, even though it’s become more difficult over the years. There’s less traffic early in the morning.
  • I like to visit Cave 1 at Qumran, especially since very few people know where it is.
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Archaeology Lectures on DVD

The Biblical Archaeology Society is having a summer sale on DVDs that looks pretty good.  For instance, the BAS Lecture Series Deluxe Set I is $80 and includes 9 DVDs with 15 lectures.  Some of the lecturers are leaders in the field, including William G. Dever, Michael D. Coogan, Bart Ehrman, James Tabor, Aren Maier, and Shelley Wachsman.  A bonus lecture by Dever includes his personal memories of famous archaeologists.  I haven’t seen these, but good lecture series usually require a plane ticket and an entrance fee of $25 and up.  There’s a second series for $62 which includes 12 lectures.  Some of the topics seem a bit esoteric, and some of the lectures I don’t think you’d want to show to a church group, but for many who can’t go to grad school, this is one option.

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Paul's Shipwreck on Malta

I have been alerted to a couple of articles related to Paul’s shipwreck on Malta.  These are largely in response to a recent popular theory by Robert Cornuke.  According to the author, Mark Gatt:

My greatest concern now is a relatively new thesis that the shipwreck occurred on the Munxar reef near Marsascala. Just because 4 or 6 roman anchors were found near the Munxar reef, a myth has been fabricated claiming a completely different site and totally ignoring our traditions. In his book The Lost Shipwreck of Paul, Robert Cornuke has traced the finding of such roman anchors and has unconvincingly created this myth. I have no archaeological or scholastic pretences, I am an avid scuba diver and my knowledge is limited to these islands, both above and below sea level, local tradition and The Acts of The Apostles. With this limited arsenal of knowledge I shall attempt to rebut the cause for Munxar as described in this book.

The articles are:

St. Paul’s Lost Shipwreck: Has the site been truly discovered?

Lead Anchor Stock Discovered: Could this anchor have come from St. Paul’s Shipwreck?

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Forgery Conference Report

At the beginning of this year, Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Society sponsored a conference in Jerusalem on the matter of recent alleged forgeries. This was a private, by-invitation-only meeting for scholars to speak freely on very controversial matters. I knew about it but expected to never see anything about it, because of the subject’s sensitivity. But Shanks has just released a very detailed report from the conference that is, in my opinion, absolutely fascinating. The subject is of interest to me because

1) everyone loves a good cat fight;

2) some of the challenged inscriptions have biblical relevance;

3) you learn about a lot of other things in the process;

4) the way in which the IAA handled the issue was deplorable;

5) the most vocal on this subject have been the nay-sayers. Thus some have declared that “everyone” thinks all of the questioned artifacts are fakes. I don’t personally care if any or all are fakes; they don’t change my view of the Bible or archaeology. But I have been disturbed by those who claim to know scholarly opinion but who do not. This record gives a more balanced perspective, showing where there is broad agreement (James Ossuary inscription is authentic) and where there is not (Jehoash Inscription).

You can get this report for free, and I consider this a nice present from BAS, which went to no small expense to hold the proceeding and then to compile the report. You have to submit your email address in order to get the link, but you can always unsubscribe to the newsletter later. There are three separate items available.

1. The Report: This 30-page document gives the background of the conference, including who came, who wanted to, and who didn’t respond. Then five inscriptions are reviewed, with relevant comments from the attending scholars.

2. The Report’s Appendix: At 84 pages, this work primarily consists of abstracts by conference participants (plus a few who couldn’t make it). Another section looks at a photoGabriel Barkay at Ketef Hinnom, tb042705891 of the alleged forger (Oded Golan) from the 1970s which shows the inscribed ossuary in his home.

3. A 30-minute talk by Gabriel Barkay on ten points scholars should agree on. This is also available in printed form at the end of the Appendix. The mp3 file does not require registration.

This isn’t the final word on the subject, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. There are many good nuggets in the report, but since the report is free and time is short, I’ll let you discover them for yourself. Perhaps some other bloggers will discuss the report at greater length.

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Virtual Models of Qumran and Rome

If you like virtual reconstruction models, there is information about a couple of new ones now online.
Virtual Qumran is being constructed by UCLA for the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum (June 28 – December 31, 2007).  The Quicktime movies are not yet available, but there are several dozen medium-resolution screenshots.  It is ironic how much attention Qumran gets in academia today.  Qumran is the ancient equivalent of Somis, California.  If you don’t know where that is, that’s the point.  It’s the Dead Sea Scrolls that give Qumran significance above the thousands of other ancient sites in the Middle East, but some scholars don’t believe the scrolls have anything to do with the site.

Rome Reborn is the title of a project from the University of Virginia.  They built a physical model of Rome in 320 A.D. from which a virtual model was then constructed.  “The goal of ‘Rome Reborn’ is to create a digital model illustrating the development of ancient Rome from the earliest settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the beginning of the medieval period.”  The website seems pretty spartan at this point.

One that’s been around for some years but is still a great resource is the site of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.  This includes some nice panoramas.  They have several animations that show how the water system worked and how  large the city was in various periods.  You can also learn more about how they built the model.  I can’t seem to find the great screenshots that used to be available.

UPDATE (6/17): Those Jerusalem screenshots are here.

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A Video (Herod's Tomb) and a Photo (Village Discovery)

A few recent items of note:

Arutz-7 has a 3-minute video of Ehud Netzer talking about Herod’s tomb on location.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t say much of significance.  It apparently was more of a random clip rather than a prepared explanation of what was found and why he believes it is Herod’s tomb.  If I didn’t mention it before, the Society of Biblical Literature has a few choice photos of Herodium and the discovery.

During construction near the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, a village from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt was recently uncovered.  The photo on the Jerusalem Post indicates that some of the ruins are well-preserved.

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Top Ten Sites in Jerusalem

The Biblical Archaeology Society seems to have mastered internet marketing, judging from the frequent newsletters in my box. Usually there is at leasimaget 1/3 real content vs. sales pitches, but today’s was 100% ad. But I was happy to see “The City of David” for $50 off the regular price (now $100). I’ve been waiting to get this gem, and I can’t expect the price to get any lower. I’d be happy to tell you why it’s so great, but I’ll let you read about it yourself here.

But when I clicked the ad, it brought me to the “Father’s Day” sale page (until 6/18), at the bottom of which was a promo to get you to subscribe to BAR. If you pay when you order, you get the free guide, The Glories of Jerusalem: The Top Ten Sites in the Holy City, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. I had not heard of this book before, and it motivated me to come up with my own list. My list is free to you, and you don’t have to subscribe to anything. If you want, you can subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter, which itself is free and filled with 100% good content and no ads.image

I might preface my list by saying that while I am light years behind the distinguished author of the above guide, I have spent considerable time living in and teaching about Jerusalem. I gave my first college-level tours of the city soon after my 21st birthday, and I have taught a course on Jerusalem archaeology many times. This city is always fascinating, and there is always more to learn.

My top ten sites in Jerusalem are:


Temple Mount – this place really is the center of it all. Every time I am there, I am impressed with just how large the area is. Today it seems to be anything but a holy place, with kids playing soccer, women having picnics, and piles of trash unmoved for years. I still am inspired every time. (more)


Western Wall – large Herodian stones are cool, but this place gets a mention because of the people. Every sort of normal and strange person comes through the plaza, and they are interesting to watch and to talk to. (more)


Tomb of the Kings – most tourists never see this, because 1) the staircase is tough for old people; 2) climbing through tiny doorways inside the tomb is even more challenging; 3) it takes some work for the guide to explain what this tomb is all about; and 4) the owners of the site (the government of France) is positively rotten about allowing visitors. In my view, the government of Israel should force them to have regular hours, and they might, except for points #1-3 above. But the fact of the matter is, this is the best tomb in all of Israel, and it perfectly illustrates the types of burials in use at the time of Jesus. The tomb was carved ten years after the crucifixion of Christ and belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene. See, I lost you already. (but more here)


Garden Tomb – it’s not the actual place of Jesus’ resurrection, but it sure feels more like it than anywhere else in the city. (more)


St. Etienne’s Iron Age tombs – forgive me for including yet a third tomb in the list, but I simply must. These are the best Old Testament period tombs in the city (probably in the country). A strange irony: these tombs are located on the property where Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has lived for many decades, but there is not a word about them in his excellent guide book, The Holy Land. Possibly they don’t want visitors (indeed, they don’t), and possibly he wants to avoid getting intoGihon Spring, tb110705566 hot water with intransigent French priests (his colleagues) who insist that these tombs are from the Roman period.


Hezekiah’s Tunnel – this is any kid’s dream – to walk through a rock-hewn tunnel for 1750 feet. Add to that the certainty that it was dug by King Hezekiah’s men and it is mentioned twice specifically in the Bible. (more)


Southern Temple Mount excavations – besides the impressive archaeological remains of streets, shops, staircases, and ritual baths, this is one area where you can be certain that Jesus saw in substantially the same form. That’s easy to miss in the rest of the dense buildings of the Old City. (more)


Mount of Olives – for the view, not the churches. (more)


Petra Hostel rooftop – ok, the view is actually better from the “Tower of David” (in the Citadel museum), but the entrance fee is less and thus I go here much more often.


Pool of Siloam – not the Byzantine one now covered with a mosqueJerusalem model from southeast, tb091506493 and reduced to a fraction of its former size, but the 1st century pool recently uncovered by archaeologists. (more)


The Jerusalem model – formerly at the Holyland Hotel, now at the Israel Museum. I suppose this isn’t a “site” in its own regard, but it is such an excellent presentation of how the city used to look that I cannot omit it from the list.


Honorable mention:
St. Anne’s Church/Pools of Bethesda

Church of the Holy Sepulcher (more)

Broad Wall (more)

Herodian Quarter

“Solomon’s Quarries”

There are many books about Jerusalem that describe the above-mentioned sites, but you might consider purchasing the Jerusalem volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This CD ($25) includes 650 photos of the city along with all of my teaching notes. You’ll like it! (Sorry for sneaking that ad in!)

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Identification Problem

Perhaps one of this blog’s readers can help with identifying the photos below.  They are clearly of the same structure.  The first one is from a book from the 1890s, where it is identified as the “Temple of the Ark” at Shiloh.  The second shows Ephraim Stern teaching with the bullhorn on June 25, 1968.  I have asked a few smart people about this, but without success.  I am doubtful that this is at Shiloh, but I’m sure it is somewhere in the hill country north of Jerusalem.  Does anyone know?

Temple of the Ark, Shiloh
Shiloh with Ephraim Stern, db6806255403
UPDATE (6/11): Indeed this structure is at Shiloh, to the east of the Visitor’s Center, and now partially hidden by bushes.  It apparently was a synagogue (Byzantine period?) before being converted into a mosque.  Thanks to MB for the answer!
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The Dangers of Wikipedia

I like and use Wikipedia for all kinds of things.  The more I know about the subject, however, the poorer the quality of the articles.  This morning I was going through some photos I took a few months ago, including some that I took of Har Nitai, across the Wadi Hammam from Arbel.  This picturesque mountain is not easily accessible as there are no roads and no good footpaths (that I could find).  The site has significant ruins on the surface, but as far as I could tell, no excavations have been carried out.

A quick search for the site on Google brought me to this Wikipedia entry, which is largely a page written by a single person (“Truthresearch”).  That should be the first clue; anybody with a username like that is immediately suspect. 

The entry gives a little information about the site, but quickly goes to a suggested identification of the site as Nazareth.  The basis for this identification appears to rest solely on the location of a steep cliff here (fitting the story in Luke 4 where Jesus is nearly thrown off a cliff).  If that’s the method for site identification, then we can rearrange the entire map of Galilee.  The writer acknowledges that the present-day Nazareth has the evidence of tradition, but it tries to make that a negative, explaining that it is only about 300 A.D. when Nazareth is mentioned in ancient sources.  He fails to note that most Christian traditions are not attested until that time because Christianity was persecuted until the end of the Roman empire (circa 300 A.D.).  Nazareth’s insignificant status and size explain its lack of mention in non-Christian sources.  None of this of course is any sort of an argument that Har Nitai is the real Nazareth.  But there is a cliff; what more do you need?

The link at the bottom of the article to a geocities site (“The Real Nazareth?”) suggests that the author of the two is identical.

All of this does of course give me the excuse to share a photo of the Arbel cliffs taken from Har Nitai.  No sign yet of the planned golf course on top of Arbel.

Sea of Galilee and Arbel cliffs panorama, tb0221007888sr
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