The Tomb of King David

A few nights ago I was reading Hershel Shanks’ case (not online) for David’s tomb being the rock-hewn shafts excavated by Raymond Weill.  I think he’s wrong, but I think he has presented the best case that can be made.  And he can’t be far off geographically.

The traditional tomb of David is far off geographically, but it is the subject of a recent article that argues that it is authentic.  Most who hold to the Mount Zion location being accurate are ultra-Orthodox Jews who follow tradition without regard for the evidence.  This article, however, tries to make an intelligent case.  It fails, but if I was teaching Jerusalem archaeology now, I’d require my students to critique it as a useful exercise in thinking about what we know and don’t know about ancient Jerusalem.  I’m not going to comment on it myself, but if someone else takes up the challenge (and does a worthy job), I’ll either link to it or post it here.

UPDATE (8/6): Joe Lauer has mentioned below a previous article in the same publication on the tomb of David.  This article, by Ari Zivotofsky, is worth reading for any who want to know more about the subject. 

Tomb of David interior with cenotaph, tb070807983
The traditional tomb of David on Mount Zion

King Tut and His Home

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, there are two exhibits of interest now going on related to Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Treasures from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun are currently holding court at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute Science Museum. That blockbuster exhibition brings to life an intriguing story from the golden age of ancient Egypt.Tutankhamen's mask, 110-16tb Meanwhile, another part of the story — equally compelling — unfolds at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, also in Philadelphia. “Amarna: Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun,” a low-key companion exhibit, illuminates the story of Tut’s boyhood home and ancestors. Amarna is the modern name for a lost city originally known as Akhetaten. It’s where Tut was born and grew up some 3,300 years ago during the New Kingdom. The city rose and fell like a meteor in the desert in little more than a generation, circa 1353 to 1336 B.C. This was near the end of the 18th  dynasty of the pharaohs, a pinnacle of power and culture in Egypt.

You can read the full story at


Temple Mount Destruction, Part 73

This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that Muslims conduct an illegal excavation on the Temple Mount.  If they do it enough, one supposes that it’ll cease to be news and people may stop caring.  And if they do it enough and destroy enough ancient material, maybe they can get the facts to align with their theory–there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount.  In any case, if you want to see pictures and read more about the story, I’d start with this Arutz-7 report.  I’m surprised the authorities weren’t more vigilant about not allowing photographs.  For more on the protests by Israeli archaeologists, see this JPost story.  Or read the JPost editorial.

UPDATE: Leen Ritmeyer has written a little about this, and includes diagrams and a video.


Museum at Masada

Several months ago a new museum opened at the foot of Masada. I won’t repeat the details about the museum that you can read in the Haaretz, JPost, and goisrael articles, but I’ll just add a personal comment from my recent visit: I found the displays to be beautifully presented, mentally stimulating, and historically accurate. Entrance requires a handheld audio guide, which costs about 20 NIS ($5), and no photos are allowed. The audio guide is more of a gimmick, as the text of the audio (and much more) is written on the displays. Overall, I recommend a visit to the museum, especially to those who are making a second visit to the site.
UPDATE (8/10): The Jerusalem Post has just posted a lengthy article about the museum.


The Nazareth Cross

nazareth_cross In the “you’ve got to be kidding me” file goes this story about the world’s largest cross being erected in Nazareth.  Besides the fact that such a 200-foot towering construction would be so out of place aesthetically, there’s the issue of Christian-Muslim relations in the town of Jesus’ childhood.  In short, there’s not one chance in a million that the Muslims will allow it.  If legal challenges don’t stop it, violence will.  The official site is  You have to wonder – what would Jesus have thought as a child if he knew what people would one day try to do. 

Or what does he think now?  If you look over the website and aren’t convinced it’s a crass marketing effort, you didn’t read this.  7.2 million tiles times 100 bucks equals $720 million.  Wish I had thought of it.


A New Reference to a Biblical Figure

This story in The Times looks very interesting.  It’s another one of those occasions when the discovery is made long after the excavators leave the field.

The British Museum yesterday hailed a discovery within a modest clay tablet in its collection as a breakthrough for biblical archaeology – dramatic proof of the accuracy of the Old Testament.
The cuneiform inscription in a tablet dating from 595BC has been deciphered for the first time – revealing a reference to an official at the court of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, that proves the historical existence of a figure mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.
This is rare evidence in a nonbiblical source of a real person, other than kings, featured in the Bible.
The tablet names a Babylonian officer called Nebo-Sarsekim, who according to Jeremiah xxxix was present in 587BC when Nebuchadnezzar “marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it”.

The rest of the story is here.  I’ve been working for some years on a list of extrabiblical references to biblical people.  I’m not ready to share it, but I can tell you that it is long.

The stupid quote of the story goes to renowned scholar Geza Vermes, who said, according to the reporter, “the Biblical story is not altogether invented.”  My response: there is not a fraction of evidence that it is invented at all.  Many scholars have many theories, but these are possible only because of the lack of evidence.  The more evidence, the less room for scholarly ideas about the invention of the Bible.  This observation is not based upon the above story, but upon years of study in the land of Israel.  The liberal case gets weaker the more I know.


Destruction of Holy Places

One of the reasons why I am so convinced that a series like the Historic Views of the Holy Land is so valuable (with 10 new works in production) is because the biblical lands have changed so dramatically in the last 100 years.  These changes are the result of many factors, including population growth and modern construction.  Another factor is the deliberate destruction of ancient sites, and Haaretz has a lengthy article on the subject, largely taken from a couple of recent books by Meron Benvenisti and Raz Kletter.  The author of the article, Meron Rapoport, has proven himself to be a biased and untrustworthy source in his previous work, but I don’t know enough about the contents of this article to comment on the accuracy.  I mention it because I think it’s an important subject, even if the presentation is slanted.


Jerusalem in the Fog

I like a good calendar, especially one with photos of Israel.  But while the title of this one is intriguing, the cover shot just does not inspire me.  Maybe the rest of the shots that you can’t see are better!  At $18, I’m not risking it.  But you can see the “Jerusalem in the Fog” calendar and decide for yourself.

Note the Author: Melekh Ben Ya’aqov (King, son of Jacob)