More on "Nehemiah's Wall"

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post finally reported on the discovery of “Nehemiah’s wall” first announced several weeks ago.  Today the AP has a report.  Most of the material is similar to what was reported before, but the Jerusalem Post says that not only the tower but the wall as a whole is from the time of Nehemiah.  That would be a significant development, because the wall is large and easily visible to tourists.  The AP version quotes two scholars with different views on Mazar’s conclusion.  Stern’s expertise is Persian period.

Ephraim Stern, professor emeritus of archaeology at Hebrew University and chairman of the state of Israel archaeological council, corroborated Mazar’s claim. “The material she showed me is from the Persian period,” the period of Nehemiah, he said. “I can sign on the date of the material she found.”
Another scholar disputed the significance of the discovery.
Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the discovery “an interesting find,” but said the pottery and other remains do not indicate that the wall was built in the time of Nehemiah. Because the debris was not connected to a floor or other structural part of the wall, the wall could have been built later, Finkelstein said.
“The wall could have been built, theoretically, in the Ottoman period,” he said. “It’s not later than the pottery — that’s all we know.”

You can read the full story here.

First Wall and Palace of David excavation area, tb102306083
Wall (center foreground and below wooden staircase) dated by Eilat Mazar to Nehemiah’s time
City of David Area G from southeast, tb091306302labeled

On the picture above, the wall redated to Nehemiah’s time is in between the “Southern Hasmonean period tower” and “Northern Hasmonean period tower,” behind the “Stepped Stone Structure.”


Turkey in Google Earth

I love Google Earth, and with the help of a friend, have located most important biblical sites and many other historical sites as well.  I have hopes of getting them in sufficient order to share, but time has not yet permitted.  (I know that there are places on the web that distribute files with the locations but some that I have looked at are not reliable.)  But a friend just let me know that some of the terrain is Turkey is much improved.  So if you’ve looked in the past, you might try again.  Ephesus looks great, and there’s finally sufficient resolution to see Colossae.  A few more for fun: Laodicea, Antioch on the Orontes, Haran, and Carchemish.  (The links are kmz files which you can import into Google Earth for the site’s location.)


Maeir Urges Caution in Reaching Archaeological Conclusions

Some much of what makes the news from the archaeological world lies on either extreme of the spectrum: either wild-eyed gullibility of some sensational claim or knee-jerk denial that X has any true historical reality.  Adherents of one end of the spectrum usually lack scholarly credentials, while the latter often boasts a boatload, but both extremes are at odds with a normal common-sense approach held by most archaeologists.  Archaeologist Aren Maier has been excavating at Gath and he gave a lecture which is reported by the Deseret Morning News.

Contrary to the quest of many biblical archaeologists in years past, today’s “new image” of excavating ancient Near Eastern sites isn’t focused on proving that the Bible is an ancient historical document. Yet there’s no reason to shy away from comparing scientific findings to biblical text, either, says a longtime archaeologist. The challenge is to use caution, rather than leaping to what seem to be “logical conclusions” about findings that go well beyond the actual science involved with high-profile finds, some of which turn out to be forgeries. That is according to Aren Maeir, chairman of the department of archaeology and Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Rather than trying to “verify beliefs according to archaeological remains,” Maeir said archaeologists driven by science are leaving those kinds of discussions to theologians. Archaeologists seek to provide information on what they find in the ground, when they believe it originated and how it may or may not play into theological discussions.

You can read the rest of the story here.  The main points he makes seem so basic that they hardly need reporting, but given the tendencies of the media to cover the extremes mentioned above, perhaps more fair-handed approaches like this should be covered.  As for the ossuary of James, I don’t think that we have heard the last word as he suggests.  In the forgery conference earlier this year, most scholars in attendance agreed that the inscription was authentic.  But this point is well-made: everyone must exercise caution before making a sensationalistic identification.


Ancient Synagogue Found Below Arbel

Hebrew University announced the discovery of an ancient synagogue this week.  Dozens of Galilean synagogues from the Roman and Byzantine (Talmudic) periods have been discovered, including ones not far from this one at Capernaum, Arbel, and Hammath Tiberias.  Wadi Hamam is located at the base of the Arbel cliffs, and is the location of the end of “the hike” if you’ve ever climbed down. 

Students with me last year who hiked from Khirbet Kana (biblical Cana) to Magdala probably passed right over the remains described below.  From the Hebrew University website:

Remains of an ancient synagogue from the Roman-Byzantine era have been revealed in excavations carried out in the Arbel National Park in the Galilee under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The excavations, in the Khirbet Wadi Hamam, were led by Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and Scholion – Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies.
Dr. Leibner said that the synagogue’s design is a good example of the eastern Roman architectural tradition. A unique feature of the synagogue is the design of its mosaic floor, he said.

Arbel and Valley of Doves aerial from southwest, 123-05tb
Area of discovery from southwest

The synagogue ruins are located at the foot of the Mt. Nitai cliffs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, amidst the remains of a large Jewish village from the Roman-Byzantine period. The first season of excavations there have revealed the northern part of the synagogue, with two rows of benches along the walls. The building is constructed of basalt and chalk stone and made use of elements from an earlier structure on the site….
The excavators were surprised to find in the eastern aisle of the synagogue a mosaic decoration which to date has no parallels — not in other synagogues, nor in art in Israel in general from the Roman-Byzantine period. The mosaic is made of tiny stones (four mm. in size) in a variety of colors. The scene depicted is that of a series of woodworkers who are holding various tools of their trade. Near these workers is seen a monumental structure which they are apparently building. According to Dr. Leibner, since Biblical scenes are commonly found in synagogue art, it is possible that what we see in this case is the building of the Temple, or Noah’s ark, or the tower of Babel. The mosaic floor has been removed from the excavation site and its now in the process of restoration.

The rest of the story and a photo of the mosaic floor may be found here.


41,000 Cranes at Lake Huleh

Lake Huleh is located north of the Sea of Galilee.  Most of the Huleh basin was drained in the 1950s, but a small portion of the lake was preserved to become Israel’s first national nature reserve.  This is the beginning of an article from KKL-JNF (link to specific article down at time of writing):
Cranes have become familiar guests at Hula Lake. During Israel’s autumn and winter months—October to March—there are an average of 10,000—30,000 cranes at the lake every day. Recently, a new daily record was set at Hula Lake—41,600 cranes in one day, as compared to last year’s record of 32,000, a 30% increase!

Watching the cranes is indeed a magnificent sight but besides the food placed for them in the lake area, they also eat seeds in nearby fields and cause a great deal of damage to local agriculture. With the increase of cranes remaining in the region, the importance of the crane-feeding project also increased, including leaving them food in agricultural areas earmarked for this purpose.

Zamir Carmi, field crops coordinator for Upper Galilee, noted that the crane-feeding project is a joint endeavor of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund [KKL-JNF] and other green organizations, but there is a budget deficit of 400,000 shekels [US $103,000], and the farmers have to chase the cranes away from the fields by running after them, playing loud music and waving brightly colored flags.

Lake Huleh birds, 70-21tb
Cranes on Lake Huleh

ASOR Annual Meeting Report

Those interested in the goings-on at the ASOR meeting in San Diego should look at the LMLK Blogspot of George Grena. In his first post, he discusses some of the scholars he met and the first session which was on Ramat Rahel. I’m in town for another conference but opted to not to go the ASOR meetings because of the high admissions fee (and the Biblical Archaeology Society conference was even more outrageously priced). You can see the ASOR program schedule here. Other highlights of the day that Grena noted in a posting to the ANE-2 list are:

2) Interesting ruffling of feathers between attendees at Chang-Ho Ji’s paper on Khirbat ‘Ataruz (Ataroth?) regarding the interpretation of 2 male figures (homosexual deities?) on a cult statue.

3) A heated exchange between the excavators of Beth Shemesh & Yosef Garfinkel & Saar Ganor of the IAA after their consecutive papers. The former pointed out the lack of evidence for an 8th-century earthquake, but suggested that a burnt layer relates to 2Kings 14:11-2; the latter identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as Biblical Azekah.

4) A 6-line ink-inscription ostracon found at Tall Jalul, presented by Randall Younker–note that this was a surprise change from the topic originally planned–you won’t find it in the abstracts program book.

5) A strong protest by Aren Maeir following the Zayit Abecedary session.


Roman street found near Western Wall

From today’s Jerusalem Post:

The remains of an ancient terraced street dating back to the Roman Period have been uncovered in the Western Wall tunnels, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The street, which likely led to the nearby Temple Mount, dates back nearly 2,000 years to when the city was called Aelia Capitolina, during the second to fourth centuries.

The site, which was uncovered in archeological excavations over the past year, is a side street connecting two major roads in the area, said Jon Seligman, the Antiquities Authority Jerusalem regional archeologist.

The ancient street is paved with large flagstones and is amazingly well-preserved. It is demarcated on both sides by walls built of ashlar stones.

The recent finding is the latest indication that even after they destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Romans continued to value the Temple Mount as one of the main urban focal points of activity in the city.

Various artifacts were discovered in the excavations, including pottery, glass vessels and dozens of coins that all date to the construction of the street and the period after it was abandoned.

Update (11/16): Link above updated. Reuters also has the story with photos.