I suppose that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the monks at the place of Jesus’ birth duking it out.
For a quarter of an hour bearded and robed priests laid into each other with fists, brooms and iron rods while the photographers who had come to take pictures of the annual cleaning ceremony recorded the whole event.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted the preliminary report (pdf) of the Qumran excavations (1993-2004) by Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg. You may recall that a recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review indicated that these archaeologists conclude that Qumran was a pottery manufacturing site, not the home of the Essenes. They state their motivation for this report in the preface:
We felt it necessary to separately publish this article due to the fact that until now, most of the discussion regarding our new theory on the nature of the site has been in newspapers–in articles not initiated by us–and has been based upon unsubstantiated evidence from certain scholars.
The report is well written and illustrated with many beautiful photographs and drawings.
Many will probably quickly skip over this article, but those who have visited or studied the sites of Penuel and Mahanaim will be interested, though the article mentions neither possible identification. Excavations have (finally!) begun at Tall adh-Dhahab, often identified by biblical scholars as the place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, where David fled from Absalom, and where Jeroboam built his Transjordanian capital. But what was not known (at least to me) was the Herodian attraction to the site. This makes perfect sense, given its history. A professor of theology at Technische Universität Dortmund began work last year. From their recent press release.
This year Thomas Pola, professor for theology at TU Dortmund, and his team have continued the excavations in the East Jordan Land. With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologists could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).
This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.
Above that, the team of Prof. Pola for the first time discovered a layer from the late Bronze Age or the Early Iron Age on a natural terrace directly underneath the plateau. The ruins of a tower from the city wall at least show three building phases. “On the level of the oldest building phase we took samples from a burnt layer. A C14-analysis carried out by Prof. Manfred Bayer (Physics at TU Dortmund) showed that the charcoal originates from the time 1300 to 1000 BC. At this location we will continue to work in 2008.”
Finally Prof. Pola’s team discovered the purpose of the monumental military facility half way up the mountain: it is a casemate wall. It is supposed to have been finished in Roman times. This is yet another argument for the identification of the mountain with the stronghold Amathous mentioned in the ancient world. The historian Josephus (37 to 100 AD) described Amathous as the biggest stronghold in the East Jordan Land.
The press release continues here.
Tall adh-Dhahab West, identified by some as biblical Mahanaim and by others (including myself) as Penuel
This story is from the Financial Times. The best sentence is the last.
The Dead Sea scrolls, the most potent source of our knowledge of Judaism and early Christianity, are to be digitised for the internet in a project that could take up to five years. It will involve the manipulation of some 15,000 scraps of leather or papyrus, some no bigger than a speck of dust. Project leader Simon Tanner, of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London, said the difficulty of photographing the scrolls would be deepened by the fact that in many cases there is little contrast between the writing and the material on which it is written. The team would be using a digital camera offering up to 20 times more resolution than a conventional model and an infra-red camera that would enable the script to be more easily read against the background. Tanner said he had worked on more than 450 digitisation projects and the scrolls were the most technically challenging he had faced. The Israel Antiquities Authority faced complex handling and conservation issues in making the scrolls available for digitisation. The publication of the scrolls was completed in 2001 after a period of 35 years in which they were monopolised by a group of scholars. They have been photographed only once before, in the 1950s. Now the intention is to make them available to amateurs and professionals alike, allowing people to manipulate the images of the fragments in a number of different ways.
HT: Joe Lauer
Because the biblical dates in the Bible suggest that the Exodus occurred in the mid-15th century, some surmise that Hatshepsut might be the princess mentioned in the Bible. In any case, she is a very important and interesting figure. From the Associated Press:
Months after Egypt boldly announced that archaeologists had identified a mummy as the most powerful queen of her time, scientists in a museum basement are still analyzing DNA from the bald, 3,500-year-old corpse to try to back up the claim aired on TV. Progress is slow. So far, results indicate the linen-wrapped mummy is most likely, but not conclusively, the female pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled for 20 years in the 15th century B.C. Running its own ancient-DNA lab is a major step forward for Egypt, which for decades has seen foreigners take most of the credit for major discoveries here. It’s time Egyptian scientists took charge, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities chief who spearheaded the quest to find Hatshepsut and build the lab. “Egyptology, for the last 200 years, it has been led by foreigners.”
The story continues here.
Ehud Netzer, the archaeologist who discovered Herod’s tomb and excavated most of Herod’s other sites throughout Israel, is lecturing (in Hebrew) this Thursday at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem.
The details are:
Lecture: The Discovery of King Herod’s Tomb at Herodium (in Hebrew) with Ehud Netzer
Location: HUC/JIR, 13 King David Street
Date: Thursday, Dec 27, 2007 at 5 PM
HT: Joe Lauer
Excavations are set to resume on the ramp in the Western Wall plaza that leads to the Temple Mount.
Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were told by the cabinet on Sunday to resume their excavations at the Rambam (Mughrabi) Gate leading to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, with all due haste.
They were also told to work with “full transparency” and in coordination with “relevant bodies” so as to complete construction of a new permanent foot bridge to the Western Wall as soon as possible. The bridge is to be used by visitors and also by police. Work being carried out to replace the current walkway, which partially collapsed in a storm in 2004, was halted in June in response to rioting by enraged Muslims who claimed the work was a plot to weaken the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque.
The construction site is located 60 meters away from the mosque and was found by numerous Israeli and international engineers to be no threat to the structure. Nonetheless, a new plan was proposed by Jerusalem planning officials that called for a shorter bridge along the existing route, and which would require less excavating and fewer pillars. A budget of NIS 3.5 million has been allocated for the project.
In the wake of the Muslim riots, UNESCO investigators were sent by the United Nations to inspect the repair work being carried out on the broken footbridge.
The rest of the story reviews other developments related to the Temple Mount in the past year. We covered this story before here and here.
In yesterday’s Asia Minor Report, Mark Wilson has good news for those books you can buy only in Turkey:
Purchasing books published in Turkey has been difficult for scholars not living in Turkey. However, Ahmet Boratav of Ege Yayınları has just made ordering such books easier. His web site (www.zerobooksonline.com) is now available in English and features thousands of books, journals, and magazines. The home page features the Bookseller’s Choices as well as recent releases.
Registered surface shipping is included in the price for orders placed from anywhere outside of Turkey.
I sent out the December 2007 issue of the newsletter today. If you thought you were subscribed but did not receive it, here are a few suggestions:
1. Check your spam box. Despite the fact that neither I, nor the newsletter distribution company, ever practice anything but the highest ethics in regard to email, some spam filters stop the newsletter.
2. Consider whether you are subscribed at your current email address. If you’ve moved in the last year and changed addresses, you can fix that easily by subscribing with your new address here.
3. Maybe you never subscribed at all. There’s an easy fix here.
Even if you do #2 or #3, you will not get today’s newsletter automatically sent to you. If you would like that, you can send me an email at tbolen81 at bibleplaces dot com [spelled out because I get and hate spam too], and I’ll send you one. But I won’t be able to send it until the end of the week, as I’m busy until then.
This article is a bit different from the usual fare. A conservation biologist goes for a stroll in the Wadi Qilt (near Jericho) and details his morning’s observations. Here’s a taste:
As I hiked through this harsh but astonishing landscape, I tried to keep my eyes on the sky in anticipation of a potential sighting of an interesting gliding raptor, as it was the time for the fall migration. Loud trumpeting, far-reaching calls, and deep and trilling “kroo kroos” emerged out of nowhere. I tried to distinguish where the sound was coming from; however, in a magical sight, the air was suddenly filled with hundreds of cranes soaring and twirling in the sky as they were carried up by the warm air currents. Like fighter-pilot squadrons, the birds adopt arrow-like formations as they are lifted by the thermals, which will eventually guide them south towards Africa. A few minutes later, they disappeared into the horizon.
The article was originally published in This Week in Palestine and is available online at the Institute for Middle East Understanding. You can read it all here. You can see some of my photos of the Wadi Qilt here.