Bike Ride Mission to Israel

Arutz-7 reports on an up-coming bike ride in Israel:

From September 21-27, 2008, athletic tourists will be able to visit and tour the country in a unique style: Bicycling their way through the upper Galilee and the Golan Heights on the Jewish National Fund’s first annual Bike Ride Mission to Israel. “Participants will traverse over 200 miles of breathtaking terrain,” the JNF literature announces, “during four days of fully supported riding (all ability levels are welcome), and will be rewarded with exclusive accommodations at the 5-star Mitzpe Hayamim Hotel and Spa and The Carmel Forest Spa Resort.” The bicycle tours will include stops in towns, army bases, and JNF sites such as security bypass roads, forests, and nature reserves.  The participants will also hear talks from public officials and IDF officers, will learn about Israel’s water problems and the JNF’s efforts and successes in solving them, and will take part in rafting and wine-tasting activities. The cost: $3,600 per rider (double occupancy), not including airfare. Participants can either bring their own bicycle or rent one here…. For more information on the bike mission, visit

Bicyclist on road of patriarchs, tb111106873


Wildfire in Dead Sea nature reserve

From the Jerusalem Post:

An IDF training exercise sparked a massive wildfire at the Ein Fasha Nature Reserve Tuesday morning, destroying nearly 2000 dunams [500 acres] of land in what the chief firefighter on the scene called “the largest wildfire of the summer.” “It’s by far the largest,” said Amnon Amir of the Judea and Samaria Fire Department, as flames in the area were still being sprayed by airplanes overhead. “It started around four in the morning, and has been extremely difficult to put out.” According to Amir, the exceedingly dry conditions in the area, which borders the northern Dead Sea, added to the difficulty, and low amounts of rainfall over the winter were to blame. But he also told The Jerusalem Post that the IDF had initially prevented his firefighters from entering the area, making it more difficult to combat the intense flames…. “It will take 10 years before the area completely renews itself,” Nissim said. “But within six months or so, we’ll already see new signs of life. This isn’t a completely tragedy, because it’s somewhat healthy for the vegetation to renew itself like that, but still, it’s been difficult to watch it all burn.” The army refused to comment further on the incident, which Army Radio reported had begun from a flash or smoke grenade. According to the Judea and Samaria fire department, there were no injuries reported, and damage was limited to the plant life in the reserve. There have been three large wildfires throughout the country since Saturday, two in the Jerusalem Hills before Tuesday’s at Ein Fasha. Firefighters blame high temperatures and dry conditions as a factor in all of the fires, but at least one, on Saturday afternoon near Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha, was reportedly the result of arson.


Dating from Magnetic Particles

This AP article is about American archaeology, but the technology could be applied to the Near East, if it hasn’t been already.

You might be surprised what you can learn from a campfire. A campfire that has been cold for, say, 300 years.
Stacey Lengyel hopes she can tell, within 30 years or so, when it was used.
Lengyel, a research associate in anthropology at the Illinois State Museum, is the country’s leading authority on archeomagnetic dating, a process built around two phenomena: when heated, magnetic particles reorient themselves to magnetic north; and over time, magnetic north is, literally, all over the map.
“They call it a ‘drunken wander,’ ” said Lengyel. “Around 1600, it was real close to Earth’s rotational axis. Now, it is around 75 degrees latitude….”
In archeomagnetic dating, once potential samples have been identified, their location and orientation are precisely measured, Lengyel said. About a dozen 1-inch cubes are then excised, encased to preserve them, then taken to a lab.
The chunks are then progressively demagnetized until their natural remnant magnetism can be measured, she said. The objects may have been partially magnetized by nearby lightning strikes, for example, or if they were stored near objects with strong magnetic fields. These weaker magnetic fields must be removed.
First their magnetic fingerprint is taken, and then they are slightly demagnetized. The process is repeated several times; eventually all that is left is the baseline magnetic signal, she said. If the material is fired to about 500 degrees Celsius or more, the magnetic field will point to where magnetic north was located at the time.
“The best dates we can get are within a 30-year time period,” Lengyel said.

The complete article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Student Finds LMLK Handle

Last month I was in Israel when a friend called and said that one of the students in a group he was leading found a jar handle with a LMLK seal impression laying on the ground at Ramat Rahel (two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem).  I’ve led student groups around Israel for 15 years and none of them has ever found a LMLK handle and my friend is three days into his first trip when one is found.  Within a day or so, he had sent a photo of the seal impression to “Mr. LMLK” (who immediately published an analysis of it here) and got the expert opinion of Dr. Gabriel Barkay. 

Yesterday, the story made it into the newspaper.  If you’re recruiting for next year’s tour, you can try enticing your students with the hope of such a discovery.  And you might take a closer look at that next potsherd before you toss it.

Lemelek, found by Sanchez
LMLK seal impression; photo by Steven Sanchez

Record Number of Tourists in Israel

My impression that there were too many tourists in Israel last month was correct.  In fact, there has never been more tourists in the history of the nation.  Haaretz reports:

Nearly 300,000 tourists visited Israel in May, an all-time record, the Ministry of Tourism said.
The number of tourists was five percent higher than May of 2000, Israel’s record year for tourism, and at the current pace, 2.8 million tourists are on track to visit by the end of the year, according to the ministry….
By 2012, the ministry’s goal is to attract five million tourists, have 220,000 workers employed in the tourism industry and have tourism revenues of NIS 43 billion.

Goals are good, but it might be wise for the budgeters to keep in mind that 5 months after Israel’s record-breaking May 2000, tourism nearly ground to a halt for about 3 years.

Mount of Olives from City of David, tb051908125dxo
Tour buses parked near Garden of Gethsemane

If the optimists are right, you’re best to avoid the month of May in future years if possible.  You know it’s going to be bad when there are no seats left for your group’s flight in a year in advance (that’s my situation for next May).  Here are some advantages to going in other months:

  • February: no tourists (but potentially lots of rain)
  • March: everything is green and wildflowers are everywhere
  • August: no tourists (but you’ll know why as you hesitate to get off the air-conditioned bus)
  • October: possibly my favorite month of the year in Israel, with great temperatures and no rain
  • December: clearer air (less haze) means better panoramic views

Mysterious Stone Piles in Sea of Galilee

From Haaretz:

A marine scientist has discovered a series of mysterious stone patterns on the lake bed of drought-stricken Lake Kinneret.
The man-made piles of stone, which are now above water, jut out from the freshwater lake, and sit 30 meters from each other along a 3.5-kilometer stretch of the eastern shore, from the Kinneret College campus to Haon resort.
Gal Itzhaki of Kibbutz Afikim first noticed the stones while strolling along the lake’s receded shoreline. He says the patterns are a “fascinating phenomenon” and are part of an “impressive building enterprise.”
Though they have not yet been scientifically examined, there are several hypotheses as to what functions they fulfilled. One theory postulates that they were part of a boundary between the ancient lakeside towns of Hippos, also known as Sussita, and Gadara. Both towns were part of the Decapolis, a group of 10 towns that flourished in the eastern part of the Roman province of Palestina, and are mentioned in the New Testament. Others have hypothesized that the patterns were part of a string of watchtowers or small buildings, or were used to set up fishermen’s nets.

Read the rest here.  The Hebrew version includes a photo.

HT: Joe Lauer


Review: Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement

The subject of the “Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement,” and similar subjects, has largely been ignored on this blog (for reasons of time).  Joe Lauer today sent out a handy summary of the issue, which I re-post here with his permission.  He also points out that there are a few additional links at Paleojudaica

From Joe Lauer:

The recent Op-Ed by Meron Benvenisti, published in Ha’aretz, is another article or opinion piece dealing with the draft “Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement” introduced by two archaeologists on April 8, 2008. The archaeologists are Ran Boytner, from UCLA, and Lynn Swartz Dodd, from USC.

As I was away from our PC from early April through mid-May, I could not share the news and opinions about the draft with those on the list, although many undoubtedly were made aware of them through their own reading or through postings on other lists.

For those who did not have access to these materials, the following mentions some of the items that appeared in early April and thereafter. I’m sure that many other article and op-eds have appeared regarding the proposal.

On April 8, 2008, UCLA issued a lengthy press release regarding the draft agreement (“Plan brokered by archaeologists would remove roadblock to Mideast peace”). This release, which has a picture of the two archaeologists, a map of the “Proposed Jerusalem Heritage Zone”, and a link to an almost eight-minute UCLA video about the draft, evidently was the basis for many of the following articles on the subject. It may be read here.

The video may be also be viewed at

On April 14, 2008, ScienceDaily published the UCLA press release at It also has a link to the UCLA video.

On April 9, 2008, The Jerusalem Post published a brief news item on the subject (“Israeli, Palestinian archaeologists draft deal to preserve historic sites”) by its staff. It may be read here or here.

On April 10, 2008, The Jerusalem Post (pg. 7) reprinted an article by Tom Tugend that first appeared on April 7 [sic], 2008 in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (“UCLA and USC archaeologists hope preserving the Middle East’s shared past can pave way to protecting”). It may be read here.

The Jerusalem Post article was entitled “US academics work to bridge archeological gap between Israelis, Palestinians” (and sub-captioned “Effort yields database of sites, artifacts that could be caught in legal limbo when final borders are decided”).

Unfortunately, I do not have the URLs for The Jerusalem Post article or the Letter to the Editor that responded to it from Ken Spiro, April 14, 2008, pg. 14 (“Preposterous plan”), although I have them in print form. (The letter stated: “I read with complete disbelief about a plan to return to the Palestinian Authority archaeological artifacts excavated from Judea and Samaria as part of a final peace deal (“US academics …,” April 10). If these were Muslim or Arab artifacts I could at least understand, but they’re talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls, antiquities from the First and Second Temple periods — our very history, and the physical evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Israel! To even contemplate giving these to the PA — which continues to deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in Israel or Jerusalem — is a form of national suicide. As Israel Meir Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel and now chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, once said: ‘A nation that does not value its past has no right to dream about its future.'”)  

The Jewish Journal article was also circulated by Common Ground News Service, in a slightly edited form (“Archaeologists preserve hope”), at

The Jewish Journal article has a picture of the two academics, a link to the “Plan” of the “Shared Heritage Project”, and a link to the UCLA video about the agreement. The Plan (including All documents (includes the cover letter, agreement, map) 5.32 MB; Agreement only 37.5 KB; High resolution Jerusalem Heritage Zone Map 2.11 MB; and Low resolution Jerusalem heritage zone map 932 KB) may also be linked to at

Ha’aretz also had its articles and opinion pieces on the subject:

On April 11, 2008, Ha’aretz published “A separate peace”, by Meron Rapoport. It may be read at [English; Last update – 20:38 14/04/2008] [Hebrew; Last update – 15:22 12/04/08]

On April 18, 2008, Ha’aretz published “Partitioning the past”, by Neil Asher Silberman. It may be read at [English; Last update – 07:41 18/04/2008]

Silberman’s critical piece was followed by a response (“Sharing the past by dividing it”) from Raphael Greenberg, who often speaks for the “Israeli-Palestinian Working Group on Archaeology,” including in a campaign against the IAA excavations in the City of David sponsored by Elad. His article may be read at [English; Last update – 09:19 25/04/2008].


Earliest Church in Jordan

When a sensational but unsubstantiated archaeological discovery is reported, my inclination is to ignore it.  Since the goal to gain headlines and popularity (and sometimes to stir up tourism), the best way to thwart the guilty is to not publicize their claim.  As they know, all publicity is good publicity.

This doesn’t work very well when mainstream news sources carry the story and one gets multiple requests about the accuracy of the report.  So I succumb.

The claim by Jordanian archaeologists that they have found the “earliest church” ever is the latest in an apparently on-going competition by archaeologists.  According to everything I’ve read about it, there is no basis for this claim whatsoever.  All evidence noted in the story runs counter to this claim. 

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor says it well:

“Pushing the (date) back to the year 70 is very speculative. (The Jordanians) are desperate to create church sites (for tourism),” Father Murphy-O’Connor said. “I would be suspicious of this sort of hype.”

Be suspicious of archaeologists, pseudo-archaeologists, and government departments of tourism.


2,000-Year-Old Palm Tree Now 4 Feet Tall

National Geographic has an update with a couple of photos.  We mentioned this before here.

The oldest-sprouted seed in the world is a 2,000-year-old plant from Jerusalem, a new study confirms. “Methuselah,” a 4-foot-tall (1.2-meter-tall) ancestor of the modern date palm, is being grown at a protected laboratory in the Israeli capital. In 2005 the young plant was coaxed out of a seed recovered in 1963 from Masada, a fortress in present-day Israel where Jewish zealots killed themselves to avoid capture by the Romans in A.D. 70…. Methuselah beats out the previous oldest-seed record holder, a lotus tree grown from a 1,300-year-old seed in 1995 by Jane Shen-Miller, a botanist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

The Jerusalem Post has a similar story.