The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Fifteen years ago, virtually no one could see the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In a few years, maybe everyone will be able to, without leaving their home.  From the NY Times:

In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.
Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact….
The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room since they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.
“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”
The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London. Mr. Bearman is also using a specially made, $75,000 spectral camera that can produce a photographic image of previously illegible sections.

The rest of the story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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City of David Excavation Report

Excavations began in the parking lot below Dung Gate in 2003 and were resumed in 2007.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has just released a brief report on the discoveries from the 2007 season.  It should be noted that this report does not include results from 2008.

Excavations in Central Valley, tb051908109
Excavations of area in May 2008

The longest portion of the report concerns the Second Temple period, which is primarily the 1st century A.D.  It reports one of the discoveries:

A large impressive edifice, whose northeastern corner has only been revealed to date, was in the southern unit. The eastern wall of the building (exposed length over 14 m, thickness c. 2 m, height more than 5 m) was built of large roughly dressed fieldstones, some of which were hundreds of kilograms in weight. The northern wall (width c. 1 m) was also preserved to a substantial height. The interior portion of the building, within the limits of the excavated area, indicated that the structure was divided into elongated halls, oriented northwest-southeast.

This is what was hailed in the media as the “palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene,” though as the 1st century ruler’s name is not mentioned in this report, some may have missed the connection.

The period of greater interest given the current discussion of the nature of Jerusalem in the Old Testament period is the section on the Iron Age, quoted here in full.

The remains of the period, exposed in five strata that represented most of the Iron Age, were founded directly on bedrock, marking the earliest settlement in this part of the City of David. This period was mainly characterized in this area by relatively densely built houses of careless and poor construction. The houses, built of one-stone-wide walls, contained a variety of domestic installations. These indicate a residential quarter that existed in the area during this period.
The early phase of the Iron Age was noted for the use of bedrock the builders had employed for setting the buildings’ walls and incorporating it within their built complex of structures. Thus, ‘habitation pockets’, confined between the buildings’ walls and bedrock outcrops, were discovered. This phase was dated earlier than the eighth century BCE, based on the abundance of ceramic finds. The later phase of this period dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE. No building remains from Iron I were discovered.

There are several significant points to note here:

  • The discovery of houses from the Iron Age in Jerusalem is unusual.  In most places, later destruction removed traces of building except for monumental structure (walls, water systems).  The best examples of houses were found on the other (that is, east) side of the City of David in Shiloh’s excavation.
  • Caution should be taken before concluding that because some houses in Jerusalem at this time were of “poor construction,” all were.
  • Some of the material is “earlier than the eighth century,” which means 9th century (or possibly 10th, but distinguishing pottery between the two centuries is problematic at the moment).  This indicates that there was habitation in this area before the expansion in Hezekiah’s day (late 8th century) when the Western Hill was fortified.  This should not be surprising, given indications in the biblical text.
  • That no remains were found from Iron I (or Bronze Age; see end of report) also fits the biblical narrative.  The city of Jebus was small and more closely located to the Gihon Spring when it was captured by David.  The city expanded to the north as David prepared for the construction of the temple.

In other words, the biblical account would lead us to expect to find remains earlier than the 10th century in the City of David, remains from the 10th century and later at the Temple Mount, with a likely “filling in” of habitation between the two sometime after the temple’s construction. 

Admittedly, there are other possibilities, but this one seems quite reasonable, and it appears to fit with the results of this report.

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of the area and the location of these excavations will better understand the last two points with the graphic below, which shows that the excavation area was outside the boundaries of the “City of David.”

Aerial view of City of David, tb010703 givati parking diagram 
Jerusalem from the southwestClick on graphic for high-resolution
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Recommended: Touring in the Golan Heights

The Jerusalem Post has an article about tourism in the Golan Heights, including Mount Hermon, Druze villages, B&Bs in Ramot, wineries and Hammat Gader.

A budding tourist industry, which boasts a ski resort, boutique wineries and posh inns, has sprouted on the unlikely brush and volcanic rock terrain of the Golan Heights, where memories of bloody battles are still fresh.
The Mount Hermon Ski Resort, which peaks at about 2,225 meters above sea level, has some 50 days of good skiing a year, says General Manager Menahem Baruch. The resort draws about 280,000 visitors a year.

Mount Hermon ski area, tb020506986
Mount Hermon ski resort

An intelligence-collecting radar station sits on the mountain’s summit, where, on a good day, a naked eye can see all the way to Damascus. The land is dotted with trenches, foxholes, and a now-empty army base captured by the Syrians in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and later retaken by Israeli troops, at the cost of the lives of more than 100 soldiers.

“The Hermon is not just a ski resort,” Baruch says.

“Since Yom Kippur [War], it has become the eyes of the nation and has taken on the significance and importance of a national site.”

In 1983, there were 6,800 Jews living on the Golan. In 2005, that number had almost tripled to 17,000, who live alongside 20,000 Druse and 2,000 Muslims, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In the past three years, the government has invested NIS 26 million in improving the tourist infrastructure on the Golan. At the end of last year, there were 17 hotels in the Golan and nearby Upper Galilee, with 1,340 rooms available. More than 48,000 people stayed in the area in 2007, according to the Tourism Ministry.

I love the Golan and this article gives only a few of the reasons why.

The rest of the story is here.

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Rabbis Want to Re-Ban Temple Mount Entrance

Haaretz:

Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis are waging a new offensive against Jews visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Chaim Kanievsky and Ovadia Yosef sent a letter recently to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the overseer of holy places in the Western Wall complex, urging him to reiterate the religious decree signed 40 years ago by most rabbis in Israel forbidding Jews from entering the Mount.
The rabbis’ efforts follow the publication in Haaretz last month of the visit of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the son-in-law of prominent U.S. rabbi Moshe Epstein, to the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Tendler was photographed visiting the plaza atop the Mount, where the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine now sits, igniting a firestorm of controversy in the ultra-Orthodox community. Several other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis have ascended the Mount in recent years, including Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiberias, the husband of Elyashiv’s granddaughter.
The rabbis’ statement calls for a complete ban on entering any part of the Temple Mount complex for fear of compromising the “purity” of the area.
The declaration stated that “as time passed, we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies,” referring to the inner sanctuary of the Temple tabernacle.

Temple Mount entrance forbidden by rabbis sign, tb122604453

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Pyramid Pests Prohibited

If you’ve ever been harassed, cheated, bullied, pestered, deceived, or nagged and declared that even one of the wonders of the world was not worth the incessant and undesired attention of the locals, you may now have cause to consider a return visit to the Pyramids of Giza.

The monuments may be glorious, but visiting Egypt’s famed Giza Pyramids has long been a nightmare, with hawkers peddling camel rides and pharaonic trinkets hustling tourists relentlessly at every turn.
But now the hustlers are gone, as Egypt unveiled on Monday the first stage of an elaborate project to modernize the site and make it more tourist-friendly, complete with security cameras and a 12-mile fence with infrared sensors surrounding the site.
“It was a zoo,” Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archaeologist, said of the usual free-for-all at the pyramids. “Now we are protecting both the tourists and the ancient monuments.”
The three Giza Pyramids have long been unusually open for a 5,000-year-old Wonder of the World, especially compared to other world-renowned sites like Greece’s Acropolis, Jerusalem’s Western Wall or Rome’s Colosseum, where security is tight and the movement of visitors is controlled.

The ABC News story continues here.

Three great pyramids from horseback, 89-26tb
Pyramids of Giza
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Conflict Over Upper Room Construction

The Jerusalem Post reports on the legal dispute over the building next to the Upper Room.

An ancient monastery adjacent to where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus ate the Last Supper, has turned into a legal battleground for Catholics and Jews. Last week the High Court of Justice issued a temporary restraining order halting construction work by a Jewish organization in a Franciscan monastery on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion adjacent to the Cenaculum, the Latin term for the room where the Last Supper was held. The court also issued an order preventing the Jewish organization – the Institute for the Study of the Family and Family Laws in Israel – from moving people in to live in the monastery, known as the Franciscan house, just outside the Dormition Church. David Bartholdy, spokesman for Tancredi, a Catholic organization that petitioned the High Court, said the construction infringed on Christians’ freedom of worship. “This is a holy place for Christians of all denominations,” Bartholdy said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “Work being done there is causing serious damage to a monastery with important historical and religious value. Construction workers have already uprooted ancient floor tiling, scraped off a layer of plaster from the walls, broken down antique, chiseled doors, and all this under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority. “The construction work going on at the site raises the suspicion that someone is trying to Judaize a Catholic site and prevent freedom of religious expression.”

The story continues here.

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Shephelah Updates

The Shephelah, or western foothills of Judah, is an ideal site for excavations because of

1) its rich history;

2) its close proximity to universities in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and

3) its moderate climate.  There’s enough work to be done in the Shephelah alone to occupy every archaeologist working in Israel for the next 100 years.

Tel  Aviv University has been approved to renew excavations at Azekah.  Though it is one of the most important sites in the Shephelah, it has only been excavated by Robert Alexander Stuart Macalister in a brief dig more than 100 years ago.  Among other things, Azekah is mentioned in the Bible as near the place of the Philistine encampment when David defeated Goliath.  It was one of the last two cities holding out against Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (see Jeremiah 34:6-7 and Lachish Letter #4).  There are undoubtedly a lot of goodies buried under that pile of dirt.

Azekah from northeast, tb030407700
Azekah from the northeast

Bar Ilan University has been excavating Tel ‘Eton/Tell Aitun under the direction of Avi Faust.  This year was their third season of excavation and they are finding a destruction level as well as a fortress in the style of a four-room house, only larger. The destruction level seems to pre-date Sennacherib’s 701 campaign because pottery is transition form between Lachish III and IV; but also not likely to be Sargon II’s 712/711 campaign since it appears he only visited cities on the coastal plain. Scholars have suggested that the site is biblical Eglon (for more on that, see The Sacred Bridge, 128). The website is viewable in MS Internet Explorer, but not Firefox.

 Tell Aitun, possibly Eglon, from south, tb102900331
Tel ‘Eton, possibly biblical Eglon, from south

Khirbet Qeiyafa, located directly east of Azekah, is being excavated by Yosi Garfinkel of Hebrew University.  They found a four-chambered gate dating to the 10th century B.C. with a casemate wall and two attached buildings. There was no previous occupation and the nearest subsequent occupation is Hellenistic, so it is virtually a single-period site for Iron IIA. They also found an ostracon (inscribed potsherd) with about 4-5 lines of writing, the contents of which are apparently more sensitive than Israel’s plans to bomb Iran.  (This is a good reminder to thank those archaeologists who are quick to share their discoveries with all of their supporters.)  The ostracon will be published by Misgav.

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Jerusalem Updates

Joe Lauer sends along a couple of articles worthy of notice. The excavations at Ramat Rahel are featured in a 3-minute video by infolive.tv.  It begins:

Deep inside of the hills of Jerusalem rests the Kibbutz of Ramat Rachel. Over the past 50 years many archaeologists have realized that hidden beneath this kibbutz are archaeological treasures beyond one’s imagination – the ruins of the palace of one of the king of Judah, along with relics from the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman era. At this site where space and time are mixed within the earth, another hidden treasure long buried underground has recently resurfaced. Just a few days ago, 15 silver coins dating from the Second Temple period were discovered inside of an ancient pot hidden in a columbarium.

The Jerusalem Post has an article on the increase of tourism to sites in east Jerusalem. 

The Company for the Development of East Jerusalem reported 28 percent growth in the number of visitors to the historical sites in and around the Old City’s walls during the first six months of 2008. “More Israelis have rediscovered Jerusalem this year and they visit it more frequently then they used to do in the past,” Gideon Shamir, the company’s director-general, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. During the first half of the year, 143,967 people visited the Ophel Archeological Park, situated at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, a 24% rise over the same period in 2007, the company said. The Old City Ramparts saw 74,728 people walk on them from January to June, a up 29% from the same months in 2007. Both sections of the Promenade begin at the Jaffa Gate; one route passes through the New Gate, Herod’s Gate and the Lions’ Gate (aka St. Stephen’s Gate), and the other stretches from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate. Since January 1, 5,549 people visited Zedekiah’s Cave, which was opened to the public in April 2007. During nine months of activity in 2007 the cave was toured by 9,356 people; visits during April to June 2008 are up 86% from the same period last year.

The article continues here.  I’m certainly happy to see these sites open again, but there has been a price.  Getting into the City of David with a group now requires an advance reservation, a fast pace to stay ahead of countless tour groups, and a wad of cash.  Zedekiah’s Cave cost $1 before it closed in 2000; now they charge $5 a person to keep the lights on and a guard at the door.

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Satellite Imagery plus

A guy discovers a ship 10,000 feet underwater that was sunk 60 years ago – without ever leaving his computer!  Wetherby News has the fascinating story and some potential benefits to archaeologists.  A previous article was in the Times Online.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted a 7-minute movie about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Worldmapper.org has quite a selection of interesting (modern) maps.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Barkay on Temple Denial

Lela Gilbert has an article in the Jerusalem Post on the recent trend of denying that a Jewish temple existed in Jerusalem.  It includes a lengthy interview with archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, and concludes:

IN SPITE of these discoveries, Temple denial remains a growing phenomenon in Europe and America, particularly in leftist intellectual circles. It is supported by the reality that there are no visible remains of the temples of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Barkay contends that there were remains still visible in the 1960s and 1970s, which have either been removed or covered up by gardens.
“The Islamic Wakf says, ‘We are not going to let you dig, but show us any remains of the Temple.’ You cannot have it both ways. If you don’t allow people to dig, then don’t use this absence of remains as an argument.
“Temple denial is a very tragic harnessing of politics to change history. It is not a different interpretation of historical events or archeological evidence. This is something major. I think that Temple denial is more serious and more dangerous than Holocaust denial. Why? Because for the Holocaust there are still living witnesses. There are photographs; there are archives; there are the soldiers who released the prisoners; there are testimonies from the Nazis themselves. There were trials, a whole series of them, starting with Nuremberg. There are people who survived the Holocaust still among us. Concerning the Temple, there are no people among us who remember.
“Still, [to deny the Temples], you have to dismiss the evidence of Flavius Josephus; you have to dismiss the evidence of the Mishna and of the Talmud; and you have to dismiss the writings of Roman and Greek historians who mention the Temple of Jerusalem. And you have to dismiss The Bible. That is, I think, way too much.”

Previous related post: Muslims Recognize Temple’s Existence

HT: Joe Lauer

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