Autumn Nights in the Old City of Jerusalem

If you want to avoid the crowds and get a different glimpse of Jerusalem, there are some great opportunities in the Old City for the next two weeks.  From the JPost:

After putting their heads together, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the municipal Tourism Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the municipal company Ariel came up with a brilliant move called Autumn Nights in the Old City. Successful beyond their wildest dreams, it consists of special (free) Monday and Thursday programs offered from the beginning of September until the end of October. Among the goodies are two light-hearted guided tours, evening performances of vastly diverse music programs and discounted museums kept open until evening.

The article has lots of details of the sites that are open and the costs.  If you like to take photographs, I’d recommend the Ramparts Walk and the Tower of David.

Temple Mount southwestern corner at night, tb031505525ddd
Temple Mount and excavations from southwest

Extreme Israel

If you’ve already been to Israel and you’re young (at least in spirit), you might consider doing something “extreme” on your next visit.  With tourism booming again, there are more and more opportunities for those who don’t know what they’re doing.  The New York Times recently had an article on a variety of options for thrill-seekers, including rappelling, zip-lining, hiking, skydiving, mountain biking, and snuba-ing.  Who wants to go look at an old pile of rocks with so many other possibilities?

Rappelling at Qumran, tb051106052

Rappelling near Qumran

New Photo CD: Views That Have Vanished (1960s)

After four years of development, I am pleased to announce the latest CD produced by 

Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin is a collection of never-before-seen photographs taken in Israel and the surrounding areas in the 1960s. 

The CD is full of unique shots and beautiful views from a land that has changed dramatically in the last four decades. 

You can read more about the collection on’s companion site,, and see some “then and now” shots here

A word about the price.  The collection includes more than 700 photographs, yet we are selling the CD for only $20 (through October 31).  That includes free shipping in the U.S.  The CD is worth much more than this—we guarantee it.  For less than 3 cents a photo, you get everything in high-resolution jpg format and PowerPoint files, with notes by David Bivin and me. 

Two “Then and Now” presentations were a late addition and a bonus to the collection.  The CD is so packed that we had to put one of the “Then and Now” presentations online, because we did not want to leave out anything else (the link to that presentation is on the CD).

We have previously featured photographs from this collection on this blog here and here.

Take a look.  We think you’ll love it as much as we do!


“Son of the High Priest”: Sarcophagus Fragment Found

Arutz-7 reports:

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a sarcofagus – a stone coffin – belonging to a son of a High Priest.  The visible inscription reads, “the son of the High Priest” – but the words before it are broken off.  It thus cannot be ascertained which High Priest is referred to, nor the name or age of the deceased…
The precise location of the find is not being released, for security reasons. 
The sarcophagus cover fragment – 60 centimeters (2 feet) long by 48 centimeters (19 inches) wide – is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned, and bears a carved inscription in Hebrew letters that are both similar to today’s script and typical of the Second Temple period.
A number of High Priests served in the Temple in its final decades – it was destroyed in 70 C.E. – and there is no way of knowing which one is noted in the fragment.  Among the known High Priests of the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) ben Chanan, Shimon ben Baitus, Chanan ben Chanan and others…
Other discoveries at the site include public and residential buildings, agricultural installations, pools and cisterns.

Tombs from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. are very common in Jerusalem.  There was a large upper class that built lavish stone tombs, approximately 1,000 of which have been found.

The full story (and a tiny photo) is here.

UPDATE: The Israel Antiquities Authority press release includes a link to a zip file with three high-res photos, including one of the excavation site and two of the inscription. 

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (10/8): Haaretz has the story with some new details, and the Jerusalem Post has a 2-minute video about the excavation and discovery.


Jehoash Inscription: Geologists Think Authentic

Five years ago, a big stir was created with the announcement of the existence of the Jehoash Inscription.  The tablet was so exciting because it appeared to come from the Jerusalem temple, dating to approximately 800 B.C., and paralleling 2 Kings 12:12.

The inscription, however, had problems.  The chief one was that it surfaced in the hands of an antiquities collector, not in a controlled archaeological dig.  That by itself is enough for some to deny the authenticity of the artifact, even though many demonstrably authentic objects were recovered illegally.

Another problem was the stone itself and the patina (sheen produced by age).  Though the first geologists to study the inscription said it was ancient, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued a report concluding that the inscription was a modern forgery.  60 Minutes aired a horrible report (regardless of conclusion, the report was dishonest) which included an interview with a man claimed to have created the inscription.

To me, the most interesting part of all of this has been the way one side has acted on the matter. And I don’t mean the 60 Minutes crew (who merit only the lowest of expectations anyway).  There are some professionals who have acted as if they have a lot to lose if this inscription is authentic.  On the other hand, those who think the inscription may be ancient appear to me to desire simply that the proper studies be done.  Some professionals apparently think that a few tests are sufficient, after which all discussion must be silenced and all tests denied.

Which means their dander is up after another study was published this summer in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  The conclusion of the five geologists who wrote the article is that the inscription is likely ancient.  The pdf is available for a fee, but the abstract is online:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina that includes calcite, dolomite, quartz and feldspar grains, iron oxides, carbon ash particles, microorganisms, and gold globules (1–4 μm in diameter). There are two types of patina present: thin layers of a black to orange-brown, iron oxide-rich patina, a product of micro-biogenetical activity, as well as a light beige patina mainly composed of carbonates, quartz and feldspar grains. The patina covers the rock surfaces and inscription grooves post-dating the incised inscription as well as a fissure that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yields a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340–2150 Cal BP and a conventional radiocarbon age of 2250 ± 40 years BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of melting (above 1000 °C) indicates a thermal event. This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic.

Let the studies continue!  When there is a “reasonable doubt” about authenticity, it is anti-scientific and anti-academic to try to prevent further investigation.

(Note: the trial against the alleged forgers is going on three years and running, which suggests, to me at least, that the evidence is not as iron-clad as the prosecutors and their fans have insisted.)


Sea of Galilee Down 6 Feet in 6 Months

Since April 3 this year, the Sea of Galilee has dropped 6.4 feet (2.0 m), a new record for the size of drop in this amount of time.  Israel has had four years of below average rainfall.  If the water level drops another 2.6 feet (0.82 m), all pumping from the lake will cease.  The Jerusalem Post reports:

The water level in Lake Kinneret dropped two meters this year, the Water Authority said Thursday, a steeper annual drop than in any previous year.
The hydrological year ended on September 30 with the Kinneret at 214.05 meters below sea level, down from its height of 212.05 meters below sea level reached on April 3.
The Kinneret’s “black line,” newly coined this year, is 214.87 meters below sea level. When the black line is reached, the pumps in the lake are exposed to the air, and they can no longer send water into the National Water Carrier.
In July, the lake dropped below the “red line,” at which the concentration of pollutants rises to undesirable levels.
Since spring 2004 the Kinneret has lost 5.13 meters, which is equivalent to 850 million cubic meters of water, the authority said. That is roughly equivalent to an entire year’s worth of household water use.
This was the fourth consecutive year of dwindling rainfall and the forecast for the next couple of years is just as bleak.

You can read the rest here.

Sea of Galilee at dusk, tb040306012ddd