Roman Tombs Found in Bethlehem

Construction work in Bethlehem this weekend revealed a Roman tomb.  From Maan News:

Roman-era catacombs were unearthed in Bethlehem Saturday during construction in an empty lot beside Bethlehem University.
The small underground cave system opens facing north, and held four stone coffins with engravings on each, housed in two separate dug out burial areas.
Head of Antiquates [sic] department in Jericho Wael Hamamrah estimated the artifacts, complete with skeletal remains and some pottery are between 1,800 and 1,900 years old.
Construction workers preparing to lay pipe in the yard called Palestinian tourism and antiquates police when they went to investigate the sudden collapse of earth in an area they had been digging in that morning.

The full story and six enlargeable photos are here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Website and Video: Pope’s Visit to Israel

If you’re interested in the visit of the Catholic Pope to Israel next month, the Israel Ministry of Tourism has established a website: Holyland Pilgrimage: A Bridge for Peace.  Questions of just how interested in peace the pope is have been raised following reports of his plans to meet with a terrorist-supporting mayor in Galilee.

The ministry has also created a 5-minute video in preparation for the visit.  The video features stunning aerial photography of numerous sites in Israel and is worth watching even if the pilgrimage doesn’t get you excited.


Survey of Western Palestine

In this month’s BiblePlaces Newsletter, I commented on the tremendous value of the Survey of Western Palestine (published in the 1880s).  Unfortunately these dozen (or so) volumes are very expensive in reprint form (about $6,000), and it is almost impossible to find the originals for sale.  In about a decade of active searching, I think I’ve only seen it for sale once.  But this week, another copy popped up.  You’ll have to travel to the Netherlands or pay a good bit for shipping, but it’s currently for sale for about $7,000.  That includes the 26 sheets of the map, which itself costs about half of that (when it is available). 

Many of the volumes are now available for free online in pdf format:

An Introduction to the Survey of Western Palestine: Its Waterways, Plains, & Highlands (1881), by T. Saunders (pdf)

The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and 
Archaeology: Galilee (Volume 1) (1881), by C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (pdf)

The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and 
Archaeology: Samaria (Volume 2) (1882), by C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (pdf)

The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and 
Archaeology: Judea (Volume 3) (1883), by C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (pdf)

The Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem (1884), by C. Warren and C. R. Conder (pdf)

The Survey of Western Palestine: The Fauna and Flora of Palestine (1885), by H. B. Tristram (pdf).

The Survey of Western Palestine: Arabic and English Name Lists Collected during the Survey
(1881), by E. H. Palmer (pdf)

Not Presently Available:

Special Papers on Topography, Archaeology, Manners and Customs, etc. (1881), by C. Wilson, C.
Warren, C. R. Conder, et al.

The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoir on the Physical Geology and Geography of Arabia Petraea
(1886), by E. H. Hull

Survey of Eastern Palestine: Topography, Orography, Hydrography and Archaeology: The Adwan
Country (1889), by C. R. Conder

Available from

A General Index to The Memoirs, Vols. 1-3; The Special Papers; The Jerusalem Volume; The Flora
and Fauna of Palestine; The Geological Survey; and to the Arabic and English Names List (info, pdf)

Map of Western Palestine in 26 Sheets from Surveys Conducted for the Committee of the Palestine
Exploration Fund, by C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener (1880).  The CD edition also includes the
map from the Survey of Eastern Palestine (info, order)

Forthcoming from

Excavations at Jerusalem 1867-70 (50 Plates), by C. Warren.


Weekend Roundup

The Jerusalem Post has a tourist article on “Bethsaida.”  The author, a senior fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute in Jerusalem, seems to be completely unaware of the disconnect between the archaeological and textual data that strongly throws into question the excavator’s identification of the site. 

HT: Joe Lauer

Richard Freund, rabbi and archaeologist, will lecture in the Houston area on May 31 on “The Ten Greatest Archeological Finds of the Lands of Israel.”

Shimon Gibson has a new book out just in time for Easter, entitled “The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence.”  As the title suggests, this work explores the archaeological information for crucifixion and burial in Jesus’ day. One of the “discoveries” Gibson allegedly makes is that Jesus was on trial not at the Antonia Fortress but at Herod’s Palace, and this becomes the basis for an Easter story by CNN.  DailyMail has a similar story, but with a nice graphic that shows the alternate views.  (Gibson’s view has been held by many scholars for decades.)  I haven’t seen the book, but knowing Gibson’s usually careful work, I expect that this will be a very good resource for Bible students.  A friend tells me that the book has an up-to-date bibliography.

“No city ever made a more dramatic entrance.”  So begins a article in the Wall Street Journal on Petra, the impressive Nabatean city in modern-day Jordan.

UPDATE (4/14): Joe Lauer sends along a few updates of interest to the Shimon Gibson story above. 

CNN has a 4.5 minute video with Gibson pointing out some of his discoveries.  Haaretz covers the story and includes a quote by Meir Ben-Dov.  Now before I tell you what it is, I’ll just note that whenever a story has a quote by this “senior archaeologist,” you are almost certain to be correct if you take the opposite view (MBD is like Jimmy Carter in that way).  Ben-Dov says that it is “utter nonsense” that the Antonia Fortress is not located next to the Temple Mount.  But, surely he (and the Haaretz article as a whole) has missed the entire point.  The New Testament says that Jesus was condemned by Pilate at the Praetorium.  The question is not where the Antonia Fortress was, but where the Praetorium was.  Gibson, like many scholars for many decades now, believes that the Praetorium was located at Herod’s Palace, south of the modern-day Jaffa Gate.


The Jesus Tomb Unmasked

I have received early word that Expedition Bible has just released The Jesus Tomb Unmasked.  As you might expect from the title, this film reveals many of the falsehoodsunmasked and distortions that were part of the recent sensational “discovery” of the burial place of Jesus, his wife, and his child in Talpiot, south of ancient Jerusalem.

The DVD can be purchased from Amazon for $7 (free shipping) and/or watched for free online.  You can also view a trailer.  The movie features some great footage and interviews with a number of knowledgeable scholars in Jerusalem, including Shimon Gibson, Stephen Pfann, and others.  This movie deserves a much wider circulation than the $3 million production that this one refutes.


Possible Finds of Hezekiah, Mistress of Lionesses, and more

An inscription with six paleo-Hebrew letters has been found in the City of David.  The Israel Antiquities Authority strangely has a press release after the item has already been published in the Israel Exploration Journal (58:48-50) and Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2009).  You can download a photo of the inscription here.  The question of interest to Bible readers is whether the inscription preserves three letters of the name of Hezekiah.  For analysis, I recommend Chris Heard’s blogpost and comments.

A press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University describes a Late Bronze Age plaque that may depict a female king, known in the Amarna Letters as the “mistress of the lionesses.”  A copy of the article includes a high-res version of the plaque drawing.

The British Museum has plans to expand, but the Louvre had more visitors in 2008.

The Turkish Riviera Magazine covers the ancient city of Perge (Perga) in an article that includes some good photographs and diagrams.  Paul visited the city on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).

If you like to read the OT in Hebrew or the NT in Greek, but struggle with the vocabulary, you may have been attracted to one of the new “reader’s Bibles” that defines the less common vocabulary on the same page as the text.  Now John Dyer has created a “make your own” version that looks like it could be quite useful.  Even if you have a “reader’s Bible,” you could print off a chapter of the text instead of carrying multiple Bibles to church.  (It’s a new site, and there may be bugs.  Currently it’s not loading for me in Internet Explorer, but works in Firefox.  To change the reading, select the chapter at the top and type over it.)

Hattips to Joe Lauer, Explorator, and Justin Taylor


Foot-Shaped Stone Enclosures Discovered in Israel

This discovery announced by the University of Haifa today could be very interesting.  There’s not enough information here for me to be bold enough to offer my thoughts, but I look forward to learning more about it. 

The article is entitled “Exceptional Archaeological ‘Foot’ Discovery in Jordan Valley”, and a summary is given:

Researchers at the University of Haifa reveal an exceptional archaeological discovery in the Jordan valley: Enormous “foot-shaped” enclosures identified with the biblical “gilgal” stone structures. “The ‘foot’ structures that we found in the Jordan valley are the first sites that the People of Israel built upon entering Canaan and they testify to the biblical concept of ownership of the land with the foot.”

You can click on over to read the entire article and view the two photographs (large size: 1, 2). 

Among the things I would like to know more about are the locations of the five structures, including how many are in the Jordan Valley.  The skeptic in me wonders how much imagination is required to see a “foot” in each one.  Regardless of the shape, they could be quite helpful in our understanding of ancient Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE: A.D. Riddle sends along the coordinates for a couple of sites that may be among the five. 

You can download them in Google Earth format here.  Both are on the south side of the Wadi Farah (aka Faria), about 3 miles (5 km) north of Alexandrium/Sartaba.

UPDATE (4/9): Joe Lauer sends along notice of a couple of articles on the discovery: Haaretz and Science Daily.


Restoration of Western Wall in Jerusalem

Restoration work is beginning at the Western Wall, and the Israel Antiquities Authority has more information in a press release.  More information about the project is available in two Word documents (zip) and 34 high-res photos are available here (zip).  The photos are identified as follows:

1-8 Western Wall Compound and the Western Wall
9-29 Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall
31 Western Wall Tunnels – Hasmonean aqueduct
32 Western Wall Tunnels – The Model Hall
34 Western Wall Compound Excavations

Most of the photos show general views of the Wall or of the current restoration, but a few are unique angles that you won’t see anywhere else (such as from the top looking down).  A couple of them may make you want to keep your distance from the Wall until the restoration is complete.

From the press release:

The Inauguration of the National Project to Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall and the Establishment of the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department (Minhal Shimur) (April 5, 2009) 
The Western Wall and the monuments around it are among the most important cultural heritage sites in the world. Every year millions of people come to Jerusalem to see them. In order to ensure a safe and comfortable experience, the site should be constantly maintained and new services developed for the benefit of the visitors.
A year ago the Western Wall Heritage Foundation conducted a survey of the state of the wall, which revealed that the physical condition of the stones was deteriorating. It was against this background that the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to take urgent action: the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department conducted an extensive physical and engineering survey of the Western Wall’s condition which culminated in the submission of a work plan. Conservation measures are currently being carried out there.
The work is focusing on the conservation treatment of the stones in the Western Wall and their stability, in accordance with their degree of preservation and the level of risk they present to the visiting public.
The project to conserve the stones in the Western Wall in particular, and the conservation and development of the Western Wall compound in general, is one of the most complex projects of its kind ever undertaken in Israel. The Western Wall compound project is an example of the enormous task that confronts us in conserving and presenting Israel’s cultural heritage. Such a cultural heritage site that is important on both a local and international level which involves large number of visitors, the need for constant maintenance, and the conservation of the Western Wall’s original appearance for us and for posterity, is first and foremost a challenge. This undertaking requires knowledge and professionalism in a wide range of fields.

The article continues here.  For more information and photos about the Western Wall, see this BiblePlaces page, or take a look at how the wall looked in the 1800s and the 1960s.

HT: Joe Lauer


“Qumran and Biblical Interpretation” Conference Schedule

I mentioned this conference before, but now I have received a detailed schedule.  The conference is hosted by Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and the cost is a very reasonable $50 for professionals (non-students), $25 for spouses of registered guests, and $25 for students, and that includes snacks and a banquet meal.  A DVD of the conference is available for $39.95 (with free shipping).  For more information, see the MABTS website.  The line-up represents many of the most important scholars on the Dead Sea Scrolls today.

Thursday April 23, 2009

2:00-2:10 p.m. – Prayer, Welcome, and Instructions

2:10-2:15 p.m. – A Review of the Speakers

2:15-2:45 p.m. Steven L. Cox, Ph.D. Professor of Greek and New Testament, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Cordova, TN. 

“Qumran and its Inhabitants: 170 B.C. – A.D. 70”

2:50-3:30 p.m. Peter Flint, Canada Research Chair of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Director, Dead Sea Scrolls Institute; Professor of Religious Studies, Trinity Western University

“The Three Favorite Books at Qumran. The Accuracy of our Biblical Text and Readings from the Scrolls Adopted by Various English Bible Translations”

3:30-4:00 p.m. Refreshment Break

4:00-4:40 p.m. James VanderKam, Ph.D. John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN

“Eschatology in the Dead Sea Scrolls”

4:40-5:20 p.m. R. Kirk Kilpatrick, Ph.D. Dean of the Masters and Associates Programs, Professor, Department of Old Testament and Hebrew, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Cordova, TN

“The Messiah and the Dead Sea Scrolls”

5:30-6:45 p.m. Banquet Dinner The Betty Howard Room

7:00-7:45 p.m. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Ph.D. Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, New York

“Purity as Separation: Comparing Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament”

7:50-8:30 p.m. Emanuel Tov, Ph.D. Department of Bible, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

“The Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls”

8:35-8:55 p.m. A Panel Discussion with Speakers on Select Topics

Friday, April 24, 2009

8:30-9:10 a.m. Michael R. Spradlin, Ph.D. President, Chairman of the Faculty; Chairman and Professor, Department of Evangelism; Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Practical Theology, and Church History, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Cordova, TN

“The Isaiah Scroll of Qumran: Current Analysis, Opinion, and Implications”

9:15-9:55 a.m. Steven M. Ortiz, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds, Director of the Charles C. Tandy Archaeology Museum, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas

“Myth, Media Hype, and Multivocality: Storytelling and Qumran Archaeology”

10:00-10:40 a.m. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Ph.D. Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, New York

“Israel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jewish History”

10:40-11:15 a.m. Refreshment Break

11:15-11:55 a.m. James VanderKam, Ph.D. John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN

“High Priests in the Dead Sea Scrolls”

12:00-12:40 p.m. Emanuel Tov, Department of Bible, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

“The Scribes of Qumran”