The Bones and Face of the Apostle Paul

According to the Vatican, the traditional “tomb of Paul” has been authenticated.  Pope Benedict XVI announced that “tiny fragments of bone . . . belong to someone who lived in the first or second century.”  “This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle St. Paul.” 

The skeptical would note that a lot of people lived in the first and second centuries.  However, these bones were within a tomb traditionally identified with Paul.  I wouldn’t call that proof, but it seems to point in the direction of authenticity.  At least, it is unlikely that somebody in the Middle Ages set this all up.  CNN has a report.

Additionally, what is believed to be the earliest portrait of Paul was unveiled.  The painting dates to the 4th century and shows the apostle with a thin face and a dark pointy beard.  You can see for yourself here.

Previous coverage of the excavation of Paul’s tomb was mentioned here and here.

Share:

New DVD: Jericho Unearthed

Expedition Bible has just released a new DVD entitled “Jericho Unearthed.”  Filmed on location, the video features interviews with archaeologists who argue for and against the site’s destruction by the Israelites as described in the book of Joshua.  From the website:jericho_unearthed

The battle of Jericho is one of the most enduring biblical stories.  The description of the “walls falling down” is among its most well-known accounts.   Yet, the most famous excavation of this ancient site, carried out in the 1950’s under the direction of Kathleen Kenyon, claims that there wasn’t even a city at Jericho—much less city walls—at the time when Joshua supposedly conquered it.  What are the implications of the battle of Jericho being disproven?  Wouldn’t the Bible be demonstrated untrustworthy? Couldn’t it be argued that the Jewish people have no more right to the land of Israel than anyone else? The implications really are staggering! For more than fifty years scholars have built a wall of doubt against the historical accuracy of the Bible using Jericho as one of its cornerstones. It’s time to face those challenges head on!  It’s time to determine whether or not the conclusions of modern scholarship stand in light of the evidence or if those arguments don’t in fact collapse like Jericho’s walls. 

You can view the trailer here, or order the DVD from Amazon for $7.  I haven’t seen the video itself, but based upon the previous work of Expedition Bible, I would expect that this is the best resource available on the subject.

Share:

Pompeii’s Dead

A new book on Pompeii by classics scholar Mary Beard of Cambridge University is considered in a travel article in the Globe and Mail.  Beard believes that most of those who died were either slaves or those who intentionally chose to take their chances. 

Beard argues that Pompeii’s population was smaller than previously thought, about 12,000, and that most escaped the volcanic eruption, taking the bulk of their possessions with them.
That would explain why relatively few corpses (1,100) and household effects were later found. Some citizens and slaves – half the population were slaves, many of them Jews brought from Israel after the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD – must have been stranded or chosen to stay. There were, after all, remains of 21 fresh bread loaves found in Pompeii’s ovens, when excavations began in the mid-18th century.
Beard’s book is too new to have changed the way local tour guides and historians treat the Pompeii saga, but for anyone contemplating a visit to one of the world’s greatest archeological sites, it’s a useful read.

The article continues with a look at the nearby ruins of Herculaneum and the modern city of Naples. 

It ends with advice that I wish someone had given me: do not even think about driving a car in Naples.

Mt Vesuvius from south, tb111705547ddd Mount Vesuvius from the south

HT: Explorator

Share:

Bronze Age Tomb Found in Bethlehem

From the Associated Press:

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Workers renovating a house in the traditional town of Jesus’ birth accidentally discovered an untouched ancient tomb containing clay pots, plates, beads and the bones of two humans, a Palestinian antiquities official said Tuesday.

The 4,000-year-old tomb provides a glimpse of the burial customs of the area’s inhabitants during the Canaanite period, said Mohammed Ghayyada, director of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Workers in a house near the Church of the Nativity uncovered a hole leading to the grave, which was about one meter (yard) below ground, he said. They contacted antiquities officials, who photographed the grave intact before removing its contents.
They dated the grave to the Early Bronze Age, between 1,900 B.C. and 2,200 B.C.
Jerusalem-based archaeologist and historian Stephen Pfann called the find “an important reference to the life of the Canaanites,” adding that it could give a glimpse into life in the area before the time when the Biblical patriarchs are said to have lived.
While many artifacts exist from this period, intact graves are rare, mainly because of looting, he said.

The article continues here (and another photo here).  A few comments:

The tomb dates to the Intermediate Bronze period, also confusingly known as Early Bronze IV or Middle Bronze I.  Many tombs from this period, including intact ones, have been found throughout Israel.  In fact, this period is primarily known from its cemeteries, with relatively few settlements discovered.  (See this post for photos of a cemetery from this period found a couple of years ago in Jerusalem.)

More importantly, this tomb indicates an early presence in the city that later came to be known as Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth.  I don’t see anything about material from this period in NEAEH, which may indicate the significance of this discovery.

HT: Joe Lauer

Share:

Athens Acropolis Museum Opens

The long-awaited New Acropolis Museum in Athens opened this weekend after years of delay.  The Greeks say they didn’t “build it for the British,” but they intend it to be a strong argument for the return of the Elgin Marbles.  From the New York Times:

The museum, which cost $200 million and sits near the base of the Acropolis with a direct view of the Parthenon, is one of the highest-profile cultural projects undertaken in Europe in this decade.
Intended as “the ultimate showcase of classical civilization,” Mr. Samaras said, it was built to promote tourism and, like any large, government-financed museum, to stir national pride. But it was also meant, not incidentally, to spark discomfort in another country in the European Union.
“We didn’t build this for the sake of the British,” Mr. Samaras said in an interview, adding at once, “but look around: does this not negate the argument that Athens has no place good enough to house the Parthenon Marbles?”…
The new museum, 226,000 square feet of glass and concrete designed by the New York architect Bernard Tschumi, replaces the old Acropolis Museum, a small 1874 building tucked into the rock of the Acropolis next to the Parthenon. The design, introduced in 2001, was meant to be completed in time for the 2004 Olympics, but dozens of legal battles — many having to do with some 25 buildings that were demolished to make room for it — delayed the process for years.
Even now, not all Athenians are happy with the building, wedged in as it is among apartment buildings in a middle-class residential district. “It is as if a titanic U.F.O. landed in the neighborhood, obliterating all of its surrounding structures,” said Nikos Dimou, a prominent Greek author.
The museum has five floors (including two basement levels that will not be open at first), which provide space for 4,000 artifacts, 10 times the number displayed in the old building. On the first level a glass floor offers visitors close-up views of an early Christian settlement, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries, that was discovered under part of the future building’s footprint during excavations in 2002.

The Times article includes a slideshow with nine photos.

HT: Explorator

Share:

Roman Quarry = Ancient Gilgal?

Does the newly discovered Roman quarry mark biblical Gilgal?  The excavator thinks this is possible.  From Haaretz:

Zertal says their working theory is that the site is Galgala, biblical Gilgal, mentioned on the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map. The cave, buried 10 meters underground, is about 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4 meters high, is the largest artificial cave so far discovered in Israel.
Potsherds found in the cave and the carvings on the columns led Zertal to date the first quarrying of the cave to around the beginning of the Common Era. It was used mainly as a quarry for 400 to 500 years,” but other finds give the impression it was used for other purposes, perhaps a monastery or even a hiding place,” Zertal said.
Zertal said scholars wondered why people would dig a quarry underground considering the effort needed to just to pull the stones out of the ground.
A possible answer may be in the famous Madaba Map of ancient Palestine, found in Jordan. In it, a place named Galgala is marked and an accompanying Greek word meaning “12 stones.” The map also depicts a church near the site. Archaeologists say they have found two ancient churches near the cave.
According to Zertal, scholars had always assumed that “12 stones” refered to the biblical story of the 12 stones the Israelites set up at Gilgal after they crossed the Jordan.
However, the discovery of the quarried cave may mean the reference was to a quarry established where the Byzantines identified Gilgal. Zertal explains that in antiquity sanctuaries were built out of stones from sacred places.

The rest of the article is here

I would note that there is sometimes a big difference between a biblical site and what Byzantines thought was a biblical site.  In any case, the quarry’s location, 3 miles north of Jericho, is approximately where biblical scholars have supposed ancient Gilgal may have been located.  What has always been lacking is any archaeological evidence for a site from the time of Joshua.  A Roman quarry does not provide that evidence, but it may be a step in the right direction.

References to Gilgal in the Bible include Josh 4:19-20, Josh 10:6-7, 1 Sam 11:14-15, 1 Sam 13:4-15, 2 Sam 19:15; 2 Kings 2:1, Hos 4:15, and Amos 4:4.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (6/22): Thanks to Joe Lauer for sending along links to articles with photos.  The University of Haifa has issued a press release which includes four high-resolution photos.  Ynet includes a slideshow with six images, including one of the cave’s entrance.

UPDATE (6/25): National Geographic has an article about the discovery, including some quotations from Jodi Magness.

Medeba map Jericho and Gilgal area, tb053108977Jericho and Gilgal on the Medeba Map
Outlined in red is “Gilgal, also the Twelve Stones”
Below and to the right is the city of “Jericho,” surrounded by palm trees
The Jordan River is at the top, with the fish on the right swimming away from the Dead Sea

For more about the Medeba Map, see this BiblePlaces page.

Share:

Roman Quarry Found near Jericho

The largest manmade cave in Israel was found 3 miles north of Jericho, and may have been used as a monastery in later years.  From the Jerusalem Post:

An artificial underground cave, the largest of its kind in Israel, was discovered in the Jordan Valley during excavations by the Haifa University’s Department of Archaeology. Prof. Adam Zertal, who headed the dig, assessed that the cave was used as a quarry in the Roman era. Various carvings were found on the cave’s walls, including some of crosses, leading to the notion that the cave might have also hosted an ancient monastery. The cave, sprawling over four dunams [1 acre] ten meters [32 feet] under the face of earth, is located some four kilometers [2.5 miles] north of Jericho. It was discovered at the end of March 2009 as part of a Haifa University dig which began in 1978, and is the largest man-made cave ever uncovered in Israel. The cave’s main hall is supported by 22 pillars, on which are engraved 31 crosses, a zodiac-like symbol, roman numerals and a Roman legion’s pennant. Judging by the findings, Prof. Zertal dated the cavern to around 1 CE. "Initially, the place was utilized as a quarry, which was active for 400-500 years. But the other findings definitely give the impression that the cave was used for other purposes, such as a monastery, and perhaps even a hideaway," said Zertal.

The story is also covered by Haaretz and Reuters.

Share:

Battle over Megiddo International Airport

This article will set some to thinking about how their tour itineraries will change.  Others will wonder how this might play into the fulfillment of the “battle of Armageddon.”  From the Jerusalem Post:

A battle is raging over the pending construction of a new international airport in Megiddo, in the Jezreel Valley.
According to the Transportation Ministry, the number of people flying to and from Israel annually is expected to double, from 15 million to 30 million, in the next 20 years, creating urgent necessity for a new airport. The regional council in Megiddo, however, vehemently opposes the initiative.
“It [the airport] is absolutely absurd and does not serve the national interest of the State of Israel, which is the preservation of open areas, including the preservation of the significant agricultural land reserves of the Jezreel Valley, tourism development and rural areas with ecological environmental sensitivity,” the Megiddo regional council said in a statement this week.
Though officials say the airport would undoubtedly increase tourism to the area, local authorities, residents and environmental organizations are actively opposing its construction. Yoel Sigal, the strategic planner for the Megiddo Municipality, is leading the campaign against the project.
“The selling of the Jezreel Valley” represents one of the worst elements of Israeli development policy, he said on Tuesday. Under the National Development Plan, the valley is defined as an area for farming. If the region became an urban center, it would effectively merge Afula, Nazareth and Haifa and would destroy one of the most important agricultural zones of the country, he said.
Furthermore, the airport project would reduce agricultural output and add to the country’s increasing dependency on imported field crops.
Previous transportation minister Shaul Mofaz appointed former OC air force Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger to head a committee on the future of air transport in Israel. The Bodinger Committee’s recommendation to build an international airport in Megiddo was approved by the cabinet on February 1.
The 400-dunam (40 hectare) airport site, which is 60 km. away from Ben-Gurion Airport, is projected to cost $35 million. It is not at the same location as the existing Megiddo Airport, which handles local traffic.

Continue reading here.

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley aerial from west, tb121704968

Megiddo and Jezreel Valley, view to northeast
Share:

Hazor and the James Ossuary

Gordon Franz has just posted three transcribed interviews with staff members of the Hazor excavations, including Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and Orna Cohen.  

“Hazor is Number One…”: An interview with Amnon Ben-Tor

“Where is the Archive at Hazor?”: An interview with Sharon Zuckerman

“It is the Best Job in the World”: An interview with Orna Cohen

Cohen is a conservator, and she comments on the controversy of the James Ossuary.  She believes that the second half of the inscription is original, but the first part is forged.

I had the pleasure of looking at and checking the James Ossuary and I gave my comments on it.  I think the ossuary is authentic and a real one, but the inscription on it, I am convinced there are two hands that wrote the inscription.  To my opinion, part of the inscription is faked, part is original.  Of course, there are things that go on in trial now.  They are still trying to figure out what is faked and by whom it was made.  To my opinion, the name Joshua [on the ossuary] is real.  The inscription reads: “Ya’acov bar Yosef achi Yehoshua.”  [Translation: Jacob, or James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus].  So the first part, I think is added.  My professional opinion is almost against all the others that think the last name [on the inscription]; “bother of Jesus” (Joshua) is a fake.  So my opinion was against the others [at the trial].  I checked and it’s according to the patina in the letters.  There was a fake patina of just dirt that was put in these letters on purpose so I cleaned part of it and underneath there was the original, yellowish patina that based on my experience, was the original one.  It was not on the first part of the inscription but it was on the last part of the inscription.  That is what I gave as my opinion.

Share:

Ancient Mosaic from Lod to be Conserved

A beautiful and well preserved mosaic from about A.D. 300 from Lod will be fully excavated and preserved in the next few years following a large grant from the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White – Chairman of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The mosaic will become the centerpiece of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.  The Israel Antiquities Authority press release gives some of the background and a link to two high-resolution images (zip). 

HT: Joe Lauer

Share: