Tiberias Gate and Theater

One of the sites in Israel with the most productive excavations in the last two years is Tiberias. 

Founded in AD 19 by Herod Antipas and named after the Roman emperor, the city of Tiberias quickly became an important center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Its significance continued through the first millennium with the production of the Masoretic Text here.

Unfortunately, most visible remains in the city have been from the medieval period and later.  Recent excavations, however, have revealed substantial remains of the south gate and bridge, as well as the Roman theater.  The origins of these structures date to the 1st century.

Biblewalks.com has excellent descriptions and photographs of these recent discoveries.  If you’ve been to Tiberias but not seen these latest finds, you can do no better than spend a few minutes browsing the pages about Tiberias, the south gate, and the theater

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The Most Disagreeable Beast

Camels fording stream, Elah Valley, mat01310 Camels fording Elah Brook, early 1900s

“Of all the burden-bearing beasts, from the Siam elephant to the Himmaleh goat, this ‘ship of the desert,’ as he has been poetically termed,-this clumsy-joined, splay-footed, wry-necked, vicious camel, with its look of injured innocence, and harsh, complaining voice, is incomparably the most disagreeable.

“Loud have been the praises of its submissive and self-sacrificing spirit, all gentleness and sagacity; its power of enduring hunger and thirst for an indefinite period, and its unwearied tramp day after day through the smiting sun and over the burning sands of the desert; but this animal is anything but patient or uncomplaining. As to the enormous weight it can carry, we have heard it growl in expostulation at a load which the common ‘kadish’ (Syrian pack-horse) would be mortified to have allotted to him as suited to his thews and sinews” –W. F. Lynch, Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea (1849): 222.

The photo and quotation are taken from the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01310).

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Best of 2009: Books, Software, Photo CDs

This list isn’t comprehensive, but these are works I noted as I reviewed the posts for this year on the BiblePlaces Blog.  Feel free to suggest other valuable works in the comments below.

Books of the Year:

Barry Beitzel, The New Moody Atlas of the Bible – The long-awaited second edition is now available.

Hanan Eshel’s three field guides on Masada, Ein Gedi, and Qumran – There is nothing better for a quick but careful review of these important sites near the Dead Sea.

John Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament – The bar has forever been raised for illustrated works on the Old Testament.  Purge all of those references in
your books and syllabi to ANEP.

Anne Spangler and Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus This is a great little book for those who want to see background information applied to Scripture, and in a very readable style.

James Martin, John Beck, and David Hansen, A Visual Guide to Bible Events  – If you believe that there’s a reason for everything, you’ll love this book which shows you in story after story why the geography matters.  Along the way, you’ll enjoy beautiful and instructive photographs and maps.

Best Bible Software of the Year:

Bible Mapper 4 – The best software for making your own maps is now better.  Bonus: you can use these maps without restriction.

Glo – Interactive Bible software that puts the Bible together with videos, reconstructions, photographs, and more in an impressive and immersive experience. (And now only $50 at Amazon.)

Logos 4 – The whole program has been re-engineered to take advantage of the latest in computing technology.  I haven’t installed it yet, but word on the street is that the program is significantly better than the previous version.

BibleWorks 8 – The best software for exegesis of Scripture now includes the best Hebrew and Greek grammars.

Best Photo CDs of the Year:


The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Vol. 2: Jerusalem – Not less than 700 images hand-picked from thousands of photographs taken by a group of resident photographers from 1898 to 1946.


The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Vol. 6: Traditional Life and Customs – These are photographs that you thought you’d never see.

I’m more than a little biased on this last category, but I’m happy to welcome any challengers in the comments below.

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Top Discoveries of 2009

National Geographic has posted their top 10 discoveries of the broader archaeological world, and that has prompted me to create a list of the 9 most important discoveries from 2009 related to the biblical world.  It is too difficult to rank these, especially as the significance of some of them is not yet fully known.  The order follows the chronology as they were mentioned on this blog, from February to December.

1. Heliodorus Stele Discovered – This temple inscription from Maresha-Beit Guvrin features a proclamation from Seleucus IV and dates to 178 BC.

2. Foot-Shaped Stone Enclosures Discovered in Israel – Five large stone enclosures were discovered in and near the Jordan Valley.  From the air, they look like footprints.  They appear to date from the period when Israel was recently settled in the land.

3. Seal of Saul Found in Jerusalem – Seals with personal names from the biblical period in Jerusalem continue to be helpful. Apparently Judeans in the time of Hezekiah were still naming their sons after Israel’s failed monarch.

4. Cryptic Ten-Line Inscription Found on Mount Zion – This lengthy inscription from the 1st century AD continues to confound scholars.

5. Middle Bronze Passageway Found in City of David – This discovery solves the problem of how the Jerusalem inhabitants accessed the secure water source in the 18th century BC.  What’s not new, but still most impressive, is the monumental construction found in the city.

6. First-Century Synagogue in Magdala – Dozens of synagogues exist in Galilee from later periods, but this is now an excellent example of one from the time of Jesus, and at a place that he almost certainly visited.

7. Temple Mount – This makes the list because of the collective discoveries, not only on the platform itself, but also in the debris sifting operation.  Some of the finds made have not yet been publicized.

8. Minoan-Style Wall Paintings on Israel’s Coast – Canaanite rulers on the coast liked the decorating style of the Cretans.

9. First-Century House in Nazareth – The first residential structure from the time of Jesus will not only help scholars understand the ancient village but will become a popular destination for pilgrims.

If you think something else should be added (or substituted), feel free to note that in the comments. 

Likewise, if you see a similar list elsewhere, include that link in the comments. 

Other Important Posts of the Year: (in reverse chronological order)

Leper Wrapped in Cloth Buried in Jerusalem – A new scientific publication on a decade-old discovery brings renewed attention.

Photos from Israel in 1948 – Ben Atlas has created several sets of images from the huge Life Magazine online archive.

Qeiyafa: Survey vs. Excavation – The results don’t differ a little, but they contradict each other in each period.

Qeiyafa Inscription Details – This ostracon from c. 1000 BC is difficult to decipher.

“Joseph’s Coins” – This story would have fared better if it had been released on April 1.

Bar Kochba Coin Cache Discovered – An outstanding collection of coins from the 2nd century AD were found in a cave in the Judean hills.

The James Ossuary Inscription Proven Fraudulent in Court of Law – Oh, wait, that’s never happened.  Apparently the prosecution is less than convincing.

Virtual Walking Tour of Temple Mount – In some ways, this is better than visiting the Jerusalem holy place in person.

Alexander the Great Carving Found at Dor – A very tiny gemstone with a portrait on the Greek conqueror attests to the abilities of the artist.

Aphrodite and Odeon Found at Hippos – This Roman-Byzantine city overlooking the Sea of Galilee is home to beautiful discoveries large and small.

Another Herodian Quarry Found in Jerusalem – This quarter-acre quarry north of the Old City might have made the list of top discoveries if several other Herodian quarries had not been found in recent years.

The Bones and Face of the Apostle Paul – Excavators found the remains of a person dating to the right period at the traditional location of Paul’s burial site.

Roman Quarry = Ancient Gilgal? – Archaeologists have proposed a connection between this underground quarry and the missing site of Gilgal.

Survey of Western Palestine – This post gathers together known links to electronic versions now available online for free.

Norman Golb’s Son Arrested on Charges of Impersonation – Bloggers suspicious of hundreds of comments and links in the past few years were not surprised to learn that they apparently are all the
work of a single individual.

That Rope Around the High Priest’s Ankle – It didn’t exist.

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Weekend Roundup

The Jerusalem Post has a story on the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.  If you haven’t been to this one yet, try to get there at the next opportunity.

A preliminary report of the Western Wall Plaza Excavations (2005-2009) is now available at Hadashot Arkheologiyot.  Among other things, they’ve uncovered a four(?)-room house from the late Iron Age.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1. Excavation Report 2007–2008 is now available from the Israel Exploration Society.  The cost is $72 ($54 to members of the Israel Exploration Society), airmail postage $13. You can contact IES for more information.

Was Qumran home to the Essenes, or was it a fortress?  Or maybe a place of manufacturing perfume, or was it pottery?  These and other views are considered in an article in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Paleojudaica has an update on the fabric of the Turin Shroud (noted here previously), but it doesn’t seem to clear the air.

I have a very aggressive travel schedule for the next three weeks, so I don’t expect to have much time to post.  I have prepared some interesting posts and photos for my absence, and if I see anything of interest (and time permits), I’ll note it here.  I’ll start things off tomorrow with my top 9 archaeological discoveries for 2009.

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Merry Christmas

Native home near Bethlehem, mat05495 Nativity scene in Bethlehem, early 1900s

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).

The photograph is taken from the “Christmas Story” on the Traditional Life and Customs volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05495).

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Israel’s Three-Year Tourism Plan

From the Jerusalem Post:

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov presented his ministry’s three-year plan to boost tourism at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. The plan, which aims to bring in an additional one million foreign tourists by 2012, focuses mostly on attracting tourists who come to Israel for religious, historical and cultural purposes. According to Misezhnikov, the boost in numbers will garner NIS 4.5 billion in income and create 40,000 new jobs, especially in Jerusalem and the periphery. "The Tourism Ministry is an economic portfolio," he said. "As such, it is measured according to two main parameters: creating jobs and balancing income with expenses. For every 100,000 tourists, 4,000 jobs are created and NIS 450 million are invested in the Israeli economy." The plan calls for the branding of Israel as a destination for dahat tourism, a Hebrew acronym for religion, history and culture. Misezhnikov said his office had identified Israel’s central role in Judaism and Christianity and its rich historic and cultural legacy as the main attraction for tourists. "We have no relative advantage over other countries in terms of vistas, beaches or leisure," he said. "On the contrary, we are at a disadvantage compared to some of our neighbors because of our troublesome security situation, our relatively high prices and our image of being inhospitable to tourists." [. . .] The US was the largest country of origin for incoming tourism, with 550,000 visitors, or 21% of all incoming tourism. Russia was second, with 400,000 visitors; France was third, with 260,000; followed by the UK, with 170,000; and Germany, with Thirty-nine percent of incoming tourists were Jewish, 54% Christian and the remainder either from other religions or with no religious affiliation. Nearly half of the tourists were visiting Israel for the first time. Nearly a quarter of the tourists said the purpose of their visit was for holiday and leisure, 31% for pilgrimage and 6% for touring and sightseeing. The average foreign tourist expenditure in Israel in 2009 was $1,083, including overseas expenses. The average daily expenditure was about $100.

The full story is here.

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Scribe at Work in Masada Synagogue

Visitors to the Masada synagogue will be able to watch a scribe making a copy of a Torah scroll. 

From Arutz-7:

A ritual scribe has begun spending his days behind a glass wall in the famous Masada synagogue – writing a Torah scroll to be installed there.
The young scribe, Shai Abramovitch, moved from the northern city of Tzfat, together with his wife and three young children, to the Negev city of Arad, in order to be able to carry out and complete the project. He will make the 45-minute Arad-Massada trek each morning after immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath) – a customary prelude to ritual scribes’ work – and will return after seven and a half hours of painstaking writing.
His glass-enclosed“office” is in the very spot used as a synagogue by hundreds of Jews who found refuge from the Romans on Masada some 2,000 years ago. Hard at work throughout the day, the scribe can be seen through the glass by the many tourists who visit the famous site.
Rabbi Abramovitch’s job “is not easy,” commented Rabbi Shimon Elharar, director of the closest Chabad chapter, Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea. “There are at least 800,000 people a year who come through that synagogue, and he will be working in a place designed somewhat like an incubator. It’s a little like working in an aquarium.”
In addition, scribe Abramovitch takes a break a few times a day to come out and explain the holy work of writing Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot and more.

The story continues here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Coptic Crypt or Secular Cellar?

Haaretz reports on a battle between an Old City shopkeeper and the Coptic monks of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In the next few weeks, between making decisions about the deal for captive soldier Gilad Shalit, the settlement freeze and renewal of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to make another fateful decision: Is the cellar beneath Abed Hirbawi’s East Jerusalem shop holy ground?
The decision will supposedly put an end to a strange, 13-year-old affair. Hirbawi and his landlord, Abdullah Buderi, claim the basement belongs to their shop, and that Coptic monks have invaded it. The Coptic Church says it was Muslims who invaded the cellar, which used to be a sanctuary belonging to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.
Both sides have submitted a wealth of documents to the courts – and to a lawyer, on behalf of the prime minister. The documents include an order from Muslim general Saladin, sharia court rulings from the late Middle Ages, ancient maps, Turkish deeds of ownership, scientific articles and sworn declarations from Israeli experts on archaeology, theology and history.
Hirbawi, a well-known businessman, relates that in July 1996, he heard noises beneath his shop. When he peeked though the floor, he saw several dozen monks digging under his feet. According to associates of Mutran Anba Abra’am, the metropolitan of the Coptic Church in Jerusalem, they were innocently carrying out work in the church-cellar when Hirbawi and others attacked them with knives, injuring a monk.
[. . .]
Yehoshua says the cellar served as a quarry during both the First and Second Temple periods, but during the latter, some of it was used as a burial cave. A structure was built on top by the Crusaders in the Middle Ages, and subsequently a plant for grinding sesame seeds was erected on the premises, which dumped its waste into the cellar.
These were all secular uses, emphasizes Yehoshua. The place was never used for ritual purposes and therefore cannot be considered holy. Moreover, according to the lawyer and his client, since the cellar had been filled with waste since the 12th century, it was not used at all – until the monks showed up under Hirbawi’s feet 800 years later.

The full story is here.

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