Weekend Roundup

You never know what will start a riot in Israel.  In this case, it was the government’s adding two historical sites to a list of 150 that should be restored.  Today Israeli police forces entered the Temple Mount in order to remove 20 masked protesters who were throwing objects at tourists.

G. M. Grena notes that BAR has posted a good photograph of the Qeiyafa Ostracon.

Egypt has announced the discovery of a large red granite head of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his mortuary temple on Luxor’s West Bank. 

Tom Powers has followed up the “Under the Temple Mount” post here with some beautiful watercolors of the same areas on his blog.

If you’re looking for more reaction to Eilat Mazar’s “10th century” “wall” announced last week, take a look at this roundup by John Hobbins.  I expect to post more on the matter this coming week.

Today is Purim and in honor of this festive holiday, the Israel Antiquities Authority has posted an online exhibit of “Masks, Rattles and Purim Customs.” Some images are available in high resolution here (zip).


Under the Temple Mount

I want to return to a recent post on the 360 degree views in Jerusalem.  There are some images here that I did not notice or note carefully before, including Solomon’s Stables, the Well of the Souls, and the passageway of the Double Gate. 

First, go to the Al Aqsa tour.  Counting the images from the left, #6-8 show Al-Marwani Mosque, built a decade ago inside the area known traditionally as “Solomon’s Stables.”  You can see the Herodian masonry in the columns. 

#9 is the Well of the Souls, the cave underneath the Dome of the Rock. 

#10-11 were taken inside the passageway of the “Double Gate.”  If you look up you can see the beautifully carved (but now plastered over) domes from Herod’s time. 

These are really extraordinary images of places that are very difficult for non-Muslims to access.  The limited captions on the website do not explain what you’re seeing.  Leen Ritmeyer has a nice screenshot showing the domes.


BiblePlaces Newsletter Move

The BiblePlaces Newsletter is being sent out today from a new server.  Most subscribers were transferred directly, but about 10% will receive a confirmation email which requires that they click on the link in order to continue their subscription.

If you do not receive the newsletter by the end of the day (it sometimes takes some hours for the server to process all of them), you can do this:

  1. Check your “Spam” or “Junk E-Mail” folder.  In an effort to get rid of spam, some filters remove the wheat with the chaff.  If you find it there, change your settings so that you receive the newsletter directly each time.
  2. Verify your subscription.  Go here and type in your email address.  If you’re already subscribed, it will tell you.  If you’re not already subscribed, you will receive a confirmation email.  (If it doesn’t arrive, check your “Spam” folder.)  Click the link in that email and you’ll be set.

As always, we hate spam and promise to never use your email address for any purpose other than this newsletter.  And you are always free to unsubscribe at any time.


Aren Maeir Lecturing in New England

Aren Maeir, excavator of Philistine Gath, will be lecturing in New England next week.  From his blog:

On Wednesday, March 3rd, I will be giving two lectures at Brandeis University. The first one, entitled: “The Archaeology of Love and Sex in the Ancient Near East” will be from 2:10 – 3:30 pm at Lown 202, as part of Prof. M. Brettler’s class “The Song of Songs”. The second one, entitled: “Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites and Crusaders: The Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel” will from 5:10 – 6:30 pm at Lown 2, as part of a joint lecture for the Depts. of Anthropology and of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. On Thursday, March 4th, I’ll be presenting a lecture at the Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems at Brown University, on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath. If anyone is in the area, please do feel free to come to these talks.

These sound interesting!


Previous Publication of Mazar’s “Solomonic Wall”

A.D. Riddle has pointed me to a chapter that Eilat Mazar published a few years ago entitled “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem” (full bibliographic data below).

It includes a diagram similar to the one published on Hebrew U’s Facebook page yesterday.  I’ve added labels in English.

Mazar_wall_diagram Mazar’s diagram with English labels added (original here)

My impression in reading Mazar’s chapter is that yesterday’s press conference was mostly a re-statement of the conclusions of her 2006 article, which was based on her excavations in the 1980s.  In short, she argues that Building C is a four-chambered inner gatehouse which may have been an entrance into a royal palace.  She notes that its dimensions are “virtually identical” to those of palace Gate 1567 at Megiddo VA-IVB.  With regard to date, she states that “the ceramic data were insufficient to provide a more precise determination within the terminus post quem time frame for the construction of Building C.”

She found two floors in Building D, the later of which was laid “no earlier than the 8th century.”  She believes an intact black juglet was placed under a foundation stone as a “construction offering” and dates the building to the 10th century. 

She concludes in part:

Based on the finds sealed below the floors of Buildings C and D, the construction of the fortification complex in the Ophel should be dated to the 10th century BCE.  This date corresponds to the biblical passage announcing that King Solomon built a defensive wall around Jerusalem.  There is no reason to assume that someone other than Solomon constructed or reconstructed the Ophel fortification line at some time during the 10th-9th centuries BCE.

It sounds as if Mazar has found more evidence in her recent excavation that confirms her previous conclusion that this fortification system dates to the time of Solomon.  I don’t believe that her previous conclusions met with much enthusiasm from the scholarly community; we’ll see how the archaeologists evaluate her new material.

The bibliographic data for this publication is as follows:

Mazar, Eilat. 2006 “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.” Pp. 775-786 in “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times”: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday.  Ed. A. Maeir and P. de Miroschedji. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

This two-volume work is available from Eisenbrauns.


Follow-Up on Mazar’s Iron Age Buildings

There was some question yesterday about the purpose of the dig and the relationship of the material excavated in the 1980s with that uncovered recently.  Science Daily gives some background:

The excavations in the Ophel area were carried out over a three-month period with funding provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, a New York couple interested in Biblical Archeology. The funding supports both completion of the archaeological excavations and processing and analysis of the finds as well as conservation work and preparation of the site for viewing by the public within the Ophel Archaeological Park and the national park around the walls of Jerusalem.

This sounds like a clean-up dig, where the archaeologist returns to the area to do some additional work in preparation for publication of the reports.  Unfortunately, Mazar seems to have presented it as all brand-new discoveries.  I’m still not sure what they “know” now that they didn’t “know” six months ago.

The Arutz-7 article now includes a 4-minute video of Eilat Mazar.  Unfortunately the guy holding the video camera doesn’t seem to know where to point the camera, as he shows lots of excavations entirely unrelated to the Iron Age wall, “gate,” and tower.  The explanation is geared towards those who are new to the subject and she doesn’t clearly answer the reporter’s question about what is new and what is not.

G. M. Grena notes in a comment to yesterday’s post that the three LMLK handles shown in an excavation photo have not been published previously. 

Leen Ritmeyer comments on his blog about the difficulty of identifying one of the structures as a gate:

The possibility of having found an Iron Age gateway was proposed in confidentiality to Eilat Mazar by myself, but it was reported to the press before I was given a chance to explore this hypothesis (Jerusalem Post, April 22, 1986). The difficulty of identifying the building that was excavated by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar with a gateway is that the chambers are constructed very differently from gate chambers of that period.

Ritmeyer has some other interesting observations, though be sure to note his update and the comment by Barnea Levi Selavan.

The Jerusalem Post reports on the story and includes this caution from a friendly archaeologist:

Aren Maeir, an archeology professor at Bar Ilan University, said he has yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims. There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains “tenuous.”

Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary:

These new discoveries, along with those of a previous dig in a different area of the city of David, contradict contrary Palestinian claims that the Jews have no claim to the area. They also debunk the assertions of some Israeli archeologists who have sought to portray the kingdom of David and Solomon as an insignificant tribal group and not the regional empire that the Bible speaks about.

My response: since the issue has obvious political implications that can be seized on by guys like Tobin, archaeologists have a greater burden to exercise care in publicizing their finds.  Mazar’s approach seems to be the opposite: get the sensational headline before careful analysis or peer review can be done.  Sometimes this leads to embarrassing situations like reading an inscription backwards.

I find this photo and photo caption interesting:

Archeologist Eilat Mazar, center in red…

She certainly knows how to get attention…


Eilat Mazar’s 1980s Excavations and Today

Concerning Mazar’s “discoveries” announced earlier today, I think that some readers would be interested in the report given in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1993).  A section on the Ophel was written by Hillel Geva and I quote it at length because (1) it reveals what was discovered in the previous excavation that appears to be re-reported as new today and (2) it indicates that the identification of the building as a gate was the excavator’s identification. 

I have marked some statements in bold for emphasis.

In 1986 to 1987, B. Mazar and E. Mazar continued to excavate the complex of Iron Age II public buildings in the southeastern part of the Ophel.  The buildings were partially unearthed in B. Mazar’s 1970 excavations; he identified them as remains of the biblical “house of Millo.”  The renewed excavations revealed many additional remains that add up to a complex of several interconnected, but well-defined building units.  The quality of the construction is impressive, featuring thick walls founded on bedrock, sometimes preserved to a height of some 4 m.  The first stages of these buildings date to the ninth century BCE, at the earliest; they were destroyed, together with the rest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, as the visible signs of destruction and conflagration indicate.
The remains of building C consisted of the walls of two rooms, the foundations of the walls of other rooms, and sections of floors.  They have been identified as belonging to a four-chamber gatehouse of the type characteristic of the Iron Age II.  The earlier excavations had exposed dozens of vessels, including many storage jars, in the gate’s southwestern chamber.  Building D, which adjoins building C on the east, consisted of several rooms, in which pithoi [large storage jars] were found, suggesting that the building was a storehouse.
The various building units combined to form a dense complex whose outer walls created a continuous line of fortifications along the eastern side of the Ophel, overlooking the Kidron Valley.  The gate may be associated with the large tower (building B) to the south, discovered by Warren in the Ophel wall between 1867 and 1870, and with another, smaller tower (building A) whose eastern side Kenyon exposed in 1967 in her site SII.
The gate has been identified with the biblical “Water Gate” (Neh. 3:26) that was part of the complex known as the “upper house of the king.”  The excavators believe that it was a gate in the western section of the Jerusalem city wall, providing access to a separate royal quarter, which stood on the Ophel until the end of the First Temple period (Vol. 2, p. 715).

Given this report, I cannot determine what, if anything, has been discovered recently.  The only thing that appears to have changed is the date (back now to the time of Solomon).


Massive Wall in Jerusalem Dated to Solomon’s Time

Eilat Mazar announced today the discovery of a large stone wall that she attributes to King Solomon. 

The article with the most detail is at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with a copy here).  Arutz-7 has a similar report, and others have brief summaries.  Trying to sort out all the pieces is a little difficult from these sources, but here’s a summary:

  • A well-built wall was uncovered that is 220 feet (70 m) long and 20 feet (6 m) high.  The width is not given.  The wall is located on the eastern side of the Ophel atop the western slope of the Kidron Valley (see photo below).  She dates it “with a great degree of assurance” to the 10th century BC on the basis of (1) comparison with walls and gates in other cities and (2) pottery.
  • A large four-chambered gatehouse was found, similar in style to those at Megiddo, Beersheba, and Ashdod.  This gatehouse is 20 feet (6 m) high.
  • A tower adjacent to the gate is buried underneath the road but is believed to be 75 by 60 feet (24 by 18 m) in size.

The report mentions some inscriptions, but it is not clear what was found in Mazar’s dig and what comes from the Temple Mount debris sifting operation.  These should not be reported in the same article, and I sense that some of these inscriptions have been announced previously. [See update below.]

In fact, I think that a good portion of these “discoveries” were made already in 1986-87.  Mazar excavated in the southern portion of her grandfather’s “southern Temple Mount excavations” and claimed that she found an Iron Age gate.  The article mentions in this connection large storage jars, and I am sure that these were published decades ago.  Thus, I surmise that the present excavation is an extension of the old one, but that they are reporting old and new together, without distinguishing between them.  It’s fine to report previous discoveries in order to give context, but that does not appear to be how the excavation results are being communicated to the journalists.
Mazar’s claim that the building she excavated in the 1980s was an Iron Age gate never met with widespread (or even non-widespread) agreement among archaeologists.  They felt that the evidence did not support the identification as a gate.  I’ll write more on this in a follow-up post.

Sources tell me that Mazar has found some very interesting material than has not yet been announced. 

Southern Temple Mount Excavations aerial from sw, tb010703227

Excavation area (circled) south of the Temple Mount

UPDATE: BibleX points to this Hebrew article which has better photos of the excavation and discoveries.

UPDATE #2: I’ve learned that the reason why the Temple Mount Sifting Project was mentioned is that Mazar contracted with them to wet-sift some of her material.  Also, there are some more photos from the excavation at the Hebrew U’s Facebook page.


Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has posted a reconstruction drawing of Jerusalem during the Byzantine period, including an arrow pointing to the newly discovered Decumanus.  (I think that I am the only one calling this street the Decumanus.)

Foundation Stone has a slideshow with 16 photos of the Decumanus excavation and press conference.

A 10th century Arabic inscription was discovered in excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. 

The IAA press release is here, but you can apparently only access the high-res photos by a direct link (zip).

Yahoo has a slideshow with about 5 photos of the Byzantine winepress.

Israel has added the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem to their list of national heritage sites.

HT: Joe Lauer


One Million Kippot Donated to Western Wall

From the Jerusalem Post:

Visitors no longer have to hold cardboard kippot on their heads when visiting the Kotel: The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has received a donation of 1 million nylon yarmulkes.
According to a statement Wednesday from the office of the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, the distinct and sometimes awkward cardboard head coverings that have been offered to male visitors to the site for 40 years have been replaced.
The white cloth yarmulkes, which were apparently made in China to cut costs, were given to the foundation on Sunday and are now available for use at the entrance to the Kotel area.
Though this is not the first time new yarmulkes have been donated to the Kotel, said the rabbi’s assistant on Wednesday, this is the first time there has been a large enough number to accommodate the more than eight million people who visit the site each year.
[. . .]
The new yarmulkes, like the cardboard ones, are considered “disposable” – people are allowed to take them home. But the old ones may become a collector’s item: Some are being sold on ebay for $6.

The full story is here. You can buy a cardboard kippah on ebay here.  If you’re wondering why it’s sometimes called a kippah and why sometimes yarmulke or even what one is and why they’re so important, this Wikipedia article has some good information.

Men praying at Western Wall, tb092603110

Men praying at Western Wall