Weekend Roundup

The “Northern Philistines” are the featured subject of the current issue of Near Eastern Archaeology. 

The issue is not online, but Aren Maeir, expert on “Southern Philistines,” offers some reflections on the new discoveries.

The Bible and Interpretation has posted Gordon J. Hamilton’s essay, “From the Seal of a Seer to an Inscribed Game Board: A Catalog of Eleven Early Alphabetic Inscriptions Recently Discovered in Egypt and Palestine.”  Among the inscriptions he surveys are the Tel Zayit Stone, Beth-Shemesh Game Board, and Qeiyafa Ostracon.

Aren Maeir explains why he believes Hamilton’s reading of the Safi inscription is not correct.

A new blog that will be of interest to many readers here is Christian World Traveler.

The Book & the Spade 2011 Archaeological Study Tour is now taking sign-ups.  If you’ve been looking for a trip that “does more” and costs less, take a look at the itinerary posted here.


Beth Yerah: It's an Arabic Palace, not Synagogue

Earlier this week, there was a story about the discovery of an Umayyad palace that was previously identified as a synagogue.  Early reports contained very few details, but a new story yesterday makes things a bit clearer (HT: Gordon Govier).

The site is still not named, but a little checking around has revealed that it is Khirbet Beth Yerah (Khirbet el-Kerak) on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (see map below).  A synagogue was discovered here in the 1950s by P. L. O. Guy and Pesach Bar-Adon.  Current excavations led by Rafi Greenberg of Tel Aviv University now identify the building as an Arabic palace dating to the 7th-8th centuries A.D.  How did they get it so wrong?

The palace was also dismantled down to its foundations after the fall of the dynasty, leaving nothing behind but a foundation and few clues to help date the structure.
Archaeologists at the time also believed, erroneously, that the early Arab caliphates did not carry out many large-scale building projects.
Researchers first began to raise doubts about the origins of the structure in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2002 that archaeologist Donald Whitcomb from the University of Chicago first suggested that the site might in fact be the missing Umayyad palace. That identification was confirmed by archaeologists this week.
The identification of the structure as a synagogue was based on the image of a menorah that the early excavators found carved into the top of a pillar base. But the scholars behind the new review of the site realized that the carving was a red herring — that surface would have been covered by a pillar in the original structure, so the carving must have been added later.

The article on Beth Yerah in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1993) provides more information on the “synagogue”:

Within the area of the Roman fort, Guy and Bar-Adon uncovered the remains of the foundations of a synagogue (22 by 37 m).  The building was divided by two rows of columns into a nave and two aisles.  There was an apse in the middle of the southern wall, oriented to Jerusalem.  The nave was paved with a colored mosaic, partially preserved, depicting plants, birds, lions, and other motifs.  Carved on the base of a column were a menorah, lulab, ethrog, and incense shovel (1: 258). 

A couple of brief comments.  The apse oriented toward Jerusalem also faces Mecca.  The mosaic’s depictions might surprise some unfamiliar with Arabic tastes in this period, but it closely resembles the Umayyad palace in Jericho (Kh. el-Mafjar).  Apparently the decorated column base threw the original excavators off.  (And you thought archaeologists used pottery for dating.)

You can read more about the Tel Bet Yerah Research and Excavation Project at the official site.


From Sheet 6 of the Survey of Western Palestine Maps.  Kh. el-Kerak = Beth Yerah.

Cook on the Qeiyafa Ostracon

Edward Cook has a good summary and analysis of the Qeiyafa Ostracon on his blog.  He concludes that the inscription is:

(1) A text written from left-to-right. (2) A text written in the Old Canaanite form of the alphabet, the form that the letters took before (but more about this later) the evolution of national scripts. (3) A text whose language, although North-West Semitic, is still undetermined. (4) The most significant fact about the ostracon, in my view, is the date. If the dating of the level it was found in is correct – late 11th/early 10th century BCE – then the use of this Old Canaanite script is surprising. Within a century or less of the ostracon’s writing, another inscription would be made in ancient Israel of a very different sort.

Read the whole thing for his explanations.


Hurva Synagogue Dedicated

The Hurva Synagogue was dedicated this evening.  Located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, prayers have not been held in the synagogue since it was destroyed in the 1948 war.  From the Jerusalem Post:

After a nearly 62-year hiatus, the renowned Hurva synagogue inside the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City has been rebuilt and is again an operational house of prayer. Hundreds of people, braving the wind and an unexpected Jerusalem chill, crowded into a courtyard opposite the outer walls of the synagogue on Monday night to take part in an official rededication ceremony for the newly-rebuilt shul – which stands in the exact spot it did before its destruction at the hands of the Jordanian Arab Legion during the War of Independence in 1948. […] Rivlin went on to speak of the Hurva’s history, beginning with its first incarnation in 1701, when it was constructed by disciples of Judah Hahasid. Its first destruction came some 20 years later, when those same disciples lacked the funds to repay local creditors, who in return burned the Hurva to the ground. It was nearly 150 years before the Hurva stood again, but in 1864, after a massive construction project was approved by the Ottoman Turks and funds were procured from Jewish communities the world over, a neo-Byzantine Hurva was soon towering over the rest of the Jewish Quarter. However, that Hurva, which hosted the likes of Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky before the creation of the state, also met with ruin. The Jordanian army took Jerusalem’s Old City in May of 1948, loaded the building with explosives and set off a blast whose smoke cloud could be seen miles away.

Arutz-7 has posted a 10-minute video of the service (unedited, almost exclusively singing and music).  For previous posts on the reconstruction, see here and here and here.


Dead Sea Scrolls in Minnesota

A special Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition opened on Friday at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  From the Minnesota Daily:

As a precaution against weathering, each set of scrolls can be displayed for just 10 weeks. By the end of October, three sets of five scrolls will have been on display. This is the first time three sets of scrolls have been part of an exhibit in the United States, SMM Vice President Mike Day said. Imholte said the largest task has been to replicate the cave environment that kept the scrolls so well preserved. The case for each scroll has its own climate control system that keeps the temperature about 68 degrees and the humidity at 50 percent. Ensuring that the scrolls are lit sufficiently is another battle. Imholte said light is one of the most damaging elements to them. And although the scrolls are the focal point of the exhibit, they are surrounded by a wide array of archaeological material from the region, which Imholte said will set it apart from all other Dead Sea Scroll exhibits. “There will never be another one like it, and there has never been one like it before,” he said. “This exhibit is really one-of-a-kind from the point of view of new material and new way of presenting it,” said Dr. Hava Katz, IAA chief curator of national treasures. Katz has spent the last 16 years overseeing all Dead Sea Scroll exhibits in her home country of Israel and around the world. As chief curator, she is responsible for more than a million artifacts, the most important of which are the scrolls.

If you’re in the area, you should make plans to visit.


Weekend Roundup

Insight for Living (with Chuck Swindoll) is now touring Israel, and at the end of each day they’re posting a short video of their travels.  Author Wayne Stiles is traveling with them and is also posting daily.  One of his photos shows an actor dressed up as King Herod Agrippa I, in his silvery garments (see Acts 12).

You can now view more than 35,000 photos in the Oriental Institute Museum Photo Archives Database.  Enter as “guest.”

The Job section of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set: Old Testament is now posted for free viewing from the

Logos has some great pre-pub prices on some scholarly collections now.  My eye was caught by the three-volume World of the Aramaeans ($50; retail $480), but you may be interested in the collections on Daniel, Amos, Biblical Narrative, Chronicles, Samuel, or David.  Some of these volumes cost $100 in print, but they are closer to $10 in the pre-publication promotion.


Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History

The story of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a fascinating one, though it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction.  For instance, the notion that a shepherd accidentally discovered the first cave of scrolls while chasing a stray sheep seems less likely given the history of the Bedouin in finding and selling ancient artifacts.fields_dead_sea_scrolls  The intrigues of the first decade is now clearer with the publication of the first volume of Weston Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History.  The book is being promoted by the publisher with a interesting review by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. 

You can download the full review as a Word document here.  You can get a flavor from the first paragraphs:

Even though the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered only 62 years ago, much of their early history has been shrouded in obscurity. Details of persons and places were compromised by focus on the scrolls themselves, and on occasion deliberate deception facilitated the continuation of illegal, but highly profitable, excavation. In 1998 Marcel Sigrist, OP, suggested to Weston Fields, Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation in Jerusalem, that the only way to acquire clarity would be to record critically the testimony of the original eye-witnesses. Some had already died, others were getting old, and this would be the last opportunity.
Fields took up the challenge, and the thoroughness of his oral history is illustrated by the fact that he even gives the number of sheep (about 55) in the care of Muhammed ed-Dib the day he threw the stone into what became Cave 1. The surviving actors were all happy to cooperate, and a number revealed that they had extensive private archives that had never been exploited. These amounted to tens of thousands of pages of precise written and photographic documentation, which was contemporary with the events. This greatly widened the extent of the project, and gave it a much more solid base. No longer did Fields have to rely on aging memories, and the unsupported word of one witness against another. He had documentary evidence that could be compared, contrasted, and critically evaluated. In the case of the ten actors who have died since the project began he just got there in time.
So much material became available that it quickly became clear that one volume would not be enough. The change in de facto ownership of the scrolls in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of June 1967 might seem an obvious place to break. Fields, however, opts for 1960, both for practical reasons, and because that year caused an even greater upheaval in the publication of the scrolls. The Rockefeller funds supporting the full-time scholars working at the Palestine Archaeological Museum (PAM) dried up, and the team had to disperse to find jobs that ate into the time they could devote to the scrolls. Publication inevitably slowed.
From 1947 to 1960 Fields follows a strictly chronological order, often with subheadings of great precision, e.g. “19 July 1947, Saturday”; “Last week of July 1947” . He wisely refuses to treat the scrolls as a unified whole. The circumstances concerning the discovery, acquisition, and publication of Cave 1, for example, differed radically from those of Cave 4, and again from those of Murabba‘at, and still more from those of Cave 11. Thus separate topics are treated individually and chronologically. Fields is also right in quoting as much as possible from letters and interviews. As he points out, this is the only way “to taste the flavor, and to enjoy the nuances of entire letters or other documents from the earliest actors in the unfolding drama of the scrolls” (13 my emphasis). More importantly, it enables the attentive reader to formulate his or her own conclusions based on the evidence. Was the writer stating a bare fact or merely being ironic or sarcastic? Was the presentation tailored to the recipient?

Download the full review here.  You can also read it directly online at Amazon in what initially appears to be the author’s review of his own book. The publisher’s description of the 600-page, $99 book is here.  Fields also published a 128-page A Short History in 2006.

HT: Joe Lauer


Netaim Finally Found!!

Livescience.com’s report (also on MSNBC) on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa begins with this sentence:

Scientists think they’ve finally found the real location of a city called Neta’im mentioned in the Bible.

I’d rephrase the sentence a little:  One historian has proposed that a site is Neta’im. 

As for the suggestion that they have finally found the real location, that’s extremely exciting unless you know that the only mention of the place is buried deep in the genealogies of Chronicles (just after the prayer of Jabez). Then they write:

Archaeologists have previously associated Khirbet Qeiyafa with the biblical city Sha’arayim, which means “two gates,” because of the discovery of two gates in the fortress ruins, and because Sha’arayim was also associated with King David in the Bible. But now researchers claim this site is really Neta’im.

Actually, the excavators still believe that Qeiyafa is Sha’arayim, but one historian has proposed that it is Neta’im with very little evidence to support it.  In fact, his best argument is that the name Neta’im is preserved somewhere else.


Lectures in Philadelphia: Jerusalem in Babylonia

Evidence of Jewish exiles living in Babylon in the 6th-5th centuries BC will be the subject of a conference at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  From Newswise:

Saint Joseph’s University’s Ancient Studies program is sponsoring a conference focusing on a collection of recently discovered documents that shed light on a Jewish settlement in ancient Mesopotamia. “Jerusalem in Babylonia: New Discoveries from the Exilic Period,” will be held March 21-22 in the University’s Campion Student Center.
The cuneiform documents date from the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, and are referred to as the “Al-Yahuda texts,” based on the name of the place where the documents themselves say they were drawn up.
“The phrase ‘Al-Yahuda’ means ‘city of Judah,’ which in the Bible refers to Jerusalem,” said Bruce Wells, Ph.D., director of the Ancient Studies program and an assistant professor of theology.
What makes the documents so noteworthy, however, is that they weren’t discovered in Jerusalem. They were found in modern day Iraq, in the territory that was known as Babylonia at the time they were written. That time was the so-called “exilic period” when a number of people from Judah (the southern part of modern day Israel) were taken as captives to Babylonia.
The conference, which is co-sponsored by SJU’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations and Department of Theology, is free and open to the public. It will be held on March 21 from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and March 22 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Read the article or see the university’s website for more information and contact details.

HT: Yehuda News