Hurva Synagogue Video Tour

Reconstruction of the Hurva Synagogue is nearly complete and the dedication ceremony is scheduled for next week.  Arutz-7 reports on the final stages of the work.  Their story includes a 5-minute video tour of the synagogue and an interview with a construction company spokeswoman. 

The restoration and construction of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem nears completion, with the dedication of the synagogue scheduled for next Monday, March 15. The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter has completed one of the artistic aspects of the project – restoration of the synagogue’s wall paintings. Arutz Sheva TV brings you in to the synagogue for a first visit to the restored Hurva.
A significant difficulty in the preservation and internal renewal of the Hurva Synagogue, which had been the center of life in ancient Jerusalem until Arabs destroyed it in 1948, was dealing with the many alterations that took place over the years the synagogue stood. The Holy Ark curtains, wall paintings, lamps, pulpits and other parts of the synagogue had all undergone various changes. leaving the restorers with the need to decide on which period of time the restoration should be based.
Restoration of the wall paintings entailed conducting a search for the names of the artisans who had decorated the synagogue in each period of time separately, an in-depth analysis of the painting methods and technologies of every period, examination of historical photographs in order to compare colors between black and white photos and those in color, analysis of the paintings’ compositions and thorough comparison between the periods, and analysis of issues regarding wall paintings in synagogues in general and in the Hurva in particular.
The Hurva Synagogue will be dedicated on the eve of Rosh Chodesh (first day of the Hebrew month) Nissan, 5770 (the day construction of the Biblical Tabernacle was completed), in the presence of ministers, Members of Knesset, rabbis and other dignitaries.
The synagogue will host regular prayer services, visitors and tours. During the opening week, the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter will conduct free tours during the day and will show a sound and light presentation during evening hours.

Hurvah synagogue at sunrise, tb010210522  After more than four years, the crane over the Hurva Synagogue was removed this week.

For previous stories and photos, see here and here.


Weekend Roundup

The level of the Dead Sea rose this winter for the first time in 13 years.

More than 250 silver coins were discovered by a man building his home in Syria, including many tetradrachmas.

An exhibit of 21 “authentic recreations of ancient musical instruments” opens next week in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Two middle-aged men were arrested while surveying an archaeological site in southern Jerusalem with a metal detector.

I think that this online Bible video project would be even better if people read their portions on location.


Bombing of King David Hotel (1946)

One of my side interests that I’ve not pursued much beyond occasional reading is the history of the land of Israel in the 20th century.  This includes the time of the British Mandate and the birth of the state of Israel.  My photo projects have always been aligned with courses I have taught—namely, the subjects of historical geography and archaeology, both inside and outside the land of Israel.  But as I worked on the creation of photo collections from the American Colony, I saw a worthy set of photos about this important period of history.  Thus the Early 20th-Century History CD strays beyond the bounds of “Bible places,” but many, like me, find that their interest in biblical history naturally leads to the dramatic events of recent years.

One reason for this interest is simply that these realities are part of your world when you’re in Israel and Jerusalem in particular.  Zion Gate is of interest not only because it leads to Mount Zion with the “tomb of David” and “Upper Room,” but also because of its pockmarked exterior caused by fighting in the War of Independence of 1948.  Everything has a story, and these stories explain why things are the way they are.

One story I’ve heard and repeated came more to life for me when I saw the photo below.  The King David Hotel was bombed by Jewish terrorists in 1946 and ninety-two people were killed.  The hotel was quickly rebuilt and no signs (that I know of) exist.  I always had trouble envisioning it, and understanding what was meant that a “wing” of the hotel was destroyed.

Attack on Hotel King David on Monday, July 22, 1946, mat12970

King David Hotel after bombing, July 22, 1946

Rather than describe the story myself, I prefer to quote a brief portion from Martin Gilbert’s wonderful book, Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century.  If you have any interest in Jerusalem itself, or in the modern history of Israel, I highly recommend this book.  Gilbert writes:

Hatred of the British had been inflamed among these two groups [Irgun and Stern Gang] by the refusal of the British to allow survivors of the concentration camps into Palestine.  The Jewish terrorists, who included two future Israeli Prime Ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, believed that by “blood and fire” they could drive the British out of the country, and establish a Jewish State.  Their most devastating attack was made on 22 July 1946, when members of the Irgun, disguised as Arabs, brought explosive charges in milk-churns into the hall outside the Regence Cafe in the basement of the King David Hotel.  Above the cave, the south wing of the hotel, five floors in all, was being used as the British administrative headquarters.  An anonymous woman telephoned the switchboard operator at the hotel to say that the hotel must be evacuated as there would be an explosion “in a few minutes.”  Her warning was ignored.
At 12.37 the explosives went off.  Five floors and twenty-five rooms collapsed into rubble.  Ninety-two persons in the wing were killed: Britons, Arabs and Jews.  Among the dead were military and civilian officials, soldiers, clerks, typists, cleaners, drivers and messengers.  The British dead included the Postmaster-General of Palestine, G. D. Kennedy, a veteran of the retreat from Mons in 1914.  One of the Arabs killed, Jules Gress, a senior assistant accountant with the Secretariat, was a Catholic.  He had been an officer in the Turkish army in the First World War, when he was taken prisoner by the British.  While at his bank that morning he had asked to be served quickly, so as not to be late for a Secretariat meeting.  Commented the Palestine Post: “He hurried back to his duty and his death.”
The Jewish Agency denounced what it called “the dastardly crime” perpetrated by a “gang of desperadoes,” and called upon the Jews of Palestine “to rise up against these abominable outrages” (172-73).

If, like me, you knew only sketches of the story, perhaps now the picture is clearer.


Policemen Hurt in Attack on Western Wall

From the Jerusalem Post:

Fifteen policemen were lightly wounded in their attempt to restore order on the Temple Mount after Arab youths emerging from Friday prayers started hurling rocks down onto those worshiping at the Western Wall. Having restored calm with the use of stun grenades, police left the Temple Mount compound in cooperation with the waqf to allow older worshipers to leave. […] The repeated clashes in Jerusalem follow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement incorporating the Cave of the Patriarch’s in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem onto Israel’s list of national heritage sites.

The full article is here.  The Haaretz article is similar, but adds this statement:

The clashes later calmed when adult Muslim worshippers dispersed the young stone throwers.


Galil: Qeiyafa is Biblical Netaim

Gershon Galil has proposed in a message posted on ANE-2 that Khirbet Qeiyafa should be identified with biblical Netaim.  You can read the entire message on the list, but he summarizes as follows:

So in my opinion Khirbet Qeiyafa is Neta‘im for three main reasons: (a) it is located near Gederah; (b) its name is preserved in Khirbet En-Nuweiti‘; (c) it was inhabited only in the 10th century. That is why Neta‘im is not mentioned in the list of the cities of Judah in Josh. 15, which is dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE.

Netaim is mentioned only in 1 Chronicles 4:23, and not much can be deduced from this passage.  It’s apparent that Netaim is in the territory of Judah, may or may not be located in proximity to Gederah, and was home to a group of royal potters.

1 Chron 4:23 (ESV) These were the potters who were inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah. They lived there in the king’s service.

That’s not a lot to go on.  I’m probably less inclined to believe that the name of Netaim was preserved 2 miles (3 km) away, as Galil proposes.  That’s a long distance in the densely occupied Iron Age Shephelah. 

Elah Valley, SWP Sheet_16-17_marked

Elah Valley and vicinity.  Red=Kh. Nuweti‘; blue=Kh. Qeiyafa; green=T. Zakariya (Azekah); purple=Kh. Abbad (Socoh).  SWP Map 16-17.

Galil has previously offered his translation of the Qeiyafa Ostracon, and he concludes his message by relating his identification to the inscription.

This new identification indicates that Khirbet Qeiyafa/ Neta‘im was inhabited by potters who worked in the king’s service. In the same city, a member of a family of scribes (probably also in the king’s service), wrote the Qeiyafa inscription, the most ancient and important Hebrew inscription ever found:
[……] (1′) do not do (it), but worship […].
(3′) Judge the slave and the widow / Judge the orph[an] (3′) and the stranger.
Plead for the infant / plead for the poor and (4′) the widow.
Avenge (the pauper’s vengeance) at the king’s hands.
(5′) Protect the poor and the slave / suppo[rt] the stranger.

I will be interested to read more of Galil’s argumentation if/when he publishes an article.  I think it’s noteworthy that he does not accept Garfinkel’s identification of Qeiyafa as Shaaraim, but he does believe that Qeiyafa had two gates and was settled only in the 10th century.


The Dating of Mazar’s Wall

Last week Eilat Mazar announced the discovery of a massive wall in Jerusalem dating from the time of Solomon.  Unfortunately, the information was communicated on location in a press conference, and it has been difficult to figure out what exactly she said.  It seems that ambiguity served her well, for it apparently disguised some important details, such as the fact that most of what she announced she had previously excavated, announced, and published in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.  Whatever she discovered in the brief excavation of 2010 either was not announced, not reported, or identical to what she has previously reported.

There are other problems.  One concerns the definition of terms.  What you think of as a “wall” is what Mazar calls the exterior of two buildings, one of which she (but few others) believes is a gate. 

Perhaps these buildings served as the defensive line of the city.  Perhaps she found a new section in 2010 that is a city wall.  But if you’re thinking she found a wall line like at Megiddo, Lachish, Hazor, Dan, or other places in Jerusalem, then you’re mistaken.

Another problem is that her previous publications give the sense that she is changing her interpretation to fit a more biblical narrative and date without new data to support this conclusion. 

My friend Danny Frese has compared her publications of the site and we think they suggest that her analysis of the data owes more to what she would like to find than what she has found. 

Concerning Building C, “The Gatehouse,” she wrote in 1980s about a fill under the floor of the south chamber.  The fill held about 50% EB and MB sherds; the latest pottery found in the fill was “from the Iron II” (1987: 62). More specifically:

There was also a small quantity of wheel-burnished sherds [in the fill] which indicate a date sometime in the ninth-seventh centuries B.C.E. (ibid.).

She notes two particular sherds from the fill that are from distinctive bowls which appear in the 10th and 9th centuries (1989: 20).

The ceramic data as presented above do not enable precise determination of the time of construction [of the gatehouse], which must be cautiously defined as between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C.E. (1989: 20).
Unfortunately the finds in the locus [in the south chamber] are extremely scanty and do not permit a more accurate dating than between the 9th and 7th centuries (1989: 59).

But in 2006, she wrote concerning the two sherds from distinctive bowls mentioned above:

Bowls of this type have been studied extensively and date mainly to the 10th century, continuing into the 9th century BCE. The ceramic data were insufficient to provide a more precise determination within the terminus post quem [earliest] time frame for the construction of Building C (2006: 783-84).

In other words, the evidence for dating the gate to the 10th century are two sherds that were also in use in the 9th century.

Concerning Building D, “The Royal Building,” she wrote in 1989 about the dating of the lower floor, beneath which was:

an intact black juglet of the type characteristic of the 10th and 9th centuries B.C.E. The juglet was found hidden between stones of one of the foundation walls of the room, as if it had been placed there intentionally by the builders as a sort of private foundation deposit. On the basis of the pottery finds, including the juglet, the time of the laying of the lower floor, and hence also of the entire building, can be determined as the 9th-early 8th centuries B.C.E. (1989: 60).

But in 2006, with no additional excavations having occurred since 1989, she wrote about the black juglet:

It was found hidden, as though placed there intentionally by the builders as a construction offering of sorts. The juglet appears to be characteristic of the 10th century BCE; there are clear differences between this early type of juglet and its later 8th-century form, examples of which were also found in the excavations on the eastern slope of the Western Hill. Unless further research conducted on the typology of black juglets indicates otherwise, it seems clear that the early type with the straight neck, ovoid body, and button base, like the example found in the Ophel, is characteristic first and foremost of the 10th century BCE (2006: 784).

The question we ask: what changed?  Distinguishing between pottery of the 10th and 9th centuries has not been clarified in the intervening years.  If anything, the debate has only intensified.  Yet Mazar concludes in her 2006 article:

A new understanding of the finds from the excavations of the monumental fortification line in the Ophel has enabled its dating to as early as the 10th century BCE (2006: 75).

The “new understanding” was a reinterpretation of a juglet to an earlier date without any supporting evidence.  That allows the entire “gate complex” to be dated to the 10th century.  And suddenly you can publish an article entitled “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.”

Given her press conference announcement, we presume that she found new material in her 2010 excavations that confirm her earlier conclusions.  Her case would be more compelling, however, if it didn’t appear that she had a pre-determined outcome. 

Sources Cited:
Mazar, Eilat. “Ophel Excavations, Jerusalem, 1986.” Israel Exploration Journal 37.1 (1987) 60-63.
Mazar, Eilat and Benjamin Mazar, Excavations in the South of the Temple Mount: The Ophel of Biblical Jerusalem. Qedem 29. Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1989.
Mazar, Eilat. “The Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem.” Pp. 775-86 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.  Edited by A. Maeir and P. de Miroschedji. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006.


The Letter and the Scroll

I received in the mail today a new book from National Geographic, The Letter and the Scroll: What Archaeology Tells Us About the Bible.  I’m not mentioning it only because I am pleased that some of my photos are in a National Geographic book, but also because readers here may not be aware of it. 

As you would expect with National Geographic, the book is loaded with stunning photographs. 

Some that I really enjoyed as I flipped through include:letter_scroll

  • An aerial view of the excavations of Herod’s Tomb at Herodium
  • Father de Vaux and Lankester Harding working at the entrance of one of the Qumran caves
  • A locust swarm over southern Israel in 2004
  • An aerial photo of Nebi Samwil after a snowfall
  • A nice rolling stone tomb image with burial niches visible inside
  • An aerial view of the Broad Wall while excavations were in progress

In addition, there are many maps and beautiful aerial photographs of sites in Israel.  I could do a separate post just on the dozens of photos of ancient inscriptions, some of which I’ve studied and taught, but not seen photos of previously. 

I noted a few bumps along the way:

  • The close-up of the Hulda Gate is turned on its side (p. 156) .
  • The photo of Dhiban on page 179 is actually Samaria (Sebaste).
  • They say that the Jeroboam seal “is likely a reference to the Lion of Judah.”  Probably not, since Jeroboam was a king of the north and the seal was found at Megiddo.
  • The Church of the Nativity is dated to the 11th century, but it actually goes back to the 6th.

I don’t have time to read through the book at present, but from a brief overview it appears to take an approach characteristic of mainstream scholars today.  For example, they assume a late date for the book of Daniel.  On the other hand, in connection with the 10th-century Gezer Calendar and Khirbet Qeiyafa inscriptions, they say, “Political consolidation under Kings David and Solomon may have promoted writing by providing royal support for scribes and schools” (p. 18). 

The writers’ intention is “not to prove or disprove the Bible but to explore the world that gave rise to its Scripture and consider them in their historical context—an approach that can enhance one’s appreciation for the Bible both as a work of history and as a statement of faith.  Reverence for Scripture can withstand careful study, as shown long ago by devout scholars like Martin Luther…” (p. 19).  Based on other books written by Robin Currie, I would guess that he is a man of faith.

The scope of the book reaches from “Sumer and Akkad: Land of Abraham” to “Jerusalem: A Land Besieged” after the time of Christ.  It looks like a fun and interesting book, especially when you can get it for only $26 from Amazon (or used for $9)!