Weekend Roundup

For the first time in 30 years, the scaffolds have been taken down at the Parthenon of Athens.  Take your photos before they return in September.

A “Brief Summary” of the 2009 Season at Tell es-Safi/Gath is now available online.

The recent fire at Gamla apparently did not harm the synagogue or any of the antiquities.

Researchers are using nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques on coins from 1st century Judea in order to more precisely establish their dates and place of origin.  One discovery: copper apparently came from certain mines a century earlier than previously thought.

BAR has a look at the face of Herod Philip from a rare coin (Luke 3:1).

Der Spiegel has a fascinating profile of Zahi Hawass, “Secretary General of the Supreme Council of
Antiquities” of Egypt. (Compare that title with the “Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority” and you’ll be prepared for some of the pomposity related in the story.)

The Jerusalem Post features a travel article on Acre (Acco, Ptolemais).

The Italian professor who originated the theory that Har Karkom in Israel is the true Mount Sinai now claims that his view will soon be adopted by the Vatican.  Anati’s arguments are summarized here

Apart from the potential acceptance by the Vatican, I am not aware of any scholars who agree with
Anati’s proposal.  Among the problems: he has to date the book of Exodus to 1,000 years earlier than the Bible indicates (cf. 1 Kings 6:1).  Among the pluses: his Mt. Sinai is a shorter drive from Tel

The current issue of World Archaeology is devoted to “Turkey’s Treasures.”  Myra gets a lengthy article (cf. Acts 27:5), Perge gets one page, and Laodicea and Ephesus are also featured.  Arycanda reminds me of Termessos, both stunning sites located in the scenic mountains of southern Turkey. 

The magazine article is currently available for viewing online, with many beautiful photographs. It reminds me why I consider Turkey to be one of the most picturesque and interesting countries I have visited.

I am sometimes asked how I get photos of biblical sites without swarms of people.  I have a few tricks.  One is to be the group leader so you are first on the scene.  Another is to go in February when few tourists are visiting.  If you have Photoshop and a tripod, there’s another ingenious way.

HT: Biblicalist, Dr. Mariottini, Paleojudaica, Explorator, Joe Lauer


Mysterious Holes at Pool of Siloam

If you have visited the Pool of Siloam since it was first discovered in the summer of 2004, you may have noticed some strange holes in otherwise beautiful paving stones running along the pool’s edge.

Pool of Siloam carved holes in pavement, tb082305587

Pool of Siloam pavement with mysterious holes

Sometimes holes were made in pavement for door sockets, but that hardly seems likely here given their placement.  In theaters, holes which held poles for the fabric roof are sometimes found in the seating area.  Given the suggestion that the Pool of Siloam served as a ritual bath (miqveh) in the 1st century, one could conceive of a need for curtains for protecting privacy.  But this doesn’t seem to fit the configuration of the holes at the site.

Over on his blog, Tom Powers has advanced a new idea.  I think it’s the best suggestion I’ve heard so far, but I’m not sure that I’m convinced yet.  If you have any ideas or have heard other suggestions, chime in on the comments there.


Update on Gamla Fire

The fire noted here yesterday was 25 separate fires according to one article, and it scorched an estimated 17,000 acres in the Golan Heights.

Haaretz’s report includes a series of photos showing the damage.  The Jerusalem Post also has an updated article with a photo showing the fire next to the ruins.

The damage to the ancient site was severe, according to this Haaretz article:

“The entire reserve has been burned,” the reserve’s ecologist Yael Horesh said yesterday.
Authorities believe the blaze, which broke out at Gamla in the early hours yesterday morning, was started by an IDF tank, whose metal tracks gave off sparks when moving over rocks. Strong winds quickly fanned the fire, which in a few hours destroyed much of the park’s vegetation and threatened to destroy incubation cages where rare eagle chicks were being reared.
Ancient Gamla was gravely damaged, as were the reserve’s fauna and flora. Several raptors’ nests were also burned, including an eagle owl’s nest and an Egyptian vulture’s nest in which two chicks had hatched a few days ago. A brooding vulture couple abandoned its nest with eggs in it.
The Parks Authority plans to reopen the site within the next few days, Amitai said. He added that entrance fees would be waived in the hope of encouraging visitors and raising awareness of the need to repair the damage.


Fire Causes Damage at Gamla

The Golan Heights is an important training ground for Israel’s military, but their exercises yesterday started a fire that damaged the area of Gamla.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A fire broke out on the Golan Heights early on Wednesday morning, causing significant damage to the Gamla nature reserve. Nature reserve personnel have evacuated Griffon vulture nests located in the reservation and acclimatization cages where vulture chicks are prepared for release into the wild.
The fire started as a result of IDF exercises in the area, aided by the very warm weather.
More then ten different fire fighting teams, from all over the area, aided by soldiers and nature reserve personnel are trying to control the fire.

The story continues here.

While not mentioned in the New Testament, Gamla was an important city in the first century.  Gamla is best known today as the site where Jewish defenders attempted to hold out against the Roman forces led by Vespasian in the revolt of AD 66-70.  For more photos and explanation, see the Gamla page at BiblePlaces.com.

Gamla from east, tb032705337

Gamla from east

Israel Museum To Open July 26

Two months from today, the $100 million renovation of the Israel Museum is slated to be completed and the doors of the new galleries opened to the public.  From Art Daily:

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, inaugurates its renewed 20-acre campus, featuring new galleries, orientation facilities, and public spaces, on July 26, 2010. The multi-year expansion and renewal project was designed to enhance visitor experience of the Museum’s art, archeology, architecture, and surrounding landscape, in complement to the original architecture and design of the campus. Led by James Carpenter Design Associates of New York and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv, the $100-million project also includes the comprehensive renovation and reconfiguration of the Museum’s three collection wings and the reinstallation of its outstanding encyclopedic collections. […] The Israel Museum has seen tremendous growth since the 1965 opening of its original landmark campus, designed by Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad as a modernist reference to Jerusalem’s Mediterranean hilltop villages. The Museum’s architectural footprint has increased ten-fold since its opening, and its collections have grown significantly throughout its history, particularly in the past ten years. The project, which broke ground in June 2007, encompasses 80,000 square feet of new construction and 200,000 square feet of renovated and expanded gallery space within the Museum’s existing 500,000-square-foot architectural envelope. The $100-million capital campaign supporting the Museum’s campus renewal, completed in December 2009, is the largest collective philanthropic initiative ever undertaken for a single cultural institution in the State of Israel. The Museum is also nearing completion of an endowment campaign, and has raised nearly $60 million toward its $75-million goal, which will bring the institutional endowment to a total of $150 million, comprising the largest endowment for any cultural institution in the country.

Tomorrow, May 27, the museum will honor International Museum Day, and admission to the museum is free to individuals.  Details (in Hebrew) are here.


Damascus Gate, Then and Now

Damascus Gate and Old City, mat06658 Damascus Gate, early 1900s

This photo, taken by the American Colony photographers in approximately 1910, shows Damascus Gate on the northern side of the Old City of Jerusalem.  At the time, the Ottoman authorities were building new shops lining the street outside the gate.  These structures were removed in later years.

Notice also on the skyline of the Old City that the domes of the Hurvah and Tiferet Israel synagogues are visible.  These were both destroyed in the 1948 war.  The most prominent tower belongs to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, dedicated in 1898.  The domes on the right side belong to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The recent photo below shows the area in the early morning before traffic picked up.

Damascus Gate, tb010310679

Damascus Gate, January 2010

New Website: See the Holy Land

Seetheholyland.net “opened its doors” yesterday to encourage pilgrims to visit the Holy Lands.  The site was created by a retired journalist in New Zealand, and it is filled with numerous articles and photographs.  Some issues addressed include:

  • What is this Holy Land?
  • A pilgrim is not a tourist
  • When should I go?
  • Is it safe?
  • In a group, or solo?
  • Are the sites authentic?
  • What should I pack?
  • Tips for travelling
  • Could I lead a pilgrimage?

In addition, the most popular pilgrimage sites are described and illustrated.  This looks like a terrific resource.


Burger King to Close in Israel

The Whopper is leaving Israel, nearly twenty years after the Burger King chain opened in the country.  Israelis apparently prefer the taste of Burger Ranch, or so say the owners who are converting the 52 Burger Kings into Burger Ranches.  From Arutz-7:

Orgad Holdings, Burger King’s Israeli franchise, announced Sunday that Israel’s 52 Burger Kings will be converted to Burger Ranches, and will stop operating in August.
Burger King is not the first American company to fail in Israel.  Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Wendy’s have also come and gone.  McDonald’s which opened in Israel in 1993 and has 131 branches, is still serving Big Macs throughout the country.

I don’t remember Wendy’s, but I do remember when the very first McDonalds opened up in Israel.  A group of us made the drive from Jerusalem down to Tel Aviv for the taste of a non-kosher American hamburger.  McDonalds has a thriving business now, but it almost never opened in Israel because the government refused to allow the fast-food chain to use their preferred type of potato.

The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post.


First Century Roman Altar Found in Ashkelon

Since the discovery of tombs in the area where an emergency room for an Ashkelon hospital is being built, religious Jews in Israel have protested.  Today’s announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the discovery of a Roman altar from the 1st-2nd century AD should strengthen the argument that the tombs are not Jewish.

From the IAA press release:

The development work for the construction of a fortified emergency room at Barzilai Hospital, which is being conducted by a contractor carefully supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has unearthed a new and impressive find: a magnificent pagan altar dating to the Roman period (first-second centuries CE) made of granite and adorned with bulls’ heads and a laurel wreaths. The altar stood in the middle of the ancient burial field. Ashkelon Roman altar, IAA, IMG_1119
According to Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are dealing with a pagan cemetery. It is an impressive find that has survived 2,000 years. The altar is c. 60 centimeters tall and it is decorated with bulls’ heads, from which dangle laurels wreaths. There is a strap in the middle of each floral wreath and bull’s head. The laurel wreaths are decorated with grape clusters and leaves. This kind of altar is known as an “incense altar.” Such altars usually stood in Roman temples and visitors to the temple used to burn incense in them, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to their idols. We can still see the burnt marks on the altar that remain from the fire. The altar was probably donated by one of the families who brought it to the cemetery from the city of Ashkelon.”

The full press release is here.  Three high-resolution photos of the altar are available here.

UPDATE: The story is also reported by the AFP and Haaretz.


Questions about Noah’s Ark Discovery

Dutch scholar M. J. Paul has ten questions or concerns about the Hong King team’s alleged discovery of Noah’s Ark.  Here are a few:

2. Archaeologists are obliged to pinpoint exactly where they’ve found something, but these ‘discoverers’ keep their location secret though they do name Ararat. This makes control/checking impossible.
5. The wood is said to be tested in a laboratory in Iran, and estimated to be about 4800 years old. Does Iran actually have laboratories where one is skilled at determining this correctly? Why did this happen in Iran? And why aren’t the official ‘reports’ publicised so the results can be double-checked?
8. It induces distrust that the discoverers first want to make a film documentary before actual factual data is released and verified/reviewed.  When will the finds be presented on the normal way to the scientific community so that verification is possible?
9. One of the published photographs shows a spider web/cobweb in one of the corners. Is it possible for spiders to live at that height? Survive in that cold? Or did they photograph a cave positioned much lower than 4000m?

His complete list is here.

Regardless of whether one is knowledgeable about the living conditions of spiders, all should agree that the profit motive makes this endeavor suspicious from the beginning.  If this group is interested in truth, they should be seeking professional examination of their work.  As long as they refuse this while pursuing wide publicity and financial gain, their “discovery” should not be accepted.  Peter’s warning may apply here:

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Peter 2:3).

There is of course another danger in all of this.  Repeated false discoveries of Noah’s Ark can lead some to deny that God ever destroyed the earth by flood, that this whole “ark” thing is a fiction.  If you doubt God did it before, you’re less likely to believe that he’ll do it again.  Peter sounds a warning in this regard as well:

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat (2 Peter 3:3-7, 11-12).