Top Stories of 2010

2010 will be history in a matter of hours and I thought it might be interesting to recall the highlights of the past year.  National Geographic has offered their top 10 discoveries within the broader world of archaeology, and The Book and the Spade has a radio broadcast with their favorites.

I make no pretense that the lists below are in any way objective.  They have not been evaluated by a committee or voted on by the populace.  Nor do they necessarily reflect the most popular stories of the year.  The primary criteria was that the story was posted on this blog and then it caught my eye when I re-read the year’s stories. 

Top Discoveries of 2010:

Cuneiform Tablet Found in Jerusalem (and here)

Temple Discovered in Ataroth, Jordan – see also Ataroth in the Bible and this follow-up post.

Assyrian Vassal Treaty Found at Tell Tayinat

Decumanus Discovered in Jerusalem

Cuneiform Tablet Fragments Found at Hazor

Philistine Temple Identified at Gath

Herod’s Theater Box Discovered at Herodium

Samaritan Synagogue Discovered near Beth Shean

High Level Aqueduct Discovered in Jerusalem

Late Bronze Cultic Items Found Near Jokneam

Chariot Linchpin from Sisera’s Hometown

Synagogue Discovered at Horvat Kur

Top Technology-Related Stories of 2010:

Radar Imaging Reveals Hyksos Capital

Radiocarbon Study and Egyptian Chronology


Hanan Eshel, 1958-2010

Ehud Netzer, 1934-2010

Tomorrow I’ll finish this list with more significant stories, noteworthy posts, and favorite resources
from 2010.


A Hike Through Galilee

Most tourists see Israel through a bus window.  The advantages of modern transportation are obvious, but the drawbacks are more apparent after a day on the trail.  Some trips incorporate a small amount of walking, but time factors often preclude a half-day, a full day, or more seeing the land as Abraham and David did. In my experience, the land “looks different” when your legs are aching and your canteen is getting low.

Israel is crisscrossed with many well-marked trails, but various logistical challenges prevent most tourists from ever enjoying them.  The short-term visitor to Israel may have difficulty finding a hiking map (especially in English) and determining a safe and appropriate route.

A new opportunity now exists which eliminates a number of these hurdles.  The “Jesus Trail” provides a convenient path through a beautiful and historically significant area.  While I wish that the developers had chosen a different name (such as the “Nazareth to Capernaum Trail”), I am impressed with how much careful work has been done to make this a viable option for many future tourists.

I’ve noted the existence of the trail before (here and here and here and here), but I was unaware of a website that provides numerous resources for the future visitor.  There is too much to mention here, but I would suggest a few sections as of interest to all, whether potential hikers or not.

Start with the map showing the points of interest. From there you can visit individual sites.  I went immediately to the “Roman Road,” but you might prefer the Sea of Galilee or Arbel National Park

From there I would head over to the blog, which has a number of interesting entries, including one with a free flyer with a map showing historical features and visitor facilities.  If you want to see more detail, check out the day hikes and stage maps.  As I said, this is a very well thought-out program and resource.  There is also a new guidebook (see sample chapters here).  If anything is missing, it must be the adventure that comes from not knowing where you are going.

If you’ve not been to Israel before, you may want to consider a trip that incorporates time on a trail such as this one.  If you have been to Israel, this may be the impetus to get you back for a return trip. 

There’s no reason to do the same thing twice!

Plain of Gennesaret from Arbel, tb052000207

Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel.  The view certainly was more enjoyable to me after hiking 70 miles from Dan to the Sea of Galilee on the Israel Trail.

Wednesday Roundup

An Iron Age fortress next to the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv shows evidence of trade with the island of Lesbos in the 8th-7th centuries.  Archaeological work done at Tel Qudadi seventy years ago have only now been published.  For a large version of the image published in the article, see Leon Mauldin’s blog.

The recent storm revealed an underwater cache of weapons from the British Mandate period at Caesarea.  Divers were surprised by the changes they found.  “We knew things would be different after the storm, but the site was changed so much that we could hardly recognize it.”

Israel had a record-breaking number of tourists in 2010.  Christians comprised 69% of all visitors. 

“The most visited sites included the Western Wall (77%), the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem (73%), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (61%), the Via Dolorosa (60%) and the Mount of Olives (55%).”

“Archaeologist” Vendyl Jones passed away recently.

Eight Americans were killed in Egypt when their bus crashed into a parked truck.  The tourists were traveling from Aswan to see the temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.

This editorial at the New York Times suggests one way that museums can avoid buying off the black market: excavate the archaeological sites themselves.

Geza Vermes tries to rewrite history in a lengthy article on Herod the Great, arguing in part that Herod was the victim of nasty old St. Matthew who “transformed him into a monster.”  I thought it was interesting how the author preferred the passive voice when describing the deaths of the people that Herod murdered.  For instance, “Augustus with a heavy heart allowed Herod to try his two sons, who were found guilty and executed by strangulation in Sebaste/Samaria.”  Josephus provides the only surviving account of the episode. He writes of Herod, “He also sent his sons to Sebaste, a city not far from Cesarea, and ordered them to be there strangled” (Wars 1.551; 1.27.6).

Scholars will present papers tomorrow (Dec 30) in honor of the retirement of Prof. Amihai Mazar.  Aren Maeir has posted a schedule of the meeting (Hebrew).

The annual symposium in memory of Prof. Yohanan Aharoni is planned for February 17 at Tel Aviv University.  A list of the papers is given here.  Part II is entitled, “Debating the Future of Biblical Archaeology: Do Science and Technology Show the Way?”

If you need your football fix while in Israel, the full-contact amateur Israel Football League may beat staying up until dawn.

If you ever drive to the nature reserve at En Gedi, you may want to avoid parking under the trees next time.

HT: Joe Lauer, Keith Keyser, Gordon Govier


New Exhibit: 19th Century Photography of the Holy Land

Art Daily has a story on an upcoming exhibit at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California:

In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in 19th-Century Photography on view at the Getty Villa from March 2 through September 12, 2011, features some of the first photographic images of the eastern margins of the Mediterranean. This region is one of the most photographed places on earth, with subjects ranging from architectural sites to evocative geography, scenes of pastoral life, and its people. The photographs on view in this exhibition reveal what the travelers of the 1800s discovered on their journey: a landscape of belief, at once familiar yet still mysterious.
In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in 19th-Century Photography features rare, early daguerreotypes, salted-paper prints, and albumen silver prints, created between the 1840s and 1900s by the leading photographers of the time, including Felice Beato, Maxime Du Camp, Auguste Salzmann, James Graham, Louis Vignes, Frank Mason Good, and Frederic Goupil-Fesquet. Due to the delicate nature of photographic materials that cannot be displayed for long periods, this exhibition features more than 100 photographs in total, divided into two installments, each on view for three-months.
Organized into five sections—Jerusalem, Early Views, Peoples of the Bible, Travels in Bible Lands, and Expeditions Beyond the Dead Sea—the photographs, made for study by scholars or produced as souvenirs as well as works of art, were presented by photographers and publishers in ways designed to foster viewers’ religious identification with the region. Subjects include Bethlehem, Nazareth, Petra, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Damascus Gate, Saint Stephen’s Gate, the Ecce Homo Arch, the Al Aqsa Mosque, Walls of the Temple Mount, The Garden of Gethsemane, the Dome of the Rock, the River Jordan, the Pool of Hezekiah, and Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

The story continues here.

HT: Explorator


Caesarea Storm Damage Assessment

Ran Shapira writes about the storm damage to Caesarea in the weekend edition of Haaretz.  Here are a few snippets:

The original breakwater, Margalit explains, was built in the 1950s. On top of the foundations of an ancient ship that had sunk into the seabed not far from the Herodian port, a thick concrete, L-shaped wall was constructed. The whole vertical part, in relation to the coast line, of this wall collapsed entirely in the storm. Indeed, the waves were so powerful that boulders, each weighing a ton, which had been laid on top of the breakwater to prevent people from walking on it, was swept away as though made of cardboard.
About 10 days after that meeting, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov came to Caesarea, where he heard from local authorities about the dangers to the most popular tourist site in Israel after Masada; Caesarea has about 1 million visitors annually. The minister promised to act – but the storm got there before him. The waves, with the help of winds of 100 kilometers per hour and more, fulfilled the darkest of predictions. At present, say Margalit and his colleagues, the ancient port is totally vulnerable to the waves, and there is no way to assess how much damage has been caused below the surface of the water. Other areas of Caesarea archaeological park, north and south of the port, did not benefit even from the protection of the breakwater, meager as it was.
“We have to merge our efforts to rescue the site,” says Margalit. “However, the means at our disposal are meager. The state must join the efforts. If we don’t provide an immediate solution, in the next storm the site at Caesarea is liable to collapse totally, including more of the ancient port, the aqueduct, the city wall from the Byzantine period and so on. Even the Roman theater has been left defenseless. If it is hurt, [singer] Shlomo Artzi will have to find another venue for his performances.”

The full article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Dating the Destructions of Iron Age Megiddo

For the last fifteen years, scholars have disagreed sharply over the archaeological chronology of the early Iron II period.  Israel Finkelstein began advocating a “Low Chronology” in the mid-1990s, with the result that the time of Kings David and Solomon was said to be poor and insignificant. 

Now Finkelstein plans to put his theory to four tests, using scientific analysis of the destruction material from his excavations of Megiddo.  The implications may be far-reaching, though I’m dubious about the claim that they’ll settle matters “once and for all.”  From Matthew Kalman at AOL News:

Now Finkelstein, together with Tel Aviv University physicist Eli Piazetsky, is spearheading an international effort to settle the chronology once and for all. A scientific conference at Megiddo, “Synchronizing Clocks at Armageddon,” launched a project to analyze 10 separate Iron Age destruction layers using four state-of-the-art scientific techniques: radiocarbon dating, optical luminescence, archaeo-magnetism and rehydroxilation — a new method pioneered in Britain within the last two years.
Megiddo is the only place in the world with so many destruction layers — archaeological strata resulting from a calamity such as a fire, earthquake or conquest — that resulted from a specific event in history.
Finkelstein told AOL News that the site provides “a very dense, accurate and reliable ladder for the dating of the different monuments and the layers.”
“These destruction layers can serve as anchors for the entire system of dating,” Finkelstein said. “Megiddo is the only site which has 10 layers with radiocarbon results for the period 1300 to 800 B.C.E.”

The full article explains the techniques and how the archaeology of Israel impacts the dating of sites in Greece.


Mount of Olives and Bahurim Surveyed

Results of an archaeological survey of the northeastern slope of the Mount of Olives have identified numerous ancient burial caves, some cisterns, and the biblical site of Bahurim.

The report is published in Hadashot Arkheologiyot 122 with a number of photos and illustrations. 

The three areas surveyed are located around the eastern exit of the car tunnel passing through the Mount of Olives (map here, photo below).

The burial caves are from the Second Temple period and later, but in some places remains were preserved from the Iron Age.  Ras Tammim in the survey’s Area III has been identified with biblical Bahurim.  This site is best known as the place where Shimei cursed David when he fled from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt.

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! (2 Sam 16:5-7).

Bahurim also is mentioned in connection with the return of David’s wife Michal.  You cannot help but feel sorry for Michal’s second husband who followed, “weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim” (2 Sam 3:16).

About the site (Horvat Ras Tammim), the report states:

The site is situated on a hilltop (Spot Height 704), east of the Mount of Olives. The area at the top of the hill is cultivated farmland, whereas the slopes are covered with vegetation. Potsherds, mostly dating to the Iron Age and the Early Roman and Byzantine periods, were found within the precincts of the ruin. Twenty-one sites were identified.

More details of the survey, including 11 diagrams and illustrations, are published here.

HT: Bible and Interpretation

Mt of Olives, Wilderness, Rift aerial from nw, tb010703219_labeled

Mount of Olives, aerial view to southeast

Mount Carmel Visit

Shmuel Browns has toured Mount Carmel in the aftermath of the fire and posts a report and a number of photographs.  He writes:

On December 2, 2010 a fire erupted on Mount Carmel burning for 4 days until fire fighters could get the blaze under control and destroyed over 50,000 dunam of forest. The JNF estimates that 1.5 million trees were burnt in the fire, some estimates raise the total figure to 5.5 million trees and the Carmel Hai-Bar nature reserve was damaged. We learned that pine trees, soft woods with a lot of resin, are usually killed by the intense heat; their surival mechanism is that the pine cones open in the heat and hundreds of seeds are  scattered. The oak trees, being a hardwood, often are able  to live, the  branches are burned and die but the roots survive and send up new shoots.   According to officials, nearly half of the 150,000 dunams of the Carmel Forest reserve have been destroyed in the fire and it will take at least 20 years to for the forests to grow back.

See his blog for more details and pictures.


Israel Selects 16 New National Heritage Sites

Arutz-7 identifies three of the newly designated sites as Umm el-Qanatir, Gamla, and the Herodium.

A Cabinet-level committee has added 16 new national heritage sites, including two in the Golan Heights and Herod’s tomb in Gush Etzion. Foreign media immediately tried to turn the decision into a political act. 
Also on the list were two archeological sites in the Golan Heights and one in the Judean Hills, south of Jerusalem. All three are familiar to millions of tourists, but at least one foreign news agency implied that their inclusion on the list was a political decision because they are located in areas that are ”occupied.”
The Golan Heights have been a legal part of Israel for 30 years, but most international media still refer to it as “the occupied Golan.” One of the sites is Umm el-Kanitar, where archaeological excavations have revealed a Roman-era Jewish city and synagogue.
The other is on Gamla, a camel hump-shaped hill in the Golan that includes the remains of an ancient Jewish city and which was the site of the 1st century CE Jewish revolt against Roman conquerors. Gamla is a symbol of heroism for the modern State of Israel.
A third site is Herodian, the site of Herod’s palace in eastern Gush Etzion and a popular site for foreign tourists as well as Israelis.

The full article is here.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post story includes additional details.


Anderson on “Jesus: The Man”

  • Was Jesus a carpenter?
  • Did Jesus have short hair?
  • Did Jesus grow up with siblings?
  • Did Jesus work in Tiberias and Sepphoris?

These and other issues are discussed in a review article by Paul N. Anderson on the National Geographic special, “Jesus: The Man.”  Anderson recommends the program but his summary and analysis may be read without seeing this episode in the “Mysteries of the Bible” series.

Anderson explains the value of the presentation:

The value of this larger series, and this episode in particular, is that they cast valuable archaeological and historical light on the story of Jesus presented in the gospels. The correctives to some supposed knowledge are helpful in that they create new understandings of Jesus—the realism of his engaging Greco-Roman society, the ethical-political thrust of John’s ministry, economic and social backdrops of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God. The peasant-class status of Jesus and his family helps contextualize Jesus’ ministry, and imagining a worker with stone helps some of his teachings in the gospels come alive, including (I might add) later references to Jesus’ being referred to as the stone the builders rejected, which ironically became the cornerstone of the new household of God (Ac. 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:1-10).

The article is worth reading.  One quibble: his comment about the scribal conjecture of Bethany gets the evidence backwards.  The earliest manuscripts read Bethany, but Origen couldn’t find a Bethany on the east side of the Jordan River and changed it to Bethabara.  For more, see J. Carl Laney’s article (pdf) or my comment to this post.