Finkelstein: Politics and the City of David

Israel Finkelstein has written a very good article about the archaeological situation in the City of David.  I do not share Finkelstein’s view of the tenth-century BC poverty of the city, but with regard to modern political realities, he speaks much truth.  From Forward:

Confusion regarding this area begins with its name. Palestinians call it Silwan, but this is base propaganda aimed at the uninformed and uncritical international media. The Palestinian village of Silwan is located not in the City of David but rather to the east, on the other side of the deep Kidron Valley. Old photographs taken before the middle of the 20th century show the ridge cropping out south of the Temple Mount to be devoid of almost any buildings.
Jews and researchers of all backgrounds call the site the City of David — a name given to the ridge by early European explorers. Scholars agree that together with the Temple Mount and the southwestern part of the Old City, this ridge is the location of biblical Jerusalem.
This site should be revered as one of humanity’s great landmarks. Were it not for the political controversy surrounding the site, it would doubtless be high on the list of world heritage sites.
Allegations are sometimes heard in the media that work in the City of David is unlawful and not executed to the standards of modern archaeology. This is untrue. Fieldwork there is carried out according to law and — taking into account the difficulties of excavating in a built-up area — using sound field methods. All excavation projects are directed by seasoned archaeologists and inspected by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Further to the east, the village of Silwan is built over unique, monumental Judahite rock-cut tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. Two of these tombs had ancient Hebrew inscriptions on their façades. But the tombs are neglected, flooded with sewage and filled with village garbage. And, of course, the greatest devastation to have recently been inflicted on Jerusalem’s archaeological heritage was the large-scale bulldozing a few years ago of buried antiquities on the Temple Mount by the Waqf, which administers the Islamic holy sites, in preparation for the construction of a massive underground mosque.

There is too much of value to excerpt, and I commend the entire article to you.

Ophel, site of City of David, mat05424

City of David and Temple Mount in early 1900s

This photo is from the Jerusalem volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05424).


Metal Codices To Be Examined by Multiple Labs

This article in the Jordan Times has some new information about the metal codices, particularly with regard to the seven books recently recovered by Jordanian police. 

Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis – in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman – in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.
According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.
“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.
Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.
Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.
“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.
Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier – predating the time of Christ – and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.

The full article has more details.  Jim Davila recaps the evidence that the codices are modern forgeries (with one caveat).

HT: Joe Lauer


The Fires of Gehenna: Views of Scholars

Yesterday I pointed out Trevin Wax’s post on Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition.  In it he makes the comment that “It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right.”  It may be worthwhile to cite a number of significant scholars who have questioned or rejected this myth over the last 150 years.  The myth continues to be perpetuated because pastors and Bible teachers are not reading these works.  (In the quotations below, I provide the larger context and highlight with bold the statements most relevant to this question.)

The first is Edward Robinson, preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838.  He wrote:

“In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 [1841], 404-5).

The origin of the “garbage dump” theory appears to be Kimchi.  James A. Montgomery observes this medieval commentator’s logic, but does not accept it.

“With the common sense which often characterizes Jewish commentators, Kimchi says that the place was the dump of the city, where fires were always kept burning to destroy the refuse; ‘therefore the judgment of the wicked is parabolically called Gehenna.’ But from the Biblical references the place appears to have nothing physically objectionable about it; in contrast to its contemporary condition Jeremiah prophesied that it would one day be called ‘Valley of Slaughter’” (“The Holy City and Gehenna,” JBL 27/1 [1908], 34).

Lloyd R. Bailey quotes Kimchi directly:

“The traditional explanation for this seems to go back to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27 (around 1200 C.E.). He remarked the following concerning the valley beneath Jerusalem’s walls:
Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’
“Kimhi’s otherwise plausible suggestion, however, finds no support in literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods. There is no evidence that the valley was, in fact, a garbage dump, and thus his explanation is insufficient” (“Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archaeologist 49/3 [1986], 188-89).

About the same time, G. R. Beasley-Murray made a similar observation:

“The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source. The valley was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual judgment (see Isa. 66:24) and later with a place of judgment by fire without any special connection to Jerusalem (see, for example, 1 Enoch 27:1ff., 54:1ff., 63:3-4, and 90:26ff)” (Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 376-77).

W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump.

“Why the place of torment came to have this name, the name of the valley south of Jerusalem, gê-hinnōm (Josh 18.16 LXX: Γαιεννα), now Wādier-rabābi, is uncertain. The standard view, namely, that the valley was where the city’s garbage was incinerated and that the constantly rising smoke and smell of corruption conjured up the fiery torments of the damned, is without ancient support, although it could be correct. Perhaps the abode of the wicked dead gained its name because children had there been sacrificed in fire to the god Molech (2 Chr 28.3; 33.6), or because Jeremiah, recalling its defilement by Josiah (2 Kgs 23.10; cr. 21.6), thundered against the place (Jer 7.31-2; 19.2-9; 32.35), or because it was believed that in the valley was the entrance to the underworld home of the pagan chthonian deities (cf. b. ‘Erub. 19a) (Matthew 1-7, 514-15).

In the “Gehenna” article in the recent (2007) New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Philip S. Johnston considers the biblical evidence to provide “perhaps sufficient links” though he does not dismiss outright the dump theory.

“The exact process by which a geographical toponym became the locale of postmortem punishment is obscure. The clear association with abhorrent sacrifice and subsequent slaughter, and the possible further links with fire and corpses are perhaps sufficient links. It is often suggested that the Hinnom Valley became Jerusalem’s garbage dump, and that it constantly smoldered. Alternatively, the association to the cult of the underworld deity Molech seems to contain a link between a fiery altar and the entrance to divine realm” (2:531).

Bailey gives a further suggestion that may help to explain the origin of the view of Gehenna.  The practice of sacrifice to foreign gods led to the view expressed in the Talmud that the Hinnom Valley was the location of two of the gates to Gehenna.

“Even after the valley ceased to function as a cult center, it continued to be regarded as the location of an entrance to the underworld over which the sole God was sovereign. This is clear from the following statements in the Babylonian Talmud:
(Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar further stated:) Gehenna has three gates; one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem. (According to Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai’s school:) There are two palm trees in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and between them smoke arises..,. and this is the gate of Gehenna? (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin, 19a-see Slotki 1938: 130-31)” (191).

Finally, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron conclude their article on a New Testament-period dump in Jerusalem with some observations from archaeological investigation about the location of the Old Testament-period dump in the Kidron Valley.

“It seems that the location of the city-dump of the late Second Temple period in this particular part of the city had a previous long history in the late Iron Age II. The Book of Nehemiah mentions several times a gate called Saar ha-Aspot/Sopot (Neh 2, 13; 3:13-14; 12:31). This toponym is usually translated as ‘Dung Gate’, based on the analogy with 2 Sam 2,8 and Ps 113,7 (Simons 1952, 123). These verses mention the city’s poor people, who most probably were foraging the city dump for food. Even if we accept B. Mazar’s suggestion (1975, 194-95), to relate spt to tpt – the Tophet – which was an extramural high place in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kgs 21, 6; 2 Chr 33,6), we remain in an area of dirt. This place involved an extensive use of fire, which produced burning waste such as ashes, soot and charred wood. Also the location of the Gate of the pottery sherds (Sa’ar ha-Harsit), in the south (Jer 19,2), might point to a pile of garbage (Simons 1952, 230), as pottery vessels were the type of household item broken and discarded in antiquity more than any other type of artifact.
All the various types of city-garbage (ashes, pottery shards, waste of human occupation, etc.) were moved and dumped at the southeastern side of the city of Jerusalem, in the Iron Age and Persian periods. This was the city dump to where also the debris of the smashed cult objects and related material that was created during the Josianic religious reform, were moved and dumped, mentioning particularly the Kidron Valley (2 Kgs 23,4,6,10,12)” (“The Jerusalem City-Dump in the Late Second Temple Period, Israel Exploration Journal 53 [2003], 17).

The “southeastern side” of Jerusalem is the southern portion of the Kidron Valley, and this was the area of the excavators’ study.  The “extensive use of fire” is in relation to the activities of a high place, whereas the waste products of the city inhabitants were not of the sort that required significant burning.

In short, while it may not be denied that there was some burning of garbage in ancient Jerusalem, there is no indication that this was extensive, that it was located in the Hinnom Valley, or that it was in any way connected to the fires of eternal torment.  A simpler and better supported explanation is the sacrificial offerings to pagan deities in the Hinnom Valley (Jer 7:31-32; 32:35; 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6).

Hinnom Valley from east, tb091306367

Hinnom Valley from the Mount of Olives (looking west).  Location of ancient child sacrifices.

Urban Legends of Bible Teachers

Trevin Wax provides a list of “Urban Legends” that many preachers and Bible teachers are guilty of disseminating.  His list includes and explains these:

  • The “eye of the needle” is a city gate.
  • The high priest had a rope tied around his ankle. (See also my post here.)
  • Scribes washed before and after writing the name of God.
  • Gehenna was a perpetually burning trash dump.  (See also my post here.)
  • NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day.”

The comments to the post include many more.  The age of the internet makes it much easier to spread myths, but it also makes it easier to stop them.

HT: BibleX


Rising Waters of the Dead Sea

Today’s Haaretz carries a blistering article on the failure of the Israeli government to act on the rising level of the southern half of the Dead Sea.  While the northern half is dropping, the southern portion threatens to flood six hotels near the shoreline. 

Short-term thinking. Unthinking optimism – “everything will work out.” Putting off hard decisions, selling national assets for peanuts, and first and foremost, of course, a lack of governance. These are the factors behind the ecological monster that is the Dead Sea, which is about to flood the hotels built in the Ein Bokek oasis.
After one High Court ruling, two biting reports by the state comptroller and any number of warnings about the gravity of the situation, the government is supposed to finally make decisions. It has to decide how to rescue one of Israel’s most important tourism destinations, the lowest place on earth. After 20 years of foot-dragging, it has to decide how best to stop the rising level of the sea’s southern half from swamping the hotels.
Israel’s ignoring of nature was the root of the evil behind the damaging of the Dead Sea. Israel built its main water conduit from north to south in the 1950s. At the time this was hailed as progress; only later came recognition of the tremendous damage it caused. Since the national conduit redirected water to central Israel, it all but eliminated the flow of natural water down the Jordan River south of Lake Kinneret. Israel’s neighbors Syria and Jordan diverted the course of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers too. The upshot was that during the 20th century, the Dead Sea fell 25 meters.
Also to blame for the drop in sea level is the Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals (ICL ), which in turn is owned by the Ofer family. DSW is responsible for 20% of the drop in sea level, according the Geological Institute. It siphons seawater into evaporation pans south of the sea, from which it extracts the potash it sells worldwide as fertilizer.
It came up with three suggestions. One: Harvest the salt building up on the floor of the pool to keep the water level steady. Two: Create a lagoon by splitting the salt pool into two parts. The water level of the part by the hotels would remain steady. Three: Raze the six hotels on the shore (and the adjacent shopping centers ) and rebuild them elsewhere.
The Tourism Ministry is deliberating between option one (harvest ) and three (move ), and is reportedly leaning toward the latter. The Finance Ministry (which doesn’t get to decide ) supports the last option, as the cheapest.

This is not the first time this subject has been addressed in the media, but this may be the best article to date.  Read the whole for more details.

Ein Bokek Le Meridien hotel from above, tb030106477ddd

Hotels of Ein Bokek

Underground Jerusalem

The weekend magazine of Haaretz has a lengthy article on the excavations below ground in Jerusalem.  While the majority of the information is not new, the article brings matters together in a helpful survey.  The second half of the article focuses on the excavations of the road and drainage channel that runs from the Western Wall to the Pool of Siloam.

The excavation of the sewage canal that links the City of David with the Western Wall began in 2003. In many respects, this tunnel became Elad’s flagship project. If, as Elad officials hope, the public can walk the length of the tunnel, it would give the national park a major boost, connecting it directly to the Western Wall plaza. The excavators say this is not an excavation in the ordinary sense, but rather a matter of “clearing” sewage from a Herodian tunnel that was largely exposed by Warren and his successors.

The excavation is criticized on political grounds as well as on archaeological ones.

The scholarly objection to digging laterally through the tunnels is that this is a faulty, unscientific way of excavating, one that typified archaeology a century or more ago; it makes it impossible to find, date and document all the archaeological findings. Another objection concerns the fact that most of the excavations are cautiously retracing the steps of Warren and his successors, meaning they are providing only marginal added value. Critics also say the tunnels conceal the excavation from the public.

Archaeologist Ronny Reich is given a chance to respond:

Reich himself wrote in an introductory archaeology textbook that the tunnel excavation method is outdated. Nevertheless, he rejects the criticism of his work in the City of David. One must differentiate between genuine archaeological excavations and clearing out debris from an ancient sewer, he says. This is not a vertical excavation, but rather the uncovering of an ancient structure. As for vertical excavations, such as the stepped street – the street that was built above the sewer system, now cleared and part of the City of David national park – Reich explains that given the choice between what he gave up by adopting this type of excavation style, and what he discovered by virtue of employing the method, he has no doubt that the excavation was highly valuable.
“I’m not motivated by politics; I myself am on the left. I’m motivated by the archaeological understanding of Jerusalem. The excavation is sponsored by the State of Israel. What can I do if it is easy to raise funds for excavations in Jerusalem?”
Reich is also proud of his part in encouraging tourism in the area. “When we started, 15 years ago, there may have been a thousand tourists a year. Now there are 450,000 and that is solely because of the archaeology. There is nothing else. So what am I being accused of, helping develop tourism in Jerusalem?”

It’s worth noting that Reich is a political leftist.  This contradicts the earlier statement in the article by Meretz city council member Meir Margalit.

I have no problem with excavating per se; I myself am an archaeology buff, and I always get a thrill from these tunnels. The problem is the excavators’ messianic political agenda.

Margalit’s statement should not go unchallenged.  The fact is that Elad, who is supporting the excavations financially, is ideologically driven, but the archaeologists are not.  There have been many pieces criticizing the excavations, but not once have I heard any hint that Reich or his partner Shukron distort their findings or interpretation because of personal or institutional bias.

The article concludes with a statement from Elad, financial backer of the City of David excavations. 

The final paragraph makes an important point:

“Recently a drainage canal from the Second Temple period was exposed. This is one of the most important and exciting archaeological discoveries of recent years, not only for the Jewish people but for all of human civilization. It is clear to every thinking person that the route of the canal was determined 2,000 years ago, and there is no connection between its discovery and attempts to connect it, indecently, to political viewpoints.”

The entire article contains much more.  Previous posts on this blog about the excavations of this street were written in Jan 2011, Sept 2009, Mar 2008, and Sept 2007.

Siloam street drainage channel, tb021907936

Drainage channel below Siloam Street

Lead Codices: Jordanian Police Recover Portion

Seven of the seventy metal codices alleged to be from the first century have been recovered by Jordanian police.  From Haaretz:

Jordan’s archaeology chief, Ziad al-Saad, said on Tuesday that security police have recovered seven ancient manuscripts from local smugglers. The writings are part of 70 manuscripts that Jordanian archaeologists discovered five years ago in a cave in the north. Later, they were stolen and most were believed to have been smuggled into Israel. At a press conference in Jordan’s capital, Amman, earlier this month, al-Saad said that there is strong evidence the material was excavated by a Jordanian Bedouin, but that it later made its way into the hands of an Israeli Bedouin.

The full story is here.  This should allow a more thorough and honest investigation than has been done to this point.


Amenhotep III Statue Unearthed at Funerary Temple

From the Associated Press:

Archaeologists unearthed one of the largest statues found to date of a powerful ancient Egyptian pharaoh at his mortuary temple in the southern city of Luxor, the country’s antiquities authority announced Tuesday.
The 13 meter (42 foot) tall statue of Amenhotep III was one of a pair that flanked the northern entrance to the grand funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile that is currently the focus of a major excavation.
The statue consists of seven large quartzite blocks and still lacks a head and was actually first discovered in the 1928 and then rehidden, according to the press release from the country’s antiquities authority. Archaeologists expect to find its twin in the next digging season.
Excavation supervisor Abdel-Ghaffar Wagdi said two other statues were also unearthed, one of the god Thoth with a baboon’s head and a six foot (1.85 meter) tall one of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet.

The full story is here.  The temple is best known to visitors by the well-preserved Colossi of Memnon, but most of the stones of the temple were robbed away in antiquity.  Amenhotep III’s temple was the largest in ancient Thebes, covering a total of four million square feet.  A diagram and aerial photo is included with an article about the temple by Mark Andrews.

Colossi of Memnon in floodwaters of Nile River, cf34-74

Colossi of Memnon, with floodwaters of Nile, c. 1965
Source: Photographs of Charles Lee Feinberg

Top Tourist Sites in Israel in 2010

According to Dun and Bradstreet Israel, the most visited paid tourist sites in Israel in 2010 were:

1. Masada – 762,992 visitors; revenue of $10 million

2. Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem – 718,902 visitors

3. Caesarea National Park – 698,808 visitors

4. Banias National Park – 663,000 visitors (up from 9th place in 2009)

5. Ramat Gan Safari Park – down from 2nd place in 2009

6. En Gedi Nature Reserve – 468,562 visitors (most of which were on their way to or from Masada)

7. Hammat Gader hot springs

8. Underwater Observatory in Eilat

9. Qumran National Park (see comment on #6 above)

10. Yamit 2000 Water Park in Holon

Israeli visitors account for the large majority of those visiting #2, #5, #7, #8, and #10.  Foreigners are likely the majority at #3 and #9.  The others are popular with both Israelis and foreigners.  Six of the sites are water-related and favorite destinations of locals in the summer.

The most popular free tourist site was the Western Wall of Jerusalem.

Given that 3.5 million tourists visited Israel in 2010, the majority of them Christians, one is led to wonder where the Christians all went.  Surely more than 1 million Christian tourists did not come and leave Israel without visiting Capernaum.  Perhaps the site was excluded from the survey for some reason, even though it charges an entrance fee.  Last year’s survey (noted on this blog here) was reported as pertaining only to Israelis’ destinations, but the stories in the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7 of this year’s results suggest that all tourists are included.

Masada aerial from west, tb010703312

Masada from west

Weekend Roundup

Gordon Franz has updated his article about Simcha’s nails, including statements from several authorities that deny that the nails came from the tomb of Caiaphas.

The excavators of Tel Burna have posted the report on the first archaeological season.

James Hoffmeier is lecturing on “The Exodus from Egypt in Light of Recent Archaeological and Geological Work in North Sinai” in Houston on May 21.

The Global Heritage Fund has created “its own spy agency, created to allow armchair archaeologists (as well as real ones), to watch for looting, disasters and other calamities at some of the most endangered sites of human history.”

This July, Thomas Davis will become Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas.  Davis is author of Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology.  One clear result of the fall of biblical archaeology is that professors now have significantly different titles.

If you believed the recent report about dishonesty by the author of Three Cups of Tea, perhaps you were unaware that it was the work of 60 Minutes.  These are the same folks who brought us the report exposing the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet as forgeries.  The heart of their case was the on-screen confession of an Egyptian artisan.  Yet Hershel Shanks has investigated and determined that it was all a lie.  And 60 Minutes knew it all along.