From the Associated Press:

Followers of the Bahai faith unveiled their newly renovated holy site on the coast of Israel on Tuesday, drawing attention to one of the Holy Land’s lesser-known religions. The renovation of the Shrine of the Bab, a UN-designated World Heritage site, lasted two-and-a-half-years and cost $6 million dollars, according to the Bahai leadership. The structure has been refitted and strengthened to withstand an earthquake, and the building’s dome – the most distinctive feature of the landscape in the Mediterranean port city of Haifa – has been covered with 11,790 new gold-glazed porcelain tiles.

The full story is here.


I have lamented before the lack of a good map of Jordan showing the archaeological sites.  Today that shortcoming is partially resolved with the unveiling of MEGA-Jordan, an online database of that locates 11,000 archaeological sites on a Google Earth-type interface.  The database was created by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund. 

The opening page includes 11 tutorial videos, but if you are interested you should watch them before you enter the site because a bug in the website will prevent you from returning from the map section to the entry page.  (You can work around this by opening the site in a different browser.)

From the Associated Press:

Jordan on Tuesday launched the world’s largest online antiquities database, which details every archaeological site in the country and aims to help preserve its treasures. Its creators said the Web platform could be a model for Iraq, where looters have plundered its ancient heritage.
Experts said the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities is the first such countrywide system. The site uses Geographic Information System, similar to Google Earth, to map 11,000 registered sites in the country , and a click on each reveals inventories of what they contain and reports on their conditions.
The public can use the material for planning visits. Scholars and inspectors approved by Jordan’s Antiquities can update the information in a user-friendly way for other professionals to follow and for authorities to keep track of threats to the sites.
Jordan hosts a number of World Heritage sites, most famously the 2,000 year-old rose rock city of Petra , but also Umm er-Rassas, a city dating back to the 5th century that features ancient Byzantine churches, and Qasr Amra, an 8th century Islamic castle. It is also dotted with sites dating from the Neolithic Age, through Biblical times to the Crusades.
The $1 million MEGA program was developed in cooperation with Getty Institute of Los Angeles and the New York-based World Monuments Fund.
“Jordan is at the forefront of safeguarding its heritage,” Getty’s director Tim Whalen said at an Amman press conference with antiquities chief Ziad al-Saad unveiling the system.

The story continues here.  I tested the site by searching for and quickly finding Tal Jalul, Hesban, and Gadara.  The database does not appear to contain entries for the biblical sites of Penuel/Peniel and Mahanaim.

Our gratitude goes to the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund for creating this work and for the country of Jordan for allowing it.

HT: Jack Sasson


Gabriel Barkay is probably the world’s leading scholar on tombs in Jerusalem.  He is quoted in a story by the Agence France-Presse.

Gabi Barkai, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University who has 40 years of experience excavating tombs in Jerusalem, confirmed the nails dated back to the first century, but said it was impossible get a more accurate date.
“Nails are a rare things in tombs from Second Temple period Jerusalem,” he told reporters, noting that there was no bone residue attached to them.
There were several theories as to why they might have been put inside a grave, one of which was that crucifixion nails were believed to be powerful amulets for the afterlife.
But there was “no proof whatsoever that these nails came from the cave of Caiaphas,” he said.
Asked if he believed they were used in the crucifixion, Barkai was cautious.
“It’s a possibility,” he said.

I take the last quote in the sense of, “It’s not absolutely impossible that these nails were used in a crucifixion.”  It should also be noted that Barkay was likely a paid consultant for his appearance in the movie, and he would have been reluctant to completely dismiss the movie’s basic premise at a news conference sponsored by the film producer.

Time magazine has this:

Also unclear: Why would a priest be buried with a nail? Jacobovici points to scholarship indicating crucifixion nails were regarded by contemporary Jews as holding special healing powers. The bit of paganism was apparently tolerated, even in priestly circles: a woman’s skull found in the same tomb contained a Roman coin, presumably included to pay the boatman steering souls across the River Styx.
Gaby Barkay, a professor at Bar Ilan University and probably the most prominent archeologist in Israel, offers another explanation. Jews at the time of Christ “were impurity freaks,” Barkay says. Anything in the vicinity of a corpse was thought to be contaminated by death, even a nail stuck in a nearby wall. “Therefore it would probably be removed and put into the grave,” he says.
The professor quibbles with other assumptions as well, but notes that “nails in general are a rare thing in tombs of the Second Temple Period,” and his presence at a crowded news conference has added weight to Jacobovici’s effort.

Barkay may be one of the most credible archaeologists in Israel, but he’s certainly not the most prominent.  While it is true that crucifixion nails were considered sacred amulets in the ancient world, that is usually the explanation given for why nails are not found in tombs.

The Christian Post adds:

According to the documentary’s guest archaeologist, Gaby Barkay, iron nails were rarely found in tombs and were normally used to carve names in the stone ossuaries.
“There’s no proof that the nails are connected to any bones or proof from textual data that Caiaphas had the nails for the crucifixion with him after the crucifixion took place and after Jesus was taken down from the cross,” Barkay said. “On the other hand, those are possible things.”

Everything is possible.  The question is, what is likely given the evidence?  Should profit motives influence our evaluation of a claim?