Weekend Roundup

Haaretz has a more complete story of the renovations of the Damascus Gate. This ten-month project is part of a larger four-year plan to study and restore all of the Old City walls.

Did Hatshepsut poison herself with skin lotion? A new study of an ointment bottle suggests that she may have.

The ASOR Blog reviews recent stories in the broader world of archaeology.

Eugene Merrill gives a brief summary of his experience excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) this summer.

Ten years and $1 billion dollars later, the Jerusalem Light Rail gave passengers their first ride yesterday.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg offers his “Archaeology in Israel Update” for July.

A new book on the expedition of William Francis Lynch down the Jordan River and around the Dead
Sea in 1848 is reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. The conclusion: David Haward Bain’s Bitter Waters: America’s Forgotten Naval Mission to the Dead Sea does not advance the story much beyond Lynch’s own account. If you have not read Lynch, however, you will not find it repetitive.

UPDATE (8/22): Booklist has a brief review of the book here.

HT: Jack Sasson, Charles Savelle


Great Deal: William M. Ramsay Collection

The Logos collection of 16 volumes by William Mitchell Ramsay is about to close in Community Pricing. Currently the price is $30, though a few more bids will push everyone’s price down to $25 (or even $20). After it closes, the selling price will probably be around $200 (though retail is listed at $800).

For less than $2 each, you get these electronic books in Logos’ superior format:

I’ve recommended this collection before and do so again.


Transfiguration Celebrated on Mount Tabor

I am not very familiar with this annual observance. From the Jerusalem Post:

On August 18 and 19 the Greek Orthodox Church will celebrate the annual Feast of the Transfiguration, which celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus that is traditionally thought to have occurred at Mount Tabor in the Galilee. The Catholic Church celebrated the holiday earlier this month on August 6 with a festive mass at the Church of the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor.
During this feast a night vigil occurs in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the most unique experience associated with the holiday. Arab Christians camp in the woods surrounding the church and spend the night there, during which time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated outside the church. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated inside the Church on the August 19.
To commemorate Jesus’s climb up the mountain, some pilgrims will ascend Mount Tabor by foot.

The full article gives some details about the Transfiguration from the New Testament. It does not mention that most scholars reject Mount Tabor as the location for this event or give any of the reasons why. Three reasons may be suggested:

1. The Gospels record that Jesus was in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi before the Transfiguration (Matt 16:13). Nothing suggests that he traveled southward to Mount Tabor.

2. The event was intentionally private, and a setting on Mount Hermon or even in the mountains of Upper Galilee would be more suitable than a location on Mount Tabor. The international highway traveling through the Jezreel Valley passed next to the Mount Tabor and would have made privacy unlikely.

3. A military fort on the summit of Mount Tabor during Hasmonean and Roman times was probably in use during Jesus’ ministry and would have precluded the site as a get-away for Jesus.

Nevertheless, early Christian pilgrims were attracted to Mount Tabor as the location for this event. It is possible that its convenient location on the way to Capernaum was a factor. This would have eliminated the need for a multi-day trek up to the environs of Caesarea Philippi.

For more information (and links), see the Mount Tabor page at BiblePlaces.com (also in Spanish and French).

Mount Tabor aerial from east, tbs121280011

Summit of Mount Tabor. Nazareth is visible in the distance.

Wednesday Roundup

The “crown” of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem has been restored, reports the Israel Antiquities Authority. Leen Ritmeyer posts additional photos and an illustration.

Following a report about illegal construction at Gibeah of Saul (Tell el-Ful), officials have removed a fence installed at the site by the Waqf. Arutz-7 has photos.

The proposed re-identification of Tell el-Ful as Parah/Parathon by Israel Finkelstein is critiqued by G. M. Grena and found wanting.

Aren Maeir notes a new page of photos by the Israel Antiquities Authority showing some ancient games and game pieces discovered in Israel.

Renovations on the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, recently reported to be completed in time for an October inauguration, have ground to a halted.

To judge from Turkey’s recent efforts to pillage museums around the world, one would not guess that their warehouses contain more than 25,000 items waiting to be catalogued and put on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

You can now visit the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in Google Street Views. Impressive!

Justin Taylor quotes from R. T. France’s commentary on Matthew seven differences between Galilee 
and Judea in the time of Jesus: racial, geographic, political, economic, cultural, linguistic, and religious.

Many like Amazon for its quick shipping, but James Spinti of Eisenbrauns points to a bizarre exception (and he includes a screenshot).

HT: Jack Sasson


Jericho Excavations 2011

Rome “La Sapienza” University and the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage (MOTA – DACH) excavated at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) in March 2011 and have now posted a preliminary report online.

The team excavated four areas with remains from the Early and Middle Bronze periods. The report contains the following sections:

  • Palestinian Culture Protection: Jericho, 10,000 years of History of Humankind
  • Restorations of EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2, 2500-2350 BC) Palace in Area G
  • Area A: MB I-II (Sultan IVa-b, 1900-1650 BC) stratigraphic sequence, MB III (Sultan IVc, 1650-1550 BC) Cyclopean Wall and rampart, Iron Age IIC (Sultan VIc) house and installations
  • Area B: the South Gate in EB IIIA (Sultan IIIc1) double line of fortifications
  • Area E: MB II (Sultan IVb, 1800-1650 BC) Curvilinear Stone Structure and connected features
  • Area E: MB II (Sultan IVb, 1800-1650 BC) Curvilinear Stone Structure and connected features
  • Middle Bronze II-III (Sultan IVb-c) Palace foundation walls W.633 and W.1175
  • EB IV (Sultan IIId) installations
  • EB IIIB (Sultan IIIc2) Palace G

Palace G is believed to be the residence of the city’s governors in the third millennium BC.

The continuation of the exploration of Palace G during this season allowed to produce a more complete plan and architectural section of the building, which extended at least on three different terraces on the eastern slope of the Spring Hill. The connection with previous excavation plans to the north-west (in Sellin and Watzinger’s squares 5G-H; Sellin – Watzinger 1913, 39-42, figs. 18-20) and in Kenyon’s square HII (see above note 45), allow to draw out an overall plan of the palace, which was the seat of the rulers of Jericho in the third quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. Its monumental architecture and special finds, such as carefully executed pithoi and storage jars, seal impressions, ceremonial vessels, as well as the copper dagger, further corroborate this identification.

The palace was restored this season with plastered mudbricks. Photos of the excavation and restoration works are also available (figures 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-15, 16-19, 20-21, 22-25).



Hercules Statue Discovered in Jezreel Valley

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of a headless statue of Hercules at a site 3 miles (4 km) northwest of Afula in the Jezreel Valley. From the press release:

A rare statue of Hercules was exposed at Horvat Tarbenet in the Jezreel Valley in excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, within the framework of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, directed by the Israel National Roads Company
A marble statue of Hercules from the second century CE was uncovered in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at Horvat Tarbenet, within the framework of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, directed by the Israel National Roads Company.
According to Dr. Walid Atrash of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is a rare discovery. The statue, which probably stood in a niche, was part of the decoration of a bathhouse pool that was exposed during the course of the excavations. It is c. 0.5 m tall, is made of smoothed white marble and is of exceptional artistic quality. Hercules is depicted in three dimension, as a naked figure standing on a base. His bulging muscles stand out prominently, he is leaning on a club to his left, on the upper part of which hangs the skin of the Nemean lion, which according to Greek mythology Hercules slew as the first of his twelve labors”.

The press release continues here. Three (similar) photos of the statue are available in a zip file.


Hercules statue discovered at Horvat Tarbenet. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

UPDATE (8/16): The story is reported in the Jerusalem Post.


Egypt’s Desire for a Statue in Boston

The construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo has authorities seeking to bring back the most impressive items that have left the country. Yesterday’s story in the Boston Globe reveals some of the inner workings in the case of the bust of Prince Ankhhaf now in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It’s an interesting read, particularly if you are concerned with the movement to repatriate antiquities. Unlike some other cases, no one disputes the legality of Boston’s ownership.

In a smoky office a short drive from the Pyramids of Giza, Mohamed Saleh, once the director of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and now the man in charge of the collections for a planned $550 million Grand Egyptian Museum, is asked how much he knows about the bust of Prince Ankhhaf. The precious 4,500-year-old statue, 20 inches tall, left Egypt decades ago and is now on prominent display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Saleh nods, smiles, and opens his laptop. Just a few clicks, and the stoic ancient face pops onto his screen. Four words are all Saleh needs.
“It is a dream,’’ he says.
The dream is the idea of the Ankhhaf bust returning from Boston, where it has rested since 1927. The Egyptian government is demanding the statue’s return, and the MFA has refused.
But this conflict – one of many the MFA has faced over works in its permanent collection – has been further complicated by the recent tumult in the Egyptian government. And while some claims for ownership of works can be made on legal grounds, this one treads on murkier terrain. The bust of Ankhhaf was given to the MFA by a previous Egyptian government, so the current government has no legal case. Any appeal must be made on moral grounds: that the piece is part of Egypt’s patrimony, and belongs at home.

The story continues here, but you must go to the museum’s website for photos.

HT: Jack Sasson


Weekend Roundup

The Ancient World Online (AWOL) has several posts of map resources this week. The Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations is a work-in-progress by students and faculty at Harvard. The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem has now made available online the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection. For more historic maps, start with the Links page at this site.

Tom Powers reports that you can now walk underground (on the street and through the drainage channel) from the Pool of Siloam to the Givati Parking Lot opposite the entrance to the City of David. He also has photos of the new exit for the passage just below Robinson’s Arch. (The unsightly railing smack in the middle of the first-century street will cause distress for those who haven’t already taken photographs of this historic site.)

The Jerusalem municipality is promoting a “Take two days in Jerusalem” campaign this summer, and the list of cultural events is extensive:

The International Festival of Light, Knights Festival, International Film Festival, Puppets Theater Festival, Opera Festival, Balabasta Festival in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem Beer Festival, Arts & Crafts Festival, End of Summer Celebration Festival, Wine Tasting Festival, Shalem Dance Festival, Ziggy Marley, Infected Mushrooms, Matisyahu, Eyal Golan, Renee Fleming and more!

Arutz-7 is reporting illegal construction activity at Gibeah of Saul.

Recent events in the Middle East may have a downside: “The ‘Arab Spring’ may have facilitated trade of a treasure trove of stolen assets in the world’s art and antiquities markets.”

The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford will be opening new wings for ancient Egypt and Nubia in November.

Amihai Mazar will be giving a public lecture in Sydney, Australia in September.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson, BibleX


Bird’s Eye View of the Holy Land, engraved from A. J. Marks lithograph, 1880s. Source: Eran Laor Cartographic Collection.

New Blog: Feet to Follow, Eyes to See

Many of the blogs related to Israel and biblical sites are focused on matters of academic or current interest. The purpose of David Lang’s new blog is to help the reader to connect facts to faith. Lang is the author of the Bible Lands PhotoGuide for Accordance Bible Software and he is currently writing a book, Feet to Follow, Eyes to See. He writes:

Ultimately, that’s my goal in writing this book. There are plenty of excellent books which offer facts about biblical backgrounds, but I want to bridge the gap between fact and faith. I don’t just want you to understand the Bible more clearly; I want you to hear God speaking to you through His Word.

His series “Dotwatch” helps readers to “connect the dots” for readers who live in a different time and place than biblical writers. In his most recent post in this series, he reflects on the difference between what his intense study of the land of Israel prepared him for and the reality he experienced on his first trip.

Even though my in depth study of all those photos gave me a good sense of what to expect, there was one thing those photos could not adequately give me: a proper sense of scale. There’s a difference between seeing a photo of the colonnaded street of Beth-Shan and actually standing at the foot of one of those massive columns. Even if the photo actually shows people standing next to those columns, so that your mind is able to conceive the difference in height, it is somehow not the same thing as actually being there. Getting a sense of scale from a photograph is a clinical kind of knowledge. It cannot convey the experiential knowledge of actually being dwarfed by something and feeling awe at its grandeur. Somehow, this second kind of knowledge is deeper and far more real. I suppose you could say it’s the difference between seeing in three dimensions rather than two.

I appreciate Lang’s insights and personal style. I look forward to following along with him on his journey.


Reports on Latest Excavations and Surveys in Israel

The latest issue of Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel has now been published online. Most of these excavations are salvage digs, conducted quickly in advance of a building project. The list of sites is impressive and includes:

  • Ashkelon
  • Bethlehem of Galilee
  • Caesarea
  • En Gedi
  • Omrit
  • Jerusalem: Sultan’s Pool, City of David, Via Dolorosa
  • Kafr Kanna (Cana?)
  • Kinneret: Path around the Sea of Galilee
  • Nein (Nain of Luke 7)
  • Ono
  • Tel Dor
  • Tel Qasile
  • Tel Rekhesh
  • Zippori (Sepphoris)

One report, however, is missing. Last week reader Roi Brit alerted me to the report on “Jerusalem, the Old City, Wilson’s Arch, and the Great Causeway.” This is now missing from the list and the link is defunct. One can still see, however, evidence of its existence in the list of “Recently Published” on the home page (just above the notice of “Copyright Legalicy” [!]). I can only speculate why the report was removed, but given the sensitivity of the area of Wilson’s Arch and the Great Causeway, it’s tempting to suppose that political considerations are involved. The Wayback Machine is not helpful this time.

Arches supporting Street of Chain, tb031600201

Great Causeway near Western Wall of Temple Mount