The Tomb of Jesus: More Coming

Simcha Jacobovici is in Jerusalem this week working and filming in the area of the “tomb of Jesus” in the Talpiot neighborhood. Jacobovici previously claimed that he had discovered the actual tomb of Jesus and he is currently producing a new documentary with compelling new “proof.”

One possible strategy is that Jacobovici will take patina samples from the “tomb of Jesus” and claim that they match those from the James ossuary. Since this ossuary is inscribed “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus,” Jacobovici can argue that this was the family tomb of Jesus.

Much of this has been discussed at great length in past years, and with the exception of his partner James Tabor (who benefits financially from Jacobovici’s work), I don’t know of any scholars who accept this claim. Simon & Schuster’s website promotes their forthcoming book and promises a “primetime Discovery television commentary” and press conference.

A few basic points may be recalled:

1. The tomb of Jesus’ family was likely located in his hometown of Nazareth.

2. The economic status of Jesus’ family makes it unlikely that they could afford an expensive rock-hewn tomb.

3. The names Jesus, James (Jacob), and Joseph were very common in the first century.

4. Jacobovici is attempting to do what no one in the first century could do: prove that Jesus is still in the tomb.

5. Jacobovici has made it clear in interviews that his primary interest is entertainment, not truth.

Tabor appears ready to chase after anything that will undermine the historic Christian faith.

6. As long as people will buy, Jacobovici will keep selling his sensational stories, especially before major Christian holidays.


Weekend Roundup

A miniature prayer box from the 6th-7th centuries was discovered recently in the excavations in the Central Valley south of the Dung Gate of Jerusalem.

Haaretz: “The High Court of Justice yesterday criticized the agreement by which a private association, Elad, operates the City of David national park in Jerusalem, but said the agreement was legal.” One potential change to the agreement would open the site to tourists on Shabbat. The Jerusalem Post covers the story here.

A local watchman of the lower Herodium sued archaeologist Ehud Netzer days before his death.

Recent court proceedings rejected all of the plaintiff’s claims and observed that the watchman had been extorting the archaeologist for years. The article is in Hebrew, with a Google translation here.

China will help build a railway to Eilat. Israeli officials hope that this boosts tourism to the Red Sea resort city.

Time Magazine gives five reasons to visit Beirut.

“The largest collection of biblical artifacts ever displayed outside Israel” opened yesterday in New York City.

Shmuel Browns gives readers a tour of the four sites run by the East Jerusalem Development Company: Ramparts Walk, Roman Plaza, Zedekiah’s Cave, and the Davidson Archaeological Park.

Joe Yudin recommends hiking to Ein Akev in the Negev Highlands. (Am I the only one offended that the Jerusalem Post publishes material with very basic mistakes in English grammar?)

Peter Williams’ lecture on “New Evidences the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts” primarily discusses data from recent studies of names, but he also includes a geographical section in minutes 36-42 of this Lanier Library Lecture now posted at Youtube. (He shares a photo from, but by using a low-res web version his viewers have a hard time making out what he’s trying to show.)

HT: Joseph Lauer, Yitzhak Sapir, A.D. Riddle


Govier in CT: Excavations in Turkey

The earthquake in eastern Turkey prompts Gordon Govier to look at the country’s relationship with foreign archaeological expeditions in Christianity Today. Sites mentioned include Antioch of Pisidia, Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Tel Tayinat. He also provides some statistics.

[Mark] Wilson said that in 1990, the total number of excavations was 38. Last year more than 200 excavations took place, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
However, Hurriyet reports that the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry has begun cancelling excavation permits for some foreign archaeologists and turning the permits over to Turkish archaeologists. Ministry head Ertuğrul Günay said many foreigners simply weren’t in the country enough. “If they don’t work on it, they should hand it over.”
“The government’s goal is to have universities in each of Turkey’s provinces, and an archaeology department in each of these universities,” said Wilson. This means the number of archaeologists is expanding rapidly. Foreign archeologists now run less than 25 percent of Turkey’s 200 current digs.

One statistic that I doubt is Wilson’s claim that “two-thirds of the New Testament was written either in Turkey or to churches or people in Turkey.” I count 1 long (Revelation) and 7 short books written primarily to people in Turkey (Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Philemon, 1-2 Peter). I count 1 book likely written from Turkey (1 Corinthians). If one includes John’s other four books (the gospel and 1-3 John), that boosts the word count considerably. But without the three longest books in the NT (Matthew, Luke, Acts), as well as the longer letters of Romans and 2 Corinthians, I think the truth may be closer to one-third.

Read the whole article here.

UPDATE: Using word counts from the Greek New Testament (NA27) compiled here, I’ve determined that using the most generous collection listed above (13 books), 34.1% of the NT was written to/from a site in Turkey.

HT: A.D. Riddle


Wednesday Roundup

In follow-ups to yesterday’s story, Nadav Shragai writes that the Mughrabi Bridge must be built. The city engineer is threatening to destroy the temporary bridge. The Muslim Waqf says that they are sovereign over all.

A preliminary report from excavations at Gezer from 2006-2009 is now online. Elsewhere excavator Sam Wolff writes that they are a season or two away from floor levels associated with the (Solomonic) six-chambered gate.

Jerusalem plans to develop an extensive archaeological site 30 feet (10 m) below the plaza at Jaffa Gate in order to share with the public a 220-foot (70-m) aqueduct, a Byzantine bathhouse, and other remains.

Haaretz’s Week’s End has an interesting article on the Cairo Geniza and ambitious plans to digitize all 350,000 fragments.

A couple of Tel Aviv archaeologists would like to move some of historic Jerusalem from the City of
David to the Rephaim Valley. Lipschits and Na’aman have proposed that the King’s Garden was located not where the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys meet but on one end of Emek Refaim Street in west Jerusalem.

The Oriental Institute in Chicago will run an exhibit entitled “Picturing the Past: Imaging and Imagining the Ancient Middle East” from February 6 to September 2, 2012.

A Biblical Chronology from Abraham to Paul is a new book by Andrew E. Steinmann. Justin Taylor has links to his OT and NT Chronologies as well as a 48-page excerpt from his book. It seems to agree with standard conservative views except that Jesus was born in 1 BC. [Note: be prepared for sticker shock. Perhaps you can ask your library to purchase a copy.]

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has begun a list of Archaeological Excavations in 2012.

A photograph of McDonalds at Masada has prompted the site archaeologist to write an article in Haaretz. The photogapher [sic] has rejected the charges.

Thousands of people pass by the place where the ark of the covenant rested every day. Wayne Stiles explains the significance of Kiriath Jearim (and, unlike most, he gets the chronology right!).

The Big Picture celebrates Sukkot.

Israel’s prime minister and education minister are urging everyone to vote for the Dead Sea as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The Dead Sea is one of 28 finalists. Voting ends on November 11.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Sunrise over Dead Sea at En Gedi, tb021906180

The Dead Sea at sunrise

Western Wall Bridge Deemed a Safety Hazard

The bridge from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount has been in the news frequently since the collapse of the earthen embankment in 2004. Arutz-7 reports on the latest in the saga:

Jerusalem’s engineer demands that the ”Mughrabi” bridge for Jews to the Temple Mount be repaired or closed because of dangers.
The complaint of its stability could not come at a worse time for Israel. The bridge, also known as the Rambam Gate, has been a potential explosive subject involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
Jerusalem engineer Shlomo Eshkol wrote a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and demanded that the safety hazard in the temporary structure be fixed within 30 days. Although “temporary,” the structure has existed for several years after the collapse of the old permanent bridge.
Eshkol said authorization for a new bridge was granted last May, but action has been stalled because all parties involved disagree over who has the authority to tear down the current bridge and finance a new one.

The story continues here. For background, see here and here.

Ramp from Western Wall prayer plaza to Temple Mount

InscriptiFact: A Better Way To Read Inscriptions

The technology of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) can change the way you read ancient inscriptions. Developed by HP Labs and utilized by USC with its collection of 40,000 inscriptions, RTI enables the viewer to see the ancient inscription—from Ugaritic texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls—with lighting from all different angles.

Bruce Zuckerman, professor of Hebrew Bible and director of the West Semitic Research Project, has penned a column in this month’s issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (available online in its entirety) explaining the technology and its availability online through InscriptiFact. Registration is free. Zuckerman explains how the technology works.

It involves taking a series of successive images all around an object with the light for each picture situated at a different angle and height but always from about the same distance. This can be done in a light dome or by moving a single light around an object and taking a series of pictures, thus building a virtual light dome. A software program then takes the data from these pictures (a typical set is 32) and builds from them a master image, called a texture-map, which can be displayed on a computer.

You can see the technology in action in this three-minute video. You might want to skip the first 50 seconds to jump right to the display of RTI. It’s fantastic.


Underground to the Western Wall

Tom Powers has posted today his experience in traveling through the drainage channel up from the City of David to the street below Robinson’s Arch. You’ll need to go there for the dozen photos and a step-by-step description, and I’ll encourage you to do that with a couple of sections from his conclusion:

MY TAKE on the experience:  It’s hard to see this underground route turning into a major tourist draw on the order of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. I see it being more for the hard-core afficionado (like me). For one thing, after the initial novelty of traversing an ancient sewer wears off, it gets a bit, well… tedious – it’s 650 meters from Siloam up to the Davidson exit!…. I anticipated entitling this post “Final Section…” but it turns out there is obviously more to come in terms of opening these underground spaces. First, where the present route makes its final jog to the east to run along the foundation courses of the Temple Mount, the cleared drain channel continues straight ahead, northward, but is still blocked/gated. However, a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) said he found the way open a few weeks ago — and follwed it. He went quite a ways, he said, until there was no more lighting and he had to turn around; he estimated he might have been under the Western Wall prayer area….

I appreciate Tom’s careful work to allow all of us to “visit” this newly opened excavation in Jerusalem.


New Book: Archaeology in the Israel Museum

When teaching a group in Israel, one never lacks for books to recommend. The major exception to this is a resource for the Israel Museum. The archaeology wing is a natural place to conclude one’s studies in Israel, viewing many of the artifacts that we have talked about during the course. But a tour of several hours only provides just a taste and students are always disappointed when I inform them that there is no book surveying the collection. A brief and limited work was published in 1984 but this has been difficult to find.israel-museum

A book review in the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review reveals that this significant gap has now been closed. Chronicles of the Land: Archaeology in The Israel Museum Jerusalem is a 352-page work that takes the reader on a tour of the most important discoveries on display in the newly reopened archaeology wing. Steven Fine’s review (pages 64-65) is enthusiastic: “This is more than just a coffee-table book to be schlepped home by excited tourists….Scholars from many fields will find much here than enhances their work….Chronicles of the Land marks an event to be celebrated by all readers of BAR, by scholars and by all who delight in marvelous museums.”

With 326 full-color illustrations, the book is not inexpensive ($58). Since the book is published by the Israel Museum, I was not expecting to find it available outside of the gift shop. But I see that Amazon has a few copies, discounted to $48. For those not on a student budget, this is a happy day.


Wednesday Roundup

Writing on the Malta Independent Online, Mark Gatt reviews Robert Cornuke’s The Lost Shipwreck of Paul and concludes that it is “fraught with mistakes and manipulated facts.”

Alan R. Millard will speak on “Are there Anachronisms in the Books of Samuel?” at Trinity
Evangelical Divinity School on Monday, Nov. 14. For details, see this flyer (pdf).

The International Women’s Club English Lecture Series at Tel Aviv University has some interesting topics slated for the coming months. The semester theme is “From Copper to Bronze: the
Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages.”

The Israel Exploration Journal is among a new group of journals available in JSTOR.

A Swiss architect is trying to save the mosaics of Hisham’s Palace near Jericho.

Work has resumed in the project to lower the ground water threatening five Egyptian temples in Luxor.

Wayne Stiles’ weekly column explains how Scripture uses water imagery to teach valuable lessons.

Eisenbrauns has conference discounts posted online for the benefit of all. Among the deals are two books by Eilat Mazar and one by Ronny Reich. Amnon Ben-Tor’s Back to Masada is 20% off.

Logos Bible Software is taking bids for Austen Henry Layard’s Nineveh and Its Remains (2 vols). Projected price is currently $20.

El Al is quietly cutting their luggage limit on international flights to one bag.

HT: A.D. Riddle, Jack Sasson, Gordon Franz


Largest Mosaic Discovered in Antioch

The largest mosaic discovered to date in Turkey has been unearthed in the ancient city of Antioch.

The mosaic measures 9,150 square feet (850 sq m) and will be preserved within the hotel being constructed on the site. Antioch, located in southeastern Turkey today, was the home of a significant first-century church that sent Paul out on his three missionary journeys (cf. Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3).

The construction of the hotel is still continuing under the protection and controls of museum officials, said Yastı. The officials constantly control the drilling process and preserve the new artifacts unearthed, she added. The 850-square-meter mosaic is not damaged and in very good condition, she said, adding that it is the first time a mosaic like this has been unearthed in Turkey.
There was also a 3,000-square-meter marble floor discovered during the drilling process, she said, adding that the construction process never damaged the artifacts.
Businessman Necmi Asfuroğlu who owns the construction project said they did not want to damage the artifacts discovered during construction. There will be a 17,000-square-meter museum to exhibit those artifacts, he added. The hotel, on the other hand, will have 200 rooms.

The full article is here. Some photos are included in articles in Turkish including one showing the construction site and another with a small photo of the mosaic.

Last month we noted that the museum in Antioch currently has on display a total of 906 square meters of mosaic. The present find nearly equals that.

HT: Jack Sasson