More Top Stories of 2011

For the year now concluding, this blog had 366 posts. According to Blogger statistics, our readers come from many countries, the top 5 countries of which are:

#1: United States

#2: United Kingdom

#3: Israel

#4: Canada

#5: Germany

Yesterday we listed the top stories related to discoveries and technology. Today we conclude with three additional categories. Yesterday’s disclaimers apply here as well.

Significant Stories in 2011:

Threats to Cairo Museum (and here)

A Fishless Sea of Galilee?

Germany Agrees to Give Sphinx of Hattusa to Turkey (and here)

Early Christian Lead Books (and here)

Zahi Hawass Resigned, Returned, Was Sentenced to Jail and Was Fired

Seven Years of Drought in Israel (and here)

The Latest Scam: Nails from Jesus’ Cross (and here and here)

Turkey Cancels Excavations of Foreign Countries (and here)

Mughrabi Bridge Ordered Closed

Eilat Mazar Denied Opportunity To Finish Palace of David Dig

Gospel Trail Inaugurated in Galilee and Jesus Trail vs. Gospel Trail

Noteworthy Posts:

Ancient Slinging Techniques, by Seth Rodriquez

Titus Tobler – A Neglected Pioneer, by Chris McKinny

Beth Haccherem – A Site Identification: Primer, by Chris McKinny

Hieroglyphic Luwian and King Taita, by A.D. Riddle

The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna (and here)

James Ossuary Inscription: Experts Support Authenticity

Maximalists vs. Minimalists: A Good Survey

2011 Excavation Blogs

Gaddafi and the Bible

How To Spell Bible Places

The Identification of Eshtaol: A Brief Case-Study in Recent Research

“Noah’s Ark”: Analysis of C14 Results

New Evidence for Israel in 1400 BC (and here)

Favorite Resources in 2011:

Daughter of Lachish, by Tim Frank

American Colony Photos for Accordance

Chart: The Kingdom(s) of Israel, by Chris McKinny

Excavating the City of David, by Ronny Reich

Seven Churches of Revelation, by Leen Ritmeyer (photo CD)

Maps for the Ancient World

Rose Guide to the Tabernacle

Free: Ashkelon Excavation Reports

Archaeology in the Israel Museum

Ancient Israel: Highlights from the Collections of the Oriental Institute University of Chicago, by
Gabriel Novacek

Unearthing Jerusalem, edited by Katharina Galor and Gideon Avni

As 2012 begins, we wish our readers all the best in the coming year.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea

Top Stories of 2011

Looking back over the year is a profitable exercise for me personally because I forget so much and so quickly. Perhaps it is the volume of information coming from all corners of the globe that trains the mind to retain very little. A review of the posts here over the past year reminds us of recent history
but it also allows us to judge what was more important and what was less.

I have compiled several lists of “top stories.” Today we will review major discoveries, top technology-related stories, and losses. Tomorrow we will survey significant stories, noteworthy posts, and favorite resources of the year.

I do not deny that what is judged “top” in these reviews may tell the reader more about us than it does about the world of biblical archaeology. These lists are entirely subjective, and since they are based on what we decided to post (and not to ignore), they are doubly subjective. The primary criteria for selection was that the story was posted on this blog and then it caught my eye when I reviewed the year’s stories. The lists follow a roughly chronological order.

Top Discoveries of 2011:

Jerusalem Water Channel (and here and here and here and here)

Ossuary of Caiaphas’ Granddaughter Recovered

Lion Statue Found at Tell Tayinat, Turkey

Philistine Two-Horned Altar from Tell es-Safi (and here)

Golden Bell Discovered in Jerusalem and Recording Released 

Ancient Sabbath Boundary Inscription in Galilee (and here)

Hercules Statue Discovered in Jezreel Valley

Roman Sword and Menorah Depiction Found in Jerusalem

Largest Mosaic Discovered in Antioch

Mikveh Discovered near Biblical Zorah

Western Wall Discovery: IAA Desperate for Headlines (and here)

Mysterious Marks in the City of David (and here)

Top Technology-Related Stories of 2011:

Archaeology in Saudi Arabia with Google Earth

X-ray Vision for Archaeologists: The “Multi-PAM” Tool

Kinect Game System To Be Used in Jordan Excavation

Five Dead Sea Scrolls Online in High Resolution

InscriptiFact: A Better Way To Read Inscriptions (and here)


Anson F. Rainey (and here)

Joseph Naveh

Giovanni Pettinato


Ossuary of Caiaphas’ Granddaughter
Photo by Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University

Another Christmas, Another Brawl in Bethlehem

The Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests are at it again. From Haaretz:

The annual cleaning of one of Christianity’s holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity battled each other with brooms until police intervened.
The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations: Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox.
Wednesday’s fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim.
The monks were tidying up the church ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, following celebrations by Western Christians on Dec. 25. The fight erupted between monks along the border of their respective areas. Some shouted and hurled brooms.

The full story is here. A video of the scene is posted online here.

HT: ShalomIL


Sneak Peak: Rose Guide to the Temple

Earlier this year I expressed my enthusiasm for the Rose Guide to the Tabernacle. The quality and quantity of the illustrations led me to conclude that “I know of no better resource for an initial study of the tabernacle or for teaching it.”

Word is now out that the Rose Guide to the Temple is nearing publication. I could tell you how great it is, but you might as well see for yourself (see preview at bottom of page).rose-guide-temple

The book was written by Randall Price, and the venerable Leen Ritmeyer served as a consultant. The book includes a free poster originally published in National Geographic of the Temple Mount through history. (Thanks to a reader here, I’ve had that same poster hanging in my office for several years now.)

If they sold stock for books, I’d certainly invest in this one. I predict it will be a best-seller and an award-winner.

Amazon is taking pre-orders for $30 with a February 21 publication date. Amazon also lists three glowing endorsements. The publisher’s website indicates that you can also purchase the book for pdf download, which would make it much easier for use in the classroom.

Professors may request a desk copy.

HT: Daniel Wright


New Book: The Fire Signals of Lachish

Earlier this year Eisenbrauns published a collection of essays in honor of David Ussishkin, The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin.

The book gets its name from Lachish Letter #4 in which the writer is looking for some indication that Lachish has not fallen to the Babylonians. David Ussishkin was a long-time professor at Tel Aviv University and his noteworthy excavations include the Silwan tombs in Jerusalem (1968-71), Lachish (1973-94), Tel Jezreel (1990-96), and Megiddo (1992-present).

The book includes 25 essays; the ten that I would read first are these:

Close Yet Apart: Diverse Cultural Dynamics at Iron Age Beth-Shemesh and Lachish, by Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On: The Possible Destruction by Earthquake of Stratum VIA at Megiddo, by Eric H. Cline

Tel Azekah: A New Look at the Site and Its “Judean” Fortress, by Yehuda Dagan

Why Did Nebuchadnezzar II Destroy Ashkelon in Kislev 604 
B.C.E., by Alexander Fantalkin

The Evolution of the 8th-Century B.C.E. Jerusalem Temple, by André Lemaire

Comparative Aspects of the Aramean Siege System at Tell Eṣ-Ṣāfi/Gath, by Aren M. Maeir and Shira Gur-Arieh

The Shephelah according to the Amarna Letters, by Nadav Naʾaman

The Persian Period City Wall of Jerusalem, by Margreet Steiner

The Waters of Shiloah (Isaiah 8:5–8), by H. G. M. Williamson

On the Toponymy of the Jezreel Valley and Adjacent Plains, by Ran Zadok

The book is now available from Eisenbrauns, and you can get more details, including a complete listing of the contents, here (pdf). The cover photo is one that I provided from the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, volume 3.


Western Wall Plaza Excavation Results

Over the years I’ve mentioned the excavation at the “back” of the Western Wall prayer plaza. The latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a report by the excavators on their discoveries at the site from 2005 to 2010. Since I expect some curious student to ask me in a couple of days about the big hole in the ground, the article arrived at a good time for me. I made a few notes as I read the article that I thought I’d share here.

The earliest remains at this spot indicate that it was used as an Iron Age quarry.

Later in the Iron Age, a four-room house was constructed here. This was a Jerusalemite’s home sometime after Hezekiah fortified the Western Hill with a new wall (part of which is known today as the “Broad Wall.”) The house may have been destroyed by the Babylonian assault in 586, but this is not certain. Several personal seals were found in the building, including one depicting an Assyrian-style archer.

Curiously, there is no evidence of occupation at the site in the Babylonian, Persian, or Hasmonean periods (586-50 BC).

In the New Testament period, the Lower Aqueduct ran through this area, bringing water from
“Solomon’s Pools” to the Temple Mount. The only other discovery from the 1st century was a ritual bath (mikveh).

The most impressive remains at the site are that of a monumental street. This cardo is similar in size and design to its counterpart to the west, located today in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, but the archaeologists say that the eastern cardo was constructed in the Roman period by Hadrian (whereas the southern extension of the western was built by Justinian c. 530).

All the details are presented in a much more interesting style in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The article, with all of its illustrations, is currently available online, no subscription required.

(Yellow box = present excavations; red box = Byzantine Valley Cardo previously revealed)

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051908178

Western Wall prayer plaza with excavations, May 2008

Purity Inscription Discovered in Jerusalem

The process of wet-sifting debris from excavations below Robinson’s Arch on the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount has revealed a 1st-century seal impression inscribed with “pure for the Lord.” Scholars believe that this mark was used to certify offerings as acceptable for temple use. The Aramaic inscription is about 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) in diameter and has six letters.

IMG_8833Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

Excavation directors Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich commented on the value of the object:

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period.

The full press release includes more details from the Mishnah about ritual tokens. The Israel Antiquities Authority has also released five high-resolution photos of this and related discoveries (zip file).


Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

The Jerusalem Post has a three-minute video interview with Ronny Reich. The article’s statement that the inscription was found near the Pool of Siloam contradicts the official report of the IAA that the object was found next to the Temple Mount. The story is also reported by the AP, Reuters, and Arutz-7.


Photo: IAA/Vladimir Naykhin

Weekend Roundup

Wayne Stiles’ weekly column provides the best and most concise review of the significance of Bethlehem that I have read. You might bookmark this one for future lessons or sermons.

Yoni Cohen investigates some sites in Israel related to the festival of Hanukkah.

One of 107 cuneiform texts recently published depicts the great king Nebuchadnezzar.

Oded Borowski reviews Eilat Mazar’s new book Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem: A Remarkable Archaeological Adventure.

Did the Magi give Jesus frankincense and myrrh because they cure arthritis?

Travelujah has the full run-down of Christmas services in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

A retired professor, preaching tomorrow about Bethlehem in north Texas, has been to Israel 69 times.

The Star-Telegram tells his story.

Merry Christmas to all!

Bethlehem from north, tb092405372

Bethlehem from the north

Vandals Destroy Antiquities Site in the Jezreel Valley

Horvat Tevet, a site with remains from the Iron Age (1200-600 BC), has been attacked and damaged by vandals. The site is located in the Jezreel Valley about 6 miles (10 km) south of Nazareth. Horvat Tevet is next to Afula Illit and along the route of a future bypass road. From the Jerusalem Post:

Vandals attacked and heavily damaged an Antiquities Authority site near Afula overnight Wednesday, destroying findings dating back to the First Temple era.
“All the signs” pointed to a group of haredi activists as the main suspects, due to their opposition to what they describe as the desecration of graves, Dror Barshad, an archeologist for the authority’s northern district, told The Jerusalem Post.
“They rioted at another archeological site nearby, at Yakuk,” Barshad said. “With no legal authority, they take the law into their own hands and try to dictate where roads and tunnels can or can’t be built.”
The same group vandalized a second archeological site near the Kinneret last month, he said.

The full story and photos are here. The Hebrew version of the Ynet article includes a photo of the site before the destruction. A report of the 2008 excavations and a photo of a Late Bronze tomb was published last month in Hadashot Arkheologiyot.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Archaeological site near Afula after attack (Photo: IAA)

Multiple Exoduses from Egypt?

Last week I linked to Bryant Wood’s article on new evidence for Israel’s existence in 1400 BC.

According to three European scholars, an inscription mentions Israel several hundred years earlier than the Merneptah Stele.

There are several ways to respond to this proposal. James Hoffmeier, an advocate of the late-date exodus (1230 BC), says that the inscription should not be read as Israel and thus is irrelevant to the question of the exodus.

In an article published in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (HT: G. M. Grena and Shmuel Browns), Hershel Shanks summarizes the recent studies and concludes with a discussion about multiple departures from Egypt by Israelite tribes at different times. Earlier advocates of such include Albrecht Alt, Yohanan Aharoni, and Abraham Malamat.

Such an approach is wrong-headed, I believe. In the first place, it can only be reconciled with the biblical account by considering the latter to be only an elaborate and glorious myth created hundreds of years later (and peppered liberally with shameful acts of those who devised the myth). Second, such an approach replaces one exodus for which there is no record in Egyptian sources with many exoduses for which there are no record in Egyptian sources.

A better approach is to take a step back and reconsider the issue afresh. The reason why scholars argued for a 13th century BC date for the exodus/conquest in the first place was because of an apparent lack of evidence for Israel in Canaan at an earlier time. The Merneptah Stele, paired with the appearance of hundreds of agricultural villages in the 12th century, has been considered to provide evidence for the earliest Israelites. This evidence does not, however, tell us anything about Israel’s entrance into the land. It tells us only when Israel was already in the land (and defeated by Egypt).

Last year I showed how the Merneptah Stele gives evidence for Israel’s invisible (to archaeologists) presence in the land of Canaan for some time before they settled down in the hill country villages.

The recently published inscription, if the reading of Israel is accurate, provides even earlier evidence for the nation’s existence. As with the Merneptah Stele it does not tell us anything about the exodus or the conquest. To theorize that there were multiple exoduses when these inscriptions provide evidence for none is the wrong course indeed.

The best historical reconstruction takes into account all of the evidence. Israel fled from Egypt in about 1450 BC. They arrived in Israel in about 1400 BC. They continued their pastoral way of life that they were used to from the time of the patriarchs, their time in Egypt, and their time in the wilderness. This lifestyle left relatively little discernible and distinctive archaeological evidence from 1400-1200 BC. Some factors (weather?, political turmoil?, invasions?) forced the Israelite tribes to settle down at the beginning of what archaeologists call the Iron Age. This corresponds well with the record in the book of Judges in which the first indication of a settled existence is mentioned in the time of Gideon, who led the nation in about 1200.

Merneptah Stele, tb110900398

Merneptah Stele