Giveaway: Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

This week we have two copies of the excellent Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus to give away, courtesy of Zondervan. I have already heaped effusive praise upon this book earlier in the year, and

I’ll quote just briefly from what we said then:tverberg-dust-rabbi-jesus_thumb3

This book brims with insights. I love to learn new things about familiar and dear subjects, and again and again I found myself writing in the margin an exclamation mark or a reminder to return to that page.

Amazon has dozens of five-star reviews, many of which communicate the value of the book better than I have. The author, Lois Tverberg, also has a website with excerpts, articles, and a blog.

We have one drawing from which we will select two winners at random.

You may enter the drawing one time only. Email addresses will be used only to notify the winners. The contest ends on Friday.


Alleged Samson Seal Discovered at Beth Shemesh

Some scholars are suggesting that the depiction on a seal found in the Sorek Valley shows the biblical hero Samson subduing a lion. From Haaretz:

A small stone seal found recently in the excavations of Tel Beit Shemesh could be the first archaeological evidence of the story of the biblical Samson.
The seal, measuring 1.5 centimeters, depicts a large animal next to a human figure. The seal was found in a level of excavation that dates to the 11th century B.C.E. That was prior to the establishment of the Judean kingdom and is considered to be the period of the biblical judges – including Samson. Scholars say the scene shown on the artifact recalls the story in Judges of Samson fighting a lion.
But excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the biblical text and onto the seal.

The story continues and explains some of the geographical connections. This discovery reminds me that while Samson’s life largely centers in the Sorek Valley, the most prominent city of that valley is never mentioned in the narrative (Judges 13-16). If the interpretation of this seal is correct, the people of Beth Shemesh remembered their local hero with some pride.

A high-resolution photo of the seal by Raz Lederman is available here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Quotations from Scholars on the Record

Scholars on the Record is a collection of interviews that Hershel Shanks has conducted with archaeologists and biblical scholars over the last 30 years. I found it a fascinating read, though not one person interviewed shares my perspective that the Bible is a trustworthy source. I’ve selected a few quotations that provide insight on biblical studies, archaeology, and the way scholars think.

William Dever: “Originally I wrote to frustrate the biblical minimalists; then I became one of them, more or less” (19).

Bart Ehrman: “That’s what the Exodus event is, that’s what the crucifixion is: It’s scholarsa God who intervenes, and when I look around this world, I don’t see a God who intervenes” (24).

Hershel Shanks: “If I ever write a book on ‘How True Is the Bible?’ I’ll have to start out by saying that archaeology is not the way to find out; that it has very little to say” (57).

Israel Finkelstein: “Archaeology is relevant when somebody tells me that the patriarchal material in Genesis reflects the realities of the second millennium B.C. Then archaeology is in full steam to prove that he is wrong” (66).

Cyrus Gordon, explaining how they controlled for stratigraphy: “The Egyptian taskmasters were very good at implementing our instructions. They cracked whips. They used to beat the workers. I couldn’t imagine an American beating the workers, but the Egyptians did” (169).

Yigael Yadin: “I don’t think God has anything to do with archaeology” (194).

The book includes interviews with Elie Wiesel, Geza Vermes, David Noel Freedman, the Dothans, and others. I recommend it.


New Sculpture from Tell Tayinat (and the treaty tablet)

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

According to an online article at Hürriyet Daily News, excavations at Tell Tayinat unearthed the head of a large statue last month. The Tayinat Archaeological Project is directed by Timothy Harrison of the University of Toronto. The head is made of basalt with inlaid eyes, is about 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and weighs 1.5 tons. Some excerpts give a few details:

“It is a figure with a beard and long hair, and it seems to be holding a weapon…The rest of the sculpture has not been found, indicating that it may
well have been damaged. However, the upper part is in very good
condition…The sculpture has been sent to the Hatay Archeology Museum, where it
will be restored by a professional team…Harrison also showed that
there is writing that says ‘Suppiluliuma’ at the back of the sculpture.”

In related news, an Assyrian vassal treaty tablet was discovered at Tell Tayinat in 2009 (see here).

Two articles including the publication of the treaty tablet and a discussion of the archaeological context appear in the latest issue of Journal of Cuneiform Studies (pdf downloads available here).

Harrison, T.P. and Osborne J. F.
2012          “Building XVI and the Neo-Assyrian Sacred Precinct at Tell Tayinat.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 64: 125-143.

Lauinger, J.
2012          “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty at Tell Tayinat: Text and Commentary.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 64: 87-123.

For a number of years (or rather, decades), Kenneth Kitchen has been working on collecting all Ancient Near Eastern treaties, covenants, and law codes. The culmination of this work now appears in print as:

Kitchen, Kenneth A. and Paul J. N. Lawrence.
2012          Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East. 3 parts. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

A detailed table of contents and introduction (pdf) can be downloaded at the publisher’s website. (I am counting on my library to get a copy, since I don’t have quite enough change in my pocket to cover the nearly €300 [= $370] price tag.) The introduction notes that this work includes 106 documents in 10 different languages. Parts 1 and 2 include the texts in transliteration and translation, with notes, indexes and color diagrams. Part 3 is a nearly 300 page commentary and synthesis of all this material. See here for a discussion of the significance of this study for the book of Deuteronomy in particular. (Deuteronomy and other biblical treaties and covenants are included in Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East, but the new Tayinat treaty tablet is not—it is probably too recent to have made it in.)

UPDATE (Jul 30, Mon): An official announcement concerning the new statue fragment was released this morning by the University of Toronto. It includes two more photos and states that the fragment was found underneath the paved surface of a monumental gateway leading to the Neo-Hittite citadel.

From the release:

The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist,
stands approximately 1.5 metres in height, suggesting a total body
length of 3.5 to four metres. The figure’s face is bearded, with
beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its
hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear
rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm
bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure’s right hand holds a
spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral
adorns its chest. A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in
raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments
of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian
onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in
858 BC.


Weekend Roundup

Archaeologists at Hazor have discovered 14 large storejars full of grain burned in a massive conflagration during the period of the judges (c. 1300 BC). Volunteer Rob Heaton shares his experiences in the last days of the dig and more.

The 2012 Lautenschläger Azekah Archaeological Expeditions Blog is being updated daily. Yesterday they confirmed the discovery of ancient fortifications.

Matti Friedman describes a day of digging at the Philistine city of Gath.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Archaeological-Educational Center invites the public to

“Archaeologists for a Day” program at Adullam Park in the Shephelah on Monday, July 30. The cost is 20 NIS and pre-registration is required at, Tel: 02-9921136, Fax: 02-9925056. The invitation (Word doc in Hebrew) provides more details.

Seth Rodriquez has identified the most interesting photos for a Bible teacher from NASA’s Visible Earth website.

High-tech aerial photos remove the ground cover so you can see what lies below.

In a new article at The Bible and Interpretation, Yosef Garfinkel reviews some attacks on his work at Khirbet Qeiyafa and provides “an unsensational archaeological and historical interpretation” in which he provides 14 “facts,” concluding that “the site marks the beginning of a new era: the establishment of the biblical Kingdom of Judah.” That last word is problematic.

At Christianity Today, Gordon Govier interviews evangelical scholars about the potential impact of the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

A 19th-century map of Jerusalem has been discovered in an archive in Berlin.

The story about Islamic clerics wanting to destroy the Egyptian pyramids is not true.

HT: Roi Brit, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson


Picture of the Week: The Pool of Siloam

(Guest post by Seth M. Rodriquez.)

One of the most impressive additions to Volume 3 of the revised and expanded Pictorial Library of Bible Lands are the photos of the newly discovered Pool of Siloam.  The original Pictorial Library was published in 2003 and the 1st century Pool of Siloam was discovered one year later.  So naturally the original collection did not include any pictures of this significant site, but the revised version includes over 30.  So this week’s photo comes from Volume 3 of the revised and expanded edition and is entitled “Pool of Siloam Excavations” (photo ID #: tb070305450).

First, a note of explanation:  If you have ever been to Israel and have walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, you were probably told that the small pool at the end of the tunnel was the Pool of Siloam. 

That is true but it should be clarified that that is the Pool of Siloam from the Byzantine period (AD 324-640).  The pool pictured above is the Pool of Siloam that existed in the 1st century AD.  This is a much larger pool than the Byzantine pool.  The side that has been excavated is 160 feet long (50 meters).  There are three groups of steps leading down, with each group containing five steps.  The fifth step of each group is much longer than the others and probably served as a platform for bathers to stand on.

This Pool of Siloam is the one that existed during the time of Jesus and His disciples.  In fact, John 9 tells us that a miraculous healing occurred at this very spot.  As they are leaving the Temple, Jesus and the disciples see a man who has been blind since his birth and the disciples ask Jesus a question that probably was debated by the leading religious minds of their day: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2, ESV.)  The question gives Jesus the opportunity to teach them an important lesson that corrected their thinking and now serves as a comfort for all who have ever wrestled with incurable physical ailments: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3, ESV.)  Then Jesus made some mud by spitting on the ground, placed it on the man’s eyes, and told him to wash in the very pool pictured above: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:7, ESV).  The man followed Jesus’ command and could see after he washed the mud off his eyes.

Unfortunately only part of the pool has been excavated.  The rest of it sits under an orchard that the owners are not willing to remove (the last I’ve heard).  Hopefully that situation will change in the near future so that more of this important pool can be exposed.

Additional photos and more information about the newly discovered Pool of Siloam are available here and here on the BiblePlaces website.  Previous posts on this blog about the pool (which are numerous) can be found here.  This photo, along with over 30 other pictures of the pool, is included in Volume 3 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and can be purchased here.


Reports from the Philistines

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

This blog noted before that the final excavation reports for Ashkelon were being made available as free pdf downloads. Volume 3, published last year by Eisenbrauns and covering Ashkelon in the 7th century B.C., is now available for download.

And from Gath (Tell es-Safi), Aren Maeir gives a period-by-period summary of the 2012 season which concludes this week. Of particular interest is what appears to be a section of the Late Bronze city wall (photo here).

HT: Ancient World Online.


Excavating Ramoth Gilead in 1967, Part 2

Paul Lapp’s description of his April-May 1967 excavations at Tell er-Rumeith (Ramoth Gilead?) provide some interesting insights into the life of an archaeologist nearly 50 years ago. The account continues from yesterday’s post:

“The first few hours on the mound were chilly and windy, but by the time of the coffee break at 9:45, the sun had warmed the tell to a comfortable degree. The fifteen minute respite sustained us until noon when work stopped for 45 minutes. After lunch we excavated for three more hours till 4 o’clock when the laborers began to return to Ramtha and we fortified ourselves with tea and bread. Invariably most of the field supervisors then returned to their plots to draw the top plans or help one another with section drawings. Darkness would force us to leave the mound and return to our camp by six o’clock. It was then almost time for supper. After a half hour elapsed in the mess tent we were ready to begin the pottery reading. We had worked out a system so each knew when he was due at the pottery tent, and in that way there was no delay. The remainder of the evening was given to preparation of the field books. Pressure lamps are not conducive to the kind of precision that is required for keeping records so one has to be careful to double-check each entry. The field book up to date, it was then almost eleven o’clock and time to retire for the night. From that moment on no human sound broke the stillness of the night in the plains of Gilead. Every minute of sleep counted in order to be ready to face the rigors of the next day’s work.

Tell er-Rumeith, possible Ramoth Gilead, tb060503006
Excavations at Tell er-Rumeith, possibly Ramoth Gilead
(photo source)

“Our camp consisted of about a dozen tents, mostly of the small variety, and was located to the east at the base of the mound, which is largely a rocky outcrop. With the exception of several chilly nights at the beginning of the season and a strong wind which cost us a half-day’s work, the weather was nearly perfect. The countryside was green when we began and golden when we finished—just in time, for we were beginning to lose our workers to the grain harvest. Despite our pre-Easter apprehensions over the severe winter rains, it proved to be an ideal time for the campaign. In the end we felt we had a complete enough story of the tell to abandon the site to some future excavator, and we were determined to set down the story as soon as possible. However, the unforeseen event of June has delayed this report.

“My last diary notation on the Rumeith dig reads, ‘The end of a phase or an era.’ This was written on May 12, 1967; the first entry dates back to the sounding of the spring of 1962. I was thinking of the loss of Aboud, who had always been my right hand man at excavations, of the talk of major changes for the Jerusalem School [of ASOR], of the fact that this was the last campaign of a small scale that I would conduct as part of the School’s annual program. At the time, however, I was not thinking of the Six Day War, though the final words of my diary were fulfilled like an ancient prophecy. This accounts for the disjointedness of this letter, begun in Amman during the war, continued in Tehran and Athens, and finally finished in Jerusalem. Incidentally let me take this opportunity to thank all our ASOR friends for their kind expressions of concern during the crisis, to give assurance that the Lapp family is safely and happily back home in Shafat, and to express the hope that some of you will have the opportunity to visit us during the coming year.”

Travel from east Jerusalem to Tell er-Rumeith on the heights of Gilead was not difficult in April and May 1967 as there was no international border to cross. As he observes, everything was to change the next month.

Paul Lapp died tragically in a swimming accident in Cyprus a few years later. His wife, Nancy Lapp, edited these essays and prepared it for publication while raising their five young children.

The Tale of the Tell is still available both new and used from the publisher and Amazon and may be available in your local library as well.


Excavating Ramoth Gilead in 1967

I always enjoy reading stories of early explorers in the land of Israel as well as personal accounts of excavation experiences. A little book of essays written by Paul W. Lapp is still in print 35 years later and for good reason. The Tale of the Tell begins with several chapters introducing the nature of archaeology in a clear and concise manner, and the rest of the book contains brief accounts of Lapp’s work at other sites in Israel and Jordan, including Wadi ed-Daliyeh, Gibeah (Tell el-Ful), Taanach, and Bab edh-Dhra. The final chapter describes his work at a site that he believed was biblical Ramoth Gilead. The introduction to his excavations is interesting for a number of reasons, including the daily schedule, the future archaeologists on staff, and other personal details. Lapp writes:

“The winter of 1967 was an unusually cold and wet season in Jerusalem, and it reached its climax in the form of a blizzard on Easter Sunday, March 26. The Rumeith dig was scheduled to get underway on the first day of April, but there was some doubt whether the inclement weather would allow us to comply with our plans. We were fortunate to have some ideal weather right after Easter, so on tale-of-the-tell-archaeological-studies-by-paul-w-lappMarch 30 the first contingent headed for Rumeith, and on the following day the rest of the staff followed with equal enthusiasm. The 1967 campaign took place between April 1 and May 12, a period of six weeks on a five-day week basis.

Out of deference to our Moslem workers we observed the weekly holiday on Friday; out of consideration for the staff Saturday was also included. At the end of the work-day each Thursday the staff wasted no time as they hurried to Jerusalem to re-enter civilization at the American School in the form of a bath and a change of clothes. After being sandblasted for several days each week on the wind-swept mound, the latter were very much in order.

“The Rumeith expedition was jointly sponsored by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The budget was provided by the former, and the equipment and transportation by the latter. The staff was composed of the following: Howard M. Jamieson, who represented the Pittsburgh Seminary as codirector and also functioned as treasurer and field supervisor; Susan E. Culp of the University of Pennsylvania, anthropologist and field supervisor; Gavriel Flores, C.SS.R., a Brazilian and student at the Ecole Biblique, field supervisor; also Gustav Jeeninga from Anderson College, Indiana, Edward D. Grohman from Knoxville College, Tennessee, Philip J. King from St. John Seminary, Boston, Robert A. Hutchison from St. Charles, Illinois, and Walter E. Rast from Valparaiso University, Indiana, field supervisors; Thomas Schaub, O.P., from the Ecole Biblique and Aquinas Institute in Dubuque, architect; Fouad Zoghbi of Bethlehem, draftsman; Issa Zoghbi, Bethlehem, assistant draftsman; Aletta Jeeninga of Anderson, registrar; Sister Marie McNamara of Rosary College, River Forest, Illinois, pottery mending; Ahmed Odeh, representative of the Jordan Department of Antiquities. The service staff included Aboud Dhib Nasif as driver and camp manager; Kamel Ikhdayir as cook with two assistants; and Nasir Dhiab as chief technical man with eight assistants from Taanach, Samaria, Balatah, and Bab edh-Dhra’. The staff was very dedicated and worked together in a spirit of warm friendship and good humor.

“The days and weeks spent at Tell er-Rumeith were busy ones. The day began shortly after six o’clock when there would be a great rush to the water storage tank to fill a basin with cold water for the morning ablutions. Breakfast was served shortly thereafter, and it consisted of hot cereal, eggs, bread, and coffee. This was more than adequate preparation for a full day’s work. The workers began to arrive from Ramtha during our breakfast period, which meant that they were well ahead of the seven o’clock roll-call.”

The continuation of the account will be posted tomorrow.