Top Stories of 2012

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.

These lists are subjective, and since they are based on what the authors of this blog decided to post (and not to ignore), they are doubly subjective. The primary criteria for inclusion here 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 10 Discoveries of 2012:
Vessel of Jewelry Discovered at Megiddo (with update)

Egyptian Scarab Discovered in City of David

Cultic Objects Discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa (and more)

New Gezer Boundary Inscription (and another re-discovered)

Seal Impression from Bethlehem Discovered in Jerusalem

New Sculpture from Tell Tayinat (and the treaty tablet) (and update)

Samson Mosaic Discovered in Galilee Synagogue

Massive Reservoir Discovered near Temple Mount

Desecrated Temple Discovered at Beth Shemesh

Judean Temple Discovered Near Jerusalem

More Discoveries of 2012:
Iron Age Fortress Excavated in Ashdod

Cave for Demeter Worship Identified in Judean Hills

Seal of Mattaniah Discovered in Jerusalem

Cave Discovered in Gezer Water System

Gold and Silver Treasure Hoard Discovered from Bar Kochba Revolt

Alleged Samson Seal Discovered at Beth Shemesh

Gold Coin Cache Discovered in Apollonia

Neolithic Jewelry Discovered near Sepphoris

Hasmonean Village Found in Jerusalem Neighborhood

Top Technology-Related Stories of 2012:
Microarchaeology in Gath Excavations

Egyptian Pyramids Discovered with Google Earth

Dead Sea Scrolls Now Online

Wikipedia wins: Photography is now allowed in the archaeology wing of the Israel Museum

Manfred Goerg

Itamar Singer

James Mellaart

Itzhak Beit-Arieh

Frank Moore Cross

Gus W. Van Beek

Jean Perrot

Tomorrow I will share my choices for most significant stories, noteworthy posts, and favorite

Sunset over Jerusalem, tb123109454

Sunset over Jerusalem, December 31, 2009
Source: Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Weekend Roundup #2

SourceFlix’s latest video shows a shepherd seeking out a lost sheep.

Matthew Kalman has a summary of the recent dust-up between Amos Kloner and Simcha Jacobovici.

The Israel Museum will be hosting an exhibition on King Herod next year.

Shmuel Browns posts some of the earliest photos taken in the Holy Land.

A court ruling will preserve antiquities near the Roman aqueduct in Caesarea.

We now have a better understanding of the gruesome details of the murder of Ramses III.

A five-minute clip of General Allenby in Jerusalem is online. For a longer version without the
Hebrew annotations, see here.

HT: Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

Allenby entry 1917, troops entering Jaffa Gate, mat02225
Entrance of General Allenby through Jaffa Gate
Photo from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

Weekend Roundup #1

The Times of Israel is reporting that Muslim authorities moved tons of illegally excavated earth from the Temple Mount into a city dump.

Aren Maeir posts an astounding video of a flood in the Harod Valley this week.

Frankincense has returned to Israel after 1,500 years.

More tourists visited Israel in 2012 than in any year before.

An Israeli committee will review modern prohibitions against mixed prayer at the Western Wall.

Jean Perrot died this week. Among other things, Perrot excavated several Chalcolithic sites near

Marked down to $1.99 for Kindle: The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the 
Pursuit of an Ancient Bible, by Matti Friedman. These sales are brief.

HT: Jack Sasson, Joseph Lauer

Western Wall prayer area from south, amd042108530
Segregated prayer areas at Western Wall.
Photo by Austen Dutton (source).

Haaretz: Aphek and Antipatris

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh writes about the biblical site of Aphek in Haaretz (free subscription required).

The lumbering fortress that crowns the ancient mound at Yarkon Sources-Tel Afek National Park is just one of many must-see sights and a good place to start an approximately two-hour visit that effortlessly combines nature and heritage. 
From the northwestern tower of this 16th-century compound you’ll get a breathtaking view of the coastal plain. From the southeastern corner of the fortress you can peer down at remains of the Roman road, built by Herod the Great who named it Antipatris after his father. The road recalls the New Testament story of Paul the Apostle, who spent the night here with his Roman guards as they marched him from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 23:31). But the road is a virtual historical toddler compared to the other antiquities you’ll see.
The city of Afek, straddling a strategic pass on the ancient highway from Egypt to Mesopotamia (the Via Maris) was founded in the fifth millennium BCE and is first mentioned in Egyptian writings some 4,000 thousand years ago. Among the finds unearthed in excavations of the Egyptian governor’s palace are documents written in hieroglyphics, Hittite, Akkadian, and Sumerian.

The story also notes the biblical connection as well as some modern history. The four-minute video does not include narration.

For more photos and history of the site, see the BiblePlaces page on Aphek and Antipatris.

Aphek Turkish fort with lake, tb052905334
Lake and Turkish fortress at biblical Aphek.
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Mysterious Package for Indiana Jones Now on Display

From UChicago News:

The mystery began Dec. 12, when a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.” arrived at the University of Chicago Admissions Office.
A student worker realized that the package was meant for Dr. Indiana Jones, the famous archaeologist of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame. Inside the package was a journal of Abner Ravenwood, the fictional UChicago professor who trained Indiana Jones.
Six days after its arrival, the mystery was solved. The package, a collection of replica props from the Indiana Jones films, had been purchased online and shipped by its maker from Guam to Italy.
The original packaging was lost in transit in Honolulu, Hawaii, leaving only the parcel addressed to Henry Walton Jones Jr. of the University of Chicago, which the postal service then forwarded. Paul Charfauros, who created the journal, donated it to the University of Chicago.
Some suggest that two real-life pioneering scholars of the Oriental Institute—James Henry Breasted and Robert John Braidwood—inspired the fictional characters of Abner Ravenwood and Indiana Jones. Unlike some Hollywood depictions of archaeologists, Breasted and Braidwood were not treasure hunters.

The package and its contents will be on display in the lobby of the Oriental Institute Museum through March 2013.

HT: Jack Sasson

Photo by Robert Kozloff

Judean Temple Discovered Near Jerusalem

A Judean temple from the 10th-9th centuries BC has been discovered four miles northwest of ancient Jerusalem. The structure has massive walls, faces east, and contained a cache of sacred vessels. The site of Tel Motza may be the town of Mozah mentioned in the city list of Joshua 18:26 and some believe the Emmaus mentioned in Luke 24 was located nearby.

Location of Moza in relation to Jerusalem.
Map from Google Earth.

Archaeologists have dated the building to the Iron Age IIA, a period dated by most scholars to 980–830 BC, contemporary with the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa, and Jehoshaphat. Each of these kings was faulted for not “destroying the high places” (1 Kgs 11:7; 14:23; 15:14; 22:43). Few such illicit worship sites are known from the land of Israel; the best preserved ones were excavated at Dan and Arad.

According to Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site’s proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom’s main sacred center at the time.”

The site was excavated as part of road construction works on Highway 1, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road.

The press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority is here and six high-resolution photos are available from this link. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Arutz-7, and other sites.

Aerial view of excavation site. Photograph: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Figurines of bearded men. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Figurine of horse. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Questions about Christmas

Religion News Service has begun a few feature called “Ask the Experts” and the first edition is focused on Christmas. They ask half a dozen scholars to weigh in on the following questions. I provide responses to three questions.

  • Why do some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th?
  • Why do we repeatedly hear about the “three wise men,” when biblical scholars tell us there were in fact many magi who attended Jesus after his birth?
  • Why did Mary and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem? How did civil authorities determine which town people had to report to at census-taking time?
  • Is it true that the word translated “inn” – kataluma – could also mean guest room? In other words, could Mary and Joseph been seeking shelter in relative’s guest rooms, rather than at the inn?
  • How was the birth of Christ celebrated before Constantine?
  • Is it true that most Christian churches did not celebrate Christmas in significant way until about a hundred years ago?
  • Is it true that department stores were the ones that started many of the traditions that we celebrate today?

The statement that Bethlehem was not on a major road is wrong. Bethlehem is located along the central ridge of the hill country and virtually everyone traveling to Jerusalem from the south would have passed by it. For more about the kataluma issue, see my previous post here.

Read all of the questions and answers here.

Shepherd with flock near Bethlehem, mat06290
Shepherd with flock near Bethlehem.
Photo from
The American Colony Collection.

Weekend Roundup

The Nash Papyrus is now online, thanks to the University of Cambridge. The Jerusalem Post article gives a new meaning to the word “second”: “It is the world’s second oldest known manuscript containing a text from the Hebrew Bible. The oldest are the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

This Jerusalem Post article suggests the Top 5 Christmas activities in Jerusalem.

The traditional King David’s tomb has been vandalized by a man desperate to get married.

If you missed last week’s Christmas broadcast of the Land and the Book radio program, you can listen to it in the archives.

Simcha Jacobovici is suing Joe Zias in an Israeli court because the warnings of the latter led the Discovery Channel and National Geographic to cancel the broadcast of films of the former. (Note: this article, like many cited on this blog, is on the Haaretz website. Free access to 10 articles per month is available with an easy registration.)

Mark Goodacre notes the publication of Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media and he shares his article “The Talpiyot Tomb and the Bloggers.”

The Huffington Post has a slideshow of the year’s archaeological highlights. None are related to the biblical world.

The full-size replica of Noah’s Ark floats.

Officials are optimistic about the rainfall in Israel this winter. Amir Givati: “To see the Jordan River flowing at this time of year – that’s a phenomenon that takes place once every 20 years.”

Smuggling gangs in Iraq are using satellites to locate antiquities.

HT: Jack Sasson

Tomb of David, exterior, mat00855-001
A view of David’s Tomb taken ca. 1900 before the construction of the Dormition Abbey. Photo from the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.

Picture of the Week: Pyramids of Gizeh

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

People often wonder how the Great Pyramids of Giza were built and how much work it took to construct them. But have you ever asked yourself, “How much work would it take to tear down the pyramids?” In the late twelfth century, some people tried to do just that. Volume 4 of Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt provides us with the story.

The image below is entitled “Pyramids of Gizeh” and is one of the few steel engravings in this volume.  (The rest of the images are wood engravings.)  In the section below, the author summarizes the work of a 13th century physician known as ’Abd-el-Latif of Baghdad.  ’Abd-el-Latif visited Egypt and wrote of his experiences there.  In 1196, the governing authorities decided to tear down one of the pyramids to provide raw material for a new construction project.

’Abd-el-Latif tells us how he saw the workmen of El-Melik El-’Azîz, son of Saladin, employed in 1196 in pulling down the Third Pyramid—that at the left in our steel engraving of the Three Pyramids of Gîzeh, from a sketch made during the inundation. A large body of engineers and miners pitched a camp close to the Red Pyramid (as the Third was called from its beautiful granite casing), and with their united and continuous efforts achieved the removal of one or two stones a day. The blocks fell down with a tremendous shock, and buried themselves in the sand, whence they were extricated with immense toil and then were laboriously broken up. At the end of eight months the treasury was exhausted and the work of destruction abandoned. To look at the quantity of stone taken away you would think, says the observer, that the whole monument had been razed to the ground; but when you lift your eyes to the Pyramid itself, it is hard to see that it has suffered the least diminution! One day ’Abd-el-Latîf asked one of the workmen, who had assisted in laboriously removing one stone from its place, whether he would put it up again for a thousand gold pieces? The man answered that they could not do it if the reward were many times multiplied. And so in spite of the efforts of man and the wearing of time, the Red Pyramid of Menkara still stands besides its two sisters at Gîzeh, and verifies the saying that “Time mocks all things, but the Pyramids laugh at Time.”

Quote taken from Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, vol. 4, pp. 170-173.  This and other images of nineteenth-century Egypt are available in Picturesque Palestine, Volume IV: Sinai and Egypt and can be purchased here.  Additional images of the Giza Pyramids can be seen here and here.


Dead Sea Scrolls Now Online

More than 5,000 high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now online at From the announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority:

On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google are pleased to launch today the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library website, The public is invited to experience, view, examine, and explore this collection of over 5000 images of Dead Sea Scrolls, in a quality never seen before.
The library was assembled over the course of two years, in collaboration with Google, using advanced technology first developed by NASA. It includes some 1000 new images of scroll fragments; 3500 scans of negatives from the 1950s; a database documenting about 900 manuscripts, two-thousand years old, comprising thousands of scroll fragments; and interactive content pages. It enables scholars and millions of users worldwide to reveal and decipher details hence invisible to the naked eye. The site displays infra-red and color images at a resolution of 1215 dpi, at a 1:1 scale, equivalent in quality to the original scrolls. Google has provided hosting services and use of Google Maps, image technology and YouTube. The project was made possible by an exceptionally generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, and further contribution by the Arcadia Fund, as well as the support of the Yad Hanadiv Foundation.
One of the earliest known texts is a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments; part of chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis, dated to the first century BCE, which describes the creation of the world; a number of copies of Psalms scrolls; tiny texts of tefillin from the Second Temple period; letters and documents hidden by refugees fleeing the Roman army during the Bar Kochba Revolt; and hundreds of additional 2000-year-old texts, shedding light on biblical studies, the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity.
Shuka Dorfman, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “Only five conservators worldwide are authorized to handle the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, everyone can “touch” the scrolls on-screen around the globe, and view them in spectacular quality, equivalent to the original! On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of their discovery, the IAA, in collaboration with Google, presents the scrolls online, using the most advanced imaging technology. Thus, this most important national treasure is available to the general public, preserving it for future generations.”

This project was first announced in October 2010. Many news stories can be found here. This really is a fantastic resource and I hope they will expand it to include every scroll fragment.

4QDana includes portions from Daniel chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, and 11. Image from the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.