Hiding in Jerusalem: New Evidence for Roman Siege

Evidence of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 has been found in excavations near the Western Wall of the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. From the Jerusalem Post:

The Antiquities Authority on Thursday unearthed for the first time a small 2,000-year-old cistern near the Western Wall that connects an archeological find with the famine that occurred during the Roman siege of Jerusalem during that era.
The cistern – found near Robinson’s Arch in a drainage channel from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David – contained three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp.
According to Eli Shukron, the excavations director for the Antiquities Authority, the discovery is unprecedented.
“The complete cooking pots and ceramic oil lamp indicate that the people went down into the cistern where they secretly ate the food that was contained in the pots, without anyone seeing them,” he said. “This is consistent with the account provided by Josephus.”

The Jerusalem Post story continues with Josephus’ description of the last desperate days of the Roman siege.

The story is also reported by Arutz-7, and the Israel Antiquities Authority press release includes high-res photos (direct link). A 3-minute video shows the discovery with audio in Hebrew.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Photographs by Vladimir Naykhin/Israel Antiquities Authority.

Picture of the Week: The (Former) Island of Tyre

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

At first glance, our picture of the week looks like a peaceful, pleasant Mediterranean beach. However, there is more here than meets the eye. This is the site of a famous battle waged by Alexander the Great, and the place still bears the marks of Alexander’s army. In fact before 332 B.C., this beach didn’t even exist.

In antiquity, the city of Tyre was comprised of a fortified settlement on the mainland and another settlement on an island about half a mile off the coast. What you are looking at is the southern side of the isthmus that was created when Alexander’s army built a causeway between the mainland and the island. The image below from the maps of the Survey of Western Palestine provides a bird’s eye view of the former island with the narrow isthmus. (These maps are available here in digital form for only $35.)

The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands describes the confrontation between the inhabitants of Tyre and Alexander the Great in this way:

Tyre alone opposed Alexander. The Tyrians initially offered submission and tribute to him, thinking they would thereby gain substantial freedom, as they had before. But when they saw that Alexander intended personally to occupy the city, they determined to resist.

Hope of Tyrian success in withstanding the siege was not unfounded. Their city was located on an island a half mile from shore; the current in the channel which separated it from land was swift. Their fleet controlled the sea. The city wall on the landside rose to 150 feet. There were assurances of help from Carthage and elsewhere. But Alexander devised unexpected tactics. He resolved to construct a causeway 200 feet wide out to the island, on which he could plant his siege engines. Ruins of mainland Tyre furnished material for the causeway. The Tyrians fought heroically. They destroyed the engines of war by fire-ships and damaged the mole, or causeway. They hurled pots of burning naphtha, sulfur, and red-hot sand from catapults.  Seeing that the battle could not be won without the use of a fleet, Alexander obtained contingents from Sidon, Greek allies, and Cyprus. After a siege of seven months, the wall was breached and the city taken after savage fighting.

Many people see this as the part of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophesies about Tyre found in Ezekiel 26-28, especially these verses:

Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. (Ezek. 26:3-4, ESV)

Our picture of the week was taken by A.D. Riddle, and is available in Volume 8 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This photo and over 700 others are available here for $34 (with free shipping). Additional photos and information about Tyre can be found here on the BiblePlaces website, and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.  The quote above was taken from The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Vos (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 210-211.


Picture of the Week: Abel-beth-maacah

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our photo of the week is a profile of the small, but significant site of Abel-beth-maacah. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then allow me to refresh your memory with a story …

During the reign of David, shortly after the time when Absalom tried to usurp the throne, a man named Sheba rebelled against David and led away the entire northern kingdom (2 Sam. 20:1-2). So David sent Joab and some of his soldiers to pursue him. Joab and his troops were coming up from the south, so naturally Sheba headed north.  In fact, he kept running north until he reached one of last cities before reaching Israel’s northern border: the city of Abel-beth-maacah (2 Sam. 20:14).

Unfortunately for him that proved to be a poor choice. While Joab was attacking the city, things took a turn to everyone’s advantage (except Sheba’s):

Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” And he came near her …. Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king. (2 Sam. 20:16-22, ESV)

Thus ends the story of Sheba … but not of Abel-beth-maacah. The city is mentioned two other times in the Bible. One occurrence is in the story of the war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel (1 Kgs. 15:16-22). During the struggle, Asa is able to convince Israel’s northern neighbor, King Ben-Hadad I of Damascus, to attack Israel’s northern territories to draw Baasha away from his southern borders (1 Kgs. 15:20). Abel-beth-maacah and the neighboring city of Ijon are specifically mentioned.

The other occurrence is similar, although it records events that happened about 150 years later. In 2 Kings 15:29, Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria begins to conquer Israel by taking over its northern regions. Again, Abel-beth-maacah and Ijon are specifically mentioned.  Being situated on Israel’s northern border meant that you were first in line when an invading army showed up.

As I have mentioned before, one of the most valuable aspects of the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands is that it includes places and things that are not normally included in a collection of biblical places. Abel-beth-maacah is a case in point. So the next time this site comes up in your OT Survey class or your Sunday School lesson or sermon preparation, you need not be content showing where Abel-beth-maacah is on a map but can also include a couple of pictures to give your listeners a feel for the place.

One final note: As I was writing this post, I was pleased to learn that a major excavation project at Abel-beth-maacah is starting this summer. Information about the dig and several additional photos of the site are available at www.abel-beth-maacah.org. They also have a Facebook page available here, and a blog here.

The photo above and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands, and is available here for $39 with free shipping. Photos and information of neighboring locations are available herehere, and here on the BiblePlaces website, and here and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.


Visit Ancient Sites with an Augmented Reality App

Architip is a new app that uses augmented reality (AR) technology to help users see what ancient sites in Israel used to look like. From The Times of Israel:

Augmented reality is a technology that uses mathematics, models, location services, camera technology, and advanced algorithms to impose a virtual image that melds into a real-life one. “For example, you might look at an ancient mosaic on the floor of a synagogue or church, and barely see the decorations on it because of the fading,” said Yaron Benvenisti, CEO of Architip, which is located in Jerusalem and has been operating for about six months. “With Architip, you would see the mosaic in full color, with all its drawings intact.”
Because each site needs to be mapped and augmented separately, Architip is being marketed as a “white label” engine, which will be used at specific sites. As a pilot, the Architip R&D team, led by Israeli AR and computer vision pioneer Sagiv Philipp, has mapped and “virtualized” the Tel Lachish archaeological site in central Israel. Tel Lachish was a fortified city surrounded by towers, and had many stately buildings, but looking at the site today, it’s hard to visualize the city as it was. With Architip, users can see the site in all its ancient glory just by holding up their smartphone’s camera at the location and looking at the screen.
“With Architip, you can see Tel Lachish as it was,” Benvenisti said, “walking through its streets and seeing the reconstruction through your device.” All a user has to do is point their device at a specific point, and Archtip’s technology does the rest.

The full article, including an illustration, is here. The company website includes a video demo that shows other features. I think that Lachish may be an ideal first choice if you’re just testing things out, but they’re going to have to choose more popular sites if they want more than a handful of users.

HT: Stephen Smuts


Weekend Roundup

The LMLK Blogspot has posted a video tour of the new “Motherland of Religions: The Eastern Mediterranean in Late Prehistory” exhibit at El Camino College, including displays of artifacts from Hebron and Khirbet el-Qom.

Wayne Stiles explains how the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the Valley of Elah.

In a recent Israel Roundup, Shmuel Browns looks at the Rockefeller Museum, the BBC, and the Jerusalem Botanic Garden.

Haaretz is doing its best to embarrass the left-wing Tel Aviv University by showing its indirect connections to the right-wing Elad in its excavations in the City of David. (And unlike most of their articles, they’ve made this one free for maximum exposure.)

Shimon Gibson reviews Eilat Mazar’s The Walls of the Temple Mount in a BAR article now online.

We don’t plan to write much on this blog for the next couple of weeks, but we’ll try to catch up on the most important stories when we do.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Picture of the Week: Excavations at a Mystery Site in the Early 1900s

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

The excavation season is upon us (as has been made clear through the recent roundup posts herehere and here), so our photo of the week is a picture of some early excavations at a well known site.  Can you guess which site it is?

Here are a series of hints for you:

  • This photograph was taken sometime between 1928 and 1946.
  • This dig was carried out by John Garstang.
  • The Arabic name for this site is Tell el-Qedah.
  • A row of matching pillars was found only a few yards away.
  • The valley in the background is the Huleh Valley.
  • This building was later fully excavated by Yigael Yadin, and eventually was moved to a different place on the tell by Amnon Ben-Tor.

The answer to our riddle (and a picture of the whole structure) can be found here.

During a sounding at this site in 1928, Garstang found one of the rows of pillars in a Israelite tripartite pillared building.  This type of structure was common in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. and has been found at Megiddo, Hazor, Beersheba, and elsewhere in Palestine.  The function of these buildings has been debated, with some scholars interpreting them as stables and others interpreting them as storehouses.  The last I checked, the proponents of the “stable” interpretation had the upper hand … but the readers of this blog are welcome to start the debate again in the comments section.

And for all of you who are in the field this summer … Happy Digging!  May you be as fortunate as Garstang was in his brief sounding at Tell el-Qedah in 1928.

This photo and about 600 others are available in Volume 1 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, and can be purchased here for $20 (plus free shipping). Additional images of this site can be seen here on BiblePlaces.com.  Additional images of the Huleh Valley in the 1800s and early 1900s can be seen here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.


Wednesday Roundup

The eleventh season at Khirbet el-Maqatir has concluded with word of a spectacular find that cannot yet be revealed. The team excavated several Roman-period silos, a first-century ritual bath, and an Iron Age house. The season at Tel Burna is coming along nicely. The First Week Wrap-up provides an overview of the known stratigraphic sequence of the site. The report for days 6-7 include a photo of a large monolith and a beautiful Iron IIB pavement. John Black shows how archaeological work in Jerusalem has undermined historical criticism of the Gospel of John. A Picasso drawing is being raffled to raise money to preserve the archaeological remains of Tyre. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo was recently closed to tourists by striking employees. Leon Mauldin illustrates Jeremiah’s message of the cursed man who will be like a “shrub in the desert.” He follows that up with a photo of a “land of salt.” Barry Britnell shows with photos why the Cilician Gates are important for Paul’s journeys. Douglas Petrovich provides a summary of his recent article that serves as a “John the Baptist” role for his forthcoming book, Evidence of Israelites in Egypt from Joseph’s Time until the Exodus. Pools of Bethesda southern pool from west, tb011612879 Southern pool of Bethesda
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands


Possible Discovery of Dalmanutha

Ken Dark recently lectured at the University of Edinburgh on the archaeology of Nazareth and the Plain of Gennesaret (Ginosar). Summaries of these lectures are available online.

While I find highly dubious his suggestion that there was “no road between Nazareth and Sepphoris”—what sort of physical evidence would you expect to find for a road from an agricultural village of a few hundred people?—I am very interested in his claim to have discovered a “very large, but previously-unrecognised, Late Hellenistic, Roman-period, and later, settlement” between Magdala and Kibbutz Ginosar. He suggests that the site may be the Dalmanutha of Mark 8:10.

“About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.” (Mark 8:9–11)

Because the parallel account in Matthew 15:38–16:1 has “vicinity of Magadan,” some scholars believe that Dalmanutha was another name for Magadan/Magdala. Mendel Nun has proposed that Dalmanutha be identified with a small anchorage north of Magdala (Anchor Bible Dictionary 2:4). Dalmanutha may not be a proper name but simply the Aramaic word for harbor.

You can read the lecture summaries and see the bibliographic details at the blog of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins.

HT: Charles Savelle

Plain of Gennesaret from Arbel, tb032507715
Plain of Gennesaret (Ginosar) from Arbel. Is this the region of Dalmanutha?
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

New Archaeological Museum in Sidon

From the Daily Star:

Sidon is set to have its own national museum on site a leading archaeological dig, with donors and developers ready to sign a contract for its construction Monday.The museum project will be built on land owned by the Directorate General of Antiquities at the Frère site. The British Museum has been conducting excavations at the Frère site for the past 14 years, and it is considered one of the most important archaeological digs in the region.
The museum will house archaeological finds that demonstrate the contribution of various civilizations to the city of Sidon. Excavations at the site have shed light on the city’s history, and the remnants discovered date back as far as 4000 B.C., according to the head of the British Museum expedition, Claude Doumit Sarhal.
“The artifacts provide insight into historical phases of the city and highlight the importance of the Mediterranean civilizations and cities in communicating with other civilizations,” she said.
“The number of the archaeological pieces excavated reaches almost 1,000,” Doumit Sarhal said. “You can imagine what could be buried under the historical site of the whole city, and under the 22 hectares of land that constituted the ancient city-state.”

The full article provides more details. Sidon is mentioned 20 times in the Old Testament, most frequently as an object of condemnation in the prophets. In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul visited the city (Matt 15:21; Acts 27:3).

HT: Jack Sasson

Sidon, Egyptian Harbor from Castle of St Louis, adr090508696
Egyptian harbor of Sidon from Castle of St. Louis
Photo from the Lebanon volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Wednesday Roundup

If you want to see more of the Herod exhibit than the Israel Museum put online, you can watch a 13-minute video tour. The audio is in German, but everyone can get a feel for the displays.

A blogger on Forbes gives some of the tax history of the first four Dead Sea Scrolls.

If you have missed Chris McKinny’s recent series Secret Places, he will be back. He has been teaching an intensive course in Israel and is now supervising excavations at Tel Burna. You can follow the results there as he and others post on the day’s finds, beginning with Day 1 and Day 2.

It’s never occurred to me that the Hinnom Valley has been redeemed, but Wayne Stiles makes a case.

Luke Chandler’s blog hosts the world premiere of a new short film titled “Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Fortified City in the Kingdom of Judah.”

Some tourists are starting to return to Greece as the rioting subsides and the prices go down.

In fact, you can now book a tour of Greece with the Associates for Biblical Research. The 12-day trip in March 2014 will be led by Gordon Franz. The cost is $3199.

A Chinese tourist who left his mark on an Egyptian temple got in trouble.

Israel Today has a 2-minute video tour of Jaffa (biblical Joppa).

HT: BibleX, Alexander Schick

Corinth plain and excavations from Acrocorinth, tb050803135
Plain of Corinth from Acrocorinth
Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands