Lebanon Archaeology

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle)

Unlike its neighbor to the south, Lebanon has only a handful of excavations currently in progress and there is no systematic archaeological survey of the entire country presently available. Sadly, archaeological work is only being carried out at a total of five (or so) sites: Sidon, Tell Arqa, Tell el-Burak (link 2, link 3), Baalbek, and Kamid el-Loz.

Tell Arqa in northern Lebanon.

Naturally, one would think that the paucity of archaeological work (and tourism, for that matter) is due to present security conditions. But that is only part of the story. Hélène Sader, a historian and archaeologist at the American University in Beirut, has written a piece for the ASOR blog entitled, “Archaeology in Lebanon Today: Its Politics and Its Problems,” in which she paints a fairly bleak portrait of the current situation.

The outdated antiquities law which established the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) “as the sole authority” limits the DGA’s staff “to five archaeologists, five trainee archaeologists, and five architects in charge of regular and salvage excavations, restoration and conservation of historical and archaeological monuments, and the curatorship of the national and regional museums collections!” Following the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the Lebanese government set out to rebuild Beirut’s Central District. The DGA was then faced with the task of not only rebuilding the National Museum, but also “supervising the largest urban excavation site in the world with practically no qualified personnel, no funds, and no political support.” Since 2000, “the DGA has become extremely restrictive regarding long term excavation projects” and is “reluctant to issue permits to foreign institutions.” Numerous salvage excavations go unpublished and the excavated remains are “regularly bulldozed or disfigured by irresponsible urban planning without any objections.”
Sader concludes:

The DGA has been without leadership for the last four years. The last Director General resigned three years ago and the appointment of a new one is still blocked by political rivalries. The failure to build a new generation of professional and well-trained archaeologists is so dramatic that it is very hard today to find even a small pool of competent candidates for the position of Director General from within or outside the department of antiquities. Several DGA archaeologists and architects have lately resigned out of frustration and it seems that the institution is back to square one: no director general, insufficient numbers of qualified professionals, no reforms of the laws regulating archaeological work, no funds, and first and foremost, no vision and no direction for the future of archaeology in Lebanon.

We keep our fingers crossed that the future leadership of the DGA will have the political and financial support of the Lebanese government to build a modern institution and to promote archaeological research. Maybe then, like a phoenix, Lebanese Archaeology will rise from its ashes.


Answer: Most-Eroded Site in Israel

The site identified as the most eroded site in Israel is Tell Jemmeh, located on the bank of the Nahal Besor about 7 miles (12 km) due south of the city of Gaza. The site was identified as biblical Gerar by W. J. Phythian-Adams and Sir Flinders Petrie. Benjamin Mazar’s suggestion that Tell Jemmeh is Yurza is now commonly accepted. Yurza is mentioned in Egyptian and Assyrian texts but not in the Bible. The source of the quotation is the “Jemmeh, Tell” article by the late Gus W. Van Beek in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 3, page 677.

We had a number of good responses in the comments yesterday, all of which show that there are many severely eroded tells in Israel. The correct answer was given by Dr. Carl Rasmussen, but if you’re feeling bad that you lost out, you can take comfort in the fact that you lost to someone who has written one of the best Bible atlases!

Tell Jemmeh side washed out by Nahal Besor, tb050701352
Tell Jemmeh, showing erosion caused by the Nahal Besor.
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands,
volume 5

Name the Place: Most-Eroded Site in Israel

Can you identify this site?

“[The site] originally occupied a mesa encompassing an area of 4.92 hectares (12.15 acres). It is the most-eroded major site in Israel, the N end having been destroyed by flash floods in Nahal [X], and the S end by severe erosion. The area on the top of the mound is now reduced to 0.26 hectares (0.64 acres) from an estimated original area of 3.04 hectares (7.51 acres). The site is the highest point in the landscape, reaching a height of 22 m (71 feet) above present ground level. Its upper 15.50 m (50 feet) is occupation debris of successive towns.”

If you know the answer, you’re welcome to post it in the comments below. If you discover the answer by research, please do not post it in the comments below. I’ll post the answer, source of the quotation, and a photo tomorrow.


Weekend Roundup

The best way to get up to speed on the major discoveries at Hazor from the Bronze Age is with Amnon Ben-Tor’s article on the ASOR Blog.

A brief report of the finds and surprises from the season at Gezer has been written by the excavators.

This year’s excavations of Gath are over, but Aren Maeir is making us wait for a summary of “one of the most productive, interesting and overall great seasons we have had since the project began (in 1996…).” Check out the rest of his blog for season-end photos.

Though most tourists skip Ashkelon, this Haaretz article reveals how the site is “a treasure full to bursting.”

I failed to note previously a couple of articles following up on the discovery of the “palace of David” at Khirbet Qeiyafa. A Baptist Press article provides some balanced coverage. And excavation volunteer Luke Chandler gives his personal perspective.

The theater in Assos is being renovated to accommodate events for up to 5,000 people.

Mark Wilson provides some background for 1 Corinthians 3:17 from the destruction of the Ephesian temple of Artemis.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology is now reduced to $235. It’s currently out of
stock, and I don’t know how long the discount will last. (This is an unusually large discount when compared with other Oxford sets such as OAENE, OEAGR, and OEBB.)

HT: Jack Sasson

Assos theater and acropolis from below, tb041605082
The theater and acropolis of Assos
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Western Turkey

Picture of the Week: Ancient Harbor of Susita/Hippos on the Sea of Galilee

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the remains of several ancient harbors were identified around the Sea of Galilee. At least 13 harbors have been identified, all of which most likely date to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. A map of the various harbors can be seen here. The work of archaeologists in this area (most notably, the labors of Mendel Nun) have provided us with significant insights into what life was like for fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee during these periods.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and shows the remains of the main breakwater of the harbor of Susita (a.k.a., Hippos) on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The photo was taken at a time when the water level in the lake was extremely low, so the breakwater stands several meters from the shore. However, in ancient times this breakwater would have provided boats with shelter from dangerous storms that can occur on the lake (for example, see Matt. 8:23-27).

This harbor was a typical one on the Sea of Galilee during this period. The breakwater was man-made and extended from the shore, enclosing an area of about an acre with a gap on the south end for boats to pass in and out.  In the map referenced above, the Hippos harbor can be seen at the bottom right.  Mendel Nun, in his book Ancient Anchorages and Harbours Around the Sea of Galilee (Kibbutz Ein Gev, Israel: Kinnereth Sailing Co., 1988), describes this harbor in the following way:

The harbour of Susita was built to fit the conditions of the sandy shore. The central breakwater is 120 meters long; its base is five to seven meters wide. The stone breakwater projecting from the shore turns to the south and runs nearly parallel to the shore at a depth of -211.25 meters [693 feet below sea level] for another 85 meters.

At the far end it curves sharply to the west and extends into the lake to a depth of -212.5 meters [697 feet below sea level]. This shape makes for a long inner area open to the south; a second breakwater was therefore constructed which extends from the shore for 40 meters. The inner part of the harbour thus formed a closed basin enclosing an area of about an acre. A small jetty leading north from the breakwater was for passengers embarking and disembarking, saving them the tedious procedure of passing through the narrow harbour entrance.  Indications that this entrance was deepended [sic.] may still be seen.

The total lenght [sic.] of all the breakwaters in this harbour comes to 180 meters.  The sides were built of rows of stones, the interstices filled with smaller rocks, re-used building stones, fragments of lime columns. During the past few years of low water, the silt filling the harbour has been overgrown by shrubbery.  (Nun, Ancient Anchorages and Harbours, pp. 13-14.)

Harbors such as this bear witness to the thriving economy around the lake during the time of Christ. Although people have probably always fished in the lake, the Roman Period was a time when fishermen were especially active and an unusually high number of settlements were constructed around the Sea of Galilee. According to Mendel Nun, “all settlements on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, even the smallest, had an anchorage, each built to suit local conditions and requirements.” (Ibid., p. 27.) So harbors such as this would have been part of the everyday life of people living next to the lake. Insights such as this add color to our reading of the stories in the Gospels.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Additional images of the Sea of Galilee can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on LifeintheHolyLand.com here.  Images and information about fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in the 19th century can be found here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.  Additional information about the ancient harbors around the Sea of Galilee can be found here.


Wednesday Roundup

The discovery of an ancient olive press in Jerusalem was announced yesterday.

The “Naked Archaeologist” is suing one of its many critics in Israeli court.

Megiddo V: The 2004-2008 Seasons is now available from Eisenbrauns.

The warm springs of Sachne/Gan HaShlosha are one of the best places to swim in Israel, particularly on a school day when the crowds are absent.

The BibleMap App connects every chapter of the Bible with Google Maps.

Chris McKinny has been leading students from The Master’s College IBEX program at the Tel Burna Excavation Project for several years. His work is the subject of a new article on the college’s website.

Luke Chandler shares a 7-minute video of a recent field trip to the important site of Gezer.

Tourists will surely be affected by the massive renovation of Highway 1 between Tel Aviv and

Sachne warm springs, tb103002104
The warm springs of Sachne/Gan HaShlosha
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Analysis: Archaeologists Find Prophet Elisha’s House

Whenever you see a sensational claim such as the discovery of a specific item mentioned in the Bible, you should be suspicious. In most cases, the archaeologist seems to be driven more by a desire for attention than by the evidence (e.g., the Cave of John the Baptist, the palace of David, or anything announced by Yosef Garfinkel in the last six years).

This one is immediately different than others in that the archaeologist is Amihai Mazar, a scholar of impeccable reputation. On the other hand, it was first reported by CBN, a ministry under the leadership of Pat Robertson. (As of this writing, it is not reported in any other news outlets. A carefully prepared CBN video of the story is here.)

Mazar has suggested that a room found in his excavations at Tel Rehov was inhabited by Elisha on the basis of (1) two incense altars found nearby, (2) a table and a bench discovered in the room, and (3) a fragmentary inscription reconstructed to read Elisha. In addition, the location of Tel Rehov is situated along a route that Elisha traveled between his home in Abel Mehola and the woman’s house in Shunem (2 Kings 4:8ff). According to the article, Stephen Pfann “calls the evidence compelling.”

The article does not attempt to evaluate this sensational claim. While there are or will be critiques by scholars who dismiss the veracity of the biblical account, this analysis comes from one who believes in the accuracy of the Old and New Testaments.

Before accepting the suggestion that the home of Elisha has been discovered at Tel Rehov, you
should consider the following:

1. The inscription that mentions Elisha is incomplete and the reading is reconstructed. This article does not make it clear how many letters are missing, but some have been supplied by scholars. This conjecture may or may not be correct.

2. There is no reason to believe that there was only one person named Elisha in ninth century Israel.

Though only one is named in the Bible, others may well have existed.

3. Even if this inscription reads Elisha, there is no reason to believe that Elisha inhabited the building where it was found. Many other scenarios can be imagined apart from his residence here. 

4. There was presumably more than one room in ninth-century Israel that had a table and a bench.

Though 2 Kings 4:10 says that Elisha’s room in Shunem had a table, bed, chair and lamp, this does not indicate that every room in Israel with a table and a bench belonged to Elisha.

5. The presence of incense altars is not particularly unique as they have been found in many locations. I would argue that the presence of such altars is evidence against Elisha’s presence, for surely he would have advised for their destruction because they violated God’s law (cf. 1 Kgs 3:3; 2
Kgs 12:3).

6. While the location of Tel Rehov seven miles (12 km) from Elisha’s hometown of Abel Meholah is interesting, it seems an unlikely place for Elisha to have a lodging place only a two-hour walk from home. 2 Kings 4 says that the Shunamite woman prepared a room for Elisha and this makes sense given its position midway between his destinations of Abel Meholah and Mount Carmel. It is not clear why Elisha would need another one, and there is no evidence in the Bible that he stayed at Tel Rehov.

It is not impossible that this discovery is everything that the article suggests, but adding improbability to improbability does not make the case stronger. The quotation near the end that this is “one more proof [of biblical accuracy] for what we call the doubting world” is an all-too-common example of failing to analyze the data when the proposal fits your beliefs. It happens on both sides, but it bothers me more when it happens on mine.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Tel Rehov aerial from east, tb121704086
Tel Rehov, aerial view from east
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 2
Area of Elisha’s ministry; Tel Rehov is near Beth-shan.
Map from the Satellite Bible Atlas

Hebrew U Tours of Tel Dor, Ein Qashish, and Nahal Ein Gev

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem issued the following press release this morning:

August Archaeology Outings: Hebrew University Invites the Public to Visit Fascinating Sites Throughout the Country

Jerusalem, July 22, 2013 — Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology are inviting the public to participate in free guided tours of three diverse archaeological sites.

On August 2, 8 and 20, the archaeologists will lead tours that shed light on the rich history of some of Israel’s most fascinating ancient sites. At each of these locations they will offer a guided tour: Tel Dor (August 2), Ein Qashish (August 8), and Nahal Ein Gev (August 20).

Admission is free and there is no need to register in advance. Participants must bring hiking shoes, an adequate supply of water and a hat. Sunblock is recommended.

For more information, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

The tours:

Tel Dor

Host researcher: Prof. Ilan Sharon

Site visit date: Friday, August 2 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Hamizgaga Museum at Nachsholim

The site: Tel Dor is located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, about 30 km south of Haifa. The documented history of the site begins in the Late Bronze Age and ends in the Crusader period. The port dominated the fortunes of the town throughout its 3000-odd year history. Dor was successively ruled by Canaanites, “sea peoples,” Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Its primary role in all these diverse cultures was that of a commercial entrepot and a gateway between East and West.

Map (how to get there) at http://dor.huji.ac.il/

Ein Qashish

Host researcher: Prof. Erella Hovers

Site visit date: Thursday, August 8 at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Ein Qashish is an open-air Middle Paleolithic site located on the bank of the Qishon River, close to many of the major Middle Paleolithic cave sites in northern Israel, in an area where practically no open-air sites have been known before. The site was discovered in 2004 by survey teams of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Work at the site was carried out in 2005 and then again in 2009-2010 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Map (how to get there): http://archaeology.huji.ac.il/qashish

Nahal Ein Gev

Host researchers: Prof. Anna Belfer Cohen, Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef and Dr. Leore Grosman

Site visit date: Tuesday, August 20 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Entrance to Kibbutz Ein Gev

Nahal Ein Gev is located about 2 km east of the shores of the Kinneret. The site belongs to the Natufian period, about 11,500 years before our time, and exposes a village of the last hunter-gatherers who lived on the eve of the Agricultural Revolution, leaving complex and fascinating remains.

According to the incoming Head of the Institute of Archaeology, Prof. Erella Hovers, “A lot of the Institute of Archaeology’s activity is conducted on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, but each summer the Institute’s scholars go to work on a large number of archaeological sites from different periods and in different regions in the country, thus taking research out of the lab and into the field. This is an opportunity for us to invite the public to experience the extensive research activities of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology as they unfold before us.”

Prof. Hovers added: “The archaeological sites are cultural treasures of the State of Israel and we are happy to reveal them directly to its people by hosting visitors our dig sites. We will gladly present how archaeological field work is done, what research questions led us to these excavation sites, and what 21st century archaeological science is all about.”

For information about the tours, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

Dor temples area, tb090506882
Tel Dor
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Prosecutors Withdraw Appeal on Jehoash Tablet

Yesterday the State Attorney’s office in Israel announced that it was withdrawing its appeal on the allegedly forged items in the collection of Oded Golan. Hershel Shanks has written a brief update on the situation.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is scheduled to return the famous ossuary, or bone box, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” to Oded Golan, the Israeli collector who owns it, after a five-year trial charging that he forged the Jesus reference in the inscription. In March 2012, the trial judge Aharon Farkash acquitted Oded Golan of the forgery charge. Stung by the verdict, state prosecutor Dan Bahat (not the eminent Israeli archaeologist of the same name) mounted an appeal of some aspects of the verdict, but not the James Ossuary. The government apparently accepted as final the judge’s decision regarding the ossuary. On July 18, Bahat’s superiors in the office of the State’s Attorney announced to the Israel Supreme Court that it was withdrawing the appeal on other aspects of the verdict.

The update continues here. I have noted in the past that most experts believe that the James Ossuary inscription is authentic and many believe that the Jehoash Tablet is as well.


Picture of the Week: Almond Blossoms

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

I still remember the first time I studied the descriptions of the Tabernacle in detail. I was a college student at the time and was taking an Old Testament Survey course. I combed through the descriptions of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-30 and did the best I could (with the limited knowledge that I had) to picture what the various items looked like and how they fit together.

A case in point is the description of the lampstand in the tabernacle, or as it is commonly called: the menorah. The Bible describes the lampstand in the follow way:

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (Exod. 25:31-40, ESV)

Now some of the Hebrew terms in this passage are difficult to accurately interpret (for example, the word translated “calyx” in the ESV is translated as “bulb” in the NASB), but it is clear that the menorah in the Tabernacle incorporated elements of almond blossoms. So to get an idea of what the menorah looked like, you need to know something about the shape of almond blossoms. Unfortunately, as a college student from the suburbs of Southern California, I had no clue what an almond blossom looked like.

So to remedy that situation (for myself and for the sake of others like me) our picture of the week comes from Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This is an entirely new volume that was added when the collection was revised and expanded last year and it focuses on “Trees, Plants, and Flowers of the Holy Land.”  (For another sample from this collection, see my post here.)  The photograph below shows a branch of almond blossoms on a tree near Aijalon in Israel.  You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Almond blossoms are white or pink in color and appear on the tree in early spring, before any of the leaves are produced. The petals of the blossom form a cup and, as you can see, several flowers grow next to each other on a single branch.  In the upper left section of the photograph you can see some new buds forming with the calyx covering. (A “calyx” is the leafy covering around a bud or flower.)

Given an image like this, it is not difficult to imagine what the branches of the Tabernacle’s lampstand may have looked like. Each of the six outer branches of the menorah incorporated three almond blossoms and the center branch somehow incorporated four blossoms. Although we may not be able to reconstruct the exact details of the lampstand with certainty, a picture like this goes a long way in enlightening our reading of the text.

This photograph and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $34 (with free shipping).  Additional photographs from that collection can be seen here, here, and here on the BiblePlaces website. For one reconstruction of the Tabernacle’s lampstand, see images of the Tabernacle replica here and here.