Weekend Roundup

Aren Maier reports that he may have been the last archaeologist to see the excavations of Eshtaol.

But you can see a video of the site before it was buried.

Some are unhappy that the Palestinian Authority is excavating a Hasmonean fortress between Bethlehem and the Herodium.

Barry Britnell saw the Jerusalem movie and he declares it to be “fantastic.” You can see if it is in a theater near you here.

The Kathleen Kenyon collection is now on display at the Ian Potter Museum in Melbourne.

This travel piece may inspire you to do more on your next trip to Israel than ride on a bus.

If you expect to be touring Israel in late May, you should plan now to avoid the pope.

You can save an extra 30% on any print book at Amazon through Dec 1, 11:59pm. Enter “BOOKDEAL” at checkout under the “Gift cards & promotional codes.” Up to $10 off. I recommend this book (for an amazing $21.47 after discount. I’ll say more about this book later, but not before this deal expires. Preview here.)

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer


Khirbet el-Maqatir Exhibit Coming to Houston

I would like to see this:

Khirbet el-Maqatir: History of a Biblical Site will be a year-long exhibit of 42 artifacts from excavations in Israel at Khirbet el-Maqatir, thought to be the site of ancient Ai from Joshua 7-8. The Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria has approved the loan of these artifacts for exhibit at the Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum from January 21-December 19, 2014. In conjunction with the exhibit, a symposium will be held on February 8th, focusing on the role of archaeology in understanding ancient history and biblical studies as well, including critical reflection on the excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir and what light they shed on the ancient, biblical world. Starting from Genesis 12-13 and moving toward Maqatir’s magnificent monastery, 4,000 years of history will be on display. Special attention will be given to the Late Bronze Age fortress (Ai of Joshua 7-8) and the Early Roman/New Testament village (perhaps Ephraim of John 11:54).

I don’t believe that these artifacts have been on public display before. Khirbet el-Maqatir has been excavated under the direction of Bryant Wood since 1995.

The website also announces a conference to be held in conjunction with the exhibit. Speakers include Bryant Wood, Eugene Merrill, and Leen Ritmeyer. All of the details are here.

Khirbet el-Maqatir and Wadi Sheban aerial, tbs104369905
Khirbet el-Maqatir (left) and valley of Joshua’s ambush
Photo from Samaria and the Center

Chalcolithic Temple Discovered at Eshtaol

A report from the IAA describes a range of finds at a salvage dig being conducted on Highway 38 (aka “the Diagonal Route”) north of Beth Shemesh. The finds include a house from the Neolithic period with nine flint and limestone axes, some used for cultic purposes. Archaeologists also identified a Chalcolithic temple at the site.

In the archaeological excavation conducted at Eshta’ol an important and rare find from the end of the Chalcolithic period (second half of the fifth millennium BCE) was discovered in the adjacent area. During the course of the excavation six thousand year old buildings were exposed and a stone column (called a standing stone or mazzevā) was discovered alongside one of them. The standing stone is 1.30 meters high and weighs several hundred kilos. According to the excavation directors, “The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east. This unique find alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site”. The archaeologists said, “In the past numerous manifestations have been found of the cultic practice that existed in the Chalcolithic period; however, from the research we know of only a few temples at ‘En Gedi and at Teleilat Ghassul in Transjordan.”

The site will be open to the public on Wednesday, November 27, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. The article does not state whether the site will be preserved, but given its location along the route of the highway expansion, it seems unlikely. The full story is here and high-resolution photos are available here. The story is also reported in Arutz-7 and The Times of Israel, both of which provide details for registering for the site visit.

Eshtaol is mentioned in the Bible in connection with the birth and burial of Samson (Judges 13:25; 16:31). Men from the tribe of Dan were sent from Eshtaol and Zorah to spy out the northern territory for settlement (Judges 18:2, 8, 11). The discoveries made are from earlier periods and are not at the ancient site of Eshtaol. For a brief discussion of the location of ancient Eshtaol, see our post here.

Work being conducted at the excavation
Eshtaol excavation
Photo by Yoli Shwarz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

Weekend Roundup

The recent discovery of a large wine cellar at Tel Kabri is described in the New York Times.

Ran Shapira at Haaretz reports on the latest finds at Gezer.

Guy Steibel is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yigael Yadin’s excavations of Masada with a tour for journalists. He reveals that the one big thing they haven’t found yet is a latrine.

The Jewish Press has more about the stone altar discovered at Shiloh, including a better photo.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh has a feature article in Haaretz on women and their work in the ancient world.

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are rarely celebrated at the same time. This article on the Chabad website explains when it last happened and when it may occur next (in 2070).

Oxford University Press has published The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction by Amanda Podany. At 168 pages (and $9), this will be more appealing to some than the longer (and more costly) introductions.

The official trailer for Noah is out. I’m told by those who have seen more than the trailer that the movie is not faithful to the biblical story.

HT: Charles Savelle, Mark Hoffman, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Two women grinding in courtyard in front of home, mat04156
Two women grinding, 1930s
Photo from Traditional Life and Customs

Proposal for Huge Jesus Statue in Nazareth

From the Jerusalem Post:

Bishara Shlayan, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, is hoping to build a huge statue of Jesus on Mount Precipice, near his home city.
Shlayan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that he has already begun fund-raising for the project and that he is getting positive feedback from the Israeli Arab Christian community as well as some Jews.
He sees the statue as being similar to but larger than the huge Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Mount Precipice, also known as Mount Kedumim, is believed by some to be the place where the people of Nazareth attempted to push Jesus off the mountain after rejecting him as the messiah. In the end he was able to jump off and disappeared, according to Christian tradition.

The full story describes Shlayan’s political ambitions. The statue in Rio is 100 feet tall. The traditional hill is not the place where Jesus was nearly killed, for ancient Nazareth was not built on this hill.

They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff (Luke 4:29).

Nazareth Mount of Precipitation from west panorama, tb041003219
Traditional Mount of Precipitation in Nazareth
Photo from Galilee and the North

Picture of the Week: Palace of Hyrcanus

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our obscure site of the week is somewhere that I have never been. I know of this fascinating location only through the PLBL collection. However, Josephus seems to have known it fairly well. It was a site built in the Hellenistic period in the hills above the Plains of Moab, northeast of the Dead Sea.

This site is today known as “Sir” and it is located near the modern village of Iraq el-Emir (click on the map above for a higher resolution). It was built by Hyrcanus, who lived in the third century B.C., during the time when the Ptolemies and Seleucids fought for control of the Levant. Hyrcanus was the youngest son of Joseph, who in turn was the nephew of Onias the high priest. Joseph and Hyrcanus were appointed by the Ptolemy V Epiphanes to collect taxes in the region and send them back to Ptolemy’s capital city, Alexandria. Joseph collected taxes from Jerusalem, but because of a family quarrel Hyrcanus had to content himself with settling on the other side of the Jordan River. It is here that he built the palace that is shown in the photo below:

Josephus provides us with the following details about this building:

Hyrcanus determined not to return to Jerusalem any more, but seated himself beyond Jordan, and was at perpetual war with the Arabians, and killed many of them, and took many of them captives. He also erected a strong fortress, and built it entirely of white stone to the very roof, and had animals of a great magnitude engraved upon it.  He also drew around it a great and deep canal of water. He also made caves of many furlongs in length, by hollowing a rock that was near to him; and then he made large rooms in it, some for feasting, and some for sleeping and living in. … Moreover, he built courts of greater magnitude than ordinary, which he adorned with vastly large gardens. And when he had brought the place to this state, he named it Tyre [also spelled Tyros or Tyrus]. This place is between Arabia and Judea, beyond Jordan, not far from the country of Heshbon. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:229-231, 233.)

The animal engravings can still be seen on this structure, although most of them have not endured the ravages of time. They are not very clear in this photograph, but additional photos of the animal engravings are available in Volume 6 of the PLBL. One of the animal engravings was in the shape of a leopard and it served as a water fountain with a stream of water spewing out of the leopard’s mouth. The caves that Josephus mentioned have also been found in this area.

So the next time you’re passing through the hills above the Plains of Moab, on your way to more popular sites such as Amman and Medeba, take a little time to visit this small but fascinating site that was described for us so well by Josephus, almost 2,000 years ago.

This map and photo, along with over 850 other images, are available in Volume 6 of the Pictorial Library of the Holy Land, and is available here for $34 (with free shipping).

The excerpt is taken from The New Complete Works of Josephus, revised and expanded edition, trans. by William Whiston, commentary by Paul L. Maier (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999), p. 402.


Stone Altar Discovered at Shiloh

Arutz-7 reports on the recent discovery of a stone altar at Shiloh that they are dating to the Iron Age.

An ongoing archaeological dig in the ancient Jewish village of Shilo in Samaria (Shomron) has turned up a stone altar dating back thousands of years.
The altar is believed to date back to the period from roughly 1,200 BCE to 600 CE known as the Iron Age.
More specifically, archaeologists dating it to what some Israeli researchers call the “Israelite era” – the period of time after the nation of Israel entered the land of Israel, and before the destruction of the First Temple.
The altar is 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters, with a height of 40 centimeters, and was found on the southern edge of the site of ancient Shilo.
It had been used in the construction of a Byzantine-era structure, however, markings on the stone indicated its use in religious ceremonies prior to its use as building material.

The dates above are incorrect; the Iron Age dates to 1200-600 BC/BCE. It appears that there is little evidence to date the altar. The broad range given suggests that this is a typological date, based on a comparison of this altar with other ancient altars.

The full story is here. The Hebrew version includes a photo. Another altar from the same time period was discovered one mile west of Shiloh, as described in an abstract of an article in PEQ.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Egyptian Museum To Be Renovated

From the Associated Press:

Egypt unveiled Friday a multimillion dollar renovation project for Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, including plans to demolish a scorched building that stands between it and the Nile, in a bid to draw tourists back and restore a sense of normalcy after more than two years of unrest. Organizers said they want to return the dusty 111-year-old museum to its former glory by painting the walls and covering the floors in their original colors and patterns. The lighting and security systems also will be upgraded to meet international standards, Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim said, announcing the plan during a news conference in the museum’s leafy courtyard. The displays also will be rearranged, although he did not give details about how. One of the museum’s most famous exhibits, King Tutankhamun’s treasures, will be moved to a new Grand Egyptian museum that is being built near the Giza pyramids. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015. Along with the overall tourist industry, the museum has suffered in large part due to its location near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests and frequent clashes since the start of the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Violence spiked again after the July 3 military coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. But the interim government that has assumed power is struggling to regain control of the streets and bring back the visitors who long made Egypt a top tourist spot. Ibrahim said the ministry’s revenues, including the entrance fees from tourist sites, fell from 111 million Egyptian pounds in October 2010 to 7 million Egyptian pounds ($1.14 million) in October 2013. “From Tahrir, on a Friday, we are sending a positive message to the entire world: Egypt is doing well,” Ibrahim said on the anniversary of the museum’s inauguration in 1902.

The full story describes the anticipated cost and the involvement of an international team. HT: Jack Sasson Cairo Museum, exterior, mat01484 Cairo Museum, early 1900s
Photo from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection


Weekend Roundup

The James Ossuary has been released by the Israel Antiquities Authority to the owner Oded Golan. Matthew Kalman explains how police contamination of the James Ossuary was a factor in the the verdict of “not guilty.” Ninety antiquities on sale in a Jerusalem auction were returned to Egypt last week. Nir Hasson reports on antiquities dealers in Israel who are fighting governmental efforts to force them to use a computer database. Haaretz: How a Canaanite goddess conquered ancient Egypt The Biblical Archaeological Society is providing open access to its seven articles on Lachish in honor of the opening of the fourth expedition. The Catholic Herald runs a recent interview with Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. Leen Ritmeyer shares some of his own reflections. The Book and the Spade re-runs an interview from 2008. Ritmeyer shares a screenshot of a digital picture of ancient Jerusalem from the forthcoming iMax 3D movie. HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson


Picture of the Week: Tel Ira

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

What if people in the future forgot the name of your city? Sound ridiculous? In archaeology, that is actually a common occurrence…

Continuing our series on “obscure sites in the PLBL,” our picture of the week comes from the Biblical Negev. About halfway between Beersheba and Arad are the ruins of a significant city from the time of Hezekiah. The site’s modern name is Tel Ira, and you can see its location in the center of the map below (click on the map for a higher resolution).

In the photograph below, you can see the remains of an Iron II casemate wall found at Tel Ira. The scorching terrain of the Negev can be seen in the background.

The following information is provided in the PowerPoint notes in Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands:

Tel Ira was excavated from 1979 to 1987 by Itzhak Beit-Arieh and others. The six-acre site was occupied in the Early Bronze III, Iron II, Persian, Hellenistic, Early Roman, Byzantine, and Early Arab periods.

In the late 8th or early 7th century BC (approximately the time of King Hezekiah), the site was entirely surrounded by a solid wall that was 5-6 feet (1.6-1.8 m) thick. In the east wall excavators uncovered a gate with six chambers and two towers, similar to gates found at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.

Excavators believe that Tel Ira was one of the most important sites in the Negev during the 7th century BC. It may have been destroyed by an Edomite attack. The ancient name of the site has not been determined.

A casemate wall was excavated near the six-chambered gate. Its total thickness is about 16 feet (5 m). The exterior wall (left in photo above) measures 5 feet thick (1.5 m) and the interior wall is 3 feet (1.0 m) thick.

The city wall was exposed on the complete circumference of the site.

Two statements in the third paragraph strike me as odd. The first is that this was “one of the most important sites in the Negev during the 7th century BC.” The second is: “The ancient name of the site has not been determined.” After we have dug at so many sites and learned so much about the biblical world, how could we not know the name of one of the most important cities within the territory of Judah during the period of the Davidic monarchy?

Years ago, Edwin Yamauchi wrote a book called The Stones and the Scriptures where he makes an interesting argument about how much we really know about the ancient world. He points out that our knowledge about the ancient world shrinks proportionately as we move from what existed in the historical period to what we have available for study today. He argues that out of everything that existed in antiquity, there is only a fraction of the material remains that have survived; of the surviving remains, only a fraction of the sites where this material is located have been surveyed or found; out of the known sites, only a fraction have been excavated; and out of the excavated sites, only a fraction have been published.

So when it comes down to it, we have only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of information available to us, based on the archaeological record alone. Sometimes this deficiency can be helped through written sources from antiquity (such as the Bible) but often we are left with sites without names, as is case with Tel Ira. So this once prominent city of the Negev finds itself today classified as one of the “obscure sites” in the Holy Land.

This photograph and map, along with over 700 other images, are available in Volume 5 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $34 (with free shipping). More photographs and information about Tel Ira can be found at the following websites: