Magnificent Burial Cave Looted in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority captured a group of thieves attempting to sell eleven ossuaries looted from a tomb in Jerusalem. The IAA issued a press release about the arrest and plunder today.

A number of suspects were apprehended in the early hours of Friday (28.3) in a joint operation by inspectors of the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and detectives and patrolmen of the Shefet police station in Jerusalem. They were caught while in possession of eleven decorated stone ossuaries – ancient coffins – that the Jewish population used for burial in the Second Temple period, two thousand years ago. Some of the ossuaries still contained the skeletal remains of the deceased.
Shallow engravings, etched in the past by means of a sharp stylus, were found on the walls of two of the seized ossuaries. They cite the names of the deceased whose bones were collected in the coffins. One of the engraved ossuaries that were found bore the name “Ralfin”, written in squared Hebrew script characteristic of the Second Temple period. This name is apparently a Hebraized form of an unusual Roman name. According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, who examined the ossuaries, “this is the first time this name appears on an ossuary from the Land of Israel”. On the other ossuary is a Greek inscription that could not be deciphered, and below it the name “Yo‘azar”, in squared Hebrew script. The name Yo‘azar is a common Jewish name in the Second Temple period, and occurs in contemporary written sources, such as Josephus’ writings. The name appears in this form and a slightly different form – “Yeho‘azar” – on numerous Jewish ossuaries from this period.
Some of the ossuaries were engraved with inscriptions in squared Hebrew script, characteristic of the Second Temple period and some bore Greek inscriptions, including the names of the deceased.
According to Dr. Eitan Klein, “these are singular finds. The inscriptions on the ossuaries provide us with additional characters and names from amongst the Jewish population in the Second Temple period, and the motifs adorning the ossuaries will supplement our knowledge with new information about the world of Jewish art in this period”. Dr. Klein stated, “There is no doubt that the ossuaries were recently looted from a magnificent burial cave in Jerusalem. Remnants of paint remained on top of the ossuaries and the containers themselves belong to the group of “magnificent Jerusalem” ossuaries that were manufactured in the city in antiquity”.

The full press release is here. High-resolution images are available from this link.

Photographs by the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.

Weekend Roundup

This video captures the “streams in the desert” during a recent flash flood in the Nahal Zin.

The spring season of excavations at Tel Burna has concluded.

The Times of Israel suggests “five glorious places from which to look out over Jerusalem.”

Mark Hoffman describes the new Google Maps Gallery and National Geographic Lands of the Bible Maps.

Larry Mykytiuk is on this week’s edition of The Book and the Spade discussing 50 Real People of the Bible, Confirmed by Archaeology (direct links to part 1 and part 2). now covers 100 sacred sites (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i) and other places of interest for Christian pilgrims to the biblical world.

Ferrell Jenkins comments on the attempted donkey sacrifice at Nebi Samwil.

BibleX links to an article on the Living Torah Museum in New York.

Popular Archaeology summarizes the recent excavations at Abel Beth Maacah and includes many photos.

The Rose Guide to the Temple is now $3.99 for the Kindle.


Recent Excavations of Jericho

Lorenzo Nigro, co-director of the recent excavations of ancient Jericho (Tell es-Sultan), has posted on the ASOR Blog a summary of discoveries since work began in 1997. You’ll want to read it all to learn about the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages, but I would note the brief paragraph relevant to the Bible.

The Middle Bronze III city was the object of a violent military destruction, which reduced the role of the site and left a heap of ruins in the place of the city, definitely marking Jericho as an emblematic ruin in collective imaginary.

The excavators are following Kathleen Kenyon’s conclusion that the conquest of Jericho was a myth that the Israelites invented because they saw a destroyed city. Bryant Wood has argued persuasively that the city was not destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1550 BC) but instead at the end of Late Bronze I (circa 1400 BC), the same time when the Bible describes the Israelite attack.

The article includes a series of photos. The one below was taken during my travels earlier this month.

Jericho southern end from east, tb031514785
Southern end of Jericho with Middle Bronze revetment wall

Artifact of the Month: Kurkh Monolith

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

This limestone monument, known as the Kurkh Monolith, is approximately seven feet high and is now located in the British Museum. Discovered in 1861 in Kurkh, Turkey, it was originally carved in c. 852 BC by the Assyrians. The cuneiform writing on the monument refers to a battle at Qarqar involving King Ahab of Israel, who is also frequently referred to in the Bible (cf. 1 Kings 16-22).

Of interest to Biblical studies is the fact that the battle mentioned on this monolith is not mentioned in the Bible, thereby indicating that the Biblical writers were selective in the events they recounted. Further, King Ahab is depicted in the inscription as being one of the major military contributors to a coalition of local forces which was assembled to counter the Assyrian threat. This coalition also included Damascus, which was often at odds with Israel. Though the monolith contains the typical Ancient Near Eastern talk by the Assyrian king claiming victory and so forth, it appears from subsequent events that the battle may not have gone so well for the Assyrians.

(Photo: Significant resource for further study: The Context of Scripture, Volume 2, pages 261-264.)

Largest Archaeological Library To Be Built in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post:

The Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday that it would construct the Middle East’s largest archeological library in Jerusalem. The library, to be called The Mandel National Library for the Archeology of Israel, is to house nearly 150,000 volumes, including 500 rare books and over 1,000 periodicals, the authority said. The adjacent Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel National Archeological Archives is to contain the authority’s archive as well as maps, permits, plans and publications of excavations from the British Mandate period through today, serving researchers and the public. Both buildings, made possible by a donation from the Cleveland-based philanthropic Mandel Foundation, are to be part of the authority’s Schottenstein National Campus for the Archeology of Israel, currently under construction. The 35,000-square-meter campus, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, is scheduled to be completed in April 2016 and will serve as a visitor center for the Antiquities Authority, as well as its official headquarters.

The full story includes a photo.


Secret Places: Moza Temple in the Iron II

(by Chris McKinny)

For the background of the Moza temple see Todd’s informative post showing the location of the Moza temple and discussing its significance for biblical studies.

The Iron Age II site of Moza (likely the biblical site of
the same name, cf. Josh. 18:26) sits right in the path of the ongoing expansion
of the Jerualem-Tel Aiv road (highway 1) right below the modern city of
Mevasseret-Zion. In the course of salvage excavations to build the road on the
slopes of Moza, the excavators encountered a unique Iron II temple with
fantastic cultic finds that seems to date to the Iron IIA and Iron IIB (c.
1000-701 BCE). Stratum VII represents the first phase of the Iron II, which the
excavators dated to the 10th centuries BCE on the basis of a
destruction that they relate to Shishak’s campaign (925 BCE, cf. 1 Kings
14:25). Stratum VI is the continuation of the Iron IIA habitation at the site
in the 9th century BCE before the temple was renovated and the
material was buried in stratum V in the 8th century
BCE (Iron IIB, perhaps by Hezekiah) (Greenhut
and De Groot 2009; Greenhut 2012; Kisilevitz and Eirich-Rose 2013)
. Specifically, the altar and
standing stones (masseboth) at the
entrance of the temple were purposefully buried and the purpose of the building
was changed from stratum VI to V.

Picture of Moza Iron II temple after last year’s snow (2013) – the stones between the two figures (I am the one on the right) has been interpreted as an altar

this site be an example of the ubiquitous statement of  “the high places (that) were not taken away,
and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places” (e.g. 1
Kings 22:43, cf. 15:14)? The writer of Kings indicates that these high places
persisted until the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-4, 22) who removed them.
Previously, archaeologists have sought to show Hezekiah’s (or Josiah’s) cult
reformation at the sites of Arad and Beersheba (see below), perhaps the Moza
temple is another example of this cult reformation. Similarly, its existence
during the 10-9th centuries BCE provides an important touchstone for
the cultic descriptions of the various Judahite monarchs until Hezekiah.

It should be noted that Moza strata
V and IV (Iron IIB-Iron IIC) show evidence of large grain storage in the form
of silos and a public storage building (building 150) (Greenhut and De Groot 2009; Greenhut 2012).  In light of this, it is
worth mentioning that the ancient site sits very close to the ancient route
from Kiriath-Jearim to the Central Benjamin Plateau. Interestingly, the
narrative that discusses David’s moving of the Ark of the Covenant’s from
Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) indicates that David stopped the
procession “at the threshing floor of Nacon” after Uzzah’s fatal touching of the ark and
placed it in the house of “Obed-edom the Gittite” who was blessed due to its
presence (6:7-11). Could there be a connection between the 10th
century BCE temple (stratum V) and this narrative? Ultimately, it is impossible
to say, but the parallels between grain abundance, geographical setting and
archaeological sequencing are compelling. In any case, it appears that Moza
stratum VI is a clear example of a 9th century BCE cult context that
may be related to ongoing Judahite cult activity outside the Jerusalem temple.

For an actual threshing floor right below Kiriath-Jearim see here.


Greenhut, Z.
            2012  Moza and Jerusalem in the Iron II:
Chronological, Agricultural and  Administrative
Aspects Unpublished Official. IAA Website.

Greenhut, Z., and A. De Groot

            2009  Salvage Excavations at Tel Moza: The
Bronze and Iron Age Settlements and
Later Occupation
. IAA Reports 39. Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.

Kisilevitz, S., and A. Eirich-Rose

            2013  New Evidence of Religious Practice in the
Jerusalem Environs during the First
Temple Period, Based on Recent Excavations at Tel Moza. In Baltimore, November 20.


Weekend Roundup

Bryant Wood made the case that Khirbet el-Maqatir is biblical Ai in a lecture he gave at the recent symposium held at Houston Baptist University.

Biblical Archaeology Review has posted online the documentation for this month’s cover story,

“Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” This is a valuable resource, and more easily accessible than the author’s monograph.

An alabaster statue of a New Kingdom princess has been discovered in excavations near Luxor. The 6-foot statue was once part of a 56-foot-tall statue that guarded the entrance to a temple.

“Iraq’s southern Dhi Qar province is ‘a global museum of antiquities,’ dotted with hundreds of unexcavated ancient cities whose archeological treasures could rival those of the great Sumerian capital of Ur, experts say.”

BibleX points to an article on the time and cost of Paul’s missionary journeys.

Israel experienced a very bad dust storm earlier this week, resulting in the closure of a number of the country’s airports.

Mark Hoffman explains how to make a custom Bible map using Accordance as well as other options.

The ASOR Archaeology Weekly Roundup links to stories about Pompeii, the Apostle Philip, and more.

I’m on this week’s edition of The Book and the Spade with Gordon Govier, discussing the upcoming summer excavations in Israel. (Here’s a direct link.)

Luke Chandler invites you to join him on a tour of Israel. At $3,300, it is one of the most affordable trips I know of.

Wayne Stiles flew out to Israel yesterday and will be blogging about his trip daily. He also will be posting new pictures on his Instagram feed. I’m heading over as well, but I don’t expect to have much time to write on this blog while I am away.

HT: Jack Sasson


New Resources at Preserving Bible Times

Our friends at Preserving Bible Times have just announced a new website. In addition to the many articles and resources available, I would highlight two areas to check out:

1. 3-D Israel Topographical Relief Maps: Their collection has expanded (and the prices reduced) for an OT version, a Gospel Version, and a contemporary Holy Land version. The maps are roughly 9 x 14 inches (22 x 35 cm) and sell for $29.95 plus shipping. Check out the website for photos of the maps.

2. The Gallery section includes a series of glass slides from 1905.

You can stay up-to-date with the latest resources by visiting the “What’s New” section regularly.

Multi-Era Holy Land Map
3-D Topographical Relief Map of the Holy Land

The Hebrew Bible for Kindle

A friend just wrote to let me know that he has just released the first Hebrew Bible designed for the Kindle. That means the vowels and cantillation marks all line up and look great! The Bible is also linked to an English translation so you can easily look up those challenging verses.

Here are a few other features:

  • All 39 books of the Tanak (Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim) [Genesis through 2 Chronicles] in Hebrew.
  • Crisp, beautiful, large Hebrew characters that can be resized smaller or larger, as needed.
  • Easy click-through navigation to other books and chapters.
  • Hebrew text from the Codex Leningradensis (digitized through the Westminster Leningrad Codex Tanach).
  • Unicode Hebrew characters.
  • Ability to add primary Hebrew-specific font to Kindle for use with this book.

And the cost is only $5.99! I’m trying to think of a better book I’ve ever bought for less money. Still thinking…. 🙂

There are more details and screenshots at The Bible Student. You can purchase it here.

The Hebrew Bible for Kindle

The Closing of the Tiberias Sound and Light Show

Next week I’ll end my streak of 20 years of avoiding the hotels of the Sea of Galilee’s most popular tourist city. I will miss, apparently, the Tiberium Light Show that once displayed three times each evening on the promenade along the Sea of Galilee. In the words of one website, “the Tiberium Light

Show mixes two giant screens, dozens of skittering water fountains, artistic laser lights, music and pyrotechnics to create a dazzling display of water and light.”

Four free shows presented Galilee-themed subjects:

“1. My Sea of Galilee- An Israeli show that describes the development of the Sea of Galilee, the settlement around it till this day.

2. An artistic presentation- An experience of sound, color and rhythm. The show is young and dynamic, with different communal aromas.

3. Past grows the Future- Integrates a huge project of the Municipality of Tiberias that participates the young generation in conserving tradition.

4. Classical show- Classical music creations with international artistic creations.” (Source: Go Galilee).

But the show’s demise is the cause of rejoicing among some of Tiberias’s residents. According to an article in Merkaz HaInyanim Zafon that was reported in the Caspari Center Media Review, the mention of Jesus walking on the water was not welcome.

The attraction caused an uproar within the religious community since it included a portrayal of “that man” walking on the water. Furthermore, the paper claims that the event was a gathering place for missionaries. The rabbis of Tiberias forbade the religious public from attending the event and asked the municipality to remove the Christian content. But when the municipality refused to do so, the hand of God seemed to take over, and the fountain began to sink into the sea. The municipality tried to save the display, but then the motor “mysteriously” disappeared as well. “It turns out,” writes Avi Yehudai, “that ‘that man’ wasn’t the only one to walk on water, as the Christians claim, but there are others who walked on the water without being noticed, and they didn’t sink, even though the precious motor was in their hands.”

Conflicts between the secular (who pursue money, and therefore tourism) and the religious (who prioritize purity) are part and parcel of Israel’s society, and vandalism by the religious community is not uncommon. In this case, an attraction that has been compared to the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc in Barcelona has been lost.

Two videos capture some of the sound and light show: a 2.5-minute clip and a more impressive 12-minute version below.