Weekend Roundup

Chris Jones has a careful assessment of the damage at the Mosul Museum. Some of the items destroyed were replicas but many were originals.

The Iraqi Prime Minister has condemned the destruction of antiquities from Nimrud and Nineveh by IS. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the latest “barbaric terrorist acts.” Some experts see the video primarily as propaganda. Ferrell Jenkins provides some background and photos he took in 1970.

Militants have also taken control of Ezra’s tomb in Iraq.

Syria is blaming Turkey for the flow of artifacts out of the country.

What are Judean Pillar Figurines? Erin Darby explains our interest, their importance, and their use for protection and healing.

One of the divers gives his account of the discovery of the treasure of golden coins in the Caesarea harbor.

The downside of such discoveries is increased looting by everyone who thinks that they’ll be the next to find buried gold.

D. Scott Stripling: 2014 Excavations at Kh. el-Maqatir: A Proposed New Location for the Ai of Joshua 7–8 and Ephraim of John 11:53-54

The Jezreel Expedition used airborne LiDAR to prepare for an old-fashioned foot survey that showed that Jezreel is much larger than previously thought.

Dothan appears only twice in the Bible, and Wayne Stiles explains the lesson we can learn from Joseph and Elisha.

The Biblical Museum of Natural History recently opened in Beit Shemesh and it includes a skull of what they identify as behemoth.

Popular Archaeology has a profile of the recent excavations of Tel ‘Eton (biblical Eglon?).

Haaretz: What does it mean when a biblical figure “sat in the gate”?

Shmuel Ahituv has been awarded the 2015 Israel Prize for Bible Studies.

Israeli and Jordan authorities have signed a historic agreement on water sharing that includes sharing water from a desalination plant to be built in Aqaba.

The city of Jerusalem plans to build seven public swimming pools.

Newly released: I. M. Swinnen and E. Gubel, eds., From Gilead to Edom. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Jordan, in Honor of Denyse Homès-Fredericq on the Occasion of Her Eightieth Birthday. Akkadica Supplementum XII. Wetteren: Cultura, 2014.

I’ll be traveling the next couple of weekends and unable to collect stories or write round-ups. If you see anything of interest, send me an email and I’ll include it at the next opportunity.

HT: Ferrell Jenkins, Charles Savelle, Agade, Joseph Lauer


ISIS Destroys Museum Collection in Iraq

ISIS has released a video showing terrorists destroying historic artifacts in the museum in Mosul, Iraq. This follows yesterday’s destruction of the Mosul Public Library. From Reuters:

Ultra-radical Islamist militants in northern Iraq have destroyed a priceless collection of statues and sculptures from the ancient Assyrian era, inflicting what an archaeologist described as incalculable damage to a piece of shared human history.
A video published by Islamic State on Thursday showed men attacking the artifacts, some of them identified as antiquities from the 7th century BC, with sledgehammers and drills, saying they were symbols of idolatry.
“The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him,” an unidentified man said in the video.
The smashed articles appeared to come from an antiquities museum in Mosul, the northern city which was overrun by Islamic State last June, a former employee at the museum told Reuters.
The militants shoved stone statues off their plinths, shattering them on the floor, and one man applied an electric drill to a large winged bull. The video showed a large exhibition room strewn with dismembered statues, and Islamic songs played in the background.

The Reuters article gives more details and the responses of Iraqi and other scholars. An article in The Daily Mail shows some screen captures from the video. The original video (in Arabic) is online here.

We can be thankful that many of the ancient artifacts were removed from the area by the excavators and put on display in museums in Britain and France where they are safe, for now.

HT: Craig Dunning, Joseph Lauer


Monumental Room Discovered in Temple of Sidon

From The Daily Star:

Dozens of workers were busy covering old Sidon’s Frères archaeological site Monday, to protect a major new discovery unearthed by a delegation from the British Museum.
“A small contingent of the British Museum/Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon team of archaeologists discovered a new deeply concealed room,” read a statement released by the delegation.
The newly discovered monumental room is believed to be an extension of the underground Temple of Sidon, which dates back to the Bronze Age.
This finding comes as workers prepare the foundations of a new national museum, which will be established beside the archaeological site. Construction of the museum led to urgent excavations at the site last month.
Ten years ago, the delegation discovered an underground “holy of holies” room, dating back to 1300 B.C., where ancient residents are believed to have worshipped their gods. The newly discovered room was found adjacent to it, and is thought to be an extension of the site’s temple. It is believed to have been used by high-status members of the community.

The story continues to provide more of the significance of this discovery as well as plans for the new museum.

Sidon, College site Late Bronze underground cella, adr1307138864
Previously discovered basement room in temple of Sidon
Photo by A.D. Riddle

Review: Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (iPad App)

(by Chris McKinny)

Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World  (edited by Richard J. Talbert) is not a new publication—in fact, it has been in print for fifteen years. The print version has been heralded as one of the best and most exhaustive atlases of the Greek and Roman World. Here are a couple summary reviews of the print version.

“This atlas is an indispensable tool for historians concerned with ancient times. But it is also a source of great pleasure for the amateur, the lover of literature.”—Bernard Knox, Los Angeles Times Book Review 

“Beautifully produced with an exquisite combination of scholarly precision and the highest level of cartographic art, this atlas is one of the greatest achievements in 20th-century Greek and Roman scholarship—and it probably will never be superseded.”—Publishers Weekly

It took twelve years and dozens of contributors to complete its 102 maps. In terms of historical periods, the atlas covers from c. 1000 BCE–640 CE (Archaic-Late Antique/in the Levant Iron Age II–Byzantine Period)—these periods are marked on the various maps with color-coded highlighting beneath the ancient sites. The maps only include ancient site names and regions, but do not include markings for historical events. This is both an advantage and limitation of the atlas, as is noted in the introduction by the editor. The advantage is that a scholar may supply their own markings for historical reconstruction—the limitation is that the lay person, in most cases, is not familiar with the historical events.

The print version of the Barrington Atlas is clearly a valuable reference work, as has been recognized for the last fifteen years. However, it is hampered by its price ($425 for the atlas only!) and its cumbersome size. On these two points the iPad version takes a great leap forward in improving the Barrington Atlas.

Details for Digital Version:
Platform: iPad app (not in iBook library)
Cost: $19.99
Size: 411 MB

I observed three main advantages of the iPad app over the print version:

  1. Versatility. A reference tool’s usefulness is often heightened by digital access, as it enables a user to carry many large-sized works within a computer, tablet or smartphone. This advantage is particularly pronounced with regards to the Barrington Atlas due to the sheer physical size of the printed version.
  2. Navigation. The iPad version functions very similar to an image database in that the maps may be accessed from a host of different locations in the app including a simple search in the “locator” tab or the hyper-linked gazetteer. The drop-down key menu is a very nice feature that reduces clutter on the maps.
  3. Price. $19.99 on iPad versus $425 for printed atlas and $285 for printed map-by-map directory. That is $670 for a non-interactive three-volume work that takes up real estate in your library or $20 for the same data with intuitive interactive navigation tools and search functions. Need I say more.


  1. In some cases another level of resolution on the maps (for zooming) would be helpful, however, this would also increase the file size, which is already at 411 MB (a substantial amount for a 16GB baseline iPad).   
  2. It would be helpful if the atlas was available for use on a desktop or laptop as well as iPad. The iBooks store used to be only available to iPad users, but is now a multi-platform offering for iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and iMacs. This would enable users to have access to the Barrington Atlas alongside a word processor and/or other reference works (e.g. Logos, Accordance, etc.) Users would be more likely to download large files on laptops and/or desktop computers and they would also have better access to the maps for use in presentations. 

    Comparison to Other Atlases:

    Readers of this blog will probably be acquainted with several different atlases of the biblical world, such as the ESV, Zondervan, Moody, Carta, and Sacred Bridge Bible atlases. It should be understood that the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World is directed at a much broader area and subject material than these atlases. For the price, functionality, and large quantity of maps it is hard to beat the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. Still, potential users of this atlas may also be interested in the following works:

    1. Michael Avi-Yonah – Gazetteer of Roman Palestine (1976)
    2. Carta’s Translation of Eusebius’ Onomasticon  (with site index) (2003), also available on Accordance which I would highly recommend over the print version due to its search capabilities.
    3. Yoram Tsafrir, Leah de Segni, Judith Green – Tabula Imperii Romani Iudaea Palaestina (1994)

    These works deal with the same periods (Hellenistic-Byzantine), but they provide much more detailed discussions and maps related to the historical geography of Greco-Roman Judea, Samaria, Galilee (i.e., Palestine). These regions are covered in part 5 of the Barrington Atlas “Syria-Meroe” — specific maps 68–71. These maps are well designed and accurate, but limited in the amount of place names that they display.

    In sum, while noting the limitations that I discuss above, I would definitely recommend this atlas for anyone interested in the Greco-Roman world… assuming that you own an iPad.


    Weekend Roundup

    The largest treasure of gold coins ever found in Israel was recently discovered in the harbor of Caesarea. Most of the coins date to the Fatimid period (ca. AD 1000). There’s a close-up of a well-preserved coin here. Seven high-res images are available here.

    The Jerusalem Post has photos and a video of the recent snowfall in Israel. Record snowfall was recorded in Istanbul, and the snow was heavy in Lebanon and Jordan. Yahoo has more photos of Jerusalem here. And Shmuel Browns has some photos from his neighborhood in the German Colony.
    Leen Ritmeyer suggests that some paving stones on the Temple Mount pre-date the Roman destruction.

    The next stop for the Passages exhibit is the happy town of Santa Clarita, California.

    Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to the California Science Center next month, along with the Jerusalem IMAX movie.

    Ever wanted to volunteer in Israel? Wayne Stiles suggests 15 volunteering opportunities.

    James Pritchard’s HarperCollins Atlas of Bible History is not the best atlas out there, but it’s currently only $3.99 for Kindle. As one reviewer notes, the text may be more useful on the screen than the maps.

    This week on the Book and the Spade: Herod’s palaces and ancient olive oil, with Clyde Billington.

    Ferrell Jenkins explains how Pilate used coins to promote the emperor cult.

    Codex Vaticanus is now online.

    Aren Maeir’s recent lecture at GVSU is now posted on Youtube.

    Eric Cline will be lecturing at the Oriental Institute in Chicago next week.

    Gabriel Barkay, Zachi Dvira, and others involved in the Temple Mount Sifting Operation are coming on a fundraising tour in April and May. Check out their blog to learn how you can arrange talks or dinners with them.

    The Islamic State is reportedly looting ancient sites “on an industrial scale.” Some people are trying to stop it.

    HT: Ted Weis, Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle, Jock Stender

    Gold coins discovered in Caesarea harbor
    Photo copyright: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    Israel Museum Receives Gift of Glass Collection

    From the Associated Press:

    Two New York philanthropists are donating a major collection of more than 300 ancient Greco-Roman and Near-Eastern glass vessels to The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

    The gift from Robert and Renee Belfer was announced by the museum Wednesday. It comes as the institution celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. An exhibition titled “A Roman Villa — The
    Belfer Collection” showcasing approximately 100 of the objects will be on view at The Israel Museum from June 5 through Nov. 21.

    The collection is “one of the most important private holdings of antiquities anywhere,” museum Director James Snyder said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

    He called it a “transformative gift” of “pristine” and “superlative” examples that will strengthen and enhance the museum’s current collection of Greco-Roman artifacts.

    “For us it’s like the exquisite icing on the cake,” he said.

    They include cast vessels and blown and mosaic glass pieces, ranging from the 14th century B.C., the Late Bronze Age, through the 14th century, the Islamic period.

    The collection also includes about 50 important works of Greco-Roman sculpture and relief work, including bronze and marble sculptures, mosaics, frescoes and pottery.

    The full story is here.

    In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo provided by the Israel …
    Egyptian 18th Dynasty glass jar
    AP Photo/Israel Museum, Elie Posner

    Weekend Roundup

    A new “Rosetta Stone” has been discovered near Alexandria, with the text written in hieroglyphics and demotic script.

    One hundred prehistoric cultic sites have been studied in the Eilat Mountains. The academic article on which the news story is based is available on academia.edu. And there are more photos here.

    Roman-period mosaics have been discovered in an illicit excavation near Kerkenes, Turkey.

    An unlooted Mycenean tomb has been excavated in central Greece from about 1200 BC.

    The air pollution (aka “dust”) in Israel and the Middle East was extremely high this past week. Daily
    Mail has some amazing photos and Exploring Bible Lands cites a relevant verse. Carl Rasmussen explains the positive effect.

    The dust storm was followed by a snow/rain storm (with video). This storm exposed a large Byzantine storage jar on the beach of Yavne-Yam (with photo).

    Since you’re reading this, you’re already familiar with one of the 5 Holy Land Blogs You Should Follow, by Wayne Stiles, but you may not be aware of all of the other ones.

    Ferrell Jenkins is taking a closer look at Herod’s temples, beginning with the one at Caesarea Philippi (or better, Omrit?) and continuing with Caesarea on the Sea. Both posts are well illustrated.

    The New York Times reports on questions about the origins of tablets from the Jewish exiles in Babylon now on display in Jerusalem.

    An article in The Jewish Week describes some of what George Blumenthal has done to bring the world of biblical archaeology closer to all of us.

    Which popular movies were filmed in Israel? Which ones were not? Those in the former category include “Exodus” and “Schindler’s List.” A longer list is available in this premium article at Haaretz.

    Flames of Rome, by Paul L. Maier, is on sale for Kindle now for $1.99. This covers the period after Pontius Pilate and is also recommended if you like historical fiction from biblical times.

    Just published: Robert Alter’s Strong As Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel.

    #5 on our list of Jerusalem favorites is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The top four are coming on Monday on Twitter and Facebook.

    HT: Jay Baggett, Charles Savelle, Agade, Joseph Lauer


    First-Ever Discovery of Grape Seeds in Negev

    From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

    For the first time, grape seeds from the Byzantine era have been found. These grapes were used to produce “the Wine of the Negev” — one of the finest and most renowned wines in the whole of the Byzantine Empire. The charred seeds, over 1,500 years-old, were found at the Halutza excavation site in the Negev during a joint dig by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, director of the excavation.
    The archeologists know of “the Wine of the Negev” or “Gaza Wine” — named for the port it was sent from to all corners of the empire — from historical sources from the Byzantine period. This wine was considered to be of very high quality and was very expensive, but unfortunately, it did not survive to our day, so we do not know what it was that made it so fine. In earlier excavations in the Negev, archeologists found the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where wine was produced, and the jugs in which the wine was stored and exported, but the grape seeds themselves were not found.
    This discovery is exciting for local wine growers and for the archeologists, and they all hope to reveal the secret of the Negev vines in order to recreate the ancient wine, and by so doing, to finally understand why it was famous throughout the Byzantine Empire — in Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain.

    Read the full article here.

    Winepress at Avdat, tb030607878
    Reconstructed winepress at Nabatean city of Avdat
    Photo from
    Cultural Images of the Holy Land

    Ongoing Excavations of Herodium

    Shmuel Browns was at the Herodium a few days ago and had a chance to talk with archaeologists excavating the staircase area. He shares what he learned as well as some hastily-taken photos on his blog.

    If you missed it, Shmuel also has some rare images of the VIP box of Herodium’s theater. Check those out here.

    Thanks, Shmuel, for sharing the news and photos! Hopefully the area will be open to the public before too long.


    Weekend Roundup

    Leen Ritmeyer continues his Temple Mount series with a look at the Early Muslim period. He has many illustrations, but the one I’ve always found most helpful in teaching is the comparison of the
    Temple with the Dome of the Rock.

    Two Egyptian mummies were found in a sewer near Minya.

    Morgan Freeman will star in a remake of Ben-Hur.

    The IAA arrested three men for antiquities theft at Ashkelon.

    The International Business Times has a short profile of Tel Burna (Libnah?) with many graphics.

    For the 40th anniversary of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks recounts the story of how the magazine began.

    Pontius Pilate, by Paul L. Maier, is on sale for Kindle for $0.99. I recommend it.

    Here’s a unique subject for a blogpost: Salem—What We Can Learn from Abraham’s Visit to Jerusalem, by Wayne Stiles.

    Wayne is also offering signed copies of two of his excellent books. This is a great gift idea for yourself or someone else who has recently traveled to the Holy Land or who wishes that they could.

    Eisenbrauns has reprinted all 11 volumes of the State Archives of Assyria (SAA) and State Archives of Assyria Studies (SAAS) and they are on sale this month.

    The exhibition catalog for the new Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem exhibit is now available: By the Rivers of Babylon, The Story of the Babylonian Exile Jerusalem, by Filip Vukosavovic.

    The Al-Arish National Museum in the North Sinai has been damaged in an attack by the militant group State of Sinai.

    Ancient Romans ate meals that most Americans would recognize.

    On Monday we’re beginning a series on Twitter of our 15 favorite places in Jerusalem. Follow us @BiblePlaces or on Facebook.

    HT: Agade, Jay Baggett