Weekend Roundup, Part 2

What does a field archaeologist carry in his dig bag? I like Eric Welch’s answer.

After a porcupine uncovered a Byzantine oil lamp in Emek Hefer, the Israel Antiquities Authority was up in arms. “The IAA calls on all porcupines to avoid digging burrows at archeological sites and warns that digging at an archeological site without a license is a criminal offense.”

Why did people stop eating pork in the ancient Near East around 1000 BC? A new study suggests one answer.

A new video from the Museum of the Bible reveals some of the work of the Green Scholars Initiative and the associated educational tools being developed for use in Israel and the U.S.

“Visual data about cultural heritage sites within conflict zones in near real-time has become possible with new technology, particularly satellite imagery.” This article considers the ethical questions.

BBC Magazine: The men who uncovered Assyria.

Three Jordanians who floated to the Israeli side of the Dead Sea were returned to Jordan.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has several courses and workshops scheduled for the coming months.

Now free at The Bible and Interpretation: the first two chapters of Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources, edited by Bill T. Arnold and Richard S. Hess.

Sad news: William W. Hallo died on Friday. A funeral service is scheduled for 1:00 pm, Monday,
March 30, at Mishkan Israel, 785 Ridge Road, Hamden, Connecticut.

The Agade list is now being archived at the SBL website.

HT: Agade


Weekend Roundup, Part 1

Just before Palm Sunday, Jesus made the trek from Jericho to Jerusalem. What did he see?

A good book to read this week in the days leading up to Good Friday is The Final Days of Jesus, now $3.99 on Kindle.

The Temple Institute has built a sacrificial altar to be used in the Third Temple. Leen Ritmeyer comments.

Who is buried in the Prophetess Hulda’s tomb on the Mount of Olives? Miriam Feinberg Vamosh considers the question in a premium article at Haaretz.

The city of Afula plans to preserve its archaeological remains which span from the Chalcolithic to the Crusader periods.

Aren Maeir visited Hebron and took some photos of the ancient fortifications.

Leon Mauldin is in Athens now and shares some photos from the acropolis museum.

A large underground city has been discovered in Cappadocia.

You can vote for your favorite excavation photo in this year’s AIA Photo Contest. (No registration required.)

Now $0.99 on Kindle: The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Eugene H.
Merrill, Mark Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti. Also $0.99 on Vyrso.

HT: Agade


Weekend Roundup, Part 3

Now online: Secrets of the Bible: The Fall of Jericho with Dr. Bryant Wood. (55 min)

Malerie Yolen-Cohen suggests 11 things to do in Israel that you may not have considered before.

The Holy Land Magazine is directed towards Christian tourists to Israel.

Ferrell Jenkins writes about Solomon’s Quarries in Jerusalem and the American missionary who discovered them in the 19th century.

Jenkins also shares a great quote from André Parrot who writes that “knowledge gained from books is certainly not enough, for names which are not attached to any reality are nothing more than ghosts.” Read the whole paragraph (and then book your next trip, or start a fund for your grandkid).

Turkish authorities are trying to figure out how to increase religious tourism to the site of ancient Ephesus.

The LA Times provides some background on the making of the Jerusalem 3D IMAX movie.

“The Siege of Masada” premieres on March 27 on the Smithsonian Channel. The one-hour special examines the evidence behind Josephus’ account.

Gerald McDermott addresses the question of whether the land of Israel should still be significant for Christians in a chapel message DTS.

HT: Agade, Jay Baggett, Ted Weis, Charles Savelle, Wayne Stiles


Weekend Roundup, Part 2

Iraq’s government reports that ISIS has bulldozed ancient Calah (modern Nimrud).

In light of ISIS’s recent destruction of Mosul, Iraq is vowing to protect ancient Babylon.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has issued a statement.

Citizens of Iraq and Syria are working to protect their historic treasures from destruction by ISIS.

A project has begun to “use crowd-sourced imagery to digitally reconstruct the heritage that has been destroyed.”

Daniel Pipes argues that “the ISIS record fits into an old and common pattern of destruction of historical artifacts by Muslims.”

The U.S. government has returned more than 60 artifacts illegally smuggled out of Iraq, including the head of an Assyrian lamassu from the palace of Sargon II.

Egypt will no longer grant visas to individual tourists upon arrival. You will need to apply in advance from an Egyptian embassy. Or travel instead to Israel, Jordan, Turkey, or Greece.

The Associates for Biblical Research has just released a new video, Digging Up the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

How was Trajan’s Column in Rome constructed? National Geographic features a stop-motion video that suggests an method. It is quite an extraordinary accomplishment.

We’ll have more links tomorrow.

HT: Agade, Charles Savelle


Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A large bronze mask depicting the god Pan was excavated at Hippos (Sussita). A video shows the discovery with the use of a metal detector. A press release from the University of Haifa has more details.

Members of the Israeli Caving Club discovered a cache of rare coins and other artifacts from the
Hellenistic period in northern Israel. That find is one of seven exciting discoveries made around the world this month.

An orange gem depicting the goddess Artemis has been discovered at the Herodium.

Luke Chandler reports that inscriptions from Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Lachish will be published soon.

A man walking on the beach at Ashkelon found some archaeological pieces.

Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer’s guide to the Temple Mount has been published. Copies may be purchased from their website.

Clint Gilbert has recorded a Bible Lands Song which can help you or your students learn basic Bible geography.

Studies suggest that ancient people didn’t perceive the color blue because they didn’t have a word for it.

AWOL’s List of Open Access Journals in Ancient Studies now includes 1481 titles.

Sad news: Harry A. Hoffner passed away suddenly on Tuesday, March 10. Hoffner was a long-time professor of Hittitology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. I am told that his two-volume commentary on 1-2 Samuel for the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary was recently submitted to the editor.

More sad news: “Hans G. Goedicke, a renowned Egyptologist who had been chairman of the Johns
Hopkins University’s department of Near Eastern studies, died of cancer Feb. 24.”

We’ll have more links tomorrow.

HT: Agade, Charles Savelle, Bill Schlegel, Joseph Lauer


Bible Marathon Traces Route of Shiloh Runner

The 26-mile race to be held on April 9 follows the path of the Benjamite who ran to tell Eli of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4). From the official website:

One of the first runs recorded in human history—long before the “marathon” told of in Greek mythology—is mentioned in the Bible, in the beginning of the book of Samuel. At the end of the war between the Israelites and the Philistines, the “man of Benjamin” runs from the battlefield at Eben Ezer (modern day Rosh Ha’ayin) to Shiloh, city of the shrine. His runner’s mission is to inform Eli the priest of Israel’s defeat in this war, the falling of his sons, and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant.
Many centuries later, after the Six Day War, the founder of the Maccabiah games, Yosef Yekutieli, set out to measure the length of the course from Rosh Ha’ayin to Shiloh, in the Benjamin region. He was amazed to find that the length of this historic path precisely matched that of the modern marathon – 42 kilometers (the official length of the Olympic running contest, determined in 1908 at the London Olympics). In the 1970s, Yekutieli initiated various marathons in the wake of the Biblical “man of Benjamin”. It is truly amazing, the thought that if only someone had informed the Baron de Coubertin, founder of the 42 km Olympic run, of the Biblical story, then perhaps instead of “marathon” it would be called one of the following: Shiloh Race, Man of Benjamin, or Bible Race.

More details here.

Shiloh aerial from east, bb00120068
Shiloh aerial from the east
Photo by Barry Beitzel, available in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

2500 Bible Background Images of Trees, Plants, Flowers and Cultural Events

Accordance Bible Software has just released two photo collections created by BiblePlaces.com and both are on sale through Monday for 25% off.
Cultural Images of the Holy Land features more than 1,000 photos of the grain harvest, grape harvest, olive harvest, plowing, shepherds, sheepshearing, watchtowers, wells, cisterns, pottery making, Samaritan Passover, Jewish holidays, Christian holidays, weddings, scribes, Bedouin tents, and a host of other animals as well. Through March 23, 2015 you can get this photo collection for $29.90, which is 25% off the regular price of $39.90.

Trees, Plants, and Flowers of the Holy Land includes over 1,500 high-resolution photos of trees, crops, herbs, shrubs, plants, thorns, drugs, spices, incense, perfume, and more and is carefully organized and documented with Scripture references. The sale price is also $29.90.

You can read more about the value of these collections and view sample images and screenshots at the Accordance website.

“I am thrilled to see Todd Bolen’s work come to Accordance. I have owned and used the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands for years. I highly recommend these!” — Tony Lawrence, Accordance User


On the Way to Shaaraim…

(by Chris McKinny)

In past years, this blog has
discussed extensively
the identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which has been
identified with Shaaraim by the excavators. I agree that Khirbet Qeiyafa should
not be identified with Shaaraim (see also below), but if Khirbet Qeiyafa is not
Shaaraim then where should we locate the biblical town?
Shaaraim is mentioned twice in the
biblical narrative, once in the Eshtaol district (Josh. 15:36, cf. Onom. 87.1) where
it is found between and again in association with the Philistine retreat
following the death of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52). The text states that they fled
“as far as Gath and up to the gates of Ekron…on the way of Shaaraim, as far as
Gath and Ekron.” This latter context clearly puts the site in the vicinity of
the battle, which occurred in the Elah Valley between “Socoh and Azekah at
Ephes Dammim” (1 Sam. 17:1). Also, it should be noted that this reference does
not actually refer to the town of Shaaraim, but to the road that led to Gath
(Tell es-Safi) and Ekron (Khirbet el-Muqqana). Therefore, the text seems to
indicate that Shaaraim should be located west and perhaps north of the battle
with the toponym likely deriving from the routes that went through the Elah and
Sorek Valleys to Philistine Gath and Ekron (Na’aman

Click on sites to see archaeological details and pictures

Garfinkel and Sanor, the excavators
of the recently concluded excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (2012), have revealed
one of the more intriguing ancient sites from the Early Iron Age IIA (i.e. 10th
century BCE). They have identified
Khirbet Qeiyafa with Shaaraim. This argument is based on three main criteria:
1) Shaaraim occurs after Socoh and Azekah in Joshua 15:35-36, 2) the site is
located directly above the presumed location of the biblical battle between
David and Goliath, and 3) the site produced two Iron IIA four-chambered gates
inside of a massive casemate fortification, which gave the name to the site
(Shaaraim = two gates) (Garfinkel and Ganor
2008; Adams 2009:47–66).
This identification has received a good deal of criticism from various scholars
who have offered different identifications for Khirbet Qeiyafa (Na’aman 2008a
  Gob, before changing his mind in,
2012:88; see also Finkelstein and Fantalkin 2012:48; Galil 2009 – Netaim; Levin
2012b –  Ma’agal – interpreted as a
circular military fortress mentioned in 1 Sam. 17:20; Bolen 2012 –  Ephes Dammim, but it is possible that this is a
regional term).
Simply stated, Khirbet Qeiyafa should not be identified with Shaaraim. This is
due to the fact that the dual ending most likely does not mean “two gates” and
the site should be located further to the west/northwest (Na’aman
2008b:3–4; see also Elitzur 2004:282–290). This latter point means that
Rainey’s earlier identification with Khirbet es-Saireh can probably be ruled out on
geographical grounds (see discussion in 1975:69*; but see his later opinion that left Shaaraim unidentified 2006:147). On the other hand, Dagan’s suggestion of Khirbet
esh-Sharia, which is situated between Azekah and Khirbet el-Kheisum
(Adithaim?), would seem to fit this geographical requirement (1996a:139). Additionally, Khirbet
esh-Sharia would seem to present a compelling toponymic connection with
Shaaraim. The archaeological remains at the site are also in line with this
identification, as the site has remains from the Iron IIA (30 dunams**), Iron
IIB-C (40 dunams), and
Roman-Byzantine periods (Zissu
2000:77*–78*; Dagan 2000:site 55).

I disagree with Na’aman’s
conclusion that Khirbet esh-Sharia is not far enough to the west to match the
retreat of the Philistines (1 Sam. 17:52) (2008b:4–5). There are no known Judahite
sites to the west of Azekah (i.e. between Azekah and Philistine Gath) and it
seems that the Azekah-Tell Judeidah ridge formed a clear topographical border
between Philistine Gath and Judah (1983:10–11). Khirbet esh-Sharia sits very
near both the Elah Valley route to Gath and Ekron (Dorsey 1991:J6) and the “Diagonal Route” that
connects the Elah and Sorek Valley systems (Dorsey 1991:Sh2). In light of Na’aman’s
contention that Shaaraim was the “gateway to Judah” (2008b:4–5), it is difficult to
understand his hesitation to identify a site that perfectly suits his

** 1 Dunam = 1000 square meters

Update: Rainey references updated. 

Bibliography (note links to available online PDFs)

Adams, D.L.
            2009  Between Socoh and Azekah: the Role of the
Elah Valley in Biblical History and the Identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa. In Khirbet
Qeiyafa Vol. 1, Excavation Report 2007–2008
, edited by Y. Garfinkel and S.
Ganor, pp. 47–66. Israel Exploration Socity, Jerusalem.

Bolen, T.
            2012  Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Dagan, Y.
            1996  Cities of the Judean Shephelah and Their
Division into Districts Based on Joshua 16. Eretz Israel 25: 136–46,
            2000  The Settlement in the Judean Shephelah in the
Second and First Millennium BC: A Test Case of Settlement Processes in a
Geographical Region. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Tel Aviv University, Tel

Dorsey, D.A.
            1991  The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel.
The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and London.

Elitzur, Y.
            2004  Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land:
Preservation and History
. Hebrew University and Magnes Press and
Eisenbrauns, Jerusalem and Winona Lake.

Finkelstein, I., and A. Fantalkin
            2012  Khirbet Qeiyafa: An UnsensationalArchaeological and Historical Interpretation. Tel Aviv 39(1): 38–63.

Galil, G.
            2009  The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet
Qeiyafa/Neta’im: script, language, literature and history. Ugarit-Forschungen(41):

Garfinkel, Y., and S. Ganor
            2008  Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha`arayimn. Journal of
Hebrew Scriptures

Levin, Y.
            2012  The Identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa: A NewSuggestion. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(367):

Na’aman, N.
            2008a  In Search of the Ancient Name of KhirbetQeiyafa. Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8(21): 2–8.
            2008b  Shaaraim – The Gateway To The Kingdom OfJudah. Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8: 2–5.
            2012  Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Philistine- Canaanite
Struggle in South Canaan in the Early Iron Age. Cathedra 143: 65–92.
Rainey, A.F.
           1975  The Identification of Philistine Gath. A Problem in Source Analysis for Historical Geography. Eretz Israel 12: 63*–76*.           
           1983  The Biblical Shephelah of Judah. Bulletin
of the American Schools of Oriental Research
(251): 1–22.

Zissu, B.
            2000  Khirbet esh-Shari’a. Hadashot
Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel
111: 77*–78*.

Nose Falls Off the Skull of Gordon’s Calvary

Visitors to the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem are usually shown the “Skull” identified by Charles Gordon as part of the case that this spot may be the authentic site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. On February 20 the bridge of the skull’s nose collapsed during a storm. Our friend Austen Dutton visited the site, alerted us to the event, and sent us this photo.

Gordon's Calvary near Garden Tomb, amd022115831

For contrast, here’s a photo taken in 2008.

Gordon's Calvary near Garden Tomb, tb051608027

Visitors to the Garden Tomb are shown the passage that identifies the place of Jesus’ death as “the place of the Skull.”

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17).

It is worth noting that the Gospels never explain why the place was identified by a skull, nor does it say anything about a hill. The name could have come from a geological feature that bore this resemblance. Or it could have been for another reason altogether.

The recent storm and the resultant erosion suggests that the escarpment would have been greatly altered in the years since it was created by quarrying. I would consider it doubtful that anything like the skull-shape visible in recent years was known in the first century. Fortunately for those who prefer the Garden Tomb location, this has never been the primary support for its identification.

Gordon's Calvary showing skull, mat00918
Gordon’s Calvary in 1910s

Our Jerusalem volume in the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection has a section devoted to the Garden Tomb. In notes written by Tom Powers, he provides some of the fascinating background to the identification of the skull.

General Charles Gordon, spending several months in Jerusalem in 1883, became firmly convinced that the hill seen here was the Golgotha of the New Testament. The idea of Skull Hill as Golgotha was not original with him, however, as several earlier travelers and writers had proposed the same identification beginning as early as the 1840s, and Gordon certainly knew of some of these. Among the other proponents of this view was Claude Conder, a Palestine Exploration Fund explorer and surveyor who was sent to Palestine in 1872 and recorded the idea in two of his books, Tent Work in Palestine (1878) and The City of Jerusalem (1909).

Gordon, however, added his own unique, mystical notions to the theory, however, based in part on both topography and Biblical typology. He believed, for example, that because sacrificial animals were slaughtered in the ancient Jewish temples north of the altar, according to the Mishnah, that Jesus must have been crucified north of the city. Further, Gordon devised a conceptual scheme by which he superimposed a human skeleton on a map of Jerusalem. The skull, not surprisingly, fell on Skull Hill (and he even pinpointed the human figure’s esophagus, a known water channel that entered the city beneath the north wall)!

Plan of Gordon's Idea of Calvary, mat01364
Plan of Gordon’s Idea of Calvary

Gordon added at least one other unusual aspect to the Skull Hill speculations: Being a military man, he consulted a detailed map of the area, the Ordnance Survey Plan of Jerusalem, and was struck by a particular contour line—2549 feet (797 m) above sea level—which, encircling the summit of “Skull Hill,” formed what looked to him like the outline of a human skull. Mention is sometimes made, somewhat derisively, of a revelatory dream or vision that Gordon had, but this seems not to be mentioned in the general’s own writings nor in contemporary accounts.

Gordon expressed his views in a flurry of letters and reports sent to various acquaintances and colleagues, including many to Conrad Schick and many others to Sir John Cowell in England, comptroller to the royal household. General Gordon was a hugely popular figure in his day, the perfect embodiment, one might argue, of military heroics, fervent Christian faith, and Victorian Romanticism, and after his death in Khartoum in 1885 his stature and fame only grew, if that were possible. In any event, there is no denying that the force of his personality provided an important impetus toward the acquisition, development and promotion of the Garden Tomb site, and did much to cement its credentials in the popular imagination.

Bertha Spafford Vester, daughter of American Colony founders Horatio and Anna Spafford, recounts her childhood memories of the famous General Gordon (1882–83):

“Five is not too young for hero worship, and my hero was a frequent visitor to our house, General Charles George ‘Chinese’ Gordon, ‘the fabulous hero of the Sudan’. He was fulfilling a lifelong dream with a year’s furlough in Palestine, studying Biblical history and the antiquities of Jerusalem. This was the only peaceful time the general had known in many years, and it was to be his last. . . . The general lived in a rented house in the village of Ein Karim . . . and General Gordon came often from his village home to Jerusalem riding a white donkey. . . . Whenever General Gordon came to our house a chair was put out for him on our flat roof and he spent hours there, studying his Bible, meditating, planning. It was there that he conceived the idea that the hill opposite the north wall was in reality Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’ . . . He gave Father a map and a sketch that he made, showing the hill as a man’s figure, with the skull as the cornerstone. Part of the scarp of the rock of what is known as Jeremiah’s Grotto made a perfect death’s-head, complete with eye-sockets, crushed nose, and gaping mouth. Ever since then this hill has been known as ‘Gordon’s Calvary,’ although archaeologists are skeptical on the subject . . . Father did not agree with all the general’s visionary ideas, but he liked to talk about these and many other subjects with him, and they were good friends. Mother wanted General Gordon to have peace when he was meditating on the roof, and cautioned me not to disturb him, but I would creep up the roof stairs and crouch behind a chimney; there I would wait. I watched him reading his Bible and lifting his eyes to study the hill, and my vigil was always rewarded, for at last he would call me and take me on his knee and tell me stories.” — Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, 1881-1949 (Ariel, 1988), pp. 102-3.

Gordon's Calvary from city wall, mat00919
Gordon’s Calvary from wall of Jerusalem’s Old City (1910s)
Photos from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection