Ancient Wall Collapses at City of Dan

The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz are reporting the collapse of an Israelite-period wall at Tel Dan following heavy rains. From the Jerusalem Post:

The stone wall, located near the entrance gate to the ancient city of Tel Dan, collapsed on top of five tombstones located at its base, according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The wall was made of a combination of the original ancient stones and reconstructed pieces, the INPA said.

Rainfall last week was estimated at approximately 8 inches (200 mm). Authorities hope to rebuild the wall in the coming months.

The Post includes a photograph of the damage, but it’s difficult to see the location without some context. In the aerial photograph below, we have marked the area of the collapse.

The Iron Age city of Dan flourished during the reigns of the Israelite kings Jeroboam I, Ahab, and Jeroboam II.

Dan Iron Age gate aerial from southeast, ws040616068ed
Iron Age gate complex at Tel Dan;
photo by Bill Schlegel

HT: Joseph Lauer


Weekend Roundup

A stone bowl inscribed with the name “Hyrcanus” was discovered in the City of David. Since the name was common in the Hasmonean period, it is not clear if it belonged to one of the two rulers with this name. High-res images are available here.

A bronze coin with the image of Antiochus Epiphanes was discovered during maintenance work in the Citadel of David Museum in Jerusalem.

Mary Shepperson, a free-lance archaeologist working on five projects in Iraq, describes work in the new excavations of Charax Spasinou.

Archaeologists have discovered a large “lost city” about 150 miles north of Athens.

The Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL Lab) at the Oriental Institute of the
University of Chicago would like to announce that a substantial subset of its digital holdings of maps and geospatial data are now available for online public search and download.”

The Temple Mount Sifting Project is asking readers to Name That Find!

The IAA has completed a detailed survey of the village of Lifta ahead of its planned replacement by a new neighborhood.

Before and after photos reveals the significant war damage in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Ferrell Jenkins recounts his 2002 visit to Aleppo and its museum.

New research suggests some ancient Egyptians believed a deceased woman had to briefly become male in the afterlife in order to be reborn. Reader Ted Weis notes that this theory corresponds with saying #114 in the Gospel of Thomas.

Egypt is trying to stop the auctioning of Egyptian relics around the world.

A stolen relief of Queen Hatshepsut has been restored to Egypt.

Bricks of ancient Babylon have been used in rebuilding houses in the area.

The Tower identifies “seven fascinating discoveries Israeli archaeologists made in 2016.”
Kudos to Dr. Chris McKinny!

Carl Rasmussen describes an “unknown” Christmas site near Bethlehem.

We wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! We’ll be traveling for several weeks and roundups will return when we do.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Charles Savelle, Ted Weis


New Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Discovered in Cave Excavations

Haaretz reports on the discovery of new fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls.

New fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found in the Cave of the Skulls by the Dead Sea in Israel, in a salvation excavation by Israeli authorities. The pieces are small and the writing on them is too faded to make out without advanced analysis. At this stage the archaeologists aren’t even sure if they’re written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or another language. “The most important thing that can come out of these fragments is if we can connect them with other documents that were looted from the Judean Desert, and that have no known provenance," says Dr. Uri Davidovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among the scientists investigating the caves. […] The latest finds, two papyri fragments about two by two centimeters with writing and several fragments without discernible letters, were made during a three-week salvage excavation in the Cave of the Skulls this May and June by a joint expedition of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were led by Uri Davidovich and Roi Porat of the Hebrew University, together with Amir Ganor and Eitan Klein from the IAA.

Read the full story here.


Upcoming Release of “Following the Messiah”

I have mentioned previously the “Following the Messiah” video series being created by Appian Media. They’re wrapping up post-production now and have scheduled two public showings of Episodes 1 and 2 in January. Tickets are free and the event is open to the public.

You can find out more and secure tickets for the January 14 showing in Indianapolis here, and for the January 21 date in Birmingham here.

You can check out the trailer for the videos here. All five videos will be available for free at Appian Media on January 14th.


Weekend Roundup, Part 2

If you’re interested in excavating in Israel next year and need a scholarship, the Tel Burna team has compiled a list of opportunities.

A new exhibit on Khirbet el-Maqatir opens next month at the University of Pikeville.

Translation is the focus of an exhibit showing through March, 2017 at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM) in Marseille, France.

An Iranian archaeologist who has cataloged nearly 50,000 ancient paintings and engravings across Iran, many featuring the ibex deer, is hoping newfound access to the Western resources will reveal more insight into these works.

The British Museum has finished phase one to digitize their collection of Hebrew MSS.

K. Lawson Younger explains why he wrote a book on the Arameans.

Richard Averbeck has started a series of posts at the Carl F. H. Henry Center’s blog on Gen 1. The first and second posts are about the comparative method.

The ASOR Blog has a photo update on Nimrud following its liberation from ISIS.

HT: Ted Weis, A.D. Riddle


Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A winepress from the 1st century BC has been discovered in Ashkelon.

A gang of antiquities thieves were caught in the act of plundering ancient tombs in Galilee.

Heritage Daily lists the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2016, including the ancient shipwreck found at Caesarea.

The January/February 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes stories on Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Pool of Siloam.

Wayne Stiles’s post on Bethlehem includes lots of photographs.

SourceFlix has released a new video short entitled “Born in Bethlehem.”

Ferrell Jenkins has created an index of his numerous articles related to Bethlehem.

National Geographic History: “How King Herod Transformed the Holy Land

Israel’s supreme court is hearing a petition to identify the Western Wall Tunnels not only as a holy site for Jews but also for Muslims and Christians.

A staff member explain why the Temple Mount Sifting Project is so important and you should consider supporting it.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Charles Savelle, Paleojudaica


Weekend Roundup

A tomb with a number of well-preserved frescoes from the Hellenistic or Early Roman periods has been discovered in northern Jordan.

A dozen sculptures recently unearthed at Perga are now on display in the Antalya Museum.

The BBC runs an interesting story on the Muslim families that lock and unlock the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each day.

“A crew of facial reconstruction experts have successfully recreated the face of a male who lived in the Biblical city of Jericho.”

Scanning technology has provided 3-D images of unwrapped mummies from ancient Egypt.

A pair of mummified knees are most likely those of the famously beautiful spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II.”

James Davila considers the reemergence of the Jordanian lead codices and links to an insider perspective.

Archaeologists working in the Wadi Feinan region of Jordan believe that they have found evidence of the world’s first polluted river.

The breed known as “Jacob’s sheep” have returned to Israel.

The Jerusalem Post runs a story on Douglas Petrovich’s theory that the earliest alphabet was Hebrew.

The US and Egypt have come to an agreement regarding the importing of looted archaeological artifacts.
Recent damage to the ancient site of Mari is discussed by archaeologist Pascal Butterlin in a short video (in French).

Relics looted from Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra have been recovered in Switzerland.

“Radiocarbon dating remains a reliable tool if it is supplemented by 13C measurements.”

“Why would the Lord first announce the Messiah’s birth to lowly shepherds?” Wayne Stiles explains.

In light of the recent excavation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Gordon Govier at Christianity Today explains why there are two competing sites for the place of Jesus’s burial.

The late Charles Ryrie’s Bible collection has been sold to various collectors for more than $7 million. 
Daniel Wallace was one of the bidders and he provides more details. I wonder how many of the 
purchases will show up in the Museum of the Bible.
The Westminister Bookstore has a big sale on the ESV Bible Atlas, described by them as “‘National Geographic’ meets world class Biblical Scholarship.” You can look inside here.

HT: Charles Savelle, Explorator, Ted Weis, Agade, Joseph Lauer


New Excavations at el-Araj, Possible Bethsaida

For thirty years now, Rami Arav has led excavations at the site of et-Tell. Since the beginning, he has identified the ruins with the New Testament site of Bethsaida. This identification was quickly adopted by Israeli road sign makers, and most popular literature today calls the site “Bethsaida.” Arav has argued strenuously that his site is Bethsaida, and the titles of all of the excavation reports begin with “Bethsaida.” The problem is that as excavations progressed, the site turned out to be primarily an Iron Age city, with little remains from the first century AD.

That has bothered a number of scholars for several decades now, and the site of el-Araj has been suggested as the true site of the fishing village where several of Jesus’s disciples lived. This past summer, Mordechai Aviam began excavations to determine if el-Araj is a more suitable candidate for Bethsaida.

A preliminary summary posted online gives a bit of the background as well as brief descriptions of the two excavation areas. Of the western area, Aviam writes:

Underneath the Crusader level we discovered remains of a dwelling dated to the late Byzantine-early Islamic period. An unusual large bronze jar was uncovered, which has been sent to the laboratory for conservation. Coins and pottery dating from the 6th-8th centuries were uncovered on the floors. The most surprising find was a group of gilded glass tesserae, which are used in the construction of wall mosaics. These type of tesserae are typical to large and important churches. Which means, even before finding the church itself, it is possible to suggest that in the Byzantine period, el-Araj was identified as a holy place, most likely Bethsaida. One of the walls contains a large, reused, monolithic, limestone pillar, and nearby, outside of the excavation area, there is another limestone double “heart-shaped” pillar, which are both typical to late Roman Jewish synagogues in Galilee.

Concerning the period of interest, he summarizes:

Both areas yielded a large number of typical early Roman pottery. As of yet, structures from the early Roman period have not been uncovered.

He concludes:

After this initial season of excavation, our primary conclusions are: 1) the site of el-Araj was most likely identified as Bethsaida during the Byzantine period, and a church, probably a pilgrim monastery was erected at the site. 2) The site of el-Araj was inhabited during the early Roman period; therefore, it remains a good candidate for the identification of Bethsaida. 3) We will continue to excavate el-Araj in the coming years.

I think he’s on solid ground on point #3. The other two points are clearly premature. While making these claims may help the team raise money and support, scholarship is not well served by making such bold assertions so early in the process. This in fact is what troubles many about Arav’s identification. He made the claim early on and now it’s not easy to admit failure. If Aviam’s site is indeed Bethsaida, he can take his time to collect the evidence that will make a compelling case.

A two-minute video (mostly in Hebrew) provides footage of excavations at both candidates for Bethsaida, with a cameo by Indiana. Nyack College has a couple of dozen photos on its Facebook page.

I’m told that donations would be appreciated for next year’s excavations. You should be able to do that through the Center for Holy Lands Studies.

El-Araj aerial from south, ws033115038
Aerial view of the vicinity of el-Araj, possible location of Bethsaida

Was Paul Heading for Alexandria?

At last month’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Mark Wilson suggested in a lunch gathering sponsored by Tutku Tours that Paul’s original destination on his first journey was not Galatia but Alexandria. This talk was based on an article that he co-authored with Thomas W. Davis that is available at the website of Pharos Journal of Theology. I thought that a brief sketch of their argument might be of interest to readers here.

The discovery that the proconsul Sergius Paulus hailed from Antioch near Pisidia has previously led to speculation that it was his influence that led Paul and Barnabas to travel there from Paphos. This seems even more reasonable given an understanding of the island of Cyprus. Paphos had strong ties with Alexandria, a situation encouraged by the prevailing winds which made sailing south from Paphos the norm, but sailing north to Perga unusual. If Paul had been intending to head north, Wilson argues that he would have traveled not to Paphos but to Cyprus’s northern coast.

John Mark’s desertion at Perga also may suggest that Paul’s plan had changed. With the new itinerary, Mark may have felt freed from his commitment to serve the team. Later Paul and Barnabas parted ways because of their disagreement over Mark, and Barnabas took his cousin back to Cyprus. It could well be that from there Barnabas and Mark continued on to the original destination of Alexandria.
That Mark did missionary work in Alexandria and North Africa is supported by his Gospel and church tradition. In Mark 15:21, the writer mentions Simon of Cyrene (in North Africa) and his sons Alexander and Rufus, a comment that suggests personal acquaintance. The church historian Eusebius writes that Mark started the church in Alexandria and was later martyred there. His tomb is located in Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. This suggests that Mark did indeed spend time here, and it may support the theory that Paul’s original destination was Alexandria. As for why Paul never traveled to this city, given that it held one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, it may be that by the time that Paul turned his gaze back in that direction, he recognized that this was no longer an area “where Christ was not known” and so he opted to travel elsewhere.

You can read the full argument of Davis and Wilson in their journal article. You might also enjoy Wilson’s 2016 article in Adalya, “Saint Paul in Pamphylia: Intention, Arrival, Departure,” available through his academia page.

Alexandria, Saint Mark's Cathedral, adr1603268481
St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria

Weekend Roundup

Archaeologists have finally discovered the port of ancient Byblos.

Philippe Bohstrom looks at the history of the city of Dan and the tribe of the Danites in a well-illustrated Haaretz article.

Wayne Stiles beat me to the new Virtual Reality tour at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and I asked him to write about it. He did.

Albawaba has a short slide show of the pre-Islamic Middle East.

New tests on the (probably fake) lead codices from Jordan suggest that the lead is ancient.

The Jewish Virtual Library posts a list of significant archaeological discoveries in Israel from 2004 to present. The list seems to be more complete for the last two years than for earlier ones.

Leon Mauldin visited the largely ignored site of Tirzah on his recent trip to Israel.

The Jewish Press posts a 15-minute video entitled “Secrets of the Machpela in Hebron.”

Amazon has a $5 off code good through Sunday on any book(s) that total $15 or more. Enter GIFTBOOK at checkout. Here are three books that qualify:

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Agade