Weekend Roundup

Volume 8 of The Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology is available online. Several articles address a monumental Herodian Ionic capital from Jerusalem.

Detailed site plans and other materials from the Tell en-Nasbeh (Mizpah) excavations are now available online.

The exhibition “Nineveh – Heart of an Ancient Empire” has opened at the National Museum of Antiquities in the Netherlands.

The full lecture schedule for the Bible and Archaeology Fest XX has been posted.

Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey has attracted more than 50,000 tourists so far this year.

David Kennedy has identified nearly 400 mysterious ancient stone structures in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth.

“Is the Bible a True Story?” Nir Hasson wants you to think that there is “no evidence” for anything (Haaretz premium). Brent Nagtegaal responds here.

The September 2017 Newsletter of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities is online.

William Dever’s latest book, Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah, will be released on Friday.

Apparently there is a “Land of the Bible Park” in the Ramot forest near Jerusalem.

JewishPress.com reports on the excavations at Magdala. And Richard Bauckham is editing a book on Magdala (forthcoming fall 2018).

“Is there no balm in Gilead?” Wayne Stiles tackles this one.

HT: Charles Savelle, Agade


New Travel Guide: The Holy Land for Christian Travelers

A colleague suggested to me that John A. Beck’s new travel guide to Israel is a happy medium between the popular Dyer and Hatteberg handbook on the one hand, and the classic Jerome Murphy-O’Connor tome on the other. I suspect that he is right, and that The Holy Land for Christian Travelers: An Illustrated Guide to Israel will soon be in the satchels of many tourists, students, and pilgrims as they fly off for the trip of their lifetimes.

The book has two sections: a general introduction and a sites section. The 40-page introduction provides a historical survey of the periods, an overview of the climate, and several sample itineraries.

This won’t replace your standard geographical textbook or atlas, but it’s not intended to do so.
Cover Art

The heart of the guide are six chapters organized by region: Jerusalem, Jerusalem vicinity, Coastal Plain, and Central Mountains (South, Center, and North). Most of the sites the average tourist will visit are included, all in alphabetical order. Here are the sites included in two of the regions:

Jerusalem (Old City and vicinity): Akeldeama and Hinnom Valley, Bethesda Pools, Broad Wall, Burnt House, Chapels of Flagellation and Condemnation, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, City of David (6 pages), Ecce Homo, Garden Tomb, Jerusalem Archaeological Park, Kidron Valley Overlook, Old City Walls and Gates, Saint Peter Gallicantu, Temple Mount, Tower of David Museum, Upper Room, Via Dolorosa, Western Wall, Wohl Archaeological Museum.
This seems to me to cover all the important sites that you need an explanation for. (Note: places like the Mount of Olives and Israel Museum are included in a separate chapter.)

Central Mountains North: Banias (Caesarea Philippi), Beth Shean, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Dan, En Harod, Gamla, Har Bental, Hazor, Heptapegon, Jezreel, Katzrin, Korazim, Kursi, Megiddo, Mount Arbel, Mount of the Beatitudes, Mount Precipice (Nazareth), Mukhraqa (Mount Carmel), Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, and Sepphoris.

This too seems to cover just about all the sites that 99% of tourists would visit. I’m surprised that Tiberias is not included, given all that has been excavated in recent years, but I’m pleased that important sites like Hazor and Jezreel are addressed.

The book concludes with 7 maps, a timeline, and the all-important index of locations. A color-coded tab system on the pages makes it easier to find the region you’re in.

The publisher asked me for an endorsement in advance and this is what I wrote:

This book provides an outstanding introduction to the land of Israel, as well as accurate descriptions of the most important sites.

I could talk about the size (very handy!), the illustrations (beautiful, but not as many as I expected from the subtitle), or the directions given (don’t forget your map!), but in my opinion a guide succeeds or fails on two criteria: does it cover the sites you’re visiting and is the information accurate. On both counts, this guide fares very well, and I’m happy to recommend it.

For more information, note that Amazon has the “look inside” feature, and Baker’s webpage provides a pdf of the entire introduction (on the left sidebar).


Inside the Photo Companion to the Bible: The Scrolls

A significant new visual resource that we developed for the Photo Companion to the Bible is images of old and ancient scrolls of Old Testament books. This is particularly useful in illustrating the Gospels because of the abundance of quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures.

For instance, when Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy three times in his temptation, we provide photographs from an old Torah scroll of the verses he quoted. When he gives the Sermon on the Mount and contrasts God’s intended meaning of the Law with the Pharisaic misinterpretation, we have photographs of the relevant verses in the Pentateuch. When some of Jesus’s listeners declare that “Surely this man is the Prophet,” the reader needs to understand that this is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18.
One time the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife (Matt 19:1-6). Jesus responded by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. Having a photograph of these verses reminds us that Jesus knew the Scriptures, believed the Scriptures, and insisted that they were still authoritative. The Torah scroll we have used for many of the photographs is of Yemenite origin and was copied about 400 years ago. The Hebrew script, without the vowel pointings or chapter numbers, is similar to what Jesus would have used.
The Photo Companion to the Bible also includes images from the Great Isaiah Scroll. The entire scroll is available through Wikipedia, and we have spent considerable time in identifying the relevant portions to go with the Gospels and creating high-quality close-up shots with the verses marked.
A favorite portion of the Isaiah scroll in Jesus’s ministry is the beginning of Isaiah 61 which Jesus quoted when he spoke in the synagogue of Nazareth. It’s amazing to think that this very scroll existed at the time when Jesus read these words!
There’s something else too that I love to point out to my students. The Great Isaiah Scroll was written in the 2nd century BC. That means that we have a document describing the Messiah before the birth of Jesus. There is no doubt that Isaiah spoke of a virgin giving birth and a Servant-King being killed and resurrected long before Jesus came. I think there is a powerful testimony in being able to see with our own eyes the text of Isaiah 53 written more than 100 years before Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, just as Isaiah predicted!
The Photo Companion to the Bible provides valuable images that increase your understanding and save you time. In the case of Isaiah 53, you will find photographs of portions quoted or alluded to in many places, including Matthew 2:23, 8:17, 26:63, 27:12, Mark 9:12, 14:61, Luke 22:37, 23:33-34, 24:27, and John 1:29, 12:38.

Weekend Roundup

The Israel Antiquities Authority has arrested looters who discovered a cave in a Galilean village that was used for storage and stables in the Roman period.

Aren Maeir reports on a “mini-season” they held this week at Gath.

The “Bible Marathon” traces the route of the Benjamite who raced to tell Eli of the death of his sons.

One month before its opening in Washington, DC, the Museum of the Bible held a press conference to address questions about the museum’s practices.

The abandoned village of Lifta, possibly the site of biblical Mei Nephtoah, has been named one of 25 Endangered World Monuments.

The New York Times has an article in its dining section on the ancient Canaanite food and wine of Tel Kabri.

The Winter 2017 issue of DigSight reports on an exhibit on seals, a seal of “Ushna, servant of Ahaz,” and more.

Carl Rasmussen has begun a series on Paul’s shipwreck on Malta.

The Lod Mosaic will have a home when the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center opens in 2019.

Volcanic activity may have played a significant role in the demise of the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty.

Israel’s Good Name describes his recent camping trip in Park HaMaayanot.

Prof. Zvi Lederman will be giving a lecture on Nov 13 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology entitled “A Lost Queen of the Sun — Tel Beth Shemesh, the Age of Amarna, and the Mysterious ‘Mistress of the Lions.’” The lecture is free and open to the public.

Matthew Suriano will be lecturing on Nov. 16 at Brandeis University on “A Tomb with a View: What can we learn about death in the Hebrew Bible from the Silwan Necropolis in Jerusalem?”

Eisenbrauns’ Deal of the Weekend is Unearthing Jerusalem, at 60% off.

The end of an era: Penn State University Press has acquired Eisenbrauns.

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Ted Weis


19th Batchelder Conference for Archaeology and Biblical Studies

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is hosting its 19th annual Batchelder Conference for Archaeology and Biblical Studies from November 9 to 11. Rami Arav will deliver the opening keynote address on “The First 30 Years of Excavations at Bethsaida.” Richard Freund will be the respondent. (Apparently Steven Notley is unavailable.)

The Friday evening address by David Gurevich is entitled “Water and Society: The Water Installation of Jerusalem in the Late Second Temple Period.” Twelve other scholars will speak, but the conference schedule has not yet been released.

The conference is free and open to the public.

HT: Judi King


Inside the Photo Companion: Cultural Scenes

When we started taking photos in the Holy Land, our gaze was mostly fixed on the sites. That, after all, is the basis for most tour itineraries. This was reflected in our earliest photo collections, as they were organized by country, region, and site.

But as we began thinking about illustrating each verse of the Bible, we knew that we would need much more than photographs of piles of rocks at various sites. In this post we want to draw your attention to some of the many cultural scenes that we have illustrated in the new Gospels volumes of the Photo Companion to the Bible.
This scene shows a farmer plowing his field with his donkey. We captured this scene one day as we were passing through the Michmethath Valley on the way to Mount Gerizim (visible in the distance). 
While certain elements like the headdress differ from the biblical period, we’re still amazed that we can see scenes like this that are so similar to ancient times.
I was walking through the suq (market) in Nablus last year (my first-ever visit there) and I saw through one doorway a father and son working on a carpentry project. This brought to mind another famous pair of father-son carpenters and I snapped a couple of pictures. While this scene too differs from what first-century Nazareth looked like, it’s still helpful to me in imagining how Jesus worked together with Joseph.
Some scenes are just difficult or impossible to capture today. The scene above was taken by an American Colony photographer in 1940, showing a scene of men gathered in a traditional village. 
There are a number of biblical passages this could illustrate, but we’ve used it here to illustrate the story in Luke 15:1-7 where the rejoicing shepherd returns home to tell his neighbors that he has found his lost sheep.
When the prodigal son returned home, his father held a lavish feast, even slaughtering the fattened calf in his son’s honor (Luke 15:27). This American Colony photograph, taken in 1935, shows a group of Bedouin men preparing an animal for the fire. This image will also serve to illustrate other passages, including Abraham’s killing of a choice calf when three “men” came to visit (Gen 18:7).
I’ll close with a favorite. I took this picture at the Qatzrin Village in the Golan Heights (a worthwhile stop if you haven’t been). This display illustrates well the verse about the woman who lost one of her coins and in an effort to find it lit an oil lamp and swept the house (Luke 15:8). Many children (and adults) today would be hard pressed to picture what an oil lamp and a broom looked like in the time of Jesus.

It is a lot of fun to photograph these scenes or to find just the right image to illustrate a verse or concept. In creating the Photo Companion to the Bible, we intend to make Scripture not only more understandable but also more engaging and exciting.


Roman Theater Discovered Next to Western Wall

Archaeologists working in Jerusalem today announced the results of the last two years of excavation underneath Wilson’s Arch next to the Western Wall. The most exciting find is a small Roman theater.

The story is being reported by a number of news sources. The quotations below are from The Times of Israel. The article includes several photos.

“Israel Antiquity Authority archaeologists announced Monday that for the past two years they have been excavating and exposing a massive eight-meter deep section of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, unseen for 1,700 years.
And in the course of their work, which has been quietly proceeding directly beneath Wilson’s Arch — the area immediately adjacent to the men’s section of the Western Wall — they unexpectedly discovered a small Roman theater.
The work is set to continue for another six months, and the expectation is that First Temple-era findings will be uncovered. When the work is completed, the site will be opened to the public.

The findings of the archaeologists are interesting, and as is often the case, not entirely clear or consistent. Here are a few highlights:

  • The dating of the theater is not clearly stated, but it appears that it was built after the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
  • The theater went out of use following an earthquake in 360.
  • The construction of the theater was never finished.
  • The theater seated 200-300 people.
  • The theater may have been used as a bouleuterion or as an odeon.
  • Wilson’s Arch served as the roof for the theater.
  • Excavations will continue below the theater with hopes of discovering remains from the First Temple Period.
  • The archaeologists will present more of their findings at a conference this week at Hebrew University.

Read the full story here. High-resolution photos are available here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Roman theater with archaeologist Joe Uziel Photograph: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Weekend Roundup

I am traveling this weekend, and so this edition is shorter than usual. I’ll pick up any stories I missed next weekend.

Solomon’s Pools will be renovated with a $750,000 grant from the US Consulate in Jerusalem with hopes of turning it into a major tourism site.

An ancient inscription may provide contemporary evidence for the migration of the Philistines and other Sea Peoples, if it is authentic.

“Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000-year-old olive oil mill in the ancient city of Tripolis in southwestern Turkey.”

The latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes the sad news that Hershel Shanks is retiring after 42 years and turning editorship over to Robert Cargill. Shanks is 87.

Accordance Bible Software is running a sale that includes a 25% off any one item deal. You could use it for one of their photo collections, including The American Colony Collection or Views That Have Vanished.

Wayne Stiles explains the relationship between the Pool of Siloam, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Messiah.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls at 70” is the title of a free conference that is being held at New York University on November 16-17. Speakers include Jodi Magness, Lawrence Schiffman, and many others.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is hosting a “Foothills of Judah” Conference on November 13-14. Speakers include Itzhaq Shai, Steven Ortiz, and Chris McKinny.

John DeLancey is blogging his way through his current Greece Tour.

Israel’s Good Name recently visited Sachne (aka “Heaven on earth”) and explored some interesting sites in the area.

On Monday the Israel Antiquities Authority is hosting a press conference to reveal discoveries made in the last two years underneath Wilson’s Arch in the Western Wall Tunnels. I’ll post the story on the blog when I have it.

HT: Ted Weis, Joseph Lauer, Agade


New Review of the Photo Companion to the Gospels

Pastor Jimmy Reagan writes about ministry and books on The Reagan Review and he has just posted a helpful review of the new Photo Companion to the Gospels. Here’s how it begins:

Wow! I hardly know what to say about this phenomenal collection of photographs on the Gospels. Over the years, I’ve seen attractive photos in books I have and noticed the name Todd Bolen in the photo credits. I had even heard others reference a website called BiblePlaces.com and talk about wonderful photo collections that could be purchased there. Now that I have Photo Companion to the Bible: The Gospels in my hands I know what all the hype was about. For the record, the hype was fully justified. All 89 chapters of the four Gospels are covered by more than 10,000 pictures. I suppose the most common usage for this resource would be for those who want to create sharp PowerPoint presentations. For that use, there’s nothing free on the Internet that even comes close to what we have here. Putting up a slide for a sermon on some passage in the Gospels will now be greatly upgraded for those who possess this resource. I see another use for this product that may not be as often discussed…

You can read the rest of the review at his site. While you’re there, you might want to poke around and read some of his other posts, including those in the categories of archaeology, Bible atlases, and Bible history.


Inside the Photo Companion to the Bible: The Labels

Last week we began this new series to highlight some new features in the Photo Companion to the Bible. We think this series will benefit both those considering purchasing the collection as well as those who already own it but have not yet seen its full potential.

One of the most useful features, we believe, is the labeling of images to identify significant landmarks on the images. Our practice with labeled slides is to include the image without labels as well so that no details are hidden. (All labels may also be individually modified or deleted.)

The slide above shows the area of Herod’s palace overlaid on top of an aerial view of Jerusalem from the west. I would guess that few visitors realize that Herod’s palace covered a large portion of the modern Armenian Quarter. Though little of his palace is visible today, the “Phasael tower” still stands on the northern side as a testimony to its former greatness.

We particularly love to label panoramas, for we know well how difficult it is for our students to see all that is out there, especially on a day that is hazy or when the sun is in your eyes. The above image was taken from Mount Gerizim overlooking the area where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. This perspective, with its labels, helps us to see the relationship of the woman’s hometown (Sychar) with the well and other nearby sites of significance.

Tourist buses can be so harmful to understanding the Bible. I wonder how many Christian pilgrims have failed to realize just how close the Mount of Beatitudes is to Heptapegon (Tabgha) and Capernaum. The acoustical wonder known as the “Cove of the Sower” sits right in the midst of all of these!

Our new collection of the Gospels provides a number of illustrations of the Pools of Bethesda, but I’ve chosen to skip the aerial views here and feature one that every visitor sees. Yet the scene is such an archaeological mishmash of ancient, less ancient (Byzantine), and almost modern (Crusader) that most people simply give up and head for the singing in the nearby St. Anne’s Church. The labeled slide above distinguishes the location of the southern pool and central portico (of the New Testament times) from the Byzantine church built on top.
Our last one today is very simple, but quite helpful. You can read the account of Jesus watching the widow drop her mite into the offering (Mark 12:41), but a slide like this makes it clear where all of this activity was going on. The photo above shows the Temple Mount on the first-century model at the Israel Museum, and the Court of the Women is labeled as the location of the temple treasury. (In the notes we credit the Ritmeyers’ guidebook for this identification.)

We have labeled photographs in our Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and Historic Views of the Holy Land collections, but we think they are particularly useful in the context of biblical verses as presented in the Photo Companion to the Bible.