(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Ralph Hawkins has announced a new excavation to be undertaken at the site of Khirbet el-Mastarah in the Jordan River Valley. The inaugural season will be June 3-30, 2017, and they are looking for volunteers. The dig is part of the newly launched Jordan Valley Excavation Project, co-directed by Ralph Hawkins and David Ben-Shlomo. The project’s website provides further information along with this description.

The Jordan Valley Excavation Project (JVEP) was launched in 2016 to investigate the ancient history and archaeology of the region of the southern Jordan Valley, with a particular focus on the Iron Age. This period is traditionally connected with a period of tribal settlement in the region, followed by the rise of ethnic states. A thorough survey of the region, conducted by Adam Zertal, revealed a dramatic population shift in this region during the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the beginning of the Iron Age (around 1200 B.C.E.). Whereas there were only seven sites in the region in the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.E.), fifty-four new sites were founded at the beginning of the Iron Age. Zertal proposed that the eastern sites are slightly earlier than the western ones, a phenomenon he attributed to the movements of peoples, whom he identified with the Tribe of Manasseh, from the Transjordan westwards. JVEP’s goals are to test the date and character of some of the sites in the region, as well as Zertal’s interpretations, through archaeological excavation and research. JVEP will conduct excavations at two sample sites, beginning with Khirbet el-Mastarah, in the eastern part of the region, where at least three years of excavation will be conducted. After that, an additional site will be chosen in the western part of the region, which will likewise be excavated for several seasons. The evidence from these (possibly) single-period sites may shed a great deal of light on the settlement of the tribal peoples living in the region during the Iron Age.

Khirbet el-Mastarah is the low mound illuminated by sunlight behind the tree.
Photo from jvep.org.

Map showing location of Khirbet el-Mastarah relative to Jericho and Shechem.

As mentioned in the project description, this region was surveyed by Adam Zertal. Four out of five planned volumes of the survey were published in Hebrew before his death just over one year ago, and three of these have been translated into English:

Zertal, Adam.
  2004  The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 1: The Shechem Syncline. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.1. Leiden: Brill.
  2007 The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 2: The Eastern Valleys and the Fringes of the Desert. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.2. Leiden: Brill.

Zertal, Adam, and Nivi Mirkam.
  2016  The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 3: From Nahal ʿIron to Nahal Shechem. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.3. Leiden: Brill.

Some preliminary reports on two Iron Age sites were published by Zertal in the below articles.
Zertal, Adam, and Dror Ben-Yosef.
2009     “Bedhat esh-Shaʿab: An Iron Age I Enclosure in the Jordan Valley.” Pp. 517-529 in Exploring the Longue Durée: Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager. Ed. J. D. Schloen. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Zertal, Adam; Dror Ben-Yosef; Oren Cohen; and Ron Beʾeri.
2009 “Kh. ʿAujah el-Foqa (North) — An Iron Age Fortified City in the Jordan Valley.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 141/2: 104–123.

UPDATE: The Jordan Valley Excavation Project also has a Facebook page.

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

At the end of last week, after a lengthy delay, we were happy finally to get our grubby mitts on Lawson Younger’s newest book, A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities (Atlanta: SBL, 2016).

Lawson Younger is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I have had the pleasure of taking several of his classes during my sojourn in Illinois. I am not sure when he began work on this volume. I do recall attending a seminar that he first offered in the fall of 2006 entitled “Arameans and the Bible.” Since then, Younger has published a handful of book chapters and articles dealing with the Arameans and he has given several lectures on the subject. Now, 10 years later, that initial course has morphed into a two-inch-thick book.

This is a technical work packed with data and analysis—it is not fluff reading. Bible students will find much of interest in its pages, for Younger treats all biblical references to Aram/Arameans, beginning with the Patriarchs through the divided monarchy. But he does much more than that, covering Aramean kingdoms and entities that receive no biblical mention but that are attested in the textual and/or archaeological record of the Near East. It is quite an impressive accomplishment. Due to the nature of the sources, a good portion of the book is told from the perspective of the Assyrians as they campaigned to the West. There are over 100 maps, illustrations, and tables sprinkled throughout the chapters (we are quite fond of the maps). You should find that this volume will satisfy all of your Aramean-history needs, and at 857 pages, it should satisfy them for some time.

From the back cover:

This volume presents a political history of the Arameans from their earliest origins at the end of the Bronze Age to the demise of their independent polities. Employing the most recent understanding of tribal political structures, aspects of mobile pastoralism, and models of migration, K. Lawson Younger Jr. takes a regional approach to explain the rise of the Aramean political institutions. He thoroughly explores the complex relationships and interactions of the Arameans with the Luwians, the Assyrians, and the Israelites. By drawing on all available sources—sociological, textual, and archaeological—Younger is able to develop a comprehensive picture of this complex and important people whose influence and presence spanned the Fertile Crescent during the Iron Age.

A Political History of the Arameans can be purchased in hardback ($118) or in paperback ($98). (Apparently, SBL has chosen to opt for European publishers’ pricing on this title which is too bad.) Below is the table of contents.

1.      Preliminary Issues
     a.     Geographic Issues
     b.     Chronological Issues
     c.     Linguistic Issues: Luwian, Phoenician, Akkadian, Aramaic
2.      The Origins of the Arameans
     a.     The Word “Aram” in the Earliest Sources
     b.     The Question of Qir/Kir
     c.     Socially Constructed Groups
     d.     Nomadism
     e.     Links with the Aḫlamû and Sutû
     f.     Aram in the Biblical Texts
3.      The Rise of the Aramean Polities in Iron I
     a.     The Hittite Sphere
     b.     The Assyrian Sphere
     c.     The Levantine Sphere
4.      The Aramean Polities of the Jezirah
     a.     The Early Renewal of Conflict between Arameans and Assyrians (934-884 BC)
     b.     Temanites
     c.     Gōzān/Bīt-Baḫiāni
     d.     Azallu, Bīt-Yaḫiri
     e.     The Laqē Confederation
     f.     Bīt-Zamāni
     g.     Aramean Tribal Entities of the Jezirah
5.      Bīt-Adīni
     a.     Territory
     b.     History
     c.     Šamšī-ilu
6.      Samʾal/Yādiya/Bīt-Gabbāri
     a.     Introduction
     b.     Territory
     c.     History
7.      Hamath and Luǵath
     a.     Territory
     b.     History
8.      Bēt-Gūš/Arpad
     a.     Territory
     b.     History
9.      Aram-Damascus
     a.     Introduction
     b.     Territory
     c.     History
10. Arameans in Southern Mesopotamia
     a.     Aramean Tribal Entities of the Jezirah
     b.     Aramean Tribes of Southern Mesopotamia
11.      Conclusion

Side note: For a treatment of the Aramean oppression of Israel from the Israelite perspective, I recommend this work.

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

A commenter to our post about Egypt yesterday requested assistance in locating the monkeys in the fig tree. The monkeys are green with brown bottoms and faces, making it hard to pick them out among the green foliage and brown fruit and branches. The monkeys form a triangle, one in the lower left, one in top center, and one in the lower right. Here is the photo with their faces circled and numbers placed above each monkey’s head.

(Click to enlarge.)

Here they are individually.

Monkey in lower left. He appears to be hanging on the man’s arm.
Monkey in top center.
Monkey in lower right. This one is the hardest to make out due to damage.

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Earlier this year, I took my first trip (hopefully of many) to Egypt. Normally I am interested in Bible history and geography, though recently, my attention has been drawn to ordinary, daily-life objects and cultural behaviors. For Bible times and places, it can be a little challenging to come up with photographs that illustrate these sorts of things. But that is why I found Egypt is so amazing.

One of BiblePlaces.com‘s photographers on location in Egypt.

Egypt provides three sources for helping us visualize ancient ways of life.

1. Tomb Models.
You can probably find examples of tomb models in most museums with Egyptian collections. These are ancient models that depict people in various occupations, most of them I think dating to the Middle Kingdom. Examples include herding cattle, storing grain, baking, butchering, sailing boats.

The models were placed in the tombs of nobles and depict the kinds of industries and activities that that particular noble oversaw during his lifetime. This photograph from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo shows carpenters at work. You can see them with their various tools: mallet, adzes, chisels, saw. Some of them are working on a sarcophagus.

Here is a model granary also from the Egyptian Museum. You can see people carrying sacks of grain to a scribe who is recording the amounts. You can even see the hieratic writing on his tablet. The red and white rectangles below are chambers or bins for storing the grain. (Now re-read Genesis 41:47-49.)

2. Tomb Paintings.
In royal tombs, you can see artwork of the king or members of the royal family interacting with deities, involved in funerary rituals, dealing with their enemies, and receiving tribute. In the tombs of nobles, however, the same sources for the models above, you can find elaborate paintings or reliefs of more mundane activities like cultivating fields, hunting, fishing, helping a cow give birth, and so on.

Here is a tomb painting from Beni Hasan that shows carpenters at work on a boat. Again, you can see the tools: axes, mallets, and adzes. Above them some carpenters are building furniture. One man is using a saw and another an adze. Between them are several other woodworking tools.

This photo, also from Beni Hasan, shows two men harvesting figs from a tree. There are three monkeys in the tree—apparently also big fans of the fruit. (Need help seeing the monkeys? Click here.)

This scene from El-Kab shows the cycle of a grain harvest. In the bottom register, two plows are being pulled, one by oxen and the other by men. In between two men are tilling with hoes. Partially concealed by the oxen a man is sowing seed. In the middle register, men with sickles are reaping the grain. It must be hot work because the man in the center is stopping to drink from a jug. In the top register, they are bringing the grain in baskets to be threshed by oxen, then winnowed by hand. In the top left, a scribe is overseeing the storage of the grain (now shown).

3. The Real Thing.
And if that were not enough, in Egypt you can see the actual objects themselves, thanks to the arid climate and the fact that burials were located in the desert beyond the cultivated land. Many items which are not preserved in other countries—such as textiles, food, wood—can be found in Egypt.

In keeping with the theme of carpentry, here is a wooden mallet.

This case in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo shows many of the tools shown above: a wooden plow (with fiber ropes!), hand scoops for winnowing grain, and hoes.

I might also make mention that, although not unique to Egypt, in the rural agricultural villages and fields, you can see traditional methods of farming, herding, butchering, etc. that in many cases do not appear all that different from their ancient counterparts.

UPDATE: Follow-up post “Travel in Egypt.”

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

At the annual meeting of the Near East Archaeological Society last November, Dan Warner gave an update on the excavation of the Gezer water system. The tunnel seems to date to the Middle Bronze Age: the pottery from the tunnel is Late Bronze and Middle Bronze, and the tunnel’s position vis-à-vis the Canaanite Tower indicates a relationship between the two. The tunnel possesses a number of interesting features which raise questions about its function—was it in fact a water system, or was it something else?

The tunnel descends 150 feet below the surface and has a barrel-shaped ceiling and stairs. There are two carved arches some distance apart, sort of like ribs, that have no real architectural purpose and appear to be ornamental. One of the rib-arches can be seen in the photo below. There are also niches carved into the walls of the upper part of the tunnel, some of them decorated with arches or recessed frames, and one of them with a betyl. Some of the niches can also be seen in the photo below.

 Photo from NOBTS Archaeology Blog.

Dan Warner’s team has now cleared 80 feet beyond the earlier excavation of Macalister. At the base of the tunnel, there is a basin and beyond that a man-made cavern which extends east. According the geologists, the aquifer is 30 meters beneath the cavern, so this is not obviously a water system. If it is a water system, why did they carve niches and arches and a cavern? And why is it so large? Could the tunnel have instead had a different function?

I was struck by some similarities to a cultic tunnel at Arsameia on the Nymphaios River, near the more famous site of Nemrut Dağ in Turkey. Dan Warner did make mention of the cultic use of caves in the Greek world (both in literature and archaeology), so I proceed to note the similarities here even though there is really no apparent geographical or chronological connection between Gezer and Arsameia. Arsameia-on-Nymphaios is a cultic center which occupies the highest elevation in the photo below.  

Arsameia-on-Nymphaios from southwest (from PLBL vol. 9).

At the site, there is a Great Rock Chamber carved into the mountain, various stelae, and a monumental staircase. But there is also a tunnel which descends diagonally into the mountain. Above the tunnel there is a relief of Heracles (Hercules) and Antiochus I Theos, king of Commagene, and the longest Greek inscription in all of Anatolia. Like Gezer, the tunnel has stairs and a barrel-shaped ceiling. The tunnel is 520 feet long and terminates in a small cavity with no indication of its function.

 Arsameia-on-Nymphaios tunnel entrance with inscription and relief (also from PLBL vol. 9).

Arsameia-on-Nymphaios tunnel entrance with inscription and stairs (also from PLBL vol. 9).

The tunnel at Arsameia-on-Nymphaios is described in Brijder’s new book. He calls it “a mysterious, dark and incredibly long tunnel in rock.”

After such enormous labour and effort it was disappointing that the very long, deep and dark tunnel had not yielded any evidence as to its function. It is clear that it did not lead to a subterranean spring. The suggestion of a water tunnel does not seem to be very convincing either, although it cannot be excluded. Dörner notes: ‘The tremendous effort that went into digging this rock tunnel of Arsameia could only have served a very special purpose, and since the tunnel is situated at a particularly central spot in the cultic area of the hierothesion, the thought of a cultic function of the tunnel simply occurred to me’ (figs. 161–162). According to him, the making of a rock tunnel was not defined by practical intentions, but by religious ones. ‘It seems rather logical to assign the large rock tunnel in Arsameia to the cult sphere of the god Mithras, who is the “God born from the rock.”’ (Brijder 2014: 255)

As a side note, the Great Rock Chamber/Hall also has a tunnel with barrel-shaped ceiling and stairs. The tunnel is not nearly as long—only 33 feet. The tunnel leads to a small platform which overlooks a square, 20-foot-deep chamber without any doors or stairs. Again, the function of the tunnel and chamber are unclear, but Brijder inquires whether this could have been intended as a burial chamber and later converted to a cenotaph.

Arsameia-on-Nymphaios Great Rock Chamber from below (PLBL vol. 9).
Arsameia-on-Nymphaios Great Rock Chamber interior with tunnel (PLBL vol. 9).

Arsameia-on-Nymphaios Great Rock Chamber tunnel with steps (PLBL vol. 9).

It will be interesting to see what new developments come from Gezer this summer, and if Dan Warner can come closer to determining the tunnel’s function. An article about last year’s work on Gezer tunnel can be read here, and the excavation website is here.

Brijder, Herman A. G., ed.
2014  Nemrud Dağı: Recent Archaeological Research and Conservation Activities in the Tomb Sanctuary of Mount Nemrud. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Google announced that it would discontinue support and development of the free Picasa program beginning March 15. After this date, it will no longer be possible to download the program. If you already have the program, you will be able to continue using it. The full announcement from Google can be viewed here. If you do not already have a good photo browser, we recommend downloading Picasa before it is gone for good.

I have used Picasa desktop for years. I appreciate Picasa’s search capabilities, the ease and simplicity with which I can tag photos, browse large collections, and sort them. You can read our two-part blog series on how Picasa can be a useful tool for accessing the vast riches of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Using PLBL with Picasa (Part 1)
Using PLBL with Picasa (Part 2)