The Baptist Press recently posted an article about the Middle Bronze II water tunnel at Tel Gezer. The excavation team is currently clearing out the tunnel and conducting a detailed study of it. Below is a picture of the entrance to the tunnel taken in 2004 by Todd Bolen. The tunnel begins to the left of where the man is standing and descends underground past the left side of the picture. (Recent pictures from inside the tunnel are posted with The Baptist Press article.)

Here’s how the article describes the tunnel:

The challenge is excavating a large, rock-hewn water tunnel at Tel Gezer that is believed to have been carved out by Canaanites between 1800 and 1500 B.C. — around the time of Abraham. Tons of debris must be removed from the ancient tunnel before the real work can even begin. …

The Gezer system also is unusually large, measuring 12 feet wide by 24 feet tall, Parker noted. It is believed that the ancient people used donkeys to ferry water from the source to the surface. The width allowed two animals, loaded with jugs, to pass side by side. The height of the tunnel perplexes the expedition team, and they hope to find an explanation as they pursue the dig. …

Last summer the team began the arduous tasks of removing tons of rubble from the tunnel. During a three-week dig, they cleared 72 tons of dirt and rocks. Team members dug out the tunnel and put debris in large sacks which were hoisted out with a crane. Due to the 38-degree slope, Parker compared it to working on a steeply pitched roof.

The Middle Bronze II period was a time when the Canaanite city-states grew strong. Large public works were widespread in the region, such as city walls, massive earthen ramparts, and glacis (i.e., defensive slopes below the city walls). So the cooperation and organization needed to dig a water tunnel was relatively common during that period, but (as the article points out) elaborate water systems were not. Sophisticated water systems (such as the ones at Hazor, Megiddo, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem) are more characteristic of Iron Age II cities.

Side Note: The article mentions that 1800 to 1500 B.C. is “around the time of Abraham.” The date of Abraham’s lifetime is a debated issue related to the “Early Date vs. Late Date” controversy about the Exodus. The article apparently assumes a Late Date position. My personal conviction (and that of Todd Bolen) is that the Early Date position is the correct one, which would place Abraham’s lifetime at approximately 2150 to 2000 B.C. If this is correct, then construction of the Gezer water tunnel would have occurred during the time of Israel’s 430-year sojourn in Egypt.

The Baptist Press article can be found here. Details about the dig this summer can be found here. The excavation’s homepage can be found here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer


While conducting research for my dissertation (The Arsenal of the Hebrew Kings and Their Neighbors), I was able to follow up on a question that my advisor had once asked me: How were slings used in antiquity? In other words, what technique was used to generate the centrifugal force needed to propel the stone across the battlefield?

In general, the modern assumption is that the sling was twirled in a horizontal circle over the archer’s head. For example, Rivka Gonen in her 1975 book Weapons of the Ancient World states, “A stone was placed in the pocket [of the sling] and then swung round and round above the head; when sufficient centrifugal force had been generated, one of the thongs was released, discharging the stone at a high speed towards its distant target” (p. 42).

This technique was apparently used by the Egyptians in the 12th century B.C. There is a famous relief at Medinet Habu that depicts a battle between the Egyptians and the Sea Peoples during the reign of Rameses III. Within this relief, there are a handful of slingers. Positioned high in the “crow’s nest” of the Egyptian ships, these slingers are depicted in the act of twirling their slings over thier heads, as shown below. (Image taken from Nelson, “The Epigraphic Survey of the Great Temple of Medinet Habu,” in Medinet Habu–1924-28, p. 27). This also seems to be the technique used by a slinger depicted in a relief from Tell Halaf in northwestern Mesopotamia that dates to the 10th or 9th century B.C.

Egyptian Slinger from the Medinet Habu Relief

However, the slings in the reliefs of the Assyrian kings Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) and Ashurbanipal (669-629 B.C.) are not depicted horizontally. In general, they are depicted as hovering vertically (or almost vertically) over the head of the slinger. An example of such an Assyrian slinger on the Lachish Relief can be seen here (see Fig. 30a). Elsewhere on that relief, a Judean slinger is also depicted with his sling in this position. When slingers use the twirling method described above, the sling is never in such a position, so another method must be proposed.

It would appear that during the late Iron Age the slings of Assyrians and Judeans were used by swinging the whole arm in a wide, vertical circle. Based on the consistent angle of the slings in various Assyrian reliefs, it appears that the slinger’s arm was swinging forward at the top of the circle. The slinger’s arm is always depicted as vertical or almost vertical, and the sling (when it is not depicted as directly in line with the arm) is almost always depicted as trailing slightly behind the arm, away from the slinger’s front side. So it seems that after the slinger loaded his weapon, he would move his arm down and backwards in a sweeping motion and would swing the sling vertically over his head. (Imagine a professional baseball pitcher using a sling to pitch a ball and you have the general idea.) This motion may have occurred only once or may have been repeated several times to build up momentum. At the crucial moment, one of the thongs was released and the projectile was launched toward its target.

So the archaeological evidence indicates that there were at least two slinging techniques used in the ancient Near East: a horizontal rotation over the slinger’s head, and a vertical rotation similar to an overhand pitch. If we stop to think about it, it should not surprise us that different slinging techniques developed at different times and in different places. For a tool as simple as a sling and stone, some diversity in its use was bound to occur.


Zechariah’s Tomb

A 3-minute video has been added to a Jerusalem Post article about a Byzantine church at Khirbet Midras that may have been the traditional site of Zechariah’s tomb. The article was originally posted on February 3rd. Unfortunately the video contains a couple of historical errors (such as referring to the Madaba Map as “a document”[!] that was “recently found”[!!]), but it does provide more information about the site than the article itself. More information about the discovery can be found here and here.

Is this truly the site of Zechariah’s tomb? Given the fact that (so far) there is only circumstantial evidence that the church was dedicated to Zechariah, and the fact that the Byzantines do not hold a very good track record for correctly identifying holy sites … I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer, Ferrell Jenkins

Lod Mosaic in New York

The New York Review of Books did a recent post on their blog about the Lod Mosaic. It examines the mosaic in detail, and provides several stunning photographs. The mosaic is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is making a tour around the US, traveling from New York to San Francisco, Chicago, and Columbus.

Boston Globe Article on the Western Wall Tunnels

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe posted a brief article about the Western Wall tunnels. The article provides some general information about the wall and its history (both ancient and recent) but contains a couple of errors. (Namely, it states that the Jews worship the Holy of Holies[!], and that the tunnels go under the Temple Mount while in reality they travel alongside the massive retaining wall of the Temple Mount.) However, the article provides details on how you can make a reservation to take a tour and briefly describes what you will see there.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Anson Rainey

Of course, one of the biggest news events of the week is that Anson Rainey died on Saturday (as was posted yesterday on this blog). On Friday, interestingly enough, Biblical Archaeology Review posted a lengthy statement by Rainey in the “Scholar’s Study” section of their website. In this statement, he defends himself against recent accusations made by William Dever that he is not an archaeologist. 

The statement provides a survey of Rainey’s archaeological experience and his contributions to the field. The introduction to Rainey’s statement can be found here. The actual statement can be found here.

Mummies in Milwaukee

The Mummies of the World exhibit is currently being displayed in the Milwaukee Public Museum

This is “the largest exhibition of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled.” It will be in
Milwaukee until May 30th.

Bible Alive Seminar in Dallas

For those of you who live in the Dallas area, the Bible Alive seminar is coming to Park Cities Presbyterian Church on April 1-2. This two day event is “a multimedia contextual immersion experience in understanding God’s Word in its original historical, cultural, geographical, literary, and visual context.” The seminar was put together by Preserving Bible Times and will be taught by Doug Greenwold. More information about this event can be found here.