The AP has a good summary of the battle over the construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. The Simon Wiesenthal Center wants to build the museum where a parking lot has been located, but Muslim organizations are unhappy because it encroaches on an old Muslim cemetery. 

Read the story for the update, but note the archaeologist’s comment that if you’re going to protect every grave in Israel, people are going to need to commute from another country. Some have noted the irony that Muslims built a hotel over the part of the cemetery in the mid-20th century. It’s also interesting to see the ultra-Orthodox and Muslims groups join hands on this issue.

Jerusalem from northwest.
Click on photo for more detail.

Excavations have been going on for a few months in the back (west side) of the Western Wall plaza. The Israel Antiquities Authority has a brief description of the finds so far. In short, they are excavating a building complex from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods that consists of several vaults.

This is a view from near the Western Wall towards the excavations, which are located just to the left (south) of the police station.

The excavations began in April, before construction of a building in this location.

One of the vaults is visible below the metal walkway.


I’ve mentioned The Exodus Decoded here before, and over at Higgaion, Chris Heard is doing a very extended review of the movie (Part 1 | Part 2 (with addendum) | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7). His analysis has elicited responses from the man behind the movie, Simcha Jacobovici, which gives the reader the chance to decide for himself/herself who to trust. Those who have watched the movie and think there’s something to it would do well to read it. Such a dialogue should have taken place before the 3 million dollars was spent, and it’s a lesson on why you should never trust new ideas which are first promoted on television. If the ideas had merit, they could bear the weight of scholarly scrutiny and an end-run around academia to the masses with dazzling graphics would not be necessary. Unfortunately this isn’t the first guy to pull such a trick and it won’t be the last.

Lest any new readers to this blog think that I’m just another liberal blasting someone trying to prove the Bible true, that’s not so. I believe the Bible is an accurate record of history, including in all of its details about the exodus. I just believe that The Exodus Decoded does not do any favors to the biblical record.

UPDATE (9/22): Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research has posted a review of the movie. This one is shorter than Heard’s and is written by one who believes in the accuracy of the biblical narrative. I recommend it.


Archaeologists have recently uncovered a large cemetery where the Jerusalem model of the Holyland Hotel once sat. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have flocked to the site, never knowing that they were standing on top of a remarkably well-preserved Intermediate Bronze cemetery.

For forty years, the Holyland Hotel model was a highlight of many tourists’ visits to Jerusalem. But then the owners decided they could make more money if the land was developed into high-rise apartment buildings. Construction began while an alternate location for the model was sought.

Earlier this year the model was transported from its original location to the Israel Museum where it is now on display to the public. What no one knew is that the model site was a cemetery during the Intermediate Bronze Age.

About 20 shaft graves have been excavated so far, but it is estimated that there are 50 tombs in the area.

Shaft graves are the most common type of tomb from the Intermediate Bronze Age. This period dates from approximately 2300-2000 B.C., and has also been known as Early Bronze IV and Middle Bronze I.

A shaft grave consists of two sections: a shaft and a burial chamber. The photo above shows a tomb with most of the top missing, but gives a good top-plan of the tomb. The shaft is in the back and the burial chamber is in the foreground.

More of this tomb is preserved, including about 5 feet (1.6 m) of depth of the shaft. Typically the shafts are about 6 feet (2 m) deep. The burial chamber was sealed off from the shaft by a blocking stone, which is visible below the boy’s hands.

In this tomb, a larger blocking stone has been preserved in the shaft. Visible behind Superman is an opening to the burial chamber.

This burial chamber was preserved to a greater height, but the large hole in the ceiling gives a good view. Other burial chambers are preserved intact, but dark caves don’t look as interesting in a photograph.

Finds from the tombs indicate that they continued in use into the Middle Bronze period (2000-1550 B.C.). The Mount of Olives is also home to a cemetery from this period, but less is known about it because later cemeteries were built over it (in the Second Temple and modern periods). This cemetery is located 3 miles (4.8 km) west of the Temple Mount (here’s the kmz file for those with Google Earth).

As far as we know, this discovery has not yet been reported in the media.


I read two completely different news articles today, but wonder if somewhere, somehow there might be a connection.

The Biblical Archaeology Society has a report (since removed; in Google’s cache here) on the attack and vandalism of the archaeological site of Bethsaida by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The next morning at 5:30 a.m. five vans arrived with black-coated thugs armed with knives. They broke down the fences on the site, entered the areas being excavated, vandalized the excavation equipment and trampled the freshly-dug areas, destroying walls, pushing down boulders, and using their knives to cut the ropes and excavation tarpaulins. For good measure, they pulled down signage.

They did this because they claimed the site “was a Jewish cemetery of our forefathers.” The excavator says though, “I have no idea why they came to Bethsaida,” said Arav. There are no tombs at the site—Jewish or otherwise.”

Elsewhere, the Jerusalem Post has a report on an organization that is trying to help those who are leaving the ultra-Orthodox fold. One of the biggest problems is their lack of education. A leader of the group says:

“Even those who come from the best yeshivas, such as Ponevezh, stopped their [secular] education at somewhere around the fourth grade level, she said. “They learn nothing about history, civics, literature, and geography – not even Bible as we now it.

There is at least one scandal here.

Iron Age Gate at Bethsaida