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Many plans were announced over the year that we linked to in weekend roundups. You can decide for yourself what you would consider most important and what you think will never materialize. And you can check back in a few years and see what dreams have come true.

Israel’s Tourism Ministry has approved construction of a 4-mile-long cable car line connecting Upper Nazareth and the lower slopes of Mount Tabor.

Construction has begun on the “Sanhedrin Trail,” running from Beth Shearim to Tiberias. It will be a “smart” trail that “will communicate with the hikers using an innovative, augmented reality-based application.” The project also includes the building of a visitor’s center in Tiberias.

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.

A $14 million elevator will be built at the Western Wall Plaza to allow the elderly and disabled to go to the Jewish Quarter.

Authorities are planning to stop the flow of sewage down the Kidron Valley.

“The ancient city of Ephesus . . . is set to once again have a harbor on the Aegean coast, according to an ambitious new project.”

Turkey is planning to restore and open the stadium of Perga.

The 7-year long excavation project of Carchemish has ended and the Karkamış Ancient City Archaeological Park is supposed to open on May 12, 2018.

Plans are underway for a restitution (reconstruction?) of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

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There were a number of interesting and significant stories this year that didn’t make it into the “top ten” list we posted yesterday.


Old Testament Period

Excavations in the City of David revealed evidence of Jerusalem’s fall in 586 BC.

The massive “Spring Tower” built over Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring may date to the 9th century BC, instead of to the Middle Bronze Age.

Ten jugs from the time of Eli and Samuel have been discovered in excavations at Shiloh.

Archaeologists working near biblical Aphek have discovered a large water reservoir dating to about the time of King Hezekiah.

The team working at Tel Burna has uncovered more evidence attesting to Canaanite ritual activity.

Scholars at Tel Aviv University have used multispectral imaging to reveal text on ancient “blank” potsherds from the First Temple period.

A study of LMLK seal impressions reveals that there was a massive spike in the earth’s magnetic field in the time of King Hezekiah.

Early excavation work at Kiriath Jearim revealed a 9-foot-wall.

Archaeologists excavated a dolmen on the Golan Heights with a 50-ton capstone and unique artistic decorations.

Archaeologists excavating in the Timna Valley near Eilat discovered fabric dyed red and blue.



New Testament/Second Temple Period

Archaeologists excavated an Edomite/Idumean temple in a live-fire zone near Lachish.

Archaeologists have reported the discovery of a large ritual bath(mikveh) at Macherus.

Archaeologists have discovered a cave on the cliffs above Qumran that held Dead Sea Scrolls until it was looted in the mid-1900s. Eleven caves have previously been identified containing ancient scrolls, but no new ones have been discovered since Cave 11 was found in 1956.

Fragments of a second “arch of Titus” were discovered in Rome.


Roman and Byzantine Periods

A mosaic from a Georgian church or monastery has been excavated in Ashdod-Yam, leading archaeologists to believe they may have finally discovered the Roman-Byzantine city of Ashdod-
Yam.

A large 4th-century AD winepress was excavated in the Ramat Negev region.

Archaeologists discovered a well-preserved Roman-period road in the Shephelah of Judah.

A 6th-century mosaic discovered near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem has a Greek inscription mentioning Emperor Justinian.


Other Stories

The Museum of the Bible opened in Washington DC.

Hershel Shanks retired from Biblical Archaeology Review, a magazine he founded in 1975. 
  
Tomorrow

Various plans were announced this year. Check in tomorrow for our “hopes and dreams of 2017” edition.

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What are the top discoveries of the year? Here is my list, based on a review of the stories and roundups posted on the BiblePlaces Blog throughout 2017.

1. Dozens of seal impressions naming officials of the First Temple Period were found in the City of David.

2. A capital from Solomon’s Colonnade was discovered in Temple Mount Sifting Project.

3. A Timna copper mining camp was dated to time of David and Solomon through the analysis of donkey dung.

4. New excavations at el-Araj challenge the identification of et-Tell with Bethsaida.

5. A small Roman theater was found next to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

6. Evidence of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem was discovered along the road from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount.

7. Merneptah’s destruction of Gezer was found, corresponding to its mention in the Merneptah Stele.

8. The Augustus Temple Altar foundation was unearthed at Caesarea.

9. Analysis of the traditional tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher supports a 4th-century date, as long believed.

10. Seven inscriptions were discovered in three Byzantine churches excavated in Galilee this summer.

All ten of these come from Israel, and five come from Jerusalem. Three are related to the Old Testament, and six are from the world of the New Testament.

You can revisit the top stories of previous years at the links below:

Tomorrow I’ll post a list of other significant stories and discoveries from the year.

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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
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Has the Akra been discovered? On Monday the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) circulated a press invitation to “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem.” The location of the Hasmonean fortress of the Akra has long eluded archaeologists, but recent work in the Givati parking lot in the Central Valley below Dung Gate has uncovered a massive structure from this period.

The identification of this structure as the Akra fortress appears to be based on three items:

  • A “tower” that is 4 meters wide and 20 meters long
  • Artifacts which date to the mid-2nd century BC
  • Evidence of battle, including lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads, and ballista stones

Is this alone sufficient to identify this structure as the Akra? I think there’s an automatic suspicion because of the tendency of archaeologists to want to find something great, something that will get their name in the press, lead to invitations to speak, and bring in financial support. I think the burden of proof necessarily increases for any discovery that claims to solve a long-standing question. One might recall as well that it was in this very spot that this very same archaeologist claimed to have found the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene. It’s not impossible that a palace was built on top of the remains of a fortress, but significant evidence is necessary to convince skeptics like me that the archaeologist isn’t simply tagging every big wall he finds with the most impressive label from the time period.

Is there another way to explain the arrowheads and ballista stones? It would seem that any fortification structure would be the target of attack. As far as the period goes, the Akra was standing in the 2nd century BC, but so were other fortifications. The Hasmoneans fought with the Seleucids for more than twenty years, but finding evidence of such warfare doesn’t mean that the excavated
structure must be the famous Akra.

There is yet another problem. Historical sources tell us that the Akra was built to protect the Temple Mount. The excavated building, however, is 120 meters south of Herod’s Temple Mount and down the slope at that. If they found the Akra, it is in the wrong place. Leen Ritmeyer explains this point in detail.

The archaeologists have found important remains that will fill in significant details in Jerusalem’s history. For that they are to be commended. But they must know that they will not be able to get away in making sensational claims that are not supported by the evidence.

You can read more about this discovery in the IAA press release as well as stories by the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. Arutz-7 has a 2.5-minute interview with the archaeologist, Doron Ben-Ami. A scholarly published article in Hebrew is available at academia.edu. High-resolution photos and a video are temporarily available here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

akra-temple-mount-ws042515290
Location of excavation compared to the Temple Mount
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The precise location of the Jewish temple is debated by scholars. Some believe that the holy of holies was located over the “rock” (es-Sakhra) under the Dome of the Rock. Others believe that the altar sat on this rock. A few have held that the holy of holies was situated about 100 yards to the north under the “Dome of the Tablets.” But no scholars doubt that the temple stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.

Robert Cornuke has a history of making sensational discoveries in the field of biblical archaeology.

He has located Mount Sinai, the Ark of the Covenant, Paul’s shipwreck, and he thinks he knows where Noah’s Ark is. In his latest effort to produce a bestseller, Cornuke argues that the temple was not on the Temple Mount but was located to the south in the City of David.

This proposal is absurd to anyone who is familiar with the geography and archaeology of Jerusalem.

Scholars don’t even waste their time on such theories. But sincere laypeople who lack a background in the subject are too easily misled by a selective presentation articulated by a charismatic former police investigator.

Gordon Franz has written a helpful explanation of Cornuke’s theory and its many weaknesses. He begins with an 8-point summary and links to his 46-page essay. I recommend it.

If you would rather just read the straight story on the Temple Mount, written by the world’s experts on the subject, grab Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer’s new guide, Jerusalem: The Temple Mount.

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