post by Chris McKinny

This post is slightly different than previous “Secret Places” posts in that the secret to finding Qumran Cave 1 (and 2) has been out for a while due to Todd’s excellent post from back in 2010.

If you are interested in visiting Cave 1 (depsite Todd’s health warning) then you should definitely refer to the post linked above. If you don’t plan on making the dangerous trek up the cliffs of the Judean Wilderness or if you just want a slightly better idea of what Cave 1 looks like up close check out the model below. Click on the option “3D Model” to get an interactive view.

(Post by Chris McKinny) 

For an introduction to this series see here.

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum at the Church of the Flagellation – Old City Jerusalem, Muslim Quarter 


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Use the above map to find the Church of the Flagellation (it is near Hadrian’s Arch on the Via Dolorosa). Some nearby sites are Lion’s Gate (Rampart’s walk), the Western Wall Tunnels and the Pools of Bethesda. If you would like to visit the museum in conjunction with a tour of the Old City you might consider stopping at the museum after visiting the Temple Mount (use the northeastern exit near Lion’s Gate) or the Western Wall Tunnels (after exiting the tunnels walk directly across the street to the Church of Flagellation). The SBF museum is just inside the courtyard near the walkway to the bathrooms.

Operating Hours and Admission
The official website for the museum is here.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-1:00; 2:00-4:00
Entrance Fee – 5 NIS

Museum Information and Touring Suggestions
Biblewalks has a nice overview of the Church of the Condemnation/Monastery of the Flagellation’s history. Since our goal is to discuss the museum only we will leave the Church and its (historically problematic) tradition to others.

The SBF museum is by no means a “new” museum as it was originally founded in 1931 (it seems no coincidence that this followed the laying of the foundation of the Rockefeller Museum in 1930). Since then the museum has added to its collection through excavations sponsored by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Some of these excavations include: Bab edh-Drah, Mt. of Olives (including Dominus Flevit), Nazareth, Bethlehem, Herodium, Machaerus, and Capernaum. Recently, the SBF museum has undergone a facelift and its exhibits are a bit more accessible. Their website describes the layout of the museum as follows:

Three rooms were dedicated to the excavations at Nazareth, Capharnaum and Dominus Flevit, respectively. This prominence was due in view of the importance these sites had in commencing a new era of Christian archaeology in the Holy Land, in unraveling the problem of Christian origins, especially the history of the Judaeo-Christian communities of Palestine.

In order of importance the other rooms are subdivided among other excavations made on the Mount of Olives, in the sanctuaries of Jerusalem and its vicinity, in the desert of Judea, in Transjordan, and in two Herodian fortresses Machaerus and Herodion. The purpose is to characterize the SBF collection in such a way as to be correctly perceived as Jerusalem’s archaeological Museum of Christian origins, at the service of scholars and pilgrims who, in ever greater numbers, visit the Holy Land.

In addition to these important collections, the SBF museum has a great collection/display of pottery from the Chalcolithic to Byzantine periods showing the different forms of vessels (e.g. jug) and their development through time. Of special note is their collection of lamps from the Early Bronze Age-Byzantine period—I know of no better location to witness the major shifts in the development of the lamp form. This is a great location to point out the difference between an Iron Age II “lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105) and the kind of Roman lamp that the “ten virgins took…to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1).

Reconstruction of 1st cent. CE/AD house from Capernaum (i.e. Peter’s house)

As you might expect from a Catholic School/Monastery in Jerusalem the main thrust of the museum is directed towards Christian Archaeology (first century CE–Byzantine era), but that does not mean that there is not important material from earlier periods. There are some fantastic local Canaanite and imported Cypriot vessels from the Early Bronze-Late Bronze Age that come from the excavations in and around the ancient city of Jebus (cf. 2 Sam. 5). There are also some very nice Egyptian and Hyksos seals in the scriptorium room. For those interested in the early Canaanite period, do check out the back room where there is an exhibit on Bab edh-Dhra (Early Bronze–Intermediate Bronze, ca. 3300–2000 BCE).

For all of its strong points, the SBF museum’s artifacts do lack sufficient labeling for most of its materials. However, this seems to also be changing as they continue their facelift with plans of even adding a multimedia room in the near future.

In conclusion, the SBF museum should not be on your “must see” list whenever you visit Israel, however, if you have an extra half-hour to spend in the Old City it is well worth a visit even for first-time visitors. It is a decent stand-in for the Israel Museum if you don’t have enough time for a visit (although I would recommend the nearby Rockefeller Museum before the SBF). For returnees to the country I would strongly recommend checking out this small museum, as it will both inform visitors on the archaeology on some of Christianity’s most heralded sites, as well as help understand the development of Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land over the last century-and-a-half.

(Post by Chris McKinny)

For an introduction to this series see here.

The Benshoof Cistern Museum houses the remains of three Late Bronze-early Iron Age I (1550-1100) tombs discovered at Tel Dothan (Genesis 37:17, 2 Kings 6:13) during the Joseph Free-lead excavations in the 1950-1960s. The small exhibit is inside of a Roman/Byzantine cistern on the campus of St. George Cathedral and College in East Jerusalem.


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This small museum is situated next to several important historical, archaeological and research sites such as, The Tombs of the Kings, the Garden Tomb, exposed sections of Josephus’ Third Wall, the American Colony, the Albright Institute, and the Ecole Biblique (French Archaeological School). It is also very close to several of Jerusalem’s largest hotels (e.g. Olive Tree, Dan Panorama, etc.) near highway 60.

To get to the museum it is advised that you use the above Google Map to find St. George Cathedral as backroads (and sometimes main roads) in Jerusalem are notoriously tricky for new visitors and even long-term residents. Upon entering St. George, either from the main entrance on Nablus/Shechem Street or the back entrance on Salahdin Street, you should walk through the campus to the center of the compound where you will find a door with a nice welcome sign (see picture below), which will lead you down into the exhibit.

Entrance to Benshoof Cistern Museum

Entrance Information

Admission is free. The hours of operation are from 8:00 am-2:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment for other times (972-2-626-4704). The lady who curates the museum is quite pleasant and very excited to show off the remains for those interested – even if your visit is slightly after hours or unannounced (personal experience on both counts).

Touring Suggestion

Depending on your level of interest and the size of your group you should estimate between 20-30 minutes to view the cistern exhibit.

Museum Information and Some Personal Thoughts

The materials in the museum were excavated by Joseph Free in the 1950s, but were not published until the mid-1990s by Robert Cooley who was in charge of publishing the rest of the material from the site (see here for the most recent final publication of Dothan from the excavations carried out on the tell). The majority of the objects come from Tomb 1 – which according to the museum pamphlet is “one of the largest single-chambered cave burials of the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages to have been excavated in the Levant.” It is estimated that 250-300 Canaanites were buried inside of this cave, over 3,000 pottery vessels, ca. 100 personal ornaments, ca. 100 weapons were found with the skeletal remains (per pamphlet).

One of the great strengths of this exhibit is the well-defined organization of the various types of pottery.  Someone interested in such things as ceramic typology of the Bronze-Iron Age might be intrigued by seeing whole shelves filled with LB-Iron I lamps, chalices/goblets (see picture below), kraters, bowls, pyxides, lamps, and more (links to wikipedia description are meant to describe the form of the vessel not the specific type that you would see at this museum).

Low-quality picture of High-quality Canaanite Late Bronze Age Chalices and Goblets found in the Western Cemetery of Tell Dothan

I was especially intrigued by their large collection of chalices, as these seem identical to the types of chalices and goblets that our team has been uncovering inside of a very interesting, seemingly cultic related Late Bronze age building at Tel Burna. Shameless plug alert! Come join us in a week-and-a-half for our spring season – April 21-25, or June 2-21 for our summer season and find these for yourself. 🙂 

Due to the high quantities of consuming and serving vessels, particularly the large amount of kraters of a wide-variety of forms (used for wine-mixing), and the existence of animal bones the excavators concluded that these tombs were used for feasting in commemoration of dead ancestors. 

This funerary feast is commonly referred to as the marzeah, based upon some biblical references (Amos 6:7, Jeremiah 16:5; 8) and extra-biblical parallels (e.g. Ugarit). In relation to this, the museum pamphlet (this seems to have been written by Robert Cooley) says the following: 

Burial is described in scripture as “gathered to his people;” a time of reuniting with family members (Gen. 25:8-10; 17, 49:29-33, Judges 2:10. et al) The remains in the tomb corroborate these texts and also point to the practice of a memorial feast with an inordinate consumption of wine (Jer. 16:5-9). At the time of death the body was taken to the family tomb and either laid on the floor or on top of the debris or previous burials. It is believed a funeral banquet was held and a portion of the feast given to the deceased, and left to provide sustenance for the journey to the next world… When a subsequent death occurred the chamber was reopened and the remains of the previous burial unceremoniously swept aside, often destroying the skeletal remains and offerings. The newly deceased’s body would be carefully laid to rest and another funeral meal would ensue. Scholars infer that at the time of death an individual was considered animate, requiring food for his other journey. Decomposition of the flesh seems to have signalled the departure of the deceased to the netherworld. Thus the remains no longer held any significance. 

Where does this museum fit into the wider spectrum of available archaeological exhibits in Israel? 

It  certainly should be considered “specialist” in the sense that it is quite small and deals with a single period related to a single people – the Canaanites. However, it is also “special” in that it 
allows visitors to visit a significant element of a site that is largely inaccessible (Dothan) and to better understand the enigmatic ancient Near Eastern practice of ancestor funerary feasting. Which if nothing else gives a great ancient background for the modern urban practice of “pouring one out for your homies.” 🙂  
(post by Chris McKinny)

For an introduction to this series see here.

It seems only a short time ago that archaeologists were saying that there were only 3 positively identified 1st century CE synagogues in Israel – Herodion, Masada and Gamla (See “Synagogues” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Meyers 1992: 6.255). In the case of Herodion and Masada – these are relatively late synagogues as they were both converted from Herodian structures during the first Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE). The Gamla synagogue represented the only tangible archaeological evidence of a synagogue built for the primary purpose of being a synagogue (versus later retrofitting).

The 2009 discovery of the first century CE synagogue at Magdala changed that perception. We have discussed this discovery on several occasions, including a debate regarding the function of the building and the possibility of excavating at the site with costs covered by the excavation. I asked on a recent visit and this offer still stands, according to the staff at the site. Also from what I gathered their work will continue long after 2013, as they had stated previously – see here for pictures of volunteers from fall 2012.


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Getting to the first century remains at Magdala is quite simple – from Tiberias it is a mere five-minute drive to the north of town – make a right at “Magdala Hawaii” and turn into the construction site – there will be a sign that says “Magdala” and two small office buildings on each side of the road in front of the excavations.

Touring Suggestions 

Upon arrival you will be met by a security guard who will ask you to donate money to the project (there is no admission fee) – he will also give you instructions on where you can and cannot go on the site. The guard might also offer a few words of insight about the site – take what he says with a grain of salt. The following instructions are tentative as visiting protocols will change as the Magdala Center project develops (for comparison note the complete absence of buildings in this area in the Google Maps view above).

Update 4/8/2013 – Entrance information: Opening time  Monday-Friday 8-1pm. Email contact (HT: Shmuel Browns)

Historical Background and Discussion

Magdala means tower (Hebrew – migdal). It is never mentioned by name in the Gospels, rather the site name only appears when identifying Mary Magdalene apart from the other Marys (e.g. Matthew 27:56). Had the other Marys been named Salome instead of the ubiquitous “Mary” it is likely that even “Magdalene” would not be part of the New Testament record.

Before the founding of Tiberias as capital of Galilee in 20 CE under Herod Antipas, Magdala (Josephus calls the site Taricheae, which means fish) was the main administrative center (toparchy) of eastern Lower Galilee beneath the authority of Sepphoris, Antipas’ Galilean capital. In 20 CE, the capital shifted from Sepphoris to Tiberias and Magdala lost its administrative significance, but remained an important site. Later on in the 50s CE the site was ceded to Herod Agripa II (son of Agrippa I, grandson of Aristobolus, great-grandson of Herod the Great) and later still in 66 CE it was the site of a  naval battle between the Romans under Vespasian the result of which was the total defeat of the Jewish forces (including the execution of thousands inside the stadium at Tiberias). This naval war also produced one of the most interesting archaeological finds of all-time – the so-called “Jesus Boat,” which probably owes its exceptionally rare preservation to the unique events that transpired during the onset of the first Jewish Revolt. (For more information regarding Magdala’s historical background see James Strange “Magdala Magdalene,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:463).

Magdala from the eastern side of Mt. Arbel looking east towards the Sea of Galilee

The synagogue is on the left side of the road, as of March of 2013 visitors could still not go into the synagogue itself, but you will be able to view the beautiful synagogue from a distance. As fascinating as the synagogue is – what caught my eye was the extremely well-preserved, presumably first cent. CE street ca. 30 meters south of synagogue (see picture above). Along this street one can easily make out several mikvaot (ritual baths) that seemed to be fed by means of a canalization system and remains of the foundations of buildings constructed from basalt (black volcanic rock typically used in construction in the Golan Heights).

Magdala Street – notice the slabs in the center of the street that cover the canalization/sewage system, the mikvaot are to be found on the left side of the picture (that is the south side of the street – the picture is looking west to the foot of Mt. Arbel with highway 90 in the distance)

Mikvaot? There are at least four of these along this street, notice the extremely well-preserved steps and opening for presumably filling the pool. 

While final say will go to the excavators of this important site, it seems quite clear that the remains around the synagogue, including the street with presumed mikvaot, all date to the same time period – the excavators have claimed that the synagogue is first century CE on the basis of coinage and pottery. It therefore seems likely that the connected buildings date to the same time period. Beyond the clear connection of this site to Mary Magdalene of the Gospels this Early Roman town has the potential to illuminate many details of first century, Galilean village dynamics.

In conclusion, this exciting new site should be considered a “required” stop on any trip to Israel that makes it to the Sea of Galilee. In the opinion of this author, Magdala is a more important site for folks interested in New Testament and Second Temple Judaism than say, Tabgha or Chorazin (primarily 4-5th cent. CE Byzantine remains with New Testament textual connections). Magdala has the potential of illuminating our understanding of first century daily village life (i.e. the very time of Jesus’ ministry) in the same way that Qatzrin has illuminated our understanding of everyday Jewish life in Mishnaic/Talmudic times. 

(Post by Chris McKinny) 

One of the exciting things about living in Israel is how quickly archaeology can change the landscape of our understanding of the biblical world. Our picture of the ancient Near Eastern world is constantly developing and becoming more nuanced, largely due to the work of archaeologists operating in Israel.

Israel, home to an estimated 30,000 archaeological sites (and counting), produces large quantities of archaeological architecture and materials of biblical significance that are often passed over by tourists, students and even scholars who visit the Land. While readers of this blog are considerably more well-informed regarding biblical archaeology’s rapid developments than the general public – there still remains a bit of a gap between exposure to the information and first-hand experience through visiting the various “secret places” scattered throughout the country.

With this in mind, the purpose of this upcoming series is three-fold: 1.) to expose the reader to off-the-beaten path locations, new archaeological sites and museums, and significant views and overlooks; 2.) to inform the reader on the importance of these locations by connecting the site with the historical/biblical data; and 3.) to show the reader how to get to these locations when visiting Israel.