BiblePlaces Newsletter
Vol 3, #7 - December 29, 2004

The report last week of evidence for the Cana where Jesus turned water into wine motivated the writing of this newsletter.  This story makes the "Top 5" list, because it's a story, not because it is a believable story.  In this way, it compares with the silly hype surrounding the "Cave of John the Baptist."  But the other stories that made the "Top 5" really have made a contribution to the study of biblical places. 

If you haven't yet checked out the "Historic Views of the Holy Land" series, you should (here).  This is a unique and valuable collection of old photographs, drawings and maps of the biblical sites.  They are both fascinating and instructive.  The introductory prices will end on December 31st.  One person just wrote to say this about it:

"I am having an exhausting time wanting to see all of the CDs at one time (like a child in a candy store).  Everything that I have looked at is just wonderful. You did such a great job—I can't imagine how many hours you must have devoted to this project, and at such a nominal cost to be able to see and experience what the average person would never have an opportunity to see otherwise—WONDERFUL!"

One more note - this is the end of the third year of producing the BiblePlaces Newsletter.  In that time, the circulation has increased from one subscriber to several thousand, and the positive feedback that we get indicates that it's a worthwhile endeavor.  The goal for 2005: more of the latest news from the biblical sites with the best photos! 

With best wishes for the new year,

Todd Bolen
Assoc. Professor, The Master's College
Israel Bible Extension (IBEX), Judean Hills, Israel


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Our promise: Email addresses will never be given, transferred, sold for any reason.  They will never be used for any purpose other than sending out this newsletter.  No exceptions.  Ever.



The Top 5 of 2004

The list of "Top 5" stories related to "Bible Places" in 2004 reflects just how much attention "biblical archaeology" has received in the mainstream press this year.  Unfortunately, some of that attention has been given to unworthy subjects, including what received the most sensational coverage, the "Cave of John the Baptist."  Because of our interest and location in Israel, the following list is biased towards  stories related to Israel, rather than other countries in the biblical world.  If you have a suggestion for another story that should have been included, let us know.


#5: Cana Discovered?

The big religious story that aired ahead of Christmas this year was the "discovery of Cana" where Jesus performed his first miracle.  The headline got everyone's attention, but unfortunately the media reports we saw seem not to have analyzed the claims carefully.  If you missed it, you can read the AP story here or here or here, but don't believe everything you read.  To start with, a big part of the story is the discovery of a certain type of jar; the presence of this jar in the excavations at Kefar Kenna is taken as evidence that Jesus performed the miracle at this spot.  To be sure, this stone jar was used by Jewish people in the 1st century because of ritual purity laws, and it is of the same type mentioned in John's account (2:6).  But stone jars of this type are common to this period and have been found at numerous sites in Israel (especially in Jerusalem; see photo at right).

The story quotes the archaeologist as saying, "All indications from the archaeological excavations suggest that the site of the wedding was (modern-day) Cana, the site that we have been investigating."  These indications are 1) the stone jars mentioned above, 2) the discovery of a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh), and 3) locally made pottery suggesting the town was a poor village.  But ritual baths and local pottery are common in Jewish villages in Galilee in the first century A.D.  None of these factors remotely suggests that the site should be identified as biblical Cana.  What does argue in favor of this identification is not new (and not mentioned): the tradition, and the name Kefar Kenna which allegedly preserves the name of Cana.

This evidence is weak, however, as Carl Laney has shown. The tradition identifying Kefar Kenna as biblical Cana essentially begins in the 17th century(!), and the name Kenna may or may not be related to Cana.  Instead, the site of Khirbet Kana is superior in respect to all of the evidence - name preservation, geographical location, Josephus, and ancient pilgrim accounts (see SWP map here).  Nearly all modern scholars agree with this identification, including Robinson, Albright, Baly, and Aharoni.  The findings of recent excavations by the University of Puget Sound support this identification (cf. related story).  Kefar Kenna needs a lot more to be biblical Cana than a few stone jars.  For a full discussion, see "The Identification of Cana of Galilee," by J. Carl Laney - now online in pdf format. 


#4: Temple Mount "Garbage"

The Bible describes the area of the Temple as the place where the Lord chose to "set his Name," and thus it's no surprise that this area is so frequently in the news.  Though archaeologists are forbidden from supervising work on the Temple Mount, one should expect more valuable information from on-going and future projects.  This year the bulges on the southeastern corner of the mount (near "A" in photo below) continued to be repaired (Jpost; here are some photos taken a few days ago of both bulges, the southern bulge area (and close-up), and the eastern bulge area (and close-up of missing stones)). 

Material which was removed in construction of a mosque in "Solomon's Stables" and dumped on the Temple Mount (marked "C") and in the Kidron Valley may yet reveal valuable finds.  A sifting operation was recently begun by Israeli archaeologists to sort through dozens of tons of earth.  Haaretz published an article entitled "Remnants of the Temple? Not in this garbage," but see this page to see objects discovered in the "garbage" (and here for other related photos).  Volunteers are wanted.  In addition, plans are now underway to remove the large earthen embankment south of the Western Wall prayer area (the arrow in this photo points to area to be removed).  This could reveal some interesting material next year.


#3: Cave of John the Baptist

This is the top non-story of the year, but it makes the list because the news coverage of this was so widespread and sensational.  Contrast this with story #1 below and see one reason why you can't trust the amount of media coverage to determine what is important.  This cave is alleged to be the ritual center of followers of John the Baptist, but the primary piece of evidence is a stick figure drawing on the wall of an ancient cistern.  Why this is John and not any other known or unknown personage is never made clear.  The best thing going for the identification is the location of the cave: 2.5 miles (4 km) from the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist at Ein Kerem.   For more, see our brief critique of the cave; to our knowledge, no scholars back the excavators' identification of the cave.


#2: New Verses Found on Old Silver Amulets

Sometimes old finds can yield new information, as was attested by newly discovered references to Scripture on silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom.  These amulets are renowned because they are the oldest known copies of Scripture, preserving the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 (brief description and photo here).  Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay dated them to about 600 B.C., before the destruction of the First Temple. 

Ketef Hinnom repository: Location of discovery of amulets

Recently, innovative photographing technologies have allowed scholars to see parts of the inscription previously unknown.  The new reading of the first amulet includes, "YHW...the grea[t...who keeps] the covenant and [G]raciousness towards those who love [him] and those who keep [his commandments]."  This parallels Deut 7:9, Neh 1:5, and Dan 9:4.  The second amulet mentions, "Yahweh, the warrior (or helper) and the rebuker of [E]vil," which is reminiscent of Zech 3:2.  The new readings were published in an article in BASOR 334 (May 2004), and an article about the technologies used was printed in Near Eastern Archaeology 66/4 (dated Dec 2003, but actually printed about Nov 2004).  The New York Times ran an article on it with photos, which is now preserved at this site.


#1: The Pool of Siloam Revealed

Excavations as of June

This clearly is the story of the year, though you wouldn't know it from the news coverage which has been almost non-existent.  There were two brief stories in June (JPost; may require free registration), and a Christmas rerun with a few new details (JPost or here).  In contrast with the "Cave of John the Baptist," this water installation is clearly related to the New Testament.  It's also visually impressive and bound to be more so as excavations continue.  Archaeologists Eli Shukrun and Ronny Reich uncovered this in the summer and have made significant progress in the last six months.  As of a few days ago, twenty steps have been revealed and the bottom has not yet been reached.  Pottery indicates that this pool was in use in the 1st century.  The blind man washed the mud off of his eyes in this pool and received his sight (see John 9).  A wild prediction: this will be the archaeological discovery of the decade for biblical studies.  At least there is no chance of it being declared a forgery. 


Excavations as of November



Other Stories of the Year

The Fakes: Discussion continued this year on the authenticity of the James Ossuary (Shanks interview, recent CBS story) and Jehoash Inscription (Haaretz, bibliography).  The Israel Museum announced a few days ago that it has determined that the inscription on the famous, ivory pomegranate from Solomon's Temple was forged (ABCNews).  The pomegranate itself dates to the Late Bronze Age, but investigators say that the inscription was made in modern times.  This afternoon, Israeli police issued an indictment against the owner of the James Ossuary, alleging that he and 3 antiquities dealers ran a forgery ring that created numerous "biblical artifacts" by adding inscriptions to genuine artifacts, including the Jehoash Inscription, ivory pomegrate, seal of Manasseh, Second Temple period menorah, and the James Ossuary (adding the phrase, "brother of Jesus"). The full story is run by the AP and Haaretz.  A few photos of the news conference are displayed on Yahoo.  Back in the sights of some: the Dan Inscription (see ANE thread).

Qumran Theory #13: Yet another new theory has been offered on the function of the Qumran site.  Excavators Magen and Peleg believe that Qumran was a pottery-producing factory, and not a quiet community inhabited by Essenes.  You can read the story at Jerusalem Post or on The Bible and Interpretation website.  One brief response can be found on the ANE list.  For a list of 12 other theories on Qumran's function, see the end of this JPost article.

A Modern-Day Plague: Swarms of locusts swept through northern Africa and into Israel in November.  As in biblical times, the locusts threatened to "cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen" (Ex 10:5), but Israel's agriculture was largely spared by cold weather and spraying (Arutz-7 story).

Next Year's News Story: Excavations of the Western Wall, south of the prayer area, should reveal the full width of "Barclay's Gate"  (see Arutz-7, Haaretz, and photo mentioned above).


Stunning Jerusalem View

Finally, take a look at this stunning aerial photograph of Jerusalem (1 MB size) from on another website.  Unfortunately it's in a flash file, so you can't edit or manipulate it easily, or put it in a PowerPoint file.  But you can enjoy it, and by it remember the exhortation to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

Use These Photos!

The images included in this newsletter are original photographs and are linked to high-resolution versions.  They may be used freely for personal and educational purposes.  Commercial use requires separate permission.  For more high-quality, high-resolution photographs of biblical sites, purchase the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, now available through Kregel Publications.


Subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter!

A monthly newsletter on subjects related to biblical sites and archaeology.  New and discounted photo CDs will be announced here, and free high-resolution photos made available for free each month!  Have a problem subscribing? See this page.


Our promise: Email addresses will never be given, transferred, sold for any reason.  They will never be used for any purpose other than sending out this newsletter.  No exceptions.  Ever.