Report from Jerusalem #40, 15th March 2012

New Tourism Centre on Givati Car Park, Jerusalem

Recently initial approval has been given for a large new tourism centre over the site of the former car park opposite the City of David archaeological park and south of the Dung Gate of the Old City. The new complex will be built on stilts over the large site, still partly under excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is considered by some to have been the location of the palace of Queen Helena of Adiabene of the 1st century CE, where many Roman and Byzantine artifacts have been uncovered. The complex will house facilities for tourists as well as a museum of local finds, and will illustrate the history of the area, to include details of its Islamic past from the Arab Conquest to the present day. Further approvals have still to be given, and costs allocated, but once complete the complex will make it easier for visitors to access the southern part of the Old City and the excavations below the southern walls, where a new area has been prepared alongside the city’s ancient eastern wall and gate, considered by Dr. Eilat Mazar and others to be of the Solomonic period.

Cultivation of Ancient Citrons (etrogim) at Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem

Excavations at the royal palace of Ramat Rahel, which dates back to the time of Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE, have been going on for some years under the direction of Prof. Oded Lipschitz and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace boasted a royal garden where the hard local ground had been replaced in antiquity by finer productive soil and the archaeologists were keen to find out what had been grown there. For evidence they decided to examine the plasterwork of the surrounding walls, on the theory that in springtime the plant pollen would have been blown onto the walls while they were being plastered. They carefully peeled off some layers of the plaster and were able to identify several wild species and also evidence of citrus plants from a layer of plaster that they identified as having been applied during the Persian period, after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The pollen was identified by Dr. Dafna Langut of Tel Aviv University as being that of the citron, or etrog, the fruit which is used as one of the four species to be waved aloft on the festival of Tabernacles. This is the earliest evidence of the etrog in Israel, and it is assumed that the royal palace planted their trees, whose origin is in India, when they were brought to this country by the exiles from Babylon. Further evidence was found of willow and myrtle plants that are also used for the festive Sukkoth (Tabernacles) rituals (Lev. 23:40).

Restoration of Historic Sites, the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem

It has previously been mentioned that the Israeli Government has allocated funds to the restoration and preservation of sites of historic interest. At the end of February a list of 13 heritage sites was published and these included Tel Shiloh, where tradition claims that the desert shrine Mishkan was re-erected; the ancient synagogue of the Second Temple Period at Umm el-Umdam in Modi’in, and the Montefiore windmill in the Yemin Moshe area of Jerusalem.

The Government has pledged 72 million shekels (approx. £12 million) for these projects, of which one million is for the windmill, to which further funds will be contributed by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Tourism and the Christian Friends of Israel from Holland. The plan for the windmill is to put it back in working order using replica parts made in Britain to the designs of the Holman Company of UK that built the original mill in 1857. The parts will be shipped to experts for assembly in Holland and then transported for final fitting to the mill in Jerusalem. It is hoped to complete the work before the end of this summer, and then have the four storey mill turning and working five days a week on a regular basis.

Another controversial find by Simcha Jacobovici

Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian-Israeli director of the TV series, “The Naked Archaeologist”, claimed recently that he had identified the tomb of some of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem. The burial cave in question is situated under a residential building in the Armon Hanatziv area of southern Jerusalem. It was first found in the 1990s, when local ultra-orthodox residents objected to further investigation and covered the cave with a concrete slab and built a block of flats over it. Jacobovici claimed he obtained permission from the residents to conduct further exploratory work and, although he was stopped from opening up the cave, he was eventually allowed to make a small hole and investigate below by means of a camera mounted on a robotic arm. The subsequent image that he obtained shows an incised carving of a fish swallowing, or vomiting out, a human head, which Jacobovici claims is an image of Jonah and the Great Fish (usually described as a whale) and that, he says, designates an early Christian image, as it was used as a symbol of Christ and his resurrection. Jacobovici has therefore concluded that the cave contained the remains of some of the early followers of Jesus, and the Israeli archaeologist members of his team are reported as agreeing with his findings. Jacobovici was due to hold a press conference in New York at the beginning of March, but I have no further information on this sensational claim.

Sale of Ancient Shekel in New York Auction

A silver shekel, struck in Jerusalem in year 1 of the Revolt by the Jewish rebels against Roman rule, was sold in early March at auction in New York for $1.1 million. It had been part of the Shoshana Collection of 2,000 ancient Judaean coins formed by a private collector from Los Angeles, who had purchased it 20 years ago for $240,000. The only other known example of this coin belongs to the Israel Museum. The collection as a whole will be sold off over the coming year and is expected to fetch $10 million.

Forgery Trial Verdict Announced

On 14th March the verdict of Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court was released, declaring that the two defendants were not guilty of forgery. As for the two artifacts in question it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were forgeries. The trial had been in progress for nearly 7 years and the judge had to consider 12,000 pieces of evidence and the testimony of dozens of experts. The prosecution was brought by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who had claimed that many artifacts had been forged by a number of defendants. In the course of the trial the number of pieces was reduced to two, the “James, brother of Jesus Ossuary” and the “Yehoash Tablet” and the defendants to two, Oded Golan, an antiquities dealer and Robert Deutsch, an expert in ancient seals. Both were found not guilty, but Golan was convicted of the minor count of dealing in antiquities without a licence, for which he will be sentenced later.

The judge had been unable to conclude that the pieces were forgeries as the testimony of the experts had weighed in on both sides of the argument and, as the judge had said, who was he to make a decision on a matter of contention between professionals.

It was also clear that even if the items were forgeries, the actual work could not be pinned on the defendants. It had been claimed that the alleged forgeries were committed by a named Egyptian craftsman, but the Court had been unable to bring him to court from Cairo. The judge’s decision is a disappointment for the IAA but they claim that the case has highlighted the questionable authenticity of artifacts acquired from the market and of unknown provenance, and in fact the judge’s verdict does not prove that the two items in question are not forgeries. It seems to be the opinion among archaeologists that it is quite possible that, concerning the inscription on the ossuary “James, the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” the ossuary is genuine and only the last three words were added by a forger. As for the Yehoash (Joash) Tablet, the text is close to passages found in Second Kings 12 and Second Chronicles 24 and, if genuine, would be a remarkable confirmation of the Temple and its description in the Hebrew Bible. However, the texts are so close that experts were very suspicious, and also the origin of the tablet was unclear.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

 W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #39, 14th February 2012

‘Geniza’ Find in Afghanistan

Details of this discovery are still very sketchy but Prof. Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew University has given more information recently. He is skeptical of the many stories of the discovery that are surfacing, as they all revolve around a shepherd who is looking for his flock in a distant cave, fails to find them but sees pieces of parchment scattered over the ground. These stories are clearly based on the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and so are dismissed as fiction. But, like the Scrolls, there is the hope that further caches will be uncovered as to date only about 150 pieces has come to light.

Prof. Shaked, an expert in ancient Persian languages, has no doubt the finds are authentic and has said that they include a medieval copy of the Book of Jeremiah, previously unknown works by Rabbi Sa’adiah Gaon of the 10th century CE, as well as the private financial diary of a Jewish merchant. The documents are in Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Arabic and can be precisely dated to the medieval period. Many are damaged and decayed and the number is small, but Prof. Shaked hopes that search will now be made for others. He is of the opinion that the cache may include the records of a Karaite community, although it is known that Sa’adiah Gaon was fiercely opposed to this Jewish sect.

Prof. Robert Eisenman has said that he hopes the records may shed light on another sect called the Rhadanites, early medieval Jewish merchants who had set up an extensive trade network connecting Europe and Asia. He raises the suspicion that these Jews may have been descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes, but that is a claim made for all outlandish sects and usually with little justification.

Bread Seal Found at Uza, near Acre

A rescue dig is being conducted at Uza, a Byzantine village east of Acre, prior to the laying of a railway track between Acre and Carmiel. In the course of the dig, headed by Gilad Jaffe and Danny Syon of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a diminutive clay stamp incised with the reverse of a seven-branched menorah was uncovered. The excavators point this out as a bread seal of the type used in the early medieval period and they date it to the 6th century CE. Bread seals of the period are common but mostly carry a figure of a cross and denote Christian ownership. The Menorah, which clearly marks Jewish ownership, is rare, and probably indicates that there was a Jewish bakery at Uza supplying bread to the Jewish community of Acre, which was mainly a Christian town in the Byzantine period. The short handle of the stamp carries some Greek lettering, read by Dr. Leah di Segni of the Hebrew University as “Launtius”, a common Jewish name of the period.

Prehistoric Evaporation of the Dead Sea

Last year researchers from the Geological Survey of Israel, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University conducted drilling at the centre of the Dead Sea, at a depth of 300m, and offshore near Ein Gedi, and they found that the Dead Sea had nearly dried up 125,000 years ago due to climate change. At a depth of 250m below the floor of the lake they found levels of pebbles above substantial salt layers and concluded that these demonstrated a period when the lake had nearly dried up, due to little inflow of water. From sediment cores, the scientists discovered a layer of 45m of salt below nearby pebbles, which indicated a shoreline close by. The condition was attributed to a change in climate that occurred thousands of years ago and was ultimately remedied by increased rainfall and flow into the Dead Sea from the river Jordan. The researchers indicated that such a condition of excessive fall could occur again at the present time and the remedy of replenishment did not exist as so much of the waters of the Jordan was being syphoned off by the adjoining countries. They warned that the previous ancient fall had been due to climate change whereas the present drop was a man-made disaster.

Archaeological Survey of Lifta, west of Jerusalem

Since 1948 the Arab village of Lifta, standing outside the western approach to Jerusalem, has stood in ruin and virtually unpopulated except for a few Yemenite families. The area contains dozens of stone-built houses that stand derelict on a piece of prime real estate, and two years ago tenders were issued to private developers to build 212 luxury houses on the former village, on condition that the contractor would conduct a full survey of the existing properties before work could begin. The site contains mainly 19th century houses but there are also some Crusader structures and First Temple remains, all in an advanced state of disrepair.

A recent court ruling has annulled the previous tenders and has now stipulated that the area must first be surveyed in depth by an independent multi-disciplinary university team and the IAA, whose interests will be purely scientific and historical and not guided by development opportunities. However it has been agreed that in the long run it is not desirable to leave the area unbuilt and undeveloped as that would continue the neglect and decay that has taken toll of the site over the last sixty years. It is stipulated therefore that there must be in the long run a plan for both development and preservation of the historical core, with convenient access for the public to the sections of historical interest, so as to provide for example an area that would illustrate the physical form of a typical Arab village of the 19th century. It is hoped that the involvement of many university departments and the IAA will bring positive results and not delay the restoration works unduly.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #37, 6th December 2011

Arabic Inscription of the Crusader Period

An inscription in Arabic bearing the name of the Crusader ruler Frederick II and dated 1229 was recently discovered on a grey marble slab on the wall of a building in Tel Aviv, probably fixed there many years ago. According to Prof. Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University who deciphered it, this was the only Crusader inscription ever found in Arabic and probably came from the citadel that Frederick built in Jaffa, and on which he describes himself as King of Jerusalem. He hailed from Sicily and was the leader of the Sixth Crusade of 1228-1229. It is known that he was fluent in Arabic, his court was attended by many Muslim scholars and ambassadors and for that he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. He was friendly with the Egyptian Sultan and won from him an armistice that made him King of Jerusalem without a fight. The titles of the inscription are readable in the Arabic but the remaining text has not survived. It is not yet clear where and when the slab will be exhibited to the public.

Palestine Authority (PA) Recognised by UNESCO: Impact on Archaeology

As a result of the recognition of the PA as a member state by UNESCO on October 31st, the PA is applying to UNESCO for grants to cover repair work to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and in particular for the sum of $12 million for essential repairs to the roof. The historic building of the Byzantine period is in urgent need of repairs which have not been carried out for many years by the three Christian denominations that administer it.

On another tack, the PA, now a member of UNESCO, has threatened to sue Israel for stealing and destroying Arab and Muslim antiquities. The renovation of the Mughrabi Bridge in Jerusalem is on hold until the PA’s intentions are clarified and (it is to be hoped), resolved.

Date Palm Grown from Seed Discovered at Masada

A seed uncovered in the 1960s at Masada, later planted in a secret location by scientists, has now sprouted and grown to an eight-foot high date palm. It has recently been replanted at Kibbutz Ketura in Arava, southern Israel. From a rare species it is hoped it will henceforth produce fruit for food and medicinal purposes.

When the sapling was 15 months old the original seed was shown by C.14 investigation at the University of Zurich to be from the period of the Roman siege of Masada in 73 CE. This species of palm was identified with Judaea and depicted on Roman coins as a symbol of the defeat of the Great Rebellion of 66-70 CE.

Coins Found Below Base of Outer Temple Wall

Further excavations by Eli Shukron of the IAA and Prof. Ronnie Reich of Haifa University inside the drainage channel at the foot of Robinson’s Arch have uncovered part of the base of the western Herodian retaining wall to the Jerusalem Temple and exposed coins that are dated to the Roman Governor Valerius Gratus of 15-16 CE. As this is some twenty years after the death of Herod the Great, it demonstrates that this part of the wall was built after his death, according to Prof. Reich.

The coins were found in a mikveh (ritual bath) that was part of a residential area that had been destroyed to make way for the massive retaining wall to be founded on bedrock. The coins indicate that this western part of the wall was probably built later than the one on the eastern and southern sides and was planned by Herod but only constructed by his grandson Herod Antipas.

This discovery caused a minor sensation among scholars in the press, but it has always been known that Herod, who started the Temple reconstruction in 22 BCE, never saw it completed at his death in 4 BCE. The work was not totally finished until about 60 CE and then, tragically, the completed Temple stood for only ten years before it was destroyed by the Romans.

The Gospel Trail North of Lake Kinneret

Last week the  Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov officially opened the Gospel Trail along the north side of the Lake of Kinneret in the Galilee, which will run for 63 kms (39 miles) from north of Tiberias on the west side of the lake eventually to Kursi on the opposite east bank. The Trail will pass through most of the important Christian sites along the banks, such as Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum and Bethsaida. Prepared by the Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund, the Trail consists of comfortable stone footpaths, sun and rain shelters and parking areas. The plan is to include hostels and hotels for the many Christian pilgrims that are expected to visit the area, which is sacred to the memory of Jesus, who spent much time in the fishing villages along the lake after he was evicted from Nazareth.

Archaeological excavations along the route have been conducted over many years by the Franciscan Fathers of Capernaum and the IAA and a joint application was made over the last few years to UNESCO to have the area designated as a site of Historic Interest.  The application has so far not succeeded as the management of the Trail has not yet been fully organized between the many different ownerships involved.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

 

Report from Jerusalem, #32, 21st June

Bethsaida – Stratum  VII

Excavations at Bethsaida, which lies close to the northern shore of Lake Kinneret in the Galilee, re-started in June of this year. The work there has been conducted under the direction of Professors Rami Arav and Richard Freund for the last 25 years and has uncovered impressive remains of the Iron Age City that may have been the capital of the petty kingdom of Geshur.

Work this season will reach the foundations of the city, Stratum VII, which is currently dated to the middle of 10th century BCE. This is the period of the possible kingdom of David and Solomon, whose existence is doubted by the Tel Aviv School of Archaeologists, in opposition to the biblical account. This is a subject of debate at present and it is hoped that evidence this season from Stratum VII may help to throw light on the problem.

Hebrew University Museum – 70th Anniversary

A special exhibition has been mounted by the Hebrew University Museum of Jewish Antiquities on Mount Scopus to mark its 70th anniversary, having been founded back in the time of Prof Sukenik. Besides many items such as inscriptions, pottery and coins from the well-known excavations sponsored by the university, there are on show ceiling tiles from the Dura-Europos synagogue of the 3rd century CE, whose colourful frescoes are preserved in the National Museum of Damascus, the synagogue having originally been located in what is today Eastern Syria. The ceiling tiles are highly decorated and some of them mention the names of Samuel the Cohen, Abraham the treasurer and Samuel ben Supharah, who were presumably involved in the building of the synagogue.

Acre – Byzantine Structure Uncovered

The recent uncovering of an impressive building in the city of Acre, the ancient port north of Haifa, has prompted the speculation that this might be the remains of a church of the 6th century CE. The building was constructed of ashlar stonework and included a courtyard with a well and terracotta pipework. If they are the  remains of a church, it will be the first one discovered in the city, according to Nurit Feig of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who directed the excavation, and would add weight to the recorded fact that the Bishops of Acre and Caesarea attended international congresses in the city during the Byzantine period. According to Vatican archives an Italian pilgrim visited the churches of Acre in 570 CE, but no other public buildings of the period have so far been discovered in Acre.

The newly excavated building was found to contain a mosaic, roof tiles, pottery and coins. It was founded on a Hellenistic layer that included Rhodian amphorae and locally made pottery. The find cannot yet be opened to the public but will be fenced off and protected by sand and a textile covering while the adjoining mall and car park are completed.

Austrian Hospice –  Salvage Dig

A rescue dig is in progress at the Austrian Hospice, famous for its coffee, cream and Sachertorte, on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, Jerusalem. The site is close to the triumphal arch built for Hadrian’s visit to Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE, and the eastern Cardo of the city. The Austrian Hospice began rebuilding a low retaining wall on their north-eastern boundary, which had collapsed a few years ago. When excavating for a new foundation, older structures were immediately revealed and the IAA were called in. To date they have uncovered a substantial archway from the Ottoman period and a well-preserved medieval vaulted chamber. Considerable remains of 14th century CE imported tableware, including bowls from Italy and the Far East, indicate that this was an area occupied by well-heeled inhabitants, indeed an elite medieval society. The work continues.

Egyptologist Held For Selling And Smuggling Antiquities

It was reported that a retired US university lecturer in Egyptology was guiding a group of about twenty American tourists around the sites of two Tells in the Galilee and was selling them valuable archaeological artefacts for them to take out of the country. The suspect guide was detained at Ben Gurion airport by Customs and IAA officials but allowed to leave after signing a confession and posting a large deposit to ensure his return for future trial. The tourists were stopped at the Egyptian border at Taba, where they were found to be taking out valuable items. The photographs of the antiquities found on the guide and in his hotel room show fairly standard series of Roman oil lamps and bronze and silver coins of the Second Temple period.

The information released by the police and the IAA is sketchy pending the trial, and it is believed that the IAA are using the case to warn tourists against buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers and taking them out of the country, which is a criminal offence with a penalty of up to three years imprisonment.

Stop Press! Opening of Ophel City Walls Site

21st June saw the official opening of a new archaeological park to the north-east of the City of David Centre. The excavations were directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, who described the remains as being possibly situated around the Water Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3:26. These descriptions are still controversial and it is hoped that more information will be available in the next Report.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

 

Report from Jerusalem, #27, 16th November 2010

Israel Antiquities Authority

Last month the Reshut haAtiqot (Israel Antiquities Authority, IAA) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Before that it had been the Israel Department of Antiquities within the Ministry of Education, but in 1990 it became an independent body with its own budget and leadership structure. As will be known from these reports, the IAA has figured largely in most of the archaeological work in Israel and is responsible for much of the recovery and restoration of the important sites in the country. The IAA now numbers a permanent staff of about 450 men and women, many of them highly qualified experts in their various fields. The work is directed from Jerusalem but spread among local offices throughout the country. There are storage depots and workshops in several locations and new headquarters are in the process of being constructed in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum, which will concentrate all the various activities in one ambitious building. Besides the straightforward work of site excavation, and particularly rescue digs, the IAA has an active department for publications and preservation and restoration work. Education is important and staff are encouraged to undertake further professional training, to upgrade their academic degrees, and are sent abroad to lecture at international conferences.

Dead Sea Scrolls coming on line

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced its plan to digitalize the complete remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls to make them available to the public on line. In order to do this the IAA has teamed up with Google’s Israel Research and Design Centre in a $3.5 million project. The technology will enable each layer of each fragment to be viewed in colour and will make it unnecessary for the original pieces to be handled any more. It is planned to start the work before the end of the year and Google will then find a way to present the material on the Internet, together with transcriptions, translations and associated material. It is hoped that the first images will be available in Spring 2011 and work will then proceed continuously on the 30,000 fragments that have to be recorded in this way.

Mosaic floor at Tel Shikmona

The site was partly excavated from the 1950s to the 1970s and then fell into neglect and became used as a refuse tip. A new expedition by the University of Haifa, which is nearby, has cleaned the site and, on digging further, has uncovered some extensive floor mosaics of 6th century CE. The site lies by the sea shore west of Haifa, and was part of a major city in the area between 4th century BCE and the Muslim conquest of 7th CE. The previous finds included an Egyptian tomb, a Persian fortress and many elite items of Middle Bronze age. The mosaic presently being exposed and cleaned belonged to an ecclesiastical structure of the Byzantine period and will be exhibited as part of a public archaeological park connected to Hecht Park (connected with the Hecht Museum in the University building).

Professor Ehud Netzer, in Memoriam

On 28th October Ehud Netzer died, aged 76. His sudden death came as a great shock to all archaeologists in Israel and no doubt further afield as well. Netzer had retired as Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University recently but was still very active in expeditions in Israel and Albania and was busy on further publications of his work. He was the world expert on the colossal constructions of Herod the Great and had spent thirty years at the site of Herodion, some of it looking for the king’s tomb, which he finally located in 2007. As a result he travelled around the world describing this remarkable discovery. He continued his work at the site and was in a meeting with the Hebrew University to finalise plans to exhibit the frescoes he had uncovered at Herod’s private theatre at the site. It was then that he leaned against an unsafe wooden barrier and fell down 3m. backwards causing a massive concussion from which he never recovered. This was a tragic end to a distinguished career that started as a site architect under Yadin at Masada, and finished clarifying most of the important monuments of the Hasmonean and Herodian periods in Israel.

Stephen G. Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute, Jerusalem