The Samaritans, Death and Birth
Eleazar ben Tzedaka ben Yitzhaq, the Spiritual leader of the Samaritan Community was laid to rest on February 4th 2010 in the small cemetery south of Nablus. He was 83 years old and it was claimed that he was the 131st holder of the position of High Priest since Aaron. The Samaritans claim to have lived near Nablus, formerly Shechem. since before the Babylonian Exile, and some would say even before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BCE. They have preserved their version of the Torah in an archaic script similar to Paleo-Hebrew.
The present community of 730 persons is concentrated at Kiryat Luza, a small hill town above Nablus, near to Mount Gerizim, which they view as the site of their former temple, which was destroyed by the Maccabean king John Hyrcanus. Both the Palestinian Governor of the Nablus Region and the Israeli officer heading the Civil Administration gave eulogies in Arabic in praise of the deceased High Priest and described his role, in providing a bridge between the Palestinian community and the Israeli Defence Forces, in glowing terms.
An offshoot of the Community lives in Neveh Pinchas, a neighbourhood of Holon, south of Tel Aviv and, at the beginning of March, a circumcision ceremony was held there for the latest male addition to the tiny community, Shahar Yehoshua. It was a rare event, attended by nearly half of the whole community and by six of their priests in long robes and red fezzes, marking the important addition of this new member to the small Samaritan community.
Byzantine Main Road into Jerusalem
Excavations at the west entry to the Old City, leading to David Street, the start of the Arab Shuk, have revealed the original pavings of the Byzantine period, far below the present surface. Thanks to work by the Jerusalem Development Authority in renewing the present underground infrastructure, the Israel Antiquities Authority was able, under director Dr. Ofer Sion, to excavate this very busy part of the Old City.
At a depth of 4.5 m below the present level, the IAA uncovered metre-long paving flagstones of a street that corresponded to a main thoroughfare from the west shown on the famous Byzantine mosaic map of the sixth century CE in St. George’s Church at Madaba, Jordan.
Arabic Inscription of 910 CE found in Jerusalem
During renovation work at a private house in the Jewish Quarter, a small stone fragment, about 10 x 10cm. was found inscribed in Arabic. It has been dated to the Abbasid period and the rule of the Caliph al-Muqtadir. It appears to express the thanks of an army veteran to the “Emir of the Faithful” for the gift of a tract of land in the area. It may signify the way the Caliph rewarded his troops and established a core of faithful supporters in Jerusalem while he ruled from faraway Baghdad. The find was made by Annette Nagar of the IAA and the fragment was read and dated by Prof. Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University.
Large Byzantine Wine Press found near Kibbutz Hafetz Haim
A massive industrial-size wine press has been found in the Nahal Sorek area, famous for its vineyards. The site is not far from Ashkelon and the wine may have been processed for export to Egypt, or even Italy, according to Uzi Ad of the IAA, in charge of the excavation.
The installation is a sophisticated one, including an octagonal mosaic-paved treading floor leading to two holding vats and then, via stone strainer grids, to two collection vats. The whole system covers an area of more than 15m. square. The region is designated as agricultural land for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and it is hoped to preserve the remains within the new farmland.
City Wall in Jerusalem of the Solomonic period?
A massive wall, 70m. long and 6m. high was recently uncovered in the area between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple precinct by Dr. Elath Mazar, working with the IAA and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The remains of the wall include an inner gatehouse, a corner tower and portions of another major structure. Mazar claims that the remains are of the 10th century BCE and testify to a ruling monarch who was able to organize such major construction, her reference to the elusive king Solomon. The gatehouse is of the standard four-chambered type. The adjacent structure is dated by pottery to the 10th century BCE and contained a number of large storage jars, one of them inscribed to a court official. There was also found a number of “lemelekh” jar handles, which suggests that some of the work may belong to the later period of the seventh or eighth century BCE. This is a most important discovery but confirmation of dating must await further excavation and evaluation.
National Heritage Plan 2010
At the end of February the Israeli Government issued a list of one hundred and fifty sites of national historical importance which will receive funding to help preserve and maintain their important status and facilitate public access without damage to the remains. The sites include the “trans-Israel footpath” that extends from Metulla to Elath, but is mainly concentrated on archaeological locations such as Masada and modern historical sites like Tel Hai. Although the Heritage Plan is largely non-controversial, and has been welcomed by all the usual site preservation agencies, as allocating Government funds to their upkeep, two sites have raised criticism from the Palestinian Authority. They are the Cave of the Patriarchs (Qever haMakhpelah) in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem. Both sites are in the area that may become part of the future Palestinian State and opposition to the designation has been strongly voiced by the Palestinian Authority, though the Plan is one for preservation only of the national heritage sites and there is no question of annexation.
W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem