Demonstrations over Graves in Jaffa
Problems continue with the ultra-orthodox trying to prevent the digging up of human remains for development and archaeological research. The latest incident has centred on the Andromeda Hill site in Jaffa, where 150 skeletons have been uncovered during archaeological digs that have been going on for some time before the building of the “Eden Hotel” luxury project. The digs were proceeding over the last year, and have also uncovered many pig bones among the human remains which, in the view of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), indicated that the burials were of a pagan nature and would not be of interest to the “Atra Kadisha”, the ultra-orthodox Jewish movement.
It seems that previous excavations in the area in 1993-1994 turned up a jar containing a foetus burial that was dated to c.1900 BCE. In the view of the IAA that find was conclusive evidence of the pagan nature of the area’s population.
Last June protests were held, both near the site and in Manhattan near the home of the US developer, and in late March of this year, hundreds of followers of the Atra Kadisha movement held a mock funeral for the remains. Whenever human bones of any nature are uncovered by the IAA, they are treated reverentially and handed to the relevant funeral authorities after examination, and very rarely retained for further research.
Return of ancient Christian artifacts demanded by Jordan
The story goes that a Bedouin farmer found a cache of small metal plates, bound by leaden rings, formed into codices, about 70 in number, in Northern Jordan between 2005 and 2007, and had them smuggled into Israel for sale. Another Bedouin, Hassan Saeda, living in Northern Israel, is holding them and claims that they are his family heirloom. It is said that Israeli archaeologists, (having been contacted by Saeda, who has been trying to sell the artifacts), say that the pieces are forgeries.
The Jordanian authorities however claim that the codices or miniature books are extremely important and of significance equal to that of the Dead Sea scrolls, but so far the IAA have declined to comment, having no detailed knowledge of them. Nevertheless David Ellington, a British historian of Christianity, is said to have told the BBC that the codices are a major discovery of Christian History and that he hoped to have them moved to Jordan for examination. The codices are in Hebrew and Greek but written in a code so far undeciphered, though the language is clear.
It seems that a report on the matter was printed in the Daily Telegraph recently, and there has been much speculation about them on the internet, so readers in the UK may have more knowledge of this matter, as all details on the subject are very scanty in Israel, and no-one seems to have seen the pieces, which may well seem surprising if they really are so important.
Jacobovici discovers “Nails of the Cross”
Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian-Israeli maker of popular films on Biblical Archaeology, hit the headlines in mid-April by announcing that he had retrieved two Roman nails from the IAA storerooms and that they were the nails of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. He said that the nails had come from the ossuary of Caiaphas, the High Priest who had handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities. The ossuary had been reported by the IAA but no details of the nails had been given or even recorded and Jacobovici was of the opinion that they were very significant, claiming that they had been buried with the remains of Caiaphas to indicate his guilt in arresting and reporting Jesus to the Romans.
Jacobovici has made films on the Death of Jesus and on the Exodus, and Israeli archaeologists have said that although his latest claims make good TV, they do not make good history.
The Kenyon Institute. formerly the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem
In recent years the name of the British School has been changed to the Kenyon Institute to give it a more modern title and yet retain its prime connection to the archaeology of the Holy Land, in honour of Kathleen Kenyon, the great British archaeologist. It is housed in an attractive older building in the Sheikh Jarrah district of northern Jerusalem and houses an extensive archaeological library, two lecture rooms and a convenient hostel for the use of visiting scholars. It has for years been sponsoring lectures and even digs on archaeology and in September 2007 gave room to a one-day conference on “British Groundbreakers in the Archaeology of the Holy Land”, which was organized by this society, the AIAS, and was addressed by scholars from Israel, Palestine and Jordan, while the UK was represented by several speakers from the PEF.
Funding for the Institute comes mainly from the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), and the Institute is administered by the British School in Amman, Jordan, but has its own local director and staff. There were a number of recent changes in the directorship and the present acting director is Omar Shweiki.
The Institute has not been very active in the recent past but has now started a series of three lectures entitled “The Modern Middle East”, which centres on the recent revolutions in the Arab world, commonly called “the Arab Spring”.
This trend in lectures suggests that the Institute is turning to the study of current affairs, which the AIAS and the archaeological community in general, would find unfortunate if it implied any move away from the original speciality in archaeology.
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg –W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem