Report from Jerusalem #51, 18th June 2013

UNESCO Delegation to Jerusalem Old City

At the end of May a delegation of UNESCO professionals arrived in Jerusalem to inspect new works and renovations in the Old City, which became a World Heritage site in 1981, but was also on the list of endangered sites. It was last inspected in 2004 and the current mission was to check the general state of preservation of the interior and particularly the walls, which had recently been renovated under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The UNESCO report was to be presented and then discussed in June in Paris, when Israel wanted to negotiate the replacement of the Mugrabi Gate access, where a bridge is planned, but that had been strongly opposed by the Arab administration, the Waqf. Unfortunately Israel called off the tour of inspection at the last minute because the Palestinians had, they said, “politicised” the inspection, when the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah claimed in public that “the visit of the UNESCO Mission is a preface for the victory of Palestinian and Arab diplomacy”. The Israeli side saw this as an attempt to politicise the inspection that was planned to be purely professional. It is hoped that the cancellation is only temporary and that the inspection, which was to cover six mosques, six churches and six synagogues, will be rescheduled to a later date.

Oldest Known Torah Scroll Found at Bologna, Italy

It was recently announced that Prof. Mauro Perani had discovered that a Torah scroll held in the library of the University of Bologna had been wrongly ascribed to the seventeenth century. It was really to be dated to between 1155 and 1225 said Perani, basing himself on the features of the script and format, and supported by two C14 tests. If all this is correct, the scroll would be the earliest complete Torah scroll (Sefer Torah) known to date. According to a photograph, the writing on the scroll is very clear and the parchment colour has only slightly darkened. The University reported that the scroll was probably acquired in the nineteenth century after Napoleon’s suppression of the local monasteries.

Mameluke Hostelry in Cana of Galilee

Work has recently been carried out on an extensive salvage dig at Kfar Kanna in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The plot, with an area of about four dunams (nearly two acres), belongs to the Custodia Terrae Sanctae (Franciscan Order) and is located near to the Wedding Churches that commemorate Jesus’s first miracle of the water turned to wine at the Jewish wedding in Cana (Kfar Kanna). The excavation conducted by the IAA, under the direction of Yardenna Alexandre, uncovered a complex of five rooms built of stone walls on two sides of an extensive open courtyard. The rooms were roofed with short local timbers supported on stone arches, which were found in a collapsed state on the floors. The site is on a gentle rock slope to the west and rainwater was drained into a reservoir or cistern that served the residents. The abundant pottery remains and a few coins date the building to the Mameluke period, and the large quantities of animal bones on the site, together with a mass of culinary and dining vessels, suggest that the major activity was the preparation and consumption of meat meals.

The presence of imported vessels hints at foreign connections and this combination of the finds points to the possible identity of Christian pilgrims coming to the site of the miracle in the Mameluke and early Ottoman periods (15th to 16th centuries). Digging below the surface exposed limited earlier remains of the Roman and possibly Byzantine periods. After recording, the owners plan to construct a school and community centre on the site.

Computer Advance in Geniza Research

A team of computer scientists from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, led by Prof. Ya’akov Choueka of the Friedberg Genizah project, is piecing together all the disparate fragments of the Cairo Genizah. Their work is enabling variously-held fragments to be pieced together in a matter of weeks, rather than the years needed for more traditional methods, which required scholars to travel to the different locations. Choueka claims that his team are reconstructing “the original Genizah” and the information is being posted on-line here. for viewing by the public as well as scholars. The results of the project will be presented to the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem from July 28th to August 1st this year.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem, #23, June 2010

Medieval aqueduct in Jerusalem

An aqueduct from the Ottoman period was uncovered at the north end of the Sultan’s Pool just west of the Old City walls. It can be dated to 1320 CE and was carried on nine arches, two of which have been found, across the valley. This was part of a much earlier system that brought water from Solomon’s Pool at Bethlehem to inner Jerusalem. The Ottoman rulers reused and rebuilt part of the ancient aqueduct and later converted it to a metal pipeline. The archaeologists knew of its existence from 19th century photographs but the arches did not come to light until repairs were made recently to the present water supply. The early photograph showed an inscription dating to 1320, dedicated to Sultan Nassar al-Din Muhammad Ibn Qalawun, according to Yehiel Zelinger, who led the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The findings will be preserved in the redevelopment of the Sultan’s Pool area, south-west of the Jaffa Gate.

Graves in Ashkelon

We have mentioned previously that work to the Barzilai Hospital emergency underground shelter facility was held up due to the location of graves on the site. After a lengthy period of Government indecision, the work is now going ahead, and the IAA have been authorized to excavate the bones, which are considered to be of pagan origin, although this is disputed by some orthodox protesters. The bones will be carefully collected and handed over to the Religious Ministry for safekeeping. During his work on the site, Dr. Yigal Israel, of the IAA, uncovered a drum-shaped base with carved garlands that is considered to have been a Roman altar, which further underlines the pagan nature of the cemetery, that would have served Hellenistic Ashkelon.

Middle Bronze Age cultic artifacts found in Yoqne’am

In an emergency dig by the IAA before the laying of a natural gas pipeline in the north, a cache of over 100 artifacts was uncovered in a rock hollow along the route. According to director Edwin van den Brink of the IAA, some of the small vessels, containing liquids and dated to 3,500 years ago, came from Cyprus and Mycene (Greece). The items were probably buried after going out of use, indicating that they had served a cultic function associated with a nearby shrine, and were not just to be destroyed but had to be buried. The site lies at the foot of the Tel at Yoqne’am, in the Yezri’el Valley, and the IAA has agreed to exhibit the artifacts later in the year.

MBA Tombs in Nazareth

After considerable work on a site in central Nazareth, due to be developed as an hotel and shopping mall, bones were uncovered and a halt was called to the work, for fear of demonstrations by religious groups. However the work was reorganized to be completed in just one long day, as was done recently, under the direction of Yardenna Alexandre (nee Rosenberg) of the IAA. The excavation went to a depth of 10 metres and exposed four MBA shaft tombs, one of a warrior buried with his weapons, and one that had been reused in the Iron Age. Full details are not yet available.

18th Anniversary of the Bible Lands Museum

This Museum, which stands opposite the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, has been celebrating its 18 years of existence with anniversary lectures and a special exhibition named Angels and Demons. The exhibition is devoted to Jewish magic through the ages and the catalogue contains learned articles, including one by Prof. Mark Geller of University College, London. The opening Ceremony was addressed by Sir John Boardman, of Oxford, who lectured on ‘Greeks going East’. From this one can see that the Museum, which was founded by the late Dr. Elie Borowski in 1992, and is directed by his widow Batya, has now become a respectable centre of learning and excellence and we have come to appreciate the wonderful range of artifacts and the scholarship that has accompanied their display. There are some excellent models and it is a great resource for teaching schoolchildren.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem, #18, November 2009

Vandalism at Nabatean Avdat

Since the vandalism of the Nabatean site at Avdat, which I mentioned in the last Report, two Bedouins have been arrested. One of them was the sole guard on the site and both of the men have denied responsibility. The State has great difficulty in dealing with the Bedouins, who are often of no fixed abode and live by a culture different from that of the majority of the population. Many of them serve in the army and perform valuable services, particularly as guides and trackers in the Negev. However the damage to the archaeological site was criminal and comprehensive and will no doubt be punished accordingly.

Roman mosaic from Lod

The remarkable 1,700 year old mosaic of Lod, which was also mentioned in a previous Report, has been moved to the Israel Museum for essential preservation work. When the plaster base was uncovered, the restoration team looked for the original guide lines that outlined the placing of the tesserae. To their surprise they also found the imprint of several feet and sandals of the original artists. Jacques Neguer of the IAA Conservation Department, described them as having been made by sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44 sandals. The mosaic will be fully restored and the footprints will be removed and exhibited separately at the new Mosaic Archaeological Centre in Lod.

New exhibit at the Davidson Centre, Jerusalem

A new exhibition at the Davidson Centre by the Temple Mount in Jerusalem opened on November 11th. It is organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and will show the latest finds from the area, including the sarcophagus lid inscribed with the words “Ben Hacohen Hagadol” and many coins of the Roman and Jewish mints of the Great Revolt period of 66-70 CE. There will also be a model of the city during Second Temple times. Many of the exhibits come from very recent digs, by Prof. Ronnie Reich and others, but some go back to the excavations headed by Prof. Benjamin Mazar in the 1970s.

New book discusses the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif

Although we do no want to get involved in the political scene, you will know that arguments about the Jewish presence (or non-presence) on the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount continue to rage. It was therefore very heartening that a new volume on the subject was recently launched at the Ecole Biblique in East Jerusalem, called “WHERE HEAVEN AND EARTH MEET: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade”. It gives a detail outline of the site’s history and is the result of three years’ work and discussion by 22 scholars from the Moslem, Christian and Jewish academies and faiths, and it is a remarkable demonstration of the respect that exists between their separate worlds and literatures.

New discoveries from Acre

In a rescue dig last month in Acre, just north of the City wall, a hoard of broken marble items was uncovered. They date to the 13th century Crusader period and were found in a sealed cellar that contained 350 pieces, including a stone cross and broken tombstones. Dr. Edna Stern, who conducted the dig on behalf of the IAA, said this was a unique find for the period and demonstrated the high quality of the work being undertaken by the Crusaders in their local capital. Crusader Acre fell to the Mameluks in 1291, presumably before the hoarder of these precious fragments, some of which may have been imported, was able to use them in local building work.

Also at Acre, experts from 16 countries met this month for the second UNESCO World Heritage workshop on “Disaster Risk Reduction to Cultural Heritage Sites”. The first such meeting had been held in Olympia, Greece, in 2008. Areas of collaboration were identified, particularly between Israel and Jordan, and especially in the field of dangers from earthquakes, where the work being done by Israel at Masada can be applied to similar sites at Petra in Jordan, both being subject to such dangers in the Rift Valley around the Jordan basin. The focus of the papers was to identify the dangers and take preventative measures before disaster struck, and to pressurize governments into finding the necessary funds. An International Conservation Centre is being set up by Israel in the Old City of Acre to establish training in the conservation of these valuable Heritage sites all around the world.

Stephen G. Rosenberg
Albright Institute, Jerusalem