Report from Jerusalem #43, 28th June 2012

Boundary Stone at Gezer

Another boundary stone has recently been found at Tel Gezer, 30 km. west of Jerusalem. So far 13 such markers have been found with the words “Tehum Gezer” inscribed in Hebrew, but this latest one has a line across the middle with Tehum Gezer on one side of the line and the name Archelaus, in Greek, on the other side. Presumably this was the name of the adjoining owner. The stone is dated to the Seleucid- Maccabean period of the late second century BCE and was uncovered during the survey of greater Gezer carried out by the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of the U.S.A. under the direction of Eric Mitchell. The water system is being excavated by a joint Israel Parks Authority (Tsvika Tsuk) and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Dan Warner, Jim Parker, Dennis Cole) team. Their work will include clearing the underground tunnel to the water source that was located by the original excavation under R.A.S. Macalister in 1902-1909. It is planned to open it to visitors when access to the source has been made secure.

Gold and Silver Hoard at Kiryat-Gath

A cache of 140 coins and jewellery, wrapped in a disintegrating cloth, has been found  in a pit within a villa courtyard in Kiryat-Gath, 50 km. south-west of Jerusalem, during an emergency rescue dig before proposed building extensions. The work exposed a small village of the Second Temple period and later Byzantine ruins.  Emil Aladjem, director of the dig for the IAA, thinks the treasure may have been hidden by a wealthy woman fleeing from the Romans during the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE. Besides the coins there was an earring in the form of a bunch of grapes, a ring with a precious stone inscribed with the seal of a goddess, and two silver sticks for applying cosmetics. The rare gold coins are connected to the reigns of the emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan and datable to between 54 and 117 CE. The hoard has been sent to the laboratories of the IAA for cleaning and preservation before being shown to the public.

Exhibition of Gold Artefacts at the Bible Lands Museum

In commemoration of its 20th anniversary, the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is showing a comprehensive display of ancient gold items from its own collection and those of one or two other collectors. The pieces are carefully presented in more than 50 glass showcases and are arranged in groups stemming from Egypt, the Levant, Greece and Rome, Mesopotamia and Iran, Etruria, the Black Sea region and also China and the Far East. Most of the items are fibulae, rings and earrings but there are also one or two small inscriptions on gold plate and a fine gold lion-headed rhyton. At its opening in 1992, the Bible Lands Museum was ostracized by scholars and archaeologists as nearly all the exhibits come from the market, having been bought by the founder Dr. Elie Borowski, and are of doubtful provenance.

However the collection is so important and comprehensive that the Museum has become recognized as a valuable resource, and the collection is now acknowledged by scholars and researchers. It hosts tours and workshops for school children who can appreciate its excellent models of ancient Jerusalem, the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, the city of Babylon and individual buildings like the Persian Apadana audience hall at Susa and the ziggurat of Ur. There is also a good section on the development of the alphabet. The exhibition entitled “Pure Gold” remains open until April 2013.

Headquarters of the IAA on Museum Boulevard, Jerusalem

On a site next to the Bible Lands Museum and opposite the Israel Museum, work has now started on the superstructure of an ambitious new headquarters for the IAA, whose departments are at present scattered among many different locations. The new building will house the IAA library, one of the best archaeological ones in the world, all of the IAA offices, workshops, stores and laboratories, spaces for the Dead Sea manuscripts and fragments, a major exhibition gallery and of course a coffee shop. Work on the deep foundations is already complete and the superstructure will house all the facilities under one enormous suspended roof, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. Funding has come from many different donors, the chief among them being the Schottenstein Foundation. When completed in several years time, many of the departments will move from their present location in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, and it is hoped that this splendid building of the British Mandate period, will then be carefully renovated (including its beautiful central courtyard with plaques by Eric Gill), and that its exhibits will be upgraded to a more user-friendly format.

Ancient Arabic Manuscripts to be made Available Online

The Euromed Heritage-4 Organisation is planning to put on line thousands of Arabic documents, manuscripts and books from five major Arabic libraries, the Khalidi, the Budeiri, the Al-Aksa, the Al-Ansari and the Waqf Restoration Centre libraries, all of Jerusalem. Recently ceremonies were held in Jerusalem and Ramallah to inaugurate the Arabic Manuscripts Digital Library of Jerusalem, with the aim of promoting the written heritage of East Jerusalem and to make it accessible to all via an internet connection. The project is scheduled to take three years and has a budget of $2 million funded by Euromed Heritage. Some of the books and documents have already been digitized and will be available shortly. The service will be presented in a multi-lingual format and will be free of charge to viewers.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #42, 31st May 2012

First Temple Shrines at Khirbet Qeiyafa

The site, about 30km south-west of Jerusalem, continues to provide surprises. The excavator, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, recently announced that he had found in three rooms of the site model clay shrines with decorative openings. He dates the shrines to several years before the establishment of the First Temple and suggests that the features of their openings can explain one of the biblical terms used in connection with the Temple. The openings or doorways are formed by triple-rebated frames of a distinctive nature and Prof. Garfinkel suggests that this is the explanation of the obscure term “shequfim” that is related to the Temple windows (I Kings 6:4). Carbon dating by Oxford University on ten burned olive pits has dated the city to between 1020 and 980 BCE, when it was destroyed. However it was later rebuilt in the Hellenistic period, but the model shrines relate to the earlier city, in which there were found no graven images, and no pig bones among the many animal remains of sheep/goat and cattle. This leads Prof. Garfinkel to claim that this was an Israelite city of the time of David located in the valley of Elah, the border area with Philistia. However, the model shrines look as if they may have contained small figurines and so they can be interpreted as having been pagan shrines, but no figures were found and this idea is rejected by the excavator.

Ancient Rabbinic Tomb at Tzipori (Sepphoris)

Three years ago a farmer in the agricultural village of Moshav Tzipori came across a burial cave on his land with a carved stone door inscribed with the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, a Talmudic sage of the third century CE. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) became interested and conducted an excavation and removed the inscribed door. Mitch Pilcer, the farmer, objected but later the IAA filed charges against him for illegal excavation and damage to an ancient site and antiquities. The initial case came to court only recently, and has raised a lot of interest among the ultra-orthodox, who claim that the ancient rabbi may himself appear as a witness, in accordance with the legend that Rabbi Yehoshua’s soul ascended to heaven directly from his tomb, a gateway between heaven and earth. Pilcer is keen to have the door restored to its site but the IAA is adamant that they must retain it for safekeeping.

Early Gold Jewellery from Megiddo

According to the excavators, the most valuable cache of gold jewellery of the Biblical period has now been discovered at Megiddo. The cache is dated to pre Iron Age I and belonged to the Canaanite inhabitants. It was found in a clay vessel unearthed in 2010 but has only recently been fully cleaned and evaluated. It includes nine large gold earrings, a gold ring seal and over a thousand small beads of gold, silver and carnelian, a semi-precious stone. One of the earrings is in the shape of a basket holding an ostrich-like bird and shows Egyptian influence, according to Professors David Ussiskin, Israel Finkelstein and Eric Cline, leaders of the expedition. The jewels are being studied further at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Museum before being exhibited to the public in due course.

Clay Seal Confirms Status of Bethlehem

During careful sifting of dirt from the passage to the Temple Mount from Siloam Pool, a tiny clay bulla or seal was uncovered with three lines of inscription. The wording reads….” In the seventh…..Bat lehem….to the kin(g)”. According to the excavator, Eli Shukron, this will have been the seal of a tax receipt referring to a quantity of produce delivered to the king, who may have been Hezekiah or one of his predecessors or successors, the script dating it to the 8th century BCE, and it shows that Bethlehem was part of the Judaean kingdom. The information was conveniently released to the press just before the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost) when the book of Ruth, telling of the Moabite girl who came to the city of Bethlehem, is read in the synagogue.     

Mosaic Floor of Synagogue Vandalised

Extensive damage to the mosaic floor and walls of the synagogue of Hamat-Tiveryah (southern Tiberias) was discovered earlier this week. The damage included graffiti against the Director of the IAA, blaming him for desecrating ancient Jewish graves in the area. This has suggested that the perpetrators were ultra-orthodox elements. The Synagogue, of the 4th century CE and earlier, has fine mosaics with a central zodiac, representations of the Temple Ark and candelabra, and several donor inscriptions. The damage will be repaired but the work, according to the IAA and the National Parks Authority who administer the site, will cost millions of shekalim. Some areas of mosaic will have to be replaced by facsimiles based on photographs. The police will do everything possible to bring the vandals to justice.

Forgery Trial Lingers On

Although the seven-year-old forgery trial relating to the Yehoash tablet and the James, brother of Jesus ossuary ended recently, with the two defendants being found not guilty of forgery, the case is now continuing regarding the ownership of the two artefacts. The IAA is adamant that they should not be returned to the defendants, while the defendants claim possession, after having been found innocent of the original charges. One of the defendants, Oded Golan, was found guilty of the minor charge of dealing in antiquities without a licence, to which he has pleaded guilty, and has now been given a commuted prison sentence and fined 30,000 NIS (£5,000). The trial Judge Aharon Farkash has implied that he cannot easily resolve the conflicting ownership claims and may be forced to the “Solomonic” decision to have the two pieces destroyed. This has caused alarm amongst the experts, who were not able to agree on whether the pieces were fakes or not, but who nevertheless do not want to see them destroyed. The ossuary was found to be an original, though the inscription on it was queried, and the dark stone tablet is of great curiosity value, even if not genuine.  So the trial judge is back in the hot seat again.                              

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem