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

Public Lecture: Prof. Amichai Mazar, Archaeology in Israel: Achievements and the Current State of Research

Monday 27th June 2011

PROF AMI MAZAR (Hebrew University Jerusalem)


Prof. Amichai Mazar
Prof. Amichai Mazar

The lecture will survey developments in Israeli archaeological research over the past fifty years. From its modest beginnings during the 1920s, when research subjects were mainly related to Jewish antiquities from the Roman and Byzantine periods, Israeli archaeology has developed immensely in recent decades. Five university departments of archaeology, and the dynamic Israel Antiquities Authority, annually carry out hundreds of surveys, excavations and other archaeological studies. New approaches to studying the past incorporate major developments in archaeological science and the expertise of colleagues with a variety of specialist skills. The integration into archaeology of the social and exact sciences, and new approaches to understanding the relationship between texts and material culture, have opened up new avenues for understanding and interpreting aspects of past cultures in the land of Israel.

The lecture will present examples of achievements over the past fifty years, indicating those debates which remain open and those for which a solution can now be suggested.

Professor Mazar, who has been Vice-Chairman of the Society since 1997, has been a lecturer and professor at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University since 1980; in 2010 he became Professor Emeritus. His main fields of research are the archaeology of the Levant in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the relationship between archaeology and Old Testament history. He has directed archaeological excavations at Tell Qasile, Tel Batash (biblical Timnah), Tel Beth Shean, Tel Rehov and various smaller scale sites. Author of Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (New York 1990), he has written or edited eight volumes of archaeological reports and numerous research papers in biblical archaeology. He was Chairman of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1995-1998) and editor of Qadmoniot (1994-1995), and he has been co-editor of the Israel Exploration Journal since 2010. In 2009 he was awarded the Israel Prize for archaeological research.