Report from Jerusalem #55, 14th November 2013

James Ossuary and Yehoash Tablet to be Returned

Last year we saw the trial of Oded Golan and others on the charge that they had forged the inscription on the James “brother of Jesus” ossuary and a tablet that purported to be a text of King Yehoash repairing the Temple. The charge was brought by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and was finally dismissed by the court. However the IAA claimed that the IAA should be allowed to retain the items, but it has now been decided by the Supreme Court, on appeal, that both the Yehoash Tablet and the Ossuary shall be returned to their original owner, Oded Golan, who claims that he will now put both items on public display. Although the court found in favour of Golan, the provenance of the items is still in doubt, and the whole case is an ignominious defeat for the IAA and a blow against those that are trying to stop the illegal trade in archaeological artifacts.

Desecration of Graves in the Syrian Conflict

It has been reported by an Iranian news agency that ancient Jewish mausolea have been destroyed in the historical city of Tedef-al-Yahud, some 30 km. east of Aleppo, by terrorists belonging to the al-Nusra Front, backed by al-Qaida. There is supposed to be a tomb ascribed to Ezra Hasopher (the scribe) in the town but there is no mention as to whether that has been affected.

Serious Dig for School Kids

The University of Haifa is organising a professional excavation at Tel Esur, the site of an ancient fortress south of Haifa on the coast, with the help of 150 local children and 20 staff members. The children come from four different schools, Arab as well as Jewish, and spend three weeks on site, supervised by Shay Bar, an archaeologist of the Iron and Bronze Age periods, based on an initial survey conducted by Adam Zertal, the Haifa professor of archaeology. Shay Bar says that children “open like a flower, they are flourishing” and some of them are making significant finds, including a tiny Egyptian scarab of the 13th century BCE, depicting the god Amun with two other figures, uncovered by a 13-year old Arab girl. For the archaeologists the progress on site is painfully slow, as they show the kids how to work and record their findings but, they say, “it’s a project of the community and for the community, and for the education of the children of the community”, which makes it all worthwhile.

Ancient Tablet of Vengeance Found in Jerusalem

In a structure of the third century CE, destroyed by an earthquake in the fourth, was found a small rolled-up lead tablet containing the curse, originally in Greek, “I strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys”  made by a certain Kyrilla, presumably against her legal opponent, according to Dr. Robert Daniel of University of Cologne, who deciphered it. He thinks she might have used the declaration while striking an image of her opponent in a kind of magical ritual, and that it was probably written by a hired sorcerer.

The excavators, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, working on behalf of the IAA, found the tablet inside the building on the old Givati car park opposite the City of David site in Jerusalem, and conjecture that it was hidden there before the earthquake by Kyrilla to work its potent magic on her opponent.

The ‘Book of Books’ Exhibition

This exhibition of Bibles has recently opened at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. It is an amazing collection of dozens of valuable Bible texts, ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to 19th century translations into Chinese and Japanese. The range is enormous and includes, amongst many others, the King James Bible of 1611, the Manuel of Discipline and the Habakuk Pesher (in facsimile) from Qumran and fragments of the 3rd century BCE Septuagint. There are early coins of Biblical subjects and a complete model of the 15th century Gutenberg press, with a young man in attendance who will demonstrate how Gutenberg produced a lead plate, inked it and then printed it onto fine paper with a strong pull on the timber press. Gutenberg printed his work in columns of 42 lines, in accordance with the Sifrei Torah that he examined, and whose format he was loath to change. The exhibition will be in Jerusalem until May 24th 2014 and will then go to the Vatican before being moved permanently to Washington DC.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #54, 7th October 2013

Assyrian Period Finds at Ashdod-Yam

A small number of trial digs were conducted at Ashdod-Yam in the 1960s, which demonstrated the antiquity of the port but it is only this year that excavations were resumed, this time under the direction of Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv Archaeology Department. The expedition has uncovered a fortification system of the port dating to the 8th century BCE, the period of the Assyrian occupation, as well as much later evidence of the Hellenistic period of the 2nd century BCE, after the time that Alexander the Great was making his way down this coast to Egypt. The excavators found remains of a building of that period with Hellenistic coins and weights. This has been just the first season of the excavations and more finds are expected.

Jerusalem, Pottery Fragments from Before 586 BCE

Fragments of pottery that can be dated to the reign of Zedekiah, the Judaean client king appointed by the Babylonians in 597 BCE, have been uncovered at the City of David excavation conducted by Dr. Joe Uziel and Nahshon Zanton for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).  The fragments include small figureheads, lamps with single and multiple spouts, inscribed handles and above all a bowl fragment with an incomplete inscription in paleo-Hebrew lettering, which reads as “….ryah bn bnh….”.  The excavators point out the similarity with the name Zechariah ben Benayah, the father of the prophet Jahaziel (2 Chron.20:14) who advised King Jehoshaphat (870-845 BCE) about going to war against Ammon and Moab. They also point out that the inscription was written on the bowl before firing, and thus was not just something written on it as a sherd, and so it might imply possible ownership of the bowl.

Nimrud Fortress, 13th Century Lion Relief

Qa’alat Nimrod is a 12th and 13th century fortress in the upper Galilee and one of the finest castles in Israel. Mark Twain, who found Jerusalem to be a dirty and unpleasant city, praised Nimrod Castle as one of the finest monuments of the Holy Land. It looks like a Crusader castle but is in fact an Ayyubid and Mamluk foundation built to protect the road from the coast to Damascus against the Crusaders, It was strengthened and reconstructed by the Mamluk sultan Baybars in about 1270 CE. Today it stands prominently in a National Park where recently a large lion relief was found and identified by Dr. Moshe Hartal of the IAA.  The lion was the royal symbol of the sultan Baybars and the stone carving is over one metre long. It is a rare and monumental piece that probably came from the castle, and is the second one of a lion to be found in this area in the last fifteen years.

Gold Cache found near Temple Mount

The gold items were found just about 50m south of the Temple Mount in the Ophel excavations conducted by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University over the last four years. The extraordinary find consisted of 36 gold coins, a pair of gold earrings, a silver ingot and a large 10cm. gold medallion, on a short chain, depicting a seven-branch menorah, a shofar and a scroll, which Mazar thought might have adorned a Torah scroll. The artefacts were found in two locations, one hidden below floor level and the other hastily scattered above the floor, as if left in a hurry. Both are dated by the excavator back to 614 CE, when there was a short invasion of Jerusalem by the Persians to 629 CE. Dr. Mazar thinks that the hoard was destined as a contribution to a synagogue to be built near the site and abandoned at the threat of the Persian invasion, and later never retrieved by the owners. The gold coins have been dated by Lior Sandberg, of the Tel Aviv Institute of Archaeology, to a series of Byzantine rulers dating from the 4th to the early 7th centuries CE. After preparation, it is intended to exhibit the artefacts worldwide before placing them for public display in the Israel Museum.

Award to Prof. David Ussishkin

The Percia Schimmel Prize for 2013 will be awarded to Prof. David Ussishkin at the Israel Museum on 4th February 2014. It is given for Distinguished Contribution to Archaeology in Eretz Israel and the Lands of the Bible. David Ussishkin is retired professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and directed the excavations at Lachish for many years from the 1980s. He has recently published the five definitive volumes of that expedition and is at present co-director with Israel Finkelstein of the renewed Megiddo excavations. He has been a frequent and popular lecturer to the AIAS in London.

Correction to Report No. 53

In connection with the Crusader hospital, Report no.53  stated that “Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1291”. This was wrong, the date should have been 1187. It was the Mamluks who defeated the second wave of Crusaders at Akko (Acre) in 1291. My apologies and thanks to John Bartlett for pointing out my mistake.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Report from Jerusalem #53, 12th August 2013

Syrian Civil War Damage

Due to the ongoing disturbances, it is reported that the famous 12th century Crusader castle, the Crac des Chevaliers, has suffered severe damage. The castle is located on a hill outside the city of Homs, where the rebels have been using it as a stronghold and base for their snipers. In their attempt to regain control of Homs, the castle was bombed by Government forces and suffered a direct hit which destroyed some of the internal fortifications. In the past the Crac des Chevaliers has been a great tourist attraction.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, and King David’s Palace?

On 17th July Prof. Yossi Garfinkel of Hebrew University organized a tour of the site at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley, south of Beth Shemesh, where he has been digging for the last five seasons.  He announced that his work here was now complete and that he would be moving his team to Lachish for the next season to re-examine its early strata. During a festive site dinner for the occasion, he also announced that he had found the remains of a luxurious mansion and large storage facility that he designated as King David’s palace on the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which he has identified as biblical Sha’arayim, because of its two gates. Garfinkel claims that the presence of a well-planned city with a royal palace of the time of the 10th and 11th century BCE., as dated by C-14 analysis, is evidence of state organization under a central authority and administration during the early years of the Judean monarchy. In his opinion the archaeological evidence thus underpins the Biblical account, but this is not a view accepted by other scholars. The site excavations will be preserved and the area will shortly be laid out as a national park, making it easily accessible to visitors.

Tell Es-Safi, The Philistine Gath

After seventeen years of excavation, the archaeologists of Bar-Ilan University, under the direction of Prof. Aren Maeir, demonstrated to the press the various stages of the development of Tell es-Safi, one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis, which lies in the plain inland from Ashkelon. Evidence is now clear of its various destructions and redevelopments from the 17th to the 9th centuries BCE.  Heavy destruction occurred under Hazael of Damascus in about 830 BCE, and then the rebuilt houses show evidence of sliding off their foundations, which the archaeologists attribute to the earthquake of 760 BCE, mentioned in the Book of Amos (1:1). The mudbrick houses somehow survived and evidence of extensive burning relates to the later destruction by the Assyrian Emperor Sennacherib on his way to assault Jerusalem in 701 BCE.

The Bar-Ilan archaeologists will shortly be able to use the latest on-site equipment, as they expect to receive an X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometer (XRS) for use together with their Fourier Transform IR Spectrometer (FTIR), equipment that is usually confined to the laboratory and which will now be available for use on site. This will allow microscopic samples to be analysed on site, said Maier, which will save having to send them away for analysis, and so save valuable time and give the site the information it requires on the spot. It will allow for evidence to be gathered in the field, which previously had to wait for long periods to be processed in off-site laboratories.  The equipment has been donated by the university president, Prof. Moshe Kaveh, who had recently visited the site with his grandchildren and was impressed by their keen interest.

Ancient Oil Press in Jerusalem

In an emergency salvage dig before foundations were constructed for the dormitory of the Jerusalem College of Technology, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has uncovered an ancient olive press, consisting of a large collection vat, a stone bowl and a stone wheel, all within a karst (limestone) cave.

No date has been given but the IAA said that the existence of the ancient press, and another similar one found in the area a few years ago, is evidence of a thriving early olive-oil industry in the Bet Hakerem area of west Jerusalem. The discovery will enable the College and the IAA to retain the finds in situ to demonstrate the workings of an ancient oil press, which forms part of the history of technology.

Matching Geniza Fragments Online

Computer scientists have devised an online system to record disparate fragments from the Cairo Geniza, that are held by different museums and individuals, and enable them to be matched and put together without having to travel to the various locations where they are held. The system has been devised by Prof. Ya’acov Choueka of the Friedberg Geniza Project of Tel Aviv University, who has, with a team of programmers, digitized 360,000 fragments that are looking for a match. The images come from 60 collections all over the world and the system was recently unveiled at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University last month. The project is still looking for another 300,000 fragments from museum libraries in Western Europe, Russia and some private collections. Individuals will be able to access the system at www.geniza.org

Village of Shikhin in Galilee

A joint expedition of the Kinneret College, Samford University and Kentucky Christian University, co-directed by Dr. Motty Aviam of Kinneret, has recently uncovered the village of Shikhin in the Galilee near to Tzippori (Sepphoris), the latter was the capital of the Galilee at one time. The village is mentioned by Josephus Flavius and in the Talmud as a village of many potters in the first century CE. The site has evidence of the remains of an early synagogue and considerable pottery works, including moulds for oil lamps, which are rare in a village. The excavation is important, according to Aviam, as it fills in a gap in the history of the Galilee between the First Temple and the Hasmonean periods, when there has been little evidence of its inhabitants. The proximity of the village to the former capital is also important as it will demonstrate how the local population lived in the rural areas in relation to the centre, and the expedition is keen to uncover more of the material culture that will demonstrate how the rural population lived.

Crusader Period Hospital in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they had discovered part of the original hospital that stood in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, called the Muristan, which is a Persian word meaning hospital. The area was named for the Knights of St. John Hospitallers who occupied it after they were evacuated from the El Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, and now the site of the hospital has been found. The original building covered an area of 1.5 hectares (nearly 4 acres) but only one section remains on a site owned by the Wakf (Islamic Religious Authority) and to be developed as a restaurant by the Grand Bazaar Company of East Jerusalem. The exposed section is characterized by large pillars and gothic vaults spanning six metres (20 ft) and would have been surrounded by smaller halls. The IAA team, led by Amit Re’em and Renee Forestany, said that they identified the large hall from work done by Conrad Schick before 1900, who had mapped out its ruins from documents of the period in Latin and French. Re’em claimed that the hospital had been divided into several departments and could have accommodated up to two thousand patients in an emergency.

The Crusader staff had worked with Arab colleagues, whose knowledge of medical matters was far in advance of that of their Christian colleagues at this time. Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1291, had renovated the hospital and allowed several Crusader monks and nuns to remain there to serve the local people. The existing hall is not open to visitors, but will now be renovated as part of the new restaurant, whose clients will be able to appreciate and absorb its medieval atmosphere together with its gastronomic delights.

Samaritan Byzantine Occupation by Appolonia

In advance of the northern development of Herzliya, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Oren Tal, and the IAA, led by Moshe Ajami, are examining a number of refuse pits that were the town dumps of an extensive Samaritan settlement, just south of ancient coastal Apollonia-Arsuf, of the late Byzantine period. The main pit so far excavated has thrown up 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, and gold and silver jewelry that includes an octagonal ring, inscribed with the Hebrew name of God on the outside of each of the eight sides. Some of the lamps were still sealed and unused and the excavators are intrigued by the fact that much of the refuse had been dumped before use. They speculate that there may have been some cultic reason for the Samaritans to discard unused material. They said that the community was a large one and that the octagonal ring was evidence of a high level of religious observance during the period of the sixth century. Investigation of the material continues and it is the intention of the IAA to clear all the findings from the site so that development of the area can proceed. [Evidence that the occupation was substantially Samaritan has not yet been made clear, but should be forthcoming when the coins are examined further, ed.].

 Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #52, 18th July 2013

Faces From the Bible?

Every few weeks, Simcha Jacobovici broadcasts a programme entitled the ‘Naked Archaeologist’ on Israel TV. He scours archaeological sites to bring sensational results to the viewers, uses material provided by professional scholars, and brings together different artifacts to try and explain problems of the early history of Israel. His programmes are not recognized as serious by professional archaeologists but they are attractive to laymen and sometimes bring unusual content to the public. One of his latest works was to try and recreate the faces of Biblical characters by using the work of professional forensic artists on skulls dug up from known contexts and with known dates. In his latest programme he displays the face of a beautiful lady whom he equates with Delilah, based on the skull of a Philistine female from the time of Samson; a male from the turn-of-the era Galilee, whom he claims may have seen Jesus; and a baby whose remains were found in a Canaanite jar burial, possible evidence of infant sacrifice. Jacobovici, an Israeli-Canadian, says that his illustration of these figures helps viewers to understand better the Biblical contexts from which they come. This is hardly serious archaeology but his programmes do give some shaky substance to the accounts in the Bible. They are condemned by most serious scholars but one has to recognise that the public appreciates them.

Jerusalem Cistern with Remains of Cooking Pots

Near Robinson’s arch by the Western Wall of the Temple, Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has uncovered a small underground cistern with the unusual content of two cooking pots and a small oil lamp, dated to the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. He claims that this is evidence that the eating of meals took place in the cistern, where it would be hidden from view by others. It would thus illustrate the fact, recorded by Josephus, that during the Siege the extreme scarcity of food forced the inhabitants to eat their precious produce in secret, so as to avoid it being stolen by the rebels and partisans. He recorded that the people ate their meals shut up in “the darkest corners of their houses” and Shukron believes that the finding of two cooking pots in this small cistern is evidence of such extreme practice.

Roman Period Roadway in Northern Jerusalem

In the course of a salvage dig prior to the laying of a drainage pipe in Beit Hanina, a village just north of the Jerusalem city border, the IAA has uncovered the remains of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jaffa. The roadway was 8m. wide and laid with large level paving slabs, that showed evidence of heavy wear by pedestrians.  It is the best preserved section of Roman roadway in the Jerusalem area, according to David Yeger, the dig director.

The section uncovered was part of the road that ran through Beit Horon (there was another parallel road further south) and was still in use during the Talmudic period.

Carmel Mountains Cave, Grave Flowers

The earliest ever evidence of flowers used at a graveside was found at the Rakefet Cave on Mount Carmel, dating to the Natufian period between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago. The expedition, headed by Dani Nadel of Haifa University, uncovered 29 human skeletons and in some of the tombs they found the marks of flowers pressed onto the rock surface. Nadel claims that they have been able to identify the floral species in at least two of the plants, but gave no details.

Egyptian Sphinx at Hazor

During the ongoing excavations at Hazor, in northern Israel, the fore section of a royal sphinx has been uncovered. The large fragment is the front part of the sculpture, showing no head but the two front paws with, luckily, an inscription between them indicating that this was the image of Pharaoh Menkauree, also known as Mycerinus (2532-2504 BCE), whose name  is associated with the small one of the three Giza pyramids. The co-directors of the excavation, Prof. Amnon ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, say that it is the only known sphinx of this Pharaoh ever discovered. The whole unbroken body would have been about 1.5 m. long and they think it was sent to Hazor in the 14th century BCE in the Amarna period, as some kind of goodwill gesture, at a time when Egypt held hegemony over the area.

Inscribed Canaanite Pottery Shard, Jerusalem

In what is claimed as the earliest-ever inscribed shard found in Jerusalem, an early Canaanite line of text of the tenth century BCE has been found on the broken piece of a neckless pithos or jar, recently unearthed in a dig by the southern wall of the Temple Mount, The excavators think that the short one-line text, as yet undeciphered, gives the name of the jar’s owner or its contents. Watch this space.                          

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem 

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