Report from Jerusalem, #12, April 2009

The Ancient Canaanite gate at Tel Dan has been extensively restored by the National Parks Authority of Israel. It was reopened to the public at the end of March and presented as ‘Abraham’s Gate’, a name that was chosen against the advice of the archaeologists.

The 7 m high gate was first uncovered in 1979 as part of the excavations at Tel Dan directed by the late Avraham Biran, so in that sense it is Avraham’s Gate, but the publicists are trying to link it to the biblical patriarch, who rode as far as Dan to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14). Be that as it may, the gate consists of a triple mud-brick arch, the earliest known arch in Israel, and is dated to about 1750 BCE, though some claim that the parabolic entry arch at Ashkelon, also of mud-brick, may be earlier.

The view of the gate and the steps leading up to it is most impressive and the whole complex is covered by a huge, fan-shaped structure of steel and transparent sheeting, very necessary to give protection from the weather but which rather overshadows the object it has been built to protect, which is a pity.

Preceding work on the new railway line from Ashkelon to Netivot, in southern Israel, a massive (20 x 20 m) Byzantine bath-house was uncovered in a rescue dig by the IAA, directed by Gregory Serai, at Kibbutz Gevim, near to Sderot, the town that was under fire from Gaza for some years. The bathing complex consisted of six rooms, including a frigidarium and caldarium, with changing rooms, heated by an underground hypocaust system on the Roman model. It served an ancient village on the road from Beersheba to Gaza, which was a busy trade route in the Roman and Byzantine period. It seems that the bath-house suffered from subsidence, fell out of use and became an easy target for stone robbers. The excavation started in January and is still ongoing.

The ‘Jesus Ossuary Forgery Trial‘, which started in the Jerusalem District Court in September 2005, has recommenced after a recess of several months. The IAA and police case has been presented and is now being refuted by the chief defendants, Robert Deutsch and Oded Golan, against charges of forging, among other items, the inscriptions on the James-brother-of-Jesus Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet. The prosecution has alleged that some of the forgeries were perpetrated by an expert Egyptian craftsman, but he has refused to come to Israel to attend the court and the prosecution are having difficulty proving their case to the judge, who presides over the court on one day a week.

Stephen Rosenburg
W.F. Albright Institute, Jerusalem