Report from Jerusalem, #33, 26th July

National Heritage Sites

Some time ago it was reported that the Government was committed to funding restoration and protection works to a number of sites of special national and historical significance and these comprised 150 locations. The Prime Minister has now signed an order to allocate funds to the first nine of such sites, which marks the beginning of this major project. The “starter” sites include an historic railway station near the Sea of Galilee, the Shai Agnon House in Jerusalem, the battlefield at Yad Mordechai in the Negev (where the Egyptians were halted in 1948) and the first agricultural school in Israel. The total costs involved at this stage are over 30 million shekels ( £5.5 million pounds). The lucky sites are all fairly modern ones which, curiously, are less well protected than many ancient ones, and it is hoped that the turn of the archaeological areas will come soon.

Tel Shikmona, Best Example Of Four-Roomed House

As mentioned previously, the ancient site of Shikmona, at the foot of the Carmel range to the west of Haifa, which was partly excavated forty years ago, is undergoing re-excavation by the University of Haifa, under the direction of Drs. Shay Bar and Michael Eisenberg. They reported that an outline of a four-roomed house, the type-cast Israelite dwelling, had been seen on photographs of the long neglected and dirt-covered site, which spanned from the Late Bronze Age to the Islamic period. Present rehabilitation work on the site shows it to have started as a fairly modest village that grew into a prosperous centre, trading with nearby Cyprus and Lebanon for luxury goods such as elite pottery and vessels to transport the purple dye of the shells of the Phoenician coast. The ground floor of the four-roomed house is in near perfect condition; it is dated to the early Iron Age, and will be preserved and incorporated into a national park planned for the site.

Second Temple Stolen Ossuary Declared Authentic

Three years ago the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recovered an inscribed ossuary that had been stolen from an unknown tomb. The inscription read “Miriam, bat Yeshua ben Caiaphus, Cohanei Ma’aziah miBeth-Imri” in Aramaic. The importance of the inscription suggested a possible forgery but it was recently authenticated by Dr. Boaz Zissu of Bar-Ilan  and Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv Universities. They found that the ossuary came from a burial cave in the valley of Elah, near Beth Shemesh, southwest of Jerusalem. The High Priest Caiaphas is known from the trial of Jesus, but it was not known that his family was associated with the priests of Ma’aziah, who formed one of the 24 courses of priests that served their allotted two weeks in the First Temple according to I Chron. 24:18.  The name Beth-Imri might refer to a family of the Ma’aziah clan, or it might refer to the name of a village in the north Hebron hills called to-day Beth-Ummar. The ossuary is in good condition, complete with lid, and it is decorated on the face with two six-spoked rosettes, symbols of everlasting life.

Computer Programme To Identify Authorship

Prof. Moshe Koppel of Bar-Ilan University is an expert on authorship attribution and has perfected, with others, a computer system of analysis called Authorship Attribution Algorithms (AAA), which is based on style and wording and is used to analyse authorship of criminal and other  suspicious documents and which, he says, can also be used to identify authorship of Biblical texts.

Although much work on Biblical analysis has been done by individual scholars in the past, they are sometimes accused of personal bias, which, according to Koppel, cannot be levelled at his computer programme. The researchers have taken sections of the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and jumbled them up together, then analysed them by their AAA method, and the computer was able to accurately separate the two authors. However further results have not yet been published but it seems that Koppel and his team have started work on the several books of the Tanakh. Further results are awaited.

Golden Bell Found In Drainage Channel From Temple Mount

Much excitement has been generated by an announcement of the finding of a small golden bell in the debris of the drainage channel under the walkway that leads from the Temple Mount, in the area of Robinson’s Arch, to the Siloam pool. This stepped walkway has been excavated by Prof. Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron over the last few years and it is hoped to open it to the public shortly. In the past, discarded items of clothing and food vessels were found, which indicated that the walkway had been used as an escape route during the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Now a small golden bell, about the size of a 5 pence piece has been recovered by Eli Shukron from between layers of debris in the drainage channel below the walkway. The bell is of pure gold and has a tiny ring at the top for attachment to a garment, and the assumption is that it was one of the bells attached to the skirt of the garment of one of the priests, or even the High Priest himself, in the late Second Temple period. Such an ornament is mentioned in the description of the High-Priestly garments for the Tabernacle in Exod. 28: 33 & 34. However it is not clear that such an ornament was worn by anyone except the High Priest and it is difficult to understand how such a garment came to be worn outside the area of the Temple itself, unless it was at the time of tumult during the Roman destruction of the Temple and the city.

Ophel Archaeological Park, Jerusalem

After preliminary mention of the site in Report no. 32, when it was inaugurated some weeks ago. it is now clear that the Ophel park will not be open to the public for at least another month. The site incorporates lengthy walkways among the Israelite and Byzantine walls linking the City of David area to the south of the Temple Mount, and the centerpiece is an Iron Age gateway that the excavators suggest may be the Water Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3:26. It is certainly an impressive structure and still stands 4m high.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem