“Debris” Removed from Temple Mount
As mentioned last month, six lorry-loads of material were removed from the Temple Mount in early January, discovered by Zachi Dvira (Zweik) who works with Gabby Barkai on the sifting project. The Jerusalem Police declared this to be ordinary debris, but the archaeologists see it as valuable excavated material, that has been removed from the Temple Mount against the High Court order prohibiting removal of any material from the Mount. Archaeologists are trying to retrieve the material from the local refuse dump and bring it to the sifting site for proper examination.
Preservation of 300 Historical Sites
The 700 million shekel (about £120M) program is going ahead with one third dealing with Biblical and Second Temple sites, and the remaining with later periods. The earlier projects include funding for projects in the City of David, Tel Shilo, the Machpelah cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Herodian remains near Bethlehem. Although the news does not give full specifics, it is clear that the allocated money is being used for these purposes, and further funds will be made available in due course.
Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitized
The above-mentioned fund is also being used to support the publication of a database with the records of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The documents will become available to scholars and include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. The work will give scholars access to valuable documents and will also ensure preservation of the archives, many of whose documents are suffering from disintegration because of poor paper quality and poor storage facilities in the past. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation) and are available on line here but no date has yet been given for the completion of the work.
Restoration of Avdat National Park
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has now completed restoration of the UNESCO Heritage site of the Avdat National Park in the Negev that was vandalized in October 2009. The work was carried out at a cost of nearly nine million shekels (£1.5m) but the Authority has made it clear that some of the archaeological evidence of original stonework has been lost forever due to the damage done by the vandals.
Herod the Great Exhibition at the Israel Museum
This fine exhibition opened at the Israel Museum on 12th February 2013 and will run for eight months. It is a tribute to Herod’s great building projects and also to the lifetime of investigation that Ehud Netzer devoted to their uncovering. In fact it appears that it was Netzer who started planning the exhibition after his location of Herod’s Tomb on Herodion, and before his tragic death at that site in October 2010. The exhibition mentions Herod’s tumultuous life, as a great fighter, lover and indeed murderer, but it is his tremendous building structures that are given pride of place, such as his many palaces, the port of Caesarea and Herodion itself. Herod’s tomb is shown with a reconstruction of the central tholos, using the actual carved stones from the site, and restorations of the three smashed sarcophagi that were found there. There are many clear wooden models, as were favoured by Netzer, of the tomb and other projects with ingenious films showing their locations in Masada, Jericho, Caesarea and elsewhere and how their construction took place in such difficult terrain. Netzer was of the opinion that Herod had played a personal role in the planning of these oversized projects. Without him no architects or engineers would have dared to produce such ambitious plans, he thought.
There are wonderful original oversized carved Ionic and Corinthian capitals as were used at the Temple porticos and at Herod’s many palaces, but pride of place is given to the work at Herodion. The original unique paintings of the royal box at the intimate hillside theatre at Herodion are displayed.
It appears that everything Herod did was on the grandest of scales and with the finest materials. As has been truly said, Emperors built for posterity but Herod built for eternity. This exhibition, coming more than two thousand years after his death, makes that clear; it is a great tribute to the better side of Herod’s genius and energy, and also to the indefatigable work undertaken by Ehud Netzer over nearly fifty years.
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem