Report from Jerusalem #42, 31st May 2012

First Temple Shrines at Khirbet Qeiyafa

The site, about 30km south-west of Jerusalem, continues to provide surprises. The excavator, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, recently announced that he had found in three rooms of the site model clay shrines with decorative openings. He dates the shrines to several years before the establishment of the First Temple and suggests that the features of their openings can explain one of the biblical terms used in connection with the Temple. The openings or doorways are formed by triple-rebated frames of a distinctive nature and Prof. Garfinkel suggests that this is the explanation of the obscure term “shequfim” that is related to the Temple windows (I Kings 6:4). Carbon dating by Oxford University on ten burned olive pits has dated the city to between 1020 and 980 BCE, when it was destroyed. However it was later rebuilt in the Hellenistic period, but the model shrines relate to the earlier city, in which there were found no graven images, and no pig bones among the many animal remains of sheep/goat and cattle. This leads Prof. Garfinkel to claim that this was an Israelite city of the time of David located in the valley of Elah, the border area with Philistia. However, the model shrines look as if they may have contained small figurines and so they can be interpreted as having been pagan shrines, but no figures were found and this idea is rejected by the excavator.

Ancient Rabbinic Tomb at Tzipori (Sepphoris)

Three years ago a farmer in the agricultural village of Moshav Tzipori came across a burial cave on his land with a carved stone door inscribed with the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, a Talmudic sage of the third century CE. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) became interested and conducted an excavation and removed the inscribed door. Mitch Pilcer, the farmer, objected but later the IAA filed charges against him for illegal excavation and damage to an ancient site and antiquities. The initial case came to court only recently, and has raised a lot of interest among the ultra-orthodox, who claim that the ancient rabbi may himself appear as a witness, in accordance with the legend that Rabbi Yehoshua’s soul ascended to heaven directly from his tomb, a gateway between heaven and earth. Pilcer is keen to have the door restored to its site but the IAA is adamant that they must retain it for safekeeping.

Early Gold Jewellery from Megiddo

According to the excavators, the most valuable cache of gold jewellery of the Biblical period has now been discovered at Megiddo. The cache is dated to pre Iron Age I and belonged to the Canaanite inhabitants. It was found in a clay vessel unearthed in 2010 but has only recently been fully cleaned and evaluated. It includes nine large gold earrings, a gold ring seal and over a thousand small beads of gold, silver and carnelian, a semi-precious stone. One of the earrings is in the shape of a basket holding an ostrich-like bird and shows Egyptian influence, according to Professors David Ussiskin, Israel Finkelstein and Eric Cline, leaders of the expedition. The jewels are being studied further at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Museum before being exhibited to the public in due course.

Clay Seal Confirms Status of Bethlehem

During careful sifting of dirt from the passage to the Temple Mount from Siloam Pool, a tiny clay bulla or seal was uncovered with three lines of inscription. The wording reads….” In the seventh…..Bat lehem….to the kin(g)”. According to the excavator, Eli Shukron, this will have been the seal of a tax receipt referring to a quantity of produce delivered to the king, who may have been Hezekiah or one of his predecessors or successors, the script dating it to the 8th century BCE, and it shows that Bethlehem was part of the Judaean kingdom. The information was conveniently released to the press just before the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost) when the book of Ruth, telling of the Moabite girl who came to the city of Bethlehem, is read in the synagogue.     

Mosaic Floor of Synagogue Vandalised

Extensive damage to the mosaic floor and walls of the synagogue of Hamat-Tiveryah (southern Tiberias) was discovered earlier this week. The damage included graffiti against the Director of the IAA, blaming him for desecrating ancient Jewish graves in the area. This has suggested that the perpetrators were ultra-orthodox elements. The Synagogue, of the 4th century CE and earlier, has fine mosaics with a central zodiac, representations of the Temple Ark and candelabra, and several donor inscriptions. The damage will be repaired but the work, according to the IAA and the National Parks Authority who administer the site, will cost millions of shekalim. Some areas of mosaic will have to be replaced by facsimiles based on photographs. The police will do everything possible to bring the vandals to justice.

Forgery Trial Lingers On

Although the seven-year-old forgery trial relating to the Yehoash tablet and the James, brother of Jesus ossuary ended recently, with the two defendants being found not guilty of forgery, the case is now continuing regarding the ownership of the two artefacts. The IAA is adamant that they should not be returned to the defendants, while the defendants claim possession, after having been found innocent of the original charges. One of the defendants, Oded Golan, was found guilty of the minor charge of dealing in antiquities without a licence, to which he has pleaded guilty, and has now been given a commuted prison sentence and fined 30,000 NIS (£5,000). The trial Judge Aharon Farkash has implied that he cannot easily resolve the conflicting ownership claims and may be forced to the “Solomonic” decision to have the two pieces destroyed. This has caused alarm amongst the experts, who were not able to agree on whether the pieces were fakes or not, but who nevertheless do not want to see them destroyed. The ossuary was found to be an original, though the inscription on it was queried, and the dark stone tablet is of great curiosity value, even if not genuine.  So the trial judge is back in the hot seat again.                              

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #41, 24th April 2012

Two Bullae Found in Jerusalem

Two bullae, which were found several years ago by Dr. Eilat Mazar in the City of David, one by the Large Stone Structure (which Mazar thinks may have been the palace of David) and one by the northern or Nehemiah’s tower, are currently in the news because they are on display in America. One is in the name of Yehukhal ben Shelemyahu and the other Gedelyahu ben Pashhur, both known as ministers of King Zedekiah (597-587 BCE). They are two out of the four ministers who asked the king for Jeremiah to be put to death for spreading defeatist sentiments, and when the king said, “Behold, he is in your hands”, they threw him into a pit of mire (Jer. 38:1-6) from which he was later rescued.

Egyptian Scarab Found in City of David

A tiny scarab in the name of the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, written in hieroglyphics and with the imprint of a duck, was found at the Gihon section of the National Park by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Dr. Joe Uziel. It is only 1.5 cm long and was probably used to stamp documents in the 13th century BCE when Egypt ruled Canaan and, according to the excavators, it is a unique find in the area.

Stolen Sarcophagus Covers Found in Jerusalem

Inspectors of the IAA have recently seized two Egyptian sarcophagus covers from a dealer’s store in the Old City. The covers are of wood with the virtual features of the deceased painted and modelled in plasterwork. They were pronounced genuine by the IAA and dated, one to the Late Bronze Age and one to the Iron Age. The covers had been neatly cut into two for easier transportation and the authorities think that they came to Israel via Dubai and Europe. The IAA say that legislation is now in place, since April 20th, to prevent the importation of any antiquities that have not been certified as legally exported from their country of origin. The Egyptian Government is requesting the return of the two covers and negotiations are in progress with the Foreign Ministry.

Syphonic Water Channel at Bet Yerah

During the construction of a new water carrier from the south to the city of Tiberias, the remains of an ancient water channel to Tel Beth Yerah, were unearthed and the work was delayed to enable a rescue dig to be carried out. The dig uncovered a pipeline from the ancient ‘Berenice aqueduct’ to the site of Hellenistic Bet Yerah, on the shores of the Kinneret, south of Tiberias. The pipeline had to cross the original riverbed of the Jordan, by sinking down to its level and rising on the other side up to the Tel.

This was done by means of a syphon built out of substantial interlocking basalt blocks, and the excavators found that this line had been built over an earlier pipeline of short interconnecting clay pipes, that had obviously failed under the considerable water pressure involved. The excavators, led by Yardenna Alexandre of the IAA, found that the large basalt blocks, or at least some of them, had probably been taken from the Early Roman-period syphon of Hippos-Sussita, on the east shore of the Kinneret, when it fell out of use. The basalt blocks, one of which had been carved out of a worn Corinthian capital, had a central channel with a bore of 30cm diameter while the earlier clay pipes were of only 8 to 10cm internal bore. The substantial water supply from the syphon was connected to a luxurious bathhouse adjacent to an early Islamic Ummayad palace, whose remains had been originally misinterpreted as an early synagogue and mikvah. This fact, together with the find of two bronze coins, would date the elaborate syphonic channel to the 7th century CE.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #40, 15th March 2012

New Tourism Centre on Givati Car Park, Jerusalem

Recently initial approval has been given for a large new tourism centre over the site of the former car park opposite the City of David archaeological park and south of the Dung Gate of the Old City. The new complex will be built on stilts over the large site, still partly under excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is considered by some to have been the location of the palace of Queen Helena of Adiabene of the 1st century CE, where many Roman and Byzantine artifacts have been uncovered. The complex will house facilities for tourists as well as a museum of local finds, and will illustrate the history of the area, to include details of its Islamic past from the Arab Conquest to the present day. Further approvals have still to be given, and costs allocated, but once complete the complex will make it easier for visitors to access the southern part of the Old City and the excavations below the southern walls, where a new area has been prepared alongside the city’s ancient eastern wall and gate, considered by Dr. Eilat Mazar and others to be of the Solomonic period.

Cultivation of Ancient Citrons (etrogim) at Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem

Excavations at the royal palace of Ramat Rahel, which dates back to the time of Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE, have been going on for some years under the direction of Prof. Oded Lipschitz and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace boasted a royal garden where the hard local ground had been replaced in antiquity by finer productive soil and the archaeologists were keen to find out what had been grown there. For evidence they decided to examine the plasterwork of the surrounding walls, on the theory that in springtime the plant pollen would have been blown onto the walls while they were being plastered. They carefully peeled off some layers of the plaster and were able to identify several wild species and also evidence of citrus plants from a layer of plaster that they identified as having been applied during the Persian period, after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The pollen was identified by Dr. Dafna Langut of Tel Aviv University as being that of the citron, or etrog, the fruit which is used as one of the four species to be waved aloft on the festival of Tabernacles. This is the earliest evidence of the etrog in Israel, and it is assumed that the royal palace planted their trees, whose origin is in India, when they were brought to this country by the exiles from Babylon. Further evidence was found of willow and myrtle plants that are also used for the festive Sukkoth (Tabernacles) rituals (Lev. 23:40).

Restoration of Historic Sites, the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem

It has previously been mentioned that the Israeli Government has allocated funds to the restoration and preservation of sites of historic interest. At the end of February a list of 13 heritage sites was published and these included Tel Shiloh, where tradition claims that the desert shrine Mishkan was re-erected; the ancient synagogue of the Second Temple Period at Umm el-Umdam in Modi’in, and the Montefiore windmill in the Yemin Moshe area of Jerusalem.

The Government has pledged 72 million shekels (approx. £12 million) for these projects, of which one million is for the windmill, to which further funds will be contributed by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Tourism and the Christian Friends of Israel from Holland. The plan for the windmill is to put it back in working order using replica parts made in Britain to the designs of the Holman Company of UK that built the original mill in 1857. The parts will be shipped to experts for assembly in Holland and then transported for final fitting to the mill in Jerusalem. It is hoped to complete the work before the end of this summer, and then have the four storey mill turning and working five days a week on a regular basis.

Another controversial find by Simcha Jacobovici

Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian-Israeli director of the TV series, “The Naked Archaeologist”, claimed recently that he had identified the tomb of some of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem. The burial cave in question is situated under a residential building in the Armon Hanatziv area of southern Jerusalem. It was first found in the 1990s, when local ultra-orthodox residents objected to further investigation and covered the cave with a concrete slab and built a block of flats over it. Jacobovici claimed he obtained permission from the residents to conduct further exploratory work and, although he was stopped from opening up the cave, he was eventually allowed to make a small hole and investigate below by means of a camera mounted on a robotic arm. The subsequent image that he obtained shows an incised carving of a fish swallowing, or vomiting out, a human head, which Jacobovici claims is an image of Jonah and the Great Fish (usually described as a whale) and that, he says, designates an early Christian image, as it was used as a symbol of Christ and his resurrection. Jacobovici has therefore concluded that the cave contained the remains of some of the early followers of Jesus, and the Israeli archaeologist members of his team are reported as agreeing with his findings. Jacobovici was due to hold a press conference in New York at the beginning of March, but I have no further information on this sensational claim.

Sale of Ancient Shekel in New York Auction

A silver shekel, struck in Jerusalem in year 1 of the Revolt by the Jewish rebels against Roman rule, was sold in early March at auction in New York for $1.1 million. It had been part of the Shoshana Collection of 2,000 ancient Judaean coins formed by a private collector from Los Angeles, who had purchased it 20 years ago for $240,000. The only other known example of this coin belongs to the Israel Museum. The collection as a whole will be sold off over the coming year and is expected to fetch $10 million.

Forgery Trial Verdict Announced

On 14th March the verdict of Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court was released, declaring that the two defendants were not guilty of forgery. As for the two artifacts in question it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were forgeries. The trial had been in progress for nearly 7 years and the judge had to consider 12,000 pieces of evidence and the testimony of dozens of experts. The prosecution was brought by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who had claimed that many artifacts had been forged by a number of defendants. In the course of the trial the number of pieces was reduced to two, the “James, brother of Jesus Ossuary” and the “Yehoash Tablet” and the defendants to two, Oded Golan, an antiquities dealer and Robert Deutsch, an expert in ancient seals. Both were found not guilty, but Golan was convicted of the minor count of dealing in antiquities without a licence, for which he will be sentenced later.

The judge had been unable to conclude that the pieces were forgeries as the testimony of the experts had weighed in on both sides of the argument and, as the judge had said, who was he to make a decision on a matter of contention between professionals.

It was also clear that even if the items were forgeries, the actual work could not be pinned on the defendants. It had been claimed that the alleged forgeries were committed by a named Egyptian craftsman, but the Court had been unable to bring him to court from Cairo. The judge’s decision is a disappointment for the IAA but they claim that the case has highlighted the questionable authenticity of artifacts acquired from the market and of unknown provenance, and in fact the judge’s verdict does not prove that the two items in question are not forgeries. It seems to be the opinion among archaeologists that it is quite possible that, concerning the inscription on the ossuary “James, the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” the ossuary is genuine and only the last three words were added by a forger. As for the Yehoash (Joash) Tablet, the text is close to passages found in Second Kings 12 and Second Chronicles 24 and, if genuine, would be a remarkable confirmation of the Temple and its description in the Hebrew Bible. However, the texts are so close that experts were very suspicious, and also the origin of the tablet was unclear.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

 W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #39, 14th February 2012

‘Geniza’ Find in Afghanistan

Details of this discovery are still very sketchy but Prof. Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew University has given more information recently. He is skeptical of the many stories of the discovery that are surfacing, as they all revolve around a shepherd who is looking for his flock in a distant cave, fails to find them but sees pieces of parchment scattered over the ground. These stories are clearly based on the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and so are dismissed as fiction. But, like the Scrolls, there is the hope that further caches will be uncovered as to date only about 150 pieces has come to light.

Prof. Shaked, an expert in ancient Persian languages, has no doubt the finds are authentic and has said that they include a medieval copy of the Book of Jeremiah, previously unknown works by Rabbi Sa’adiah Gaon of the 10th century CE, as well as the private financial diary of a Jewish merchant. The documents are in Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Arabic and can be precisely dated to the medieval period. Many are damaged and decayed and the number is small, but Prof. Shaked hopes that search will now be made for others. He is of the opinion that the cache may include the records of a Karaite community, although it is known that Sa’adiah Gaon was fiercely opposed to this Jewish sect.

Prof. Robert Eisenman has said that he hopes the records may shed light on another sect called the Rhadanites, early medieval Jewish merchants who had set up an extensive trade network connecting Europe and Asia. He raises the suspicion that these Jews may have been descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes, but that is a claim made for all outlandish sects and usually with little justification.

Bread Seal Found at Uza, near Acre

A rescue dig is being conducted at Uza, a Byzantine village east of Acre, prior to the laying of a railway track between Acre and Carmiel. In the course of the dig, headed by Gilad Jaffe and Danny Syon of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a diminutive clay stamp incised with the reverse of a seven-branched menorah was uncovered. The excavators point this out as a bread seal of the type used in the early medieval period and they date it to the 6th century CE. Bread seals of the period are common but mostly carry a figure of a cross and denote Christian ownership. The Menorah, which clearly marks Jewish ownership, is rare, and probably indicates that there was a Jewish bakery at Uza supplying bread to the Jewish community of Acre, which was mainly a Christian town in the Byzantine period. The short handle of the stamp carries some Greek lettering, read by Dr. Leah di Segni of the Hebrew University as “Launtius”, a common Jewish name of the period.

Prehistoric Evaporation of the Dead Sea

Last year researchers from the Geological Survey of Israel, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University conducted drilling at the centre of the Dead Sea, at a depth of 300m, and offshore near Ein Gedi, and they found that the Dead Sea had nearly dried up 125,000 years ago due to climate change. At a depth of 250m below the floor of the lake they found levels of pebbles above substantial salt layers and concluded that these demonstrated a period when the lake had nearly dried up, due to little inflow of water. From sediment cores, the scientists discovered a layer of 45m of salt below nearby pebbles, which indicated a shoreline close by. The condition was attributed to a change in climate that occurred thousands of years ago and was ultimately remedied by increased rainfall and flow into the Dead Sea from the river Jordan. The researchers indicated that such a condition of excessive fall could occur again at the present time and the remedy of replenishment did not exist as so much of the waters of the Jordan was being syphoned off by the adjoining countries. They warned that the previous ancient fall had been due to climate change whereas the present drop was a man-made disaster.

Archaeological Survey of Lifta, west of Jerusalem

Since 1948 the Arab village of Lifta, standing outside the western approach to Jerusalem, has stood in ruin and virtually unpopulated except for a few Yemenite families. The area contains dozens of stone-built houses that stand derelict on a piece of prime real estate, and two years ago tenders were issued to private developers to build 212 luxury houses on the former village, on condition that the contractor would conduct a full survey of the existing properties before work could begin. The site contains mainly 19th century houses but there are also some Crusader structures and First Temple remains, all in an advanced state of disrepair.

A recent court ruling has annulled the previous tenders and has now stipulated that the area must first be surveyed in depth by an independent multi-disciplinary university team and the IAA, whose interests will be purely scientific and historical and not guided by development opportunities. However it has been agreed that in the long run it is not desirable to leave the area unbuilt and undeveloped as that would continue the neglect and decay that has taken toll of the site over the last sixty years. It is stipulated therefore that there must be in the long run a plan for both development and preservation of the historical core, with convenient access for the public to the sections of historical interest, so as to provide for example an area that would illustrate the physical form of a typical Arab village of the 19th century. It is hoped that the involvement of many university departments and the IAA will bring positive results and not delay the restoration works unduly.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #38, 1st January 2012

Elephants Out –  Homo Sapiens In

It is being claimed that the disappearance of elephants from the Levant led to the emergence of Homo Sapiens replacing the more primitive Homo Erectus some 400,000 years ago. The claim is based on work by researchers from Tel Aviv University, including archaeologists and anthropologists, at the Qesem Cave at Gesher Bnot Ya’akov, a ford north of the Sea of Galilee, where the teeth of the Levantine Acheulo-Yabrudian species of Homo Sapiens were found recently.

The theory is that Homo Erectus lived in association with the local elephants, using them as sources of meat and fat, and when the large creatures died out a new breed of humans evolved to be able to hunt faster and smaller animals and sustain their necessary level of consumable fats. This, said the scientists from Tel Aviv University, “was the evolutionary drive behind the emergence in the Middle Pleistocene Era of the lighter, more agile, cognitively capable hominin”. The researchers were not able to say whether the new species evolved in Africa and migrated to the Levant, or whether the remains found at the Qesem Cave were those of a local species.

Carvings in Floor of Silwan Dwelling, Jerusalem

In the remains of a house dated to the late Iron Age, three V-shaped carvings were found cut into the limestone bedrock floor. The arms of each V are about 40cm long and 5cm deep and the point of the V is accentuated by a slight widening into a miniature triangle. The excavator, Prof. Ronny Reich of Haifa University, thought the signs were unique but later discovered that similar carvings had been recorded in another nearby house during the abortive Parker Mission of a century ago. As the markings were enigmatic, the excavators put the details on Facebook to ask for suggestions and were overwhelmed by the response, but out of thousands of replies no credible ideas were received. It appears that the floor cuts may have been used to secure the feet of a piece of weaving apparatus. However, as the room was previously filled with rubble to act as a support for a defensive wall believed to have been constructed in the time of King Jehoash (842-802 BCE), the cuts may have served as a base for a framework used to reinforce the rubble fill.

Mughrabi Bridge to Temple Mount, Again

The City Engineer continues to insist that the present temporary bridge is unsafe and a potential fire-risk, but sharp protests from the Waqf and other Islamic bodies, objecting to any change to the “status quo”, have made it virtually impossible to replace it without causing anti-Israel violence throughout the Arab world. The solution has been to treat the timber structure with a fire-retardant substance and to have a fire-truck on permanent standby nearby.

Byzantine Bath-House in Judaean Hills

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed that an ancient bath-house of c.400 CE has been uncovered at Moshav Tarum, about 25 km west of Jerusalem, near Beit Shemesh. It was found during work on a new water supply line to Jerusalem. The main room is cruciform in plan and heated by a fine hypocaust floor with about thirty squat stone pillars, and fed by a heating channel from a nearby boiler house. The find was open for viewing for a few days and it is not clear if plans will be made for permanent access.

Archaeological Finds Vandalised in the Afula Area

Several archaeological sites in the vicinity of Afula, in the Lower Galilee, have been vandalised and precious remains destroyed. At Khirbet Amudim the contents of a locked steel container were destroyed, including First-Temple pottery and later artefacts. This has set back the work of several rescue digs in the area that were being conducted by the IAA in advance of new road building. The culprits appear to be ultra-orthodox elements that roam the archaeological sites and object to the occasional but necessary moving of ancient graves and the removal of bones for examination and respectful reburial. Police are investigating and plan to bring charges.

Second Temple Token a Seal of Purity

Eli Shukron of the IAA continues to make important discoveries in the area of the channel that leads to the base of Robinson’s Arch by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The latest find to be announced is a small button-sized (1 cm) clay seal that came up in sifting the dirt from the north side of the Siloam Pool, where 30 coins have already been recovered. The seal or token is inscribed with the Aramaic formula “d-k-a  l-H” which is translated as “Pure to God”. The token is dated to the late Second Temple period, perhaps fifty years before the destruction of 70 CE. The use of similar seals or tokens is recorded in the Mishnah, where it describes how a person wishing to purchase a libation would pay one official, receive a token from him and pass it on to another official who would hand him the appropriate drink offering (Shekalim 5:4). The find was hailed by Mrs. Limor Livnat, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport, as showing the connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Stop Press, ‘Geniza’ Find in Afghanistan

Rumours are surfacing of the discovery of a cache of early medieval Jewish documents in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and early Persian at Samangan Province on the Silk Road. The 150 fragments, which seem to be a kind of ‘geniza’ of unwanted scrolls, are in the hands of dealers, and Jewish institutions are hoping to purchase them, but details are still very sketchy.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem