Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary

News and Comments that relate to the Hebrew Bible and to my posts on various ANE and Hebrew Bible related mailing lists - Yitzhak Sapir

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Underwater Museum Opens in Caesarea

Maariv reports on a new archaeological museum that opens this week in Caesarea:

Map of the Caesarea Maritima
Photo source: Combined Caesarea Expeditions home page

Diving equipment, a guide with oxygen-containers on his back, plastic maps, and a totally wet experience may sound like another regular diving endeavor, but in fact, this is the tour that the first Israeli underwater museum will offer, opening this week in Caesarea.

The archaeological park will open this Friday in Caesarea, on the remains of a port that King Herod built 2000 years ago, the Caesarea Maritima, and which sunk underwater after only a century. The park, a project in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested, under the direction of Sarah Aharonson, will allow anyone that has undergone a basic diving course to take off his shoes, wear the diving suit, and dive into the past - the port's remains.

The park is over 25000 square feet in size, and is divided into four tour routes along the ancient port: the port's entrance, the lighthouse remains, the remains of the piers, the breakwaters, and the docking platforms, remains of jewelry, statue bases, coins, and a shipwreck.

"This is a one-of-a-kind park in the whole world," says Dr. Nadav Kashtan, a lecturer at the Dept. of Maritime Civlizations at Haifa University, "the explorers-divers will enjoy a special wet experience of time travel."

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Conference Announcement: David and Goliath - New Discoveries

Dr. Jim West forwarded the following from the Agade mailing list:


In the Fields of Archaeology, Ancient History, Philology, and Medicine (Lectures in Hebrew)

The conference will take place in the auditorium of the central building in the Industrial Park of Omer (near Beer-Sheva) on Monday, April 24, 2006 from 16:30 - 19:00. Free parking is available.

The Program of the Conference:
  • 16:30 - Gathering and Light Refreshments
  • 16:50 - Greetings and Introductory Remarks
    • Prof. Rivka Karmi, President of Ben-Gurion University
    • Prof Vladimir Berginer, Chairman of the 'David's Victory' Foundation
  • 17:00 - Dr. Gabriel Barkai, "Jerusalem in the Davidic Period - Problems and Facts"
  • 17:40 - Prof. Aren Maeir, "The Archaeological Excavations at Gath of the Philistines and the Evidence Concerning Goliath"
  • 18:20 - Prof. Vladimir Berginer and Prof. Chaim Cohen, "The Nature of Goliath's Visual Disorder and the Actual Role of His Personal Bodyguard: נשא הצנה nś) hsnh (1 Sam 17:7,41)"

Immediately after the conference (for those interested), there will be a screening of the film "Footsteps of Goliath" (in English), a production of the History-Science channel of Canada-Holland TV.

Free parking is available alongside the entrance gate to the Industrial Park of Omer, opposite the Luzzato Building.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Kafr Cana Update

Update April 17, 2006: A slightly different article is now available at The Washington Times. Details follow the main quotations.

An undated but recent photo made available by
the IAA of the Kfar Kana excavation site
Photo source: Yahoo / AP Photo / IAA, Mar. 13, 2006
The Toronto Sun has an article with some new information on the recent excavation at Kfar Cana in the Galilee, interviewing Yardenna Alexandre, "a British-born graduate of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who works with the Israel Antiquities Authority." Much of the article ties the village to the times of Jesus, but some information is also provided relating to the early Iron Age finds:

With bulldozers virtually waiting in the wings, they have exposed part of the Israelite city wall and the remains of houses built alongside it 3,000 years ago during the era of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. ... Referring to the Iron Age settlement that dates back to the previous millennium (1,000 B.C.), Alexandre said most of its structures were built shortly before the creation of the northern kingdom of Israel. This kingdom was formed when that of Kings Saul, David and Solomon was divided between Solomon's heir, Reheboam, and his Israelite rival, Jereboam.

She and her team uncovered the remains of a wall that enclosed the settlement's 1.2 hectare area. They also discovered the remains of a kiln where the diggers came upon a great deal of burned material.

Other finds included loom weights which were "well known to the people of the Iron Age," she said. The Israelite town was destroyed in the ninth century B.C., probably by the Aramaeans, who then ruled Damascus. Ancient Cana was rebuilt shortly afterward.

Among the foreign armies which attacked it was that of the Assyrians who carried off 650 residents as captives. This is cited in a tablet composed by the Assyrian leader, Tiglat Pileser III, which was found in the Assyrians' capital, Calah, located in the north of modern-day Iraq.

The article mentions the possibility that the site or part of the area will be made into an archaeological park. Read the full article here. Update: In contrast to this optimistic attitude, The Washington Times has what appears to be a slight revision of the earlier article. It notes that the site "has been excavated by archaeologists in a crash effort to uncover its ruins before they are pulverized by local building contractors." Other interesting details from the second article include the dating of the Iron Age settlement: "[The] earlier town was destroyed in the ninth century B.C., probably by the Arameans who then ruled Damascus, Syria, Miss Alexandre said. Ancient Cana was rebuilt before the ninth century ended." Of the much later settlement, it notes that "many of Cana's houses contained ritual baths and stone vessels indicating its inhabitants were Galilean Jews at the time of the miracle described in the Gospel of John. ... Miss Alexandre emphasized that her scientific work was not inspired or motivated by the miracle associated with Cana."

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Friday, April 14, 2006

A Song of My Loved One of His Vineyard: The Ancient Terrace Agriculture

A Hebrew "Jerusalem in the Net" site has begun an archaeological column, and their first column involves an article by Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, on the terrace agriculture of Jerusalem. A translation follows:

Ein Lavan Pool
Photo source: Ein Lavan Website
When one speaks of Jerusalem archaeology, the immediate impression is one of ancient sites in the Old City and its environs. These are sites for which all the superlatives are fitting: eternity, strength, faith, grandeur, and other words which were invented to be used by tour guides.

The faces of archaeology in Jerusalem are many and varied. ... Sometimes, the archaeological site is by the grocery store, near a parking lot, one to which you can just walk over and see, without planning months ahead.

Today's site involves the terraces of Lavan Valley, near the Ir Ganim neighborhood, in the Jerusalem mountains.


The Ancient Farmers

We will use the early spring to visit the Lavan Valley near the Ir Ganim neighborhood. The valley is a tributary of the Rephaim Valley, one of the main drainage basins of the Jerusalem hills. Along the valley are remains of abandoned groves, which make use of the ancient terrace structure.

The name of the place (the Lavan Valley) was apparently given because of the color of its stones, soft white chalky marlstone, which is typical of the Jerusalem hills.

A constructed water channel
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
A small spring gurgles in the center of the slope. The water gushes out of a hewn tunnel and its waters stream in a channel to a large pool. The pool and additional terraces near it were reconstructed by the members of the urban Kibutz "Reshit" that settled in Ir Ganim.

This steady source of water and the diligence of the ancient farmers made possible a farming village that began in the Second Temple period and was able to survive the hardships of the land at least until the end of the Byzantine period (7th century CE).

The spring flows on a marlstone layer that one of its very noticeable properties is that it is watertight, and so the rainfall water are collected upon it. The water flows onto the surface in a thin trickle. This kind of spring is called a "layer spring." The Second Temple period farmers, who knew a little hydrology and geology, cut horizontal tunnels, some very long, whose purpose was to increase the outflow of the springs. These tunnels channeled the waters from the depths of the land to collection pools in the end of the spring.

Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
The wide farming "steps" (the terraces) sprawl from the spring towards the south-west, utilizing the natural and moderate gradation.

Their construction allowed our ancient farmers to increase their fields and develop a thriving agriculture of groves: vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards, and others by which our land is blessed. Small buildings are integrated along the terraces and served as small guard-towers to watch the fields. Around the spring are various farming structures: a wine press, a columbarium cave (no directional signs are present), as well as hewn burial caves.

This is the picture that is so well described in the Vineyard Proverb of Isaiah 5: "Let me sing of my well-beloved, a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; And he digged it, and cleared it of stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a vat therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes."

Ein Lavan Pool
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
Ein Lavan is part of an ancient dense settlement along the Rephaim Valley that included, among other sites, Ein Hania, Ein Yael, and Ein Al-Balad. In all of them, gurgling springs are found and these have become centers for a wide variety of tourists who enjoy nature and cold greenish water.

The Terraces: The True Remains of the Land. An authentic, and real testimony to its agricultural and rocky nature

The terraces, guard houses, and other elements of the ancient agriculture in the Jerusalem hills hold important historical, natural, educational, and scenic value.

For thousands of years, the farmers and ancient villagers around Jerusalem worked to build the terraces, and their efforts made possible the scenery that surrounds the city. It is hard to imagine the city and its new neighborhoods without the farming terraces that are built along the slopes of the hills, and we are all in debt to this great human effort.

These aren't remains of monumental buildings built of hewn stone and decorated with reliefs or mosaics, and it is also hard to attach ancient tales of bravery and historical episodes, but these are the true remains of the country, a real and authentic testimony to the agricultural nature, stony scenery, and the great efforts that the ancient dwellers of the land made to create a thriving agriculture and turn it into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The terraces are made of unhewn stones, and at times also from rocks that were taken apart from ancient buildings. They were placed along the rocks, making use of the natural gradation of the hill's slopes. The back of the terraces was filled with earth that was cleared of rocks. Piles of cleared rocks remain and are another testimony to the efforts of the ancient villagers.

Terraces on building remains
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
Between the terraces small guard houses were built, having various shapes: square, rectangular, and there are even beautiful, impressive circular ones. Some are only one story high, while others are made of two or even three stories.

The guard houses served as guard towers in the fields and the valuable agricultural produce and farming equipment was kept. On the top of the tower a hut was built on which the vines climbed.

An ancient collection pool
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
In the summer, and especially during the grape harvest season, the farmers tended to stay and sleep in the guard tower, near the fields and produce. In the area, various agricultural structures were built, mainly wine presses that were hewn in the rocks, columbarium caves, collection pits, and more.

The increasing development of the city makes it increasingly hard to see these remains of the ancient agriculture, and we, the public, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority, are obligated to preserve them.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jerusalem Conference and Temple Mount Immer Bulla

Update April 5, 2006: Rewrote the last two paragraphs.

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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#1)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#2)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#3)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Back
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
The Jerusalem Conference a few days ago was very interesting. The proceedings were on sale during the conference. Apparently there is no order form available yet, but they can be purchased through the Ingeborg Rennert center at Bar Ilan University (Phone: 972-3-5317703). The price I paid at the conference was 70 NIS which is about $15 - $20, and I have no idea what shipping/international shipping is or if they are prepared for it. These proceedings are in the form of summary articles in Hebrew with English abstracts. Two of the summary articles are in English, however. Most include many accompanying photos, and while some summaries are only a few pages long, others can be quite long. There is a 70-page chapter on salvage excavations in Ramat Bet Hakerem and the Ramot Forest, providing new data regarding the Jerusalem agricultural periphery and hinterland during the late First Temple / Iron Age II period and the last Second Temple / Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period. Another interesting chapter is Dr. Gabriel Barkay's and Zachi Zweig's presentation which deals with the artifacts found from sifting the rubble dumped by the Waqf from the Temple Mount, and contains over 30 photographs of the artifacts. The conference also served as the first time the Yehukal bulla, which received widespread attention, was published in scholarship.

From my point of view, one of the most interesting artifacts that Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig presented was another bulla that dates to the late 6th century BCE. As a matter of fact, this bulla has already been reported before. At first, after a press conference in September, only limited information was provided. Slightly more detailed information was reported in an article 3 months ago in a two line sentence, making it easy to miss. At the presentation, beautiful photos of the bulla were shown, which Zachi Zweig kindly provided to me. Their project is an ongoing work that began when the Waqf, planning to build a new mosque on the Temple Mount removed tons of rubble that they had dug from the Mount, dumping it originally in the Jerusalem municipal trash dump but later, in one great overnight mission, in the Kidron Valley. Today, the contents of that dump are being carefully sifted for remains under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig. A long background story on the dump is available here. This bulla may be the most important artifact uncovered so far. The project is financed by the Ir David Foundation. To donate or contribute to the project, contact Doron Spielman at doron AT cityofdavid DOT org DOT il.

... In its report, the Washington Times reported that Dr. Barkay presented:

a "bulla," or seal impression, thought to be used to close cloth sacks of silver. "It bears the name Gedalyahu Ben Immer Ha-Cohen, suggesting that the owner may have been a brother of Pashur Ben Immer, described in the Bible [Jeremiah 20:1] as a priest and temple official," Mr. Barkai said.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay gave a more extensive description in one of the update reports:

"And the third is a bulla with a seal impression. The bulla made of clay was originally attached to a document or a parcel, and still retains part of its original text on its face. The bulla is black in color as a result of being burned by the fire that ironically caused its preservation. The bulla became defragmented in ancient times and is incomplete. The letters preserved on the middle register are "ליהו" "...lyhw" while the bottom register reads "אמר..." "...)mr". In light of another published seal, it may be possible to complete the writing as "לגא]ליהו.[בן]אמר]" (Belonging to Ga'alyahu son of Immer). The house of Imer was a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple period, roughly from around the 7th - 6th Centuries BCE, and the days of Return to Zion." [See Jeremiah 20:1; Ezra 2:37, 2:59, 10:20; Nehemiah 3:29, 7:40, 7:61, 11:13; First Chronicles 9:12, 24:14]

This bulla is significant in several respects. First, it serves as evidence that the Temple Mount was probably an important administrative center in late First Temple period times, if the bulla of an administrative official was used to stamp something in its confines. The bulla was not, strictly speaking, found at the Temple Mount, and even the rubble where it was originally located before the Waqf removed it in trucks and dumped it in the Kidron Valley was not its original location. This rubble is probably the result of construction work during earlier periods at the Temple Mount. However, as Dr. Barkay pointed out in the presentation, the Temple Mount is a closed structure with a lot of open space inside and it is much more likely that the provenance of the bulla was originally in the Temple Mount than that it was brought in with other construction materials from outside. The many trucks used by the Waqf to remove all of it is a modern feat that could not be accomplished in ancient times, when large scale transportation of sand was avoided.

This bulla also joins an increasing number of 6th century artifacts that provide corroborating evidence for individuals mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. Thus, while the Bible presents the Immer family as an important priestly family in Second Temple period times, Jeremiah 20:1 mentions an individual of the Immer family who is described as "the Priest, chief officer of the House of the Lord." The bulla ends with the letters אמר )mr and while the word בן "son" is not preserved, it is reasonable and likely that אמר refers to a patronym "Immer" that appeared on the bulla. (Nor do we have to assume that the owner of this bulla was necessarily a "brother" of Pashhur. Immer might be a priestly clan name like Qorah or Sadoq.

Because traces on the back of the bulla show that it was not stamped to a letter but rather to some kind of cloth, such as a package or perhaps a sack of silver, the bulla was not necessarily sent on the back of a letter to the Temple Mount from elsewhere. While packages can also be sent from elsewhere, it could just as easily have been part of a Temple treasury or archive, indicating official ownership of the contents of the package. This bulla is not, by itself, evidence of an archive or treasury. In fact, all this means is that rather than discarding the Temple Mount as the original location for the bulla for the reason that, being a bulla, it must have been stamped to a letter sent from elsewhere, we can continue to consider the possibility that it was originally used only on the Temple Mount among other possibilities that it was sent from elsewhere. Since, however, it is conceivable that it was originally from the Temple Mount, this bulla provides some limited support for the possibility that an individual of the Immer family was an treasury or archive officer in the Temple, and it serves as possible corroboration for Jeremiah 20:1 which states that a different individual of the Immer family was the "chief officer" of the Temple.

The "Yehukal ben Shelamyahu" bulla
Photo source: Gabi Laron
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Institute of Archaeology
From the Taipei Times
Possible corroboration means very little. However, this artifact joins other bullae obtained from archaeological contexts (as opposed to the antiquities market) that date to the 6th century and all of which seem to corroborate details about individuals specificially mentioned by Jeremiah:

  • The Gemaryahu ben Shaphan (Gemariah ben Shafan) bulla, found at the "House of Bullae" in the City of David. This official is mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10-12.
  • The Yehukal ben Shelamyahu ben Shobi found recently by Eilat Mazar in the City of David excavations. This official is apparently mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 and in a slightly different spelling at 38:1. As I mentioned before, Eilat Mazar in her presentation covered this bulla as well.

There have been very few provenanced bullae uncovered so far that relate to possible Biblical figures. The books of Kings and Samuel mention some persons which have been identified in external inscriptions (Omri, Ahab, David, Hezekiah) but the books of Kings and Samuel span a great deal of time. The figures mentioned are extremely high profile and would be known centuries later. Two bullae uncovered in the City of David relate to biblical figures. One, the Gemaryahu ben Shaphan bulla, has been mentioned. The other is the cazaryahu ben Hilqiyahu bulla may perhaps relate to a high priest. However, these two names are extremely common in this era, and this high priest receives very little mention in the Bible. It is only through comparison between names in the genealogical lists of high priests in 1 Chronicles 5:39 and 9:11 and the name of the high priest in 2 Kings 22-23 (Hilqiyahu, no father mentioned) that this name can be ascertained. In fact, the possible identification was published in 1991, several years after the publication of the original bulla in 1986.

Unlike the book of Kings, the book of Jeremiah discusses events that occur in a very limited scope of place and time. The individuals are not high profile but rather court and Temple officials whose names may not have been known in other towns or later generations, had not some source been preserved from that time. This is why the increasing number of finds that all provide a similar background and which all locate individuals named in the book of Jeremiah may be very significant. This is a case where the sum is greater than its parts, forming the base for further conclusions. On its basis, we may even be allowed to suggest that the bulla was probably not sent from elsewhere but is indeed part of an original Temple archive or treasury. Another important conclusion is obviously that the book of Jeremiah is increasingly corroborated by external provenanced evidence. As Prof. Christopher Heard recently put it, "[This does not] demonstrate the historicity of any of the events reported for Jeremiah's life in the book of Jeremiah. However, the demonstrably genuine bullae do show that the narratives in Jeremiah are not complete fabrications of someone's imagination — they at least feature real people as characters."

On the negative side, perhaps prompted by the Gemaryahu bulla, it seems that individuals mentioned by Jeremiah have already become very attractive for forgers. It is partly for that reason, that I ignore such bullae as the Baruch or Yerahme'el bullae (one considered today definitely a forgery and another likely inauthentic and one I don't know about - see Yuval Goren's first comment here) or the seal mentioned above in the quote by Dr. Gabriel Barkay, on the basis of which the text of the Immer bulla is reconstructed as "to Ga'alyahu son of Immer." I don't know if that seal is provenanced but my guess it isn't, and from my point of view, it could refer just as well to Ga'alyahu, Gedalyahu or any other name that ends in ליהו lyhw. We simply don't know, and it's not even that significant of an issue.

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