Saturday, November 22, 2008

THE NEW ZINCIRLI INSCRIPTION is covered by Archaeology Magazine, with nice photos and lots of new background on the excavation and the discovery:
Insight into the Soul

November 19, 2008
by Eti Bonn-Muller

An inscribed stele from Zincirli, Turkey, illuminates Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife

An eighth-century B.C. funerary stele unearthed this summer at the site of Zincirli in southeastern Turkey, known in ancient times as Sam'al, is providing rare insight into Iron Age concepts of the soul. Archaeologists from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute recently announced a translation of the monument's 13-line inscription, which is emblazoned beside a depiction of the deceased, a high official named Kuttamuwa.


When graduate students from the University of Chicago, led by Virginia Rimmer, the excavation area supervisor, first uncovered the monument's rounded top, they noticed vertical lines incised across it. "They wondered if that was writing so they started looking at these scratches, trying to figure them out," Schloen says. The lines, it turns out, were from modern plows. The stele lay fewer than eight inches below the surface of a wheat field that had been farmed for generations.

A workman carefully exposed the object further and next saw its rounded back, which the archaeologists thought might be a grindstone. But when the workman saw the top line of clear writing, he called Rimmer over right away. Working in the area were two graduate students specializing in Northwest Semitic philology, Samuel Boyd and Benjamin Thomas, who had just taken a course in exactly the kind of inscription and dialect on the stele. "None of the rest of us were experts on this particular script," says Schloen. "They translated it on the spot!"

Those were some lucky graduate students!

By the way, kudos to the excavator and epigrapher for making the stele, including good photographs, available so quickly and in advance of the official publication.

(Heads up, reader Chip Hardy.)
MORE ON KHIRBET QEIFAYA and its proposed identification with the biblical Sha'arayim:
Biblical City Where David Battled Goliath Found?
Mati Milstein in Tel Aviv
for National Geographic News
November 21, 2008

The remains of an ancient gate has pinpointed the location of the biblical city Sha'arayim, say archaeologists working in Israel.

In the Bible, young King David is described as battling Goliath in the city, before eventually killing him in the Elah Valley.

The fortified gate at the Elah Fortress—the second to be found at the site—proves the existence of Sha'arayim, which means "two gates" in Hebrew, said Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel.

"All the sites from this period uncovered so far had only one gate. We have two gates and this is very unusual," Garfinkel said.

The gate, constructed of stones weighing up to ten tons, is located on the site's eastern side, facing Jerusalem.


Evidence of King David

The discovery is the second recent find to be made at the Elah Fortress—known as Khirbet Qeiyafa in Arabic—which is located near the present-day Israeli city of Bet Shemesh.

In October, Garfinkel revealed a 3,000-year-old pottery shard with text believed to be Hebrew—then hailed as the most important archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Initial carbon-14 dating of olive pits found at the site, as well as analysis of pottery remains, placed the text to between 1000 and 975 B.C.—the time King David would have lived.

The article concludes:
Garfinkel said he will continue to explore the Elah site in search of further evidence.

"Maybe we'll find an inscription on the gate indicating who built the city: 'I David, son of Yishai, built this city,'" he said with a laugh.
Or something. Wouldn't that just be nice?

Background here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: It doesn't give the last words of Joseph of Arimathea, but there's a British ancient Aramaic inscription from Hadrian's Wall. Robin Yassin-Kassab has the story in "On the Empire's Edge" at the UAE National:
Walking out along the wall stirred the imagination: I was walking in the steps of ancient Syrians. A tombstone found at Housesteads depicts an archer armed with an oriental-style recurved bow. Texts found elsewhere show that a cohort of 500 bowmen from the Syrian city of Hama served in Britain, and spent some of their time on the wall, perhaps shooting game for the garrison to eat.

To me, this was of more than academic interest. We moved only recently to this area from Oman, and we still lack a sense of belonging. Castle Douglas, our damp little town, seems very monocultural, and my family, being multicultural – my wife is Syrian, from Damascus and perhaps originally Palmyra, and I am an Anglo-Syrian mix – seem correspondingly out of place. Yet all those centuries ago there had been Syrians here, and north Africans, and Europeans of all descriptions. I wanted to learn more, so after crisps and coffee at the cafe we drove on to visit the Roman ruins at Corbridge, where Barathes died.

Before my grandfather died he told me that a Syrian soldier was buried on the wall. Clutching at straws in my Scottish isolation, I trawled the internet for information on this lost countryman. I didn’t find a soldier but Barathes, an itinerant Syrian merchant, entombed just south of the wall in Corbridge. My wife was particularly pleased with my discovery, for Barathes was, like her, originally from Palmyra. The presence of a Palmyran at this northern fort means the Syrian archers were not alone; there were Syrian businessmen and even Syrian religious officials in Roman Britain. An altar dedicated to Syrian goddesses has been excavated at Catterick in Yorkshire, bearing the inscription: “For the Goddesses of the city of Hama, Sabinus has made this.” And in some strange way in cold Castle Douglas, Barathes’s proximity made us feel that we too were not alone.

It took half an hour to get from Housesteads to Corbridge. The old Stanegate road used to end here, at the fort built in AD79 when Emperor Agricola was campaigning into Scotland. But Corbridge was more town than fort; there were temples, markets and an aqueduct as well as a barracks.

And Barathes the Palmyran would have been here for trade, even if his white hair (he was 68 when he died – a venerable age in Roman times) qualified him for a restful retirement. He was a trader of ensigns, a flag salesman, and apparently a wealthy man. A fragment of his gravestone, enough to tell his name, age, origin and occupation, was found recycled as building material in the wall of a nearby house. Today it’s on show in Corbridge’s museum.

I pitied this lonely Arab who had so narrowly escaped historical oblivion. What must it have been like for Levantine men to work at what was then the remotest edge of the earth? Although Phoenicians from Carthage (in modern Tunisia) had come to buy British tin in the fourth century BC, until the Roman invasion many in the ancient world refused to believe that the misty isles of the far north-west even existed. I remembered standing on the wall beyond Housesteads, looking into the raw, dark moorscape of crag and rock and black water, and feeling to my bones how the British frontier was a bad luck posting. The kind of fabled land a Syrian would have used to scare his children into obedience. Finish your soup or we’ll send you to northern Britain!

After exploring the ruins we sat in a cafe in modern Corbridge and looked through the window onto the elegant village houses, wondering how many chunks of Roman masonry had gone into their construction. As I drank my soup (tomato, and tasty) I read the Corbridge guidebook, and learnt there had been more to Barathes’s old age than icy winds. He had commissioned the tombstone of a British woman called Regina, who was buried at Arbeia, the easternmost fort on the wall. This was too good to be true: I had to visit Arbeia.


And here, overlooking the mouth of the Tyne, stood Arbeia. The low, bare ruins of the fort are bordered by redbrick terraced houses and a school. There is an impressively reconstructed Roman gateway, and down the road a little is a view of the sea. The name Arbeia means ‘place of the Arabs’. In the site museum I was surprised to discover that these Arabs weren’t Syrian but Iraqi – “boatmen of the Tigris” to be precise. In a strange historical reversal, Iraqis serving a global empire once helped to police North Sea shipping, as the British Navy patrols the Shatt al-Arab today. The Iraqis were in charge of sea supplies for the garrisons stationed on Hadrian’s Wall. The Semitic goddess Astarte (or Ishtar) was worshipped here, beside the gods of Spanish soldiers. There was even a maghrebi presence: the museum contains the tomb of 20-year-old Victor, a freed slave “of the Moorish nation.”

But it was Regina’s story that crowned the visit. At a very young age Regina became a slave, and at some point she was purchased by Barathes. Later he declared her a freedwoman, and then married her. Regina died at the age of 30, and her grieving Palmyran husband spared no expense on her tombstone. She is sculpted holding her spinning and a jewellery box, and wearing a Romano-British dress. As well as the Latin, there is an inscription in Aramaic, the language of Barathes which is still spoken in a few Syrian villages today. It reads, simply and poignantly: “Regina, the freedwoman of Barathes, alas.” The tombstone is in fine condition except for Regina’s head, which has fallen away; she has a name and a sketchy biography, but no face.

My emphasis. I knew of Barathes and Regina from the Minimus books, but I didn't know about the Aramaic inscription. Cool.

The Arbeia website is here. It reports that the Aramaic (Palmyrene) inscription reads RGYN BT HRY T HBL.

More on Hadrian's Wall here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

GOOD ADVICE from Mark Goodacre on Enjoying SBL, even though I shall doubtless once again ignore the part about burning the candle at both ends. But maybe I'll redeem myself with an afternoon nap from time to time.

Perhaps this is also a good time to mention my advice on How to Read a Scholarly Paper from several years ago.

I've been awake since 3:00 am, but had a good night's sleep after a couple of very long days. I'm planning to spend today shopping and sightseeing and to attend the PSCO session tonight.

Meanwhile, the gym opens at 6:00.
HEROD'S TOMB (if that's what it is) has been getting a lot of attention again in the last couple of days. This National Geographic piece covers the essentials and has a nice photo and a video:
New Finds at King Herod's Tomb: 2,000-Year-Old Frescoes
Mati Milstein in Herodium, West Bank
for National Geographic News
November 19, 2008

ON TV Herod's Lost Tomb airs Sunday, November 23, at 9 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel. Details >>

Archaeologists exploring King Herod's tomb complex near Jerusalem have uncovered rare Roman paintings as well as two sarcophagi, or stone coffins, that could have contained the remains of Herod's sons.


New Findings

Netzer revealed new discoveries at a Wednesday press conference in Jerusalem.

Recent excavations uncovered an elaborate theater dating slightly earlier than Herod's burial complex that had been demolished to enable construction of the artificial mountain that served as his tomb.

The walls of the theater's loggia—a balcony that served as a VIP room and viewing box—are decorated with well-preserved Roman paintings of windows and outdoor scenes.

Note also this LA Times photo of the sarcophagus.

Background here, here, and here.
THE MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE CONTROVERSY has been getting a lot of press. Much of it has been negative and I have not found a single article that actively defends the Museum's position. Here's one piece from The Forward:
An Intolerable Spot for a Museum
By Buzzy Gordon
Thu. Nov 20, 2008

In the Jewish community, the name Simon Wiesenthal is sacrosanct — which is why Rabbi Marvin Hier chose to establish his West Coast empire on the bedrock of the Nazi hunter’s reputation when Hier entered the institutional Judaism vacuum of Los Angeles 30 years ago. Over the course of the past three decades, the Simon Wiesenthal Center brand has been enhanced by its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, but recent developments in Israel have begun to tarnish the institution’s reputation.


Jerusalem is too fragile a place for a flamboyant building, however well-intentioned, that creates ill will among a significant sector of the population that shows no signs of accepting it. As one call to action put it: “The legal battle has been lost… we must move on to the political battle.” Is a so-called Museum of Tolerance worth turning the Holy City into a battleground once again, in the 21st century?

Instead of such a grandiose scheme, let the center invite Arab architects to collaborate in designing a tasteful Garden of Tolerance on the disputed site, as an extension of the existing belt of green that is Independence Park.

At the same time, let the ambitious Gehry museum be built in an area where the most benefit can be derived, such as near the Jerusalem Forest’s Kennedy Memorial, or where Jews and Arabs can welcome it equally, such as on the road to Bethlehem or in the Galilee.
If the media coverage is any indication, the Museum may have won the legal battle, but it has already lost the political one.

Background here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'M IN BOSTON, writing from my hotel room. More tomorrow.
I'M OFF TO BOSTON for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I expect blogging to continue through it more or less as normally. As usual, I will be presenting a paper and, as usual, I am posting it here in advance for those who can't make it to the conference or the session.

The Book of Revelation and the Hekhalot Literature (PDF file)
SBL23-65, Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism
11/23/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Beacon H - SH

A handout containing passages from my (hopefully soon to be published) translation of the Hekhalot literature is here (PDF file).

Also, Douglas Mangum has posted a list of Bibliobloggers Presenting at SBL at the Biblia Hebraica blog.

I'm preposting this note on Wednesday. I'll be traveling all day Thursday and expect to arrive on Thursday evening. Look for me again by Friday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

THE JESUS PROJECT - a new Jesus Seminar, sort of:
Scholars will investigate the Sources of the Gospel

Amherst, New York (November 17, 2008)--Following in the footsteps of the famed Jesus Seminar, scholars representing the cream of the crop in the field of Biblical studies are set to gather December 5-7 at the Center for Inquiry campus in Amherst, New York for a conference devoted to exploring the historical Jesus. The sessions will mark the inaugural meeting of the new "Jesus Project," first announced to the world at the University of California at Davis in January of 2007. "The Jesus Project" is an initiative of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), housed at Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a secularist think tank.

"The conference in Amherst will answer the challenge laid down by CSER Fellow and Jesus Seminar cofounder John Dominic Crossan, namely, how one goes about deciding what counts for evidence of the Jesus tradition," said R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. "I suspect we will witness a lively discussion on the question of sources and methods. How can we know what constituted the earliest phase of the Jesus-tradition? Is it possible to reconstruct the earliest form of the gospel, using the advanced techniques of biblical and historical criticism?"

"The Jesus Project" is devoted to examining the case for the historical existence of Jesus based on a rigorous application of historical critical methods to the gospels and related literature. Unlike the "Jesus Seminar," founded in 1985 by the late Professor Robert Funk of the University of Montana, the new Seminar regards the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure as a "testable hypothesis." Hoffmann said that the project has been called for by a number of scholars who felt that the first Jesus Seminar may have been--for political reasons--too reluctant to follow where the evidence led.

THE BIBLE'S BURIED SECRETS from PBS is reviewed by Alan Boyle on the Cosmic Log.
"The Bible's Buried Secrets," premiering tonight on PBS, presents archaeological findings that will annoy believers as well as skeptics - which suggests the TV documentary just might be on the right track.
BOOK REVIEW (one of Reform Judaism's great gifts for Chanukah):
Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism by Howard Schwartz, illustratedby Caren Loebel-Fried
(Oxford University Press, 618 pp., paperback $29.95)

Is there a Jewish mythology? If myth refers to “a people’s sacred stories about origins, deities, ancestors, and heroes,” the answer is yes—and now we have access to it, thanks to Judaism’s own answer to Joseph Campbell. With this unique anthology, Howard Schwartz, the preeminent reteller of Jewish stories, has created a genre.

WEST BANK LOOTING continues relentlessly:
Since the start of the second intifada, looters have overrun not just Khirbet Tawas but countless other archaeological sites that crowd the West Bank (map, opposite). Few jobs, inadequate law enforcement by both Palestinian and Israeli authorities, and demand for artifacts just across the border in Israel have created the perfect setting for looting, says Morag Kersel, an expert at the University of Toronto on the illegal antiquities trade.
This from National Geographic. I have noted the problem before, for example, here and here,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MORE ON THE NEW ZINCIRLI INSCRIPTION - a press release from EukeraAlert:
Funerary monument reveals Iron Age belief that the soul lived in the stone
Discovery in Turkey comes from major Iron Age site

Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.

University of Chicago researchers will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.

The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee"), the site of the ancient city of Sam'al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.


"The stele is in almost pristine condition. It is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus provides an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture," said David Schloen, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute and Director of the University's Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli.

Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele's 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on "Paleographical Studies in the Near East."


German archaeologists first excavated the 100-acre site in the 1890s and unearthed massive city walls, gates and palaces. A number of royal inscriptions and other finds are now on display in museums in Istanbul and Berlin. Schloen and his team from the University of Chicago have excavated Zincirli for two months annually since 2006.

"Zincirli is a remarkable site," said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. "Because no other cities were built on top of it, we have excellent Iron Age materials right under the surface. It is rare also in having written evidence together with artistic and archaeological evidence from the Iron Age. Having all of that information helps an archaeologist study the ethnicity of the inhabitants, trade and migration, as well as the relationships of the groups who lived there."

The stele was discovered last summer in a small room that had been converted into a mortuary shrine for the royal official Kuttamuwa, self-described in the inscription as a "servant" of King Panamuwa of the eighth century B.C. It was found in the outer part of the walled city in a domestic area—most likely the house of Kuttamuwa himself—far from the royal palaces, where inscriptions had previously been found.

The inscription reads in part: "I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, ... a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, ... and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …" It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.

The finding sheds a striking new light on Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife. In this case, it was the belief that the enduring identity or "soul" of the deceased inhabited the monument on which his image was carved and on which his final words were recorded.

Background here. This sounds like a remarkable discovery. 2008 has certainly been a good year for Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

The paper by Professors Schloen and Pardee is a late addition and is not in the paper program, but here's the information on it from the SBL website:
SBL23-84Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Meeting Room 304 - CC

Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion, Presiding (10 min)
Jason Bembry, Emmanuel School of Religion
Multiple Vocalizations in the Cairo Genizah Fragment TS A 39.3 (20 min)
Kent Clarke, Trinity Western University
The Trinity Western University-Wikene Papyri “Rediscovery” (20 min)
Joe Zias, Science and Archaeology-Jerusalem
Ancient Graffiti within the Alleged Judean (Tzuba) Cave of John the Baptist: John, or Lazarus, the Crusader Patron Saint of Leprosy? (20 min)
Christopher A. Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Horvat Uza Epigraphs: New Collations of the Entire Corpus (20 min)
Philip C. Schmitz, Eastern Michigan University
Interpreting the “Separate Inscriptions” from Karatepe-Aslantas (20 min)
Robert Deutsch, Tel Aviv University
The Hebrew Fiscal Bullae from the Time of Hezekiah King of Judah (20 min)
Dennis Pardee, University of Chicago and David Schloen, University of Chicago
A New Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli (20 min)
Unfortunately my paper is at about the same time, so I won't be able to make it to Pardee's and Schloen's. But I trust that there will be some bibliobloggers there to give us all a full report.

UPDATE: I see that the NYT also has a long article that I initially missed. It has quite a bit to say about the term "soul" in the text, which is used in a way not found for the cognate word nefesh in the Hebrew Bible:
The discovery and its implications were described last week in interviews with archaeologists and a linguist at the University of Chicago, who excavated and translated the inscription.

“Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone.”

A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”

Dr. Pardee said the word used for soul, nabsh, was Aramaic, a language spoken throughout northern Syria and parts of Mesopotamia in the eighth century. But the inscription seemed to be a previously unrecognized dialect. In Hebrew, a related language, the word for soul is nefesh.

In addition to the writing, a pictorial scene chiseled into the well-preserved stele depicts the culture’s view of the afterlife. A bearded man wearing a tasseled cap, presumably Kuttamuwa, raises a cup of wine and sits before a table laden with food, bread and roast duck in a stone bowl.

In other societies of the region, scholars say, this was an invitation to bring customary offerings of food and drink to the tomb of the deceased. Here family and descendants supposedly feasted before a stone slab in a kind of chapel. Archaeologists have found no traces there of a tomb or bodily remains.

Joseph Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research, said cult offerings to the dead were common in the Middle East, but not the idea of a soul separate from the body — except in Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, Dr. Wegner noted, the human entity has separate components. The body is important, and the elite went to great expense to mummify and entomb it for eternity. In death, though, a life force or spirit known as ka was immortal, and a soul known as ba, which was linked to personal attributes, fled the body after death.

Dr. Wegner said the concept of a soul held by the people at Sam’al “sounds vaguely Egyptian in its nature.” But there was nothing in history or archaeology, he added, to suggest that the Egyptian civilization had a direct influence on this border kingdom.
UPDATE: Chuck Jones has posted a high-resolution photograph of the inscription here at The Oriental Institute: Fragments for a History of an Institution blog.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH, sort of: There's a new SBL group being formed which focuses on the study of the Jerusalem Temple. From William J. Hamblin (via David Seeley via the Agade list):
A few years ago we noted that there was no SBL group dedicated to the study of the temple in biblical and related traditions. So we plunged in where angels fear to tread and have set about trying to organize a new consultation we are calling, prosaically enough, "Temple Studies."

We've initiated the authorization process, but have not yet been given final approval to form an official consultation. The SBL organizers want us to have an initial "business" meeting to gauge interest and get feedback before we receive final approval for the consultation.

A Temple Studies "new program unit formation meeting" has therefore been scheduled on Monday afternoon from 1:00-3:30 pm in the Jefferson Room in the Sheraton Hotel (we anticipate that the meeting will last roughly an hour). In this meeting we will discuss the details of how to go about organizing our consultation, form a steering committee, and discuss what we hope to accomplish with our group. Our plan is to get final SBL approval in the next few months, and have a formal Temple Studies sponsored session at SBL in 2009. We invite all who are interested in seeing a Temple Studies consultation established at SBL to attend.

We've also created a Google Group for SBL Temple Studies:

We can have a "list-serv" style email exchanges on this group, and use it as a place to archive bibliographies, reviews, images, papers, etc.

If you'd like to join this email group, go to the above link, then click on "join this group" on the right side of the page. If you have trouble joining, send an email to, and I'll try to add you.

If you are interested in participating, but are unable to attend this meeting, please join the "SBL Temple Studies" Google group, where we will be posting the minutes of our business meeting, regular announcements, etc.

Please forward this message to any colleagues you know who might be interested in attending. We look forward to seeing you next Monday.
I've joined the Google group. It's high time for such an SBL group to be formed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New evidence surfaces of David's kingdom

Matthew Kalman, [San Francisco] Chronicle Foreign Service

(11-17) 04:00 PST Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel -- For 3,000 years, the 12-foot high walls of an ancient city have been clearly visible on a hill towering above the Valley of Elah where the Bible says David slew Goliath.

But no one has ever linked the ruins to the city mentioned in the First Book of Samuel's famous account of the legendary duel and the victory of the Israelites - until now. On Tuesday, Hebrew University archaeology Professor Yosef Garfinkel will present compelling evidence to scholars at Harvard University that he has found the 10th century biblical city of Sha'arayim, Hebrew for "Two Gates." Garfinkel, who made his startling discovery at the beginning of this month, will also discuss his findings at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference hosted by Boston University on Thursday.


The revelation comes only weeks after Garfinkel's team discovered the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found at the same five-acre site - a 3,000-year-old pottery fragment bearing five lines of text in proto-Canaanite script, a precursor of Hebrew. It was found in a house next to a massive gate on the western side of Khirbet Qeiyafa hill, which Garfinkel believed was the city's only entrance - until finding a second gate last week.


Garfinkel, who has excavated numerous sites in Israel, says he discovered the second gate after noticing an apparent break in the massive stone wall as he walked along the 2,100-foot long structure that faced the road to Jerusalem. After two days of digging, his hunch paid off. A second entrance constructed from massive stones lay just a few feet beneath the topsoil.

"This is the only city from the Iron Age in this region ever found with two gates," said Garfinkel as he clambered over the huge structure. "It was probably a mistake. It made the city more vulnerable. It might explain why it appears to have been settled only twice, for very short periods."

It has also recently been argued by Nadav Na'aman that Kirbet Qeiyafa was the biblical city of Gob.
Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The photo archives of a British archeologist who carried out the only archeological excavation ever undertaken at the Temple Mount's Aksa Mosque show a Byzantine mosaic floor underneath the mosque that was likely the remains of a church or a monastery, an Israeli archeologist said on Sunday.

The excavation was carried out in the 1930s by R.W. Hamilton, director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department, in coordination with the Wakf Islamic Trust that administers the compound, following earthquakes that badly damaged the mosque in 1927 and 1937.

In conjunction with the Wakf's construction and repair work carried out between 1938 and 1942, Hamilton excavated under the mosque's piers, and documented all his work related to the mosque in The Structural History of the Aqsa Mosque.

Hamilton also uncovered the Byzantine mosaic floor and beneath it a mikva (ritual bath) from the Second Temple period, which he pointedly did not include in the publication about the mosque, but instead photographed and labeled in a file about the mosque, archeologist Zachi Zweig said on Sunday.

This is an unexpected twist to the convoluted history of the Temple Mount.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ANCIENT PHOENICIANS AND JEWS IN CYPRUS - Judie Fine tells what she found:
Suddenly, a light went on in our guide's eyes. "I just thought of something," she said. "About two months ago I went to a lecture by one of our top archeologists about the ancient site of Kition, which isn't far from here. He said that the Phoenicians came to Kition in the ninth century B.C.E, and found an old temple there. They rebuilt it and dedicated it to their goddess Astarte. From the ruins, we learn about the architecture of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, because it was built on the same model. Do you want to go there?"

I hopped into the van with Zeev and soon we were standing at the Kition archeological site. Among other ruins, from other periods, was the outline of a stone temple with an area for the Holy of Holies and the bases of two columns in the main room. "Like the Temple of Solomon," our guide said, and an explanatory plaque reinforced what she was saying. The Phoenicians had left behind the architectural outline of a temple that was contemporaneous to the Temple of Solomon. Zeev stared. I stared.

"Where are the entrances?" Zeev asked the guide. "The Temple of Solomon had more than one entrance." We scrutinized the ruin, trying to discern where the entrances may have been.

"Oh, one other thing," said Zeev. "I have this book to show you. I haven't read it, because I can't read English very well. It's about the history of Jews in Cyprus."

Excited, I borrowed the book from Zeev when we dropped him off at his house. Written two years ago by a very knowledgeable Cypriot historian and archeologist named Stavros Panteli, it contained everything I had been searching for. My feelings had been right. Of course there was a long-standing Jewish presence in Cyprus. "Cyprus has had a role in Jewish history unparalleled by any country other than Israel itself," the introduction read. I read--no-- I devoured the book.

The first Hebrew settlements in Cyprus may have been as early as the Assyrian conquest of Israel, but they most certainly were established after the Babylonian conquest of Judea. By the 2nd century BCE, Jews flourished as craftsmen, garment-makers, financiers and merchants. There is literary evidence as well as Hasmonean coins that have been found on the island.

A very cosmopolitan city, Salamis, housed a great number of Jews, especially following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

In the first and second centuries, there were Jewish rebellions in the Diaspora throughout the Roman-dominated world. There was also friction between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors and restrictions placed upon the Jews. In a violent uprising, Jews clashed with the Gentiles of Cyprus. A Roman edict was passed that no Jew, upon pain of death, should ever set foot again on the island. But this seemed not to have deterred some Jews from staying, and others from arriving there during the succeeding centuries.
More on the Phoenicians of Kition here. More on Jews in ancient Cyprus here.
THE FIRE GOSPEL by Michel Faber is reviewed by Adrian Michael Kelly in the Canadian Globe and Mail. Excerpt:
Less commonly, the fallible apostle achieves in spite of himself a kind of poetry. The Fire Gospel should succeed in transporting even hardened unbelievers to Golgotha and to the foot of a cross on which a man, hanging by his pinioned wrists, does not draw his last breath to say, "Into thy hands I commend myself," but rather, "Please, somebody, please finish me."

That moving moment in Malchus's testament may, for less venturesome readers, be undone by the scene that follows. The rapture of Malchus blends pornography, poetry and black humour, and I think it the novel's best moment. Faber can write with economy and grace.

Too often, however, he writes almost glibly. At its worst, The Fire Gospel is itself symptomatic of the desacralized, irony-laden age it sets out to lampoon. Most of the novel follows Theo through his harrowing promotional tour after he publishes the Gospel of Malchus, and most of the targets of Faber's satire - mass-market publishing, for example - are as easy and as tired as most of his jokes.
Background here.
THE BABYLON EXHIBITION at the British Museum is reviewed again in the London Times. Excerpt:
There can be few more daunting artefacts to include successfully in a show than a cuneiform tablet. Who among us can stare at one of these jumbles of incisions and see meaning in it? Certainly not me. So considerable acclaim should be heaped on the heads of these particular exhibition-makers for daring to include so many writing tablets and for making them so damn interesting. To see names and situations made familiar by the Bible being described so vividly from another angle is such an eye-opener.

I was particularly intrigued by a religious tablet in which an attempt is made to explain how the many Babylonian gods are actually different manifestations of Marduk, the supreme god. A nascent monotheism is clearly emerging. And a brave man even might argue that, on this evidence, the Jewish belief in a single supreme being must originally have been influenced by Babylonian thinking.
Well maybe. But the Judean exiles took the idea and ran with it while the Babylonians only played with it a little.

Background here.