Saturday, July 24, 2010

New discoveries at Petra

PETRA is finally in the news for something besides another travelogue:
Ancient City of Petra Tombs Reveal 61 Burials and Islamic Gold Medallion
Submitted by owenjarus on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 08:17 (Heritage Key)

Inside this tomb archaeologists found a gold medallion, with an Islamic inscription, that may have been used to ward off evil. Outside they found the remains of a stone platform that can be seen in this photo. Photo courtesy Professor David Johnson.
Archaeologists have made two major tomb discoveries at the ancient city of Petra in southern Jordan.

They discovered a rock-cut tomb that contained the skeletal remains of 61 individuals, along with a wealth of wooden artefacts, animal bones and ceramics.

The second discovery was made at a place called tomb 676. While excavating it archaeologists found a gold medallion with an Islamic inscription on it. The find dates to long after the tomb was abandoned.

“This object was placed in the tomb in a later period - perhaps as a way of warding off evil coming from the tomb,” said Professor David Johnson, of Brigham Young University in Utah, who led the team that made both tomb finds. He has been working in Petra for nearly three decades.

Each of the tombs date back about 2,000 years, to a time when the city was prosperous. At that time Petra was ruled by a people called the Nabataeans – an Arabic people who made the city the centre of their kingdom. Petra’s location made it a natural place to do business with people coming from Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Nabataeans spoke Arabic but used Aramaic as their written language for official purposes.

There are some good tomb photos in the article, but none of the medallion.

(Via Dorothy King on Facebook.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Replica of Solomon's Temple to be build in Saõ Paolo

Rebuilding Solomon’s Temple, in São Paulo


This week, as Jews around the world observed the fasting day of Tisha B’av, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples in ancient Jerusalem, a Brazilian megachurch received planning permission to build a 10,000-seat replica of Solomon’s Temple in the city of São Paulo.

As Tom Phillips of The Guardian noted, a Brazilian newspaper, Estado de São Paulo, reported that the church will cost an estimated $200 million and should be completed in four years.

We're talking about a larger than full-scale model here. Judging from the simulated view of the Holy of Holies, historical authenticity will be upstaged by other considerations (see the video).

Cross-file under "Temple Mount Watch," only not.

Dennis Pardee appointed to a named chair

CONGRATULATIONS TO DENNIS PARDEE, who has been promoted to a named chair at the University of Chicago. Press release:
Dennis Pardee has been appointed the Henry Crown Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

Currently Professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Pardee studies northwest Semitic languages and is a leading scholar of Ugarit, the language spoken by the residents of the ancient Syrian city. He is the author of two–volume scholarly translation of Ugaritic rituals, many of which had been difficult for scholars to access before the publication of Pardee’s translation.

In 2008, Pardee translated the inscription on an ancient stone slab uncovered by an Oriental Institute team in southeast Turkey. The slab provided the first written evidence in the belief that the soul was separate from the body.

Pardee teaches intermediate and advanced Biblical Hebrew, and is a 2010 recipient of the University’s Graduate Teaching Award. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995. In 2007 he delivered the British Academy’s prestigious Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology.

He received his Ph.D. from UChicago in 1974 and has been teaching at UChicago since 1972.
Via the The Oriental Institute: Fragments for a History of an Institution blog via Christopher Rollston on Facebook. I have noted Professor Pardee's work on the new Zincirli inscription (a.k.a. the Kuttamuwa's Soul inscription) here and here.

UPDATE: Blog name corrected in last paragraph. Sorry about that.

Robert Cargill hosts a National Geographic DSS documentary

ROBERT CARGILL hosts a National Geographic documentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls, to air on 27 July:
Scholar highlights new research on Dead Sea Scrolls in TV special

After 12 years of researching the Dead Sea Scrolls, UCLA archaeologist Robert Cargill couldn’t believe his luck last January when he finally got to penetrate archaeology’s Holy of Holies — the underground vault beneath the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. There he read from the Isaiah Scroll, the oldest-known copy of any book of the Bible.

"Nobody I know has ever been down there," recalled Cargill, the instructional technology coordinator for UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities and an adjunct assistant professor of Near Eastern Languages and Culture. “As a scholar, it’s as close as you can get to a religious experience.”

The moving moment is captured in an hour-long exploration of new research on the Dead Sea Scrolls that will air next week on the National Geographic Channel. Religious texts dated between 150 BC and 70 AD and written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek on parchment or papyrus, the scrolls include the oldest-known surviving copies of the Bible as well as religious commentary from the flowering of Jewish culture that followed the return from the exile in Babylon.

As the on-air investigator for “Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Cargill talked to nine archaeologists and other scholars who are conducting research that is challenging old assumptions about the authorship of the texts.

Robert Cargill's blog is here. I see also that he has an interesting post on the recent research that argues that the Temple Scroll may have been produced in the vicinity of Qumran based on the chemical composition of the water that went into the scroll. Excerpt:
At roughly 32% salinity, the water in the Dead Sea is nearly 9 times as saline as the oceanic average. Likewise, the Dead Sea has the highest concentration of bromide ions (Br−) of all bodies of waters on Earth. Because of these distinctive properties, the chlorine and bromine levels of the Temple Scroll’s parchment can be used as a way of determining the origin of the parchment. Because the bromine levels matched those distinctively elevated levels of the Dead Sea, the researchers could confidently conclude that the parchment of the Temple Scroll was manufactured at or near the Dead Sea.

The Italian team says it will next use the same XPIXE and particle accelerator technique to test the Temple Scroll’s ink. This is an important test because it is possible that the parchment was cured at or near the Dead Sea, and then sold or transported elsewhere for use by scribes residing in some other region. Qumran has offered evidence of animal husbandry, and appears to have had distillation vats (Locus 121) that may have been used to cure animal hides for the production of parchment. While the existence of inkwells in Locus 30, evidence of animal husbandry (needed for animal skins), and the presence of distillation vats all support the suggestion that scrolls (or at least parchment) were produced at Qumran, it does not necessarily follow that the resulting parchment was inscribed at Qumran. Granted this is somewhat of a minimalist position, but one cannot argue for certain that the Temple Scroll’s parchment was cured at Qumran, only that it was cured using water from the Dead Sea. Likewise, the presence of parchment production facilities (if that’s what they were indeed used for) at Qumran does not necessarily mean that the parchment was inscribed at Qumran, just as the presence of paper at a paper mill does not mean that the paper was used only at the mill. Just as most universities do not produce their own paper, but import it from elsewhere, so too could the parchment used for what became the Temple Scroll have come from the Dead Sea region, but inscribed elsewhere.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Synagoge unearthed at Horvat Kur

THE HORVAT KUR EXCAVATION has found a late-antique synagogue:
Ancient synagogue discovered at Horvat Kur

A group of researchers and students from the University of Helsinki Faculty of Theology participated in a project that unearthed an ancient synagogue in Israel.
Horvat Kur

The excavations of an international research group at Israel’s Horvat Kur in June and July culminated in the discovery of a subterranean wall. It turned out to be the western wall of a synagogue dating back to the 5th century CE. On the western side of the wall there is a cobblestone pavement, possibly the courtyard of the building. In addition, fragments of pilasters, among other things, were discovered in a nearby excavation.

Excavations were also carried out on a hill close by, where remnants of two courtyards and a room full of discarded pottery were discovered. This summer’s projects were the first systematic excavations in the village of Horvat Kur. The aim is to extend the excavation both around the synagogue and domestic quarters.

Background here.

Book review: Tawil and Schneider, Crown of Aleppo

BOOK REVIEW on the Aleppo Codex:
The Other Bible, the Crown of Aleppo

By Jonathan Kirsch (The Jewish Journal)

When it comes to the treasures of biblical antiquity, the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to get all the attention. But there is another Bible that deserves our attention — the so-called Crown of Aleppo.

To be sure, the Dead Sea Scrolls represent the oldest copies of the biblical text, but the earliest and most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible in the form of a bound book rather than a scroll is the Aleppo Codex, an object lovingly known in Jewish tradition as “the Crown.” How it was created, preserved and rediscovered is one of the great adventure stories of biblical scholarship.

The story is told in “Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex” by Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider (Jewish Publication Society: $45.00), a deft, elegant and utterly fascinating introduction to the object itself and its place in Jewish history.

Another review, plus more on the Aleppo Codex, are noted here.

Still more on Dura Europos

Considering Dura: Part III

Richard McBee
Posted Jul 21 2010 (The Jewish Press)

The significance of the 3rd century Dura Europos synagogue murals paradoxically lies less in their historical importance as the earliest example of Jewish narrative art than in their role as a paradigm of what is possible for contemporary Jewish artists. After all, we have absolutely no other examples of Jewish narrative art on this scale and one might argue Dura is simply an aberration, a curiosity from Late Antiquity, never repeated. But of course that is its power, revealing the untapped possibilities of Jewish narrative based on Torah, Midrash and individual creativity, spanning a gap of 1700 years and, with imagination, finding parallels and inspiration between their world and ours.

Admittedly the images we have are frequently hard to see and, when clear, primitive and foreign. Nonetheless, this unknown artist or artists, and the community that commissioned them, utilized Torah narratives as a means to comment on the complexity and hopes of their community, a small ethnic minority in a polytheistic Roman border town. The notion of consummate outsiders struggling to forge culture and identity surely resonates with the modern Diaspora Jewish artist.

There follow many photographic images of the murals with extensive commentary.

For Parts I and II go here and also note this. And earlier stories on Dura are noted here, here, and here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New book of Jewish SF and Fantasy

RUMORS of the dearth of Jewish fantasy literature are challenged by this new book.

(H-T Grant Macaskill.)

NYT report on the Israel Museum renewal

THE ISRAEL MUSEUM RENEWAL is covered by the New York Times:
Cleaning Up Intersection of Ancient and Modern

Published: July 20, 2010

JERUSALEM — The director of the Israel Museum was leading a visitor to see a provocative contemporary sculpture of a naked African youth when, stepping over protective cloths and around an exhibit of late Canaanite sarcophagi, he nearly ran into four workmen carrying the million-year-old horns of a wild bull.

The horns are the oldest items in the museum’s collection, and something about the juxtaposition of contemporary social consciousness, ancient ceremony and prehistoric beast summed up the museum’s refocused mission as it completes a three-year, $100 million renewal. As described by the director, James S. Snyder, the museum offers a series of unexpected aesthetic links across cultures and their histories, like the way 2,000-year-old carved ritual cups that are on view in the museum near the Dead Sea Scrolls are somehow evocative of Brancusi.


And today, here in the capital of the Jewish state, there is a tendency to see the world purely through Jewish history and culture. That is precisely what Mr. Snyder, an American Jew who spent 22 years at the Museum of Modern Art, has sought to avoid. Rather, he has emphasized the commonalities of cultures and tried to place Jewish history and practices in a broader and clearer context.

One example is a new display that focuses on the Byzantine era. On one side is a restored synagogue; next to it are a church and the prayer niche of a mosque. Roughly contemporary structures, they are placed in a way that highlights both their distinctiveness and their commonality.

There is a slide show here. The scene just described is at slide number 5.

Background here.

Fewer Sabaean Mandaeans in Iraq

FEWER SABEAN MADAEANS (Sabaean Mandaeans) are in Iraq this year to celebrate their new year.

Background here.

New book on the lost Book of Noah

NEW BOOK published by the SBL:
Noah and His Book(s)
Michael E. Stone, Aryeh Amihay, Vered Hillel

ISBN 1589834887
Status Available
Price: $45.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date June, 2010

In a collection of original essays, this book offers new insights on the question of the lost “book of Noah,” as well as studies of Noah’s figure in postbiblical literature. It focuses on ancient Jewish literature, including the Septuagint, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, and rabbinic literature, but Christian sources, especially Christian iconography, gnostic literature, and Syriac material, as well as later sources such as the Qur’an and Jewish medieval traditions, are also consulted. The contributors are Michael E. Stone, Vered Hillel, Aryeh Amihay, Michael Tuval, Daniel Machiela, Claire Pfann, Esther Eshel, Jeremy Penner, Rebecca Scharbach, Benjamin G. Wright III, Nadav Sharon and Moshe Tishel, Albert Geljon, Sergey Minov, Erica Martin, and Ruth Clements.

Michael E. Stone is Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and the author of numerous books on Second Temple literature and on Armenian studies. Aryeh Amihay is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. Vered Hillel is a professor at the Israel College of the Bible in Jerusalem.

Hardback edition available from Brill Academic Publishers (
Follow the link to order it.

Cross-file under "Lost books."

Jewish War symposium at Groningen

The Jewish War against Rome (66-70/74): Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Qumran Institute Symposium


21-22 October 2010

The symposium at the Qumran Institute of the University of Groningen (21-22 October 2010) brings together different disciplines and fields of research (literary, archaeological and numismatic sources) in understanding the broader historical context of the first Jewish revolt against Rome.

The focus of the symposium is on historiographical and methodological reflections: what are our sources, what is their nature and what sort of questions do they allow us to answer and what not? The scope is broad and integrates different sources and perspectives (local and site specific, regional, international), taking into account individuals, such as Flavius Josephus, and specific groups, such as the Sicarii or the people behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. The goal is to further our understanding of the impact of the Roman administration on Jewish Palestine and to understand better processes of ‘Romanization’ in Palestine, the various Jewish responses to it and how this shaped identities of groups involved in the conflict. For this interdisciplinary symposium we invited specialists from the different fields of research.

The conference is organised by Prof.dr. P.W. van der Horst, Prof.dr. E. Noort and dr. M. Popović, and is sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Groningen Research School for the Study of the Humanities.
Follow the link for full details and registration information.

A notice of the first Qumran Institute Symposium is here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More on computer "decipherment" of Ugaritic

CUNEIFORM DAY! National Geographic has an article on that recent computer "decipherment" of Ugaritic:
"Lost" Languages to Be Resurrected by Computers?

New program can translate ancient Biblical script.

Tim Hornyak

for National Geographic News

Published July 19, 2010

A new computer program has quickly deciphered a written language last used in Biblical times—possibly opening the door to "resurrecting" ancient texts that are no longer understood, scientists announced last week.

Created by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program automatically translates written Ugaritic, which consists of dots and wedge-shaped stylus marks on clay tablets. The script was last used around 1200 B.C. in western Syria.

As I have already noted, the program did not decipher Ugaritic, although it does sound like a useful tool to aid human decipherment of lost languages.

The rest of the article describes what the program actually does. But the most interesting bit was this part at the end:
The next step should be to see whether the program can help crack the handful of ancient scripts that remain largely incomprehensible.

Etruscan, for example, is a script that was used in northern and central Italy around 700 B.C. but was displaced by Latin by about A.D. 100. Few written examples of Etruscan survive, and the language has no known relations, so it continues to baffle archaeologists.

(Related: "Languages Racing to Extinction in Five Global 'Hotspots.'")

"In the case [of Ugaritic], you're dealing with a small and simple writing system, and there are closely related languages," noted Richard Sproat, an Oregon Health and Science University computational linguist who was not involved in the new work.

"It's not always going to be the case that there are closely related languages that one can use" for Rosetta Stone-like comparisons.

But study leader Barzilay thinks the decoding program can overcome this hurdle by scanning multiple languages at once and taking contextual information into account—improvements that could uncover unexpected similarities or links to known languages.
If this program leads to the decipherment of, say, Etruscan or Linear A, I will indeed be impressed.

Cuneiform law-code fragment found at Hazor

CUNEIFORM DAY! Jack Sasson passes on a message from the excavators of Hazor:
From Amnon Ben-Tor Amnon , Sharon Zuckerman
and Wayne Horowitz

Hazor Law Code Fragments

The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin have recovered two fragments of a cuneiform tablet preserving portions of a law code at Hazor.

The text parallels portions of the famous Law Code of Hammurabi, and, to a certain extent even the Biblical “tooth for a tooth”. The team is presently working its way down towards a monumental structure dating to the Bronze Age, where more tablets are expected to be found.

The tablet is currently being studied at the Hebrew University. More details to follow as soon as possible.

The excavations are sponsored by the Hebrew university and the Israel Exploration Society, and take place in the Hazor National Park.
This is excellent news. Ideally, it may indicate they are closing in on that elusive Late Bronze Age cuneiform archive for which they have been searching many years, and on which I was wistfully speculating last week. But we shouldn't get too excited yet about that possibility, since several other cuneiform tablets have been excavated at Hazor in past years, but neither that archive nor a possible second Middle Bronze Age one have been forthcoming. Still, we live in hope.

Nevertheless, the discovery of fragments of an LBA law-code from ancient Canaan is in itself important. I look forward to more details as they are released.

Christopher Rollston has some law-code bibliography here.

UPDATE: Seth Sanders has thoughts on this discovery too.

UPDATE: Jack Sasson e-mails to inform me that the Hazor fragments are Old Babylonian. So they bring further hope of recovering the MBA archive, not the LBA one.

Seth Sanders on the Jerusalem cuneiform fragment etc.

CUNEIFORM DAY! At his blog, Serving the Word, Seth Sanders has a discussion of the Amarna letters from Jerusalem (Consider Jerusalem! The Political Status of Jerusalem in the 14th Century B.C.E.); raises an important linguistic point regarding the new cuneiform fragment from Jerusalem ((Relatively) Clear New Linguistic Light on the Jerusalem Fragment); and has a post on the current discussion of the Canaanite-language influence on some of the Amarna letters (Hebrew's Early Ancestors and the Beginnings of International Relations: A Context for the Jerusalem Fragment).

More on the Esarhaddon treaty tablet

CUNEIFORM DAY! A report (with tablet photo) on a public lecture on the recently discovered Esarhaddon vassal treaty tablet by the site's excavator:
Canadian archeologists discover Old Testament-era tablet

By Jennifer Green , The Ottawa Citizen April 8, 2010

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty written in cuneiform that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.

The tablet, dating from about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.

Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.

“Those documents … seem to reflect very closely the formulaic structure of these treaty documents,” he told about 50 guests at the residence of the Turkish ambassador Rafet Akgunay.

Via Joseph Lauer.

Background and links here and here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teaching fellowship in NT at St. Andrews

TEACHING FELLOWSHIP IN NEW TESTAMENT: I just realized that I forgot to note this temporary position at the University of St. Andrews. Today is the deadline, but you still have until 5:00 pm local time to get it in.
Title Teaching Fellow in New Testament - SK7134
Vacancy Description School of Divinity £29,853 - £35,646 per annum pro rata Start: mid Sept 2010 Fixed term until 30 June 2011

Job Description Appointment will be from mid-September 2010 to 30 June 2011. You must have appropriate tertiary qualifications in the area of Biblical Studies, with a completed PhD in New Testament Studies. The primary responsibilities of the post are the delivery of two undergraduate modules over the course of the academic year: an introductory class on ‘Jesus and the Gospels’, and an honours module on an agreed topic. You will undertake the regular administrative and examining duties associated with this teaching, and will also supervise a number of honours dissertations, which may range in scope from across the field of New Testament Studies.
Follow this link for contact information and further particulars. DO NOT send any applications to me.

Phoenician and Punic news

THE GOOD SHIP PHOENICIA has reached the Azores:
82 days at sea, and Phoenicia reaches the Azores


It has been the longest and most challenging leg of their journey, but the Phoenicia, the replica of a 600BC Phoenician vessel which it is believed circumnavigated Africa, has reached the Azores.

The journey covered over 3500miles, with eight crew members, and proved that the sturdy vessel, faithfully recreated according to the mode of its era, could withstand the challenging conditions of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Phoenicia arrived in Flores, the most westerly island in the Azores this week, and is now anchored there.

Gibraltar is next. The ship has been sailing for nearly two years.

Further background here and follow the many links back.

More Phoenician/Punic news: a review of a book on Hannibal's tactics at the battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War:
The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal defeats mighty Rome

The legendary Hannibal won famously at Cannae with tactics still being discussed today — but in the end, he lost the war

Published On Sat Jul 17 2010 (Toronto Star)

On a sweltering August 2, 216 B.C., Hannibal was facing a Roman army on a plain near the Italian river Po. With the sun behind him, the legendary Carthaginian commander was in a good position. But he also had a plan.

Knowing the Romans always went for the centre, he set his troops up in a backwards C formation. When the Romans took the bait, they failed to notice that the Carthaginian centre was slowly drawing back into a proper C. The jaws of the trap closed when Hannibal’s Libyan troops swooped in on the unprotected Roman flanks.

Meanwhile, Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal, leading the Carthaginian cavalry, took care of the inferior Roman cavalry, first on one flank, then the other. Instead of pursuing, Hasdrubal doubled back behind the Roman troops, cutting off any avenue of retreat.

The Romans lost more men on that single day, 48,000, than the U. S. did during the entire course of the Viet Nam War. Or, as Robert L. O’Connell puts it in The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic, about 6 million pounds of human meat was left to rot in the hot August sun.

This was the famous Battle of Cannae. In O’Connell’s estimation, Cannae remains a lure for the militarily ambitious as long as men dream of killing other groups of men in very large numbers.

And still more: A new computer game based on the Second Punic War:
Matrix Games Is Ready to Unleash Hannibal

Turn based strategy offering

By Andrei Dumitrescu, Games Editor (Softpedia)

Matrix Games, as the publisher, and Forced March Games, as the developer, have announced that they are collaborating on a new turn based strategy title called Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War. The game is coming to the PC and does not yet have a clear launch date.

Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War will allow the player to take control of the entire Carthaginian nation as they try to outfight and outsmart the Romans in a conflict which will define the way the Mediterranean basin develops over the following centuries. The sea, Spain, the North of Africa and Italy are all battlegrounds as the gamers uses their strategic and tactical skills in order to defeat the opposing forces of the Roman Republic.


Tisha B'Av and rebuilding the Temple

TISHA B'AV (the Ninth of Av) begins tonight at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

This poll was clearly timed with this holiday in mind:
Half the Public Wants to See Holy Temple Rebuilt

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

Half the Israeli public wants the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) to be rebuilt. This is the main finding of a poll commissioned by the Knesset Television Channel and carried out by the Panels Institute.

The poll was taken in advance of this Tuesday’s national day of mourning, known as Tisha B’Av, on which the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, respectively.

Forty nine percent said they want the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, while 23% said they do not. The remainder said they were unsure.

The public is about evenly split on whether they believe it will happen, with a slight edge – 42% to 39% – to those who believe the Third Holy Temple will be rebuilt.

Should the State of Israel take active steps towards the reconstruction? Forty-eight percent said no, while 27% said yes.

I'll say it again: NO EXCAVATION on the Temple Mount unless it is scientifically controlled archaeological excavation, and even then I think we should wait for the non-intrusive and non-destructive techniques that technology should be sending our way in due course.

I'll leave it to someone else to discuss the politics that would go with any attempt in the foreseeable future to rebuild the Temple.

(Cross-file under "Temple Mount Watch.")

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More on gold coin found at Bethsaida

THAT GOLD COIN recently excavated at Bethsaida gets a close look by Arutz Sheva:
2,000-Year-Old Gold Coin a Testament to Galilee Ancient History

by Hana Levi Julian

A 2,000-year-old gold coin discovered by a West Virginia University student at an archaeological site in the upper Galilee has proven to be the find of the season.

It is the first Antonius Pius coin ever found in Israel and was discovered by Alexis Whitley and her friend, on one of the hottest days of the summer. The two were clearing away dirt and rocks at the Bethsaida site when suddenly, Alex spotted the sparkle of a coin as it slipped down.

Unaware of its significance, it took a while for Whitley to understand why excavation director Dr. Rami Arav immediately had her pose with the coin as photographers raced to the site.

The coin, which Arav described as a discovery of Biblical dimensions, weights 7 grams of 24-karat gold – 97.6 percent gold, to be exact. It depicts the portrait of Antonius Pius, a Roman emperor who rules from 138-161 CE.

The article includes images of the coin with its finder; a nice one of the coin itself; and photos of a gold earring, a tetradrachm coin, and a cooking pot found at the same site.

Background here.

Jewish catacombs under Mussolini's villa

THE JEWISH CATACOMBS beneath Mussolini's villa are profiled in a Jerusalem Post Travel piece:
Jewish catacombs at Rome’s Villa Torlonia
07/18/2010 03:41

A fascinating burial site may soon be opened to the general public.

ROME – Cremation represented one of the usual burial practices for pagan Romans. With the emergence of Christianity, burials began to take place in catacombs. This word is derived from the Greek meaning “within the quarries.” Catacombs are underground cemeteries consisting of intricate labyrinths or tunnels with recesses for burial chambers.

There are more than 60 sites of catacombs in Rome which date from the end of the second to the early fifth century CE.

The vast majority of catacombs represent the final resting places of Christians, but there are also several of Jewish origin. One of these is situated in the gardens of the Villa Torlonia in the northeast of Rome. This villa was built in the first half of the 19th century for the wealthy banking Torlonia family. In 1929 it was taken over by the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. After his death in 1945, the villa and the gardens remained unused for many years, but have now been restored and are open to the public.


THE MAIN interest in these catacombs is the plethora of beautiful colored frescos on the walls and part of the vaulted ceilings. These represent characteristic iconographic Jewish symbols and many are in an excellent state of preservation. These include the seven-branched menora, shofar, ark with the law tablets, etrog, lulav, circumcision knife, cruse of oil and matzot. There are also depictions which may possibly represent the façade of the Temple destroyed in 70 CE by Titus.

Additional frescoes include geometric patterns, grapevines, birds, plants and fish. These are not specific to Jewish catacombs and are also seen in those of Christian origin. Not unexpectedly, there are no depictions of humans consistent with the Ten Commandments which prohibited displays of graven images. There are also stamped tiles with the name of the ancient Roman workshop.

Interestingly enough, the inscriptions found in these and other Jewish catacombs are in Greek and not Hebrew.

Radiocarbon testing using organic material incorporated during the construction of the catacombs was conducted by Prof. Leonard V. Rutgers. This revealed that these catacombs date from about 100 BCE (Rutgers et al., Nature, 2005). According to Rutgers, these specific catacombs came into general use in the first century and predate Christian catacombs by at least 100 years. This implies that burial of the dead in catacombs may have begun as a Jewish custom and that it was subsequently adopted by the Christians.

On the other hand, it should be noted that other archeological findings such as oil lamps found in the catacombs of Villa Torlonia date from the end of the second to the early fifth century CE. Thus the question of the precise dating of these catacombs is not definitely resolved. ...
The authorities seem to be aiming to begin the restoration of the catacombs in the coming year, with the aim of opening them to the public in due course.

Background here and follow the links.