News reports are buzing this morning about a cache of coins discovered among some unsorted artifacts in the recesses of the Museum of Egypt. Not only are coins not thought to have been used in ancient Egypt, more surprisingly, the report claims that coins with the name and image of the biblical Joseph have been found among the coins. If this turns out to be a bona fide discovery, this will be the first extra-biblical evidence for any of the biblical patriarchs.
Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.
According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.
The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.
“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.
The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.
“Studies by Dr. Thabet’s team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face – just like the coins we use today,” the report added.
Some more details from the original article that appeared in the September 22, 2009, edition of Al-Ahram (Egypt), are provided on the MEMRI website. Here is a translation of the section pertaining to the supposed Joseph coins:
“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…
“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.
“Dr. Sa’id Thabet called on Egypt’s Antiquities Council and on the Minister of Culture to intensify efforts in the fields of Ancient Egyptian history and archeology, and to [promote] the research of these coins that bear the name of Egyptian pharaohs and gods. This, he said, would enable the correction of prevalent misconceptions regarding the history of Ancient Egypt.”
Here is an image from the MEMRI which I assume is of some of the coins:
I would like to affirm the findings and announce that there is now iron clad evidence for the biblical Joseph, but alas, the skeptical side of me says wait and see what comes of this. Wait and see…
I just came home from the lake and noticed that manynewssources are carrying a story about a paper that Professor Israel Knohl presented at an Israel Museum conference on his interpretation of the so-called “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet. Knohl argues that the best reading of line 80 of the text is “In three days you shall live, I Gabriel, command you”, and that this text is a pre-Christian reference to the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader.
The tablet was actually discovered a decade ago and has been dated by paleography to the end of the first century B.C.E. The provenance of the tablet is unfortunately unknown since it was purchased from an antiquities dealer. It is claimed it was found near the Dead Sea.
Here is an excerpt from the news story from The Independent:
Using other lines in the text that refer to blood and slaughter as routes to righteousness, along with the overall context of the Jewish revolt against the Romans at the time, Professor Knohl suggests that it refers to the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader.
The tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelations because it contains an apocalyptic text ascribed to the angel, has attracted the intense interest of scholars. It came to light after it was bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector, David Jeselsohn, who kept it in his Zurich home. The location of the original discovery is not clear, though it may have been in Jordan on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.
Two Israeli scholars, Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur, published a detailed analysis of the Hebrew script, which is written rather than engraved in the stone, last year, dating it towards the end of the first century BC. But when it came to the crucial line 80 in the script, which clearly begins “in three days”, the scholars concluded that the next word was illegible.
Professor Knohl argues that the word is “Hayeh” or “live” in the imperative. He goes on to outline his conjecture that the messianic figure could be a rebel leader against the Roman-backed monarchy of Herod named Shimon, who the historian Josephus says was killed by one of Herod’s military commanders.
He will claim today that the interpretation vindicates a theory which he had already expounded in a book in 2000, namely that the idea of a suffering messiah existed before Jesus.
Claiming that the idea that Jesus died to redeem the sins of all mankind was in large part generated by St Paul, who wanted Jesus to be a messiah “of the gentiles”, he said yesterday that the earlier Jewish tradition would have seen his death as necessary “to cause God to defeat the enemy, to liberate Jerusalem from the Roman occupation”. He added: “He was fighting for the liberty of the Jewish people. That is how I see it.”
Not all scholars at today’s conference are likely to be convinced, however. Professor Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, said that a single detail of a “phenomenal” text was being used to create a “media experience”.
I have not read the article by Yardeni and Elitzur, nor have I seen the tablet (or a picture or transcription of it), so I can’t really comment on whether Knohl’s reading is plausible. What I can say is that this reading, if correct, does nothing to diminish the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. If anything, this reading only shows once again that the early church is clearly rooted in the first century Jewish community.
In the excavations, which the Israel Antiquties Authority has been conducting for the past two years under the direction of archaeologists Shlomit Wexler-Bdoulah and Alexander Onn, in cooperation with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, remains of a magnificent colonnaded street from the Late Roman period (2nd century CE) were uncovered that appears on the mosaic Madaba map and is referred to by the name – the Eastern Cardo. The level of the Eastern Cardo is paved with large heavy limestone pavers that were set directly on top of the layer that dates to the end of the First Temple period. Thus the Roman road “seals” beneath it the finds from the First Temple period and has protected them from being plundered in later periods.
This is actually the first time in the history of the archaeological research of Jerusalem that building remains from the First Temple period were exposed so close to the Temple Mount – on the eastern slopes of the Upper City. The walls of the buildings are preserved to a height of more than 2 meters.
Another impressive artifact that was found in the salvage excavations is a personal Hebrew seal made of a semi-precious stone that was apparently inlaid in a ring. The scarab-like seal is elliptical and measures c. 1.1 cm x 1.4 cm. The surface of the seal is divided into three strips separated by a double line: in the upper strip is a chain decoration in which there are four pomegranates and in the two bottom strips is the name of the owner of the seal, engraved in ancient Hebrew script. It reads: לנתניהו בן יאש ([belonging] to Netanyahu ben Yaush).
The two names are known in the treasury of biblical names: the name נתניהו (Netanyahu) is mentioned a number of times in the Bible (in the Book of Jeremiah and in Chronicles) and the name יאש (Yaush) appears in the Lachish letters. The name Yaush, like the name יאשיהו (Yoshiyahu) is, in the opinion of Professor Shmuel Ahituv, derived from the root או”ש which means “he gave a present” (based on Arabic and Ugaritic). It is customary to assume that the owners of personal seals were people that held senior governmental positions.
It should nevertheless be emphasized that this combination of names – נתניהו בן יאוש (Netanyahu ben Yaush) – was unknown until now.
If you are interested in following the discussion surrounding this discovery, check out the ANE-2 discussion list.
AKM Adams had an interesting random thought about the recent discovery of King Herod’s tomb. He links to the press release by the Hebrew University and then makes the following comment:
What, you say you didnâ€™t hear about this archaeological find on CNN, with Hollywood sponsors and best-selling authors claiming that it changes everything about human existence? Right. Thatâ€™s the point. An academically reputable, serious excavation with warranted claims relative to historically-plausible finds doesnâ€™t need hype; and hype doesnâ€™t make a dodgy find with tenuous claims on historical probability into a world-changing watershed moment.
What probably disturbed me most about the Jesus/Talpiottomb discovery wasn’t the actual discovery and the hypotheses surrounding it, but how the whole thing was treated like a blockbuster movie release. There was the media hype, slick documentary (which was admittedly well done), related sensational book — all it needed was a merchandising tie-in with McDonald’s (perhaps a Jesus tomb toy where you can still see Jesus’s shrouded body?). I know that James Tabor has been trying valiantly over at The Jesus Dynasty blog to raise the level of discussion about the Jesus/Talpiot tomb, but I wish the whole affair could have been handled more professionally (or perhaps at least more academically).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that biblical scholars/archaeologists/etc. need to popularize our findings. It’s the commodification of archaeological finds and biblical scholarship that I find distasteful. On the other hand, we all probably don’t mind when publishers make a fuss over our books!
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The Hebrew University in Jerusalem held a press conference this morning on the discovery of Herod’s tomb. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
Jerusalem, May 8, 2007 — The long search for Herod the Greatâ€™s tomb has ended with the exposure of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum on Mount Herodiumâ€™s northeastern slope, Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology announced today.
The approach to the burial site – which has been described by the archaeologists involved as one of the most striking finds in Israel in recent years – was via a monumental flight of stairs (6.5 meters wide) leading to the hillside that were especially constructed for the funeral procession.
The excavations on the slope of the mountain, at whose top is the famed structure comprised of a palace, a fortress and a monument, commenced in August 2006. The expedition, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was conducted by Prof. Netzer, together with Yaakov Kalman and Roi Porath and with the participation of local Bedouins.
The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herodâ€™s burial site, said Prof. Netzer.
The mausoleum itself was almost totally dismantled in ancient times. In its place remained only part of its well built podium, or base, built of large white ashlars (dressed stone) in a manner and size not previously revealed at Herodium.
Among the many high quality architectural elements, mostly well decorated, which were spread among the ruins, is a group of decorated urns (made in the form of special jars that were used to store body ashes). Similar ones are to be found on the top of burial monuments in the Nabatean world. The urns had a triangular cover and were decorated on the sides.
Spread among the ruins are pieces of a large, unique sarcophagus (close to 2.5 meters long), made of a Jerusalemite reddish limestone, which was decorated by rosettes. The sarcophagus had a triangular cover, which was decorated on its sides. This is assumed with certainty to be the sarcophagus of Herod. Only very few similar sarcophagi are known in the country and can be found only in elaborate tombs such as the famous one at the Kingâ€™s Tomb on Selah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem. Although no inscriptions have been found yet at Herodium, neither on the sarcophagus nor in the building remains, these still might be found during the continuation of the dig.
Worthy of note is the fact that the sarcophagus was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately. This activity, including the destruction of the monument, apparently took place in the years 66-72 C.E. during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, while Jewish rebels took hold of the site, according to Josephus and the archaeological evidence. The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as a â€œpuppet rulerâ€? for the Romans.
The Tomb Estate included two monumental buildings and a large ritual bath (mikveh) as well as the large route (350 meters long and 30 meters wide) which was prepared for the funeral. When no sign of the burial place itself was found within the Tomb Estate, the expedition started to search for it on the slope of the hill, although there seems to be no doubt that the initial intention of the king was to be buried in the estate and that only in a later stage of his life – apparently when he grew old – did he change his mind and asked to be buried within the artificial cone which gave the hill of Herodium its current volcano-shape.
The full press release may be read here or downloaded as a Microsoft word document here.
Based on a press release from the Hebrew University in Israel, the tomb of King Herod was discovered at the Herodium, one of Herod’s palace-fortresses bordering the Judean desert. King Herod — as known as “Herod the Great” — ruled Jewish Palestine for Rome from 37 to 4 BCE and is probably best know for his many building projects.
The announcement was leaked by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Here’s an excerpt from the Haaretz article:
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced Monday night that it has uncovered the grave and tomb of King Herod, who ruled Judea for the Roman empire from circa 37 BCE.
According to a press release from the Hebrew University, the news of the archaeological find at Herodium was to be announced Tuesday morning at a special news conference, and was to be kept secret until then, but the discovery by Haaretz of the story had led to the premature announcement.
The tomb was discovered by Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer, who is considered one of the leading experts on King Herod. Netzer has conducted archeological digs at Herodium since 1972 in an attempt to locate the grave and tomb.
The majority of researchers had believed that Herod was in fact buried at Herodium, based on the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, but multiple excavations at the site failed to locate the grave.
Netzer’s successful dig focused on a different part of the site than previous excavations, between the upper part of Herodium and the site’s two palaces.
This discovery was a long time in the coming. Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquites (book 17, chapter 8, paragraph 3), noted Herod’s burial at the Herodium, though archaeologists have been unable to locate the tomb until now. Here is the account from Josephus:
After this was over, they prepared for his funeral, it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulcher should be very sumptuous. Accordingly, he brought out all his ornaments to adorn the pomp of the funeral. The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold: he also had a scepter in his right hand. About the bier were his sons and his numerous relations; next to these was the soldiery, distinguished according to their several countries and denominations; and they were put into the following order: First of all went his guards, then the band of Thracians, and after them the Germans; and next the band of Galatians, every one in their habiliments of war; and behind these marched the whole army in the same manner as they used to go out to war, and as they used to be put in array by their muster-masters and centurions; these were followed by five hundred of his domestics carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life.
Herod is noted in the New Testament in Matthew chapter two as the king responsible for the slaughter of the innocent children when Jesus was a child.
There is supposed to be a press conference Tuesday in which more details will be released.
“Ancient Egyptian Semitic Snake Spells” — say that five times fast! As I am getting caught up on some blogging, Shawn Flynn had brought to my attention an interesting article about some semitic spells found on the walls of the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara (BTW: Shawn has a relatively new blog called Palimpsest that is definitely worthy of our blogrolls).
The Canaanite spells were invoked to help protect mummified kings against poisonous snakes, one of ancient Egypt’s most dreaded nemeses.
According to the incantations, female snakesâ€”acting as mediators for Canaanite magiciansâ€”used their multiple mouths and sexual organs to prevent other snakes from entering the mummified rulers’ remains.
The passages date from between 2400 to 3000 B.C. and appear to be written in Proto-Canaanite, a direct ancestor of biblical Hebrew.
Experts had attempted without success to decipher the serpent spells as if they were ordinary Egyptian texts composed in hieroglyphic characters.
But in 2002 a colleague asked Richard Steiner, a professor of Semitic languages and literature at New York’s Yeshiva University, if the texts might be Semitic.
“I immediately recognized the Semitic words for ‘mother snake,’” Steiner said at a recent lecture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he presenting the findings.
“Later it became clear that the surrounding spells, composed in Egyptian rather than Semitic, also speak of the divine mother snake and that the Egyptian and Semitic texts elucidate each other,” he added.
“It was hiding there in plain sight,” Steiner told National Geographic News. “It’s unintelligible to Egyptologists, but it makes perfect sense to Semitists.”
This discovery perhaps has some interesting implications for history of the Hebrew language and relationships between Egypt and the Canaanites.
Yeshiva University also has a press release about the report, while Shawn blogs about the report here.