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Ken Ristau on Tel Dor

19th December 2006

ristau_at_dor_sm.jpgKen Ristau (of fame) has written some reflections on his six-week participation in the Renewed Tel Dor Project this last summer. The Tel Dor excavations were renewed in 2003 and are directed by Ilan Sharon (Hebrew University) and Ayelet Gilboa (University of Haifa).

Ken had received a BAR Dig Scholarship that enabled him to take part in the dig this last summer.

Make sure to check out “Kurkar” Ken’s reflections on the Biblical Archaeology Society “Findadig” site. They are quite interesting.

Posted in Archaeology, Tel Dor | 2 Comments »

Cameron and Jacobovici producing The Tomb

5th December 2006

According to a news release on CNW Group, filmmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici (of The Exodus Decoded fame) have wrapped production on The Tomb (working title), a new biblical documentary-drama about the life of Jesus (at least that is as much as I could figure out from the press release).

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

The feature-length documentary uses present-day research to shed new light on events from the Bible. Drawing upon archaeology and forensics, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jacobovici reveal facts that point toward a potential discovery of historic significance concerning the New Testament.

Mr. Jacobovici, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker responsible for The Naked Archaeologist and Deadly Currents, directed the drama sequences, which will provide essential context for the documentary’s findings. He has described the Biblical recreations as some of the most historically accurate ever filmed.

Said Phil Fairclough, Executive Producer for Discovery Channel: “This is going to be a stunning documentary that confirms our commitment to telling the most important factual stories. We’re delighted to be working again with James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, who between them bring an unbeatable combination of documentary rigor and cinematic gloss.”

Mr. Cameron has previously produced Expedition: Bismarck (2002) and Last Mysteries of the Titanic (2005) for Discovery Channel.

Added Chris Johnson, Senior Vice President, Programming for VisionTV: “As Canada’s multi-faith broadcaster, we are excited to be part of a project that promises to have profound meaning for Christians and non-Christians alike. We have been privileged to work with Simcha Jacobovici before, and look forward to the results of this new collaboration with one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers, James Cameron.”

Jacobovici is also co-authoring a book with Charles Pellegrino related to the documentary, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History (HarperCollins, February 2007; Buy from | Buy from

This looks to be another slick production of questionable historical and academic value, much like Jacobovici’s other efforts (e.g., his Naked Archaeologist series). At the very least it should be a conversation starter.

Posted in Archaeology, Documentary, Film, News | 4 Comments »

Going Potty at Qumran: Evidence of Latrines Discovered (GPAT 4)

13th November 2006

A recent news release on Eureka Alert summarizes a forthcoming article in Revue de Qumran on a remote latrine site discovered at Khirbet Qumran.

This is the fifth in a series of posts (some more serious than others) on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The international team of scholars, including James Tabor, Joe Zias, and Stephainie Harter-Lailheugue, did a number of soil samples outside of the Qumran settlement and discovered a latrine site.

Here is an excerpt:

Visiting Qumran, Tabor noted an area approximately 500 meters to the northwest of the settlement which seemed likely because it was sheltered from view by a bluff. Tabor also noted that the soil in the area appeared to have a significantly different coloration from other soils in the Qumran environs, a fact which was subsequently confirmed by Zias using high-resolution aerial photographs.

“I started thinking that in the scrolls they have these very explicit descriptions of where the latrines have to be,” Tabor explained. “It has to do with religious ritual purity — the latrines have to be located in a place that the ancient texts designate as ‘outside the camp’. That’s a phrase used in the Torah, where Moses tells the ancient Israelites ‘build your latrines outside the camp.’ When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up,” he said, explaining that the ancient practice appears to have been revived at Qumran.

“This group is very strict and they observe this practice rigorously — in one text it says go 1000 cubits, and in another text, 2000 cubits — and they specifically state ‘northwest’ in the scrolls. Josephus, in talking about the Essenes, mentions it as a point of admiration or piety – he says that these people are so holy, that on the Sabbath day they won’t even use the toilet, because on the Sabbath one can’t go outside the settlement,” he said.

“It turns out, if you go northwest from Qumran you get to this bluff – a large natural plateau separated from further cliffs – and if you go around it, it hides you from the camp. One of the things Josephus says is that they also believe that their latrines should shield them from view of the camp, so I thought ‘this is getting really good, if I can just find some evidence for toilet practices.’”

Tabor suggested investigating the area to Zias, who took four random soil samples at the site as well as six other samples for control — 4 from surrounding desert areas, one from an area that was known to be Qumran’s stable (to test for animal parasites), and one from an area on the opposite side of the city, essentially covering other outside-the-settlement areas that could have been used as latrines.

On the basis of earlier research that has shown that intestinal parasites can be preserved in arid, sub-surface conditions, Zias sent the samples to Harter-Lailheugue at CNRS for analysis. Three of the four samples from the suspected latrine area yielded four species of preserved worm eggs and embryophores that were all identified as human intestinal parasites – Ascaris SP. (human roundworm), Taenia SP. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris SP. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium SP., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal.

“Frankly, I was surprised,” said Zias. “A parasitologist I talked to told me that my chances of finding something were just about nil. Finding evidence of parasites would be easy in a latrine, but in the middle of the desert… But small things like parasite eggs in feces can hang around for thousands of years. At the Dead Sea, we have hair and hair combs with desiccated lice in them because of the dryness.”

“The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet,” Zias noted. “The samples contained eggs from intestinal worms that are specific to humans. These things had to come from human feces. The presence of eggs in three out of four 100-gram samples indicates heavy and continual use of the specific site suggested by Tabor.”

Since the other sites did not yield human parasites, the team concluded that the latrine site was most likely the area specified in the Scroll passages. Because of the remoteness of the Qumran environs, they concluded that the latrine could only be associated with Qumran, the only settlement in the area.

The scroll texts that provide the directives for going potty at Qumran which the article alludes to are found in the War Scroll and the Temple Scroll. The latter scroll contains the directives to build the latrines “outside the city” חוץ מן העיר (see 11QT 46.13), while the former gives further directions about the latrines and that they should be in discrete and private locations (1QM 7.7; see also 4Q491 frg 1, 3.7) (see also Deut 23:12-13).

This discovery accords well with the reported bathroom habits of the ancient Essenes and may be another piece of evidence supporting the Essene hypothesis, which has come under attack in recent years (see, for instance, my post Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls). The discovery of a latrine site also makes sense of the fact that only one toilet was found in the actual Qumran site (see my initial post on the Qumran toilet in GPAT 1).

The rest of the press release goes on to highlight some of the implications about the unsanitary conditions at Qumran on the health of the inhabitants and their apparent short lifespan as illustrated by the remains at the cemetery.

I am looking forward to the full article in Revue de Qumran. In the meantime, take a gander at the news report.

This discovery has also hit the major internet news sources, including the NY Times, MSNBC, the Jerusalem Post,, among others.
(HT Archaeologica News)

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

Canaanite Burial Ground Found in Jerusalem

8th November 2006

Israel’s Antiquities Authority announced yesterday the discovery in Jerusalem of an ancient Canaanite burial ground dating back more than 4000 years.

Here is the report from Arutz Sheva:

Archaeologists working at the site of the Holyland Park building project in Jerusalem have discovered a graveyard that is over 4,000 years old.

The graveyard formerly had a model of the Second Holy Temple on top of it. The model was recently relocated to the Israel Museum.

The graveyard, the archaeologists estimate, was used during the Bronze Age, from 2200 BCE until 1600 BCE. It is filled with amulets, weapons and work tools from that period, as well as complete pottery vessels of a high quality.

The AFP story had a bit more information in their article:

The site, uncovered at a construction site, covers more than 20 hectares (49 acres) and contains human and animal remains, as well as metal and ceramic artifacts and weapons, dating back to between 2,200 and 1,600 BC.

The dig’s director, Yanir Milevsky, said that this was not the first such site found in the Jerusalem area but that “the quantity of items and their particularly good state of conservation will allow us to enlarge our knowledge of farming villages … during the Canaanite era.”

The ancient land of Canaan covered present-day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, as well as adjoining coastal lands and parts of Lebanon and Syria. The Hebrew people, following their liberation from exile in Egypt recounted in the Bible, moved into the area around 1,200 BC and began to conquer it.

This looks like a pretty significant archaeological find.

UPDATE: Todd Bolen over at the Bible Places Blog posted on this discovery back in September. He has some great pictures as well: click here.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, News | Comments Off

Ancient Egyptian Drinking Party

1st November 2006

MSNBC has an article about an ancient Egyptian drinking party which they liken to the debaucheries of the “Girls gone wild” video genre (Gee, do you think that tie-in was made to be provocative?). The article, “Sex and booze figured in Egyptian rites,” by Alan Boyle reports on some finds from the ruins of a temple in Luxor by Johns Hopkins University professor Betsy Bryan.

Here are some excerpts:

Johns Hopkins University’s Betsy Bryan, who has been leading an excavation effort at the Temple of Mut since 2001, laid out her team’s findings on the drinking festival here on Saturday during the annual New Horizons in Science briefing, presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

“We are talking about a festival in which people come together in a community to get drunk,” she said. “Not high, not socially fun, but drunk — knee-walking, absolutely passed-out drunk.”

The temple excavations turned up what appears to have been a “porch of drunkenness,” associated with Hatshepsut, the wife and half-sister of Thutmose II. After the death of Thutmose II in 1479 B.C., Hatshepsut ruled New Kingdom Egypt for about 20 years as a female pharaoh, and the porch was erected at the height of her reign.

Some of the inscriptions that were uncovered at the temple link the drunkenness festival with “traveling through the marshes,” which Bryan said was an ancient Egyptian euphemism for having sex. The sexual connection is reinforced by graffiti depicting men and women in positions that might draw some tut-tutting today.

The rules for the ritual even called for a select few to stay sober — serving as “designated drivers” for the drunkards, she said. On the morning after, musicians walked around, beating their drums to wake up the revelers.

Prayerful party
The point of all this wasn’t simply to have a good time, Bryan said. Instead, the festival — which was held during the first month of the year, just after the first flooding of the Nile — re-enacted the myth of Sekhmet, a lion-headed war goddess.

According to the myth, the bloodthirsty Sekhmet nearly destroyed all humans, but the sun god Re tricked her into drinking mass quantities of ochre-colored beer, thinking it was blood. Once Sekhmet passed out, she was transformed into a kinder, gentler goddess named Hathor, and humanity was saved.


New twists in an old tale
The discoveries at the Temple of Mut parallel historical references to drunken rituals during Egypt’s Greco-Roman period. The writer Herodotus reported in 440 B.C. that such festivals drew as many as 700,000 people — with drunken women exposing themselves to onlookers. “More grape wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year besides,” Herodotus wrote. The festival also turns up in chronicles from around A.D. 200.

The new twist in Bryan’s work is that such rituals were found to have taken place during a much earlier time in Egyptian history, said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol. “She’s actually found the first definite evidence,” he told

I especially like the accompanying sketch of a wall painting which shows one of partiers throwing up (top left):


This festival seems to be akin to the מרזח marzeach, a drinking festival widely attested to in the ancient Near East.

Some things never change.

Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Archaeology | 1 Comment »

Temple Treasures in Monastery?

30th October 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article claiming that the treasures from the (second) Jewish Temple are sitting in a Greek Orthodox monastery near Bethlehem. Right…

The article, “Ancient Jewish treasures in monastery, book says Ancient Jewish treasures in monastery, book says Gold, silver vessels reportedly in West Bank caves” (how’s that for a concise and captivating title!), is reporting claims made by Sean Kingsley in his book, God’s Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem (2006).

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

British archaeologist Sean Kingsley said he has traced the journey of the legendary vessels from the first time they disappeared from public view more than 1,500 years ago to their current location in this walled monastery east of Bethlehem in the West Bank. He said the items include “the central icons of biblical Judaism” — a seven-branched gold candelabra, the bejeweled Table of the Divine Presence and a pair of silver trumpets.

But many people, including Israeli government officials, believe the treasures are hidden somewhere in Vatican vaults. In 1996, Israeli Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet officially asked the pope to return them.

But Kingsley contends they were taken from Rome when it was sacked by the Vandals in A.D. 455. He bases his theory on new archaeological sources and contemporary accounts by ancient historians.

In his new book, “God’s Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem,” just published in Britain this month and due in U.S. bookstores in the spring, Kingsley describes the odyssey of the priceless haul from Jerusalem to Rome and back again via Carthage and Constantinople, to its final resting-place at Mar Theodosius.

“I am the first person to prove that the temple treasure is no longer in Rome,” he said.

Right… (PaleoJudaica has commented on the temple treasures a number of times)

(HT archaeologica news)

Posted in Archaeology, News | 3 Comments »

Dead Sea Scrolls Confirm Bible?

26th October 2006

According to Billy Graham, the Dead Sea Scrolls “repeatedly confirm the accuracy of the Bible.” In his Q&A column in the Kansas City Star and elsewhere, Graham gave the latter answer to an inquirer who told about a friend “who says that the Dead Sea Scrolls disprove Christianity.”

While I certainly agree that it is utter nonsense to argue that the scrolls somehow disprove Christianity, I found Graham’s comment on the reliability of the texts of the Hebrew Bible a bit misleading. Here’s an excerpt:

Many contain books of the Old Testament and have repeatedly confirmed the accuracy of the texts of our Bibles. Other scrolls show that many people were eagerly looking for the coming of the Messiah.

While the largest group of biblical manuscripts found at Qumran are proto-Masoretic (i.e., they are of the same tradition as the modern text of Hebrew Bible) and in this sense they underscore the antiquity of our biblical text, the Dead Sea Scrolls also give witness to a significant textual plurality. They also raise many issues about the nature of the biblical “canon” (to use the term anachronistically) before the time of Jesus. That being said, I don’t think this new understanding of the development of the biblical text has many implications to the authority of the biblical text, it does complicate things dramatically.

For more discussion of the text of the Hebrew Bible, see my series of posts on the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, especially the one on the Dead Sea Scrolls. You may also want to check out my Dead Sea Scrolls Resource pages.

On another related note, there is an article in the Chicago Tribune about Norman Golb‘s theories separating the scrolls from the remains at Khirbet Qumran. The article doesn’t really provide any new evidence; it just refers to an article in the September 2006 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that I had already blogged on here. See Jim Davila’s comments on this most recent article here.

Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran | 8 Comments »

Turkey Archaeological Dig Linked to Garden of Eden

18th October 2006

The First Post has an article on the archaeological dig at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey which links it to the garden of Eden story in the book Genesis. Interesting read.

Posted in Archaeology, Genesis, News | Comments Off

King David’s Spa Treatment

10th October 2006

Just imagine King David, after a hard day cutting off Philistine foreskins, heads down his private tunnel to his spa for the full treatment: a nice aromatherapy massage, sauna, and steam bath. What better way is there for a king of a small chiefdom to recharge & rejuvenate?

Well, that’s scenario that came to mind when I read the title of Ofer Petersburg’s ynet news article: “Has King David’s spa been uncovered?” The subtitle is perhaps a bit more revealing: “Jerusalem digs reveal a tunnel possibly leading to the king’s pool” (italics mine). The “possibly” is the key here; basically they found a tunnel. They don’t know where it heads, nor do they know when to date it. Talk about spin in journalism!

Chris Heard trashes comments on this piece as well. (HT

Posted in Archaeology, City of David, King David, News | Comments Off

The Exodus Decoded: An Appraisal (By Chris Heard)

17th September 2006

Perhaps one of the most lavish documentaries produced on the Hebrew Bible in recent years is Simcha Jacobovici’s The Exodus Decoded. This two-hour documentary purports to “analyze the latest archaeological findings and scientific papers;… explore the dusty back rooms of out-of-the-way libraries and museums around the world; and… track down dozens of forgotten relics and ancient documents” with an aim to “tell the true story of the Exodus.” This is an impressive claim — and the documentary’s slick production values will undoubtedly convince many casual viewers. This is not Jacobovici’s first foray into sensational biblical archaeology. He also produced a documentary series called the “Naked Archaeologistâ€? for VisionTV up here in Canada (You may want to read my review of the episode on “Who Invented the Alphabet?” here).
I will not offer my own critique of the Exodus Decoded. Instead, what I will do is point you to the excellent and thorough review of the documentary by Chris Heard over at Higgion. He has written a six-part extended review that is second to none:

  • Part 1 (A critique of parallel between the Tempest [Ahmose] Stela and the biblical story of the ten plagues)
  • Part 2 with addendum (Problems with the identification of Ahmose as the Pharaoh of the exodus and Jacobovici’s 1500 BCE date fro the exodus)
  • Part 3 (A rebuttal of Jacobovici’s identification of the merchants in the Beni Hasan wall paintings with Jacob’s migration into Egypt, among other things)
  • Part 4 (A critique of the connection made between the “Jacob-harâ€? seals discovered at Avaris and the biblical Joseph, son of Jacob)
  • Part 5 (Questioning the Israelite identity for the Serabit el-Khadim slaves)
  • Part 6 (A dismantling of the connection of the ten plagues and the Tempest Stela catastrophe to a Bronze Age eruption of the Santorini volcano)

All in all Chris does an excellent job picking apart Jacobovici’s falicious arguments — and there is more to come! He is only half way through the documentary! I am looking forward to reading the rest of Chris’s installments. Good work, Chris!

This documentary underscores to me the need of scholars to popularize our research. Reporters often misrepresent or misunderstand their sources, documentaries often pander to sensational theories, and the public appears to lap it all up. I don’t think that we as academics can do much to prevent how our views are presented. What we need to do, IMHO, is learn how to “spin� our research and bridge the gap between the academy and the everyday world ourselves. We need to team up with popular writers, directors, marketers, etc., and tell our perspectives in a way that is compelling and interesting. And we need to take the time to do this important task.

Posted in Archaeology, Bible, Exodus, Popular Culture | 2 Comments »