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Archive for the 'Archaeology' Category

Irish Bog Psalter Follow-Up

16th August 2006

I can’t recall if anyone followed up on the medieval book of Psalms discovered in Ireland last month (Jim Davila surely did!), but the specific location of where it was found has been revealed (somewhat old news I realize). According to the Irish Examiner, it was was pulled out of a bog in the townland of Faddan More in north Tipperary. If you are wondering “where in the world is that?!” like I was, check out this google map (I assumed that it was somewhere near Tipperary!).

In addition, the Irish Times had another article with a bit more information about the Psalter. Here are some excerpts:

The discoveries also include a fine leather pouch in which the manuscript was originally kept.


“Part of a fine leather pouch in which the book was kept originally was recovered as well as other small fragments of the manuscript and its cover. The investigation results suggest the owner concealed the book deliberately, perhaps with a view to its later recovery,” the statement [issued by by the National Museum of Ireland] noted.

My previous posts on the Psalms manuscript may be found here and here.

Posted in Archaeology, Bible, Discoveries, Manuscript, Psalms | 1 Comment »

Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

15th August 2006

The New York Times has an article (based on a BAR article) that challenges the connection between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran settlement entitled, “Archaeologists Challenge Link Between Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Sect.” Chris Weimer has also posted on this news article over at Thoughts on Antiquity, as has Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica; I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth as well.
Here is an excerpt from the article:

But two Israeli archaeologists who have excavated the site on and off for more than 10 years now assert that Qumran had nothing to do with the Essenes or a monastery or the scrolls. It had been a pottery factory.

The archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, reported in a book and a related magazine article that their extensive excavations turned up pottery kilns, whole vessels, production rejects and thousands of clay fragments. Derelict water reservoirs held thick deposits of fine potters’ clay.

Dr. Magen and Dr. Peleg said that, indeed, the elaborate water system at Qumran appeared to be designed to bring the clay-laced water into the site for the purposes of the pottery industry. No other site in the region has been found to have such a water system.

By the time the Romans destroyed Qumran in A.D. 68 in the Jewish revolt, the archaeologists concluded, the settlement had been a center of the pottery industry for at least a century. Before that, the site apparently was an outpost in a chain of fortresses along the Israelites’ eastern frontier.

While it is difficult to assess the strengths of their arguments based on a newspaper article, I’m not quite sure how finding significant pottery fabricating remains leads to the conclusion that the scrolls are not related to the site as well — especially considering that Magen himself thinks that the pottery associated with the scrolls came from Qumran.

The article’s conclusion is also a bit overstated:

Despite the rising tide of revisionist thinking, other scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls continue to defend the Essene hypothesis, though with some modifications and diminishing conviction.

If you want to read further, you can check out the BAR article here (subscription required to read the full article) or read Magen and Peleg’s more detailed essay in The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, edited by Katharina Galor, Jean-baptiste Humbert, and Jürgen Zangenberg (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 57; Brill, 2006; Buy from | Buy from

For more reseources on the Dead Sea Scrolls, you may want to check out my resource pages.

Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, News, Qumran | 2 Comments »

King David: Fact or Fiction?

5th August 2006

I saw this a couple days ago, but didn’t have time to post: Richard Ostiling of the Associated Press (via has a brief report on Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman’s (somewhat) new book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (Free Press, 2006; Buy from | Buy from The news article, “Was King David legend or fiction?” raises a number of questions surrounding Finkelstein and Silberman’s views.

Here are some excerpts:

Some scholars are busily debunking the Bible’s account of the great King David, asking: Was he really all that great? Was he largely legendary, Judaism’s version of Britain’s legendary King Arthur, or totally fictional?

These matters are crucial not only for Jews but for Christians, since Jesus’ biblical identity as the messiah stems from David’s family line.

Though some scholars claimed David never existed, in 1993 archaeologists discovered a stone inscription from 835 B.C. that mentions “the house of David.” The authors say that established the existence of a dynastic founder named David and that shortly after his 10th-century era a line of kings “traced their legitimacy back to David.”

However, Finkelstein considers the Bible seriously distorted propaganda. He treats David as a minor bandit chieftain and Jerusalem as a hamlet, not an imperial capital. Supposedly, biblical authors concocted the grander David centuries afterward.

Finkelstein notes that archaeologists haven’t found monumental buildings from David’s era in Jerusalem. He dismisses links of David and Solomon with buildings unearthed at biblical Megiddo and Hazor. Ordinary readers might not grasp that this depends upon a disputed “low chronology” which would shift dates a century, just after these kings.

In the July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael Coogan of Stonehill College, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, contends that Finkelstein and Silberman “move from the hypothetical to the improbable to the absurd.”

Finkelstein’s revised chronology is “not accepted by the majority of archaeologists and biblical scholars,” Coogan asserts, citing four scholarly anthologies from the past three years.

Coogan also thinks “David and Solomon” downplays the significance of the Amarna tablets, which include correspondence to Egypt’s pharaoh from a 14th-century Jerusalem king. Even if archaeological remains at Jerusalem are lacking, he writes, the tablets indicate that long before David, Jerusalem was the region’s chief city-state, with a court and sophisticated scribes.

Discovery of ancient remains in Jerusalem is problematic, due to the repeated reconstruction throughout the centuries and the modern inaccessibility of many sites.

Nonetheless, perhaps David’s palace has been found. So claims Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Finkelstein denies this, claiming Mazar inaccurately dated pottery from the site.

“Here, for the time being, matters rest,” summarizes Hillel Halkin in the July-August Commentary magazine.

I tend to agree more with Coogan than with Finkelstein and Silberman, though I wouldn’t go as far to say the biblical account has no embellishments since I also think that all historiography has fictive elements. One of the more significant points the article raises, IMHO, is the fact that archaeological excavation of Jerusalem is problematic for so many reasons. That is why digs such as Mazar‘s are so important.

Posted in Archaeology, City of David, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, News | 4 Comments »

Going Potty in Ancient Gath?! (GPAT 3.3)

2nd August 2006

The season at Tell es-Safi (ancient Gath) has almost come to a close. We have been able to follow the progress of the dig through their excellent blog here. On their July 31st update, they had an interesting discussion of Area F. What caught my eye was the object which they identified as a stone weight — I prefer to see it as an ancient potty!

This is the fourth in a series of semi-serious posts on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

While the identification of the object as a stone weight is possible, I’m not sure how they missed the clear indications that this object is indeed a toilet. The toilet paper and the fallen sign are clear giveaways to this amateur archaeologist!


This is exciting news… perhaps this is even the toilet that Goliath used before being killed by David! We have already found Goliath’s cereal bowl, and now this! All I can say is “Wow!” :-)

(I sure hope Prof. Aren M. Maeir has a sense of humour!)

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Emergent, Humour, Series, Tell es-Safi | 3 Comments »

BAR Article on Hanan Eshel

28th July 2006

Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Hanan Eshel is back in the news — well kind of. There is an online article about Hanan Eshel on the Biblical Archaeology Society Webstie that deals with some of the controversy surrounding his purchase of some fragments of a Leviticus Scroll.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

At the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a leading Dead Sea Scroll scholar was arrested last year for purchasing four Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Bedouin who claimed to have found them in the Judean Desert. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel promptly published the fragments (of the Biblical book of Leviticus) and donated them to the state (the purchase funds had been provided by his university).In an ad in the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, 59 prominent scholars from around the world protested his arrest, calling the IAA’s action a “vengeful” act. The ad had no effect, however. The case is still under investigation by the police.

Bar-Ilan president Moshe Kaveh called the IAA action a “scandal.” The university stands “fully behind” Eshel.

So why was Hanan Eshel arrested?

Many believe that Eshel is, in the IAA’s view, on the wrong side of an issue that has divided the profession: Should unprovenanced materials, which are often looted, be studied and published by scholars?

One clear consequence of Hanan Eshel’s arrest: No new Dead Sea Scroll fragments will turn up in Israel again, thanks to the IAA. The looters, the smugglers, the underground dealers know that they cannot now find a buyer among or through Israeli scholars. Like Eshel, anyone who makes a purchase will be arrested. Much easier and safer simply to spirit any scrolls out of the country.

Although not widely known, numerous Dead Sea Scroll fragments are in private collections all over the world. The Eshels detect a “trend among collectors and antiquity dealers (perhaps due to economic factors) to share privately held fragments with the scholarly world.” In the opinion of the Eshels, “Qumran scholars should be encouraged to make an effort to publish these fragments, which provide a more complete picture of the Qumran corpus.”

Encouraging the publication of unprovenanced finds—that may well be Hanan Eshel’s real crime.

While I am against looting (what scholar would not be against it?), I tend to side with Eshel and the author of this article on this issue. I think it is far better to publish these finds even if we can’t be sure of their provenance. In addition, (as the full article notes) sometimes by studying these artefacts their provenance can be determined with some certainty.

I have posted quite a bit on the Leviticus Scroll fragments and their discovery, including a step-by-step reconstruction of the scroll and an interview with Hanan Eshel. All of my posts on this subject may be found here. In addition, I have brought together my posts and pictures of the fragments — including some new hi-resolution pictures –at my Resources Relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls pages.

(HT to Jim West)

Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, Manuscript, News | Comments Off

Bog of Psalms

26th July 2006

[See my clarification on this story here]

This story caught my eye last night: It looks like a medieval book of Psalms was discovered by a backhoe worker in Ireland. The 20-page vellum Latin manuscript has been dated to the 800-1000 CE by archaeologists. Ironically, the book was found open to Psalm 83, a psalm in which God hears complaints of other nations’ attempts to wipe out the name of Israel.

The discovery has been referred to as “Ireland’s Dead Sea Scroll” and has been hailed as “the greatest find from a European bog” (I wonder what is the second greatest find from a European bog?). The full AP story may be found here; here are some pictures (from AP) for your viewing enjoyment:



Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Psalms | 1 Comment »

Going Potty in Ancient Hippos (GPAT 3)

14th July 2006

I have been holding this post on ancient toilets for quite a while :-) , so I thought I go ahead and post it! (For what it’s worth, as the son of a plumber and a third year apprentice [I never finished], I come by my interest in ancient toilets honestly.)

This is the third in a series of semi-serious posts on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.” My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The pictures of the ancient potty below were sent to my by Bill Fritsche. Bill was volunteering at the Sussita/Hippos Excavations last summer and uncovered what sure looks like an ancient toilet. See for yourself and let me know what you think (the individual in the second picture is Bill):


The church is tentatively thought to be a 6th century CE Byzantine structure and we know that the city was destroyed by earthquake in 748 or 749 CE; that would mean the potty would probably date to around the same period.

The dig is sponsored by the Zinman Institute of Archaeology of the University of Haifa and is directed by Prof. Arthur Segal. The Concordia University (St. Paul) team, led by Prof. Mark Schuler, is continuing a multi-year project to unearth the Northeast church. Located a short distance from the dramatic north cliff of the city, the Northeast church stands between the cathedral with its tri-apsidal baptistery and the Northwest church that is currently being excavated by a Polish team. The website for the Concordia dig may be found here.

Sussita, known as Hippos in antiquity, was a Decapolis city located 2 km east of the Sea of Galilee on the top of a flat diamond-shaped mountain that rises 350 m above the sea. It is likely the “city set on a hill that cannot be hid” (Matt 5:14). During Roman times, Hippos was a center of Greek culture. In the Byzantine era it became a significant Christian center.

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Series | 4 Comments »

The Real Seal: Hezekiah Royal Bulla Impression

4th April 2006

The royal seal impression that I used as the basis for my April Fool’s Day post (ain’t Photoshop just amazing?!), is actually an impression of a bulla belonging to Hezekiah king of Judah. The bulla is part of the Kaufman collection and is published in Robert Deutsch, Biblical Period Hebrew Bullae. The Josef Chaim Kaufman Collection (Archaeological Center: Tel Aviv, 2003; Buy from The image is reproduced with permission:


As can be seen from the image, the black clay bulla is in a very good state of preservation. It measures 13.2 x 11.9 x 3.8-1.9 mm, while the seal impression measures 11.9 x 9.9 mm. On the back of the bulla a papyrus imprint is clearly visible along with a groove left by the chord that tied the scroll. The seal was likely set in a bezel of a ring, as is clear from the groove around the edge of the seal impression.


The seal, as can be seen from the line tracing above, is dominated by a royal emblem, what Deutsch considers a two-winged sun disk. The inscription is found above and below the emblem and reads:

לחזקיהו ×?×—/×– מלך יהדה

[Belonging to] Hezekiah, [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah.

For those unfamiliar with the script, here is a key from Deutsch’s volume:


The provenance of the seal impression is unfortuantly unknown, though there is no good reason to doubt its authenticity. There are actually four royal bullae beloinging to Hezekiah, impressed by three different seals, in the Kaufman collection.

Posted in Archaeology, Bullae, Inscriptions | 3 Comments »

Mazar’s City of David Discovery and “Biblical” Archaeology

12th December 2005

As has been noted by a few blogs already, Eliat Mazar has published a short article on her city of David excavations — provocatively entitled “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” — in the most recent volume of Biblical Archaeology Review (available for free download here).

The article is definitely worth a read. Mazar based her decision of where to dig on the known topography of the city of David in conjunction with a close reading of the Samuel texts (e.g., David leaving his palace residence and “going down” to the fortress noted in 1 Samuel 5:17).

Here is a modified version of an image from the article that shows the location of the “large stone” structure (labeled as “David’s Palace?”):

In the article, Mazar describes her understanding of the relationship of archaeology to the biblical text as follows:

One of the many things I learned from my grandfather [Benjamin Mazar] was how to relate to the Biblical text: Pore over it again and again, for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality. It is not a simple matter to differentiate the layers of textual sources that have been piled one atop the other over generations; we don’t always have the tools to do it. But it is clear that concealed within the Biblical text are grains of detailed historical truth (p. 20).

Her tentative conclusions are equally as provocative:

The Biblical narrative, I submit, better explains the archaeology we have uncovered than any other hypothesis that has been put forward. Indeed, the archaeological remains square perfectly with the Biblical description that tells us David went down from there to the citadel. So you decide whether or not we have found King David’s palace (p. 70).

While I know this sort of “biblical archaeology” is passé, I find it quite intriguing how the geography reflected in the biblical account helped her locate a significant 10th century large-stone structure — whether or not it is best identified with David’s palace.

Mazar’s method seems to be a throw-back to the Albright-Bright-Wright era where “Biblical archaeology” was concerned primarily to support the picture of history presented by the Bible. As such, biblical sites such as Jerusalem, Jericho, Ai, etc. were typically excavated, and the focus of the investigations tended to be on things like walls, religious centers, etc., rather than the broader material culture of the sites.

While I am by no means an archaeologist, I do know that most modern archaeologists take a broader and more interdisciplinary approach and attempt to retrieve more than simply architectural and ceramic phases or look for correlations between the biblical text and archaeological discoveries. While I think the separation of Biblical/Syro-Palestinian (or whatever we want to call it) archaeology from under auspices of biblical studies is ultimately a good and necessary thing, perhaps Mazar’s work illustrates that the “new” archaeology does not have to preclude considering the descriptions of geography found in the biblical narratives.

Posted in Archaeology, City of David, History of Ancient Israel, News | Comments Off

Mazar’s Jerusalem Excavation in the News (with Photos)

2nd December 2005

There is a pretty good article on Eilat Mazar’s Jerusalem excavation by The Washington Post writer Scott Wilson (also see here).

The article didn’t say much new (see my previous coverage here, as well as information on the seal discovered in the excavation here), but did have some excellent pictures accompanying it:

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