Monthly Archives: June 2011

Ophel City Walls site opened in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the opening today of what is being called the First Temple Period Ophel City Walls Site in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park.

In a festive ceremony that was held Today – Tuesday, June 21, 2011, the Ophel City Wall site, a complex of buildings uncovered along the route of the fortifications from the First Temple period (tenth-sixth centuries BCE), and the display of the earliest written document ever uncovered in Jerusalem was inaugurated. The opening of the site, located in the Walls Around  Jerusalem National Park, and the exhibit in the Davidson Center are made possible through the generous donation by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman.

Upon completion of the excavation and conservation work at the Ophel City Wall site, visitors will now be able to touch the stones and walls whose construction tells the history of Jerusalem throughout the ages.  It is now possible to walk comfortably through the built remains, in places that were previously closed to the public, to sense their splendor and learn about the history of the region by the signage and the different means of presentation and illustration.

This photo shows construction work in the area a few months ago.

Ophel First Temple Site during construction of park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ophel First Temple Site during construction of park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a more recent view showing workmen putting final touches on the nice stairs and overviews for those who enter the site through the Davidson Center.

Ophel Site Park. IAA.

Ophel Site Park being prepared for opening. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA news release continues,

The architecture at the site that was exposed includes an impressive building thought to be a gate house, a royal edifice, a section of a tower and the city wall itself. Dr. Mazar suggests identifying the buildings as part of the complex of fortifications that King Solomon constructed in Jerusalem: “…until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about” (1 Kings 3:1). In addition to the fortifications of the First Temple period, sections of the Byzantine city wall and two of its towers were exposed. This wall was built at the initiative of the Byzantine empress Eudocia in the fifth century CE. In addition to the complex of fortifications, the excavation of two rooms from the Second Temple period (first century CE) was completed, which were preserved to a height of two stories.

The highlight of the excavations is the complete exposure of the gate house. The plan of this impressive building includes four rooms of identical size, arranged on both sides of a broad corridor paved with crushed limestone. The plan of the gate house is characteristic of the First Temple period (tenth-sixth centuries BCE) and is similar to contemporaneous gates that were revealed at Megiddo, Be‘er Sheva’ and Ashdod. The excavator, Eilat Mazar, suggests identifying the gate house here with the ‘water gate’ mentioned in the Bible: “…and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower” (Nehemiah 3:26). The ground floor of a large building that was destroyed in a fierce conflagration can be seen east of the gate. Mazar suggests that this structure was destroyed by the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BCE. Twelve very large, clay store jars (pithoi), which probably contained wine or oil, were discovered on the floor of the building. Engraved on the shoulder of one of these pithoi is the Hebrew inscription “לשר האו…”. The inscription indicates that this pithos belonged to one of the kingdom’s ministers, perhaps the overseer of the bakers.

This photo shows (replicas of?) some of the pithoi on display at the site.

Pithoi displayed at the Ophel Site. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Pithoi displayed at the Ophel Site. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

A fragment of a clay tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform script was discovered in the recent re-excavation of the area by Dr. Mazar. The tablet is typical of those “used in antiquity throughout Mesopotamia for international correspondence.”

Analyses of the writing and the clay used to produce the tablet show that the document originated in the Jerusalem region. It seems that it is a copy of a letter that the king of Jerusalem at the time, Abdi-Heba, sent to the king of Egypt. It was customary that a copy of this correspondence would be kept in the archives of the city Salem, which was Jerusalem in that period. The fragment of the tablet constitutes credible evidence of the status of Jerusalem as an important royal city in Canaan, which was administered as a city-state under the auspices of the pharaonic Egypt kingdom.

We have posted info about the first temple period (suggested) gate and wall here, and about the clay tablet earlier here and here.

The site also may be viewed from Ma’aleh Ha-Shalom Street a short distance east of Dung Gate.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Latakia, Syria, and possible biblical connections

News coming out of Syria is not good. Syria’s dictatorial leadership has oppressed the people of Syria and tried to keep them uninformed about world events.

My first visit to Damascus, the capital of Syria, was in 1967 — just a day visit from Beirut. I returned several times during the next decade and made one trip by road from Beirut to Damascus and on to Amman. During that trip I left my camera in the seat of the car when we stopped at the Syrian border with Jordan. When I got back in the car I noticed that my camera back was open. The film had been exposed. I still remember that some of my best photos ever were on that roll. Sort of like the fish that got away. 🙂

My only visit throughout the country of Syria was in May, 2002, when a teaching colleague and I spent a week in the country driving to most of the major cities and historical sites.

We drove along the Mediterranean coast from south to north in order to visit Ras Shamra (Ugarit), significant because of what the site revealed about Canaanite culture. This means that we needed to spend the night at Latakia, about 6 or 7 miles south of Ugarit. We stayed at the nice LeMeridien seaside hotel.

Internet use was difficult. I recall dialing long distance from the Commodore Hotel in Damascus to Beirut in order to have dial-up service to AOL. We had set up AOL and Excite accounts, having heard that some hotels would allow one, and some another. AOL generally was not allowed in the country. I have a copy of the short Email we sent home from Latakia.

Today we go to Ebla and on to Aleppo. We are unable to check our mail here. Access to AOL and Excite are prohibited on this server, but the hotel staff was kind to allow us to use one of the office computers. So we can at least let you know we are fine. Hope to have some mail from you when we arrive in Aleppo.

Later from Aleppo I wrote,

Hotel personnel are helpful and friendly. I am not able to go to AOL or Excite to get mail. A backroom manager-type allowed me to use the hotel email to write.

Latakia is not named in the Bible, but the city is important in wider biblical history. In 1967 I purchased a copy of The Middle East, one of the Hachette World Guides, published in 1966. Here are a few facts garnered from that book.

  • In the 2nd millennium B.C. Latakia was part of the territory of Ugarit
  • Latakia became part of the Assyria empire during the 9th century B.C.
  • In 604 B.C. Latakia was controlled by the Babylonians.
  • The town became part of the 5th Persian satrapy.
  • After the Battle of Issus (333 B.C.) Alexander conquered the city.
  • Seleucus I named the city Laodicea in honor of his mother.
  • The city later came under Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, again Islamic, French, modern Syria, etc.

This late afternoon photo shows the harbor on the north side of Latakia. This is probably not more than 30 miles south of the Syria-Turkey border.

Harbor north of Latakia, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Harbor north of Latakia, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo was made in the center of town. Ross Burns, Monuments of Syria, says,

In Jumhuriye Square (where the Damascus and Ugarit roads start) stand a grouping of four elegant monolith columns, topped with Corinthian capitals. This may have been part of the Temple of Adonis whose myth, sourced to the mountainous region of Northern Lebanon, was strong in this area. (p. 145)

Surviving columns may be from the temple of Adonis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Surviving columns may be from the temple of Adonis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It would not be out of place to suggest that Paul (Saul) sailed by Latakia (Laodicea) when he went from Caesarea to Tarsus (Acts 9:30), and when he sailed from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:3-5). Perhaps Barnabas and Saul traveled this way when they took the financial aid from Antioch to Judea (Acts 11:29-30).

Hezekiah’s Pool – a modern garbage dump

Ha’aretz reports on the political “garbage” associated with an effort to clean up Hezekiah’s Pool in the Old City of Jerusalem.

After years of neglect, Hezekiah’s Pool in the Old City of Jerusalem is finally being cleaned up. The work is being done by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Environmental Protection Ministry and Jerusalem Development Authority. As with anything in Jerusalem, the cleanup may cause a diplomatic crisis with Egypt and Jordan – and a conflict with the Waqf Muslim religious trust and the Coptic Church.

Hezekiah’s Pool, also known as the Pool of the Pillar, is located in the Christian Quarter, not far from Jaffa Gate. It is ancient and covers over three dunams (three-quarters of an acre ). But it is completely hidden from the public, with stores and homes surrounding it. Thousands of tourists coming through the gate and the Arab market pass right by it without having a clue that the historic site is nearby.

The pool was used at least from Second Temple times and was an important part of Jerusalem’s ancient water system until the 19th century.

However, over recent decades, the pool became an unofficial garbage dump for neighborhood residents, who used it to dispose of tons of trash.

In winter, water still collects there, and some Christian Quarter residents use parts of the ancient water system as an improvised sewage system.

Hezekiah’s Pool has turned into a serious health hazard in a densely populated area.

I think the last time I asked permission to go to the roof of the Petra Hotel to make a photo of Hezekiah’s Pool was in September, 2008. At that time the cleanup had already begun. The previous time I viewed the pool it was much more trashy. This pool is just a short distance from Jaffa Gate. Note the proximity of the Pool to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Lutheran Church tower.

Hezekiah's Pool from roof of the Petra Hotel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hezekiah's Pool from roof of the Petra Hotel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo provides more perspective. You can see the pool in the bottom of the photo. In the middle of the photo (top to bottom) you can see the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (left), the Lutheran Church tower (just right of center), and the Dome of the Rock (right). In the distance to the east is Mount Scopus (left) and the Mount of Olives.

Hezekiah's Pool in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hezekiah's Pool in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor describes Hezekiah’s Pool.

This great reservoir is entirely surrounded by buildings, and is accessible through the Coptic Khan…. At present the dry pool is used as a rubbish dump by the dwellings which surround it on all sides, but a much needed restoration project is on the drawing board. — The Holy Land

Murphy-O’Connor says the pool “is thought to date from the Herodian period when it was fed by an aqueduct (visible outside Jaffa Gate) coming from Mamilla Pool.” He says Josephus mentions the pool under the name Amygdalon (Almond Tree) (War 5:468). He says this name, Amygdalon, is probably a deformation o f the Hebrew migdal (tower). The reference is to the towers of Herod’s palace.

Israel Antiquities Authority announced in February, 2010, the discovery of the high-level aqueduct that brought water into Hezekiah’s Pool in the Roman City of Jerusalem. See our earlier comments here.

The complete Ha’aretz article may be read here. An aerial view of this area is available here.

P.S. You know the pool has nothing to do with Hezekiah, don’t you?

HT: Joseph Lauer

A new tomb at Nazareth Village

Nazareth Village has become a necessary stop on my tours to Israel. The eyes of ministers and Bible class teachers are opened quickly to the reality of Bible stories. Some of the “exhibits” change with the season; others remain constant.

There was something new at Nazareth Village this year — a tomb cut out of the rock with a rolling stone.

New tomb with rolling stone at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

New tomb with rolling stone at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This new tomb “where no one had yet been buried” is a good reminder of the type of tomb in which Jesus was buried (John 19:41 NET).

After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb.  (Mark 15:46 NET)

An image suitable for use in teaching is available by clicking on the photo above.

Herodium and the tomb of Herod the Great

Shmuel Browns has an article in Popular Archaeology on “Netzer’s Legacy: The Wonders of Herodium” here. One of the comments by Browns caught my attention as being especially important for all of us who use photos in our teaching.

When visiting an archaeological site, one often cannot see the artifacts that were discovered there as they have been removed and are displayed at a museum.

Browns gives an illustration of part of the Roman bath from the lower city at Herodium. I often think about how important it is to be at an archaeological site at just the right time. When I visited the Herodium in January, and again in May, this is what I saw at the place of Netzer’s most recent work.

Herodium - Place of Herod's Mausoleum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Herodium - Place of Herod's Mausoleum. View to the East. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

How disappointing. My thought is that some day the Antiquities department will have this site prepared for visitors. Until then…

Herod's Tomb. Shmuel Browns.

Herod's Tomb. View to NW. Shmuel Browns.

Browns has a couple of nice photos of the Mausoleum as it looks under the tin roof. I am including a thumbnail of one of his photos to encourage you to go to the article. A site begins to look different after the winter rains. Unless it is continually cleaned (which requires money), it deteriorates quickly.

Herod the Great is known in Scripture as the wicked king who inquired about the birth of Jesus in order to eliminate any opposition to the throne.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem  saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.  After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:1-4 NET)

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus did not stop to see the tomb of Herod on their return from Egypt.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee.  He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. (Matthew 2:22-23a NET)

Chris McKinny recently posted a paper on “The Growth of Herod’s Kingdom” at Seeking a Homeland here. The well-documented paper includes maps and charts.

Tom Powers reported in February that the Israel Post has issued a series of stamps featuring Herod’s building projects. Click here for photos of the beautiful stamps.

HT: Bible Places Blog.

Where at Caesarea did Herod Agrippa die?

In response to our recent post on the theater at Caesarea Maritima (here), a friend asks, “I was wondering, do you put any stock in Todd Bolen’s contention that the Agrippa I death event happened in the sea side amphitheater, rather than in the theater?”

Boy, am I embarrassed. It is great to have knowledgeable friends, though. I read Todd’s insightful article at The Bible and Interpretation site in July 2010. I was impressed with the article and intended to call attention to it on this blog. For a variety of reasons I failed to get to it, and then let it slip my mind.

The Bolen article challenges Josephus’s location for the place of Herod Agrippa’s death. Here is the synopsis of the argument.

The death of Herod Agrippa I occurred in Caesarea according to both Josephus and the book of Acts. Josephus writes that the king was in the theater when the crowd hailed him as a god and he was struck down. Details in Josephus’s account, however, indicate that the episode occurred in the city amphitheater next door to the temple where the emperor was worshipped.

The article is already too concise and well documented for me to recount the arguments. Bolen believes “that Josephus’s designation of the location was inaccurate. Analysis of his account indicates that the amphitheater, rather than the theater, was the setting for Herod’s public address.” There are four indications showing the Josephus was inaccurate.

  1. The time of day.
  2. The occasion of Agrippa’s death.
  3. An encounter between Pilate and a large crowd a decade earlier.
  4. Josephus’s imprecise use of terms designating buildings of entertainment.

The article may be read in its entirety here. Several informed comments have been added by readers. There are several nice aerial photos with identifications.

The photo below shows the amphitheater (commonly called the hippodrome) running parallel with the coastline. I note that Murphy-O’Connor refers to this as the “Herodian amphitheatre.” At the right (south) bottom of the photo you will see the upper level of what he calls the “Palace of the Procurators.” The Roman theater, which is pictured in our previous post, is to the right of this scene.

Caesarea amphitheater (hippodrome). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caesarea amphitheater (hippodrome). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Along the top of the photo, under the wing of the plane, is the later amphitheater (or hippodrome) dating to the late Roman period. A line of trees provides a good outline of the structure.

Here in 306 the emperor Maximinus had Christian martyrs executed before him. Its stones were robbed out when Christianity suppressed such bloody and brutal entertainment. (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 5th ed., 248)

The Herodian harbor is located to the left (north) of this photo.

The Nimrud ivories

Ray Moseley writes an article for Al-Arabiya about the Nimrud Ivories in the British Museum. The exquisite ivories date to the time of the Assyrian empire.

The British Museum in London has recently saved for the nation a horde of the so-called Nimrud ivories—1,000 intact pieces, 5,000 fragments—after a public fund-raising campaign that netted £1.17 million. That was about a third of the value of the ivories, and another third of the collection was donated by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. The remaining third is expected to be returned to Iraq.…

The first group of ivories, dating from the 9th and 8th centuries BC, was excavated by the archaeologist Austin Henry Layard in 1845 at Nimrud, just south of Mosul on the Tigris River. They came from the ruins of the palace of Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 859 to 824 B.C., and more came to light a few years later.

The complete article may be read here. Some readers will enjoy the connection with archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, crime-novelist Agatha Christie, who used a knitting needle and cold cream to clean some of the ivories.

“Oh what a beautiful spot it was,” the novelist wrote. “The Tigris just a mile away, and on the great mound of the Acropolis, big stone Assyrian heads poked out of the soil. In one place there was the enormous wing of a great genie.”

The earliest ivories belong to the reign of Ashurnasirpal, but the largest number came from Fort Shalmaneser, a palace/fort built by Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.). He is the Assyrian king who brags about defeating “Ahab the Israelite” at the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C. (Monolith from Kurkh), and of taking tribute from the Israelite king Jehu (Black Obelisk). The writers of the Bible had no reason to include either of these facts in their writings.

Our photo shows a relief in ivory of a lioness devouring a man with negroid features (a Nubian boy) in a thicket of stylized lotus and papyrus plants. This piece belongs to the Nimrud ivories displayed in the British Museum.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Moseley’s says the British Museum “recently put some of it’s collection on permanent display and intends to make other available for traveling exhibitions.”

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible writers spoke of Ahab’s ivory house at Samaria (1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15; 6:3-4). Both the British Museum and the Israel Museum display some of the ivories excavated at Samaria that follow the same general motif as those from Nimrud. The Israelites may have sent workers to learn from the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians, or they may have hired foreign craftsmen to do their work, or imported the ivory pieces. The piece in the photo to the right is exhibited in the British Museum.

HT: Joseph Lauer