Monthly Archives: March 2012

The James Ossuary verdict. Does it matter?

Shortly after the SBL meeting in Toronto (November, 2002), I presented a lecture on the subject and posted similar material on Bible World here. The material I have posted in the past two days, and this one, has been posted at Bible World since December 18, 2002. Only minor changes have been made to correct tenses, mention dead links, etc.

Below are the questions I asked in my study, and the conclusions I drew, in 2002. This was when the issue was still a matter of scholarly discussion. No criminal forgery charges had been made at the time.

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Several important questions should be asked about this ossuary. These questions will help us draw some conclusions.

Did the ossuary originate in first century Jerusalem? The evidence indicates that it did. The Geologic Survey of Israel has certified that the limestone is typical of that quarried in Jerusalem during the first and second centuries A.D. The patina in the inscription contains no modern elements, and there is no indication of the use of a modern tool on the ossuary. André Lemairé thinks this type of ossuary can be dated between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70.

James Ossuary at the Royal Ontario Museum - Nov. 22, 2002.

James Ossuary at the Royal Ontario Museum -2002. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is the inscription authentic? The shape of certain of the letters indicates that the Aramaic inscription belongs to the last decades before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is the exact period, according to Josephus, when James was killed. Some scholars have suggested that the inscription may have been written by two different hands. Lemairé sees no reason to draw this conclusion. After the panel discussion [at the SBL meeting in Toronto] the ossuary was examined by Frank Moore Cross and Joseph Fitzmeyer, both experts in the Aramaic of this period. According to Oded Golan, in an interview with the Discovery Channel  [the link is no longer active], they believe the inscription was written by one hand.

Is this the James of Galatians 1:19 and Acts 15? Is the James mentioned on the ossuary the James of the New Testament (Acts 15; Gal. 1:19)? In first century Jerusalem many people bore the names James, Joseph, and Jesus. When we consider the combination of relationships (son of, brother of), the number of possibilities goes down dramatically. The exact size of the population is uncertain. Lemairé estimated a maximum population of 80,000. Based on ossuary inscriptions of the period, Lemairé first suggested that about 20 people could be called “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus.” Golan says that Professor Camil Fuchs, head of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Statistics and Operations Research in the School of Mathematical Sciences, estimates on the basis of a highly complex statistical analysis that “only one person could be ‘James son of Joseph brother of Jesus,’ and that is the man who was known as James the Just, a leader in the early church and the brother of Jesus Christ” (Paddey, Patricia L. “Ossuary’s Owner Reveals New Research.” http://www.biblenetworknews.com (23 Nov. 2002; this link is no longer active). I think the combination of relationships makes it highly probable that this is the ossuary of the James of Acts 15, but we may never know for certain.

Does it matter? If the inscription is authentic, it is another of the many archaeological confirmations of Biblical characters. We already know of Caiaphas, Pilate, Erastus, et al. It is another example of the historicity of the New Testament. It provides the earliest inscriptional evidence of Jesus. If the inscription is not authentic then it is just an ordinary limestone bone box, but one that has caused multitudes to discuss Jesus and the New Testament. Let us use it as an opportunity to discuss Jesus with those who do not know Him.

Please keep in mind that the New Testament documents, all of which date to the first century, provide the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31).

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

The Current Situation (2012). Today, and in the months to come, the reaction to this court decision will likely be along this line. Those who “knew” that the ossuary inscription was a fake, still think it is a fake. Those who thought the full inscription is genuine, still think it is genuine. Those who did not know whether the inscription was genuine or a fake still do not know. That is where I stand.

Additional Links of Interest.

Herschel Shanks, Bible History Daily, here.

Eric Meyers’ reaction on the ASOR Blog here.

Christopher Rollston, here.

James Ossuary — no proof of forgery

The word is out. In a 475-page verdict, Judge Aharon Farkash says the prosecutor failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription were forgeries.

Robert Deutsch was acquited of all charges. Oded Golan was acquited of charges that he forged a portion of the inscription on the James Ossuary.

Here are some links you can follow to “read all about it.”

Matthew Kalman’s report here. Kalman has followed this case through four years of testimony.

Todd Bolen’s comments at the Bible Places Blog here.

Response of the Israel Antiquities Authority here.

Haaretz: “After a decade, Israel court acquits collector of forging Jesus’ brother’s tomb” here.

The Times of Israel: “After 7-year saga, a surprising end to antiquities fraud case” here.

Later I plan to follow up on this with the question, “Does it matter?”

HT: Joseph Lauer

The James Ossuary Exhibition in Toronto

Biblical Archaeology Review cover above the James Ossuary.The existence of an ossuary bearing an Aramaic inscription, “Ya’akov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua” [James the son of Joseph the brother of Jesus] was announced at a press conference conducted by Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, October 21, 2002. In the feature article of the November-December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor Andre Lemairé gives details about the ossuary and its inscription. An ossuary was used to house the bones of the deceased after the decay of the body. An ossuary need be only as large as the longest bones. The ossuary under consideration is about 20 inches long, 12 inches high, and 10 inches wide. They were commonly used by the Jews for secondary burial in the first century A.D.

The James Ossuary was placed on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, from November 15th through December 29, 2002. It was displayed in a third floor room by itself in a well-lighted case. The walls of the room were filled with information about James, ossuaries, Jewish burial customs, and the James ossuary. The ossuary was cracked in transit from Israel to Canada but was been restored by the museum staff. The ROM has a good selection of material from the ancient Mediterranean world. The exhibition of the James Ossuary was arranged to coincide with the annual meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society of Biblical Literature. About eight thousand professors of religion and Biblical studies from around the world attend these meetings.

“No Ordinary Box of Bones”

The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) planned a special session under the title “No Ordinary Box of Bones” for a learned discussion about the ossuary. The panel included the following scholars:

André Lemairé, the epigrapher from the Sorbonne who recently published the ossuary inscription in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

John Painter, author of a book on James, from Charles Stuart University in Australia.

Steve Mason, a Josephus scholar, from York University, Toronto. He put the quotation about James in Josephus in its proper context.

Eric Meyers, an archaeologist and scholar of Judaism at Duke University.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Adele Reinhartz, of Wilfred Laurier University, served as chair of the panel.

Lemairé summarized the material from his BAR article. He responded to some recent charges that the second half of the inscription [brother of Jesus] is different from the first part [James the son of Joseph]. Evidence from paleography places the Aramaic inscription near the middle of the first century AD, prior to AD 70.

Eric Myers, a former president of ASOR, stated that he had concern about the existence of such a panel in light of the fact that the ossuary was “looted” and sold on the illegal antiquities market. He said the owner had been questioned by the police in Israel about the ossuary.

Herschel Shanks at SBL in Toronto, 2002.

Herschel Shanks in Toronto, 2002.

Herschel Shanks took exception to several statements made by Myers. Shanks publishes artifact which belong to private collectors. Both Shanks and Lemairé emphasized that the Dead Sea Scrolls fall into the same category. Shanks said there are good collectors and bad collectors. Good collectors allow their material to be published and share it with the world. Bad collectors keep their artifacts in their basements for personal enjoyment.

Mason put the quotation about James from Josephus in proper historical context. Josephus was dealing with the character of High Priests and mentioned, incidentally, that one of the people put to death was the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.

The quotation from Josephus, perhaps written in the last decade of the first century A.D., reads this way:

…when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions]; and, when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: (Ant 20:200)

Painter mentioned the tradition that the throne of James (as Bishop of Jerusalem) and his burial in the Church of Saint James, an Armenian church in Jerusalem. He also cited other traditions about the death and burial of James from Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus, and Eusebius.

A portion of the quotation from Eusebius, from the early 4th century A.D., reads,

These things are related at length by Hegesippus, who is in agreement with Clement. James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him.

Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, “These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.” (Ecclesiastical History 2 23:19-20)

Entrance to St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the panelists finished their presentations, time was allowed for only two or three questions from the audience of about 800 persons. I was seated directly in front of the podium about 4 or 5 rows from the front and rose to ask the first question. The owner of the ossuary, Mr. Oded Golan, was present for the session. I stated that we would like to hear him say how long the ossuary had been in his possession and whether the inscription was on it when he obtained it. Mr. Golan went to the platform and stated that he obtained the ossuary in the 1970s and that the inscription was on it when he obtained it. He is 51 years of age, and has been collecting ossuaries and other antiquities since he was 8 years old. He stated that one item from his collection had been published by the late Yigael Yadin.

Oden Golan and Ferrell Jenkins at SBL, Toronoto, 2002.

Oden Golan and Ferrell Jenkins at SBL, Toronoto, 2002.

It may sound strange to Americans that a young boy would be collecting ossuaries and other antiquities. We must remember that ancient artifacts are everywhere in Israel (and the West Bank) and that archaeology is a sort of past-time for many people who live there. As a boy growing up in north Alabama I picked up Indian arrowheads from the cotton fields. I have visited several homes in which the host would bring out numerous boxes of artifacts that they had collected from Indian mounds.

Well, I trust this will give our readers a little perspective on the initial presentation of the James Ossuary. You may read more about the trial which has been going on since December, 2004, here.

James the Lord’s Brother

In anticipation of the “James Ossuary” verdict which is scheduled to be announced March 14, I decided to provide some background material. First, here is a brief discussion of the identity of James, and his relation to Jesus.

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The name James was a common name in New Testament times. Several people bearing that name are mentioned in the New Testament. Two apostles bore that name: James the son of Zebedee (Matthew 4:21; 10:2), and James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3). James, the son of Zebedee, and brother of the apostle John, was put to death by Herod Agrippa I before A.D. 44 (Acts 12:1-2). There was also James, the brother of Jesus. Paul refers to him, along with Cephas [Peter] and John as men who were reputed to be pillars among the brethren (Galatians 2:9). Paul identifies James as “the Lord’s brother” in Galatians 1:19.

The New Testament mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56. Roman Catholics make every effort to evade the plain meaning of “brother.” Roman Catholics hold the non-biblical doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. They claim that the brothers of Jesus were really half-brothers or cousins. The inscription on the James ossuary has opened this issue anew, but more about that at another time (see Matthew 1:25). The New Testament indicates that James and the others listed were the uterine brothers of Jesus. James, the Lord’s brother, is generally thought to be the author of the Epistle of James. Jude, another brother of Jesus, wrote a short book in which he says that he is “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” This last expression indicates that Jude was not as well known as James.

The brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during His public ministry (John 7:5), but after the resurrection they are mentioned among the disciples (Acts 1:14). Paul informs us that Jesus made an appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). At least some of the brothers of Jesus seem to be preachers of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:5). It appears that the brothers of Jesus were convinced by the resurrection. James proved to be influential among the brethren both in Jerusalem and in other places (Galatians 2:11-13; Acts 15; 21:17-26). We’ll leave this matter for another time.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, makes a reference to “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Ant. Xx.9.1). Eusebius, the early church historian, records the martyrdom of “James, the brother of the Lord” in his Ecclesiastical History (2.23). He cites the earlier accounts by Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and Josephus. This would have been shortly after the death of Festus, procurator of Judea, in A.D. 61.

The photo below shows two of the monumental tombs in the Kidron Valley between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, south of the so-called Tomb of Absalom (see here). Modern Jewish tombs are visible on the slopes of the Mount of Olives above the older monuments.

The tomb on the right is known as the Tomb of Zachariah. The tomb on the left, with a porch and two Doric columns is the Tomb of Beni Hezir from the latter half of the second century B.C. (the Maccabean Period). It is incorrectly identified as the Tomb of James.

Bene Hezir (traditional James) Tomb and Tomb of Zachariah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bene Hezir (traditional James) Tomb and Tomb of Zachariah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We have pointed out before that many structures have been incorrectly identified with specific biblical characters over the centuries. The tomb identified with James belonged to a priestly family named Hezir. Perhaps this Hezir was a descendant of a priest mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24:15. The name appears again in Nehemiah 10:20. The connection with James was a mistaken idea.

The synagogue at Chorazin

The ancient synagogue at Chorazin has been partially reconstructed. The structure is made of the local basalt (volcanic) stone that is found in the area.

Restored Synagogue at Chorazin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Restored Synagogue at Chorazin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Scholars date the synagogue from the second century to the fourth century A.D. Ze’ev Yeivin, the director of archaeological excavations at Chorazin, is cautious in dating the synagogue.

Thus far, I have said very little about dating—always a difficult and sensitive subject.

The synagogue at Chorazin was first built at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth century A.D. Probably in the second half of the fourth century, the synagogue, as well as the rest of the town, was partially destroyed by an earthquake.

The town apparently lay in ruins for some time thereafter. The Church father Eusebius, writing at the end of the fourth century, tells us that Chorazin was a destroyed village, apparently in fulfillment of the prediction in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. (BAR 13:05 (Sep/Oct 1987).

Yeivin comments on one of the most significant discoveries within the synagogue:

In 1926 a unique stone seat was found near the southern wall of the Chorazin synagogue. Since then it has been called the “Chair of Moses.” The Chair of Moses is a special seat that is used in some synagogues, even today, on certain occasions, usually located near the most important wall, that which faces Jerusalem. (BAR 13:05 (Sep/Oct 1987).

The photo below is of a replica of the Chair (or Seat) of Moses. The original is displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Chorazin Synagogue Chair. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Replica of Chorazin Synagogue Chair. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It may be that Jesus had this type of seat in mind in Matthew 23:2.

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,  so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.  (Matthew 23:2-3 ESV)

A parallel might be that we should listen to those who teach the Bible from the pulpit, but not follow their example when they do not live according to the Bible.

The seating running around the inside walls of the building is typical of what we know from several synagogues.

Chorazin Synagogue Seating - Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chorazin Synagogue Seating. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

James uses the Greek word sunagogue to describe the meeting place of early Christians. It is most commonly translated assembly.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,  and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”  have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  (James 2:1-4 ESV)

Whether our meeting place is elaborate or humble, we should not show partiality.

“Woe to you, Chorazin!”

Chorazin (also spelled Chorozain and Korazim) is one of three cities that rejected the message of Jesus, and upon which he pronounced a woe.

 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Matthew 11:21 ESV; cf. Luke 10:13)

BDAG describes the Greek word used here as an “interjection denoting pain or displeasure, woe, alas.”

Murphy-O’Connor describes the location of Chorazin in contrast to Capernaum.

Capernaum with a view is perhaps the most succinct characterization of Chorozain. Both contain synagogues in the midst of an excavated urban area, but sited 3.5 km [2.17 miles] up the slope and 270 m [885 feet] above the Sea of Galilee Chorozain offers a wide perspective over the northern end of the lake. (The Holy Land)

Both Eusebius and Jerome are said to have referred to a desolate place near Capernaum as Chorazin. Dalman describes the area as “a desolate basalt wilderness” (Sacred Sites and Ways 154).

In the photo below you can see the location of Chorazin with a view to the southwest. Mount Arbel is visible in the distance. The Sea of Galilee is below on the left.

Chorazin (Korazim) in the basalt hills north of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chorazin is situated in the basalt hills north of the Sea of Galilee. This view is to the SW. Mount Arbel can be seen in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Move a little west of Chorazin and you have a wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee to the southeast. The eastern side of the Sea is clearly visible. A few reconstructed buildings at the site are visible on the hill to the left.

Chorazin and the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chorazin and the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In a future post we will include a photo of the synagogue at Chorazin.

Our last post about Capernaum, including an aerial photo, may be seen here. Use the search box to locate other references to the site.

The Cyrus Cylinder may not be as tolerant as some suggest

Dr. Jacob L. Wright, Candler School of Theology, offers a warning about using the Cyrus Cylinder as a model of toleration. He says,

As most historians who specialize in early Persian history would readily point out, the chief objective of Cyrus and his successors was no different than that of other imperial powers: to maintain control of their vast empire and to exploit the wealth of its subjects. Palace reliefs at Persepolis and Susa express this “vision of peace” in dramatic visual form: Delegations from various peoples are shown solemnly bearing precious gifts up to the enthroned king.

This perspective is in response to the lecture by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, that we called attention to here.

The photo below shows a brick from Ur, in Southern Mesopotamia. According to the display sign in the British Museum the inscription in Babylonian cuneiform reads:

Cyrus, king of the world, king of Anshan, son of Cambyses, king of Ansham. The great gods delivered all the lands into my hand, and I made this land to dwell in peace.

The Biblical account of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple is recorded in 2 Chronicle 36: 22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4.

Brick bearing name of Cyrus. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Brick with Babylonian inscription bearing name of Cyrus. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wright concludes his article with these words,

The values of tolerance that the Cyrus Cylinder has come to represent today must be held high. Yet in doing so, we must also heed the voices of those who opposed Persia’s imperial reach. Otherwise, we lose sight of the danger posed by any power that would organize the world primarily for the purpose of greater control, exploitation and expansion.

The complete article is available in The Huffington Post Religion section here.

HT: Jack Sasson

James Ossuary verdict due March 14

Bible History Daily, a news/advertising newsletter of the Biblical Archaeology Society, announces that the Israel court verdict on the James Ossuary and other artifacts will be released March 14.

James Ossuary at Royal Ontario Museum - Nov. 22, 2002

James, the brother of Jesus, ossuary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israeli court system is different from the one we are accustomed to in the United States. This case was brought against Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, and others 5 years ago. The judge listens to all of the evidence and then makes the decision.

You might be interested in getting a free eBook about the James Ossuary and the other suspected artifacts. It will be made available along with an English translation of the court verdict shortly after the decision is announced. Click here for the link to the eBook and more info on the case. Be assured that by signing up for this booklet you will received regular Emails from the BAS.

In late December 2004, four Israelis and one Palestinian Arab were indicted in Jerusalem on charges of running a massive forgery ring over several decades. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israeli police claimed the ring had created a host of Biblically-related ancient artifacts with forged inscriptions involving millions of dollars, some of which are exhibited in the prestigious Israel Museum. The trial opened in September 2005 and continued for five years through 116 sessions, 133 witnesses, 200 exhibits, and close to 12,000 pages of testimony from witnesses.

In October 2010, closing arguments finally wrapped up in “the forgery trial of the century,” to determine whether or not the James Ossuary, the Yehoash tablet and other ancient artifacts were forged by two defendants. Trial judge Aharon Farkash pored through the evidence over the past 15 months, and is ready to deliver his verdict in the upcoming days.

The judge will be deciding whether the case’s two remaining defendants, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan and antiquities dealer and scholar Robert Deutsch, are guilty of creating and selling forged antiquities, most notably the now-famous first-century C.E. bone box (or ossuary) inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” a small inscribed ivory pomegranate allegedly used in Solomon’s Temple, and the Yehoash tablet, which, if authentic, would be the first royal inscription of an Israelite king ever found.

After the verdict is devoured by readers around the world there will still be differences of opinion.

New discoveries at the Colossi of Memnon

On the way from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of the Nile one passes two huge statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. The statues are nearly 60 feet tall, and once stood at the entrance to the funerary temple of Amenhotep III (also known as Amenophis III). With their crowns, each statue would have been about 66 feet tall. Amenhotep III ruled Egypt during the 18th Dynasty (14th century B.C.).

During the time of the Roman Empire the statues were mistakenly associated with “Memnon, son of Eos and Tithonus, who was killed by Achilles during the Trojan War” (Baedeker’s Egypt).

Travelers since the time of the Emperor Nero have carved their name in these sandstone statues.

The photo below was made January 17, 2011. A fence may be seen in the background where archaeologists were working to restore new statues that have been found over the past few years.

The Colossi of Memnon in the West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Colossi of Memnon in the West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I was able to get a few photos of the area where the workers were restoring some of the statues recently uncovered. Notice some items covered with white, and others lined up on the right side of our photo.

Temple of Amenophis III - West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Temple of Amenophis III - West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the next photo you will see several pieces covered. One shows the distinct appearance of a giant arm in my original photo.

Temple of Amenophis III - West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Temple of Amenophis III - West Bank of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In addition to what I was able to see, the Luxor Times reported the unveiling of yet another new statute that has been restored. Here is one of the photo from that report. The brief news report with several photos may be read here.

Colossian statue of Amenhotep III - Luxor Times.

Colossian statue of Amenhotep III - Luxor Times.

Yodfat (= Jotapata) — where Josephus commanded Galilean forces against Rome

Yodfat (or Yodefat) may be better known to English readers as Jotapata. It was here that Josephus, later known as a significant historian of first century Judaism, commanded the Galilean forces against Rome in A.D. 66.

Josephus wrote about the significant battle at Yodfat in his Wars of the Jews (Bk. III:141-339). Yodfat is located about 20 miles inland from Ptolemais (modern Akko) along the main route from Ptolemais to Magdala on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

View of Yodfat from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Yodfat from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The map below from BibleAtlas shows Nazareth, Sepphoris, [Khirbet] Cana, and Jotapata. Notice that Jotapata and Cana are situated on the north side of the Beit Netofa Valley. A main road ran from Ptolemais to Magdala through the Beit Netofa Valley.

Map showing Nazareth, Sepphoris, Cana, and Jotapata. BibleAtlas.org.

Map showing Nazareth, Sepphoris, Cana, and Jotapata. BibleAtlas.org.

Josephus commanded the rebel Jewish forces who were trying to stop the Roman soldiers from reaching Jerusalem. He took refuge at Yodfat. When it was clear that Rome, under the leadership of Vespasian and his son Titus, had the upper hand, some of the troops committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans. Many of the Jewish rebels were slain, but the life of Josephus was spared when he predicted that Vespasian would eventually become Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Bonnie Rochman reports that bones discovered in 1997 may be those of men who died in the battle with Rome.

Bones from at least 30 people were discovered this past summer in a cistern in the Galilee, giving strong support to Josephus’s account of a bloody battle there between Jews and Romans in 67 A.D. The bones are thought to be the remains of residents of the nearby city of Yodfat, which was besieged by Roman troops en route to Jerusalem to suppress the First Jewish Revolt. The Roman forces captured Yodfat (also written Yodefat and Jotapata and even Iotape) after battling the city’s Jews for 47 days. (Biblical Archaeology Review. 23:06 (Nov/Dec 1997).

Josephus records that 40,000 died in the conflict, and and that 1200 were enslaved. Some scholars believe this number is an exaggeration. Whatever the exact number, it was a significant battle in the Jewish War.

Yodfat differs from the typical tel (archaeological mound). It is mostly a rock, with few remains on the surface. The site is filled with numerous caves in which the Jewish soldiers hid, and cisterns that provided water for them. The photo below shows the entrance to one of the caves on the south side of the site.

One of many caves at Yodfat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of many caves at Yodfat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Encyclopedia Judaica provides a short summary here about the excavations at Jotapata

Excavations were conducted at the site in 1992 by D. Edwards, M. Aviam, and D. Adan-Bayewitz, revealing remains dating from the Hellenistic period through to medieval times. A fortification wall from the Ptolemaic period was uncovered with three phases of construction evident. To the northwest were the remains of a ramp dating from the time of the Roman siege in 67 C.E. The finds included remains from the battle including ballista balls and iron bow and catapult arrowheads. Rubble walls built at this location seem to have been part of the Jewish preparations prior to the arrival of the Romans. An oil press, pottery kilns, and several ritual baths (mikva’ot) were uncovered. The lower part of the site was reoccupied in the late first or early second centuries C.E., and there were also signs of occupation of medieval date.

Some scholars have identified Jotapata with the Jotbah of 2 Kings 21:19. Jotbah was the birthplace of the mother of the Judean King Amon. The town may be mentioned in the annals of Tiglath-pileser III (New Bible Dictionary; Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary).