Dig This Summer in Israel at Tel Azekah with the University of Iowa

The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition

I’d like to invite all who are interested to join us this summer for the second season of exploration at Tel Azekah, Israel. The University of Iowa is proud to be joining with Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg as part of an international consortium of universities participating in the Lautenschläger Archaeological Expedition at Tel Azekah.

Tour the Holy Land and spend a summer doing archaeological research for university course credit.

For more information, visit the Azekah Facebook page, or visit the Iowa Azekah Information page. Biblical Archaeology Review also has information on Azekah. You can also read through last year’s Azekah blog.

2013 season details are also available here.

Excavation dates: July 13 – August 23, 2013.

Excavation Directors: Dr. Oded LipschitsDr. Manfred Oeming, Dr. Yuval Gadot

Iowa Team Director: Dr. Robert Cargill

Consortium members: You will meet students from around the world, including those from Collège de France, Duke University, Georg-August-Universität-Göttingen, Heidelberg University, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Macquarie University, Moravian College, Moravian Theological Seminary, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Tel Aviv University, Universität des Saarlandes, Université de Lausanne, University of Iowa, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, and the University of Zurich.

Accommodations: Students stay in the Nes-Harim guest-house, a mountaintop village of fully air-conditioned wooden cabins, located on in the midst of a green and lush forest. Students enjoy accommodations and full board, with three delicious meals a day, their own private bar, as well as full complementary Wi-Fi internet services in classes and the surrounding area.

Schedule:

Saturday Evening: The excavation week begins on Saturday evening, with buses that bring students from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or weekend trips to the Nes-Harim guest-house. After a quick dinner, students attend opening lectures and introductions to the week ahead.

Saturday to Thursday: Students wake up very early to work and begin digging as the sun rises over the Judean hills and the Elah Valley. At 9:00 we gather for wonderful Israeli breakfast served on-site at beautiful Tell Azekah, eating and enjoying the breathtaking view of Judean Lowlands. Afterwards, we continue digging until noon, at which point students take the short bus drive back to the Nes-Harim guest-house. Students eat lunch, shower, nap, read, and enjoy time until the time for pottery washing. In the afternoon, students gather for pottery washing where they clean pottery collected that morning in the field, and look for seal impressions and ancient inscriptions. Later, and in the evening, students enjoy dinner a rich academic program, complete with lectures from the world’s leading archaeologists, and enjoy guided tours of the lovely landscape where the ancient history of various nearby excavations is recounted by leading scholars.

Thursday afternoon: Students depart for weekend trips on Thursday afternoon. Two options are available during the excavation weekends (Thursday afternoon – Saturday afternoon):

  1. Students may take part in organized tours to other parts of Israel (for an additional fee).
  2. Students may take advantage of the complimentary bus service to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (leaving the guest-house on Thursday afternoon and returning on Saturday afternoon). Studetns are responsible for their own accommodations on the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv weekends.

Friday and Saturday: Free time to enjoy weekend tours or free time in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Saturday afternoon: Buses bring students from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or weekend trips to the Nes-Harim guest-house.

Weekend Tours: Each weekend, students will take tours of various sites in the Holy Land including, the Sea of Galilee, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, the Mediterranean coast, Jerusalem, Qumran, En Gedi, Masada, Dead Sea, Bethlehem, the Herodium, and the Jordan River. And this year, I am planning a special trip weekend for Iowa students to Petra, Jordan – the city carved from stone.

University course credit: Students interested in earning university credit for the excavation can join one or two of the academic courses. (Cost per course: $300 total)

  • Archaeology and History of the Judean Lowland: one session (July 13th – August 10th) 3 credits
  • Archaeological Fieldwork – Theory and Methods: one session (July 13th – August 10th) 3 credits
  • An additional course, Theological Aspects of Archaeological Work, is also available through the University of Heidelberg:  one session (August 3rd – August 23rd)

Click here for further information about the academic program.

Program Cost: The cost of the summer excavation program depends on how long you participate. I encourage all Iowa students to come for 3 or 6 weeks.

Registration fee: $50 USD

Weekly cost (Saturday night to Thursday evening): $585 USD. This price includes: participation in the excavation, weekly room accommodations (up to 4 people in a room), full board (morning coffee, breakfast at the field, fruit break at the field, lunch, afternoon coffee and dinner), 24-hours internet service, transportation from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the camp on Saturday night and from the camp to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, transportation to the site and back on working days and transportation to midweek tours, security and first aid in the Nes Harim accommodations, all academic lectures and workshops, afternoon archaeological programs and social activities, educational mid-week tours to archaeological and historical sites in the region.

Breakdown by week:

  • Two weeks: $1170 USD ($1150 USD for return team members)
  • Three weeks: $1755 USD ($1725 USD for return team members)
  • Four weeks: $2340 USD ($2300 USD for return team members)
  • Five Weeks: $2925 USD ($2875 USD for return team members)
  • Six Weeks: $3510 USD ($3450 USD for return team members)

Price does not include: Flights to and from Israel; personal health insurance; weekend tours and board; free time room and board from Thursday evening to Saturday evening.

Iowa students and staff participate in the 2012 excavations at Azekah.

Iowa students and staff participate in the 2012 excavations at Azekah.

If you are interested in participating in the excavation, or as traveling/participating with the University of Iowa team, please contact Dr. Robert Cargill at robert-cargill@uiowa.edu.

To download the registration form, click here and email it to: azekah.excavations@gmail.com.

 I’m looking forward to seeing you all this year at Azekah!

RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

A Quick Thought on ‘Reception History’

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

Or, put another way:

“Arguing over the best way to interpret a story does not prove the story historical, factual, or true”.

I find that a great deal of theologians get caught up in the interpretation of claims made in the Bible, and jump to the fallacious conclusion that because they have arrived at the best interpretation of a particular verse, the verse must therefore be “true” or historical.

These are two separate arguments.

Lightsaber cutaway

No matter how detailed a myth might be, or how compelling the interpretation of a particular myth might sound to a large number of people who really like the myth, it does not prove the myth to be true. It’s still a mythical lightsaber (whether it can theoretically operate underwater or not).

Arguing about whether lightsabers will work underwater, no matter how convincing your argument, does not mean that lightsabers are historical or real.

The argument about what a text meant to the author (or what the author meant in writing a particular verse or text) is a quite common legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “exegesis” or simple interpretation. Likewise, how that text was interpreted by subsequent communities is also a legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “reception history”. “What the text means to me”, or alternatively, “What I think the text says”, is far less of an academic pursuit, despite being very popular among many religious individuals.

But all of the above endeavors – the debates over the interpretation of a text – are completely separate and apart from the examination of the actual historicity of the claim made in the text under discussion. Just because one interpretation of a text wins a consensus and place of preference within a majority of confessional interpreters DOES NOT prove that the story or text being interpreted has any historical or factual merit at all. It simply means that the author believed what he was writing to be true, or that a community believed or accepted what an author had written to be true.

The debate about a text’s interpretation has absolutely no bearing upon whether the claim is, in fact, factual.

The historicity of factual nature of a claim is left to disciplines outside of reception history, namely science (like archaeology) and history. These disciplines examine the claim itself and weigh evidence to determine if the claim is valid. These disciplines could really care less (and should care less) about what people thought about the claim.

Or put another way:

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

Impromptu, on-site history of LMLK seals by Tel Aviv University’s Omer Sergi

Today (August 2, 2012) at Tel Azekah, Chaim Tzemach unearthed a jar handle with a LMLK seal impression on it. Area S-2 Supervisor Omer Sergi (a Ph.D candidate in archaeology at Tel Aviv University waiting for his beloved advisor, Dr. Oded Lipschits, to finish reading and sign his dissertation ;-) identified the object and immediately broke into a quick lecture on LMLK seals for the student volunteers who had never heard of them.

What is most impressive is that it is a completely impromptu, yet highly informative lecture about LMLK seals given from the balk of a Tel Azekah Area S-2 square to students who had just pulled one out of the earth!

What follows is video I took of that lecture from the balk, which is the best 3-minute summation I’ve ever heard of LMLK seal impressions. In fact, I’ll incorporate this video into my “Jerusalem from the Bronze to the Digital Age” course at the University of Iowa.

Watch and learn.

Congrats to Elaine Pagels: NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Hearty congratulations are in order to Princeton University’s Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion, Dr. Elaine Pagels, for making the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List for her new book, Revelations (Viking, $27.95), which debuted at #10. This book explores the original context and meaning of the biblical Book of Revelation.

It is good to see a popular book by a reputable scholar break into the bestsellers list, as books in my favorite subjects of religious studies, science, technology, the history of the Middle East, and archaeology have been largely absent from the bestsellers list as of late. In fact, a look at the nonfiction hardcover bestsellers list over the past month demonstrates just how few works there have been in these fields (especially religious studies and archaeology):

REVELATIONS by Elaine Pagels

NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 25, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
5. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
6. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
7. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
10. REVELATIONS, by Elaine Pagels. (Viking) (religious studies)
11. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
12. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg. (Grove)
13. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
14. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
15. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
16. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
17. THE PEOPLE’S MONEY, by Scott Rasmussen (Threshold Editions)
18. COMING APART, by Charles Murray (Crown Forum)
19. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
20. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
21. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford (Random House)
22. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
23. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
24. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
25. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
26. DON’T PUT ME IN, COACH, by Mark Titus (Doubleday)
27. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
28. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
29. RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, by Alain De Botton (Pantheon) (religion and atheism)
30. TURING’S CATHEDRAL, by George Dyson (Pantheon) (technology)
31. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
32. THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, by Masha Gessen (Riverhead)
33. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
34. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
35. WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?, by Jeanette Winterson (Grove/Atlantic)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 18, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
5. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
6. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
7. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
8. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
9. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
10. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
11. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
12. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
15. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
16. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
17. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max (Blue Heeler Books)
18. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
19. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
20. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
21. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
22. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
23. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
24. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
25. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
26. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
27. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
28. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
29. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
30. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
31. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
32. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
33. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
34. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
35. IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?, by Mindy Kaling (Crown Archetype)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 11, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $26.99.)
2. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. (Free Press)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
6. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
11. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
12. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
15. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
16. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
17. WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS, by Russ Feingold (Crown)
18. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
19. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
20. EISENHOWER IN WAR AND PEACE, by Jean Edward Smith (Random House)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 4, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
6. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
11. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
12. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
13. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
14. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba. (St. Martin’s, $27.99.)
15. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press, $24.95.)
16. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
17. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
18. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
19. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
20. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
21. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
22. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
23. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
24. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
25. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
26. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
27. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
28. THE MAGIC ROOM, by Jeffrey Zaslow (Gotham)
29. THE WORLD AMERICA MADE, by Robert Kagan (Knopf)
30. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
31. AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL, by Ben Carson with Candy Carson (Zondervan)
32. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
33. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
34. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
35. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction February 26, 2012:

1. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
2. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
3. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
6. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
7. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
10. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
11. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
12. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
13. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
14. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad. (Simon & Schuster)
15. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth. (Harper/HarperCollins)
16. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press)
17. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
18. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
19. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
20. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
21. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
22. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
23. GREEDY BASTARDS, by Dylan Ratigan (Simon & Schuster)
24. DA VINCI’S GHOST, by Toby Lester (Free Press)
25. HOW TO BE BLACK, by Baratunde Thurston (Harper)
26. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
27. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
28. THE OBAMAS, by Jodi Kantor (Little, Brown)
29. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
30. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
31. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
32. THE OPERATORS, by Michael Hastings (Blue Rider)
33. ALL IN, by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb (Penguin Press)
34. BEING GEORGE WASHINGTON, by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe (Threshold Editions/Mercury Radio Arts)
35. INSIDE APPLE, by Adam Lashinsky (Business Plus) (technology)

So congrats again to Dr. Pagels, and thank you for your contributions to religious studies scholarship!

the role of archaeology in biblical history (edición español)

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson lectures

The Chilean La Tercera recently published an article entitled “Historias bíblicas: lo que la ciencia ya decifró y las preguntas pendientes,” or, “Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and the remaining questions).” La Tercera offers a link to a digital paper copy here.

The Mexican Jewish website Enlace Judio also ran the story, as did Terrae Antiqvae (complete with pictures).

The article discusses the role of archaeology as a science in relation to the Bible and biblical history. The article surveys many of the recent claims and recounts various archaeologists’ interpretations of these discoveries.

Below is an English translation of the story by Marcelo Cordova and Jennifer Abate.


Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and questions pending)

In recent years, a string of findings has been an unprecedented boost to archeology studying characters and events depicted in sacred texts, from the existence of King David to the tomb of Herod the Great.

by MARCELO CORDOVA / JENNIFER ABATE

After a backbreaking day of work under the Israel sun, the team of archaeologists from Union College in Jerusalem was preparing for a break amongst the ruins of Tel Dan, an ancient northern city. But before resting, Gila Cook, one of those in charge of the team, noticed an unusual shadow on a wall that had been exposed after digging what had been the main entrance.

It was July 21, 1993 and, as the explorer relates the story, approaching the spot, she discovered a piece of basalt protruding from the floor and on it was a text written in ancient Aramaic. Excited, she called loudly to Avraham Biran, chief researcher of the group. His surprise was immediate: it was an inscription about a military victory of the king of Damascus from the ninth century BC which mentioned the “King of Israel” and “house of David.”

This news was a historic and scientific success. It was the first time that a non-biblical reference was found that proved the existence of the monarch, the central figure of the Christian scriptures and recognized not only for his great artistic and warrior skills, but also for being an ancestor of Jesus. After centuries of exploration and speculation, which even talked about David having been invented by Hebrew scribes, a text was discovered that had been written by an enemy of the monarch.

That was the starting point for a string of discoveries which in recent years has launched an unprecedented boost to biblical archeology. A discipline that emerged after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), when scientists stopped considering religious texts as a history that could only be demystified, and started using the Bible as a written compass to guide their excavations.

Recent efforts to search the sacred texts have paid off, achieving the illustration of episodes like the battle of David and Goliath and events related to the life of Jesus, which have been enriched with details that remained lost in time (see graphic). However, in the process scientists have also unearthed and brought to light relics that pose questions to some biblical passages, such as the Gospel of Judas, which seems to show how Jesus asked his apostle to turn him into the authorities. The role of testing and proving and, sometimes of rebuttal, is one of the major challenges of biblical archeology, Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University California, told La Tercera.

“Archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. In the same way that a site visit helps to understand its historical legacy. Sometimes it provides evidence that contradicts it. For example, there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt or of the Flood. But there are many findings in Jerusalem and other places that do support these texts,” says Cargill. He adds: “The idea is not to completely discard the Bible altogether just because some passages can not be verified. This book is an ancient piece of literature that should be examined for what it is: an ancient collection of documents that do not necessarily give us information about what happened then, but about the beliefs of the people from that ancient world.”

Verifying the Scriptures

If one asks the experts what are the most salient findings of recent years, the names of some places and characters tend to be repeated. One of them is one that stunned the world in 2007 when the explorers, led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, announced the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great, in the Herodium, south of Jerusalem. The monarch, who was appointed by the Romans to govern Judea from 37 BC and 4 BC, is described in the Bible as the instigator of the “slaughter of the innocents” (at the knowledge of the birth of Jesus, he ordered the deaths of children under two years old in Bethlehem).

But apart from this notoriously sad reputation, he was known for his grand architectural vision; he ordered the construction of the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and the almost mythical fortress of Masada, the last bastion of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 73 AD.  Most archaeologists assumed that he had been buried at the Herodium, but it was the finding of some monumental steps 6.5 m wide, which were built for Herod’s funeral procession, described in detail by the historian Josephus, which eventually led Netzer to a large broken sarcophagus 2.5 meters long. While inside it no human remains were found, the detailed ornamentation and the surrounding buildings of that place causes the experts to claim that the body of the monarch did lie there.

Netzer explained in 2007 that this discovery put an end to 30 years of research and gave support to the legendary ambition of Herod. Herodium is the only site that carries his name and was chosen by the king to immortalize himself, integrating a huge palace located in the desert hilltop. “This finding is significant because it puts into perspective Herod, a key figure in Christianity,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrating how a king produced a majestic tomb helps – Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the U. Tel Aviv, told La Tercera – the specialists to delve into the economic, social, political and demographic contexts that marked this era in which these texts were written. A view shared by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (USA), who told La Tercera: “If we take the example of an opera, the Bible is the script and archeology is the setting in which it takes place.”

While in recent years there have discoveries made in various parts of Israel – including a synagogue in the town of Migdal where Jesus would have prayed regularly, and 2,000 year-old houses in Nazareth that reveal a village of just 50 homes of humble lifestyle. The vast majority is concentrated in Jerusalem. Remains of pottery and other objects show that the city was inhabited from 4000 BC, although it was King David who established it as the capital of the united kingdom in 1000 BC.

And it was his son who built the first temple of the city. The Book of Kings recounts how Solomon brought his Egyptian wife to the city of David, where he built his home and a large wall. In 2010, archaeologists found a big wall in Jerusalem from the tenth century BC providing support to the existence of a royal palace and a fortified capital under the control of a king. In addition to an outdoor structure, which is 10 m high and 70 m long, a monumental tower and a large entrance were found.

“This is the first time we’ve run into a structure that conforms to the descriptions of the works of Solomon. This fits into the biblical story and it enhances our ability to establish a link with the wall of Jerusalem. It is very probable that the Bible, as the stories of many dynasties, preserves a core of truth,” said archaeologist Eilat Mazar to Haaretz news group.

The Chapter on Jesus

The evidence found that is tied to the most recent Scripture passages – especially to that of the life of Jesus, his family and apostles – is also coming to light in the form of objects and texts. In 1968 explorers found the remains of a man in his twenties in a cave northeast of Jerusalem. The find was considered unique because although the Romans were known to have crucified thousands of rebels, thieves, and deserters, a victim of this technique had never been found. And his remains corroborated the biblical description of such execution: the man’s left ankle had a nail that went through 11 cm and a small wooden box between the bone and the nail head to prevent release of the cross leg.

This evidence not only corresponds to a similar period as that of the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, but, according to experts, it verifies the description of his funeral. For decades it was believed that the Romans were limited to throwing the corpses into mass graves to be devoured by animals and thus impose fear.  But, this body showed that, on occasion, funeral proceedings were permitted similar to those mentioned in the Scriptures.

Recent explorations in and around Jerusalem have uncovered not only references linked to the death of Christ, but also to the image that his miracles propagated and to the characters that surrounded him, such as John the Baptist.  Seven years ago, works in the neighborhood of Silwan gave the location of a pool where, according to the Bible, Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in 2008; while underwater archaeologists recovered from the Bay of Alexandria (Egypt) a vessel of the late 1st century AD that says Dia chrstou o goistais (“Christ the magician”).

According to Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, it would be the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible. The words in this inscription further illustrate how Christianity and paganism were intertwined during the first years after the crucifixion. The investigator told Discovery News that it is very likely that some magician had inscribed “Christ” in the bowl to legitimize his own powers by invoking his name: “It is very probable that in Alexandria, where one also found one of Cleopatra’s palaces, the existence of Jesus and his legendary miracles were known.”

In 2004, archaeologists found a clue to the legacy of John the Baptist, when they located a cave in Jerusalem that may have been used by him for some of his ceremonies. The site, 21 meters long, was excavated between 800 and 500 BC and includes a series of carvings from the 5th century A.D. depicting the image of a man with a staff. There is no direct evidence of the link between this place and John, but the British archaeologist Shimon Gibson told Fox News that the carvings, combined with a stone used for foot washing and the proximity to the place where John lived, suggests that the cave was used by him.

“Apparently, this site was adopted by John the Baptist, who wanted a place to bring people to perform his rituals and propagate his ideas about baptism,” added Gibson. Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told La Tercera that despite the lack of confirmation of the link, such findings illustrate the customs and rituals of that time: “Now we can reconstruct how people lived, how they viewed their settlements and what their economic and social structures were.”

Subject for Dispute

It is clear that these findings have not been without controversy, and they are almost always preceded by sensationalistic media. One of the most iconic episodes in this regard came last year when it was announced that Noah’s Ark had been discovered atop Mount Ararat (Turkey). After a series of criticisms for its inconsistencies in terms of dating, this finding was branded false.

Something similar could be taking place with the announcement a few days ago of the alleged discovery of two nails used to crucify Jesus. The documentary, guided by Simcha Jacobovici (who years ago said he had found the tomb of Jesus), mixed evidence with a series of assumptions to announce the discovery of these objects in a tomb explored in 1990 and which, for some unknown reason, ended up at an anthropologist’s laboratory in Tel Aviv, where they remained forgotten.

The main argument of the filmmaker is that an ossuary was also found in the tomb that has scientific backing and a connection with the death of Jesus: an receptacle with human remains and the inscription “Caiaphas,” the name of the High Priest who organized the capture of Jesus. Robert Cargill, who is part of a committee of U.S. archaeologists that refutes baseless claims, tells La Tercera: “These type of assumptions are made by amateurs, not professional archaeologists. Usually, they are scams to earn money or convince people of a certain faith claim.”

The subject about which scientists have not yet achieved consensus is the Gospel of Judas. The full text, which is 1,700 years old and written in Egyptian Coptic Christian, continues to cause controversy, not because they doubt its authenticity, but for its meaning. While the Bible portrays Judas as a traitor, the initial translation shows the apostle as the closest friend and disciple of Christ, who sacrifices his teacher at his request; this involves a reinterpretation of biblical texts. Another analysis, however, postulates that the text does not say this, but rather that Judas was a “demon” and that he, in fact, betrayed Jesus.

Researchers are divided in their analysis of what remains to be discovered. Some speak of cities or more details of King Solomon, but the same Robert Cargill says the key requirement, such as it has been until now, is discovering more about the daily life of the society in which the writings were produced: “A dream find would be something like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that opens a new window to understanding how these people thought and interacted thousands of years ago. I’d love to find something written in a new language and decipher it, or find a palace or a temple, because no serious explorer ever says he has found the Ark of the Covenant, the cross of Christ, or the Holy Grail.”

shattered dreams of archaeology students

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

If you’re up for a laugh, then check out Timothy McSweeney’s blog, where author Scott C. Reynolds walks you through “Dream Jobs That You’re Glad You Didn’t Pursue.” In the segment, Reynolds describes up what many people list as their “dream jobs,” and then painfully and hilariously explains why you’re glad you didn’t choose that particular profession.

This particular episode, entitled “So You Wanted to Be an Archaeologist…” made my both laugh and cry (the crying being mostly at my choice of career). Please give it a read.

(PS: This is the expression I keep imagining Megiddo archaeologists Dr. Eric Cline and Israel Finkelstein keep having when they’re not on camera :). Coincidentally, it’s the same expression (inspired by Dr. Jim Linville) that I believe Dr. Jim West has when he reads about dilettante archaeologists, and coincidentally the exact same expression that other top 50 bloggers (well, 2-50) have when they read Jim West’s blog. ;-)

minimalism exposes so-called ancient greeks too

Scholars admit making up 'Ancient Greece'apparently, the ancient israelites are not the only ones that did not exist. according to a recent article in the onion, the ancient greeks didn’t exist either. in fact, the entire ancient greek culture was a giant hoax.

According to Haddlebury, the idea of inventing a wholly fraudulent ancient culture came about when he and other scholars realized they had no idea what had actually happened in Europe during the 800-year period before the Christian era.

Frustrated by the gap in the record, and finding archaeologists to be “not much help at all,” they took the problem to colleagues who were then scrambling to find a way to explain where things such as astronomy, cartography, and democracy had come from.

Within hours the greatest and most influential civilization of all time was born.

“One night someone made a joke about just taking all these ideas, lumping them together, and saying the Greeks had done it all 2,000 years ago,” Haddlebury said. “One thing led to another, and before you know it, we’re coming up with everything from the golden ratio to the Iliad.”

i enjoyed this one… ;-)

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