Category Archives: Archaeology

New Project Announcement: Stamp Seals from the Southern Levant

Ido Koch announces the commencement of a new project:

Stamp Seals from the Southern Levant: A Multi-faceted Prism for Studying Entangled Histories in an Interdisciplinary Perspective

A SINERGIA research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation [CRSIIS_La6426]

The project is co-directed by Christoph Uehlinger (Zurich), Silvia Schroer (Bern), Stefan Münger (Bern) and yours truly. Our interdisciplinary, collaborative and multi-site project focuses on ancient stamp seals as a key medium for the study of second and first millennia historical entanglements in the Southern Levant. It engages a board of directors and an additional team of postdoc researchers and PhD students, an ICT technician, draftsperson(s) and student assistants.

There are several PhD and PostDoc positions open for application, in Zurich, Bern, and Tel Aviv, and I would be most grateful if you would spread the word. Please note, application deadline is July 1, 2019, 24:00 CET. See attached CSSL factsheet for further details.

CSSL_factsheet+researchjobs_June 2019

When it Comes to Archaeological and Textual ‘Discoveries’…

These days, I think our default position should be skepticism and everything should be viewed a fake until it’s PROVEN to be authentic instead of blindly accepting claims made in the media. That approach has gotten a lot of scholars a lot of egg on their faces.

Indeed, the default position of scholars should ALWAYS be skepticism. An object is guilty of being fraudulent until it is proven innocent by thorough peer reviewed analysis.

Three Stones Make a Wall

Eric Cline’s book arrived for review. I hear good things about it. We’ll see if it lives up to the good reviews. More anon.

When You Keep Your Dig Secret for Political Reasons…

Politics have trumped science.  But that’s par for the course in Israel.

Israel is not obligated to release information about archaeological digs in the West Bank, the Supreme Court ruled last week, rejecting an appeal by two nongovernmental organizations.  The decision upholds both the state’s position and a lower court ruling. The state had argued that releasing the names of the archaeologists carrying out the digs would make them vulnerable to academic boycotts.  It also argued that releasing the location of the digs could undermine Israel’s position in future diplomatic negotiations.

So they will keep digs secret to safeguard academics participating in them from adverse publicity.  And to allow Israel to pretend it is neutrally involved in the West Bank in future negotiations.

Political considerations are determining archaeological practices.

Michael Langlois, The Mesha Inscription, and An Interview

ML writes

I was interviewed by the Times of Israel on the possible mention of King David’s dynasty on the Mesha stele.

This mention was first suggested by André Lemaire and recently rejected by Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman and Thomas Römer. But, as I showed at a conference on the Mesha stele last November, new imaging techniques suggest that André Lemaire’s reading is, so far, the best.

The paper I gave at the conference will soon be published in Semitica, and I will post it here.

In the meantime, you can go ahead and read the paper written by journalist Amanda Borschel-Dan, whom I warmly thank for contacting me.

More on Mesha: Langlois On the Case

With thanks to Joseph Lauer for the heads up about the Times of Israel piece-

Since the early 1990s, scholars have pointed to a barely readable bit of text on a nearly 3,000-year-old stone as possibly the first extra-biblical historical proof of the Davidic Monarchy. The reading, based upon decades of educated guesses, is notable for what can’t be fully discerned in the Moabite script almost as much as what can.

A pair of dueling papers, one of which was released on Thursday, again puts the tiny bit of inscription, as well as primitive copies of it, under a microscope, offering divergent views on what the 9th-century Mesha Stele arguably offers.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University Thursday, a trio of scholars dismisses a decades-old hypothesis that line 31 of the stele refers to Beit David, the biblical House of David. However, using a combination of high-tech imaging methods, another researcher shores up the Davidic reading in an upcoming article in the Collège de France’s Semitica journal.

While the battle over a few ancient letters in the Moabite alphabet may seem purely academic, it is only one of several dramas attached to this ancient monument inscribed with battles and the spoils of war.

Today the Mesha Stele is housed in the Louvre. Back in 1868, the block of basalt was unveiled to the western world in a scene straight out of Hollywood. Found by Bedouins in the rubble of Jordan’s biblical Divon, it was initially offered for sale to French missionary, F. A. Klein. Realizing its worth, he agreed to pay a handsome sum but was later outbid by a competing collector.

After a tangled web of political intrigue, extortion and defiance against the ruling Ottoman Empire, however, the enraged Bedouin smashed the 1.15-meter-high, 60-68-centimeters-wide tablet to pieces. These were distributed among their tribesmen and many are yet to be recovered.

Slowly, painstakingly, the majority of the tablet was purchased piecemeal by some of the period’s archaeological luminaries — the French Charles Clermont-Ganneau and British Captain Charles Warren. But Humpty Dumpty couldn’t exactly be put back together again; only some 700 of its circa 1,000 Moabite script letters were in hand.

Amazingly, before it was smashed, an emissary of Clermont-Ganneau named Ya‘qub Karavaca had made a visit to see the tablet lying in the rubble of Dhiban (biblical Divon), and made a “squeeze,” or paper impression, of the monument. To make a squeeze, researchers wet paper and press it into every nook and cranny of carved stone.

But even while the paper was still wet, a violent fight erupted among the Bedouin: Karavaca’s colleague Sheikh Jamil snatched up the drying squeeze from the rock — ripping it into seven pieces in the process — and took off on horseback, according to a 1994 Biblical Archaeology Review article on the stele and its House of David hypothesis.

“This squeeze remains the only evidence of the inscription in its original condition,” writes scholar André Lemaire in the article.

Betting on Beit

Due to the wear on the stone, a break down the middle, and lack of pieces, only a few of the Moabite letters are clear enough for confirmation and could arguably be read as — a bet, a gap, and then a waw and a daled.

In 1992, Lemaire, a French philologist and epigrapher, built on the work of decades of proposed readings of the mysterious line 31, and proposed a controversial combination of his own: Beit David, or the House of David.

There is precedence in the Bible for the compound syntactic structure Beit David. Likewise, other examples of dynasties are similarly named in inscriptions after kings, such as Beit Omri.

But, even if the letters did all add up to spell Beit David, the meaning of the word could range from a place name — such as Beit-El — or a proper name. Likewise, there is some thinking that “David” could be a title, such as “Beloved,” or even the name of an ancient, little-known god, epigrapher and historian Michael Langlois told The Times of Israel.

A lucky find came on the heels of Lemaire’s proposal: a second inscription, almost exactly the spelling of his hypothesized House of David, on a stone from the same period found at Tel Dan.

Plan B

But this reading of the Mesha stele still rests on assumption that the missing letters would fill in the rest of the word to spell out House of David.

Now, however, based on new interpretations of high-resolution images of the paper squeeze, two Tel Aviv University professors — archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and Jewish historian Nadav Na’aman — and Collège de France biblical scholar Thomas Römer are proposing that the hypothesized documentation of a Davidic dynasty should be dismissed.

In “Restoring Line 31 in the Mesha Stele: The ‘House of David’ or Biblical Balak?” the trio describes an important “vertical stroke” that, according to the authors, “marks a transition between two sentences.”

“In most cases, it is followed by a word starting with a waw, as is the case here. This stroke can be seen in the squeeze and the upper part of it can also possibly be detected in the small original part of the stele that was inserted into the plaster restoration; this, in turn, may explain the full restoration of a dividing line in the plaster-restored section,” the authors write.

Rather than the missing letters spelling out the end of Beit and the beginning of the word David, the scholars say the waw letter previously assumed to be the middle letter of “David” is actually the start of a new word.

What that means is that rather than “Beit,” the letter “bet” is the start of a name.

In interpreting the new images, the renowned scholars (none of whom are trained epigraphers) cautiously propose that perhaps the name of the biblical Moabite King Balak is recorded there instead.

In the Bible, Balak predates David by hundreds of years. In one of the stranger episodes recorded in the Pentateuch, Balak attempts to have the then-wandering Jews nearing his land cursed by the prophet Balaam. Instead, aided by his talking donkey, Balaam blesses the Hebrews with the famous epitaph “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.”

A new picture, an old reading

Not all scholars are convinced by the Balak theory. As Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies at the University of California, Berkeley, told told LiveScience, “We can read one letter, b, which they’re guessing may be filled out as Balak, even though the following letters are missing… It’s just a guess. It could be Bilbo or Barack, for all we know.”

Contacted by the Times of Israel this week, Langlois was similarly dismissive of the Balak hypothesis.

Puzzled, he said, “there is no such divider on the picture — including on the picture they used.” Rather, the line break comes below it on the subsequent line 32.

Langlois has spent years poring over these lines of text and will soon publish a groundbreaking paper that employs a mix of high-tech imaging to confirm the House of David as the most likely reading of the line being looked at.

There are many ways in which the faint letters can be read, said the Sorbonne-trained Langlois, but the House of David interpretation definitely cannot be ruled out — quite the contrary. Likewise, in terms of the other researchers’ paper’s claim that there isn’t enough space to write House of David, Langlois said, “The space is exactly perfect — no more, and no less.”

With a background in formal sciences, including mathematics, computer science, physics and chemistry, a few years ago Langlois decided to take on a long-term project in which he would utilize computer algorithms to perform Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) of the stele.

The result would be a much more detailed, 3-D image, utilizing photographs of the stone itself as well as the paper squeeze rescued by Sheikh Jamil on horseback and others made later by Clermont-Ganneau on the already broken stone.

Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) — essentially taking pictures of the artifact from a variety of angles and light sources — in 2015 Langlois and a team of scientists photographed the stele and its original squeeze at the Louvre, as well as additional squeezes in the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters. Additionally, in 2018, the Louvre with the help of a professional photographer created a high-resolution backlit image of the squeeze, which also indicates depth of engraving.

After layering the images together, in a startling discovery, Langlois found a previously overlooked dot, which indicates a break between words throughout the entire tablet, as was customary among scribes at the time. The word-breaking dot, which is very clear under the new imaging, comes exactly after the area interpreted to read “House of David” and indicates a space after the final daled of David.

That rules out the Tel Aviv University paper’s proposed “vertical stroke,” said Langlois. No new sentence could start before the vav, since there are no Moabite words that are spelled only with a vav and final daled.

Langlois repeatedly stated to The Times of Israel that he is not trying to “prove the Bible.” However, he said, “from a purely historical standpoint, the most obvious solution is that there was a kingdom of David.”

“In my paper I’m not trying to discuss whether King David exists, just trying to read the stone, and my conclusion for line 31 is that the most likely reading is Beit David, which takes into account the traces of letters and the combination of them,” said Langlois. To read any other way, he said, is basically stating a refusal to believe in the possibility of a biblical King David.

“The new imaging technology that we have confirms the reading of Beit David,” said Langlois, adding, “It’s a good thing when science can confirm a hypothesis.”

This Is Progress: ‘Loot to Order’ Pages Removed from Facebook

Facebook has shut down 49 “loot-to-order” antiquities-trafficking pages selling bespoke artifacts from war zones to clandestine collectors, in response to a two-year BBC investigation.

The BBC probe, published Thursday, found that looters were smuggling everything from ancient statues to Roman mosaics out of Iraq and Syria into Turkey, where they could be sent to the buyers who ordered them through the social-media pages.

Two things.  1), good.  2), if you are using ‘loot to order’ services, you are an evil person.

Archeologist Amr Al-Azm, who is a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio, worked with the BBC to expose the racket. He found pictures of mosaic floors still embedded in the ground in Syria, which were offered with an option for the buyer to choose styles and colors “if available.”

He also showed BBC reporters the Facebook pages offering any number of statues from the looted ancient city of Palmyra, implying that the Islamic State terror group fighters had not destroyed all the antiquities there. Some 70 percent of all artifacts purported to come out of Syria are fakes, but the Facebook sites guaranteed authenticity.

“What we’ve seen is an explosion of sites and users on Facebook,” he told the BBC. “It’s transnational and Facebook is essentially allowing this to happen on its watch.”

Al-Azm told the BBC that buyers are often working on behalf of anonymous collectors across the world, including some in the U.S. who are looking for rare art from war-torn areas that might easily be written off as destroyed. As such, the provenance of the artifacts will more easily escape notice.

The BBC found that several sites offered a way for buyers to ask for specific antiquities. “In one case, Facebook administrators ask for Islamic-era manuscripts to be made available in Turkey,” the BBC reports. It is not clear if the purchase and delivery was carried out.

“It’s really opened our eyes to how accelerated these trafficking networks are,” researcher Katie Paul told the BBC. “Now if you dig something up in your backyard and you don’t know a trafficker, you can hop on Facebook, share pictures of what you’ve found and connect with people who are willing to buy it.”

Good for him!

A New Reading of the Mesha Stele

The biblical King Balak may have been a historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone dating from the second half of the 9th century BCE.

A name in Line 31 of the stele, previously thought to read ‘House of David’, could instead read ‘Balak’, a king of Moab mentioned in the biblical  of Balaam (Numbers 22-24), say archaeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein and historians and biblical scholars Prof. Nadav Na’aman and Prof. Thomas Römer, in an article published in Tel Aviv: The Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

The authors studied new high-resolution photographs of the squeeze, and of the stele itself. These new images made it clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned in Line 31, and that the first is the Hebrew letter beth (a ‘b’ sound).

While the other letters are eroded, the most likely candidate for the monarch’s name is ‘Balak’, the authors say. The seat of the king referred to in Line 31 was at Horonaim, a place mentioned four times in the Bible in relation to the Moabite territory south of the Arnon River. “Thus, Balak may be a historical personality like Balaam, who, before the discovery of the Deir Alla inscription, was considered to be an ‘invented’ figure,” they suggest.

“The new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze indicate that the reading, ‘House of David’ – accepted by many scholars for more than two decades—is no longer an option,” the authors conclude. “With due caution we suggest the name of the Moabite king Balak, who, according to the Balaam story of Numbers 22-24, sought to bring a divine curse on the people of Israel.

“This story was written down later than the time of the Moabite  referred to in the Mesha Stele. Yet, to give a sense of authenticity to his story, its author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from the ancient reality, including two personal names: Balaam and Balak.”

I’m looking forward to reading their essay (and not just about it).  I love these guys.

#ICYMI – An Interview With Philip Davies of the Palestine Exploration Fund

Prof. Davies was gracious and generous and granted an interview about his work with the PEF

What exactly is the PEF, and when was it founded?

The Palestine Exploration Fund was set up 150 years ago ‘for the purpose of investigation the Archaeology, Geography, Geology and Natural History of the Holy Land’. The word ‘Fund’ appropriately designated its primary activity of raising money by subscription and donation in order to finance this ambitious undertaking.

After a meeting on May 12th 1865 in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster, London, chaired by the Archbishop of York, the Fund, with the patronage of Queen Victoria, held its first meeting on June 22nd. Here the Archbishop declared three principles: whatever done must be on scientific principles; the Society should abstain from controversy; and it should not be started, nor conducted, as a religious society.

The meeting resolved further ‘that the exploration of Jerusalem and many other places in the Holy Land by means of excavations would probably throw much light upon the Archaeology of the Jewish people’. Accordingly, although there was obviously a focus of interest on biblical antiquity, the meeting called for a systematic survey, including the collection of plants and minerals, of the ‘Holy Land’, and recommended that ‘facts requisite for a systematic history be noted by competent observers on the spot’. So geography, geology and ecology were also part of its remit. In addition, it was noted ‘that the Biblical scholar may yet receive assistance in illustrating the sacred text from careful observers of the manners and habits of the people of the Holy Land’. This last comment reflects a view that might be criticized as an aspect of colonial mentality and ‘orientalism’—that life in nineteenth century Palestine very closely resembled that in the biblical period. But it was born, I think, less of an imperialist mindset and more from a mixture of naivety, curiosity and enthusiasm. Nor was it totally untrue in every respect, although many of those sent out on the Fund’s behalf to carry out research quickly came to realize that it was far from being entirely the case.

Among those who have explored Palestine under the Fund’s patronage are Charles Wilson, Charles Warren, Claude Conder, Horatio Kitchener, Gottlieb Schumacher, William Flinders Petrie, Frederick Bliss, Robert Macalister, Leonard Woolley, T.E. Lawrence, John Garstang, John Crowfoot, Kathleen Kenyon and Olga Tufnell.

What is its mission?

We still maintain the original aims of the Fund: to promote knowledge and understanding of every aspect of the land of Palestine at all periods, though archaeology, ethnology, anthropology, geology and any scientific means. In keeping with the founding principle of non-controversy, too, we continue to disclaim any political or religious ideology, though our membership obviously embraces a wide range of interests. The Fund initially published a Quarterly Statement of its activities, which became the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and this we continue to produce, along with the PEF Annuals and other books. We have accumulated a great deal of material from our activities—written records, an extensive repertoire of pictures and photographs, and some artifacts—and these need curating, preservation, editing and digitizing. We also maintain a large library, to which our members and visitors have access. In addition, we provide grants for research and, in conjunction with the British Museum, we organize monthly lectures. We also lend materials to exhibitions and hope to continue to be able to organize touring exhibitions of our own.

How did you become involved with the organization?

Like many scholars, I have long known of, and used, the Fund’s facilities, and when I was asked whether I would like to join the Committee, I had little hesitation in agreeing because I have been so often to Palestine and developed a great affection for it, and a concern for its past, present and future. Having been elected as the Chair of the Committee I shall, I hope, remain actively involved with it for five more years. Biblical scholars have always contributed to the work of the PEF but our interest in the entire history and culture of Palestine means that a very wide range of people and of expertise is represented at every level. This makes us a bit different from societies interested mainly in biblical antiquity.

How might others become involved?

First of all, by joining: there are no restrictions on membership; the subscription is modest and includes the PEQ. There is still a wealth of material in our possession that requires analysis and we are keen to encourage new members to participate in our ongoing work to make the material more accessible through publication and digitization. We are also in the process of increasing our international profile by establishing a North American presence, which, under current plans, will be centred in Chicago. Although a lot of information is already accessible on our website (, we are also planning to provide a members’ area which will afford restricted access to further materials, including videocasts of our lectures.

What do you see as the most important aspect of its work?

Different people will give different answers, because we cover so much ground and from so many different angles. But we would all accept that Palestine’s history and culture are nowadays strongly contested and subject to a great deal of popular misunderstanding. Much of its heritage is disappearing, and the PEF is an important, neutral promoter of all aspects of that heritage. As a biblical scholar, I naturally have a professional interest in just one small part of that history, though I was trained also as a student of Islam and I have an interest in Palestine especially as a place in which both imperial powers (from Egypt to Britain) as well as major religions, have settled, fought and sometimes come to some accommodation. As a bridge between three continents, it is also in its own right a very special part of our planet. I think the PEF’s dedication to the whole of its history (and prehistory) makes us special.

How does the PEF refrain from the trap of the politicization of archaeology?

Politicians always seek to control our understanding of the past, and the PEF’s own efforts were from the outset subject to attempts at political influence, especially in the years before the war of 1914-18. It is also, I think, well known that archaeology in modern Israel is part of a national effort not only to neutrally explore the past but to promote knowledge of Jewish connections with it. We are often approached from many sides by those interested in what we regard as political agendas, and we take care not to be seen to lend support to these aims. We encourage scholars and non-scholars of all persuasions to make full use of our resources but also to share our own aims and principles.

What are the perils involved in even using the name ‘Palestine’ in the organization’s title?

We have always used Palestine as a geographical designation, including Israel, part of Jordan and some of Syria, and it has been used continuously for the region for 2000 years. There really is no sound reason to abandon this usage. I am aware that ‘Land of Israel’ is the Jewish name for Palestine, and there is of course an Israel Exploration Society that covers the same geographical area as the PEF and publishes a corresponding Journal. But ‘Israel’ belongs to only a part of Palestine’s history and geography, and the same would be true of any territory occupied by a State of Palestine.

What are the future aims and goals of the PEF?

We need, most of all, to continue the digitizing of our collections, and with that our use of social media and digital communication, in order to offer members from outside the UK the tangible benefits they should enjoy of having access to news and material online as well as visiting our offices when in London. So in the last few years we have created in addition to a Facebook page, our own blog and Twitter feed, and we plan to create a members’ area on our website through which they can freely access some of our archives and download podcasts of our monthly lectures at the British Museum.

How can those interested in archaeology in the Levant help the PEF achieve its goals?

First of all by helping to finance our work. This can be through becoming members, but we are also most grateful for any other contributions in the form of bequests or endowments or donations of books to our library. We are a charity and while our income matches our expenditure there is much more we would love to be able to do to display our collections more fully and to develop them further. Second, by contributing to our publications, and participating in our online activity. For those living in London or nearby, we also have work to offer to volunteers. The Fund was not established as a learned society, and its membership is by no means dominated by scholars. We want to attract anyone with a genuine interest in any aspect of the land of Palestine.

Thank you, Philip!

Reports of damage in the royal tomb of Cyrus II in Pasargadae- A Guest Post

After releasing some news regarding the flooding in Fars province and the resulting damage from the flood in Persepolis and Pasargadae, the Head of World Cultural Heritage Site of Persepolis has found it necessary to comment on this issue.

Hamid Fadaii indicates that about 2400 meters of underground waterways have been found and excavated at the terrace of Persepolis so far. Those waterways cover almost all of the palaces of the Terrace. During the time of Achaemenids as the buildings existed completely, the rainwater on the roofs flowed through ceramic tubes installed within the walls which emptied into those waterways.

The waterways, as he says, have all been built more or less at the same width to ease the flow of water during heavy rains. In some places, they have about 6 meters in height and 50-80 centimeters in width. The Achaemenid architects have carefully designed them with proper a slope to guide the flow of water to the southeast corner of the Terrace.

It seems that the waterways continued to work very well until the end of the Achaemenid dynasty. After the invasion of Alexander and destruction of some parts of the Terrace, the debris resulting from this destruction gradually filled the waterways.

Parseh-Pasargadae Research Foundation initiated excavations and dredging the waterways in 2003. In this project, the Iranian archaeologists working with the Foundation found out that the main waterway which provides an exit for the water gathered by the waterways on the Terrace is located at the southeast corner.

H. Fadaii indicates that making such a discovery faced some major obstacles, i.e., tons of debris and dust removed from the Terrace during decades of archaeological excavations at Persepolis and deposited at the southeast corner of the Terrace. Such a huge amount of debris and dust had closed the main waterway.

However, as the excavations of the waterways started once again under the supervision of the Archaeological office of the World Cultural Heritage Site of Persepolis in 2012, that waterway was cleaned. Since then, the rainwater gathered in the waterways on the Terrace has been guided to the southeast corner and the main exit. Now the problem of gathering water from the Terrace has been solved with the help of the original waterways and excavations and regular dredging by the staff of Foundation.

The Head of the World Cultural Heritage Site of Persepolis adds that there is no problematic gathering of water resulting from recent heavy rains. The slight number of water gatherings on the surface of the Terrace during the rainfall is due to the differences in the levels of the buildings and the ground which have also been solved with the efforts of the staff.

Regarding the situation of the tomb of Cyrus II at Pasargadae, Hamid Fadaii says that the tomb is protected from the flood and it has not suffered from any damage during the March and April rains of 2019. According to him, the tomb of Cyrus II is located between two rivers, i.e., Polvar River on the east and Subatan River (Tang-e Xersi) on the west of the tomb. Since those two rivers are capable of draining water from the heavy rain and guiding the flood properly, the tomb has not been damaged from any flood during its long history. He noted that the video which was released recently from the flood close to the tomb is showing the seasonal Subatan River which flows about 150 meters west of the tomb and joins with the Polvar River at the entrance of Tang-e Bolaghi.

Fadaii indicates that the efforts of Parseh-Pasargadae Research Foundation in the first decade of 2000 to protect the tomb from the flood at Pasargadae were very promising. The staff of the World Cultural Heritage Site of Pasargadae have built a protective wall between the tomb and Subatan River, dug a protection canal behind the tomb and used gabion river barriers there to protect the tomb as well as possible. With those efforts, the tomb, as well as other monuments at Pasargadae, have been protected during the recent flood in Fars.

Soheil Delshad
PhD Student at the Institute of Iranian Studies, Free University of Berlin

Nouvelles inscriptions découvertes à l’Hérodium

De récentes fouilles archéologiques menées à l’Hérodium ont mis au jour de nouvelles inscriptions.

L’Hérodium (ou Hérodion) est une forteresse-palais unique en son genre, située à une quinzaine de kilomètres au sud de Jérusalem et érigée par le célèbre roi Hérode le Grand.

Esther Eshel et moi-même vous invitons à nous rejoindre jeudi prochain, 11 avril 2019 à 12h, pour une présentation préliminaire et une discussion de ces inscriptions inédites.

Le séminaire se tiendra au Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem (CRFJ), 3 rue Shimshon.

I hope it’s livestreamed.  Via Michael Langlois.

One thing is for sure, it won’t be made up stuff like they have on the ‘History’ Channel.

Don’t Get Your Historical Info About Biblical Stuff From the History Channel or BAR…

Get it from a source that’s reliable.  Get it from ASOR.  #ThatIsAll

So How Did Robert Deutsch’s Unprovenanced Bulla Come to be Incarnated as a Provenanced Find this Week?

So how does a bulla published by Deutsch that’s unprovenanced suddenly end up as a news item that declares its discovery in a controlled excavation?  Hmmm?

NB– Chris Rollston has a post on this week’s discovery.  As always, it’s worth a look.

Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible

Hendrickson distributes here in the States the amazingly useful and carefully produced Carta edition of bible maps described below:

Carta’s Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible is a package of 12 beautiful maps ideal for classrooms. 40″ x 28″ unfolded and covering the entire Bible epoch, these Bible maps are specially designed as a teacher’s aid and can be used in conjunction with our Atlas of the Bible, a handy reference index and chronological book (8.5″ x 11). One copy is included in the boxed set, but is also available separately. Carta’s large Illustrated Maps of the Bible are made for use in schools, Sunday schools, Bible classes, Bible Colleges or seminaries.

It comes in a sturdy box and the maps included are made of heavy glossy paper (much thicker, for example, than the road map in your car’s glovebox*) and includes maps and city plans.  They are quite large sheets at 40 x 28 and are ideal for classroom work, whether the classroom be at a college, seminary, Church, or house church Bible study.

Maps and charts are so utterly indispensable when it comes to illuminating biblical places.  Describing the region of the Galilee is one thing but showing a map of it is quite another.  These maps are ideal.

Here’s a couple of photos of me holding a couple of them so you get a sense of their size:

And the set also includes a book which lists the contents and provides a geographical index so if you are looking for a particular location you simply look it up by name and the map number and grid location is provided.

If you are lacking a set of maps for instructional purposes I would recommend this particular edition.  It’s really quite helpful.  I will make use of it, a lot.

*For the millennials, a road map is something printed on paper which drivers used to carry around in their cars before the invention of phones with maps on them and gps directions.

How Not to Interpret Archaeological Materials

The discovery of an object dated to ‘biblical times’ with a ‘biblical name’ on it is not proof of any historical aspect of the biblical text.  It’s just an item with a name on it that happens to be a name found in the bible.  Nothing more.

And if you insist on following the reasoning of “biblical archaeology” and the discovery of every object with a name found in the bible proves something historical, then you are using circular reasoning and that’s a logical fallacy. A button does not make a suit.

It simply is not proof to say ‘Nathan was named in the bible.  We have an object with the name Nathan on it.  Therefore, we have proof of the biblical narrative that names Nathan.”  It’s circular reasoning and too much that calls itself scholarship is filled with it.

Be skeptical.  Skepticism is the very soul of scholarship because it forces us to ask hard questions in our quest for truth.  And make no mistake, it is a quest for truth that is our object, not the enrichment of a magazine or pseudo-scholars who write rubbish books or star on tv shows.

A Seal Which Bears the Name Natan-Melech

Via Joeseph Lauer-

This morning, Sunday, March 31, 2019, the IAA circulated English and Hebrew press releases titled “Who Was ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant?’” and announcing that, among other finds, “A seal bearing a name that appears in the Bible was discovered in the City of David.”

The English release (titled “Rare seal bearing biblical name found in City of David excavation”) may also be read at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site at As noted in the release, 11 high resolution pictures and English and Hebrew videos (as well as the English and Hebrew releases) may be downloaded at the place in the release stating “Click here for Photos and a Movie Clip:” The English video is 3:09 minutes. The Hebrew video is 2:44-minutes. (The credits that should be noted if the items are used are also in the attached release.)

The pictures, video and releases may also be accessed at

Doubtless BAR will shortly have an essay declaring this to be the seal of the prophet Nathan before the week is out.  Because speculation sells.

Happy 70th Birthday, Israel Finkelstein!

Today is Israel’s birthday. He’s an incredibly influential Israeli archaeologist and he has overseen the excavation of most of Israel’s most important sites. Over the years he’s been a great friend and I appreciate his great work. Check out a plethora of posts in celebration of his birth-iversary and a gallery of images:

Happy birthday!

Pioneering Women in Archaeology for this #InternationalWomanDay

Give it a read here.  And yes, of course Kathleen Kenyon is mentioned.  It wouldn’t be a responsible essay if she weren’t.

A Brief Guest Post by Wouter Henkelman

Contrary to recent postings on various outlets, I have not discovered (or claimed discovery) of a new inscription at Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran: all credit for this splendid discovery goes to Mojtaba Doroodi (Shiraz) and Soheil Delshad (Freie Universität Berlin).

The new inscription, baptised DNf, is a trilingual caption in format comparable to DNc and DNd. Although short and partly broken, it contains a number of new elements that are of philological and historical interest. A commented edition by Doroodi and Delshad will shortly be published in the online journal ARTA (

Wouter Henkelman

One Carnival to Rule them All: January, 2019

Introductory Matters

January is always an exciting month.  It kicks off a new year and it begins with a celebration of the greatest of all the Christian theologians and exegetes, Huldrych Zwingli.  But, believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about Zwingli.  Or Luther.  Or Calvin.  Or any of that historical theology stuff.  Instead, this Carnival is restricted to things biblical studies.  So hold on to your knickers, friends, because this Carnival is the One Biblical Studies Carnival to Rule Them All.

Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament

Science and Bible, again.  And yes, I realize that it’s a topic near and dear to many but I just don’t get it.  Science has to do with science and Scripture has to do with theology/ metaphysics.  They don’t play on the same playground, they aren’t neighbors, and they don’t sit down for coffee and chat about what they think about the other.  You never really hear about scientists fretting as to whether or not Christian theology will take it seriously but you have loads of Christian theologians who act like 13 year old girls craving the approval of the boy who won’t pay them any attention.   Nonetheless, if the whole science game is your bag, good for you.  You are Legion.

Archangels.  Where did they come from?  The remaining giants discuss.

Where did archangels come from? How did we end up with archangels in Jewish and Christian tradition?

Find out.

The LXX Reader’s Edition contest that ran in November… has announced the two winners…  here at the end of January (the 25th to be precise).  (3 months.  That has to be a record)(Bless their hearts)(They have political careers ahead of them if this LXX research thing falls through).

Someone wants to argue with Deane Galbraith about giants.

Over at Bible and Interpretation

Hendel and Joosten’s book  [on dating Biblical texts in Hebrew] is chock-full of insightful observations on a multitude of linguistic, textual, and cultural/historical phenomena, and they argue cogently that the best method for dating biblical writings should include all three of these data sources. Nonetheless, their answer to the question, “How Old is the Hebrew Bible?,” is unoriginal because they do little more than offer a sophisticated repackaging of the traditional linguistic dating approach and results, and it is also unsatisfactory because they eschew literary criticism in the formulation of their model of consilience for determining the ages of biblical literature.

Read the full essay.

Septuagint reading can be fun.  Or so we’re told.

There’s a super essay in B&I by Hendel and Joosten on the Hebrew Bible’s age.  You MUST read it (or else).

Many scholars, largely disregarding linguistic data, insist that most or all of the Hebrew Bible was written in the second half of the first millennium BCE, during the Persian and/or Hellenistic periods, and draw the inference that there is little or no historical content that predates this era….The ages of the books of the Hebrew Bible span a vast chronological range, from the early Iron Age to the Greek age, which we can discern at different degrees of focus. There is much that we can know about these topics, more than most scholars are willing to grant.

Oh boy.

Internet Monk is thinking along with Peter Enns about the Bible.  A bad decision on the best of days.  But anyway, he’s doing it.  And you may to give his thinkings a read.

Robert Alter’s really wonderful translation/ commentary on the Hebrew Bible gets a thorough going over in this ‘symposium’ on it in the Jewish Review of Books.  It is a substantial review by a good raft of scholars, and you should most definitely read it.  I was given a copy of Alter’s work for Christmas and I really love it.

Septuagint Summer School.  You know you want to.  It’s in the Summer.  In Europe.

New Testament

An Orthodox Priest named Stephen has a very interesting take on Jesus and social justice.  He opines

Secularism is the forgetting of God, or remembering Him in a manner that is truly less than God. This is the cause of all injustice. Indeed, it is the great injustice: that human beings forget their Creator and the purpose of their existence. When we forget God, everything is madness.

I recommend his intriguing essay.

Joel Watts tells us how the New Testament canon was actually formed.  Who knew…

Larry’s right.  Paul wasn’t ‘converted’.   He simply reformed.

Bill Mounce asks if ‘all’ the translations are wrong at Mark 1:16.  To which I reply, the ones most people use are, but the REB is right.  The REB proves itself over and over again the most reliable version in English and here it does so yet again.

Ian Paul discusses, naturally, the historicity of the visit of the Wise Men.  What the world needs is more Bultmannians.

Ian also talks about the notion that the Gospel can be funny at spots…  He’s apparently writing a book on the humor in the Bible….  But he’s British…

Philbert *The Traveler* Long had a bit of something to say about the Theology of Acts.  He remarks

There is a third element of the book of Acts which…

Bart Ehrman asks about early Christians and the belief in reincarnation.  He writes

It is often said today that reincarnation was a widespread teaching in early Christianity as well.  In fact, the evidence for it is ….     To see the rest of what I have to say, you’ll need to belong to the blog.  It’s easy to join, and costs less then fifty cents a week.

I don’t know what he says about it.  I’m not a blog-liever.  If you are, you’ll know.

James McGrath thinks Jesus was a hugger.  It’s an interesting and not altogether impossible reading of the text he is looking at.  Why not, I guess.  But Jesus also had a beard and there’s no reason to think that having a beard is required just because he had one…  ergo…

Richard Bauckham lectured at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem on Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega.  You’ll enjoy it.

Bart Ehrman answers a reader’s question about the Jewishness of the New Testament authors.  Someone (the questioner) has been reading the Nazi sympathizing New Testament scholars in Germany in 1930 again…  Fortunately Deane has the good sense (along with many others) to point out the absurdity of it all (and Bart pulled his post down… but you can still read it here).

Mike Bird writes a thing about ‘Apostle Paul’ and some early Church person thing.  What intrigues me about the post is the practice among some of saying ‘Apostle Paul’ instead of ‘The Apostle Paul’ as though ‘the’ is now out of fashion.  It’s weird.  Stop it.

And, finally, your ‘eyeroll of the month’- a post suggesting that the Sermon on the Mount has a dark side because it ‘others’ the pharisees….

This means the Sermon on the Mount is, in large part, constructed upon a negative “othering,” or stereotyping of rivals – namely, the Scribes and the Pharisees. The “righteousness” of the Scribes and Pharisees provides a foil for the higher righteousness of the Sermon.

Archaeology and Texts

Two biblioblogs took notice of the appearance of a website devoted to the polyglots:  Bible and Tech and ETC.  Who doesn’t like polyglots?  And websites?  And polyglot websites?

If you haven’t run across mention of it yet, there’s a Text criticism conference in Birmingham.  Bookings close in mid February.

Belarus text display?  Ok.  I guess a text has got to be somewhere.  Why not Belarus?  Though if I were a text I’d definitely prefer to be in the Zurich Central Library.  Or the British Library.

ETC also took notice of some dead sea scrolls stuffity stuff.  It’s madness though so you should probably just let is slide right on by.   Here’s a snippet just so you know I’m trying to be a blessing:

The texts preserving Psalms from Qumran classified by scholars as biblical texts are significant for the fluid/standard text debate because they preserve large-scale differences that designate them in the mind of many scholars as an alternative tradition or edition of the Psalter.

I hope they get Denzel Washington to play the lead when they make this DSS post at ETC into a movie…

Big news from Brent– the John Rylands texts are online.  Now that’s some useful material for sure.

Israeli looters want to beat Bedouin looters to the loot to be found, they hope, in the region of the Dead Sea around Qumran.  Looting Wars should be the title of the essay here reported.  One set of looters is state sponsored and the other individually driven.  But looters are looters.  if it isn’t your land, it isn’t your loot.

Interested in a digital library of text critical things?  Look no further.

At the time of writing this, we currently have images of or links to more than 1500 manuscripts in our library.

Aren Maeir has a new post on the Philistines and their war-y-ness-hood.  It’s a lot of fun.  The post, not the war-ness-ness of the Philistines.  They were such Philistines.

Michael Langlois lectured at the Ecole Biblique on bible forgeries and the like and it was recorded.  You can view it here.

Bob Cargill wrote a piece for BAR on the so called ‘Jerusalem Column’, noting

The Jerusalem Column is the first inscription from the Second Temple period where the full spelling of the Hebrew name of Jerusalem (ירושלימ) appears. By “full spelling,” I mean a spelling of Jerusalem that includes the letter yod (י) between the lamed (“l”; ל) and final mem (“m”; מ) at the end of the name.

Unfortunately he doesn’t actually use a ‘final mem’, as the article suggests, but a medial mem.  Final mem looks like this: ם.  Not like this: מ.  If BC just meant that the word on the inscription ended with mem that’s what he should have said, without calling it a ‘final mem’ because the two mean different things to people who study Hebrew texts. BAR’s readers won’t notice the difference, but there is one.

Be sure to give the lecture by Israel Finkelstein at the Ecole Biblique a watch if you haven’t already.  It’s way more fun than a pillar.

Important series-es for new testament textual criticism.  Brought to you by the good people of Evangelical Textual Criticism (as opposed to and in contradistinction from non-evangelical textual criticism).

The Nabatean stronghold of Sela gets a great writeup in the Jordan Times, blogged here.  An interesting site with an interesting history.

Paul Barford posted an interesting snippet on Israel’s display of looted archaeological finds.  He notes, though, that

International law bars an occupying military from displaying antiquities outside the occupied area. But (Nir Hasson, ‘Israel Displays Archaeological Finds Looted From West Bank‘ Haaretz Jan 01, 2019). The exhibition is part of the Israeli story invoking the need to preserve culture as a justification of their activities as occupier. Through their media they constantly promote the narrative that archaeological remains in the occupied territory must be ‘saved from’ the Palestinians.

Aren’t they nice to break the law to save artifacts from those awful terrible expansionist Palestinians……  Such humanitarians…

Green papyri.  Again.

Larry Hurtado is thinking about Jesus this month… indeed, something different about Jesus this month…  Be sure to read the whole and don’t cut any of it short.


A new Theology of the Old Testament was reviewed at the very beginning of the month.  It is, seriously, a very good and useful volume.   Rick Brannan announced his writing schedule for 2019.  Have you ever seen such a thing?

Eric Harvey posted a list of books he has read this year.  That may not sound like anything special, until you read the post and realize that these are books for the blind and that there are theological / biblical studies tomes among them.  I suspect that a lot of good could be done if books in biblical studies for the blind were published more purposefully.

Philbert Long reviewed Carl Holladay’s commentary on Acts.  He begins, justifiably:

There have been several significant…

Leander Keck has a book on Inerrancy and the text of the New Testament that gets a mention (I don’t know why) by the ETC folk.  I guess they’re just catching up on book reading.

JB Lightfoot left unfinished his commentaries on several of Paul’s letters.  But he left notes.  Rob Bradshaw has them digitized.  And you can read the notes here.

Someone reviewed a book about following Jesus.  Read it if such things are of interest.  Joel Watts saw a book about Jesus by some Methodist and he was compelled by his Methodist sympathies to make his readers aware of it.

Are you having trouble with translating German?  Tavis Bollinger offers some help if you’re a Logos user.  Or, alternatively, learn German.

James *Not Jim, Don’t Use Jim* Spinti reminds us that editing book covers is just as important as editing book contents.  Otherwise things just look wrong and thus bad.

Larry Hurtado reviews a review of his book.  I’m looking forward to someone reviewing Larry’s review of the review so that then Larry can review the review of the review of his review of his book.

Carl *Hideous* Sweatman shared his reading list from last year.  It’s an interesting mix of bilge, rubbish and a few interesting works.  Send Carl recommendations for stuff that’s worth reading, please.  So that his 2019 can be better than his 2018 was.

Two books are reviewed here having to do with the Bible: Amos, in the Anchor Bible Commentary, and The Jesus Movement in its Expansion.  Scroll down to page 4 of the reviews embedded.

Lexundria.  Books. From antiquity.  Digitized.  Visit it.

Women Biblical Scholars (a blog you should definitely follow) announces the appearance of a monograph on women in Ephesus.  They point it out on the twitter

Dr. Elif Halal Karaman (@elflal) has an exciting new book out on Ephesian women. She tells Women Biblical Scholars (WBS) about it.

Miscellaneous Things

The CenSAMM has announced a conference scheduled for this Summer.  This will be of interest to many.

The 2019 Conference: The Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements: Critical and Interdisciplinary Approaches will take place on 27-28 June 2019 at the University of Bedfordshire (Bedford Campus).

Mike Bird has a great quote by Thomas Cranmer on abused wives and divorce.  I’m going to use it.  A lot.

Ben Witherington was interviewed by a guy at a Church and Ben is pleased to share the video of Ben’s interview on Ben’s ‘one stop shop for all things biblical and Christian’.  If you’re as into Ben as Ben is, you’ll enjoy Ben’s discussing Ben.

Brian Davidson has some thoughts on Logos 8.  It’s bible software.  For bible nerds.  Who don’t like real books.  But do like e-books.

Rick Brannan is going to send out a newsletter and he wants you to sign up for it.

Christian Brady had some really important things to say about death.  Give it a read.

Michael Satlow is putting together a resource page which assembles digital humanities materials on Judaism in late antiquity:

This is not meant to be comprehensive, but contains a number of sites and links that might be of interest to those interested in working on digital humanities projects relating to Jews and Judaism in (particularly late) antiquity.  I am happy to add and correct this list, so please feel free to send me your suggestions.  Over time, I may well annotate it as well.

The Center for Apocalyptic studies that Crossley runs has assembled a raft of podcasts and videos that may be of interest to persons interested in them.  Such things as one might find interesting.  Potentially.

Animals and the BibleCall for papers.  Check it out.

Dirk remarked on the twitter

ORBIS.  Larry Hurtado mentions it.

ORBIS is primarily intended to serve historians of the Roman Empire, the main questions shaping the project having to do with how Rome managed such a far-flung empire.  So it is “top down” in orientation, more amenable to questions about how trade or governance operated, and at what cost and time involved.

Larry Hurtado has some guidance on what to call people in various international academic contexts.  Give it a look, ye undergrads.

If you are interested in a gathering at Tyndale House, take note of this call for papers:

The 2019 NT Study Group will be meeting at Tyndale House from 26th to 28th June 2018Our theme this year is Writing, orality and the composition of the NT. We would welcome proposals of papers on any issue of scholarly debate on issues relating to this, including writing in ancient world as it affects the NT, memory theory and orality, and canonical composition and dating of NT documents.

Closing Thoughts

Well there it is, the most important official Biblical Studies Carnival of 2019 (so far).  Be sure to go over and grab the Logos free book of the month.  And check out the listing of upcoming Carnivals.

I’ll next be reporting from Zurich where I’m off to attend the Zwingli Conference (celebrating his arrival in Zurich 500 Years Ago) and where there are loads of cool activities planned.  Stay tuned.