Category Archives: Archaeology

David and the Philistines

Gershon Galil has a new essay with that title in the December issue of Segula.

Though scholars argue bitterly over the historicity of the Davidic kingdom, new archaeological discoveries are shedding surprising light on King David’s allies. The remains of a northern Philistine kingdom ruled by Toi of Hamath hint at some unexpected regional ties dating back three millennia.


Jérusalem des Mystères, le 17 déc sur RMC Découverte

More from my best friend Michael Langlois

Le documentaire présente 10 lieux, à ou autour de Jérusalem, associés aux évangiles, tant dans leur contexte historique que dans les diverses traditions chrétiennes qui se sont développées au cours des siècles.

Je ne l’ai pas vu et ai donc hâte de le découvrir ! Rendez-vous ici pour la première partie,  pour la seconde.

Je remercie Fanny Belvisi, qui a dirigé ces films et m’a interviewé au printemps dernier avec Franck Rabel. Voici quelques photos mises en ligne sur Facebook à l’époque :

Give it a look!

Eric Cline’s ASOR Plenary Address

La création de l’École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem

A New Essay in ‘ANE Today’

A Great King and a Wanax? The Politics of Mycenaean Greece, By Jorrit Kelder

ANE Today is the only ‘Biblical Archaeology’ magazine you will EVER need to ‘Review’.  The rest are colorless and paltry by comparison, as well as lacking the intellectual vigor ANE Today embodies.

Archaeology, Heritage and Ethics in the Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem: Darkness at the End of the Tunnel

Raz Kletter’s new work in the Copenhagen International Seminar series is out.

This volume is a critical study of recent archaeology in the Western Wall Plaza area, Jerusalem. Considered one of the holiest places on Earth for Jews and Muslims, it is also a place of controversy, where the State marks ‘our’ remains for preservation and adoration and ‘theirs’ for silencing.

Based on thousands of documents from the Israel Antiquities Authority and other sources, such as protocols of planning committees, readers can explore for the first time this archaeological ‘heart of darkness’ in East Jerusalem. The book follows a series of unique discoveries, reviewing the approval and execution of development plans and excavations, and the use of the areas once excavation has finished. Who decides what and how to excavate, what to preserve – or ‘remove’? Who pays for the archaeology, for what aims? The professional, scientific archaeology of the past happens now: it modifies the present and is modified by it. This book ‘excavates’ the archaeology of East Jerusalem to reveal its social and political contexts, power structures and ethics.

Readers interested in the history, archaeology and politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will find this book useful, as well as scholars and students of the history and ethics of Archaeology, Jerusalem, conservation, nationalism, and heritage.

Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

Of it Eric Cline writes

“Internationally renowned archaeologist Jodi Magness plunges the reader directly into the story of the fall of Masada, unpacking the dramatic tale as told by Josephus. She also recounts the fascinating adventures and misadventures of the region’s explorers, from the nineteenth century through the 1960s, and compellingly describes the excavations there, including her own, providing a welcome tour of the site.”—Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Few are as well qualified to write a book on this topic as Jodi Magness.  Chapters include

Prologue: The Fall of Masada

  1. The Siege of Masada
  2. The Search for Masada
  3. Masada in Context
  4. Masada and Herod’s other Building Projects
  5. Judea Before Herod
  6. From Herod to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome
  7. The First Jewish Revolt against Rome
  8. The Rebel Occupation of Masada
  9. Masada Shall Not Fall Again: Yigael Yadin, the Mass Suicide, and the Masada Myth

Epilogue: A Tour of Masada

Following the body of the book there are

  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Image Credits

The outline of the volume illustrates Magness’s careful historical investigation.  Carefully and meticulously she works through and presents the evidence and offers readers a very clear picture of what we can actually know about Masada and the myth that came to surround it.  Allow me to illustrate her very thoughtful methodology by providing the subsection titles of Chapter One: The Siege of Masada.

Here she discusses The siege of Masada, The Roman Army, The Roman Siege Camps, The 1995 Excavations in Camp F, Roman Military Equipment, The Assault Ramp, The Last Stand, Flavius Josephus, Josephus’s Biography, The Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus’s Biases and Apologetic Tendencies, The Afterlife of Josephus’s Works, and finally, Postscript: Josephus at Masada.

Meticulous is the word that always comes to mind when I read Magness, and this volume is that, in spades.

Along with the meticulously argued text there are ample maps and charts and photographs, both in black and white and in color.

Yet the highlight of the volume, for me, is the final chapter, the ninth.  Herein Magness shows the extraordinarily influential Yadin at work and the continuing influence of his Masada myth.  She begins with a brief bio of Yadin and then launches immediately into an investigation of the so-called ‘mass suicide’ which Yadin insisted took place at that location.  She sagely observes

I am often asked in I believe there was a mass suicide at Masada, to which I respond that this is not a question archaeology is equipped to answer.  The archaeological remains can be interpreted differently as supporting or disproving Josephus’s account.  Whether or not the mass suicide story is true depends on how one evaluates Josephus’s reliability as an historian- a matter that I prefer to leave to Josephus specialists to resolve.

For her, the important question is

How did the site of a reported mass suicide of a band of Jewish rebels who terrorized other Jews become a symbol of the modern State of Israel?

The remainder of this final chapter addresses that question.

For myself, I have always been very skeptical of the entire account of Josephus.  I was early on heavily influenced by Jamie McLaren’s Turbulent Times?: Josephus and Scholarship on Judaea in the First Century CE , one of the most fantastic studies of Josephus yet composed.  McLaren’s skepticism is infectious because so well established by McLaren’s important research.   

I didn’t find McLaren’s work mentioned in Jodi’s bibliography.  Yet I would heartily encourage readers of Jodi’s book to take a look at Jamie’s as well.

As to the book at hand, I cannot but recommend it fully and heartily.  It is a work of scholarship and insight and should be on the shelves of every New Testament scholar, archaeologist, and interested laypersons.

I’ve not yet read a book by Professor Magness that didn’t teach me a great deal.  This book does too.  And I look forward to whatever will come from her pen in the near future.

Digging Up the Bible

A new book by Margreet Steiner that is available in several formats, including free to read online.

This is the account of a remarkable excavation. It started with a modest dig on an unremarkable tell in Jordan. The name of the tell does not occur in the Bible, and no ancient town of any importance was to be expected under the rubble. The excavator Henk Franken had not yet made a name for himself within the archaeological community.

And yet, from 1960 onwards history was being (re)written at Tell Deir Alla. To discover the secrets of the tell, the expedition team defied cold, rain and stormy winds for months on end, sleeping in rattling tents and working long days on the tell and in the camp. And with success! A meticulous yet efficient excavation method was introduced, the already tenuous relationship between Bible and archaeology was further exacerbated, and the study of excavated pottery was given a scientific basis. The name Deir Alla became an international benchmark for modern scientific research, for prompt publication of the remarkable finds and for independent interpretation of the excavation results.

The story of the excavations at Tell Deir Alla in the 1960s have never been told in any detail, and the excavation results have mostly been published in scholarly books and journals which are difficult to access. This book hopes to remedy that. It recounts the story of the first ten years of the project, from 1959 when funding for the project was sought, until 1969 when the first report was published. The first section describes the organization of the project before the expedition team went out into the field. The second part takes the reader to the actual field work and describes the occupation history of the tell. The story is illustrated by numerous photographs and plans, many of which are being published for the first time.

With thanks to Jona Lendering for the tip.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Detectives: A Review

NOVA’s special on the Scrolls aired again this morning and I finally had the chance to watch it.  It’s pretty good.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

It maintains some old notions, like the site of Qumran being a monastery.  But it also has a lot to say about the appearance of so many fragments of late and the questions concerning their authenticity.  The Museum of the Bible features large.

Many of the usual experts appear including Schiffman and Henze along with Gutfeld and Pinor as well as, of course, Jodi Magness and John Collins.

The narrative moves back and forth between the early discovery of the scrolls and the modern questions of provenance and authenticity.  This is a bit disconcerting, but tolerable.  It would have been better if the story had followed the actual timeline of events rather than its back and forth between past and present.

The purchasers of these scroll fragments are normally wealthy American Evangelicals and this creates a market and markets create opportunities for fraud.  As a result of these facts, Hobby Lobby, the Greens, and the Museum of the Bible also come in for extensive mention.

The hunt for forgeries is also finely presented.

In sum, then, its a worthwhile use of an hour of your time.  You can watch it livestream here.

Roberta Mazza on the Green Fiasco

She writes of her new essay

I would like to address the structural problems that the Green saga has brought to light and explain why it is imperative to take action now in order to avoid having the same thing happen again.

Go read the rest.

The Hanging of the Greens (And their Museum)

Andrew Tobolowsky writes, among other things

In short, in trying to create a Museum of the Bible, the Greens have been unscrupulous and careless in collecting artifacts thereof. They have muddied the water that we desperately need to be clear because there are so few fish in it to begin with, and we are very hungry. Even a scrupulous Museum of the Bible constructed through the religious commitments that brought you Burwell v. Hobby Lobby would not be very good, and certainly not very informative. They could, however, at least try a little bit to collect real artifacts that are also actually for sale and not stolen. Honest mistakes, not so surprisingly, happen somewhat less often to people who make a little effort to avoid them, as the Museum never has, and may not in the future.

Give the whole a read.  The Greens don’t have a fan in him.

King David

There’s a new essay up at the best of the Archaeology sites that you’ll want to read- From Sinner to Model Ancestor: King David in Post-Biblical Jewish and Christian Literature and Art.

In the popular imagination the biblical King David is seen as a murderer who committed adultery with Bathsheva, the wife of his army general Uriah, and brought about her husband’s death at the front line. This episode is already marked out in the Bible as the one sin that David committed before God (see 1 Kings 15:5: “David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite”). The story of the transgression, as told in 2 Samuel 11, is followed by the prophet Nathan’s rebuke, David’s repentance, and God’s mercy upon him, along with God’s punishment (2 Sam. 12:13-14).

Read it all.

Pilate Stepped Here…

Whatevs.   The media love to exploit ignorance and make all kinds of speculative leaps when some archaeological trinket is uncovered.

Two observations:

  1. There’s no way to know if Pilate built the road or not.
  2. If Pilate did build the road, and they find an in situ inscription that says so, so what?

It.  Doesn’t.  Matter.   They are, once again, trying to make a whole suit out of one button.

Fake Archaeology News, Again…

Ha’aretz has a story whose headline is A Chance Discovery Changes Everything We Know About Biblical Israel.

Fake news. Read the essay and you’ll know why the headline is misleading. And fake news.

The Obbink Saga Continues

The ETC folk have the latest on this Museum of the Bible soap opera.

NEWSFLASH: “Professor Obbink and Missing EES Papyri” – MOTB returns 13 Papyri to EES!


Jodi Magness Questions the Masada Suicide Myth

But to be fair, Joe Zias and others have doubted the legitimacy of the tale for decades.  Jodi is a bit late to the game on this one.  And I love her!

Magness, a professor of early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has just published a new book with Princeton University Press, “Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth.”

Today, Magness is mostly associated with her excavation of an outstandingly worked, colorful mosaic flooring at an early synagogue at Huqoq, north of Tiberias, where she has dug since 2011.

Now I have to read her book.  Read the essay.

Nina Burleigh’s Engaging Lecture titled ‘Unholy Business’

Give it a viewing here.

The ‘House of David’

J’ai répondu aux questions du Monde de la Bible sur la stèle de Mésha.

La journaliste scientifique Estelle Villeneuve évoque la fameuse mention de la “maison de David” qui a récemment été remise en question, cependant que ma propre étude (effectuée sans connaissance de l’article que mes collègues comptaient publier) confirme que cette mention reste la lecture la plus probable.

Je vous invite à lire le dernier numéro du Monde de la Bible (n° 230, septembre-novembre 2019, notamment p. 8) et, bien sûr, mon article scientifique à ce sujet.

Etc.  As always, Michael is the best.

Chris Rollston and Advanced Imaging

Here’s an interesting essay:

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences professor is using cutting-edge imaging technology to decipher the inscriptions on fragments of broken pottery excavated more than 50 years ago in Jordan. The fragments, long thought to be lost, were recently rediscovered.

The fragments, called ostraca, were discovered at the site of Machaerus, a well-known archaeological site connected with notable historical and religious figures of the first century including Herod the Great and John the Baptist. Chris Rollston, associate professor of northwest Semitic languages and literature, took possession of 20 ostraca in May and used multispectral imaging equipment at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences to examine the pieces and their faded ink writing more closely.

Multispectral images capture data from multiple wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum and provide details the eye cannot see. Dr. Rollston believes at least 19 of the 20 pieces he is studying contain writing.

“The ink is carbon-based and was made, in part, using ancient ash. Some of the ink is really clear, but some of it is faded,” he said. “Multispectral imaging is capable of enhancing the ink so that one can read it more readily. During the past five to 10 years, multispectral imaging has really been front and center in the decipherment of ancient writings made with ink.”

Etc.  Great stuff.

Jennie Ebeling on Women in Archaeology

Give it a read here.