Whilst The Headline is Unfortunate, The Interview With Gershon Galil Is Very Good: More on the ‘Wine’ Inscription on the Jerusalem Ossuary

eilatmazar1Fox News offers this headline: Message decoded, again: 3,000-year-old text may prove biblical tale of King Solomon.

I wish they wouldn’t do that but I’m not surprised they did given their audience. ‘May prove…’? That’s such an unfortunate phrase in such cases. That aside, Gershon does a good job stating the evidence:

The Ophel inscription — 3,000-year-old characters found in Israel in July — is the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem. It proves the real basis behind the parables and stories in the world’s most famous book, said Gershon Galil, a professor of ancient history and biblical studies at the University of Haifa.  “We are dealing here with real kings, and the kingdom of David and Solomon was a real fact,” Galil told FoxNews.com, in a phone call from Israel.  But the world’s leading archaeologists are still hotly debating the meaning of the inscription. Gershon offers what he calls the “only reasonable translation,” noting at the same time that the very existence of the text is as important as its meaning.

Personally I don’t think other readings are very likely – but I am hesitant to accept the idea that the inscription proves anything other than that the jar contained wine. That’s it.  Indeed, the next quotation from Galil supports my position-

“The most important thing this tells us is that somebody during this time knew how to write something,” he said.


Three letters of the inscription are incomplete, and Galil translates them to read, “yah-yin chah-lak,” which is Hebrew for “inferior wine.” The first half of the text indicates the twentieth or thirtieth year of Solomon’s reign — making the entire inscription a label of sorts for the jug’s contents.  He explains that the text must be written in an early form of southern Hebrew because it is the only language of the time to use two yods(Hebrew letters) to spell the word wine. Galil also suggests that the “inferior wine” was probably given to laborers who were helping to build the burgeoning city of Jerusalem.

Give the rest a look.  And, to Gershon, well and nicely done.

Keith Whitelam on the Spate of Recent Archaeological ‘Discoveries’

Keith writes (on FB)

The discovery of an inscribed neck of a jar in Jerusalem (An Inscribed Pithos from the Ophel, Jerusalem”, by Dr. Eilat Mazar, David Ben-Shlomo, and Prof. Shmuel Ahituv (63 IEJ no. 1, 2013, pp. 39-49)) has again led to some interesting claims. Although most of those who have pronounced on the inscription believe that it is possibly written in Canaanite, it is still seen as evidence for the monarchy of David:

“The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli (sic!) residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.”

This interpretation follows the same pattern as the interpretation of the inscription at Tel Zayit : “The discovery during excavations at Tel Zayit in 2005 of a limestone boulder inscribed with the letters of the alphabet provides a useful illustration of this point. This stone with a few inscribed letters was found embedded in the wall of a building at this relatively small rural site. It was so difficult to see that it was spotted by one of the volunteers at the excavations sometime after the wall of the building had been excavated. However, on the basis of these few inscribed letters, it has been claimed that this is evidence of widespread literacy and the development of a centralized bureaucracy and political organization controlled from Jerusalem at the time of David. The political implications are so important that even the smallest item discovered in excavations is enlisted in the struggle to establish ‘facts on the ground’.” (Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, chapter 7)

Since the model imposed on the past is one of Jerusalem as the capital of a Davidic kingdom, the evidence has to be fitted into this pattern. It is not allowed to challenge the standard view or, heaven forbid, give succour to the view that Jerusalem in the tenth century was a small highland town and that we do not know the ethnic makeup of its inhabitants.

Gershon Galil claims that “the Ophel inscription should be dated to the second half of the 10th century (it was absolutely not written in the 11th century). In the mid-late 10th century the house of David controlled Jerusalem, and I agree with Athas that:
“The language of the inscription is difficult to ascertain from so few letters, but there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew” (although it is well known that the roots ḤLQ and NTN are clearly also attested in other West Semitic Languages).

Since it has to fit the model, it seems now that “there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew”. What is the good reason? Apart from circular argument?

Thanks to Jim West for the various links.


You’re welcome.

Pollen, Ramat Rachel, And Archaeology as Practiced By Professionals

ramat-rachelOded Lipschits and others have published a new essay titled Fossil pollen reveals the secrets of the Royal Persian Garden at Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem in Palynology (a journal, I confess, I have never so much as heard of before, but I sure am glad it isn’t spelled ‘Palin-ology’ because that would be very creepy indeed). This essay’s abstract:

The ancient tell (mound) of Ramat Rahel sits on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It features an impressive residency and palatial garden that flourished during the seventh to fourth centuries BCE, when biblical Judah was under the hegemony of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. Until recently, the garden’s flora has been a mystery, as standard archaeological procedures were unable to retrieve secure archaeobotanical remains.

A unique method of extracting fossil pollen from ancient plaster has now enabled researchers to reconstruct the exact vegetation components of this royal Persian garden and for the first time to shed light on the cultural world of the inhabitants of the residence. The plaster layers and garden are dated archaeologically and by Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) methods to the Persian period (fifth to fourth centuries BCE), and produced evidence of importation by the ruling Persian authorities of special and highly valued trees to the garden from remote parts of the empire.

The most surprising find, and marking its earliest appearance in the southern Levant, was the citron (Citrus medica), which later acquired a symbolic-religious role in Judaism. Other imported trees found to have been grown in the garden are the cedar, birch and Persian walnut.

The pollen evidence of these exotic trees in the Ramat Rahel palatial garden suggests that they were probably brought to flaunt the power of the imperial Persian administration. Native fruit trees and ornamentals that were also grown there include the fig, grape, olive, willow, poplar, myrtle and water lily. The identification of the ancient garden’s plant life opens a course for future research into the symbolic role of flora in palatial gardens. It also offers new opportunities for studying the mechanism by which native flora was adopted in a particular geographical area and proliferated by humans across the world.

With thanks to the author for sending along a copy.

Yigal Levin’s Report on the ‘Fish Tomb’ Conference

Because accusations have been made that Kloner fled the conference (see the comments) at its conclusion without taking questions (implying that he didn’t wish to or was afraid to), I post this conference perspective by Yigal Levin (who was in attendance).

Yigal offers both a comment on the conference and the  abstract of Kloner’s paper- which too is below, for which I thank him-

The conference was not a press conference but a full-day academic conference on the history and archaeology of Jerusalem, of which I was one of the organizers. Kloner’s paper (presented together with Boaz Zissu) was given as part of a regular session on the Second Temple Period. The full text is available in Hebrew in the conference proceedings, with an abstract in English which I have copied below. There was no discussion time at the end of the session because the conference was behind schedule. Jacobovici tried to yell accusations at Kloner, but since the session chair announced that it was lunchtime, people just got up and walked out. As far as I know, Jacobovici then simply left.

From the perspective of most people in the profession in Israel, the Talpiot cave is really a dead issue – just another not-very-carefully excavated burial cave from that period, which does not add a whole lot to our overall knowledge. There were, however, quite a few interesting papers given, including a look at an Iron-Age underground cistern discovered by Eli Shukrun on the west side of the valley, adjacent the Temple Mount.

Burial Cave 1050 in East Talpiot, Jerusalem
Amos Kloner and Boaz Zissu

The East Talpiot burial cave was uncovered at a construction site and examined relatively quickly, within a short and clearly insufficient time, on 16 April 1981, as part of excavation permit no. 1050. The archaeological team found that the cave comprised of nine kokhim which contained primary burials (or inhumations – the skeletons lied supine) and eight ossuaries, inserted in antiquity into four of the kokhim. The kokhim which contained the ossuaries also contained some scattered bones of earlier burials. It was clear that the bone collection was not done properly and later generations did not take great care with their predecessors’ remains. The cave belonged to a Jerusalemite family during the second half of the first century BCE and the first century CE.

The cave contained the burials of at least 21 individuals of different ages and it can be assumed that the total number reached up to 26 individuals.

The human remains were badly damaged by the ultraorthodox and by the construction workers, and when the ossuaries were finally inserted back into the kokhim on top of the inhumations, they were placed without knowledge of their original locations.

In the opinion of the present authors, all of the hypotheses and proposals that were made recently, connecting the cave findings to early Christians, to Joseph of Arimathea, to Christian apostles, or to a community of Jewish-Christians – are unsubstantiated.

Further on the Tel Aviv ‘City of David’ Excavation

In consultation with experts ‘on the ground’ I have learned that-

1. The area of the Tel Aviv excavation is on the “City of David” ridge (and known as such for the last century): this ridge was excavated by the late Yigal Shiloh on behalf of the Hebrew University in the 1980s (Area E of his dig).

2. Calling this place Silwan, as Haaretz has done without explaining its exact location, is intentionally misleading political spin. The village of Silwan is located to the east of the Kidron ravine.

3. The dig is a cooperative effort of Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority and IS NOT connected with any other organization, will not be financed by any other organization, and will not receive orders or guidance from anyone, including Elad!

Location of Area E4. In this case, as in all other aspects of its teaching and research, Tel Aviv University is behaving properly and legally.

5. There is only one purpose for this dig: to better understand the history of Jerusalem through the ages.

6. The dig will, therefore, naturally be carried out in accordance with the highest professional standards which characterizes all of Tel Aviv’s field-research. It will be open to all visitors and will strive to cooperate with the people living in the area.

7. However it is essential to note that the area is not inhabited. The closest Palestinian houses are around 70 meters to the east (that is, all the way over on the other side of the ravine); others are about 200 meters to the north; and still others are far to the south (far enough, in fact, that they cannot even be seen from Area E). And, finally, there are still other homes around 150 meters to the west, on the top of the ridge (see the photo to the right, and click to enlarge).

Still further insight into Tel Aviv’s work at the location can be found in Israel Finkelstein’s essay in Forward Magazine titled In the Eye of Jerusalem’s Archaeological Storm.

All in all, then, not only is the petition floating around contra Tel Aviv University’s work at the City of David inappropriate, it is founded upon numerous egregious errors and misstatements of fact.

The Dog Who Fell into a Pit, and Discovered a First Temple Era Winepress

I guess if tv journalists can stumble into pits, so can dogs.

He never studied archeology and knows more about bones than about antiquities, but he is probably the first dog in history to uncover a major archeological site.  It all began five years ago when Zach, a mongrel, took a walk at Jerusalem’s Ramot Forest with his owner, Shaul Yona. As he was joyfully running around the forest, Zach suddenly fell into a hole in the ground.  Yona managed to get his dog out safe and sounds. As he took a deep breath following the drama, he peeked into the hole and realized that it was not just a random pit.  He alerted archeologists, who checked the hole and discovered that it had been used as a grape pressing area during the First Temple period.  The sensational discovery led to an extensive excavation, which exposed additional pits, pottery pieces and bronze coins from the Second Temple period. The dig was orchestrated by Prof. Amihai Mazar, who was awarded the Israel Prize in archaeology in 2009.

And more…

Critical Archaeology in Practice: An Essay by Raphael Greenberg

You can download it here.

Critical archaeology is founded in critical theory,and thus, at a primary level, refers to an intellectual approach that seeks to identify the social and political coordinates of the production and reproduction of cultures and institutions, and of knowledge, with particular reference to structures of domination andto the possibility of resistance. As such, critical archaeology is relevant to all facets of archaeological research and practice, and has a rich tradition.More specifically, however, critical archaeology sees itself as a de-colonizing emancipatory praxis,an ethical intervention directed at complacency and complicity in archaeological teaching and practice,and thus takes on a more prescriptive or proactive role in the specific circumstances where it is applied.In the following paragraphs, I consider mainly the latter aspect, with the implication that critical archaeology is what critical archaeologists actually do.

Click the link above to read it all.

More Jewish Anti-Christian Defacing of a Church in Jerusalem

This is so disgustingly reprehensible. It’s vile and sickening and those responsible should be arrested immediately. And receive more than a mere slap on the wrist and wink and a nod.

Vandals scribbled anti-Christian graffiti on the outer walls of one of Jerusalem’s best-known churches early Tuesday morning, Israeli police said. Extremist Jewish West Bank settlers are suspected.  Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the perpetrators defaced a wall leading to the Church of the Dormition. The century-old structure is built on the site where tradition says the Virgin Mary died.

The graffiti, which read “Jesus, son of a whore, price tag,” had already been removed by midmorning, said Rosenfeld.  He says police are still searching for the assailants, though suspicion has fallen on a fringe group of pro-settler Jewish extremists who have carried out similar vandalism on churches, mosques and Israeli army property. They say the acts are in response to what they consider pro-Palestinian policies by the Israeli government, a form of retribution they call a “price tag.”

Tuesday’s graffiti is the latest in a wave of vandalism on Christian holy sites in Israel. Israel has about 155,000 Christian citizens, less than 2 percent of its 7.9 million people, but the repeated defacing of their sacred sites has shocked the country and drawn official condemnation.  “Price tag actions go against the morals and values of Judaism and do great harm to the state of Israel,” said President Shimon Peres, speaking at a meeting with one of Israel’s chief rabbis during a celebration of the Jewish festival of Sukkoth. “It is forbidden to harm the holy sites of religions and faiths,” Peres said.  The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land condemned the vandalism and called on Israel to act to stop it.

The government hasn’t stopped it yet.  And it has been going on for a long time.  If Christians were smearing synagogues with vile anti-semitic slogans the entire world would rightly and justifiably be up in arms.  When the shoe is on the other foot, the silence from the government of the United States and those of Europe is deafening.  That’s the very definition of bias.

The Exodus, From Israel

Israel is becoming so right leaning that one columnist sees an exodus of sorts on the horizon- an exodus of the left:

The final moment before the liberal population leaves Israel. The moment the public comprehends the irreversible nature of the process, the outcome will be clear and enlightened population will leave Israel and move west, as was the case with Jerusalem. Nuli Omer and Noa Maiman have left the country. They informed their friends on the net as to the reasons. One moved to a place where there is a freer press; the other, because of the culture of “Bibi-brutishness.” Isolated incidents of emigration have often occurred. However, these are not isolated incidents.


In the early 1980’s, Jerusalem was more vibrant than Tel Aviv. However, the writing was on the wall. The Jerusalem weekly, Kol Ha’ir, used to publish for Rosh Hashanah the numbers of those beginning elementary school. In so doing, it recorded the growing young-religious-extremist majority. When people began to realize that the situation was irreversible, a trickle began that became a flood. The non-extremist-religious public left and headed west. Some of Tel Aviv’s current vitality stems from the collapse of liberal life elsewhere in the country, and the ensuing internal migration.

And again

The moment the public comprehends the irreversible nature of the process, the outcome will be clear. When this irreversibility joins daily pogroms in Israel; the racist atmosphere that has become the face of the country; the growing diplomatic boycott due to racism and the occupation – the trickle will become a flood. The enlightened population will leave Israel and move west, as was the case with Jerusalem.  The right-wing inciters to an Iranian war talk about the Iranian bomb as something that will bring about the emigration of liberals from Israel. But the bomb is already here. It’s the Israeli bomb. The racist-extremist-anti-liberal atmosphere that has replaced Israel will soon lead to the active emigration of liberals from Israel. The emigration need not be en masse in order to create irreversible change. At the start of Hitler’s regime about 1,000 Jewish scientists and socialists, including Albert Einstein, were forced to leave. In one fell swoop, the scientific center of the world moved from Weimar to America.

Is Israel about to be emptied of most of its thinkers?  The writing is on the wall.  Bibi-anity may spell the end of modern, Democratic Israel.

Judah in the Neo-Babylonian Period: The Archaeology of Desolation, by Avraham Faust

This one looks right interesting, doesn’t it?

The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. was a watershed event in the history of Judah, the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the exilic period, during which many of the biblical texts were probably written. The conquest left clear archaeological marks on many sites in Judah, including Jerusalem, and the Bible records it as a traumatic event for the population.

Less clear is the situation in Judah following the conquest, that is, in the sixth century, a period with archaeological remains the nature and significance of which are disputed.

The traditional view is that the land was decimated and the population devastated. In the last two decades, archaeologists arguing that the land was not empty and that the exile had little impact on Judah’s rural sector have challenged this view.

This volume examines the archaeological reality of Judah in the sixth century in order to shed new light on the debate. By expanding research into new avenues and examining new data, as well as by applying new methods to older data, the author arrives at fresh insights that support the traditional view of sixth-century Judah as a land whose population, both urban and rural, was devastated and whose recovery took centuries.


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