A Statement By the Faculty of Tel Aviv University Concerning an Advert in Biblical Archaeology Review

Oded Lipschits has sent along this public statement:

Statement by faculty members of the Marco and Sonia Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, regarding the alleged use of mechanical excavator at Tel Socoh

A defamatory, anonymous paid advertisement, alleging that Prof. Yuval Goren of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University has used a mechanical excavator to “pillage stratigraphy” in the excavation of Tel Socoh in the Shephelah, has again been published in the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). Those who read BAR should note that:

1. There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh.

2. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from surface to natural soil nearby. The sounding was aimed at detecting pottery and slag in the vicinity of the site. This method is authorized (and endorsed) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3. This is a common method in archaeology. Most seasoned archaeologists – regardless of period of research, location on the globe, and institutional affiliation – use mechanical excavators in certain, closely controlled circumstances.

Signed: Oded Lipschits, Erez Ben Yosef, Shlomo Bunimovitz, Yoram Cohen, Alexander Fantalkin, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Fischer, Yuval Gadot, Amir Gilan, Raphael Greenberg, Zeev Herzog, Dafna Langgut, Nadav Na’aman, Benjamin Sass, Deborah Sweeney, Oren Tal

Frankly, and personally, I think BAR has crossed the line with this egregious and defamatory advert.  They may not be responsible for its content, but they stand morally indicted for publishing it.

For the backstory of this public statement- see here.

The MA In Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University

Along with the MA in Archaeology Tel Aviv also offers an International MA in Jewish Studies.  Go to the link for all the details.  Here are the basics:

Tel Aviv University offers the world’s only one-year intensive MA in Jewish Studies taught in English in a Hebrew speaking environment.

This new MA offers a series of intimate encounters with the classical texts of Jewish culture, from biblical through medieval to modern.

This unique program is:

  • Text-centered and skills oriented. It aims to equip students for work·in ducation, museums and other institutions, and to provide an excellent foundation for PhD research.
  • Interdisciplinary. Courses include Bible, History of Hebrew language, Rabbinic exegesis and midrash, comparative approaches to Talmudic and Christian texts, Jewish mysticism, Medieval philosophy and kabbalah, Ancient Jewish magic, and Modern Jewish thought·

The MA In Archaeology at Tel Aviv

They’ve put together now a fine brochure which you can access directly here.


For loads more information on the program, visit their website here.  If you’re interested, apply.  Tel Aviv is a beautiful city and there’s nothing lacking in its delights.  It’s right on the Sea and there’s so much to do within an easy drive.

Do, check it out.

Tel Aviv University Announcement

Oded Lipschits writes

I am happy to share with you information regarding the third year of our unique program at Tel Aviv University, the International MA in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible.

telavivThe program combines theoretical classes, field work experience, and tours of some of the most exciting excavation sites in Israel (such as Jerusalem, Megiddo, Azekah, Beer-Sheba, Ramat Rachael, and Yavne Yam).  The program can be taken as a one year MA program (without thesis), as a two year MA program (with thesis), or as a one year credited course program towards a PhD.  Graduates of the first successful year cycle, who have been accepted to our second year thesis track, are already hard at work on exciting new researches, and we are currently accepting applications and awarding scholarships for the academic year of 2013-14.

We believe some of your students could greatly benefit from and enjoy this program, and we will be delighted if you could share the information with them and other colleagues.

Thank you for your much appreciated assistance.

Prof. Oded Lipschits
Head of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology & Head of the International MA program in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible
Tel Aviv University

The Rise and Fall of Archaeology in the Service of Ideology in Israel

It’s a new essay in Bible and Interpretation worth reading by Rami Arav. He concludes with this amazing claim-

A prominent Tel Aviv University archaeologist, Z. Herzog, complained a few years ago in an article in the prestigious Israeli paper Haaretz that despite the fact that archaeology has totally changed our current understanding of the Bible, nobody pays attention. The public is apathetic and indifferent. The glorious heyday of iconic archaeology has gone forever.

The situation in America is totally different. Archaeology- especially of Israel- is the golden child and looks like it will continue to be that for the foreseeable future.

Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity

frauds_225x353This is fascinating.

“Identity theft” seems a uniquely 21st-century crime, and is very common in the contemporary world. But in a new book, Prof. Miriam Eliav-Feldon of Tel Aviv University‘s Department of Historyobserves that identity theft and associated fraud have deep historical roots. From royal pretenders to women masquerading as men and those who resort to fraud to conceal their religious faith, history is brimming with stories of impostors. The battle between frauds and those who try to thwart them has been constant from the beginning of humanity, she says – and the battle is still going strong.


With so many frauds and impostors throughout the early modern period, the question of how and why they succeeded in their deception remains a mystery, notes Prof. Eliav-Feldon, who identifies it as one of the key issues of the phenomenon. The answer, she says, relies on a different notion of truth.

One example is the tale of David Reuveni, who in 1524 came to Venice and declared himself a prince of the lost tribes of Israel. Appearing before the Pope and various kings of Europe, he vowed to forge an alliance with European leaders to liberate the holy land from the Muslims. Despite the absence of proof, Jews and non-Jews alike rallied to his cause. It was years before his deception was uncovered.

Prof. Eliav-Feldon believes that Reuveni succeeded so well because kings and church prelates alike desperately wanted his tale to be true. “They wanted to believe that they had a potential ally — and were willing to suspend judgment because it fit their interests,” she explains. “Many impostors succeeded for a long time not because everybody believed them, but because they had no way of confirming they were impostors.”

Fascinating.  People believe fraud not because they’re foolish- but because they wish the fraud to be true.  This nicely explains why the purveyors of Talpiot, for example, continue to maintain its purported significance: they wish it to be so.  The ‘Lead Codices’ sycophants wish it to be true.  And on, and on.

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.

Elad And Tel Aviv University: A Marriage, Evidently, Not Smiled Upon By All

Ha’aretz reports

Tel Aviv University administrators on Monday received a petition signed by dozens of senior academics from Israel and abroad calling on the university to withdraw its participation in archaeological excavations in East Jerusalem’s City of David. The national park is indirectly financed by the right-wing NGO Elad, which administers the national park.

Last week, the university’s Institute of Archaeology started digging in the City of David national park, but it was temporarily halted due to the rain and is expected to resume within the next few days.

And then

“Digging in the area is carried out under heavy guard by the Border Patrol and a private security company, a fact that only adds to the friction with village residents,” the petition states. “Under discussion here is a partnership with an extreme political organization and thus a de facto stance on a very contentious issue, both politically and morally. The university is thereby giving the NGO the professional recognition it desires, which academic institutions in Israel and abroad have so far refused to grant.”

The petition’s organizers expressed their concern that the dig would strengthen those who support a boycott against Israeli academics. “Tel Aviv University would be causing immeasurable damage to academia in general and to our desperate efforts to steer clear of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel in particular,” said Prof. Sidra Ezrahi. “We’re already getting cancellations of conference participation and this is playing straight into the hands of the BDS movement.”

And then

Tel Aviv University responded that the “area designated for the excavation is located far from the houses of Silwan. The dig will be carried out using modern scientific methods, at the highest professional standards, with particular attention paid to professional ethics. In the dig, a great deal of attention will be paid to the needs of those living nearby and the dig will be open to visits by local residents and tourists.

I suppose it all boils down to whether or not people can trust Tel Aviv to conduct the dig properly, regardless of who funds it.  I can scarcely imagine that the University will be persuaded to report its findings in a biased manner (as others funded by Elad have done) or that Tel Aviv will take advantage of the inhabitants of the area.  Furthermore, I think it’s a bit of an overstatement to claim that

“Tel Aviv University would be causing immeasurable damage to academia in general and to our desperate efforts to steer clear of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel in particular”

No, I can’t honestly imagine that happening.  Not among those who know the reputation of the school and its scholars.  The petitioners seem, in this case, to be over-reacting.  That’s my view anyway.  I trust Tel Aviv to do right.  And I will continue to trust Tel Aviv to do right until they give me just cause to change my views.

Elad and The Manipulation of Facts in Silwan

An interesting essay today over on Art Info which contains this usefully instructive paragraph which so nicely encapsulates what Elad is all about:

A 2006 report by Ir Amim, a left-wing advocacy group focused on Jerusalem, described one instance in which Dr. Eilat Mazar, an archaeologist working at a dig funded by Elad, claimed to have found the pipe that David’s warriors traveled through when they conquered the city. This was despite the fact that many scholars — including Ronny Reich, an archaeologist at Haifa University who worked at the same site — were skeptical that David or Solomon had ever been there. On another occasion, Reich uncovered a Byzantine water pit and was instructed by Elad to present it as the cistern of Malkijah, the pit Jeremiah was thrown into by the son of Zedekiah, the king of Judah, according to the Old Testament. For weeks, the attribution was listed on the website and echoed by tour guides, even though Reich himself said that it was “nonsense.”

More scathing:

A Google search of the group’s founder, David Be’eri, leads to multiple stories about the day he passed through Silwan in a silver four-door sedan and was confronted by Palestinian youths throwing stones. He struck two of them with his car and drove off, later claiming he had felt he was in danger and was trying to flee. Though both boys avoided serious injury, the incident was broadcast on Al Jazeera as well as Israeli television, and in numerous clips on YouTube.

It’s hard to imagine how an organization whose leader is best known for running over Palestinian children with his car could invite itself into archaeology, a field in which professionals pride themselve in being almost tediously objective. In recent years, however, Elad has managed to do just that, funding public education projects in Silwan that would make viewers believe that politics was not Elad’s concern.

And then this:

Because of the drama of archaeology in Jerusalem, in addition to the sizable funds it provides for research areas like Silwan, researchers like Reich have frequently found themselves forced to answer difficult questions about cooperating with Elad. Israel Finkelstein, a professor of archaeology at TAU who is involved in the work at Silwan and is described among colleagues as “center-left,” gave a notably guarded answer when I asked him if he had qualms about doing archaeological work in which Elad was involved. “I have always kept distance from politics, so I am not going to answer this question,” he wrote in an email. “My only interest is to better understand archaeology and history. In order to make things clear, let me add that: 1) the Tel Aviv University dig will be carried out as a joint venture with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA); no other body will be involved in the dig; 2) Tel Aviv University and its Institute of Archaeology work according to law.”

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that if Israel Finkelstein is involved everything done will be on the level.  Even if Elad attempts to exert influence.  Finkelstein is not the sort of person who can be pushed around.  This, I know.

And then this:

Rafael Greenberg, another professor of archaeology at TAU who has stood out for his opposition to the university’s involvement in Silwan, regularly expressed concerns about Elad’s involvement to his colleague Ronny Reich, who, recently, has become the head of the IAA’s archaeological council. “Whenever I told them he was being used by the settlers,” he told ARTINFO, “He’d say, ‘No, I’m using them.’”

Speaking over the phone last week, Greenberg repeated his feelings about Elad’s presence in the area, as well as the public relations concerns of TAU’s involvement. Part of what made him want to speak reporters, as it turned out, was how unconvincing he thought TAU’s message will be to Palestinian Silwanis, whose anxieties about losing their home might overlap with anxieties about being evicted from history. “No amount of spin or declarative sentences saying ‘we’re not being part of it,’ is going to change that, unless they actively dissociate themselves from that project,” he said. “It has to be a completely new concept, in order to carry out an excavation that is not associated with the settlers, with the Israeli view of history.”

Plus loads more which those interested in the subject will surely wish to read. I’ll only suggest, in conclusion, that Elad is agenda driven and that’s as plain as the nose on my face.

The 11th c. BCE Desecrated Temple at Beth Shemesh

Tel Aviv University researchers have uncovered a unique 11th-century BCE sacred compound at the site of Tel Beth-Shemesh, an ancient village that resisted the aggressive expansion of neighboring Philistines. The newly discovered sacred complex is comprised of an elevated, massive circular stone structure and an intricately constructed building characterized by a row of three flat, large round stones. Co-directors of the dig Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of TAU’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology say that this temple complex is unparalleled, possibly connected to an early Israelite cult — and provides remarkable new evidence of the deliberate desecration of a sacred site.

And more.  Pretty nifty really.

The researchers are now looking for additional funding to help further the excavation and analysis of this unique and surprising sacred site, which has only been partially unearthed.

I hope they get it.

Conference Announcement: Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel: Interactions and Parallels (10th-4th Centuries BCE)

October 28-30, 2012

Room 496, Gilman Building, Tel Aviv University: Collaboration between the European Network for the Study of Ancient Greek History and Tel Aviv University.

Conference Organizers: Irad Malkin, History Department, Tel Aviv University and a member of the European Network (malkin.irad@gmail.com); Alexander Fantalkin, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University (fantalk@post.tau.ac.il)

The world of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, has often been studied against the background of Near Eastern civilizations. Yet, aside from the enormous hinterlands of the Near East, the ancient land of Israel also neighbored the Mediterranean. As a collaborative conference between the European Network for the Study of Ancient Greek History and Tel Aviv University, we wish to concentrate on interactions and parallels between the ancient Greek world and the Eastern Mediterranean, with an emphasis on the period before the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

How do we, at the start of the third millennium CE, perceive and interpret the almost simultaneous arrival of the two cultures whose self-definitions still mark out the meaning of western civilization? We wish to discuss the key concepts of “parallels, similarities, and influences” in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean. Are they due to general human reaction to comparable historical situations or do they depend on actual contacts and influences, directly or via third parties? Drawing on specific case-studies we will discuss the usefulness of these key terms and analyze the likely contexts for interaction and/or the evidence of actual contacts.

The question of what is comparable as such and what is owed to actual influence is often debated. Whereas former approaches tended to regard the issue of influence literally, “in-fluence,” “flowing into,” as if cultural contacts are necessarily uni-directional; their “source,” therefore, needed to be identified and located in a hierarchy that is either temporal (“who was first?”) or spatial (“first from where?”). Such approaches may indeed be valid at times. Today the cutting edge of the discourse of civilizational parallels and contacts seems rather to consist in a multi-directional, non-hierarchical perspective, which may hopefully find its expression in the conference.

You can download the full program and further details here (in PDF, and 8.3MB).  Via Alexander Fantalkin.

UPDATE:  Abstracts of the papers to be presented at the conference along with brief bios of the presenters and other vital information are now available here.

The Last Day at Azekah…

Of this year’s excavation season anyway.   Check out their beautiful photos here.  And think about joining them next year, July 14th, when the digging resumes.  And if you can’t attend, consider donating so that they can have more funding!  The poor kids have to eat plates of dirt at the end of the season!!!   Look for yourself!

A Plea to the Excavators at Azekah: Emergency Situation

Azekah-ites, I beg you- run over to Robert Cargill’s hut and take down his wash and BURN IT!  Do civilization a favor, just toss those tie dyes in a pile and send them up in smoke to God.  It may not be a legitimate sacrifice but believe me, it will be an act of mercy!

This is an emergency and only you can help!  God will bless you if you do… and if you don’t… well let’s just say, you’ve been warned….


A Participant Reflects on Digging at Megiddo

Over on the Tel Aviv U. blog a volunteer writes

It has always been a dream of mine to have the pleasure and the ability to get involved in an excavation in Israel or the Middle East in general.  Insufficient funds, summer classes, and various odd jobs have always been a barrier in my ability to even think about excavating at Tel Megiddo. However, on July 8th, 2012, as part of the International MA Program in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible, those barriers fully collapsed and my ambition for the field has only begun.

Give his post a read.

The Azekah Excavation Begins!

It’s the first time since 1899 that the site has been studied!  Isn’t that amazing?  There are loads of photos here– and I note in a couple I’ve featured below that there’s a kid with a camera!  There’s always one of those people around at Conferences and digs and scholarly events making a complete nuisance of themselves, aren’t there?  😉

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Check out the Expedition on Facebook here and of course visit their website here.  Oh, and you can donate to their good work here (though I’ve tried, I can’t get it to work for me!).

Sad News: The Death of Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

Via Jack Sasson-

It is with great sadness that the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University announces the passing of its long-time colleague and friend, Professor Emeritus Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. The funeral will take place tomorrow, Friday, July 13, at 11 a.m at the Kiriat Shaul Cemetery, Tel Aviv, in the section for bereaved parents. Shiva will be at the home of his daughter…. We bow our heads in memory of the man who was our teacher, friend, archaeologist par excellence and dear person.

We join our friends at Tel Aviv in mourning the loss of their friend and colleague.  May he rest in peace.

Will You Be Excavating At Azekah?

Then there’s something you should know–

TEAM MEMBER INFORMATION PACKET for the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition and Tel Sochoh Excavations. Go to our website – http://archaeology.tau.ac.il/azekah/ or directly to: http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/archaeology/azekah%20pack.pdf.

Via Oded Lipschits and Ido Koch on FB.

Azekah Lecture Series

The folk excavating at Azekah are in for a series of very fine lectures this season.  Here are just a few of them:

Monday, July 16th
Prof. Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan)
The Excavations of Philistine Gath

Monday, July 23rd
Prof. Yosef Garfinkel (The Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
The Excavations of Kh. Qeiyafa

Wednesday, July 25th
Mr. Ido Koch (Tel Aviv University)
The Judean Lowland under Judahite Hegemony: the Great Eighth Century BCE

Monday, August 13th
Dr. Ran Barkay (Tel Aviv University)
The Pre-History of the Judean Lowland

Wednesday, August 15th
Prof. Bernard Levinson (University of Minnesota, USA)
The Neo-Assyrian Influence upon Deuteronomy

Monday, August 20th
Prof. Manfred Oeming (Heidelberg University, Germany)
David against Goliath (1 Sam 17) – an Old Fight in Modern Research

Wednesday, August 22nd
Prof. Konrad Schmid (Zurich University)

Tel Aviv University Archaeologist Admitted to the Israeli Academy of Sciences: Nadav Na’aman

The Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University is proud and delighted to announce the appointment of its long-time associate, Professor Nadav Na’aman, to the prestigious Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Nadav Na’aman is Professor Emeritus of the University’s Department of Jewish History. He has written extensively, especially on the Ancient Near East, Bible and Archaeology. Since1977, he has also served as a distinguished member of the editorial board of the Institute’s archaeology journal, Tel Aviv.

Prof. Na’aman’s books include Borders and Districts in Biblical Historiography; The Past that Shapes the Present: The Creation of Biblical Historiography in the Late First Temple Period and after the Downfall (Hebrew); Inscribed in Clay. Provenance Study of the Amarna Tablets and Other Ancient Near Eastern Texts (co-authored with Yuval Goren and Israel Finkelstein); Ancient Israel and Its Neighbors: Interaction and Counteraction; Canaan in the Second Millennium B.C.E.; Ancient Israel’s History and Historiography: The First Temple Period.

Via Jack Sasson. Congratulations, Professor!