Archive for May, 2012

The Jerusalem Post:

A Jerusalem judge will announce on Wednesday whether he has decided to order the destruction of a burial box that could have held the bones of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed tablet that could have come from the First Temple.

At a Jerusalem District Court hearing in April, Judge Aharon Farkash said he might exercise “the judgement of Solomon” and order both items to be destroyed.

The stone burial box, or ossuary, dates to the first century CE and has an Aramaic inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The black tablet is inscribed with a passage recording repairs by King Jehoash around 800 BCE. Its surface is spattered with sub-microscopic globules of gold that suggest it might have survived a fire in which golden items melted into tiny airborne particles.

If genuine, the items are the only artifacts yet recovered that can be linked directly to the family of Jesus and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and could be of considerable historical significance.

Last March, at the end of a trial lasting nearly seven years, a Tel Aviv collector was acquitted of faking the two artifacts and other antiquities by Judge Farkash, vice president of the Jerusalem District Court.

But Judge Farkash reserved judgment on whether the ossuary or the stone tablet were authentic because of disagreements between the world’s leading experts.

On Wednesday, Judge Farkash will pass sentence on the defendant, Oded Golan, who was acquitted on 41 charges of forgery, fraud and other serious crimes, but found guilty of three minor misdemeanors of trading in antiquities without a license and handling goods suspected of being stolen.

At a hearing in April, the prosecution demanded a tough sentence including jail time and said that the ossuary, the tablet and many other items should be confiscated by the court, even though Golan had been acquitted of all charges related to them.

“Maybe I’ll order them to be destroyed and neither side will have them,” said Judge Farkash in comments that were not recorded in the official court transcript.

It would be “the judgement of Solomon,” said Judge Farkash.

“Neither of you will have the ossuary or the Jehoash tablet. They broke once already, they can be broken again. Just destroy them,” he said.

The ossuary cracked into two pieces 2002 while it was being shipped to an exhibition in Canada and was repaired by restorers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The Jehoash tablet broke along an existing crack in 2003 while it was being handled by investigators at the Israel Police forensic laboratory.

The judge also suggested that the items might be put on display for the public.

“Maybe they should be exhibited at the Israel Museum as items from this trial suspected of being fakes,” he said.

Experts who gave evidence for both sides last night urged Judge Farkash not to destroy the items.

Andre Lemaire, the Sorbonne scholar who published the first analysis of the ossuary in 2002 and has stood by its authenticity, said its destruction would be “scandalous” and “a manipulation of historical evidence.”

“It would be necessary from a scientific point of view to start a new suit, on a real basis this time, for voluntary destruction of historical evidence and tentative manipulation of history,” Professor Lemaire told The Jerusalem Post.

Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Emmanuel Christian Seminary who appeared as a prosecution witness, said “it is never prudent to destroy antiquities, regardless of the controversy surrounding them.”

“I would certainly not wish to see the Ya’akov (“James”) Ossuary destroyed. Indeed, to destroy the ossuary would only fuel the controversy, effectively turning this ossuary into an archaeological martyr of sorts. I wish to see it returned to its legal owner,” he said.

Prosecution witness Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, agreed that the ossuary should not be destroyed, but said it should not be returned to Golan. “The Israel Antiquities Authority has a place for alleged forgeries in their storehouses – why not put this item there too for posterity?” Finkelstein suggested.

Defence counsel Lior Bringer said the items should be returned immediately to Golan, who said he has not yet decided what to do with them.

“The prosecution is asking the court to punish the defendant for crimes for which he was acquitted,” said Bringer. “Golan admitted to the three minor charges he was convicted of in the first police interview. On these charges there was no need for a trial at all.”

“He spent more than two years under house arrest and was in prison twice. He has suffered enough,” said Bringer.



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In the Huffington Post:

Jerusalem – Israel’s antiquity authority says vandals have badly damaged a 1,600-year-old mosaic in the northern city of Tiberias.

Authority archaeologist Gilad Kinamon says the mosaic once formed the floor of a 4th century synagogue. He says vandals smashed parts of the mosaic, grinding it to a fine powder, while other parts were badly scratched.

Kinamon says the mosaic was unique for its time because it illustrated the zodiac signs and listed the names of the synagogue’s chief patrons in ancient Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

He says the mosaic found damaged early Tuesday was in a fenced-off enclosure that was not guarded overnight.

An Israel police spokesman said they opened an investigation into the incident.


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Bible X:

Many readers are likely familiar with Todd Bolen, although some of you may not know it. His pictures have appeared in numerous publications including the Archaeological Study Bible and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament. Todd has lived and taught in Israel and led numerous tours there (including one that I was on). He runs the website, is a fellow blogger and a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Theological Seminary. His most recent project is the revised and updated photo resource, Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. I am very thankful to Todd for taking the time to answer a few questions.

1. How does understanding the geography and archaeology of the Holy Lands contribute to the practice of Bible exposition?

Bible exposition is the practice of explaining a portion of Scripture, and to do correctly that one needs to know as much as possible about the text and the backgrounds of that text. The authors wrote to contemporaries who knew their land and their culture. Because we live thousands of years and thousands of miles away, we study geography and archaeology in order to try to reduce the distance between them and us. The more that we can “get into their world,” the more likely we will correctly understand what they wrote.

2. You have just released a revised and expanded edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (PLBL). How have you used pictures like those in the PLBL in your own teaching and preaching ministry?

I started creating the Pictorial Library for my use. I was teaching college courses in Israel and while I often had the sites themselves as backdrops, I needed visual aids for the classroom lectures. Initially I used a slide projector and dreamed of a day when I wouldn’t have to sort slides for each lecture. I completed the first, rather modest, edition of the Pictorial Library in the year 2000 and I’ve been working on this new edition for the last 9 years. I taught a new course at church this spring and having the (almost finished) Pictorial Library available saved me a lot of time. Having a library of digital images allows me to illustrate sites, scenes, and cultural activities with ease.

3. The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands contains more than 17,500 images. Do you have any suggestions for relatively new Bible teachers on how best to use these images without getting overwhelmed?

I would suggest using the collection as a library, drawing out whatever images are useful for the situation. I recommend copying the disks to the hard drive and using a search program such as Picasa to quickly identify images by location and keyword. The PowerPoint presentations are easy to access as well, and you can open up the desired presentation and copy whatever slides you need into your own teaching PowerPoint.

4. How can a Bible teacher be more effective by using the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands?

Photos can help teachers in so many ways. They can help to create an atmosphere, such as what the Sea of Galilee looked like before and during a storm. They can communicate a concept better than words, such as revealing the size of the enormous Temple Mount instead of stating that it is 300 meters long or the size of 24 football fields. They can transport the viewer to the site itself, such as the Elah Valley where David confronted Goliath. They can demonstrate a practice, such as how a shepherd would shear his sheep. They can also correct misperceptions, such as what the Judean wilderness looks like where Jesus fasted and was tempted.


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It is holy to Christianity,  Islam, and Judaism – faiths that communally clinch faintly above half of the  human race.

Jerusalem tips & insights

Religion viewpoints

The world’s three major religions view the significance  of Jerusalem in three special ways:


It is where Christ was crucified and ascended to Heaven.


It is the home of the Wailing Wall (remains of the Second  Temple).


It is the site of the Temple Mount where the prophet  Muhammad rose to Heaven.

Best known sites

Jerusalem’s many notable holy sites include the Dome of  the Rock on the Temple Mount, the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy  Sepulcher.

Jerusalem preservation

The old city has been preserved to retain much of its  antiquated architectural character. This city in Israel is grandly enclosed by  high, yellowish-limestone walls pierced by eight historic gates. Each of its  four tradition-named residential quarters (Armenian, Christian, Jewish and  Muslim) has a twisting maze of narrow cobble-stoned streets.

History in brief

Jerusalem means City of Peace in Hebrew, but  it hasn’t been exactly like that during its agitated 5,000-year history.  Jerusalem has seen more than its fair share of fighting – by the Roman,  Byzantine and Crusader forces, to name but three. The 20th and 21st centuries  have witnessed the Arab-Israeli conflicts.


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Writes John Byron over at The Biblical World:

As many of my readers will know, Ashland Seminary has been involved with the Tel-Gezer excavation project since 2009. I have had the opportunity to work at Gezer twice with groups of students from the seminary here and will most likely find my way back next summer.

The focus of the current excavations is on the 10th century BCE. Being a second temple guy, I am more interested in the remains of Gezer that date from the Hellenistic Hasmonean era. And that is what makes this most recent discovery at Gezer interesting.
The Gezer survey team led by Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan recently announced the discovery of a 13th boundary marker. These boundary markers plotted out the extent of the city of Gezer and its associated agricultural lands. These are bilingual inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew. Here is what Mitchell and  Zan had to say.

The boundary inscriptions demonstrate the period of conflict between the Seleucids and Maccabees. They show that the city had agricultural land around it and that the Jewish occupants were concerned over keeping their fields according to Jewish law. These discoveries are significant since the boundary stones have been frequently sought, but with long time frames between new discoveries. According to the scholarship of Ronnie Reich, of the University of Haifa, there are 12 known and published Gezer boundary stones dating to the Maccabean period. These bilingual inscriptions in outcrops of limestone bedrock ring the ancient city of Gezer on the South, East and Northeast. Many of these are two line inscriptions reading “Region of Gezer” on one line in Hebrew and “Belonging to Alkios” on the second line in Greek.

The new boundary stone inscription located by the Gezer survey team this season is the first to be found in over a decade, increasing the total number of known Gezer boundary inscriptions to 13. The new inscription is very weathered and is a bilingual inscription like many of the others, with some minor differences. It is a three line inscription, rather than the typical two, with the Greek name Alkiou on the first line (literally “belonging to Alkios”), remnants of the Hebrew word for “region of” on the second line and small remnants of the letters spelling “Gezer” on the third line. The Greek letters are larger than in other inscriptions and both the Greek and Hebrew lines are oriented in the same perspective. The survey directors will seek to publish the inscription as soon as possible in an academic publication.

For me this discovery raises once again the question of to what extent Hebrew was used in the second temple period. Most scholars agree, and with good reason, that Aramaic was the more commonly used language and that Hebrew was more a “sacred language” used in worship, etc. But such an inscription as this, which serve a municipal rather sacred purpose, seems to suggest that Hebrew was also used for other types of inscriptions. I have asked a few a my colleagues on the Gezer team their opinion, but they are not ready to venture any comments or suggestions at this time.


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Jish, Israel — Two villages in the Holy Land’s tiny Christian community are teaching Aramaic in an ambitious effort to revive the language that Jesus spoke, centuries after it all but disappeared from the Middle East.

The new focus on the region’s dominant language 2,000 years ago comes with a little help from modern technology: an Aramaic-speaking television channel from Sweden, of all places, where a vibrant immigrant community has kept the ancient tongue alive.

In the Palestinian village of Beit Jala, an older generation of Aramaic speakers is trying to share the language with their grandchildren. Beit Jala lies next to Bethlehem, where the New Testament says Jesus was born.

And in the Arab-Israeli village of Jish, nestled in the Galilean hills where Jesus lived and preached, elementary school children are now being instructed in Aramaic. The children belong mostly to the Maronite Christian community. Maronites still chant their liturgy in Aramaic but few understand the prayers.

“We want to speak the language that Jesus spoke,” said Carla Hadad, a 10-year-old Jish girl who frequently waved her arms to answer questions in Aramaic from school teacher Mona Issa during a recent lesson.

“We used to speak it a long time ago,” she added, referring to her ancestors.

During the lesson, a dozen children lisped out a Christian prayer in Aramaic. They learned the words for “elephant,” “how are you?” and “mountain.” Some children carefully drew sharp-angled Aramaic letters. Others fiddled with their pencil cases, which sported images of popular soccer teams.

The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is “Syriac,” which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used, according to Steven Fassberg, an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“They probably would have understood each other,” Fassberg said.

In Jish, about 80 children in grades one through five study Aramaic as a voluntary subject for two hours a week. Israel’s education ministry provided funds to add classes until the eighth grade, said principal Reem Khatieb-Zuabi.

Several Jish residents lobbied for Aramaic studies several years ago, said Khatieb-Zuabi, but the idea faced resistance: Jish’s Muslims worried it was a covert attempt to entice their children to Christianity. Some Christians objected, saying the emphasis on their ancestral language was being used to strip them of their Arab identity. The issue is sensitive to many Arab Muslims and Christians in Israel, who prefer to be identified by their ethnicity, not their faith.

Ultimately, Khatieb-Zuabi, a secular Muslim from an outside village, overruled them.

“This is our collective heritage and culture. We should celebrate and study it,” the principal said. And so the Jish Elementary School become the only Israeli public school teaching Aramaic, according to the education ministry.

Their efforts are mirrored in Beit Jala’s Mar Afram school run by the Syrian Orthodox church and located just a few miles (kilometers) from Bethlehem’s Manger Square.

There, priests have taught the language to their 320 students for the past five years.

Some 360 families in the area descend from Aramaic-speaking refugees who in the 1920s fled the Tur Abdin region of what is now Turkey.

Priest Butros Nimeh said elders still speak the language but that it vanished among younger generations. Nimeh said they hoped teaching the language would help the children appreciate their roots.

Although both the Syrian Orthodox and Maronite church worship in Aramaic, they are distinctly different sects.

The Maronites are the dominant Christian church in neighboring Lebanon but make up only a few thousand of the Holy Land’s 210,000 Christians. Likewise, Syrian Orthodox Christians number no more than 2,000 in the Holy Land, said Nimeh. Overall, some 150,000 Christians live in Israel and another 60,000 live in the West Bank.

Both schools found inspiration and assistance in an unlikely place: Sweden. There, Aramaic-speaking communities who descended from the Middle East have sought to keep their language alive.

They publish a newspaper, “Bahro Suryoyo,” pamphlets and children’s books, including “The Little Prince,” and maintain a satellite television station, “Soryoyosat,” said Arzu Alan, chairwoman of the Syriac Aramaic Federation of Sweden.

There’s also an Aramaic soccer team, “Syrianska FC” in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje. Officials estimate the Aramaic-speaking population at anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 people.

For many Maronites and Syrian Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, the television station, in particular, was the first time they heard the language outside church in decades. Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.

“When you hear (the language), you can speak it,” said Issa, the teacher.

Aramaic dialects were the region’s vernacular from 2,500 years ago until the sixth century, when Arabic, the language of conquering Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula, became dominant, according to Fassberg.

Linguistic islands survived: Maronites clung to Aramaic liturgy and so did the Syrian Orthodox church. Kurdish Jews on the river island of Zakho spoke an Aramaic dialect called “Targum” until fleeing to Israel in the 1950s. Three Christian villages in Syria still speak an Aramaic dialect, Fassberg said.

With few opportunities to practice the ancient tongue, teachers in Jish have tempered expectations. They hope they can at least revive an understanding of the language.

The steep challenges are seen in the Jish school, where the fourth-grade Aramaic class has just a dozen students. The number used to be twice that until they introduced an art class during the same time slot – and lost half their students.


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Foundation Stone’s Land Minds has a four part lecture series with Dr Aharon Demsky of Bar-Ilan University about literacy in Ancient Israel. Well worth a listen. All are in mp3.


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