Posts Tagged ‘Research’

The Kalman Interview at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.



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Today in the Catholic Herald:

In a recent interview for The Catholic Herald, Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, who died this week, argues that the pen is mightier than the spade.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the beginning of scientific biblical archaeology in the Holy Land. As yet, though, no spade has dug up any stones or scrolls to add facts to the historical Jesus. Nor to his disciples. This was confirmed to me recently by Fr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, professor of the New Testament, at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem.

“The light shed by archaeology on the New Testament is indirect – and with varying degrees of clarity,” he said firmly in his lilting Irish accent. Despite his 50 years in Jerusalem, the Irish tones in his voice remain strong. “Generally,” he said, “archaeology can do no more than fill in the backgrounds against which the drama of evangelisation was played out.”

These words came as a shock to me. The idea of there being no substantial finds at all about the life of Jesus, after nearly two centuries of archaeologists digging down amid the stones and dusty ruins of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Capernaum, is disappointing to say the least.

Fr Jerry, as he is known, then referred to Jesus himself, adding: “For an understanding of His person and mission we must turn to other sources and disciplines.”

When we met at the beautiful old stone École Biblique on the outskirts of the Old City, he stressed that not too much should be expected from archaeology. “It can never speak as precisely or as specifically as a text,” he said. He spoke with authority. Such is his international standing as an esteemed professor of New Testament studies that academics, professors and researchers from all over the world consult him. No other Catholic priest in Jerusalem is as well known. Nor has any other reached his level of scholarly prestige. As well as being a leading authority on St Paul, Fr Jerry has written critically acclaimed books and papers on New Testament studies. His output, though, has not just been limited to academia. His best-selling guide, The Holy Land, an Archaeological Guide (Oxford University Press), which has gone into five editions and sold more than 60,000 print copies, is now selling on Kindle.

Although 78, confined to a wheelchair and reliant on an oxygen machine, Fr Jerry, a handsome man, has retained his good looks, his sense of humour and strict habits of working for long hours each day. Somehow, he also entertains a constant stream of guests. Recently I joined a lunch party hosted by him at the École Biblique with two American biblical scholars. One of them suggested that excavations had verified more about the locations, patriarchs, prophets and kings in the Old Testament than facts in the New Testament. Fr Jerry was somewhat defensive, saying: “Well, the Old Testament covers a much, much longer period, and a much larger area than the New Testament.”

But New Testament archaeology, he insisted, should not be written off. Far from it. It may not have substantiated any facts about Jesus himself, but it has illuminated the material culture of the first century in which Jesus and his disciples lived. The vast array of sites from which piles of potsherds, coins, walls, floors, and bones have been found have added a tangible reality to many aspects to day-to-day life in Palestine. Citing some of the geographical and cultural details which have been unearthed, Fr Jerry said: “We know, for instance, where Jesus was baptised, the sort of room in which he lived in Capernaum and the type of boat from which he preached. We can trace the paths he walked.”

Using the approach of relating archaeological data to specific texts of the New Testament to which it might be relevant, he summed up some of the research. Details of the actual towns and locations mentioned in the gospels – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala, Jericho and Bethany – are now firmly established on maps. His summaries of two of them, Jerusalem and Nazareth are, indeed, fascinating. He says that so much is known about the Jerusalem in which Jesus lived “that a 1:50 model has been built in the grounds of the Israel Museum. In general, it is very accurate.”

In contrast, he does not believe that all the 14 Stations of  the Cross can be traced precisely, but he confirmed: “The location of the site of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus is solidly attested by a critically tested pre-Constantinian tradition. Both are enclosed in the Holy Sepulchre church. Excavations beneath the church show that the tomb was located in a quarry abandoned in the second century BC.”

As the archaeology in the Jerusalem area has included a survey of a large number of its ancient tombs, it is now known that, “the tomb of Jesus must have been a kokhim (the bodies were placed in sealable horizontal shafts fronted by a ledge), first introduced into Palestine in the second century BC. Being short of time the disciples would have simply deposited the body of Jesus on the ledge. To prevent violation of the body by animals or birds, the entrance to the burial chamber from the vestibule would have been closed by a blocking stone like a plug (circular ones were very rare), which would have made removal difficult; the women were right to worry.”

Fr Jerry went on to say that the two miracles that Jesus worked in Jerusalem have been given accurate locations. Both were large open-air ritual pools, one at Siloam and the other called Bethesda, near Lion’s Gate. “There was a pagan healing temple at Bethesda in the second century AD, as the votive objects show. Its location, however, must have been determined by a tradition of healing going back at least to the previous century. This explains why Jesus found the sick gathered in the one place that gave them hope.”

As Nazareth has a special place in the hearts of many Christians, it was especially interesting to hear that archaeological discoveries have provided solid facts about life there during the boyhood of Jesus. “Even though excavations there have been sporadic and no clear picture emerges,” he explained, “first-century house foundations, together with the silos, oil presses and storage areas show what one would expect of a farming village. Nazareth would have been the agricultural supply centre of the nearby city Sepphoris, which in the youth of Jesus was in the process of reconstruction as a Roman city.”

Evidence points to the population of the city of Sepphoris, until AD70, being predominantly Jewish. This has been deduced not just by what archaeologists have found but what they have not. There are the remains of ritual baths along with a large number fragments of stone vessels (which cannot become ritually impure) – but there is a complete absence of pig bones or coins with pagan images.

As one can see, in the 175 years since Edward Robinson, a Connecticut Yankee, came to the Holy Land in 1838 to seek the exact locations of places in the Bible, archaeologists have managed to animate the world of Jesus. But so far the spade has proved itself to be no rival to the pen.


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Ancient Europeans, researchers say:

Israel may not be the most obvious place to study pigs, given that religious strictures in both Judaism and Islam forbid their consumption.

But Israeli researchers involved in a lengthy project whose goal is to reconstruct ancient Israel have now established that the pigs here are of European stock, unlike their Middle Eastern counterparts elsewhere in the region, and that they probably arrived with the non-kosher Philistines about 3,000 years ago.

In the highlands west of the Jordan River associated with the early Israelites, archaeological studies have shown there are almost no ancient pig bones. The exceptionally high number of pig bones found in the lowlands, at what were urban Philistine sites like Ashkelon and Ekron, has given rise to the theory that the Philistines, sea people who migrated here from the Aegean basin, brought their culinary and husbandry habits with them.

A new study based on DNA testing of modern and ancient pigs has revealed that the European emigrant pigs became prominent during the Iron Age, around 900 B.C., and eventually took over the entire wild boar population in the area that is now Israel.

The study, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, is part of a long-term project in which Israeli researchers are examining the large migrations, trade, climate changes and other forces that shaped and changed the Levant in antiquity.

Understanding human and animal movement is crucial to that process, said Israel Finkelstein, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, who directs the project. “We archaeologists know that pigs and pork consumption are two very good markers of ethnicity and identity,” he said, given the pig taboo in ancient Israel.

Waste-eating pigs may have been good for keeping ships clean, he said, but they could not move great distances over land, so raising pigs might have become a marker distinguishing the Israelites, who were originally pastoral nomads, from sedentary societies. When animosity developed between the highlands and the lowlands, as depicted in biblical stories like the battle between David and the Philistine giant Goliath, pigs could have symbolized a “we and they” theme, Professor Finkelstein said, as in, “They eat pork, and we don’t.”

The researchers began more than two years ago by mapping the modern wild boar population of Israel. Meirav Meiri, an expert in ancient DNA, tested preserved pig samples from all over the country — a piece of an ear, a sliver of skin — and found that all possessed the European gene signature. That came as a surprise, she said, given that studies of pigs in nearby countries like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey had shown they were all of a Middle Eastern gene type.

European and Middle Eastern pigs do not look much different, but the DNA results raised the question of how the “Ashkenazi” pigs of European stock got here.

Working back through centuries of pig bones and teeth gathered from various collections and archaeological sites, Dr. Meiri painstakingly tested 177 ancient samples, including 34 with DNA preserved well enough to determine their genetic origin.

Large numbers of European pigs appeared in Israel around 900 B.C. and became more and more dominant until they had taken over completely. “Once we had a local signature,” Dr. Meiri said of the genetic makeup of the pigs found here in antiquity, but that “no longer exists.”

The researchers assume that the Philistines brought domesticated pigs with them and that some of those pigs ran off into the wild and mixed with the local population. But for the European pigs to have taken over so completely, the experts say, there may have been more waves of emigrant pigs from Europe, from the time of the Romans onward.

“Here, there’s an island of pigs with European ancestry,” said Steve Weiner, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who is a partner in the project, which is funded by a grant from the European Research Council. “We don’t know if Napoleon brought pigs, or the Crusaders, or if they all did.”

“Archaeologists,” he concluded, “take pigs very seriously.”


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Via The Biblical Archaeology Society:

Seven seasons of excavations at the fortified site of Khirbet Qeiyafa have reshaped our understanding of the early kingdom of Judah. Monumental discoveries from the 2013 season provide new evidence of an extensive civil administration during the time of King David. To continue investigating the tenth-century kingdom of Judah, the Qeiyafa archaeologists are heading to Lachish. In the article “An Ending and a Beginning: Why We’re Leaving Qeiyafa and Going to Lachish” in the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologists Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain how “the results from Khirbet Qeiyafa, together with the results from Lachish, will enable us to obtain a clearer and more complete picture of the early history of the kingdom of Judah in the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.E. We view these two excavations as one regional project.”

To find out more, click here.


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In Istanbul:

The discoveries in Istanbul’s Küçükçekmece river basin, iron god and goddess statues that were found in two different places, have created great excitement among researchers. Radikal photos / Ömer ERBİL

An archaeological discovery in suburban Istanbul could soon force a rewrite in history books as new research has shown that the early Hittites actually ventured onto the European continent, having previously been assumed to have remained only in Asia.

“Istanbul has a new historic peninsula now. The first traces of the Hurrians in Istanbul shows the importance of these excavations. This is a big discovery to reach the traces of the Hittites in Europe,” said Istanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Ahmet Emre Bilgili, according to daily Radikal.

“We have shed light on a dark era of Istanbul,” said Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik.

The traces from the Hurrian civilization – the early Hittite era – were found in the Küçükçekmece river basin in the western parts of the city.

The discoveries – iron god and goddess statues that were found in two different places –have created great excitement among researchers.

“The Mesopotamian works of art date back to between the 17th and 15th centuries B.C., known as the dark era of Istanbul. We have also found bitumen as well as tin and ceramic pieces dating back to the Mesopotamian era,” said the head of the excavations, Professor Şengül Aydıngün.

Two Hurrian statues, bitumen, tin and ceramic pieces are from 1800 B.C. Bitumen was only used in Mesopotamia at the time and was used to make vessels waterproof. Maritime trade improved thanks to this material.

Tin was more valuable than gold at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The tin in Küçükçekmece was found in cubes during excavations in the same place with the statues.

This year’s excavations also revealed 301 bottles for holy water, called “Unguanterium,” as well as small bottles for perfume or pomade made between the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.

Çelik said they were very pleased with the Hittite findings in Istanbul. “The two statues found in the excavations are from the Hittite era. They bring us back to 4,000 years ago. We are more hopeful for next year’s excavations. I am sure that these excavations will make a contribution to tourism. This year, we provided more than 30 million Turkish Liras for the excavations. Now we have a new page in Istanbul’s and Anatolian culture,” he said.

God and goddess

Surface excavations around the Küçükçekmece river basin started in 2007, while a number of unknown structures in Istanbul have been unearthed over the past four years, surprising even the excavation team.

The Hurrian type of goddess statue is 5.4 centimeters long and weighs 14 grams. The statue, made of iron, has undergone erosion throughout the centuries. The god statute, meanwhile, is 6.1 centimeters long but weighs only 11 grams.

Such statues were used for vows and their earliest examples were found in southern Mesopotamia in 3000 B.C. Similar statues have been found in Turkey in the Alalah, Tilmen and Zincirli Oylum mounds elsewhere in Turkey.

Noting that they had already known about the existence of the first Neolithic groups in Istanbul, Aydıngün said: “These groups’ traces survived for 1,000-1,500 years. After their traces disappeared, there was a big chronological gap until the seventh century B.C. The two statues that we have found are from the early Hittite period. The statues of this era were found for the first time in Istanbul. The traces of the Hittites were previously [only] found in Troy and İzmir.”

Also speaking about the findings, Istanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Ahmet Emre Bilgili said they had not expected to find such groundbreaking findings when they began their research in 2007.


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Baptist Press:

Whenever there’s an archaeological discovery related to the Bible, conflicting interpretations by various experts can leave a believer’s head spinning.

Take the discovery in Israel of a palace from the era of King David earlier this year. An archaeologist from Hebrew University in Jerusalem said there’s “unequivocal evidence” that David and his descendants ruled at the site. But critics, including some committed believers, say it could have belonged to other kingdoms and that David’s palace likely would have been in Jerusalem some 18 miles northwest. Still others claim there is no archaeological evidence that David even existed. Similar confusion ensued this spring when archaeologists discovered a massive complex that may have been an administrative center in Abraham’s native Ur, with division over whether the patriarch’s Ur was at that site or farther north.

Since debate often surrounds the discovery of biblical sites, lovers of the Bible may be tempted to give up on archaeology, pronouncing it unhelpful and opting instead to accept Scripture’s historical accounts on “blind faith,” convinced that historical evidence will never be able to confirm biblical accounts. Admittedly, archaeology’s main contribution to biblical studies has been to provide background information. But at the same time, 20th-century theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded that archaeologists have done significant work in confirming biblical claims (see “God, Revelation and Authority,” volume 4).

Before giving up on archaeology, consider the following…

More here.


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Baptist Press:

The Virtual Bible Project gives a 3-D bird’s-eye view of Jerusalem as it stood during Jesus’ ministry.

Long before smartphones, before technology had literally reshaped modern society, Dan Warner had an idea for teaching the history and geography of biblical lands — a virtual tour of the Holy Land. The idea was innovative, and years ahead of its time.

Warner teaches biblical backgrounds on a daily basis in his positions as associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Orlando Hub and an adjunct faculty member at the Baptist College of Florida and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Warner wants to help people see how geography influenced the biblical text, using interactive visuals rather than textbooks.

The Miami native and member of First Baptist Church in Orlando birthed the idea for a virtual Bible tour more than a decade ago during one of his frequent trips to Israel. He knew from his own experience that seeing the land leads to richer understanding of the Bible. But it is unrealistic, Warner believes, for most church members and lay ministers to visit the Holy Land, given the travel costs and time. Instead, his virtual tour project known as The Virtual Bible allows an affordable view of the land.

Warner launched The Virtual Bible Project in 1999 with James Strange, longtime professor of archaeology at the University of South Florida and excavator of ancient Sepphoris in Galilee. Warner and Strange presented their idea to a major Christian publisher shortly after they created the company. While the meeting went well, the publisher failed to see the potential and passed on the opportunity.

In spite of the setback, Warner refused to give up. He found a group of private investors and began working on the virtual reconstructions. To date, Warner and Strange have not taken a salary from their company. Instead, all of the profits have been invested in its development.

Warner and his team have completed four virtual reconstruction projects, including a detailed reconstruction of the events surrounding the passion week. A virtual tour of Bronze Age Megiddo was completed first, a natural choice because of the years Warner spent excavating the site. Next came reconstructions of Capernaum and Herod’s Jerusalem. A preview of Warner’s work is available on YouTube.

Each virtual reconstruction takes months to complete, but finances remain the biggest barrier to success for the Virtual Bible Project. Development is expensive, advertising is beyond the company’s small budget, and getting the finished product in front of potential consumers is a real challenge, Warner said. However, a distribution agreement with the publisher of Logos Bible Software will enable Warner to focus on additional reconstructions.

“Our goal is to create the whole ancient world,” Warner said. “We’ve just barely scratched the surface”…

Rest here.


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