Category Archives: Archaeology

The Tomb of Philip the Apostle at Hierapolis (Turkey)

Early Christian tradition states that Philip the Apostle (= disciple of Jesus), along with his daughters, settled at Hierapolis.

Tradition states that Philip was martyred and buried at Hierapolis.  In July of 2011 it was announced that the very Tomb of Philip had been discovered.  In another release it is stated that the actual Church/Tomb was located on a hill 120 ft. [40 m.] from the Martyrium.

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Tomb of Philip (the Apostle) at Hierapolis
The Tomb is to the right of the center of the image
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

View of Philip’s Tomb on the right side of the image.  It is built out of hewn stone and has a gabled roof.  The open area in the foreground is actually part of a basilica style fifth century church.  To the left of the church, notice the stairs that lead up the hill.

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Looking Down on to the Fifth Century Church
that is just to the west of Philip’s Tomb
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

View looking southeast at the central apse, chancel, and nave of the fifth century Byzantine Basilica.  The benches in the apse (synthronos) were used for clergy.

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Recently some of the columns of the church have been re-erected.

To view (download if you wish) 25 high-resolution images (no charge) Clicking Here will take you directly to the images.

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The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.

The Earliest Synagogue in Israel? Used by the Maccabees?

First of all — Happy Hanukkah!
A SYNAGOGUE USED BY THE MACCABEES?

The folk over at Bible History Daily have drawn attention to  an article “Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived Have excavations uncovered the hometown [synagogue?] of the Maccabees, heroes of Hanukkah’s Maccabean revolt?”  Just in time for Hanukkah!

I don’t believe that any tour groups stop at this site so I thought I would share two images of the site (Umm el–’Umdan; Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”).

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View looking west at the synagogue at Umm el–’Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”.

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The red “c’s” are column bases. Note the remains of the courtyard, entrance, and benches.

Excavations conducted in the past decade at Umm el-‘Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of Columns”) by authors Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn (recently deceased) revealed a previously unknown synagogue—featuring eight imposing columns—likely built during the reign of King Herod. But what about earlier? What was at Umm el-‘Umdan during the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt?

Directly beneath the Herodian synagogue lies a smaller synagogue constructed during the Hasmonean period, and beneath this was a structure securely dated to the end of the third or beginning of the second century B.C.E. According to the excavators, this structure must have been contemporaneous to the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt. While this Early Hellenistic building influenced the location and shape of the two synagogues built atop it in subsequent centuries, the excavators believe that there is not enough information at the time to conclude that the Early Hellenistic building was also a synagogue.

If the excavators are correct in their interpretation and dating of the above mentioned three structures, then structures two and three (earliest) might well be the earliest synagogue(s) discovered in Israel!   They seem to suggest that structure 2 is a synagogue.

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A more detailed view of Umm el–’Umdan.

For more evidence confirming Umm el-‘Umdan’s Jewish identity in antiquity as well as a discussion of the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew name Modi’in and the Arabic name Umm el-‘Umdan, see “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Happy Hanukkah!

Kh. Qeiyafa and Kh. al–Ra’i — Yosef Garfinkel Lecture

IMHO — this is not to be missed!  See the following.

The Lanier Theological Library has posted a 72-minute video of an illustrated lecture by Yosef Garfinkel entitled “Searching for the Historical King David: Khirbet Qeiyafa and Khirbet al–Ra’i.  Qeiyafa, in the Judean lowlands (=Shephelah), was excavated by him from 2007 through 2013 and is important in the discussion of the nature of the “Davidic Kingdom” around 1000 BC.  He also briefly discusses and illustrates his important new excavations at Kh. al–Ra’i—a site located about 1.5 mi. west of Lachish.

I think you will find the video well worthwhile to invest an hour in!  (Just in time for your [USA] Thanksgiving weekend) The lecture is a very convenient summary of some very important material that will be useful for students of the Bible and armchair archaeologists.  Garfinkel is very clear, as are the illustrations and the production of the video is outstanding.

Grab a cup of coffee, or your favorite adult beverage, and settle back and enjoy.  PS—have a pen and paper handy for taking notes!

Included in the video are:

  1. A discussion of various Minimalist views of the United Monarchy (beginning at 10th minute): Mythological (11 minute), Low Chronology (13), and Ethnographic (21).
  2. Is Qeiyafa a Judean city (begin at 22nd minute)?  Urban Planning (23), Cooking Habits, Administration (28), Writing (32), Geopolitical (39) Importance, and Cult (41).
  3. Kh. al–Ra’i (begin at 49th minute).  A “new” 10th-century site!  I am particularly interested in this (brief) section.  Included are aerial views and helpful pictures.  Excavated 2015–2018.
  4. Summary (53)
  5. Questions and Answers (55).

Besides all of the great content, here are two trivia that I found interesting:

  1. It takes about 5 days to restore one broken pot, and costs about $1,000/pot!
  2. He estimates that there are about 30,000 archaeological sites in Israel and about 1,000 have been excavated (1:08).

To view 12 images of Qeiyafa, check this out.

A Free On Line Archaeology Course

Professor Aren Maeir will be offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)  entitled: “Biblical Archaeology: The Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Judah” is about to go online thru the EdX platform. The course will start on December 5th, 2018.

Follow THIS LINK to view information about the course, the instructor, and a course syllabus.  This should be really good!

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Aren Maeir

Aren M. Maeir is a professor of archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University (Ramat-Gan, Israel). He directs the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project (gath.wordpress.com) – biblical Gath of the Philistines, home town of Goliath, co-directs the Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times (RIAB; aramisrael.org), and is co-editor of the Israel Exploration Journal. Prof. Maeir is one of the leading archaeologists in Israel.

First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

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Click on Panorama to view descriptive details.

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.

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The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala at the time of excavation
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!

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The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

Erecting an Obelisk

TWMRISHP11Have you ever wondered how the ancients actually set up an obelisk?  In the Late Roman/Byzantine hippodrome in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul there is still standing the top third of an obelisk of the Egyptian ruler Thutmose III (r. 16th century B.C.).  This obelisk was brought from Egypt to Constantinople and erected by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius around A.D. 390.

One of the reliefs on its marble base depicts the erection of the obelisk with the emperor and his family watching.

TWMRISHP06For additional images of the obelisk and the hippodrome area Click Here.