Category Archives: Artifacts

The Thrill of Discovery—in a Museum!

The Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul contains a number of “world class” objects that were gathered by the rulers of the late Ottoman Empire from all over the Middle East—including glazed tiles from the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon and a copy of the Treaty of Kadesh (between the Egyptians and the Hittite—late 13th century B.C.).

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“I am happy to meet you Mr. Lion!”
See below for the ferocious lion that this child is making friends with!
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Often times people tire quickly when visiting museums, but this January we observed one young visitor who was in the process of making friends with a ferocious looking lion that once guarded the approach to an 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli (ancient Samal).

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One of the pair of basalt lions that guarded the entrance
to the 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli
Note the detail of the mane and whiskers
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Oh, to see the world through a child’s eyes.  The joy of discovery/encounter!

Bulla of King Hezekiah Found in Jerusalem

Today it was announced that a bulla was discovered in Dr. Eilat Mazar’s excavation on the Ophel that mentions Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah!

Seal impression of King Hezekiah unearthed in the Ophel excavations

Seal impression of King Hezekiah unearthed in the Ophel excavations. Photo: © Eilat Mazar, with Ouria Tadmor

Yes, the same Hezekiah as mentioned in the Bible.  The announcement can be found here and I will not repeat all that you can read in the press but I would like to alert you to two items:

The First is a 10 minute video describing King Hezekiah, the discovery, and a great explanation of the bulla.

At 5 minutes into the video there is a great graphic sequence explaining what is on this precious object—please don’t miss this part.

Second, if you are interested in images of the area where this bulla was found, please see my previous post that I have appended below.

Because of the extensive archaeological excavations in Jerusalem over the last one hundred and fifty years most tour groups to Israel will be introduced to, and ooh and ahh at, archaeological remains from the Second Temple Period—particularly from from the time of Herod the Great (37–4BC).

Some, but not all groups, will visit remains from the First Temple Period at the City of David’s Visitor center—including the water system from that and earlier periods.

Remains of a large “Royal Structure” with Storage Jars that was located right next to the Judean Gate.

However, this past year a new area has been opened up that also displays remains from the First Temple Period (ca. 1000 to 586 B.C.)—including the remains of a Judean Gate, a “Royal Structure,” and reproductions of the large storage jars that were found there.

Royal Structure Plus Artifacts

Royal Structure plus Judean Gate

Royal Structure plus Judean Gate

This area was well excavated by, most recently, Eilat Mazar and its reconstruction and signage are outstanding—including a helpful drawing by Balage Balogh.

The Judean Gate Complex
Click Here to view a larger version of the drawing without my markings.

The excavation is located in the southeastern corner of Jerusalem Archaeological Park that is south of the Temple Mount.  The path to it is now open.

#1 Marks the Location of the Remains of the Gate and Royal Structure

The excavation is also visible from the sidewalk along the road.  The remains are clearly visible from that vantage point and photographs from there are good.  But due to the traffic and limited space it is difficult to discuss the significance of the area with a large group.

For more images of this area Click Here.

As in a “mirror, dimly” 1 Corinthians 13:12

This past summer (2015) on a visit to the Israel Museum we were treated to a wonderful display of antiquities and ancient glass that Renée and Robert Belfer of New York have gifted to the Israel Museum.  Among the objects is “box mirror” decorated with a woman’s head in relief.

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A Bronze Mirror From the Belfer Collection on display in the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It is made out of bronze, dates to the 4th-3rd century BCE and measures 8.5 x 6.5 inches. It swings open on the top hinge and the inside surfaces were polished in order to be used as mirrors. It appears that there was a latch—now broken—on the lower edge of the mirror.

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A view of the interior surface of the mirror.

This artifact well illustrates the type of object that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 13:8   Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;  10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)

Although it is not known where the mirror was found, we do know that Corinth was famous for the color and quality of the bronze objects made there.  “It [the bronze] had an unusually high tin content (14%) that gave it an unusual color” (Furnish below).  Indeed Josephus, the first century Jewish Historian, wrote of the gates of the Second Temple that:

Now nine of these gates were on every side covered over with gold and silver, as were the jambs of their doors and their lintels; but there was one gate that was without [the inward court of] the holy house, which was of Corinthian brass, and greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold.  (Jewish War 5.5.3 [201–205])


Furnish, Victor Paul. “Corinth in Paul’s Time—What Can Archaeology Tell US?” Biblical Archaeology Review 14, no. 3 (May/June 1988): 14–27.

A Stone Seal from Davidic Era from Temple Mount

The Times of Israel has an article entitled “Tiny stone seal from King David era found in Temple Mount fill.”

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A cone-shaped seal found in the rubble excavated from the Temple Mount believed to date to around the 10th century BCE (Zachi Dvira, Temple Mount Sifting Project.”

Much of the information in the article in the Times of Israel comes from a telephone conversation with Gabi Barkay, a founder of the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Barkay said the seal’s discovery attests to ‘the administrative activity which took place upon the Temple Mound during those times.’

It is amazing to think that something such as this was found on The Temple Mount itself. Although there are bound to be disputes about the dating of this object, it was not found in situ, Barkay’s judgments on such matters are typically widely accepted and sound.

Click on the link above for the full article with additional pictures.

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Gabriel Barkay peering into the repository of one of the “Ketef Hinnom” tombs.

 

What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.

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The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge

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Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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What did the “chains” (= “handcuffs”) that bound Peter and Paul look like?

Recently I participated in a tour that traced the route of the Egnatian Road that eventually led from Constantinople to Dyrrachium (Now Durrës in Albania on the coast of the Adriatic Sea).  The trip was led by Dr. Mark Wilson.  The Egnatian Way is the same road that Paul traveled on various occasions.

While visiting the modern Archaeological Museum of Durrës I saw on display something I had never seen before—a set of iron “handcuffs” from the Roman Period!

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Iron “handcuffs” (= “chains”) from the Roman Period. Archaeological Museum in Durrës Albania. “Chains” are mentioned over 20 times in the New Testament! — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It is amazing how many times “chains” in the sense of wrist bands are mentioned in the New Testament—over 20 times.  For example, Peter was in put in “chains” and Paul mentions his chains many times!   I have listed some of the many references below.

Peter was held in “chains”:

Acts 12:6        The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Acts 16:26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.

Paul in Jerusalem was held in chain in the “protective custody” of the Roman soldiers in the Antonia Fortress:

Acts 21:33        The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done.

Acts 22:29        Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Paul before Festus and Agrippa II mentions his “chains”:

Acts 26:29        Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Acts 28:20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”

And Paul referred to his “chains” in connection with his various Roman imprisonments:

Eph. 6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Phil. 1:7        It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

Phil. 1:13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Phil. 1:17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

Col. 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Col. 4:18        I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2Tim. 1:16        May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.

2Tim. 2:9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

Philem. 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.

Philem. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.

Heb. 11:36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.

Jude 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

Ennion — The Master Roman Glassmaker

Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, has a wonderful article in its English edition describing  the exhibition at the N.Y. Metropolitan Museum that showcases over 20 Roman glass masterpieces—most by the famous Ennion of Sidon.  In this article there are images of 5 of Ennion’s creations.

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A Glass Goblet produced by Ennion and found in one of the palatial structures excavated by Nahum Avigad in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A “jug”/goblet  found in the excavations of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem—the wealthy Upper City quarter of Second Temple Jerusalem.  It dates to the first century A.D. and was “blown” by the famous artisan from Sidon—Ennion.  The first two letters (in Greek) of Ennion are visible just right of center.

The small goblet (a drinking cup with a stem and base), along with other glass objects indicates the “sophistication” of the inhabitants of the Upper City of Jerusalem (= on the western hill).

“Artisans eventually discovered that fashionable tableware could be produced with relative ease by blowing glass directly into molds similar to those employed for casting metal objects.  The technique, called mold–blowing, was developed in the 1at century CE in Sidon, an important glassworking center on the Eastern Mediterranean coast.  Similar vessels were also manufactured in Italy, possibly by Sidonian expatriates.  Using this technique artisans could produce a series of vessels bearing the same motifs with a single mold.” (from the description in the Israel Museum).