Category Archives: Daily Life

One of the Best Preserved Ancient Synagogues in Israel

In a past issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review the process of the reconstruction of the synagogue at Umm el–Kanatir was described.  The following are some images of the site.  Additional images of this interesting synagogue can be viewed on my website.  See HERE for a recent Jerusalem Post article on the synagoguge.

Entrance to synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

Umm el–Q/Kanatir (The Mother of the Arch) is a site located on the upper reaches of the Wadi Samekh, 5 mi. [8.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the Golan Heights.  It boasts one of the best-preserved ancient synagogues in the land—90% of the remains (collapsed) were still in place after the earthquake of AD 749.  It is in the process of being reconstructed (anastylosis) by Yehoshua Dray and his colleagues.

Menorah — One of Several Found in the Remains of the Synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

The village—ancient name not known—was constructed in the fourth or fifth century AD and was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of AD 749.

Spring and Flax Processing Installation

In addition to the synagogue, remnants of a flax processing installation have been discovered by the spring in the village.

To view additional high-resolution images of Umm el-Qanatir Click Here.

For additional information about Umm el–Q/Kanatir see Yeshu Dray’s web site and Singer, Suzanne F. “Rising Again — Hi–tech Tools Reconstruct Umm el–Kanatir.”Biblical Archaeological Review vol. 33, no. 6 (November/December, 2007): 52–55, 59.

For the recent article see:  Ben David, Chaim. “Um [sic] el–Kanatir — Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again.” Biblical Archaeological Review 42, no. 4 (July/August 2016): 40–49.

See also the recent Jerusalem Post article.

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More Interesting Viewing

Here in the USA the Public Broadcasting System is airing Ancient Invisible Cities — three one hour programs on the cities of Athens, Cairo, and Istanbul.  This past week I saw the one on Athens and it was very interesting.  It took me to places that I had not seen before and used computer graphics to investigate a structure such as the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.  It is available online right now at:

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

And, the folk at Jerusalem Perspective have placed on line a 54 min lecture (with pictures) by Ronny Reich entitled “The Mikveh and Ritual Immerson in the Second Temple Period.”  Ronny Reich is of course famous for many excavations—but especially at the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.

This is an informative lecture about the archaeology and literary sources that describe miqvaoth.  You will want to have pen and paper at hand to take notes.  Around 14:00–26:00 he describes the minimun requirements for a miqveh.  And talks about miqvaoth discovered in the Jewish Quarter by Avigad and near the Temple Mount by Mazar.  Also ones at Gamla (33:00), Jericho (41:45), Masada (48:20), and Qumran.  I always wondered how they cleaned them and exactly how an otzar worked—here I found out.  But remember, this is as of 2006, before the discovery of many additional ritual baths such as the ones at Magdala.


Here are two miqvaoth samples from Jerusalem that are not discussed by Reich and one question (from me) from Jericho.

This ritual bath (miqveh) is located in Benjamin Mazar’s excavations south of the Triple Gate of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) area.

Ritual Bath recently discovered in the Rabbinic Tunnel Complex near the Western Wall.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

This large ritual bath is from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) and is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.


My Question: is this a Balsam Processing Pool?  It looks like one of the above Ritual Baths.  Also, see here!

Okay, from Jericho. Is this a Balsam processing pool? Or a Ritual Bath?

This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

King David at the City Gate

It is well–known that in Old Testament times that the “elders” of a city often would congregate at the gate of their city for a variety of functions.  But it must not be forgotten that kings often made themselves available to their subjects and performed some of their duties there (see below).

One of the many interesting discoveries made by Avraham Biran was a podium and column base that was located at the gate of the northern city of Dan.

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View looking west at the (reconstructed) podium that Avraham Biran discovered at the city gate of Dan. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It is very possible that the king, or some other official, sat on this podium hearing legal cases (2 Sam 19:8). The decorated stone bases at the corners of the podium supported columns as the reconstruction illustrates.

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View looking west at the podium (prior to reconstruction [compare photo above!]) that Avraham Biran discovered at the city gate of Dan.

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This image has been posted courtesy of Balage Balogh. It may NOT be used on any other web sites, DVDs, or for any commercial purposes without the expressed written consent of Balage Balogh. His images can be viewed at http://www.archaeologyillustrated.com.

A realistic drawing of the Iron Age Gate area at Dan.   The view is from outside of the gate on to a plaza that is located between the outer and the inner portions of the gate.  On the far side of the plaza note the podium where the king could sit (red and white).  To the left of the podium is the archway of the inner gate.

The story of David fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom provides some insight into the king and the city gate.   As David’s troops were leaving the Transjordan city of Mahanaim:

2 Sam. 18:4     The  king [David] stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands.

It was in the city gate that David awaited word from the battlefield:

2 Sam. 18:24     While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone.  25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.

Notice also that the “watchman went up to the roof of the gateway”

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From a previous post, the 6–chamber gate at Megiddo.  Notice the towers and rooms above the inner city gate.

And after David heard the report of the death of his rebellious son Absalom

2 Sam. 18:33     The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Later during the Israelite and Judean monarchies Ahab and Jehoshaphat sat at the gate of Samaria (Ahab’s capital) where they were deciding whether or not to go up to battle the Arameans at Ramoth Gilead.

1 Kings 22:10     Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel [Ahab] and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them.

It was also while sitting at the Benjamin Gate in Jerusalem that Zedekiah, the last Judean king, received word that Jeremiah had been imprisoned in a cistern!

Jer. 38:7     But Ebed-melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate,  8 Ebed-melech went out of the palace and said to him,  9 “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”

Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.

Only in Turkey: Food + Antiquities = Bliss!

Well, two of my favorite things to do are to eat and to visit antiquity sites.  We recently were on a “Tutku–Mark Wilson” tour visiting the Turkish city of Bodrum.  This is ancient Halicarnassus where the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was located.

The local Super Market that we stopped at.

Snacks and Ice Cream are on the way.  I can hardly wait!

Wait a minute!!  What is this in the back of the store???

Yup, a tomb from the 3rd century B.C.

This tomb had 6 burial chambers and although it was robbed in antiquity, some human bones, amphora, and other pots were found when it was excavated!

Really now, does it get any better than this?  Food + Antiquities = Bliss!

Paul in the Cities — Where Did They Eat?

The Apostle Paul resided in many cities of the Roman Empire including Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Rome.  As I lead tours to these ancient cities, we often wonder what life was like in them in the first century A.D.  One of the interesting “institutions” are the thermopolia—”fast food establishments” that were found in every large city.  For example, eighty–three thermopolia have been discovered at Pompeii, and more have been discovered at nearby Herculaneum and at Ostia—the port of Rome.  (be sure and see the final two paragraphs of this blog)

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View of a Fast Food establishment (thermopolium, popina, taberna) at Pompeii. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This is the Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (aka T. of Asellina) that is located on the lower floor of his house in Pompeii (Italy).  It is situated on the main street of Pompeii, the via dell’ Abbondanza.  Food and drink were sold and consumed here.  Note the large storage jars that are built into the masonry and marble counters.

On the back wall is a well–preserved lararium—a shrine dedicated to the household gods.   Among others Mercury, the god of trade, and Dionysus, the god of wine are depicted (maybe assisted sales?!).  A hoard of 6.6 lbs. of worthless coins were found in one of the jars.  It was evidently left behind when the owner fled Pompeii as ash rained down from the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius (picture below).  In the back of the shop, not visible, was a slightly more private eating area.  A staircase led to guest rooms on the second floor—a brothel?  These thermopolia were situated street side on the ground floor of apartment buildings and even elite houses.

The thermopolia were visited primarily by the lower classes as the upper classes would dine in the luxurious surroundings of their own homes.  The houses of lower classes of people rarely had kitchens, thus they would eat at an establishment such as this, or they would “carry out” the food to take back home.

Since many (most?) of the early Christians were from the lower classes, they probably frequented places like the local thermopolium.  And, it is very probable that Paul and other leaders of the Early Church did so as well in the cities that they resided in!  Is it not possible that in establishments like this that the Early Christians shared their belief in “Jesus is Lord”—rather than “Caesar is Lord?”

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A Thermopolium from nearby Herculaneum—also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.

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Mount Vesuvius that erupted in August of A.D. 79 covering Pompeii with ash and Herculaneum with a pyroclastic flow.

For use or publication of any of these images please see this link.

Paul in the Cities: Where did They Meet? 2 (Ask Eutychus! Acts 20:9)

Alexandria Troas — Paul on His Return to Jerusalem
on His Third Journey

Acts 20:7     On the first day of the week . . . Paul spoke to the people . . . and kept on talking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.  9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.

What kind of building was this group of believers meeting in?  Probably an “apartment building” (insula).  After 2,000 years do any still exist?  Yes!

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High Density Roman Housing at Ostia — the Port of Rome  View of a street on which the Casa di Diana is located. On the left side of the image note the high–density housing (insulae). There were at least three floors, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard where there was a communal fountain.  The upper stories were probably made of perishable materials such as wood.

The term insula refers to a multi–story housing block, that was subdivided into apartments for rent with shops on the ground floor.  Windows and balconies were the principal light sources for the tenants.  The insulae were probably first built of wood and thus susceptible to destruction by fire—a big problem!  (I am not aware of the preservation of any wooden insula)  Often times they were constructed of baked Roman bricks—like this example at Ostia.

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View of a street lined with apartment buildings (insulae) near the via Della Fontana at Ostia. The staircase on the left led up to the upper floors of the building—at least 3 stories high.  This large structure was probably owned by one person who rented apartments, shops, and workplaces to tenants.

The ground floor of insulae were usually shops and stores.  The best apartments were on the lower floors and sometimes were decorated with simple paintings and mosaics.  The upper apartments (on floors 2 and 3) were smaller, more difficult to reach, and dangerous (fire!)—because they were built out of wood!  The upper storeys were typically without heat, running water, and toilets.  The poor, who lived there, would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out of the windows into the street below!  Most of the people, poor and “middle class,” would live in these structures.

New Testament Importance:
Since Acts 20:9 mentions Eutychus falling from a third floor, the group of Christians that Paul was speaking to must have been meeting in a cramped, lower class apartment such as the above.  But to date, no such insulae have been found at Alexandrian Troas, but they were probably built of wood and have perished over the last 2,000 years!