Category Archives: Museums

Crucified Man from Jerusalem

It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals.  In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.

This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28 year old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.

A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man.  A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.

The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.

Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.”  Note the two clear lines.  Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).

A diagram in the Israel Museum.

The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified.  Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists.  In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).


Revision — In a PBS program on Jesus, (aired 4 April 2017) the heel bone with nail were taken out of a small storage box located in a huge warehouse.  Thus, it does not appear that the original comment (deleted) regarding its “location” was correct.

For a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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Winter in Istanbul — 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 one 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!

A Unique Weight from Hippos—Sussita near Sea of Galilee.

In the November/December, 2018 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review there is a brief article on a unique weight that was found in the remains of a Byzantine Church that was destroyed in the devistating earthquake of A.d. 749.  This artifact is now on display in the Hecht Museum in Haifa, Israel.

The 6-ounce weight found at Hippos–Sussita. Note the cross in the center. It had been masked by a tin and lead paste during Islamic rule of the area.

A large stain—thought at first to be dirt—covered its front. A recent analysis, however, shows that the stain was actually made of a metallic paste (of tin and lead) that had intentionally been placed over a silver cross.

An artistic representation of the brass weight. From the Hecht Museum.

Once the stain was removed, it was clear that the weight’s front had originally depicted a cross on Calvary (where Jesus was crucified) surrounded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where he was buried). Two Greek letters—signifying its weight of 6 ounces—appear on its back.

. . . The cross on the Byzantine weight had intentionally been obscured to ensure that the weight could be used even under the new administration. Part of the silver cross had been scratched out—to maintain the same weight—and a stain poured over it.


“Strata: Concealed Cross.”  Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 44, no. 6 (November/December, 2018), p. 13.

Ancient Coins — A Great 10 Minute Video

The folk over at the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority have placed on their Facebook page an informative, entertaining 10 minute video on Ancient Coins. IMHO it is well–worth viewing.  Especially interesting is how the coins were produced and some hard to get behind the scenes at museums, libraries, and the Israel Antiquities Authorithy.

Addition 15 October.  Please see the helpful insights of Dr. Art Friedman in the “Comments” to this post.

The following is an image of a coin of Herod Philip (4 BC- AD 34) minted at Paneas showing the temple built by his father Herod the Great (37–4 BC) at/near Paneas in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BC – AD 14 ).

Note the four columns on the front of the temple.  According to the excavators of Omrit, the temple built by Herod the Great is what they call the “First Temple” (actually the second religious shrine) at Omrit.

HT: Todd Bolen

Siloam Inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Because of the clarity of this photo, I thought I would post it again.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.  Enjoy!

On a trip to Turkey I was able to rephotograph the Siloam Inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem.  In the past I have found it difficult to photograph because of the glass cover over it and difficult lighting conditions.  This time I think my photograph turned out quite well and by clicking on the image you can actually read many of the letters.

The Siloam Inscription — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The Siloam Inscription — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

This six line Hebrew inscription describes the digging of Hezekiah’s Tunnel that joins the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in the ancient city of Jerusalem.  It was found carved into the wall of the tunnel.

In was found in 1880 and was chiseled out of its original place and is now on display on the second/third floor of the “Archaeological Museum” in Istanbul.  It’s language, script, and content suggest that it was inscribed in the late eighth century during the reign of the Judean king Hezekiah (715–686 B.C.; see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron 32:20).

For a translation of this text see pages 171-172 in Arnold, Bill T., and Beyer, Bryan E. eds.  Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.  Click Here  to view for purchase from amazon.com.

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.

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

On a visit to the Israel Museum in 2015 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.