Category Archives: Places in Israel

The Galilee Boat

One of the very interesting archaeological discoveries related to the days of Jesus is the 27 foot boat that was discovered on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986.  The “carcass” of this unique boat is now on display in the Alon Museum on the grounds of the Kibbutz Ginnosar.  This is the only 1st century boat that has been found on the Sea of Galilee.  Possible Jesus and/or his disciples used a craft such as this one (for example Matt 13:18, 23–27; Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25).


The Galilee Boat on display at the Yigal Alon Museum on the grounds of Kibbutz Ginnosar. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

A full scale version of this boat use to be visible at Kibbutz Ein Gev.  Unfortunately it is now wasting away on a trash heap.


Full scale reconstruction of the Galilee Boat many years ago on the grounds of Kibbutz Ein Gev. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Israelite Cisterns at Arad Now Open! (Negev of Israel)


A portion of one of two cisterns on the Citadel of Arad.  Behind the men is a small chamber off the main chamber of the cistern—see final image below to view a portion of  the main chamber of this cistern.

Ever since visiting Tel Arad in the spring of 1967 with Professor Anson Rainey both the small citadel, with its Judean Temple, and the large, lower, Early Bronze Age city (ca. 2800 B.C.) have intrigued me.

One of the mysteries was were/how did they store water in the Judean Citadel?  It was evident that there was at least a small cistern in the citadel but it had not been excavated and was still blocked with debris.


View looking down into the cistern, which is located just south of the Judean Temple. It was filled via a channel (below) from outside the citadel that ran under the citadel wall.

It was also known that a channel lead into the cistern, under its wall, evidently putting water into it.


View looking east at the water channel. In the very upper part of this image the western wall of the citadel is visible. This channel ran under the citadel wall into a cistern that was located just south of the Israelite Temple.

The cistern is located just to the south of the Judean Temple (see below) but it was always blocked up—it didn’t look like much was there (see above).

However, over the past 5 plus years each time we visited Arad the cistern was obviously under excavation and it was tantalizing to wonder what was being discovered!


View looking down on the Israelite Temple, and in the lower left portion of the image—just outside the temple—a modern staircase leads down into the two cisterns that were in use in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.

View looking down on the Judean Temple, and in the lower left portion of the image—just outside the temple—a modern staircase leads down into the two cisterns that were in use in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.

When we visited Arad this past June (2015) the cistern excavation had been completed and a modern staircase even led down into one of the two chambers!


View looking down into the interior of one of the two large cisterns. Note the original staircase that descends from lower right down into the cistern. Note also, significant portions of the original plaster on the walls of the cistern.  Click on this large Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The two cisterns are approximately 32 ft. [10 m.] deep and together hold about 105,600 gal. [400 cubic meters] of water!  The chambers are coated with 6 layers of plasters.


View looking at the carved out cavity of interior of one of the two large cisterns. Note also, significant portions of the original plaster on the walls of the cistern. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The cisterns were used during peacetime as well as during sieges.  They were  filled with rainwater from within the citadel via the underground channel (see above) that led from outside the citadel, under its wall, into the cistern.  Since there are no natural springs in the area, probably water was brought by pack animals, from cisterns in the vicinity—especially the one in the lower Canaanite City, and then poured into the water channel and from there into the cisterns.

For free High Resolution images of the above images Click Here.

King Herod’s Tomb at the Israel Museum

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster) at the Israel Museum that I mentioned in my previous post, fragments from the roof of Herod’s Tomb at the Herodium are also on display in the Israel Museum.

HerodiumTombFragmentsOn the left notice the concave roof and on the right one of the acroteria (urn).  For both of these, compare the style of “Absalom’s Tomb” in the Kidron Valley that is slightly earlier in date than Herod’s Tomb.


“Absalom’s Pillar” (2 Samuel 18:18) in the Kidron Valley. Note especially the “hat” that is similar to the fragments found at the Herodium.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note, this tomb is NOT from the days of David’s son Absalom (2 Sam 18:18), but was probably constructed in the first century B.C.  It is of mixed styles. The conical-shaped roof is Syrian style, while the columns on the lower portion are of the Greek Ionic style.  Behind, and to the left of, the “Pillar of Absalom,” is the so-called “Tomb of Jehoshaphat.” The grave markers scattered in the green grass are from the “modern” Jewish cemetery on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives.

model-of-herod-s-tombThis is the model of the reconstructed Tomb of Herod that is on location at the Herodium.  Note the “pilasters” (rectangular column–like protrusions) on the base portion and the five “acroteria” (urns) on the roof of it—see one of the originals above.  It is evident that those who made this reconstruction based it not only on the archaeological finds, but also on parallels like “Absalom’s Pillar” above and tombs found at Petra.

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The Treasury (Khasneh) at Petra. Note on the center top the “urn” (like that found at the Herodium) on the top of the tholos (circular structure at the top of the “temple/tomb”).  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “Treasury” was probably constructed during the reign of the Nabatean ruler Aretas III Philhellene (82-62 B.C.).  Since Herod married a Nabatean woman it is probable that he was familiar with this structure—probably a temple and not actually a tomb.


The “Monastery” (Deir; Arabic) at Petra—from slightly after the time of Herod the Great. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The Deir, or monastery, was probably built by the Nabatean ruler Malichus (40–70 A.D.)—thus slightly after the time of Herod.  In the upper center of the monument note the rounded tholos and the “urn” (like the one found at the Herodium) on the top of it.

It is also suggested that it dates to the time of King Rebal II in the early 2nd century A.D.  And because of its two side benches in the interior (and altar), that it was used for the meetings of religious associations.

In summary, the near parallel to the “tomb of Herod at the Herodium” is the “Pillar of Absalom” in the Kidron Valley, but its probable predecessor—known to Herod—was the “Treasury” at Petra, and its successor was the “Deir” at Petra.

Did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum and nor the sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

Herodium Display in Israel Museum

When visiting the Israel Museum this past summer I was pleasantly surprised to find that a number of wonderful finds from the Herodium were prominently displayed in the Second Temple Section.

These included two wall paintings from the Royal Box that was associated with the theater.


Naval Battle A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It depicts a naval battle with two ships with sails billowing the wind. On the deck are soldiers armed with shield and spears.

“The painting may represent the victory at Actium and possibly the beginning of Augustus’s rule following the conquest of Egypt. The choice of theme supports the possibility that the royal Room was decorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s second–­in–­command, in 15 BCE, since he was the general responsible for the victory.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.


Nature A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

“In this painting the artist depicts a sea view along with a bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree, and a boat, recalling sacred scenes from the time of Augustus while also alluding to the conquest of Egypt.

“The walls of the Royal Room were decorated with wall paintings in the secco technique [painting on dry plaster] and stuccowork. They were divided vertically by stuccowork pilasters and decorated with painted ‘hanging pictures’ that were suspended by imaginary ‘strings’ and ‘nails.’ [See the picture above] The pictures imitate windows with open shutters affording views of imaginary landscapes.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.


The Royal Box in the spring of 2014.

Royal Box A view of the interior of the “Royal Box” above the theater at the Herodium. Note the well–preserved paintings on the wall.


Attempt to Burn Down the el-Aqsa Mosque


View looking southwest at the el–Aqsa Mosque. The seven exterior arches mark the seven interior aisles. The focus of the mosque—towards Mecca—is under the black dome on the left (south) side of the image.

I have visited the Haram esh-Sharif (= Temple Mount) many times and know the rough outline of the attempt by the Australian Christian, Denis Michael Rohan, to burn down the el–Aqsa Mosque—21 August 1969.

For those who might be interested, Ynet Magazine has an interesting article that describes this event in more detail—The ‘king of Jerusalemwho almost burnt down Al Aqsa [mosque].  It is about a 4 minute read.

The article is very informative, at least to me, but  I did recognize several oddities in it—there may be more:

  • “set fire to the mosque’s stage (stage is an odd translation of the Arabic minbar or raised platform from which the mosque’s leader delivers messages).  Since only one person at a time occupies it, a better translation (if that is possible) might be “pulpit”—as in a Christian church.

The minbar of the Mosque of the Patriarchs in Hebron from the days of Salah edh-Dhin—the same person who defeated the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin on 4 July 1187 and who dedicated the minbar that Michael Denis Rohan destroyed by fire.

View in the interior of the present “Tomb of the Patriarchs” looking east at the Minbar, or pulpit. On the right side are wooden doors that open to a staircase that leads up to an elevated platform from which the Imam addresses the assembled faithful. This wooden minbar was constructed in Ashqelon in A.D. 1091 and moved by Saladin to Hebron ca. 1191.

  • “a plume of black smoke billowed above the golden dome.” (the dome of the el-Aqsa has never been “golden,” as the Dome of the Rock.  It has been “black/grey” = lead or “silver-colored”).

View looking south southwest at the Dome of the Rock (right, west) and the smaller Dome of the Chain (left, east).

Baram — The Synagogue

BaramAlmost all travelers to Israel will visit the justly famous synagogue at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—and some will even visit the one at nearby Chorazin.  However, the best preserved of the “Galilean Type” synagogues is the one located at the not-too-frequently visited site of Baram.  It is located in Upper Galilee, about 1.2 mi. [2 km.] south of the Israeli Lebanese border.


View looking northeast at the southern façade of the synagogue at Baram
This southern wall is still intact—in contrast to the rebuilt walls of the synagogues at Capernaum and Chroazin
Click on Image to Enlarge

Note the light color of the building.  The darker grey upper portion was exposed to the elements over the years while the lighter lower portion was buried—until excavated.

There were eight columns that supported the roof of the porch—the one on the right (east) side is still standing!  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.  Stylistically, this synagogue is very similar to the more well–known ones at Capernaum and Chorazin.


View looking southeast at the interior of the synagogue
Click on Image to Enlarge

Like the synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin, the one at Baram has a central nave, two side aisles, and a back aisle.  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.   The floor of this synagogue was paved with limestone slabs (not mosaics).  There are indications that there were benches along the two side walls.

The dating of these “Galilean” synagogues is much debated with dates ranging from the third century A.D. (unlikely) to the six century (more probable).

To view additional images of the Baram Synagogue Click Here.

On Friday I will comment on the “modern” history of Baram—Kfar Bir’im.

Unusual Ritual Bath Discovered in Jerusalem

Many ritual baths from the Second Temple Period have been excavated in Jerusalem, but today (Wednesday, 5 August 2015) the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the excavation of one in the Arnona neighborhood in south Jerusalem.  This large mikveh has inscriptions, written in Aramaic, and symbols of a boat, palm trees, plants and possibly a menorah written or carved on its walls!

The Times of Israel has published an article describing this discovery along with 9 clear photos and an informative (partially in Hebrew) 5 minute video of the exterior and interior of the mikveh and its inscriptions.