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!

Image of Aren Maeir

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.

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First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

MagdalaPano

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.

A Potter’s Village — A “Potter’s Field?” — Matthew 27 — An Aramaic Inscription from Jerusalem

Recently it was announced that a Potter’s Inscription was found in secondary usage (= spolia) near the International Convention Center in West Jerusalem.  Is it possible that the “Potters’ Field,” mentioned in Matthew 27, was located near here (see end of post)?

The Aramaic inscription reads “Hanania son of Dudolos from Jerusalem.” Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The Aramaic inscription reads “Hanania son of Dudolos from Jerusalem.” It is the first epigraphic evidence to the name “Jerusalem” spelled as Yerushalayim (as it is written Hebrew today), as opposed to Yerushalem or Shalem.

The full “column” that bears the Aramaic Inscription—it is about 2 feet tall.

The column was originally part of a building that stood in a Jewish potters’ village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. “The site was eventually converted by the Tenth Roman Legion into a workshop for ceramic building products [aka “roof tiles”]. The column drum probably came from a workshop or some other structure belonging to Hanania or a public building that he helped finance. Hanania’s father’s name — Dudolos — is based on the name of the mythological Greek artist Daedalos; it may have been a nickname alluding to the father’s artistic abilities. it is interesting to note that although the village was very close to the city, Hanania still found it meaningful to mention his Jerusalem origins.” Source: Israel Museum Label


In a recent edition of Artifax (Autumn 2018, p. 2) the editor notes that it is interesting that the 30 pieces of silvers that Judas returned to the Temple was used to purchase a “Potter’s Field.”  This “potter’s village” is only a few miles west of the site of the Second Temple.

7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

“Perhaps the field that was purchased was located in the vicinity of the potter’s village where this stone inscription was found.” (Artifax p. 2)


“‘Jerusalem’ Inscribed on Column Dating to 100 BC.”  Artifax (Autumn 2018; vol. 33, no. 4), p. 2.  http://www.BibleArtifax.com

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.

Aizanoi (Turkey) — A Monumental Site — Visited by Paul?

Aizanoi (Aezani, modern Çavdarhisar) is a site that is located 170 mi. southwest of Ankara (as “the crow flies”).

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi

One of the best-preserved temples of the ancient world is located there as are the impressive remains of a stadium, theater, bathhouse, meat market, etc.

Aizanoi is a very large Roman site located on the banks of the Penkalas (today Kocaçay) river, a tributary to the Rhyndakos.

Dr. Mark Wilson states that “Paul probably passed through the Greco–Roman city of Aizanoi while passing through Mysa on his second journey to Troas (Acts 16:8)” Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor, p. 161.

For additional High Resolution image of Aizanoi Click Here.

Deir Aziz Synagogue (Golan Heights)

Deir Aziz (“Monastery of Aziz”) is a site  located 4 mi. [6.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the north side of a wadi that flows into the Nahal Qanaf.  There is a very powerful spring at Deir Aziz and the remains of a prominent synagogue that dates to the Talmudic/Byzantine Period.

Synagogue at Deir Aziz — Looking Southwest

View looking down, southwest at the interior of the synagogue.  The woman in the image is sitting near the south wall of the synagogue.  On the upper right note the stairs that lead down into the synagogue.

The synagogue was first built during the sixth century AD and was evidently destroyed in the earthquake of AD 749.  The scattered remains are from the synagogue and subsequent usage.

Deir Aziz — Interior — Looking East

The door on the far side is the entrance to the synagogue from the east.  On the left (north) side of the image notice the three-tiered bench and behind it the plastered wall.  Above the wall notice the projecting stones.  These stones probably supported wooden beams that supported the roof of the synagogue.

Deir Aziz — Spring and Pool

View of the “modern” pool at Deir Aziz that is fed by the powerful spring at the site.  Note the sabra cactus plants on this side of the pool.

To locate Deir Aziz on a map, and for additional images, Click Here.

The “Fast Train” from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — An Epic Journey ;-) !

Greetings!  I am in between projects here in Israel and Mary and I are spending a week relaxing in Tel Aviv.  I love railroads and today we decided to take the new “fast train” to Jerusalem.  Spoiler alert: this is not a high–speed “bullet train.”

The “fast train” in the Navon Station in Jerusalem. DEEP underground!

The journey is divided into two parts.  The first part is the normal train ride from Tel Aviv (HaShalom Station) to Ben Gurion Airport (15 min. ride).  At Ben Gurion we changed to the “fast train” to Jerusalem.  A lot of travelers with luggage boarded the train with us—it was about 1/2 full.  The cars are very clean and the journey took 25 minutes.  We arrived at the brand new Yitzak Navon deep–underground station.  Most travelers took the elevators to the surface.  But we just got on the return train back to Tel Aviv.  The train from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion was e-m-p-t-y.

My Impressions:  The train is not as “fast” as I thought it would be.  But it is non–stop between Ben Gurion and Jerusalem.  I was expecting some great vistas because for many years we have seen the tressels over the Aijalon Valley (Joshua and sun standing still) and over the deep Soreq Valley system near Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, all the windows were dirty or “cloudy” and so the pictures did not turn out too well.  In addition, at least 1/2 of the journey is in tunnels—so no views at all.  Actually, it was basically ALL long tunnels from the Aijalon Valley up to the Soreq Valley, just outside of Jerusalem—and then we had a 30 second view of the Soreq before entering the last tunnel into Jerusalem.  It was interesting, that as we were ascending to Jerusalem in one of the tunnels we, and the travelers around us, began to feel discomfort in our ears—it soon faded.

The following are some photos I took.  My photo processor is not working on this trip, so the photos are direct from the camera to you—sorry about that.

From a tressel looking east towards Jerusalem. The Soreq Valley is on the far right of the picture.

One of the very few random Hill Country Valleys that are visible on the train ride.

My conclusions:  I was fun to do this!  1) If you are traveling with a group, the bus pickup at Ben Gurion is the way to go.  2) If you are alone, if you take the train, then you will need to take a Taxi from the Navon Station in Jerusalem to your hotel.  3) If you have friends from Jerusalem that are picking you up, you can save them a lot of time by not going to Ben Gurion to pick you up.  Just have them pick you up at the Navon Station in Jerusalem.  The reverse will work slick as well.  BTW — I don’t think the train operates all night, you will have to check.

Also, 4) if you are traveling to Tel Aviv or points north, I think the “regular train,” that seems to operate every half hour, will take you to, for example, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa, and Nahariya—this would be slick!

So there you go!  I hope the comments are helpful.  We enjoyed the journey and are very glad we had the chance to do it.

Next project: the train from Haifa to Beth Shean.  Hmm . . . we’ll see!

PS — the whole round trip cost for each of us was 13.50 NIS, about = $3.80.  I am not sure if we missed paying for extra tickets somwhere along the way, but hey . . . .