Victims of Great Revolt against the Romans laid to rest in Ofra

It has been reported, eg. here (Hebrew with pictures) and here, that remains of Jews who perished in the Great Revolt against the Romans and were discovered in Binyamin were secretly buried in Ofra.

The bones of Jews who perished in the Great Revolt by Jews against the Roman Empire, and which were discovered at an archaeological site near the community of Givat Assaf in the Binyamin region, were recently brought to burial secretly in Ofra.

The remains were discovered in 2013 at the archaeological site, which is a Jewish village from the time of the Second Temple. Mikvahs, coins from the time of the Great Revolt and vessels made out of stone were discovered at the site.

The bones belonged to seven women and a boy who hid in a cave, and were killed by the Romans in 69 CE, one year before the destruction of the Second Temple.

The archaeological excavation in question is Kh. el-Maqatir and was carried out by the Associates for Biblical Research, headed by Dr. Scott Stripling and Dr. Bryant Wood. I served as architect of the Maqatir excavation.

Five skeletons were found in a large cave that housed an oilpress and possibly also a winepress and three in a secret cave that led off from it.

An oilpress was discovered inside a cave at Kh. el-Maqatir. The olives were deposited through the hole in the ceiling and put in circular baskets. These were stacked and placed under a beam that was weighed down with stone weights. Nearby stood two upright stones that supported a screw press that may have been used for pressing grapes. The liquids were stored in the large vat at the right of the reconstruction drawing. Five skeletons were found here.

Continue reading “Victims of Great Revolt against the Romans laid to rest in Ofra”

New Photo Collection on the Gospels

Todd Bolen of Bibleplaces.com has finished a new DVD photo project to illustrate the Life of Christ. Many Bible teachers and scholars alike would benefit from this collection as it uses a variety of photographs, both modern and historic, to illustrate virtually every verse in the Gospels.

Continue reading “New Photo Collection on the Gospels”

Finds from a new excavation in Shiloh

The Israel HaYom Newsletter announced today that new 10 ancient storage jars have been found in a new excavation in Shiloh:

Excavation at ancient Shiloh seeks to locate site of Jewish tabernacle that dates to the time the Jewish people first arrived in the land of Israel • “This is a very exciting find,” says Archaeology Coordinator in the Civil Administration Hanania Hizmi.

Storage vessels unearthed in Shiloh. Photo credit: Shiloh Association

Continue reading “Finds from a new excavation in Shiloh”

A Capital from Solomon’s Porch on the Temple Mount

The Israel Hayom newspaper reported yesterday that a capital of the 2nd Temple era has been found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP).

Photo credit: Vladimir Naychin

The capital of a carefully-adorned column that stood on the Temple Mount in the time of the Second Temple has been discovered through the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

The capital, whose size indicates that the column had a circumference of 75 centimeters (30 inches) at its top, is a section of one column that formed part of the double colonnade that surrounded the Temple Mount plaza.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, said that “this is a capital in the Doric style, one of the characteristics of the art in the time of the Hasmonean dynasty. This appears to be the capital of a column formed part of the eastern colonnade of the Temple Mount, which Josephus and even the New Testament called ‘Solomon’s Porch.’ A column like this is impressive testimony of the immensity of the structures on the Temple Mount in the Second Temple era, and fits in well with Josephus’ narrative, which describes what he saw with his own eyes.”

Barkay explained that a 25-cubit column would have stood 12.5 meters (41 feet) high.

It is of course wonderful news that a capital of a column that most likely stood on the Temple Mount was found. I would agree with Barkay that the capital could have belonged to one of the columns that formed the eastern Hasmonean (pre-Herodian) colonnade. This colonnade was indeed known as Solomon’s Porch, where Jesus walked during Hanukkah (John 10.23). It was also the place where Peter and John  healed the blind man (Acts 3.11) and where the apostles did many signs (Acts 5.12).

One must, however, be careful with dimensions. In the article it says that the circumference of the Doric column that supported the capital was 75 cm. That is probably a mistake. According to simple mathematics, a column with a circumference of 75 cm (30 inches) has a diameter of less than 24cm (9 inches). In ancient architecture, Doric columns had a 1:8 ratio between diameter and height. According to that rule, this column could not have been higher than 2m (6 feet, 6 inches), which would not have been exactly monumental. Barkay therefore probably meant that the column had a diameter of 75cm. In that case, the column would have been about 6m (20 feet, 11.4 cubits) high. Barkay estimated that a 25-cubit column would have stood 12.5 meters (41 feet) high, but this one would have much smaller, about half the size.

An additional problem is the use of units of measurement by Josephus. In War, he uses cubits and in Antiquities (Roman) feet. As a rule, his measurements in feet are more accurate than those in cubits, which are often exaggerated.

Josephus writes in War 5.190-192, that the columns of the Herodian porticoes were 25 cubits, which according to the Royal Cubit of 52.5 cm (20.67 inches), would be 13.12m, (43 feet) high, but in Ant. 15.413 he says that the columns of the porticoes were 27 feet high (8.23m, 15.67 cubits). Let us first look at the 25 cubits high columns and then at those of 27 feet high.

According to the Doric ratio of diameter and height, the diameter of a 25 cubit high Doric column must have been 1.64m (5 feet, 5 inches). Archaeological remains of parts of such thick columns have been found in secondary use in the Temple Mount excavations in front of a gate of an Umayyad palace. A complete column with a diameter of 1.46m (4 feet, 9 inches) has been preserved in the Double Gate underground passageway. Josephus mentions in Ant. 15.415 that the height of the Corinthian columns (which have a ratio of 1:10) of the Royal Stoa were 50 feet (15.24m or 29 cubits) high, probably including the capitals. This measurement is somewhat similar to the 25 cubits high columns of War 5.190-192 and must therefore relate to the columns of the Royal Stoa and not to those of the porticoes. Columns of that height could only have belonged to the Royal Stoa.

A north-south section through the Royal Stoa that stood at the southern end of Herod’s Temple Mount. The Royal Stoa was the largest structure on the Temple Mount and was built in the style of a basilica. It had a central nave and two side aisles with four rows of 40 columns. Josephus calls this stoa more deserving of mention than any structure under the sun.

Going back to Ant. 15.413, where Josephus writes that the columns of the porticoes were 27 feet (8.23m) high, we found that this measurement is indeed correct for the Herodian porticoes. The preserved sockets of the northern portico can still be seen in the south wall of the Antonia Fortress (see drawing). They are located 8.84m (29 feet) above ground level. As the beams that were laid on top of the capitals were fixed in these sockets, Josephus’ measurement of 27 feet appears to be accurate.

The Antonia Fortress that stood at the northwest corner of the Herodian Temple Mopunt had four towers, three of which were 50 cubits (86 ft./26.25 m) high and the fourth, the southeast tower, 70 cubits (120 ft./36.75 m) high. The view from this highest tower, that, according to Josephus “commanded a view of the whole area of the Temple” (War 5.242), must have been spectacular. The location of the sockets for the northern portico are indicated in the drawing.

The reconstructed height of the newly found Hasmonean column of 6m (20 feet) is a little lower than those of the Herodian columns. The older Hasmonean portico, also known as “Solomon’s Porch”, was apparently not as high as the Herodian colonnades, as indicated in this reconstruction model.

An overall view of a model of the Temple Mount looking from the northwest. In the foreground is the Antonia Fortress, while the Temple with its surrounding buildings stood close to the centre of the Temple Mount. The lower portico above the Eastern Wall (upper centre) was known as Solomon’s Porch.

 

 

Was One of Jerusalem’s Greatest Archaeological Mysteries solved?

Today the Israel Antiquities Authority announced:

A fascinating discovery recently uncovered in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Givati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, has apparently led to solving one of Jerusalem’s greatest archaeological mysteries: the question of the location of the Greek (Seleucid) Acra–the famous stronghold built by Antiochus IV in order to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Temple which was eventually liberated by the Hasmoneans from Greek rule.

Hellenistic walls found in the Givati excavations. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy IAA

It is true that the location of the Seleucid Akra has baffled archaeologists for a long time. In 2006 I wrote:

Among scholars, there is less disagreement about the historical interpretation of the Books of Maccabees and Josephus than about the topographical problems connected with the location of the Seleucid Akra, which are styled the “most debated,” “most enigmatic and “thorniest” by Simons, Avigad and Wightman, respectively.

But could the Akra have been located so far away from the Temple Mount? Both the Book of Maccabees, as well as the historian Josephus Flavius, locate the Acra in the lower city of Jerusalem:

“And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Greek: Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein” — 1 Maccabees 1:35–38

“…and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians.” — Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:252–253

The  quote from 1 Maccabees tells us that the whole of the City of David was fortified with a wall. The Hellenistic walls found here may indeed be part of these fortifications. Josephus, however, is speaking of a separate citadel – the Seleucid Akra. This fortress we are told “overlooked the temple”. In order for the Givati remains to belong to this citadel and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least.

Once the Akra was destroyed by the Maccabees, the whole area was leveled and added to the Temple Mount. Following that, 1 Maccabees 13.52 and 14.37 tell us that,

“He strengthened the fortifications of the Temple Mount by the side of the Akra, and took up residence there with his men.… He settled Jewish soldiers in it and fortified it as a protection for the country and city, and heightened the walls of Jerusalem.”

This appears to indicate that a large area, previously occupied by the Akra, was built adjacent to  the Temple Mount. This extension can still be seen at the “seam” in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount.

The seam in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount is located 106 feet orn 32 m north of the southeast corner. It shows Herodian masonry to its left (south) and Hasmonean to its right (north). Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The fact that the Akra previously overlooked the Temple Mount means that the Temple Mount could be overlooked by someone standing on the highest parts of this fortress. The fact that the southeast hill slopes away rapidly in all directions to the south of the square Temple Mount excludes all but the highest rock levels near the southern wall of the square Temple Mount as the only possible location for the Akra.

Schematic drawing of the square Temple Mount, which dates to the First Temple period, and the location of the Seleucid Akra. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

One of the cisterns in the southern part of the Temple Mount – Cistern 11 – was known as the Cistern of the Akra (Mishnah Erubin 10.14). Josephus also writes that after Simon the Maccabee had razed the Akra, “thought it would be an excellent thing and to his advantage to level also the hill on which the Akra stood, in order that the Temple might be higher than this” (Ant. 13.215).

Plan of the Cisterns of the temple Mount, indicating the location of the Cistern of the Akra. Plan: Leen Ritmeyer

The Seleucid Akra therefore stood on a hill very close to the Temple Mount. What hill is there to be seen in the Givati parking lot? It appears therefore that the Israel Antiquities Authority once again tries to make sensational headlines with an unworkable theory in order to get some publicity.

A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem

Joe Lauer sent me this infomation:

‪Today, Monday, November 2, 2015, the IAA circulated English and Hebrew invitations to the media to attend a press conference tomorrow (Tuesday, November 3, 2015), in the Givati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, where “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem” will be presented.

The Hebrew invitation states that the presentation will be made at 10:00 AM.

The English invitation states that the conference will be held at 11:30 AM, and “Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority will present the finds (in English and Russian).”

‪The invitation was first issued on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, and withdrawn the same day with the note that “In light of the current security situation, it was decided to postpone the event….” It can only be hoped that the decision to hold the event tomorrow is a good sign.

Now we will just have to wait for “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem”.

 So, stay tuned!!

Tischendorf – Genius or Thief?

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Constantine Tischendorf, the German scholar who discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest (4th century AD) copy of the New Testament text of the Bible, at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. He not only discovered the manuscript, but also managed to have it removed to Russia, promising to return it to the monastery. This, however, never happened and therefore Tischendorf has been not only lauded for having discovered it, but also labeled a thief for not having returned it. Because of economic hardship, the Codex was eventually sold by the Russian National Library to the British Library, where it remains until now.

Our friend Alexander Schick has researched the work of this German scholar and published a book, called Tischendorf and the oldest Bible of the World (German).

This Wednesday, at Room 211 of the Rothberg Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, he will give a lecture from 6.30-8.00pm, entitled:

“Genius or Thief? Constantine Tischendorf Turns Two Hundred – the life of the famous biblehunter and the case of the Codex Sinaiticus in the light of newly discovered documents from his personal archives”

If you happen to be in Jerusalem this week, we warmly recommend attending Schick’s lecture.

In the Sep/Oct. 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Stanley Porter, in an article called “Tischendorf on Trial for Removing Codex Sinaiticus, the Oldest New Testament”, investigates the allegations against Tischendorf in light of new evidence from the Russian archives.

A second Arch of Titus found

The Arch of Titus which stands at the entrance to the Roman Forum draws huge crowds who want to see this well-known monument that was erected in memory of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in 70 AD.

The Arch of Titus. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The interesting part is the scene portrayed on the southern intrados (inner curved side of an arch) that shows Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple, i.e. the Lampstand (menorah), the Table of Shewbread and two trumpets.

The south panel showing the spoils taken from the Jerusalem Temple. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Today it was reported in the Telegraph newspaper that another monumental arch dedicated to Titus was found in Rome at the southeast entrance to the Circus Maximus.

Although these remains have been known for some time, they have now been more fully excavated.

The Circus Maximus. The original ground level of  was 6 meters (20 feet) lower down. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The remains of a triumphal arch built in honour of the Emperor Titus have been unearthed from underneath Rome’s Circus Maximus chariot-racing arena.

The arch, which was built immediately after the emperor’s death in 81AD, would have formed a magnificent entrance to the Circus Maximus, where charioteers competed against each other in races that were depicted in the 1959 Hollywood epic Ben Hur.

View of the Circus site from the south-east. The remains of a column base and parts of fluted columns that belonged to the Arch of Titus had been visible in the near foreground before the excavation took place. The tower in the foreground is part of a medieval fortification. Photo: Wikipedia

The bases of four giant columns were found underground in an area that is prone to flooding. This picture shows one of them:

The excavated remains of the great Arch built for Emperor Titus at the Circus Maximus. Photo: Handout
A CAD drawing of how the great Arch at Circo Massimo may have looked.

The excavation site is now covered up until funds can be raised to reconstruct this monumental marble arch.

Radio interview on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

I was recently interviewed by John Enarsson of “Cry for Zion” on Temple Mount issues and also on our new guide book to the Temple Mount, which we reported on in previous posts here and here. These are some of the questions that were asked:

1. Do we know beyond a reasonable doubt that the (1st and) 2nd Temple stood on the Temple Mount? Why? What would be the most important reasons?

2. Do we have good reason to believe that the Holy of Holies was centered on the Foundation Stone? Why? What is the feeling in the scholarly field on this question?

3. A few years ago, you debunked the sensationalistic theories of Ernest L. Martin. Today, the adventurer and author Robert Cornuke is making Martin’s ideas about the Temple popular again to a wider audience. Have you read Cornuke’s book TEMPLE and could you comment on it?

 4. Josephus has long been a favorite source for archeologists. What role do traditional rabbinic sources like the Mishnah play for archeologists like yourself?

You can listen to the 30-minute audio podcast, which includes the interview, here:

Radio interview

Historic Reenactment of Passover in Israel

BreakingIsrael News reports on an historic reenactment of Passover by the Temple Insitute.

Priests are preparing to sacrifice a Passover Lamb. Photo: Temple Institute

The Institute posted on its Facebook page,

“This was the most accurate and authentic reenactment of this service to have taken place in nearly 2,000 years.”

It included all the stages of the ritual, such as checking the animal for blemishes, slaughtering it, collecting its blood and bringing it to the corner of the altar, skinning the animal and separating its inner parts, and roasting it whole in a special Passover oven.

The proceedings can be watched on this video.

Kohanim blowing silver trumpets and carrying lambs to the place of the offering.(Photo: The Temple Institute)