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Archaeology in Israel Update-- November 2011

By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
December 2011

Arabic Inscription of the Crusader Period

An inscription in Arabic bearing the name of the Crusader ruler Frederick II and dated 1229 was recently discovered on a grey marble slab on the wall of a building in Tel Aviv, probably fixed there many years ago. According to Prof. Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University, who deciphered it, this was the only Crusader inscription ever found in Arabic and probably came from the citadel that Frederick built in Jaffa, which he describes himself as King of Jerusalem. He hailed from Sicily and was the leader of the Sixth Crusade of 1228-1229. It is known that he was fluent in Arabic, his court was attended by many Muslim scholars and ambassadors and for that he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. He was friendly with the Egyptian Sultan and won from him an armistice that made him King of Jerusalem without a fight. The titles of the inscription are readable in the Arabic but the remaining text has not survived. It is not yet clear where and when the slab will be exhibited to the public.

Palestine Authority (PA) Recognized by UNESCO

As a result of the recognition of the PA as a member state by UNESCO on October 31st, the PA is applying to UNESCO for grants to cover repair work to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the sum of $12 million for essential repairs to the roof. The historic building of the Byzantine period is in urgent need of repairs which have not been carried out for many years by the three Christian denominations that administer it.

On another tack, the PA, now a member of UNESCO, has threatened to sue Israel for stealing and destroying Arab and Muslim antiquities, but this seems to be mainly a political gesture as the examples cited are really repair works instituted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), with the agreement of the Moslem authorities, such as the renovation of the Old City walls of Jerusalem, including the restoration of the fine Damascus Gate, recently described. However, in view of these threats, the renovation of the Mughrabi Bridge in Jerusalem is on hold until the PA’s intentions are clarified and hopefully resolved.

Date Palm Grown From Seed Discovered at Masada

A seed uncovered in the 1960s at Masada, later planted in a secret location by scientists, has now sprouted and grown to an eight-foot high date palm. It has recently been replanted at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, southern Israel. It is a rare species and it is hoped it will henceforth produce fruit for food and medicinal purposes. When the sapling was 15-months old it was shown by C.14 investigation at University of Zurich to be from the period of the Roman siege of Masada in 73 CE. This species of palm was identified with Judaea and depicted on Roman coins as a symbol of the defeat of the Great Rebellion of 66-70 CE.

Coins Found Below Base of Outer Temple Wall

Further excavations by Eli Shukron of the IAA and Prof. Ronnie Reich of Haifa University inside the drainage channel at the foot of Robinson’'s Arch have uncovered part of the base of the western Herodian retaining wall to the Jerusalem Temple and found coins that are dated to the Roman Governor Valerius Gratus of 15-16 CE. As this is some twenty years after the death of Herod the Great, it demonstrates that this part of the wall was built after his death, according to Reich. The coins were found in a mikveh (ritual bath) that was part of a residential area that had been destroyed to make way for the massive retaining wall to be founded on bedrock. The coins indicate that this western part of the wall was probably built later than the one on the eastern and south sides, and was planned by Herod but only constructed by his grandson Herod Antipas.

This discovery caused a minor sensation among scholars in the press, but it has always been known that Herod, who started the Temple reconstruction in 22 BCE, never saw it completed at his death in 4 BCE. The work was not totally finished until about 60 CE and then, tragically, the completed Temple stood for only ten years before it was destroyed by the Romans.

The Gospel Trail North of Lake Kinneret

Last week the Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov officially opened the Gospel Trail along the north side of the Lake of Kinneret in the Galilee, which will run for 63 kms (39 miles) from north of Tiberias on the west side of the lake eventually to Kursi on the opposite east bank. The trail will pass through most of the important Christian sites along the banks, such as Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum and Bethsaida. Prepared by the Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund, the trail consists of comfortable stone footpaths, sun and rain shelters and parking lots. The plan is to include hostels and hotels for the many Christian pilgrims that are expected to visit the area, which is sacred to the memory of Jesus, who spent much time in the fishing villages along the lake after he was evicted from Nazareth.

Archaeological excavations along the route have been conducted over many years by the Franciscan Fathers of Capernaum and the IAA. A joint application was made over the last few years to UNESCO to have the area designated as a site of Historic Interest but the application has so far not succeeded as the management of the Trail has not yet been fully organized among the many different parties involved.