Archaeology in Israel Update--May 2012
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
First Temple Shrines at Khirbet Qieyafa
The site, about 30km southwest of Jerusalem, continues to provide surprises. The excavator, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, recently announced that he had found in three rooms of the site model clay shrines with decorative openings. He dates the shrines to several years before the establishment of the First Temple and suggests that the features of their openings can explain one of the biblical terms used in connection with the Temple. The openings or doorways are formed by triple-rebated frames of a distinctive nature and Garfinkel suggests that this is the explanation of the obscure term "shequfim" that is related to the Temple windows (I Kings 6:4). Carbon dating by Oxford University on ten burned olive pits has dated the city to between 1020 and 980 BCE when it was destroyed. However it was later rebuilt in the Hellenistic period, but the model shrines relate to the earlier city in which there were found no graven images and no pig bones among the many animal remains of sheep/goat and cattle. This leads Garfinkel to claim that this was an Israelite city of the time of David located in the valley of Elah, the border area with Philistia. However, the model shrines look as if they may have contained small figurines and so they can be interpreted as having been pagan shrines, but no figures were found and this idea is rejected by the excavator.
Ancient Rabbinic Tomb At Tzipori (Sepphoris)
Three years ago a farmer in the agricultural village of Moshav Tzipori came across a burial cave on his land with a carved stone door inscribed with the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, a Talmudic sage of the third century CE. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) became interested and conducted an excavation and removed the inscribed door. Mitch Pilcer, the farmer, objected but later the IAA filed charges against him for illegal excavation and damage to an ancient site and antiquities. The initial case came to court only recently and has raised a lot of interest among the ultra-orthodox, who claim that the ancient rabbi may himself appear as a witness, in accordance with the legend that Rabbi Yehoshua's soul ascended to heaven directly from his tomb, a gateway between heaven and earth. Pilcer is keen to have the door restored to its site, but the IAA is adamant that they must retain it for safekeeping.
Early Gold Jewelry from Megiddo
According to the excavators, the most valuable cache of gold jewelry of the Biblical period has now been discovered at Megiddo. The cache is dated to pre-Iron Age I and belonged to the Canaanite inhabitants. It was found in a clay vessel unearthed in 2010 but has only recently been fully cleaned and evaluated. It includes nine large gold earrings, a gold ring seal, and over a thousand small beads of gold, silver and carnelian, a semi-precious stone. One of the earrings is in the shape of a basket holding an ostrich-like bird and shows Egyptian influence, according to Profs David Ussiskin, Israel Finkelstein, and Eric Cline, leaders of the expedition. The jewels are being studied further at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Museum before being exhibited to the public in due course.
Clay Seal Confirms Status of Bethlehem
During careful sifting of dirt from the passage to the Temple Mount from Siloam Pool, a tiny clay bulla or seal was uncovered with three lines of inscription. The wording reads: "In the seventh Bat lehem .to the kin(g)." According to the excavator, Eli Shukron, this would have been the seal of a tax receipt referring to a quantity of produce delivered to the king, who may have been Hezekiah or one of his predecessors or successors. The script dates it to the eighth century BCE., and it shows that Bethlehem was part of the Judean kingdom. The information was conveniently released to the press just before the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost) when the book of Ruth, telling of the Moabite girl who came to the city of Bethlehem, is read in the synagogue.
Mosaic Floor of Synagogue Vandalized
Extensive damage to the mosaic floor and walls of the synagogue of Hamat-Tiveryah (southern Tiberias) was discovered earlier this week. The damage included graffiti against the Director of the IAA, blaming him for desecrating ancient Jewish graves in the area. This has suggested that the perpetrators were ultra-orthodox elements. The Synagogue, of the 4th century CE and earlier, has fine mosaics with a central zodiac, representations of the Temple Ark and candelabra, and several donor inscriptions. The damage will be repaired, but the work, according to the IAA and the National Parks Authority who administer the site, will cost millions of shekalim. Some areas of mosaic will have to be replaced by facsimiles based on photographs. The police will do everything possible to bring the vandals to justice.
Forgery Trial Lingers On
Although the seven-year-old forgery trial, relating to the Yehoash tablet and the James, brother of Jesus ossuary, ended recently, with the two defendants being found not guilty of forgery, the case is now continuing regarding the ownership of the two artifacts. The IAA is adamant that they should not be returned to the defendants, while the defendants claim possession, after having been found innocent of the original charges. One of the defendants, Oded Golan, was found guilty of the minor charge of dealing in antiquities without a license, to which he has pleaded guilty, and he has now been given a commuted prison sentence and fined 30,000 NIS (5,000 GBP). The trial Judge Aharon Farkash has implied that he cannot easily resolve the conflicting ownership claims and may be forced to a "Solomonic" decision. This decision to have the two pieces destroyed has caused alarm among the experts, who were not able to agree on whether the pieces were fakes or not, but who nevertheless do not want to see them destroyed. The ossuary was found to be an original, though the inscription on it was queried, and the dark stone tablet is of great curiosity value, even if not genuine. So the trial judge is back in the hot seat again.