Fr Stephen Smuts

Posts Tagged ‘Artefacts

Biblical-Era Jug Found in Mediterranean Sea

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3,000-year-old earthenware was first brought up in fisherman’s net many years ago.


The ancient jugs that were found at sea.

A unique collection of ancient earthenware vessels found in the Mediterranean Sea has been turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, following the death of the fisherman who originally brought them up in his nets many years ago. The oldest vessel in the collection is estimated to be about 3,000 years old.

Osnat Lester of Poriya Ilit contacted the Antiquities Authority a few days ago to say that she had several old jugs in her storage closet that had been left to her by a relative who was a fisherman. Two archaeologists from the authority went to her house to check out the collection, and were stunned to discover a real archaeological treasure.

The cloth-wrapped vessels displayed the characteristic pitting of artifacts that have been underwater for many years. The archaeologists said they probably came from some of the ships that have been wrecked off the coast throughout history.

Among the most stunning findings was a unique storage vessel characteristic of the late Biblical period, some 3,000 years ago. It has high basket handles and impressive dimensions. There were also vessels from the Roman period, some 2,000 years ago, as well as the Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago. The vessels held wine and other products.

“He was a naïve fisherman whose entire world was fishing,” Lester said. “He loved whatever he drew from the water. The fish he ate, and the vessels he kept. He thought they were pretty and could perhaps decorate the house. He never imagined that they were ancient vessels.

“When I saw them, I also thought they were perhaps 100 years old,” she continued. “The only thing we’ve asked of the Antiquities Authority is to tell us where the vessels are going, so that we can visit them with the grandchildren.”

Seaborne trade along what is now the Israeli coast began in the Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago. Throughout most of history, the eastern Mediterranean has served as a maritime passage between Egypt and Lebanon, and many vessels have sunk there. It’s rare to find a relatively intact wreck from which antiquities can be removed. But fisherman who use nets occasionally dredge up pieces of these wrecked ships.

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

January 16, 2014 at 22:16

Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments for Sale

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Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are up for sale—in tiny pieces. Nearly 70 years after the discovery of the world’s oldest biblical manuscripts, the Palestinian family who originally sold them to scholars and institutions is now quietly marketing the leftovers—fragments the family says it has kept in a Swiss safe deposit box all these years. Most of these scraps are barely the size of postage stamps, and some are blank. But in the last few years, evangelical Christian collectors and institutions in the US have forked over millions of dollars for a chunk of this archaeological treasure.

This angers Israel’s government antiquities authority, which holds most of the scrolls and threatens to seize any more pieces that hit the market. But William Kando, a member of the family that first sold the scrolls, isn’t worried. “If anyone is interested, we are ready to sell,” he says. Written mostly on animal skin parchment about 2,000 years ago, the manuscripts are the earliest copies of the Hebrew Bible ever found, and the oldest written evidence of the roots of Judaism and Christianity in the Holy Land.

Dead Sea Scrolls are currently located in the following collections:

— Israel Antiquities Authority (More than 10,000 scroll fragments)

— Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum (Seven of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls)

— France National Library (377 scroll fragments representing 18 scrolls)

— Amman Museum (fragments of 20 scrolls, including the Copper Scroll)

— Heidelberg University in Germany (four phylactery pieces)

— Franciscan private museum in Jerusalem’s Old City (two fragments)

— Terre Sainte Bible Museum in Paris (two scroll fragments)

— University of Chicago (one fragment)

— McGill University in Montreal (a few fragments)

— St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, N.J. (fragments of three scrolls)

— Schoyen Collection in Oslo, Norway (115 fragments)

— Asuza Pacific University in Asuza, Ca. (5 fragments)

— Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Tx. (3 fragments)

— Green Collection in Oklahoma City, Ok. (12 fragments)

— Private collection of Spaer family, Jerusalem (2 fragments)

— Private collection of Kando family in Bethlehem, West Bank (the family does not reveal how many fragments remain in its collection, but estimates range between 20 and 40.)

Some fragments have gone missing, including three large fragments of the Book of Samuel and two pieces from the Book of Daniel which were stolen from the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in 1966 during a tour of international diplomats. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

The Dead Sea Scrolls main collection is online here.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

May 25, 2013 at 21:22

The Gabriel Stone Goes on Display in Jerusalem

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Also called Gabriel’s Revelation. The Huffington Post reports in typical sensational fashion:

An ancient stone with mysterious Hebrew writing and featuring the archangel Gabriel is going on display in Jerusalem as scholars debate the inscription’s meaning.

The so-called Gabriel Stone, said to have been found 13 years ago in Jordan, features an unknown prophetic text from the time of the Second Jewish Temple.

The tablet made a splash in 2008 when an Israeli scholar theorized the inscription would revolutionize the understanding of early Christianity, claiming it referenced a messianic resurrection pre-dating Jesus.

Curators at the Israel Museum said on Tuesday that it’s the most important inscription found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Israel Museum exhibit, opening Wednesday, also features ancient New Testament and Quran texts referencing the archangel Gabriel.

Wikipedia has more on the unprovenanced tablet here.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

April 30, 2013 at 16:16

Journal Postpones ‘Jesus Wife’ Article

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The Huffington Post reports:

The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that was set to turn Christian history on its head when it was announced last September.

The article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King was scheduled for the review’s January edition. It was expected to provide answers to questions that had been raised about the relic’s authenticity soon after King announced the discovery to select national media and at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome.

King told CNN, which reported the latest development on Thursday (Jan. 3), that the article has been delayed because testing on the fragment is not complete.

A spokesperson for Harvard Divinity School, Kathryn Dodgson, said in an email on Friday that the owner of the papyrus — whose identity has not been disclosed — “has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results.”

Dodgson said the Harvard Theological Review is still planning to publish King’s article “after conclusion of all the testing so that the results may be incorporated.”

“Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point.”

King has said the fragment is from a fourth-century codex written in Coptic that may have come from an earlier, unknown gospel. The receipt-sized slip of papyrus contains just 33 words spread across 14 incomplete lines and quotes Jesus referring to “my wife” before the sentence is cut off.

It is the only extant text in which Jesus is explicitly portrayed as married, according to King, who dubbed the text “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” King insisted that the fragment, even if authentic, would not prove that Jesus was married.

But experts said that even the possibility that he was betrothed could have upended Christian doctrine and theology and raised questions about the role of women in Christianity. And the media rollout for the discovery prompted a global wave of coverage that fostered a view that this fragment was akin to finding Jesus’ marriage license.

But doubts about the fragment were raised almost immediately. Some critics said that the text’s importance was blown out of proportion — there are countless fragments of ancient papyrus writings from the centuries after Christ — while others objected to the secrecy surrounding the owner of the fragment and the lack of any documentation about its provenance.

Other experts subsequently alleged that that papyrus may be ancient but the writing was a modern forgery and even included a typo.

The doubts led the Smithsonian Channel, which had been working with King for months on a documentary about the papyrus, to delay broadcast of the program, which had been set for October.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

January 7, 2013 at 06:52

Judean Temple Discovered Near Jerusalem

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The Bible Places Blog has the news:

A Judean temple from the 10th-9th centuries BC has been discovered four miles northwest of ancient Jerusalem. The structure has massive walls, faces east, and contained a cache of sacred vessels. The site of Tel Motza may be the town of Mozah mentioned in the city list of Joshua 18:26 and some believe the Emmaus mentioned in Luke 24 was located nearby.


Location of Moza in relation to Jerusalem.      Map from Google Earth.

Archaeologists have dated the building to the Iron Age IIA, a period dated by most scholars to 980–830 BC, contemporary with the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa, and Jehoshaphat. Each of these kings was faulted for not “destroying the high places” (1 Kgs 11:7; 14:23; 15:14; 22:43). Few such illicit worship sites are known from the land of Israel; the best preserved ones were excavated at Dan and Arad.

According to Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site’s proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom’s main sacred center at the time.”

The site was excavated as part of road construction works on Highway 1, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road.

The press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority is here and six high-resolution photos are available from this link. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Arutz-7, and other sites.


Aerial view of excavation site. Photograph: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Figurines of bearded men. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Figurine of horse. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

December 26, 2012 at 17:56

Seal Depicting Samson Discovered?

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A small stone seal found during the recent excavations at  Tel Beit Shemesh could (!) be the first archaeological evidence of the story of the Biblical Samson.

Bible Places:

Some scholars are suggesting that the depiction on a seal found in the Sorek Valley shows the biblical hero Samson subduing a lion. From Haaretz:

A small stone seal found recently in the excavations of Tel Beit Shemesh could be the first archaeological evidence of the story of the biblical Samson.

The seal, measuring 1.5 centimeters, depicts a large animal next to a human figure. The seal was found in a level of excavation that dates to the 11th century B.C.E. That was prior to the establishment of the Judean kingdom and is considered to be the period of the biblical judges – including Samson. Scholars say the scene shown on the artifact recalls the story in Judges of Samson fighting a lion.

But excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the biblical text and onto the seal.

The story continues and explains some of the geographical connections. This discovery reminds me that while Samson’s life largely centers in the Sorek Valley, the most prominent city of that valley is never mentioned in the narrative (Judges 13-16). If the interpretation of this seal is correct, the people of Beth Shemesh remembered their local hero with some pride.

A high-resolution photo of the seal by Raz Lederman is available here.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

July 31, 2012 at 14:46

Possible Bar Kochba Revolt Hoard Found

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From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A spectacular 2,000 Year Old Gold and Silver Hoard was Uncovered in an Archaeological Excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority Conducted in the Qiryat Gat Region

The treasure trove comprising c. 140 gold and silver coins together with gold jewelry was probably hidden by a wealthy lady at a time of impending danger during the Bar Kokhba Revolt

A rich and extraordinary hoard that includes jewelry and silver and gold coins from the Roman period was recently exposed in a salvage excavation in the vicinity of Qiryat Gat. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was funded by Y. S. Gat Ltd., the Economic Development Corporation for the Management of the Qiryat Gat Industrial Park.

The rooms of a building dating to the Roman and Byzantine period were exposed during the course of the excavation. A pit that was dug in the earth and refilled was discerned in the building’s courtyard. To the archaeologist’s surprise, a spectacular treasure trove of exquisite quality was discovered in the pit wrapped in a cloth fabric, of which only several pieces remained on the artifacts.

According to archaeologist, Emil Aladjem, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The magnificent hoard includes gold jewelry, among them an earring crafted by a jeweler in the shape of a flower and a ring with a precious stone on which there is a seal of a winged-goddess, two sticks of silver that were probably kohl sticks, as well as some 140 gold and silver coins. The coins that were discovered date to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire from 54-117 CE. The coins are adorned with the images of the emperors and on their reverse are cultic portrayals of the emperor, symbols of the brotherhood of warriors and mythological gods such as Jupiter seated on a throne or Jupiter grasping a lightning bolt in his hand”.

Saʽar Ganor, District Archaeologist of Ashkelon and the Western Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority, adds “the composition of the numismatic artifacts and their quality are consistent with treasure troves that were previously attributed to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. During the uprising, between 132-135 CE, the Jews under Roman rule would re-strike coins of the emperor Trajan with symbols of the revolt. This hoard includes silver and gold coins of different denominations, most of which date to the reign of the emperor Trajan. This is probably an emergency cache that was concealed at the time of impending danger by a wealthy woman who wrapped her jewelry and money in a cloth and hid them deep in the ground prior to or during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is now clear that the owner of the hoard never returned to claim it.

The treasure trove was removed from the field and transferred for treatment to the laboratories of the Artifacts Treatment Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem.

Now this is a most interesting ring amongst the artefacts found:

I wonder what the image symbolises. Any ideas?


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

June 5, 2012 at 14:30


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