Fr Stephen Smuts

Posts Tagged ‘Bible Archaeology

Ekron of the Philistines: From Sea Peoples to Olive Oil Industrialists

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The excavations of Ekron radically changed the traditional perception of the Philistines, a tribe of the Sea Peoples who migrated from the Aegean in the 12th century BCE. They settled along the southern coast of modern day Israel, became the chief antagonists of ancient Israel, and after 200 years were assimilated into one of the major ethnic groups like the Canaanites, Israelites, or Phoenicians. The Ekron Excavations have produced dramatic new evidence documenting Philistine history for an additional 400 years until the destruction wrought by the campaign of the Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 604 BCE. It was in the last phase, during the 7th century, that Ekron achieved the zenith of its physical and economic growth, when it became the largest olive oil industrial center known in antiquity. Among the major finds of the period was the Ekron Royal Dedicatory Inscription, one of the three most important documents outside the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 20th century in Israel. The excavations also provided an answer to one of the enigmatic questions involving the Philistines, why they eventually disappeared from the pages of history.



Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

May 8, 2012 at 12:28

The Best Maps of Israel

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On the Bible Places blog:

The best maps for detailed work in historical geography of Israel are the 1:50,000 series published by the Survey of Israel and the Survey of Western Palestine maps produced in the 1880s by the Palestine Exploration Fund. The first set comprises 20 maps and the second 16 (only going as far south as Beersheba), indicating the level of detail involved. Maps in the first set cost about $20 each and the second set costs in the thousands of dollars in the rare event that one comes on the market. In order to gain access to the Survey of Western Palestine, when one went on the market for sale in Germany some years ago, we purchased it and “shared the cost” by making an electronic version available.

An excellent new resource is available that combines the two maps in a single (free) website entitled amud anan (“pillar of cloud”). You can navigate on either map and then toggle to the other to see the land 130 years earlier (or later). The differences are dramatic. In addition, a “3D” option overlaps the maps on Google Earth topography so that the hills and valleys look like hills and valleys.

The 1:50,000 maps are in Hebrew. If you need to use detailed maps of Israel, and you don’t think you need to know Hebrew for anything else, these maps provide sufficient justification to learn the alphabet. (It really doesn’t take that long; there are only 22 letters and everything is phonetic.)

With a a tablet and a good internet connection (or with purchase of the iPad app; Android coming), hiking in Israel may never be the same!

Northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Survey of Western Palestine sheet 6

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 23, 2012 at 18:22

Earliest Known Metal Bit Unearthed in Israel

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The earliest known metal equestrian bit has been unearthed by archaeologists in Israel.

The bit was discovered in an equid burial site at Tel-Haror, and had probably been used on a donkey.

Archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren, from Ben Gurion University,  made the discovery in a layer of material dating from 1750 BC to 1650 BC, known as the Middle Bronze IIB Period.

It is among a growing number of sites in the Near East yielding the remains of horses and donkeys.

Dr Joel Klenck, a Harvard University-educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, led analysis of the remains in the Tel-Haror site.

He said the burial site is at the base of a dome-shaped structure.

The southeastern wall of the burial edifice was overlaid by a thick mudbrick partition that surrounded a nearby temple complex.

Klenck, an archaeologist specialising in the analysis of animal remains, noted the animal was a donkey, as evidenced by foot bone measurements and traits on the grinding surfaces of its teeth.

Klenck said the site yielded the earliest direct evidence of a metal equestrian bit.

“Until the excavation at Tel Haror, archaeologists had only indirect evidence for the use of bits,” he said.

“An example of this indirect evidence is wear marks on equid teeth at the fortress of Buhen in contexts dating to the 20th century BC.

“At Tel Haror, we retrieved the actual metal device.”

Round plates on either end of the ancient bit feature triangular spikes that pressured the lips of the equid if the reins were pulled from one direction.

He said the discovery provided important insights into ancient equestrian practices and methods of transportation in Near East.

Other discoveries in recent years in the Near East have painted a picture revealing the extensive use of donkeys and horses in ancient cultures.

The Vulture Stele, in Mesopotamia, dating to 2600BC to 2350BC, known as the Early Dynastic III period, portrays an equid pulling a chariot-like vehicle.

Various Mesopotamian manuscripts dating to this period mention the horse, donkey, hemione and hybrids such as the mule.

From Sumeria, terracotta reliefs from the early second millennium BC show equids pulling a chariot and a human riding horseback.

Hittite art from the 13th century BC, in modern Turkey, show a larger species of equid, perhaps a horse, pulling a chariot with three soldiers, in contrast to smaller equids in Egyptian murals pulling chariots with only two men.

Horse bones were found at Tell el-’Ajjul, in Israel, in contexts dated to around 3400BC and, in Turkey, at Bogazkoy, from the 17th century BC.

Archaeologists excavated donkey remains at Tell Brak in Mesopotamia dating between 2580BC and 2455BC.

Egyptian donkey burials dating to 2000 BC to 1550 BC, known as the Middle Bronze II periods, include those found at Inshas, Tell el-Farasha, Tell el-Maskhuta, and Tell el-Dab’a.

From similar time periods in the Levant – the area including most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories – archaeologists have excavated donkeys at Tell el-’Ajjul and Jericho.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 23, 2012 at 05:18

Jericho – Garden City

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Travelujah Website

Jericho is a special place, definitely worth visiting, as it is the lowest (230 meters below the sea lever) and the oldest (around 10 000 years) town on Earth. Arriving in Jericho you will be astonished by its natural setting, with its vibrant colours, aromatic fragrances and the backdrop of the Dead Sea and Moab Mountains beyond in Jordan. The city has a subtropical climate making it a perfect place for flora and fauna to thrive.

Jericho can be called an oasis as it is situated on a very rich land with a couple of perennial springs, surrounded by the wilderness of Judean Desert. For its perfect agricultural conditions, the town looks nowadays like a great plantation – dates, cabbages, eggplants, lettuce, zucchini and many more kinds of vegetables are grown here to support the people. In the winter time, plenty of citrus trees with yellow, orange and pink fruits are delighting our eyes with its bright colours.

But Jericho is actually called “City of Palms” date palms dominate the area. While touring Jericho you must buy a pack of its delicious dates – Majoul dates, which originally come from this region. Bananas also grow plentiful in Jericho, and they were introduced to the area during the Islamic period.

Jericho, with its alluvial soil, lively three springs and tropical climate was an attractive place for the ancient nations to settle the remains of which are called Tel es Sultan or simply Ancient Jericho. This site is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, It became a city of Joshua, who conquered it with the famous trumpets, symbolising the holy intervention of God. (Joshua 2:1-4:24)

Where is the Zacchaeus Tree?

Read on here.

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 21, 2012 at 08:14

Overview of Some of the Most Important Recent Archaeological Finds in Israel

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See here for an article on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website about some of the most important archaeological finds in recent years in Israel…

Via Dr Aren Maeir.

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 18, 2012 at 09:45

Belief in the Resurrection in Ancient Context

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Dr Christopher Rollston:


There is often a great deal of misunderstanding about this subject generally.  That is, people who do not work in ancient history or ancient religion often assume that a belief in a resurrection was some sort of distinctively Christian belief.  That, however, is a serious misconception.  The fact of the matter is that within various segments of Late Second Temple Judaism, as well as within Early Post-Biblical Judaism, the notion of a resurrection was warmly embraced by many.  The locus classicus in the Hebrew Bible is arguably the following text from the mid-2nd century BCE: “Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting peril” (Dan 12:2; notice here that the correlative of “damnation” or “hell” is also present in some fashion, of course).  Within the Old Testament Apocrypha, the notion of a resurrection is embraced at times as well, with the narrative about the martyrdom of “the mother and her seven sons” being a fine exemplar of this.  Thus, according to the narrative, one of the sons said during the torture that preceded his death: “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7:9).  Similarly, the mother herself says within the narrative, as an exhortation to her martyred sons: “the Creator of the world…will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again” (2 Macc 7:23).  2 Maccabees arguably hails from the first half of the 1st century BCE.   Regarding the dead, the Wisdom of Solomon also affirms that the dead “seemed to have died,” but “they are at peace,” and “their hope is full of immortality,” and they will ultimately “shine forth” and “will govern nations and ruler over peoples” (Wisdom 3:2-8 passim, with the Greek future tense being used here).  The Wisdom of Solomon arguably hails from the second half of the 1st century BCE.  Significantly, all of these texts antedate the rise of Christianity and they all affirm a belief in a resurrection.  In short, many Jewish people believed in a resurrection long before Christianity came along.  To be sure, a belief in a resurrection was not universally accepted by all Jewish people in the Second Temple period.  Some Jewish people did not believe in a resurrection.  For example, the traditionalist Ben Sira rejected the notion of eternal bliss for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked.  Thus, he wrote: “Who in the netherworld can glorify the Most High, in place of the living who offer their praise?  No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived; they glorify the Lord who are alive and well” (Sir 17:27-28).  In sum, although not all Jewish people of the Late Second Temple period accepted the notion of a resurrection, there are texts from this period that demonstrate that a fair number did…

Furthermore, the Jewish historian Josephus (lived ca. 37-100 CE) also discusses the subject of the perishability and imperishability of the soul, with regard to some of the major strands of Judaism during the first century of the Common Era…

Read on here.

And from the conclusion:

Thus, in the final analysis, the cumulative evidence is decisive: There is nothing distinctively “Christian” about a belief in a resurrection.  Rather, some segments of Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical Judaism believed in a resurrection and some segments did not.  Christianity, as an heir to apocalyptic branches of Judaism, was quite consistent in always affirming a belief in a resurrection, but the fact remains that belief in a resurrection is well attested prior to the rise of Christianity, and this belief also persists in certain segments of Judaism after the rise of Christianity.

Christopher Rollston


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 17, 2012 at 19:54

Is this Britain’s First Christian Burial?

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Anglo Saxon grave reveals 16-year-old girl laid to rest with a gold cross

The Daily Mail reports:

Laid to rest in her best clothes and lying on an ornamental bed, she was probably of noble blood.

Quite how the 16-year-old Anglo Saxon girl died and who she was remain a mystery.

But she was buried wearing a gold cross – suggesting she was one of Britain’s earliest Christians.

Her well-preserved 1,400-year-old grave has been discovered by Cambridge University scientists, who described the find as ‘astonishing’.

The burial site at Trumpington Meadows, a village near Cambridge, indicates Christianity had already taken root in the area as early as the middle of the 7th century.

It was not long after St Augustine, a monk in Rome, was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English in the year 595.

Starting in Kent, his team of 40 missionaries slowly worked their way around the country and he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury two years later.

But progress is thought to have been slow and sometimes difficult, and Christians and pagans co-existed for many decades.

The new find gives an insight into this transition period as she was also buried with a knife and glass beads to use in the next life – a pagan tradition of ‘grave goods’ which goes against Christian beliefs. Dr Sam Lewsey, an expert in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, said: ‘This is an excessively rare discovery. It is the most amazing find I have ever encountered.

‘Christian conversion began at the top and percolated down. To be buried in this elaborate way, with such a valuable artefact, tells us that this girl was probably nobility or even royalty. This cross is the kind of material culture that was in circulation at the highest sphere of society.’

The grave is one of 13 Anglo Saxon ‘bed burials’ to be discovered. Usually reserved for noble women, they involved being laid to rest on a wood and metal frame topped with a straw mattress. Such burials are not found after the 7th century.

The girl’s inch-wide gold cross, studded with cut garnets, has been dated to between 650 and 680AD.

It was probably sewn into her clothing around the neck and may have been worn in her daily life.  Four graves were found at the site, the others containing an individual in their 20s whose gender is unknown, and two girls in their late teens, who had no religious signs.

It raises the question of whether the woman buried with the cross had an official role in the fledgling Christian church.

Wow, this is very interesting.

There is more with photos aplenty here.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 16, 2012 at 04:56


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