Walls of Jerusalem Uncovered

Archaeologists rediscover a wall initially uncovered in the 19th Century.
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Ancient Jerusalem wall

Israeli archaeologists have re-exposed part of the southern wall of Jerusalem which dates from the time of Jesus Christ and the Second Temple, according to a report presented by the BBC.  This wall is some 200 meters south of the current wall, which incorporates what is now known as the Old City, with its Jewish, Moslem and Armenian quarters. The  wall which encompasses the Old City  was built during the time Jerusalem was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

The section of wall, uncovered and announced on September 3, had  been initially discovered in the 19th century by British archaeologists, who then refilled the tunnels leading to their discovery. Artifacts such as bottles, lamps and even shoes discarded by the earlier archaeologists added to the artifacts from the second temple period that were discovered. Photos of the wall together with a Byzantine wall built some 400 years later are available on the BBC News website.

Tags: jerusalem, Jesus, Archaeology, Roman Destruction of Jerusalem, Second Temple, Walls of Jerusalem

Church of England’s Woes

Split in ranks feared as next Lambeth Conference approaches
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The ordination of women priests and openly gay priests to church offices has created havoc within the ranks of the Church of England, also known throughout the world as the Anglican Communion. Now, as he prepares for the latest Lambeth Conference of Bishops in July 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury faces a revolt. Some 250 bishops—almost a third—have declined invitations to attend. 

Instead, many of them have attended another conference in Jerusalem, styling themselves as the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon). The choice of Jerusalem for the conference is symbolic of their desire for the church to return to its Biblical foundations. (The Lambeth conference is called by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is held every 10 years for all Archbishops and Bishops.)

In calling for a return to the Biblical basis for the church, the bishops would like to see the Bible accepted as the Word of God as it was written rather than being reinterpreted to suit current moral trends, the latter approach having led to the controversies of the past few years. 

However if Jerusalem provides the basis for the foundation of the church, it should produce a very different communion. Does Gafcon really mean to imply that they intend to reject all of the church councils from Nicea onwards and return to an apostolic form of Christianity that Jerusalem portrays? Would the Archbishop of Canterbury or the equivalent official see himself as an inheritor of the role played by James the Just, the brother of Jesus? Would the church return to its Jewish roots? I think not. The choice of Jerusalem was simply a nice piece of theater!  

However, another factor is involved. As noted by Henry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, the Jerusalem conference is 4,000 miles from Lambeth—a clear indication of the diametric divergence of views of the Bible that exist within the Anglican Communion.

Tags: jerusalem, James the Just, Anglican Communion, apostolic church, Gafcon, homosexuality, Lambeth

Detailed Report on the Third Princeton Symposium

Rebutting sensational claims

Professor John H Charlesworth, chairman of the steering committee that organized the recent Third Princeton Symposium in Jerusalem has published a disclaimer against the sensational claims that have been made following the event.  This appears in full on the Society of Biblical Literature’s website.

Confusion surrounded the conclusion of the symposium as academics who had participatedsigned statements contradicting the initial news reports. A summary report on the Princeton Theological Seminary site also included statements rebutting the coverage by the news media.  Unfortunately, the press subsequently reported an interview with Charlesworthhimself which appeared to add to the level of confusion.  No full transcript of the interview was provided, so clearly there was no way to know the context of Charlesworth’s comments.

Now the professor has himself provided a detailed statement showing the ways and means that the symposium was hijacked by media interests.  Introducing his report, Charlesworth states:

A carefully planned and highly successful symposium in Jerusalem—on Jewish views of the afterlife and burial practices near Jerusalem before the destruction of the area by Roman armies in 70 CE—has been high-jacked by two disturbing and unexpected developments.

Rather than leaving the symposium to academic discussion of the issues outlined, certain media individuals who have a vested interest in identifying the Talpiot tomb with the family of Jesus were able to gain the advantage. Hence confusion has reigned over the outcome of the symposium.

Tags: jerusalem, Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, John Charlesworth, Third Princeton Symposium

It's Cold!

Snow in Jerusalem

Jerusalem received an inch of snow this week!  Not much for those who live in the snow belts of the world. But a friend living there replied to an e-mail about the situation with the simple response " I'm freezing!" 

It appears that Jerusalem receives at least one snow storm each year. Photos are available on the web of Jerusalem blanketed in snow for most recent years. Photo courtesy of Aren Maeier

Aren Maeier posted this and other photos on his site and the BBC had several as well. Now Britain is digging out of a large snow storm itself.

If we have snow today as an almost annual event in Jerusalem and surrounds, what does that say about snow and winter temperatures generally in antiquity? Perhaps Luke's comment about shepherds being in the fields with their flocks at the time of the birth of Jesus requires more careful consideration.

Tags: jerusalem, israel, Aren Maeier, Gospel of Luke, shepherds, snow

Jerusalem Conference: Report

Overview and outcome of the Conference

Stephen Pfann, President of the University of the Holy Land and a presenter at the Conference, filed this report on the University's web site:

Throughout this conference, almost without exception, the archaeologists, scientists, epigraphers and textual scholars could find no compelling evidence that would support the claim that the Talpiot Tomb under discussion (one of many tombs in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem) was anything other than a first-century Jewish family tomb with no connection to any known historical family. There were a few scholars on hand, working in the literature and the social sciences, who would contend that there was some likelihood that the tomb was actually the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The final panel comprised Shimon Gibson, one of the original excavators of the tomb; Eric Meyers, Professor of Archaeology at Duke University; Chairperson James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary; Israel Knohl, Professor of Jewish History and Literature at the Hebrew University; and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his concluding statement, Shimon Gibson said no to the identification of the tomb as belonging to Jesus of Nazareth (preferring the traditional location at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Eric Meyers said that there was no compelling evidence to support the film’s identification with the tomb of Jesus and his family.

James Charlesworth said he did not believe it was the tomb of Jesus but that he would not rule out the possibility that it might be the tomb of other members of Jesus’ family. Israel Knohl stated publicly that although there is no compelling evidence to support it, it well could be the family tomb of Jesus. However, privately he stated that he feels there is only a 50-50 chance of it being so. James Tabor, as expected, feels that the likelihood is high to certain that it is the family tomb of Jesus.

To my ears, most of those in attendance, in good academic form, would not totally rule out the possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus, but would say that the possibility is highly unlikely to remote. This is far from being “50 of the top scholars in the world” now concluding that “the Talpiot tomb might very possibly be the tomb of the Holy family.” I would say that the participating scholars, equipped with improved methodologies and more knowledge than a year ago, would say that they are better equipped to judge, and that the tomb’s chances haven’t gotten any better (in fact, worse).

There was not a single archaeologist present who believed that it would be a responsible act to confirm that this was the family tomb of Jesus. However, mysteriously, almost from the grave, in the final session, the original excavator Joseph Gat, was said by his widow to have believed this. This seemed mysterious to the archaeologists present because it was understood that it took an epigrapher of the caliber of Joseph Naveh to actually decipher the inscription (which was only done after the death of Joseph Gat, by the way). Naveh concluded that, although it was difficult to read, the first name was most likely to be read as “Yeshua?” based in part on the fact that the name “Yeshua” shows up on another ossuary in the tomb. Because of this, he left the name “Yeshua?” with a question mark and all scholars since then, including Rachmani, left the question mark in because of the difficulty of the reading.

Stephen Pfann adds as a later PS to his posting:

Let’s not be duped. All attempts to hijack the conferance to say anything different does not change the facts on the ground.

Tags: jerusalem, Jesus, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Conference

Why the Silence?

Where is an offical report on archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem?
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Eilat Mazar

Last week we noted that a conference about archaeological finds inJerusalem was to be held at Bar-Ilan University.

Results of those discussions of recent archaeological finds inJerusalem – part of Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Seminar have been very sparse, despite the possible nature of the finds. The National Geographic Blog handles one of the reputed discoveries with great care; an approach that would have benefitted it well with previous ‘great discoveries’ on which it sought to capitalize.   

But the only source for the National Geographic appears to be the World Net Daily. Interestingly the WND provides no details of any responses or divergent views from the elite of Israeli archaeologists who were also part of the seminar.  The original announcement for the Seminar indicated that several leading archaeologists had other interpretations of Mazar’s finds.  And no Israeli newspapers appear to have covered the seminar.  I asked Joe Zias, a former Curator of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who is involved in archaeology and lives in Israel about any official statement on the seminar to which he replied that there were “none . . . which I saw" but that he knew  "that no one accepted her theories.”

Interestingly, the Shalem Center of which Eilat Mazar is a senior fellow, and the source of the finance for her excavations is also silent on the matter.  They have posted no news reports on the conference or any discoveries.

Tags: jerusalem, Archaeology, Vision.org, Mazar, National Geographic, Shalem Center, Zias

Paul in Context

Paula Fredriksen locates the point of decontextualising Paul

"But when he is talking about the gentile sanctification, he is not speaking as it can sound in English – oh it’s nice . . . they’ve been made holy. It means something special. It means something ritual.  It means that they are fit to come into proximity with the zone of holiness that is represented first of all by the temple. When Paul uses temple language – as he does continuously to his gentile audiences -- he says you are a temple; you are God’s temple -- God’s spirit dwells in you.  

"Way back in the 20th century when I was at university, we were told that meant that Paul didn’t like this temple in Jerusalem and that this was a substitute temple and that the community was a new temple. If you train yourself to remember that if Paul is writing before the year 70, he doesn’t know that there’s going to be no temple.  What he is doing is in fact bringing these nations under the umbrella so that they are turning to the God of Israel just like people like Isaiah, Hosea and Micah had said they would before God’s last ‘put out the light’ is spoken.

"What happens after the temple is destroyed is that this vocabulary remains in Paul’s letters but the typography that interprets the vocabulary begins to switch from temple and ritual space to the idea of the Greco-Roman universe.  And it’s that transposition, the way that Paul’s letters and the way that the early Christian message will be translated in the period after the destruction of the temple and where sin will be imagined with different nuances and with different points of exit and entry that I will get to tomorrow night." 1:04:26

Paula Fredriksen, "Sin: The Early History of the Idea: Lecture 1: God, Blood, and theTemple" October 9, 2007 -- Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press.

Tags: jerusalem, Temple, Paul, Paula Fredriksen, early Christians, Spencer Trask Lectures, typography, Vision.org

Important Conference on Jerusalem

Leading archaeologists gather to debate the meaning of recent finds in Jerusalem

Over the last year, some remains of monumental buildings have been found in Jerusalem, which the principal archaeologist involved in the discovery dates to the 10th Century BCE.  As with any discovery, alternative views exist.  To that end Aren Maeir advises of a conference scheduled for this week in Israel:

Heads up for some really interesting lectures!!!

Next week, on Thursday, Nov. 8th, the 13th annual conference of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies will be held at Bar-Ilan University. As usual, the conference will have a very interesting collection of lectures (all in Hebrew), which will be published in a full-size conference proceedings (in Hebrew with English abstracts).

For those of you who read Hebrew, I have attached the program:


There are several very interesting sessions, but I would like to point out two in particular:

1) The first session (which I will chair) will be VERY interesting and will deal with Jerusalem during the early Iron Age II. Dr. Eilat Mazar will present her excavations in the City of David and her interpretation (she believes she has discovered the Palace of David); Ronny Reich and Ely Shukron will argue against Eilat’s recent suggestion (in last years Rennert conference) to locate the eastern wall of MB II Jerusalem at the bottom of the City of David; and then, David UssishkinZeev Herzog and Israel Finkelstien will each present papers arguing for different interpretations of the public building in the City of David that Eilat claims relates to David. Without a doubt, this session will be VERY interesting, and I’m sure that there will be VERY lively and important discussions during and after the session.

Later on during the day, the Rennert Center will present an award to Prof. Ehud Netzer, who will then present a lecture on the Tomb of Herod.

Altogether, these and the other lectures at the meeting promise to make this an very interesting and exciting day. The conference is open to the public - so perhaps, those of you who are abroad can still reserve plane tickets and make it for next Thursday! :-)


Tags: jerusalem, Archaeology, 10th Century BCE., Eilat Mazar

Dead Sea Scrolls Again

San Diego exhibition draws more comment

Norman Golb of the University of Chicago has some definite ideas about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To this end he has written a number of papers critiquing the current presentation in San Diego. While Professor Golb’s ideas have been rejected by most involved in the study of the Scrolls, his views have had an impact and accordingly have altered this area of study. No longer does any serious scholar accept the original idea that they were all written by the community living in Qumran. Now it is generally accepted that the scrolls were principally written elsewheremost likely in Jerusalemand then brought to Qumran.

However, Golb’s thesis that all the Scrolls were removed from Jerusalem immediately prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem has also been overtaken by subsequent study. Scholars at the Hebrew UniversityJerusalem, are now positing what could be categorized as older cavescaves with scrolls deposited at an earlier time, as well as later caveswhere the scrolls were clearly deposited immediately prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Carbon dating of the linen shrouds in which some of the scrolls were wrapped prior to placing in the earthen ware jars have been used to help establish these dates.

In my view, Golb’s latest paper highlights how difficult it is to take a complex issue such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and produce something that will be of genuine interest to the public. Despite the shortcomings that Professor Golb sees in the catalogue, the San Diego Natural History Museum bookstore, conveniently located at the end of the display, is replete with books on the subject. These include Golb’s own book, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran, and others which present arguments that don’t always support the approach taken in the catalogue and display.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Golb, de Vaux

Jerusalem Tunnels were Escape Routes for Scrolls

Norman Golb speculates on the use of the recently discovered tunnel

Writing in The Daily Jewish Forward, Norman Golb opines about the use of the recently discovered tunnel that led to the pool of Siloam as one of the escape routes from Jerusalemthat Josephus discussed.  Golb, who has postulated that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran were in fact a cache of scrolls that were secretly removed from Jerusalem prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE., sees the tunnel as being one of the avenues for the flight of the scrolls from Jerusalem.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Josephus, Norman Golb, Siloam

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