Wednesday, 30 September 2020

2,000-year-old ritual bath discovered in Lower Galilee

As reported by Israel365 News, September 30, 2020:

Prior to the construction of a major interchange at the Hamovil junction in Lower Galilee, an archaeological salvage dig carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed the remains of a Jewish agricultural farmstead from the Second Temple period (2000 years ago), including a magnificent mikveh. The excavations were conducted with the help of workers from the village of Kfar Manda, students of pre-military preparatory programs and volunteers from the vicinity, including residents of the nearby Kibbutz Hannaton.

According to Abd Elghani Ibrahim and Dr. Walid Atrash, Directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The existence of a mikveh, a purification facility, unequivocally indicates that the residents of the ancient farm were Jewish, who led a religious and traditional way of life, and maintained purity as a Torah commandment. Ritual baths have been used in daily life by Jews since the Second Temple period and until today.

According to Ibrahim and Dr Atrash, “the discovery of the mikveh in the farmstead changes what we knew about the lifestyle of the Jews in the Second Temple period. Until now we hadn’t discovered Jewish farms in the Galilee. It was considered that the Jews in the Roman period didn’t live in farms outside the villages or towns. The discovery of the farmstead at some distance from the village of the Shikhin and the large Jewish town of Sepphoris, showed that Jews also settled in farmsteads that perhaps functioned as the rural hinterland of Sepphoris”.

About seventeen hundred years have passed since the farm was destroyed in an earthquake, and about fourteen hundred years since the site was finally abandoned.

Recently, a huge highway interchange is being constructed over the valley. The need to anchor one of the supporting bridge columns, necessitated the constructing deep foundation trenches in the bedrock. As the archaeologists excavated next to the construction works, the mikveh was uncovered. Since it was not possible to preserve the mikveh on the site, the idea arose to detach the installation from the rock and to transplant it to a protected site for display, for the benefit of the public.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with members of Kibbutz Hannaton cooperated, and the kibbutz residents launched a crowd-funding campaign for the project, with the aim of placing the ancient mikveh next to the functioning mikveh on the kibbutz. In cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, Netivei Israel, the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and the residents, the necessary funding was obtained to move the ancient mikveh.

In the past week, preparatory work for the transfer was carried out. The mikveh, whose weight is approximately 57 tons, was first sawed off on all sides, detached from bedrock and surrounded by a steel cage in order to protect it and allow it to be hoisted. Today, to the cheers of the residents, it was hoisted in the air and placed in its new location.
The farm with the ritual bath (lower right). (Abd Ibrahim/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

New evidence reveals widespread literacy in ancient Judah

As reported by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich of Israel365 News, September 9, 2020:

Jews around the world today are known to be more educated – and even more likely to vote in elections – than their counterparts. But was this high level of literacy true thousands of years ago? Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU), together with a retired superintendent and senior handwriting examiner from the Israel Police Division of Identification and Forensic Science, have found that contrary to popular belief, many people in the ancient Kingdom of Judah could read and write.

The first-ever, special interdisciplinary study, just published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS One) was conducted by Dr. Arie Shaus, Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin and Dr. Barak Sober of TAU’s applied mathematics department; Prof. Eli Piasetzky of the Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy; and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the department of archeology and ancient Near Eastern civilizations. The forensic handwriting specialist was Yana Gerber, a senior expert who served for 27 years in the Israel Police.

The researchers examined the writings found in Tel Arad – ostraca (fragments of pottery vessels containing ink inscriptions) that were discovered at the Tel Arad archaeological site in the 1960s. Tel Arad is one of Israel’s most important archaeological sites, where remains were found of a fortified Canaanite city and fortresses from the time of the kings of Judah, when it was a small military post on the southern border of the kingdom. Its built-up area covered about two dunams, and it housed between 20 and 30 soldiers. The fortresses include the remains of a unique Judean temple.

Literacy was not the exclusive domain of a handful of royal scribes, the team concluded after examining ink-inscribed pottery shards and identifying 12 different handwritings with varying degrees of certainty.

A high rate of literacy indicates the ability to compile biblical texts, such as the books from Joshua to Kings, before the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.

Forensic handwriting examination of the Arad inscriptions had never before been conducted. In fact, to the best of the team’s knowledge, such an examination had never been performed on any ancient inscription for forensic chemical analysis in the context of historical texts. The researchers used state-of-the-art image processing and machine learning technologies to analyze 18 ancient texts from the Tel Arad military post dating back to around 600 BCE. They concluded that they were written by no fewer than 12 authors, a finding suggesting that many of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah during that period were able to read and write, and that literacy not reserved as an exclusive domain in the hands of a few royal scribes...

...According to the researchers, the findings shed new light on Judahite society on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple and on the setting of the compilation of biblical texts.

“It should be remembered that this was a small outpost, one of a series of outposts on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah,” said Sober. “Since we found at least 12 different authors out of 18 texts in total, we can conclude that there was a high level of literacy throughout the entire kingdom. The commanding ranks and liaison officers at the outpost, and even the quartermaster Eliashib and his deputy, Nahum, were literate.” Someone had to teach them how to read and write, said Sober, “so we must assume the existence of an appropriate educational system in Judah at the end of the First Temple period. This, of course, does not mean that there was almost universal literacy as there is today, but it seems that significant portions of the residents of the Kingdom of Judah were literate. This is important to the discussion on the composition of biblical texts. If there were only two or three people in the whole kingdom who could read and write, then it is unlikely that complex texts would have been composed.”

“Whoever wrote the biblical works did not do so for us, so that we could read them after 2,600 years, they did so in order to promote the ideological messages of the time,” concluded Finkelstein. “There are different opinions regarding the date of the composition of biblical texts. Some scholars suggest that many of the historical texts in the Bible – from Joshua to II Kings – were written at the end of the 7th century BCE, that is, very close to the period of the Arad ostraca. It is important to ask for whom these texts were written. According to one view, there were events in which the few people who could read and write stood before the illiterate public and read texts out to them. A high literacy rate in Judah puts things into a different light.”

“Until now, the discussion of literacy in the Kingdom of Judah has been based on circular arguments, that is, on what is written within the Bible itself, for example on scribes in the kingdom,” he said. “We have shifted the discussion to an empirical perspective. If in a remote place like Tel Arad there was, over a short period of time, a minimum of 12 authors of 18 inscriptions, out of the population of Judah – estimated to have been no more than 120,000 people – it means that literacy was not the exclusive domain of a handful of royal scribes in Jerusalem. The quartermaster from the Tel Arad outpost also had the ability to read and appreciate them.”
Examples of two Hebrew ostraca from Arad (Yana Gerber, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Hebrew ostraca from Arad (Michael Cordonsky, Tel Aviv University, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Examples of Hebrew ostraca from Arad (Michael Cordonsky, Tel Aviv University, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Click on the link to see the original article Forensic document examination and algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judahite biblical period inscriptions reveal significant literacy level by Arie Shaus, Yana Gerber, Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin et al., PLoS One, September 9, 2020.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

1,950 years ago: Titus sacks Jerusalem

And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.
Leviticus 26:31-33

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
Mark 13:1-2

On September 8, 70, the siege of Jerusalem, which had begun almost five months earlier, ended when Roman legions commanded by future Emperor Titus completed their conquest of the city, which included the capture of the Second Temple, aka Herod's Temple. The sacking of Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecies of Moses and the Lord Jesus Christ; the latter prophecy must have seemed most unlikely at the time, but it was fulfilled less than 40 years later.

The Temple has yet to be rebuilt, but it will be (see, e.g., Ezekiel 40-44, II Thessalonians 2:4). The Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute have been preparing for years for the building of the Third Temple. The book Ready to Rebuild by Thomas Ice & Randall Price (1992) and the companion video, hosted by Jimmy DeYoung, are no longer recent, but are still relevant and useful sources of information on this subject. Dr. DeYoung hosted a revised version of his video in 2011:

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Remains of a royal structure from the time of the Kings of Judah have been discovered in Jerusalem

As reported by Israel National News, September 3, 2020:

Who was privileged to live in the monumental structure possessing a breathtaking view of the City of David and the Temple, which was uncovered in an archeological excavation on the Armon Hanatziv (Commissioner's Palace, also known as Governor's House) Promenade? Was it one of the Kings of Judah, or was it perhaps a Jerusalemite family of nobility and wealth during the First Temple period?

A rare, impressive, and very special collection of several dozen adorned architectural stone artifacts, which together were part of a magnificent structure, was discovered in the Antiquities Authority's excavations in preparation for the establishment of a visitor center on the promenade, at the site where the home of artist Shaul Schatz once stood. The excavations were funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Jerusalem Municipality and the Ir David Foundation (Elad).

The findings were unveiled to the public today, Thursday, at a festive event in the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, attended by Minister of Culture, Hili Tropper, Archaeologist from the Jerusalem region of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch, and Chairman of the Ir David Foundation, David Be’eri. The findings will be on display in an exhibition at the City of David over the next few days, and an account of their significance will be given online at the Megalim Conference, to be held this coming Tuesday on the City of David website.

These stone artifacts are made of soft limestone, with decorative carvings, and among them are capitals of various sizes in the architectural style known as 'Proto-Aeolian' - one of the most significant royal building features of the First Temple period, and one of the visual symbols of the period. The importance of this artistic motif as a symbol representing the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel led the Bank of Israel to choose it as the image that adorns the five shekel coin of the State of Israel.

The unveiled collection includes, among other things, three complete medium-sized stone capitals and items from lavish window frames, incorporating balustrades composed of stylish columns on which a series of Proto-Aeolian style capitals of a tiny size were affixed.

According to Yaakov Billig, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s excavation: “This is a very exciting discovery. This is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant Proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates. The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare."

It was with great surprise that two of the three column capitals were found neatly buried, one on top of the other. "At this point it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so, but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries at this unique site, to which we will try to offer a solution," Billig adds. Unlike the capitals, which were discovered preserved in excellent condition, the rest of the building was destroyed, probably in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE or thereabout. The remains of the building were demolished and dismantled for the purpose of making secondary use of the valuable items.

In Billig's estimation, the magnificent structure -built in the period between the days of King Hezekiah and King Josiah- indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah – a siege which the city barely survived.

"This discovery, along with the palace previously uncovered in Ramat Rachel and the administrative center recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority on the slopes of Arnona, attests to a new revival in the city and a somewhat 'exit from the walls' of the First Temple period, after the Assyrian siege. We reveal villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city. This testifies to the relief felt by the city's residents and the recovery of Jerusalem's development after the Assyrian threat was over," says Billig.

The Minister of Culture and Sport, Hili Tropper said: “I am happy and excited with the revelation of the remains from the period of the Kings of Judah. The uncovering of the remains of the building reflects the glorious roots of the Jewish people and our rich past here in the capital city Jerusalem. I see great importance in the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority and in the work of the City of David in their discoveries over the years, which reveal parts of the illustrious Jewish past. This is an opportunity to thank the Ir David Foundation (Elad) that funded this important excavation. The past is the cornerstone of a nation, and the cornerstone of culture, and its discovery also affects the present as well as the future. The Ministry of Culture and Sports will continue to support this important enterprise of heritage, history, and culture.”

Recognition of the strategic and panoramic nature of the area was also expressed some 2,600 years later, when the British Mandatory administration built its central seat of government, known as the "Commissioner's Palace" (Armon Hanatziv) there. A few decades later, one of the most famous promenades in the State of Israel was established on the site, the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, from which the spectacular view of the City of David and the Temple Mount can be seen to this day.


One of the baluster columns of the ancient window (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The uncovering of the capitals (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)