Category Archives: Archaeology

Divers make spectacular discovery in Caesarea harbor

Divers Ran Feinstein (R) and Ofer Ra'anan after discovery. Credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center.

Divers Ran Feinstein (R) and Ofer Ra’anan after discovery. Credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center.

The Israeli papers are ablaze today with photos of a discovery made by two divers in the ancient port of Caesarea in the Caesarea National Park. The official news release of the Israel Antiquities Authority reads in part:

As soon as they emerged from the water divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan of Ra‘anana contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority and reported the discovery and removal of several ancient items from the sea.

A joint dive at the site together with IAA archaeologists revealed that an extensive portion of the seabed had been cleared of sand and the remains of a ship were left uncovered on the sea bottom: iron anchors, remains of wooden anchors and items that were used in the construction and running of the sailing vessel. An underwater salvage survey conducted in recent weeks with the assistance of many divers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and volunteers using advanced equipment discovered numerous items that were part of the ship’s cargo.

Many of the artifacts are bronze and in an extraordinary state of preservation: a bronze lamp depicting the image of the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave, fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues, objects fashioned in the shape of animals such as a whale, a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head, etc. In addition, fragments of large jars were found that were used for carrying drinking water for the crew in the ship and for transportation at sea. One of the biggest surprises in particular was the discovery of two metallic lumps composed of thousands of coins weighing c. 20 kilograms which was in the form of the pottery vessel in which they were transported.

Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA, and Dror Planer, deputy director of the Unit, comment:

“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance. The location and distribution of the ancient finds on the seabed indicate that a large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks”. A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached shore by casting anchors into the sea; however, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in”.

Sharvit and Planer stress, “A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past thirty years. Metal statues are rare archaeological finds because they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity. When we find bronze artifacts it usually occurs at sea. Because these statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and were thus ‘saved’ from the recycling process”. Sharvit and Planer added, “In the many marine excavations that have been carried out in Caesarea only very small number of bronze statues have been found, whereas in the current cargo a wealth of spectacular statues were found that were in the city and were removed from it by way of sea. The sand protected the statues; consequently they are in an amazing state of preservation – as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago”. The coins that were discovered bear the image of the emperor Constantine who ruled the Western Roman Empire (312–324 CE) and was later known as Constantine the Great, ruler of the Roman Empire (324–337 CE), and of Licinius, an emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire and was a rival of Constantine, until his downfall in a battle that was waged between the two rulers.

The harbor at Caesarea. The Apostle Paul used this harbor many times during his preaching tour, and from here was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The harbor at Caesarea. The Apostle Paul used this harbor many times during his preaching tours, and from here was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. A.D. 265–c.339), often designated “The Father of Church History,” was active at Caesarea at the time this ship sank.

Here are photos of some of the items discovered.

A figurine of Dionysus, the god of wine. Photo: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A figurine of Dionysus, the god of wine. Photo: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

And, a new way to preserve your money.

Lumps of coins that were discovered at sea, weighing a total of c. 20 kilograms. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Lumps of coins that were discovered at sea, weighing a total of c. 20 kilograms. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Decorated lamps with twice the light.

A bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The view under water.

Fragment of a bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol, as discovered on the seabed. Photo: Ran Feinstein.

Fragment of a bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol, as discovered on the seabed. Photo: Ran Feinstein.

And the nicest thing about all of this…  According to the release, the two divers will be invited to tour the storerooms of the National Treasures. I may take up diving.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Historical treasure neglected in Palestinian territory

“Solomon’s Pools” are a significant historical treasure worthy of full protection by those entrusted with their upkeep. According to a report in Ynet, visitors to Solomon’s Pools report collapse of one of the walls here. You need to visit this site to see photos of the reported damage.

Solomon (ruled about 970–931 B.C.) gets credit for several things he had nothing to do with. The pools, located south of Bethlehem, date to the Hasmonean period (about 100 B.C.) and supplied water to Jerusalem, including the Temple area through a series of aqueducts.

We suggest you read our article about Solomon’s Pool, including photos of all three pools or reservoirs here.

I wanted to add a photo I made in April, 2013, illustrating the need for repair in the eastern pool that I observed at the time.

Obvious neglect I observed in one of the pools in April, 2013. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.Who is responsible for the care of these famous pools? The answer lies in a complicated system of zones laid out in the Oslo 2 Accord. The West Bank was divided into three zones, A, B, and C. Zone A is to be fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Zone B is under Palestinian civil control and joint security control by Israel and the Palestinians. Zone C is under full Israeli control.

Solomon’s Pools are in Zone A and should be cared for by the Palestinian Authority.

I don’t want anyone to get uptight about some perceived political bias here. I have pointed out before that ancient Samaria (Sebaste) is part of the Israeli National Parks system and is in need of serious attention.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Jesus went among the villages teaching

Jesus left the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum to return to Nazareth to teach the people there.

 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  (Matthew 13:53-54 ESV)

When he left Nazareth He “went about among the villages teaching” (Mark 6:6).

When I see the scene depicted at Nazareth Village of the stone house, the olive trees, and the dusty path, I recall the visits Jesus and His disciples made throughout Galilee.

A dirt path and one of the houses at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A dirt path and one of the houses at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lois Tverberg, in her excellent book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, has written a helpful work about Jesus and His teaching drawing on the Jewish concept of the rabbi and his disciples.

The way Jesus taught his first disciples was not unique but part of a wider tradition in Judaism that began a few centuries before his time. Jesus didn’t hand his disciples a textbook or give them a course syllabus. He asked each one of them to follow him— literally, to “walk after” him. He invited them to trek the byways at his side, living life beside him to learn from him as they journeyed. His disciples would engage in life’s activities along with him, observing his responses and imitating how he lived by God’s Word.

Out of this unusual teaching method arose a well-known saying: you should learn from a rabbi by “covering yourself in his dust.” You should follow so closely behind him as he traveled from town to town teaching that billows of sandy granules would cling to your clothes. As you walked after your rabbi, your heart would change. This will be our task in this book, to stroll through Jesus’ ancient world at his side, listening to his words with the ears of a disciple. (Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, p. 28)

There must have been a buzz of excitement when Jesus and His disciples walked the dusty paths of Nazareth, and indeed, of all Galilee.

When Jesus came to Nazareth He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and participated in the study.

Synagogue reconstruction at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Synagogue reconstruction at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lee Levine of Hebrew University summarizes the archaeological evidence for known first century synagogues.

Solid archaeological evidence for the first-century synagogue is attested at eight sites in Judea: Masada, Herodium, Jerusalem (the Theodotos inscription from the City of David), Qiryat Sefer, and Modi’in (both in western Judea), with a possible additional site at Horvat ‘Etri, south of Bet Shemesh. In the Galilee, it is found at Gamla, Migdal, and quite probably Khirbet Qana, with considerably less certain remains from Capernaum, Chorazin, and at a second site in Migdal. (Lee I. Levine, “The Synagogues of Galilee” in Fiensy and Strange, Galilee in the late second temple and mishnaic periods, Vol. I. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. 129-150.)

The New Testament writers mention other synagogues such as the one at Nazareth.

It is unfortunate that the residents of Nazareth did not want to get dusty. Are you dusty from following Jesus?

Timnah – where Samson met his first love

Perhaps the most memorable event of Timnah recorded in the Bible is that of the affair between Samson and a Philistine woman.

Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. (Judges 14:1 NET)

Delilah, the most famous of Samson’s three wives, is said to have lived in the Sorek Valley, but Timnah is not specifically named (Judges 16:4).

The LORD had commanded Israel not to become involved in mixed marriages with the people of the land (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). But Samson had the misfortune of living too close to the border of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. And he lacked the determination to abide by the commands of the LORD.

There were other significant events associated with Timnah. Here is a brief list.

  • Judah went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, at which time he mistook Tamar, his own widowed daughter-in-law, for a prostitute. She conceived and bore twin sons (Genesis 38:12-30).
  • Timnah is mentioned as being a town of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10, 57).
  • A little later the territory had transferred to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:40-46).
  • By the time of King Ahaz (735-715 B.C., McKinny), Timnah was in the hands of the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Timnah is identified with Tel Batash in the Sorek Valley, about 4 miles northwest of Beth-Shemesh. Ekron (Tel Miqne) is about 3½ miles west of Timnah. The Sorek River flows past both cities on its way to the Mediterranean.

Tel Batash was excavated by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three seasons (1977-79). Between 1981-89, the site was excavated under the direction of George L. Kelm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University. The site was occupied from the Middle Bronze IIB (18th or 17th centuries B.C.), through the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. In Iron Age I, Timnah was a Philistine city.

Kelm and Mazar wrote Timnah A Biblical City in the Sorek Valley (Eisenbrauns 1995) to provide a report of their excavations.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Timnah is off the beaten track and very few people visit it. Easy routes to the site have been blocked by the farmers in the Valley. Leon Mauldin and I searched for, and eventually located, Timnah in the rich alluvial Sorek Valley in 2011. Unlike Lachish, Mareshah, Gath, or Azekah the tel is unimpressive.

Timnah, beyond the brook Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Timnah, on the southern bank of the Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2013 our friends Trent and Rebekah Dutton were trying to locate Timnah when they saw two shade tents and the Israel Antiquities Authority flag on a small rise in the fields. The IAA was doing some work at the site and explained to them the restoration work they were doing. Here is a photo the Dutton’s shared of the reconstructed Oil Press from the 7th century B.C. See Kelm and Mazar, pp. 150-152, for the way this looked at the time of the dig. An architect’s (Leen Ritmeyer) drawing of the installation is found on page 87. Some finds are intentionally covered by the excavators at the end of a season or the completion of a dig. This appears to be one such example.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

Earlier this month Leon and I had the opportunity to fly over the Sorek Valley. I don’t think our pilot had ever seen the site before, but our previous experience on the ground, Google earth, and the excavation report allowed us to locate it from the air.

Aerial view of Timnah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Timnah and the Sorek (April, 2016). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I think the little white building covers the Oil Press installation. After a quarter of a century the excavated areas are now covered with natural growth.

It is a long story, but this is where Samson met his first Philistine wife, and maybe another. There is always a danger when one lives too close to the border.

If you do not already have Brad Gray’s Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong, now might be time to take a look at our earlier review.

My late friend and colleague, James Hodges, served as an Area Supervisor at Timnah in 1977.

Only one example of Roman crucifixion discovered

The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1968 when, during a controlled archaeological dig under the direction of the late Vasillios Tzaferis, an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood. He was buried with the nail in his heel.

Ankle bone of a man crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ankle bone replica of  Yehohanan, son of Hagkol, who was crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Display in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

No ossuary or bones belonging to Jesus have been found. I am aware of the speculation that a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem contained the family of Jesus, and possibly even the ossuary of Jesus. One summary of this speculation was published by Bible Places Blog here.

The angel at the empty tomb of Jesus announced to the women who had gone to complete the burial,

He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. (Matthew 28:6 NET)

Rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

SourceFlix has posted a nice brief video of Passion Week Archaeology here.

Post updated from March, 2013.

Jerusalem is older than we thought

The first time the word Jerusalem appears in the Bible is in Joshua 10:1, about 1400 B.C., but we understand that the reference to Salem in Genesis 14:18 is an early reference to Jerusalem. Abraham paid tithes to the priest-king Melchizedek.

New archaeological discoveries in the Jerusalem area attest to a well-established settlement as early as the 5th millennium BC, according to a news release Wednesday from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Here is the news release:

An important discovery was recently unearthed in north Jerusalem when archaeological excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the laying of a road in the Shuʻfat neighborhood [Shuʻfat is a short distance south of the site of Gibeah] – initiated and financed by Moriah, the Jerusalem Development Company – revealed the remains of an ancient settlement from the Chalcolithic period, approximately 7,000 years ago (fifth millennium BCE).

During the Chalcolithic period, man started using tools made of copper (chalcos in Greek) for the first time while continuing to use tools made of stone (lithos), hence the name given to the period. According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, Head of the IAA’s Prehistory Branch, “The Chalcolithic period is known in the Negev, the coastal plain, the Galilee and the Golan, but is almost completely absent in the Judean Hills and Jerusalem. Although in recent years we have discovered a few traces of Chalcolithic settlements, such as those at Abu Gosh, Motza Junction, and the Holyland compound in Jerusalem, they have been extremely sparse. Now, for the first time, we have discovered significant remains from 7,000 years ago.”

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation exposed two dwelling houses with well-preserved remains and floors containing various installations as well as pottery vessels, flint tools, and a basalt bowl, all typical of the period. The construction phases and signs of their maintenance show that the buildings were used for a considerable time.

According to Ronit Lupo, director of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority: “On completion of the excavations at Shuʻfat, it is quite evident that there was a thriving settlement in the Jerusalem area in ancient times. Thousands of years later, the buildings uncovered are of a standard that would not fall short of Jerusalem’s architecture. This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity. Apart from the pottery, the fascinating flint finds attest to the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times: Small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building, borers and awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported. The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community. We also recovered a few bones of sheep/goat and possibly cattle; these will be analyzed further in the Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories, permitting us to recreate the dietary habits of the people who lived here 7,000 years ago and enhancing our understanding of the settlement’s economy.”

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

HT: Joseph Lauer; the major Israeli newspapers.

The aqueducts at Caesarea Maritima

At Caesarea Maritima, visitors may see the high-level aqueduct at the point where it comes to an end likely due to erosion from the waves of the sea. According to Murphy-O’Connor the eastern channel (on the right) was “built by a Roman Procurator about the middle of the C1 AD.” The western channel was built by Hadrian. Some attribute the eastern channel to Herod the Great.

The high level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The high level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next image is an aerial photo showing a long stretch of the high level aqueduct at Caesarea. You can also see the low level aqueduct a few yards inland (east). The low level aqueduct was built in the late 4th or early 5th century A.D.

Aerial view of the aqueduct north of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of the aqueduct north of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caesarea Maritima was a first century Roman capital and seaport. The gospel was first preached to the Gentiles here when Peter came from Joppa to Caesarea to tell Cornelius words by which he could be saved (Acts 10, 11).

The Apostle Paul used the harbor at Caesarea several times. He was imprisoned in the city for two years before departing for Rome (Acts 24:27; 27:1).