Category Archives: Archaeology

Another mosaic uncovered at Lod

In the Old Testament Lod is listed as a town of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 8:12), but it seems significant only after the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile (Nehemiah 11:25; Ezra 2:33).

In the New Testament the town is known as Lydda and the place where the Apostle Peter preached and healed a paralytic named Aeneas (Acts 9:31-35).

In modern times Lod is the location of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

You might enjoy this account by the Israel Antiquities Authority about the discovery of another impressive mosaic in Lod.

While building the visitor center for the Lod Mosaic, which was exposed in the past and is considered one of the most spectacular in the country, another impressive mosaic was discovered at the site

This week the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Lod municipality, invites the public for a unique opportunity to come see the new mosaic

An impressive mosaic revealed in archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Lod will be open for the first time this week, specifically for visits by the public, in cooperation with the Lod municipality.

In June–November 2014 a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority directed a large excavation in the Neve Yerek neighborhood of Lod, in an area where a breathtaking mosaic that served as the living room floor in a villa some 1,700 years ago was previously exposed. The aim of the excavation was to prepare the ground for construction of a visitor center, to which the beautiful mosaic will be returned when it completes a series of exhibitions in museums around the world. Important artifacts were discovered in the new excavation, the most notable of which is another colorful mosaic (11 × 13 m) that was the courtyard pavement of the magnificent villa that had the famous mosaic in its living room.

A portion of the newly discovered Lod mosaic showing fish. Photo by Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

A portion of the newly discovered Lod mosaic showing fish. Photo by Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Amir Gorzalczany, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The villa we found was part of a neighborhood of affluent houses that stood here during the Roman and Byzantine periods. At that time Lod was called Diospolis and was the district capital, until it was replaced by Ramla after the Muslim conquest. The building was used for a very long time”.

The northern part of the complex, where the “Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center” will be constructed, was exposed when the Israel Antiquities Authority was inspecting development work being carried out in the early 1990s prior to the construction of Highway 90. The mosaic, which was discovered and excavated at that time by the late Miriam Avissar, is among the most beautiful in the country, and has been exhibited in recent years in some of the world’s leading museums, including the Metropolitan, the Louvre and the State Hermitage etc. It is currently on display at the Cini Gallery in Venice, Italy, and in the future it will be housed in the main building to be erected in Lod.

A portion of the newly discovered Lod mosaic showing fanimals. Photo by Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

A portion of the newly discovered Lod mosaic showing fanimals. Photo by Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

The southern part of the complex was exposed in the current excavations. Among other things, it includes a large magnificent courtyard that is paved with a mosaic and surrounded by porticos (stoas–covered galleries open to the courtyard) whose ceiling was supported by columns. According to Dr. Gorzalczany, “The eastern part of the complex could not be completely exposed because it extends beneath modern buildings in the neighborhood”. The scenes in this mosaic depict hunting and hunted animals, fish, flowers in baskets, vases and birds. Dr. Gorzalczany added, “The quality of the images portrayed in the mosaic indicates a highly developed artistic ability”. Numerous fragments of frescoes (wall paintings prepared on wet plaster) reflect the decoration and the meticulous and luxurious design, which are in the best tradition of the well-born of the period. In light of the new discoveries, this part of the villa will also be incorporated in the visitor center.

Archaeologists Hagit Torgë, Uzi ‘Ad, Eriola Jakoel and Yossi Elisha of the Israel Antiquities Authority participated in the excavation.

According to the press release: “Visiting hours: Tuesday–Wednesday, November 17–18: 8:00 to 16:00. Friday, November 20: 8:00 to 13:00. Driving directions: Come to Ha-Halutz Street in Lod, by way of Ginnaton Junction.”

HT: Joseph Lauer

The French and archaeology

Media commentators have spoken of the long relationship between France and the United States of America. We may disagree vigorously with various French policies, but in times like this we join in deep concern for the attack on freedom and human life that Paris has recently experienced.

Notre Dame and the River Seine. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notre Dame and the River Seine. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I have visited France on several occasions. When I have that opportunity I always try to visit the Louvre Museum at least twice during my stay. French archaeologists have worked throughout the Middle East and brought many of the artifacts to Paris for display.

When I first became aware of those little books on Biblical archaeology by Prof. André Parrot, I purchased used copies of everyone I could locate. Parrot was for a time Curator-in-Chief of the French National Museums, Professor at the Ecole du Louvre, and director of the Mari Archaeology Expedition. Mari is in Syria.

The Louvre displays numerous items from Syria. How many of you have traveled in Syria and visited the archaeological sites and the wonderful museums? Not so many, I suppose. But many have visited the Louvre in Paris and seen some of the greatest discoveries of the ancient world.

The photo below shows the display from Ugarit (Ras Shamra), a city on the Mediterranean coast of Syria a few miles north of Latakia. The excavations were conducted by French archaeologists Claude F. A. Schaeffer. Baal is portrayed as the Canaanite god of grain, weather, and war. This, and the Ugaritic documents displayed in the Louvre, provided much background information for those who study the Bible.

Stele of Baal from Ugarit (Ras Shamra). Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Stele of Baal from Ugarit (Ras Shamra). Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The great archaeological work by the French is much appreciated. Time would fail me to tell of all of the French archaeologists who have contributed to our knowledge.

Plans to excavate Tel Shimron

Tel Shimron is located in the ancient territory of the Israelite tribe of Zebulun. There are only two references to the site in the Bible, both in the book of Joshua.

  • When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of the successes of Joshua in the south of Canaan he sent word to the kings of the region to form an alliance. The king of Shimron was included in the group (Joshua 11:1).
  • The other reference lists Shimron as one of the cities of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15).

Location. Shimron is located about five miles due east of Nazareth at the intersection of highway 7626 with the main east-west highway 75. This is the NW side of the Jezreel Valley. The tel is 2.4 miles SE of Beit Lehem HaGelilit (Bethlehem of Galilee) which is also within the territory of Zebulun. See here and here.

Tel Shimron. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Pikiwiki Iserael.

Tel Shimron. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

Word comes, through a combination of sources, that the Museum of the Bible (scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2017), the Israel Antiquities Authority, Wheaton College, and perhaps the Albright Institute, will be working together on this project. See the Museum of the Bible announcement here.

Wheaton College will still be working at Ashkelon in 2016, but will conduct an archaeological survey and a Ground Penetrating Radar (GRP) survey of Tel Shimron in 2016, with plans to begin an excavation in 2017. The program leaders are Dr. Daniel Master and Dr. Adam Miglio. More information here.

A brief YouTube video (here) featuring Cary Summers, president of the Bible Museum, with Matthew J. Adams, Dorot Director of the W. F. Albright Institute, talking about the significance of Tel Shimron at the site.

I have been close, but never to Tel Shimron. The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands has one photo of the mound in the disc on Galilee and the North. has a nice collection of photos as well as maps and historical information here.

HT: Trent and Rebekah Dutton

Index of articles about Peter’s Epistles

Pontus and Peter’s Epistles. [Amasus, Amisos, Samsun, Black Sea coast]

Persecution of Christians in Pontus. [Pliny, Sinope, Sinop, Pontus, Bithynia, Pontus]

Black Sea coastal town of Sinop.

Sinop is the northernmost city of Asia Minor (now Turkey).

Some famous Sinopeans. [Diogenes the Cynic, Serapis]

More famous Sinopeans. [Aquila (2nd century), Marcion, Phocas (Phokas), Sinop Gospels]

The Halys (Kizilirmak) River.

The delivery of Peter’s Epistles.

The Samsun Archaeological Museum.

Hidden treasure. [Samsun, Turkey]

Visiting the Black Sea coast of Turkey. [Samsun, Sinop, Pontus, Aquila]

The Bosphorus – “a liquid line”.

Selected Related Posts Pertaining to Peter’s Epistles

Cappadocia was home to early Christians.

Cappadocian sunrise.

The Bosphorus. [Bythinia]

Elaborate hairstyles in New Testament times.

In search of the Tombs of the Maccabees

Much attention has been given to speculation about the location of the graves of the Maccabees. The search is important to Jews because it is an important part of their history, leading to the overthrow of the Seleucid oppressors, and the cleansing of the temple. It is also important to the rest of us who study the Bible and understand the part the Maccabees played in the history of Israel.

At Modin, a village north-west of Jerusalem, on the way from Jerusalem to Lod, the Syrians tried to force an old priest by the name of Mattathias to offer a pagan sacrifice. The priest refused, but another Jew volunteered to offer the sacrifice. Mattathias killed his fellow Jew and the Syrian officer. As word spread, Mattathias became a national hero. He was of the family of Hasmon (or Asmoneus). Thus began the Hasmoneans.

Sign marking location of the possible Maccabean Graves at Modin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Location of the possible Maccabean Graves at Modin, 2005. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The discovery of a burial cave at Modin thought to have been used by the Maccabees and/or their descendants was reported in November, 1995. There are Israeli scholars who have argued that this is not the true grave of the Maccabees. They say that it is the location of graves belonging to Christians and others during the Byzantine Period. An article in Haaretz back in 2011 quotes one of the Israeli archaeologists.

Amit Re’em, an archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority says all the evidence points to the fact that these graves are of Christians and pagans and that this burial site actually belongs to an ancient monastery.

A news release issued Tuesday by the Israel Antiquities Authority, quoting the same scholar, states that these tombs may be the Tomb of the Maccabees, or at least tombs thought to be such by the Byzantine Christians.

According to Amit Re’em and Dan Shahar, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “There is no doubt that the structure that was uncovered is unusual. The descriptions from 150 years ago were revealed right here in front of our eyes, and we discovered the magnificent burial vaults, enormous pillars that apparently supported a second story, a forecourt that led to the tomb and other associated buildings. To our disappointment, the building seen by our predecessors had been robbed, and its stones were taken to construct settlements in the vicinity; nevertheless, the appearance of the place is impressive and stimulates the imagination. The archaeological evidence currently at hand is still insufficient to establish that this is the burial place of the Maccabees. If what we uncovered is not the Tomb of the Maccabees itself, then there is a high probability that this is the site that early Christianity identified as the royal funerary enclosure, and therefore, perhaps, erected the structure. Evidently one cannot rule out the assumptions of the past, but an excavation and a lot of hard work are still required in order to confirm that assumption unequivocally, and the riddle remains unsolved–the search for the elusive Tomb of the Maccabees continues”.

Archaeologists ponder whether these tombs actually belong to the Maccabeans. Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority.

Archaeologists ponder whether these tombs actually belong to the Maccabeans. Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority.

Of Interest to Christians. The Gospel of John records more visits to Jerusalem by Jesus than any other of the Gospels. John is the only one to record the visit during the Feast of Dedication.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter,  and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:22-23 ESV)

BDAG translates the Greek term egkainia as “festival of rededication.” The feast is also known as Hanukkah and the Feast of Lights.

What is the Feast of Dedication? This feast, observed on the 25th of Kislev (roughly our December), had its origin in the period between the testaments. The desecration of the temple by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes took place in 168 B.C. The climax of the Maccabean revolt was the removal of all evidences of pagan worship from the temple. An eight day feast of dedication was observed in 165 B.C., and continued to be observed annually by the Jews.

The current IAA news release may be read here.

David stayed at Mahanaim when he fled from Absalom

The name Mahanaim is found 13 times in the Old Testament. The site is where Jacob and Laban met and made a covenant. Mahanaim seems to mean “two camps” (Genesis 32:2). This is where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with a man (angel, Hosea 12:4). When morning came, Israel crossed over Penuel (Genesis 32:31).

Two large tells face each other and the Jabbok River flows in an S-curve between them. The tells are now named Tall adh-Dhahab East and Tall adh-Dhahab West. These tells are located a few miles east of the Plains of the Jordan and Tell Deir Allah (likely the site of biblical Succoth). Some scholars identify Dhahab West as Mahanaim and Dhahab East as Penuel. Other scholars reverse the identifications.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When Transjordan was divided among the tribes, Mahanaim was located in the territory of Gad on the boundary with East Manasseh (Joshua 13:26, 30). It was one of the cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:38; 1 Chronicles 6:80).

Ishbosheth made king over Israel from Mahanaim

After the death of Saul, Abner made Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, king over all Israel from Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:8, 12, 29).

David fled to Mahanaim

When David fled from his rebellious son Absalom he fled across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24, 27; cf. 2 Kings 2:8). Absalom met his death in a nearby forest.

A Gileadite by the name of Barzillai took care of King David while he stayed at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 19:32). The city became one of Solomon’s administrative centers (1 Kings 4:14).

Song 6:13 describes gazing upon the Shulammite girl to be like looking on “the dance of the two camps” or “dance of two companies” (CSB, JPS, NAU, NKJ). Other translations use the expression “the dance of Mahanaim” (ASV, NIV, NJPS, TNIV) or “dance of the Mahanaim” (NET).

Recent excavations at Dhahab West, conducted by a German team, have revealed what they believe to be part of a monumental building of Herod the Great. They think this was the Hellenistic and Roman site described by Josephus as Amathus.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our photo shows both tells. (Tall adh-Dhahab East is on the left. Tall adh-Dhahab West is on the right.) There is a pumping station on the Jabbok to provide agricultural irrigation. The Jabbok continues in the valley separating the two hills and tells.

Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in teaching presentations.

Philistines introduced new plants to the coastal plain

One of my neighbors came to the USA from an Asian country spelled with five letters beginning with “I”. After he moved in, some strange plants that I had not seen in our part of the world began to grow. Perhaps he got then at  Exotic Plants R Us, but I doubt it.

Maybe you have had the same experience. Apparently the same thing happened to ancient Israel. Typical plants known to the Biblical Israelites include wheat, barley, grapes, olives, pomegranate, date, and fig.

Sign in the Ashkelon National Park indicating one of the groups that inhabited the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign in the Ashkelon National Park indicating one of the groups that inhabited the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What happened when the Philistines moved in? A recent article by Frumin, Maeir, Horwitz, and Weiss in Scientific Reports provides an answer. The authors describe their approach.

Here we propose a novel research approach aiming to study the different anthropogenic impacts on an ecosystem resulting from the advent of an extinct historical culture, the Philistines–one of the so-called “Sea Peoples”–that appeared in the southern Levantine littoral, after ca. 1,200 BCE. Until quite recently, the accepted view was that the Philistines originated from a single region, most likely somewhere in the Aegean. Recent research has revised this view and shown that in fact, the Philistine culture is comprised of migrants of multiple foreign origins, including the Aegean, who, when arriving in Canaan, intermingled with local Canaanites. The non-Levantine origin of a substantial portion of the Philistine culture is evidenced by their distinctive architecture, ceramic ware, technologies and ritual activities that point to their diverse and multifaceted origins with different components resembling Aegean, Cypriot, Anatolian, Egyptian and even Southeast European cultures.

The article is chocked-full of maps and diagrams which I will leave for you to explore at your leisure. What really caught my attention was the introduction of new species of plants by the Philistines. The three plants were,

  1. Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), found at Aphek in the early Iron Age.
  2. Sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) found at Ashkelon in the late Iron Age.
  3. Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) found at Ashkelon in the late Iron Age.

Cumin and sycamore came from the Eastern Mediterranean, but opium came from west Europe.

Let’s take a look at a few Biblical references to cumin and sycamore.

Cumin is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C. (28:25, 27), and then by Jesus in the first century A.D.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23 ESV)

Cummin for sale at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cummin for sale at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sycamore is mentioned in connection with Solomon who wanted to make cedars as plentiful in Jerusalem as the sycamores were in the Shephelah.

And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. (1 Kings 10:27 ESV)

Amos of Tekoah claimed to be one who took care of the sycamore fig trees.

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. (Amos 7:14 ESV)

And there is the well known story of Zacchaeus who climbed up into a sycamore tree at Jericho in order to see Jesus as He passed by.

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:4 ESV)

Sycamore figs at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sycamore figs at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The opium poppy is not mentioned in the Bible and is not currently grown in Israel. Turkey is one of three countries where it is grown for medicinal purposes . I have seen small fields of it in several places in Turkey.

Opium poppies are grown for medicinal purposes in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Opium poppies are grown for medicinal purposes in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The link to the full article by Frumin, Maeir, et al. is here. Near the top there is a link to the PDF file. An informative article by Nir Hasson appeared in Haaretz here earlier this week.

Archaeology does not consist solely of stone walls and broken pottery. It also includes uncovering and identifying the tiniest of seed.

HT: Thanks to Aren Maeir, director of the excavation at Gath for the original article. Check out his blog.