2500 year-old ship replica back in the water

During a visit to the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa (Israel) last year I was impressed by the reconstructed ruins of a ship that sailed the Mediterranean during the Persian period about 400 B.C. Information with the display reads,

In the autumn of 1985, remains of a 2400 year old merchantman were discovered in shallow water off the coast of Kibbutz Ma’agan Mikhael. A thick layer of sand and a large quantity of ballast stones covered the ship, thus protecting the wood and other perishable materials, from the elements.

Three seasons of excavation (1988-1989) were conducted by marine archaeologists from the Center for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa and volunteers. After a long process of conservation the ship was placed on display in The Ma’agan Mikhael Ship Wing of the Hecht Museum.

The vessel measured approximately 12.5 m. long and 4 m. wide and had a load capacity of about 15 tons. Thirteen tons of stones and rocks were found during the excavation, the majority being bluechist. “It was used for roofing, flooring and for decorative articles” and originated from the Greek island of Euboea, northeast of Athens.

All of my information comes from signs displayed in the Hecht Museum.

The Ma'agan Mikhael ship displayed in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Ma’agan Mikhael ship displayed in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Word comes that the a replica of the ship has been reconstructed and that it will be displayed for the press Friday, March 17. Here is the Press Invitation which explains about the reconstruction.

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The Ma’agan Michael Ship is “going back” in the water: 2500 years after the ship sank off the coast at Ma’agan Michael, and 30 years after the shipwreck was discovered and removed from the water, a replica of the vessel will be launched. The official launching ceremony will take place this coming Friday (17 March 2017) and will be organized by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The replica was built over the past two years, using exactly the same materials, working methods, and tools that were used 2500 years ago.

The Ship launching ceremony will be attended by the President of the University, Professor Ron Robin, the Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Mr. Yisrael Hasson, ship builders staff, volunteers and their families. According to the ancient practice of launching a new ship into the sea, oil and water to be poured into the sea for good luck (“Blessing Poseidon”), and it will set sail (weather permitting).

Ma'agan Michael-replica. Photo courtesy of the University of-Haifa.

Ma’agan Michael replica. Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa.

The ancient Ma’agan Michael Ship has always been a star. It was discovered in 1985 by Ami Eshel, a member of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, some 70 meters from the kibbutz. The ship was removed from the sea in 1988 in a project directed by Dr. Elisha Linder, one of the founders of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. Most of the ship had been covered in sand, helping to preserve it in a remarkable condition. The keel, numerous wooden plates, 14 crossbars, and the base of the mast were all preserved, offering researchers rare insights into the method used to construct the ship. In addition, the preserved tools found in the ship included the carpenter’s toolbox, a discovery that sparked the dream of building a replica using the same methods and tools used by the original shipwrights. In a complex procedure undertaken at the University of Haifa, a special preservative was inserted into the wooden base of the ship, which received its own display room at the university’s Hecht Museum.

The late Prof. Yaacov Kahanov of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa did not abandon the dream of building a replica of the ship. Prof. Kahanov was a young research student when the ship was taken out of the water. Two years ago, he finally began the work of building a replica, together with Avner Hilman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, for whom the use of the ancient working methods formed part of a doctorate thesis. Together with a team of volunteers, they began the work, most of which took place at the Naval Academy in Akko.

However, the team working on the replica project soon encountered a problem. While they were familiar with the basic principle of the work – assembly using bolts and sockets – the other details were lost in the mists of time. They were unsure of the proper and most efficient way to bend the wooden beams in order to create the curved shape of the ship; the most suitable type of wood for the mast; and the precise temperature to which the copper nails should be heated. In many cases the team worked on a trial and error basis until they produced the desired result.

Ma'agan Michael-replica. Photo courtesy of the University of-Haifa.

Ma’agan Michael-replica. Photo courtesy of the University of-Haifa.

After two year’s work, the project was completed successfully and the replica was taken to Israel Shipyards and then to Kishon harbor. The ship will be officially launched at the harbor according to all the proper ceremonies and will return to the waters where its elder sister sailed 2500 years ago. Prof. Yaacov Kahanov, the leading spirit behind the project, passed away just before the work was completed.

The launching ceremony will take place on Friday, 17 March 2007, from 10:00 a.m. at Shavit fishing and sailing harbor in Haifa – Nachal Kishon. We invite you to cover the event.

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The Nachal (River) Kishon is where the LORD defeated Jabin and Sisera at a point several miles east of the mouth of the river (Judges 4-5; Psalm 83:9). I wish I could be there to see the ship launched.

HT: Joseph Lauer

A question about dolmen

A reader who read our report on the dolmen field in the Golan Heights ask on Facebook if these structures could be the high places or altars mentioned in the Old Testament. The simple answer is “No.” They are thought to be tombs.

This photo of a dolmen was made at Gamla in the Golan Heights.

Dolmen at Gamla in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dolmen at Gamla in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In an article about the Golan Archaeological Museum at Qatzrin in the Golan Heights, Nemlich and Killebrew make these comments:

Another strange sight on the Golan is fields of dolmens. Throughout the Golan, hundreds of dolmens are visible on the horizon. They are made of huge unworked basalt slabs and resemble giant stone tables. In fact the word dolmen derives from two Old Breton words—dol, meaning table, and men, meaning stone.

Dolmens were built to serve as tombs. Because of the absence of any associated contemporary house remains, we infer that the dolmen builders were nomadic or seminomadic tribesmen.

The Golan dolmens vary in size, ranging from those built of three or four large boulders to the giants measuring over 20 feet wide and rising to heights of over 10 feet. Some dolmens are free-standing, but many others are partially—or completely—covered by stone heaps, or tumuli. Still others are surrounded by circles of stones.

Beneath each table-like structure is a rectangular underground chamber with a paved floor and a roof made with heavy slabs. Apparently, this chamber was used for a secondary burial: About a year after death, when the flesh of the deceased had decayed, the bones were reburied in the chamber beneath the dolmen, together with a few funerary gifts of pottery vessels and weapons, usually of copper. Many dolmen chambers were reused as ready-made tombs, both in ancient and modern times. The earliest artifacts found in them, however, enable us to date them to the period archaeologists call Middle Bronze I—about 2200–2000 B.C. (a little before the most commonly dated period for the patriarchal age). (Nemlich, Shlomit and Ann Killebrew. “Recovering the Ancient Golan—The Golan Archaeological Museum.” Biblical Archaeology Review.  Nov/Dec 1988.)

There are other suggestions about the purpose of the dolmen. David E. Graves left this comment, with photos, on our Facebook page:

In 2009 we excavated an undisturbed dolmen in Jordan at Tall el-Hammam and recovered 16 EB whole vessels. We did not discover any skeletal remains and so hypothesis they were family memorials and used the table top to de-flesh the remains before reburial.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the recently announced discovery reported this past week is the images inscribed on the dome of the dolmen. The recent IAA Press Release says this,

The chamber inside the dolmen where the engravings were found on its ceiling is large, measuring 2 × 3 meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated fifty tons at least! This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East. The dolmen was enclosed within an enormous stone heap (tumulus) c. 20 meters in diameter, and its stones are estimated to weigh a minimum of 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens that were positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap. In other words, what we have here is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically (with a main cell and secondary cells). This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The engravings that were exposed on the inside of the built chamber. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The engravings that were exposed on the inside of the built chamber. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

There is much more to learn about the dolmen.

Second century A.D. Roman road uncovered

Tuesday brought another press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The headline of the release calls this “a 2,000 Year Old Road,” but the text states that its’ construction is dated to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138).

Aerial photographs of the road. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aerial photographs of the road in the lower right corner of the photo. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Press Release follows.

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A wide and impressive 2,000 year old road dating to the Roman period, in an extraordinary state of preservation, was revealed last February in archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority near Highway 375. The excavation was conducted prior to laying a water pipeline to Jerusalem, at the initiative of, the Bet Shemesh water corporation “Mei Shemesh”. Students from “Ulpanat Amit Noga” in Ramat Bet Shemesh volunteered to participate in the dig.

The excavation director, Irina Zilberbod, at the site. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The excavation director, Irina Zilberbod, at the site. Photographic credit: the Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Irina Zilberbod, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The road that we discovered, which 2,000 years ago passed along a route similar to Highway 375 today, was up to 6 meters wide, continued for a distance of approximately 1.5 kilometers, and was apparently meant to link the Roman settlement that existed in the vicinity of Beit Natif with the main highway known as the “Emperor’s Road”. That road was in fact a main artery that connected the large settlements of Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) and Jerusalem. The construction of the Emperor’s Road is thought to have taken place at the time of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country, circa 130 CE, or slightly thereafter, during the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE. The presence of a milestone (a stone marking distances) bearing the name of the emperor Hadrian which was discovered in the past close to the road reinforces this hypothesis”.

Coins were discovered between the pavement stones: a coin from Year 2 of the Great Revolt (67 CE), a coin from the Umayyad period, a coin of the prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, dating to 29 CE and a coin of Agrippa I from 41 CE that was minted in Jerusalem.

The ancient coins that were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ancient coins that were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The coin at the top is from the Umayyad period (A.D. 661-750). Bottom row (left to right): Herod Agrippa I – A.D. 41; Pontius Pilate – A.D. 29; Jewish Revolt – year 2 – A.D. 67-68.

Up until 2,000 years ago most of the roads in the country were actually improvised trails. However during the Roman period, as a result of military and other campaigns, the national and international road network started to be developed in an unprecedented manner. The Roman government was well aware of the importance of the roads for the proper running of the empire. From the main roads, such as the “Emperor’s Road”, there were secondary routes that led to the settlements where all of the agricultural products were grown. The grain, oil and wine, which constituted the main dietary basis at the time, where transported along the secondary routes from the surroundings villages and then by way of the main roads to the large markets in Israel and even abroad.

According to Amit Shadman, the Israel Antiquities Authority district archaeologist for Judah, “The ancient road passed close to the Israel National Trail and we believe that it will spark interest among the hikers. The Israel Antiquities Authority and Mei Shemesh Corporation have agreed that the road will be conserved in situ, for the public’s benefit”.

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Just a few days ago Todd Bolen called attention to David Bivins reports on the gradual destruction of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Emmaus here. The situation there is tragic. I have witnessed some deterioration of the Roman road near Golani Junction in just a few years. Let’s hope that the situations here will be reversed, and that this road will be preserved for many to see.

This recently uncovered road apparently connected with the road we described here.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I find it especially interesting that coins from A.D. 29, 41, and 67-68 should be found on a road constructed in circa A.D. 130. Others can fill in possible answers.

The roman roads that we see in Israel today were not built until about the time of the first revolt – ca. A.D.66, and mostly in the second century under Trajan and Hadrian.

Israel Roll writes,

The Roman road network in Judaea was not constructed at once, but evolved gradually from the First Revolt onward. Until then the Roman administration used roads that had been built during or prior to the reign of Herod. Our knowledge of those roads is scanty. and is based essentially on isolated written sources– mainly in the New Testament and Josephus. These sources do not
mention anything relating to road construction or maintenance before the beginning of the rebellion in 66 C.E. We may conclude, therefore, that the subject was not of central concern to the Roman procurators. (Israel Roll, “The Roman Road System in Judaea,” Jerusalem Cathedra 3 (1983): 138.

My thought is that the later Roman roads generally followed paths that were already in use by the people.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Surprising ancient dolmen exposed in the Galilee

The Israel Antiquities Authority, in conjunction with Tel Hai College and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, released the following Press Release March 5, 2017.

The 4,000 year old dolmen.View facing north toward Mount Hermon. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen.View facing north toward snow-covered Mount Hermon. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

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A rare and mysterious ancient dolmen was  exposed that is more than 4,000 years old and decorated with ancient rock art

According to researchers, “This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East”

Archaeologists from Tel Hai College, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have recently discovered a mysterious dolmen (a large table-like stone structure) over 4,000 years old in a large field of dolmens, adjacent to Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee. What makes this dolmen so unique is its huge dimensions, the structure surrounding it and most importantly the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling. The study was published last weekend (2/3) in the scientific journal PLOS One.

Aerial photograph of the dolmen field. Photo: Shmuel Magal, Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aerial photograph of the dolmen field. Photo: Shmuel Magal, Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

The dolmen was discovered during a fortuitous visit to the site by Professor Gonen Sharon of the Galilee Studies Program at the Tel Hai College. It is just one of more than 400 huge stone structures dating to the Intermediate Bronze Age (over four thousand years ago) that are located in the dolmen field around Kibbutz Shamir. When Professor Sharon entered the chamber built beneath the largest dolmen he was surprised to discover rock drawings engraved in its ceiling.

From left to right: Professor Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College and Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

From left to right: Professor Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College and Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The discovery of the engravings led to a research project of the dolmen and its environs which produced new revelations concerning the dolmen phenomenon in Israel. “This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East”, said Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority and partner in the study. “The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About fifteen such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery. The panel depicting the art was scanned in the field by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University. By means of an innovative technique, a three-dimensional model of the engraving was produced. “The three-dimensional scan enabled us to identify engravings that otherwise could not be seen with the naked eye”, explained Professor Lior Grossman, the laboratory director.

The chamber inside the dolmen where the engravings were found on its ceiling is large, measuring 2 × 3 meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated fifty tons at least! This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East. The dolmen was enclosed within an enormous stone heap (tumulus) c. 20 meters in diameter, and its stones are estimated to weigh a minimum of 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens that were positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap. In other words, what we have here is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically (with a main cell and secondary cells). This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen overlooking the Hula Valley. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The huge dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is just one of hundreds of enormous densely scattered structures in this region. It bears witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the “Middle Ages” of the Bronze Age. Archaeologists tend to interpret the past based on material finds. The absence of cities, large settlements and monumental buildings attests to the collapse of the governmental and economic systems during a “dark period” in history. The dolmens tell a different story about the period – a story about a society that had a complex governmental and economic system that executed monumental engineering projects but did not leave behind any other archaeological evidence.

“The gigantic dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is without doubt an indication of public construction”, says Professor Sharon, “that required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time. During that time all of those people had to be housed and fed. The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess. And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project”.

Despite all this, the circumstances surrounding the construction of the dolmens, the technology involved in it and the culture of the people who built them are still one of the great mysteries of the archeology of Israel.

Colored beads that were uncovered in the archaeological excavation inside the dolmen. Credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Colored beads that were uncovered in the archaeological excavation inside the dolmen. Credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

What is a Dolmen – A dolmen (stone table) is a megalithic structure (mega = large, lithos = stone) thousands of years old that is built of huge stones. The basic shape of the dolmen resembles a table, and most of them are surrounded by a heap of stones. Dolmens are known elsewhere in the world, from Ireland to Korea. Thousands of dolmens are scattered across the Middle East, from Turkey to Yemen. In the Golan Heights thousands of dolmens of different types were identified which are scattered in concentrations (dolmens fields) on the plateau. Although they are very common and stand out quite prominently in the landscape of ancient Israel, the mystery surrounding the dolmens’ age and their purpose have still not been resolved.

The Dolmen Field at Kibbutz Shamir– the field was first surveyed by the late Moshe Kagan in the 1950’s. More than 400 huge structures overlooking the Hula Valley were identified in the field.

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HT: Israeli newspapers; Joseph Lauer

Ossuaries of interest

Many known ossuaries are undecorated. This means that after a while most people may not remember whose bones are contained therein. But there are some notable exceptions.

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. He was appointed high priest by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea, in A.D. 18 and deposed by Vitellius, legate of Syria, in A.D. 36 at the same time Pilate was removed as procurator of Judea. Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest before whom Jesus was tried (John 18:13-14, 24).

In November, 1990, a burial cave was found accidentally during construction of a water park at a promenade overlooking the Peace Forest just south of the old city of Jerusalem. The cave contained 12 ossuaries, two of which contained the name of the well-known family of the high priest Caiaphas. One ossuary bore the inscription Qafa, and the other bore the name Yehosef bar Qayafa (Joseph, son of Caiaphas) and Yehosef bar Qafa (Joseph, son of Caiaphas). Inside this beautiful ossuary was found the bones of six different people: 2 infants, a child between 2 and 5, a young boy between 13 and 18, an adult woman and “a male of about 60 years!”

According to Josephus, Caiaphas was named Joseph Caiaphas (Ant. 18.2.2).

The Caiaphas ossuary is on display in the Israel Museum. (See articles: Zvi Greenhut, “Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family,” BAR 18.5 (1992): 29-36. Ronny Reich, “Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes,” BAR 18.5 (1992): 38-44.)

Ossuary of Caiaphas displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Caiaphas displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Simon the Builder. According to Mare “there are Herodian family tombs on Mount Scopus, just to the north of the Mount of Olives.” He says that one of the ossuaries has an Aramaic inscription naming a certain Simon, who is honored as “Builder of the temple” (The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area, p. 198).

Ossuary of Simon the Builder displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Simon the Builder displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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, in the same tomb mentioned above, 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. His heel bone was recovered with an iron nail in it.

Ossuary of Yehohanan son of Hagkol displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Yehohanan son of Hagkol in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nothing is quiet as touching as the burial of child. The ossuary pictured below is a small one likely used for the bones of an infant or small child. It is displayed on the grounds of the Trappist Monastery at Latrun Abbey in Israel.

Ossuary for an infant displayed at the Latrun Abbey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary for an infant displayed at the Latrun Abbey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These three articles should provide a little insight into burial practices of the Jews at the time of Jesus.

I have found the chapter on “Tombs and Burial Customs” in Jodi Magness’ Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit, helpful.

The Ossuaries at Dominus Flevit

Thousands of Jewish graves are visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Some of the grave markers are visible in this photo made from the Mount of Olives to the west. The Old City of Jerusalem is visible in the top half of the photo. I don’t know how old these graves are, but some of them are fairly recent.

Jewish graves visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jewish graves visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

But there are older graves in the area. If you have walked down from the observation plaza on the Mount of Olives, where the peddlers and camel jockeys abound, to the Garden of Gethsemane, you have likely passed the entrance to the Franciscan chapel of Dominus Flevit. Tradition has it that this is where Jesus stopped to weep over Jerusalem.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it (Luke 19:41 ESV)

Ossuaries in one of the tombs at Dominus Flevit on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuaries in one of the tombs at Dominus Flevit on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Dominus Flevit cemetery complex contains three tombs. Murphy-O’Connor says,

The first two on the right (counting from the entrance gate) are typical kokhim graves of the period 100 BC–AD 135, the dead were buried in narrow horizontal shafts and later their bones were collected in beautifully made stone boxes (ossuaries) in order to make room for others. (The Holy Land, 5th ed. p. 145)

Harold Mare describes the content of the cemeteries,

Beside seven sarcophagi, many ossuary (bone) boxes were excavated at the Dominus Flevit cemetery. The ossuary boxes, made of stone or wood and averaging 25 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 13 inches high, were decorated with inscribed designs on the sides and tops and often had names inscribed on them as well. Examples of these boxes can be seen in site in the excavation area at the Dominus Flevit and at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. These boxes were used to contain the bones of the dead in secondary burials after the disintegration of the flesh. They were evidently used in Jerusalem until A.D. 70 or possibly until 135. (Mare, W. Harold. The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987. p. 198.)

Mare also points out that several biblical names are found on various ossuaries. This does not mean that the ossuaries belonged to a known biblical character, but that the names were common during the period. John McRay gives a list of names found at this site:

Also found on the ossuaries were forty-three inscriptions. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the inscriptions contain names familiar to readers of the New Testament– Yeshua (Aramaic for Jesus), Miriam (Mary), Martha, Eleazar (Lazarus), Judas, Salome, Matthew, Joseph, Jairus, John, Mattia (Matthias), Sapphira, Menahem (Manaean), Simeon, and Zechariah. (McRay, John. Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. p. 197.)

Both of our photos are sized for PowerPoint use in teaching.

Ossuaries in ancient Jerusalem and Judea

From about 30 B.C. to A.D. 70 (some scholars extend these dates to as late as A.D. 135), ossuaries were used by the Jews in secondary burials. Numerous of these stone receptacles have been discovered. Most of the dead were first buried in caves or rock-cut tombs. After the flesh had decayed, the bones were placed in an ossuary or “bone box.” This provided space for more burials.

The Hecht Museum at Haifa University has a nice display of ossuaries. Six of these have lids on them. The lid is missing on five others.

Display of Jewish Ossuaries in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Display of Jewish Ossuaries in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign with the display states that,

This was a prevalent custom in this period, and one that tied in with the strengthening Jewish belief in the individual, physical resurrection of the deceased from within one’s skeleton (Mishna, Sanhedrin 6:5-6; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 47b).

This is the description of the ossuaries.

The ossuaries are carved of local soft stone (chalk), and most of them lack ornamentation. Ornamentation, if it appears, was executed by carving, incision, or painting. The variety of decorative patterns on the ossuaries includes floral, geometric and architectural patterns. Some have Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek inscriptions stating the name of the deceased.

The top of the sign shows some of the decorations found on ossuaries. Note above, the statement that most ossuaries lacked ornamentation.

Decorations found on Jewish Ossuaries. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Decorations found on Jewish Ossuaries. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rachel Hachlili describes the typical ossuary:

These ossuaries are small limestone boxes approximately 20 inches long, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high. Usually they have a flat, gabled, or rounded lid. All these ossuaries were used for secondary burials; approximately a year after the original burial, when the body had decomposed, the bones of the deceased were collected and placed in the ossuary. (BAR, July/Aug. 1979).

Stone cutting was one of the main occupations of ancient Israel, and some stone cutters evidently specialized in made-to-order ossuaries.

In a future post I plan to show a cemetery filled with ossuaries.