An inscription (top of above photo and below), written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” (photos from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
New neighbourhood construction in the southern part of the Sharon Plain of central Israel has revealed an estate, some 1,600 years old, which was determined by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists to have been the property of a wealthy Samaritan. The discovery reinforced evidence that, at one time, the area was extensively populated by the Samaritans, who claim they are Israelite descendants of the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. An inscription, written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” According to Dr. Hagit Torge, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress [near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found] that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual named Adios. This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first winepress was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya.” The Samaritans were originally brought to the region as part of Assyrian policy, and first settled on and around Mount Gerizim.
A Hellenistic-era golden earring, discovered in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park. (photo from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
A Hellenistic-era golden earring, featuring ornamentation of a horned animal, was discovered in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park encircling the Old City walls. The discovery was made during archeological digs carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University. According to the researchers, “It is unclear whether the gold earring was worn by a man or a woman, nor do we know their cultural or religious identity, but we can say for certain that whoever wore this earring definitely belonged to Jerusalem’s upper class. This can be determined by the proximity to the Temple Mount and the Temple, which was functional at the time, as well as the quality of the gold piece of jewelry.”
One of two Egyptian sarcophagi covers – one dating to between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE (Iron Age) and the other to between the 16th and 14th centuries BCE (the late Bronze Age) – that were seized by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspectors four years ago while checking shops in the market of Jerusalem’s Old City. In a short ceremony on May 22, they were returned to Egypt. Egyptian ambassador Hazem Khairat expressed Egypt’s appreciation for all the efforts made by the Israeli authorities to return these smuggled antiquities to their country of origin.
An artist’s impression of the interior of the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. (all photos from Ashernet)
The Museum of the Bible, which will open in Washington, D.C., in November 2017, will display a large collection on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The museum will cover an area of 48,000 square metres and use advanced techniques to illustrate Bible stories. Following an agreement with IAA, the new $400 million privately funded museum will devote a whole floor to a revolving selection of items from the two million held by IAA in Israel.
The museum also will house the Green Collection, the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. Steve Green is the founder and president of the 600-branch U.S.-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain. The museum building, which was formerly the home of the Washington Design Centre, was purchased by Green for $50 million in 2012.
On the website deadseascrolls.org.il, visitors can explore the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (screenshot)
Have you ever taped up a torn page? In our household, taping has saved many a book and article from falling apart. Seems like a practical solution, right?
Wrong! While it might do the job on faulty binding or read-it-again storybooks, it hasn’t worked well on extremely old, organic (mostly animal skin) materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Curator Pnina Shor, who heads up the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Department for the Treatment and Conservation of Artifacts, recently discussed this sticky mess.
According to Shor, for some 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls had been stored in 11 dark caves below sea level in a steady climate of hot/dry days and cold/dry nights. Beginning with their first discovery in the late 1940s, archeologists transferred the scrolls from the Qumran area to open rooms at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, some 800 metres above sea level. As anyone who has ever visited Jerusalem and the Dead Sea knows, these places are geographically close, but climatically quite far apart.
At the time, archeologists eagerly wanted to piece together the enormous puzzle of 15,000 (biblical and non-biblical) fragments now at their disposal. Most manuscripts date from the first century BCE to the first century CE, the periods of the Hasmonean and Herodian rule. The archeologists did not know the risks involved in handling such fragile, ancient pieces. So, for example, they touched the parchment with their bare hands, leaving skin oil on the surfaces. They drank their tea and ate their lunch over the texts. (Like the rest of us, researchers are guilty of leaving crumbs and spills.)
In the early second half of the 20th century, archeologists were unaware of the negative consequences of taping torn texts and fragments. They did not realize that the glass panes sandwiching the pieces would put additional weight on the delicate remains.
So, what happened? Sadly, the tape’s adhesive congealed. Some of the texts (especially evident along the edges of the texts) darkened to the point where they became indecipherable to the naked eye.
Measures to contain or reverse the damage began in the 1960s. Unfortunately, this treatment inadvertently resulted in further damage. Until the 1990s, when there was consultation with U.S. preservation experts, it was not understood that the safest environment for the scrolls was a replication of their original storage conditions. Since that time, however, the scrolls have been stored in a climate-controlled laboratory, and exhibited in like conditions for extremely limited periods of time.
Between 1990-2009, the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project put out 32 volumes, entitled Discoveries in the Judean Desert. These reports are based on the original infrared photography conducted from the 1950s-60s. The infrared negatives are referred to as PAM (Palestine Archeological Museum).
Four full-time conservationists work on the scrolls. The specialists repair each piece separately, depending on the condition of the leather or papyrus. If you have ever tried removing Scotch tape, you have a sense of what it can do to the material underneath.
The aging adhesive is painstaking removed using a water-based adhesive. Staff members lift stains using a kind of dry poultice. The writings are then placed on acid-free cardboard, lightly covered by Japanese tissue paper. They are housed in solander boxes.
Over the past several years, the IAA has come to feel responsible for sharing these ancient finds, not just with the professional world of archeologists, biblical researchers and historians, but with the public at large. So, on the one hand, some of the scrolls are lent to foreign museums for temporary exhibition. (Currently, the Los Angeles-based California Science Centre has a show.) The more compelling outcome of the new IAA policy, however, has been the mounting of the scrolls to the internet. This undertaking goes by the name of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project, which has brought experts from far afield.
NASA’s Dr. Gregory Bearman was among those who served as a consultant for imaging technologies. With the assistance of various outside experts, a spectral imaging protocol was established, and it applies to the copying of all the writing:
Displaying the “raw” image alongside the full, enhanced version so others can see both the beginning and end point of the work that has been done.
Documenting the imaging procedure so another scholar, employing basically the same image and tools, can replicate the procedure. In that way, the investigator can better judge the degree of subjectivity involved in a given set of image manipulators.
Labeling aggressively enhanced images as electronic reconstructions, that is, the scholar’s best judgment of what s/he thinks should be there, as opposed to what really is there.
The operating philosophy is to cause no [irreversible] harm. Bearman explained some of the benefits of applying spectral photography, namely that it can “determine the amount of water present in the parchment from which the scrolls are made. Data such as this has added value for conservation and preservation issues. If, for example, we discover that the parchments are too dry, it will be necessary to modify the conditions in which they are maintained.”
In his grey-walled photo lab, Shai Halevi spoke about how he photographs and stores the fragments using multi-spectral photography. Working with Google Research, he photographs the fragments using colors both visible (there are seven bands in this range) and invisible (there are five bands in this range) to the naked eye. Thus, letters that had been illegible are now digitally readable using infrared wavelengths in combination with spectroscopy. You have to see it to believe it:
Halevi described how he copies the fragment from a variety of angles, altering the resolution so that we (the viewing public) will be able to navigate around any part of a scanned image and magnify or reduce any section. Using different filters, Halevi allows us, for example, to see parchment folds appear and disappear at will.
He saves the images in a databank maintained by Google. For each fragment, there are 28 frontal images (referred to as “recto”), 28 back images (“verso”) and two extra color images, which the spectral imaging creates. The internet goal is twofold: first, to have all the fragments uploaded for open viewing and, second, to eventually add transcriptions and translations for all the text.
Recently, perhaps with a gesture toward Shavuot, which celebrates our receiving of the Ten Commandments, Shor brought out an ancient manuscript containing the Decalogue. This inscription is part of a very small scroll (its width is only 2.56 inches, or 6.5 centimetres) containing excerpts from the Book of Deuteronomy. It lists two reasons for keeping the Sabbath: what we know as the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 5:15, the commemoration of the Exodus, that is, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, G-d took our ancestors from Egypt; and what we know as the Masoretic text of Exodus 20:11, the commemoration of Creation, that is, G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
This and other texts are within easy reach on the website of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (deadseascrolls.org.il).
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
A horse figurine is evidence of early Jewish ritual practice. (photo by Clara Amit/IAA.COM)
One might think that a significant archeological find a few hours’ walk from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem would turn up artifacts we would recognize as Jewish. But since the Judaism of the day was not what we know, the find yielded ritual objects that seem vaguely pagan, almost heretical by today’s standards.
Shua Kisilevitz, the archeologist who was part of the team that excavated the site at Tel Motza, about seven kilometres west of Jerusalem, prefers the phrase “pagan Yahwism” to describe the religion of the era.
Last December, Kisilevitz and three fellow archeologists announced what they called an “unusual and striking” find, unearthed in construction for a highway: the 2,750-year-old walls of a temple, along with a cache of ritual objects that included a pedestal decorated with lions and sphinxes, pendants, pottery and vessel fragments, and figurines – two human and two animal – that may or may not have depicted deities.
The dig provides “rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general and in the Jerusalem region in particular,” the team announced.
The uniqueness of the find is even more remarkable, the archeologists said, because of its proximity to the First Temple, built, according to the Bible, under King Solomon in 960 BCE. But archeologists know little about the period’s religious practices because there are hardly any remnants of ritual buildings from the era, according to Kisilevitz.
While more study is needed, the find provides valuable insights into what those rituals might have been, she said in an interview prior to her recent talk on the subject at the University of Toronto. While those practices may seem strange and un-Jewish today, they were in keeping with the rules of the time, Kisilevitz said.
Previous excavations showed that Motza functioned within the royal administration of the Kingdom of Judah, she said. “It was very much connected to Jerusalem. [It couldn’t] create its own religion. The people of Motza didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, we want to create something new.’ They couldn’t break off so easily.”
The artifacts are important because they reflect a formative time for Judaism, she noted, adding they show that the ancient Israelite faith was not always centralized in Jerusalem and its practitioners may have used ritual objects now forbidden as graven images. “There are all these presumptions we have which we project onto the early formation of religion,” Kisilevitz said. “This temple finally shows us how the religion started out and what it really looked like at the time. They [were] doing what was common in the period.”
The find also conforms to biblical accounts, which mention local religious precincts outside Jerusalem, she added. And “Motza” is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin, which bordered Judah.
Kisilevitz, who works for the Israeli Antiquities Authority and is in Ontario for several months on an exchange with the University of Toronto, said the team does not know whether the human and animal figurines served a religious purpose. “It’s kind of tricky and a little bit hard to say,” she noted.
The archeological team believes the temple at Tel Motza must have functioned before religious reforms enacted in the times of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, which abolished all ritual sites outside Jerusalem and concentrated religious practices solely in the Temple.
Kisilevitz believes the artifacts do not conflict “at all” with modern understanding of Judaism. “We just have to change the way we think of the religion at the beginning.”
Ron Csillag is a Toronto freelance writer. A version of this article was originally published in theCanadian Jewish News.