Saturday, September 6, 2008

Are the Dead Sea Scrolls Palestinian treasures?

Are the Dead Sea Scrolls Palestinian national treasures that ought to be displayed in Palestinian Authority museums?

The very question sounds bizarre, and even offensive, to many Israelis. After all, the scrolls occupy a central place in world-wide Jewish discourse. The Israel Museum has dedicated a major and visually striking portion of its grounds to a "Shrine of the Book" housing Dead Sea Scrolls across the street from the Knesset building, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the custodian of the scrolls, treats them as crown jewels.

The timing of their discovery in 1947-1948 was incredibly fortuitous for the nascent Jewish state insistent on proving its connection with an historical Jewish presence in the land. Here was physical proof-positive, which one could touch, of Jews living in Judea and composing Hebrew texts more than 2,000 years ago.

But the Palestinian view-which is rejected out of hand by the IAA - is strikingly different, and emphasizes the fact that the scrolls were found in the West Bank, in territory that they regard as part of a future Palestinian state. "The Dead Sea Scrolls are part of the Palestinian cultural heritage and should by right be returned to the Palestinians," says Nazmi Al Jubeh, Director of the Riwaq Center for Architectural and Archaeological Conservation in Ramallah. "There is a general principle that archaeological artifacts belong to the place in which they were discovered, and if removed must be repatriated. This holds true of the scrolls, which were found on Palestinian territory in Qumran, and were taken by Israeli occupation authorities from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem."

Jubeh readily concedes that the Dead Sea Scrolls are Jewish documents, but contends that "the historical Jewish community is part of the Palestinian heritage and history, just as ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins comprise part of our history".

"No one would claim that Roman ruins found in Israel should be sent to Rome," Jubeh tells The Report. "They are properly displayed where they were found. History is accumulated layer upon layer, and the ancient Jewish history here is part of my identity, among the other layers."

Does that mean that if the first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments of Moses were to be discovered on Mount Sinai, they would be Egyptian relics? "Yes, exactly," says Jubeh. "Just like a mummy found in Beit Shean from a period of Egyptian rule there would be Israeli."

In response, Yoli Shwartz, spokesperson for the IAA, told The Report that the IAA categorically rejects any demand that the State of Israel part with the Dead Sea Scrolls. "From the perspective of international law, there is no requirement that antiquities found in the West Bank or Gaza Strip be given to the Palestinian Authority," says Shwartz. "The scrolls are a national Jewish treasure of enormous importance to the Jewish heritage, as well as being of world-wide importance. They are available to be studied by researchers of any nationality, but they will not be removed from the responsibility or ownership of the State of Israel, to anyone."

Who Lived at Qumran?

The Judean desert in the vicinity of the Qumran caves, on the west coast of the Dead Sea, is bleak, dusty, hot and barren. Little life stirs here. The bright blue of the vast salt lake belies its own lifelessness. It is easy to see why the original view of those who lived here 2,000 years ago and apparently wrote over 900 parchment manuscripts is that of ascetic monks who spent all their time laboriously copying sacred texts in an isolated community.

But 60 years after the discovery of the first Dead Sea scrolls by two Beduin shepherds - and seven years after the last of the scrolls to be unearthed was published and made available to scholars - that view has largely been discarded. In its place are a plethora of competing theories about who lived at Qumran, what their relationship to the scrolls was, and what legacy they left behind.

Archaeological digs at Qumran and surrounding settlements have revealed not an isolated, penurious community, but in some respects a rather flourishing one, which in the Second Temple period contained installations for blacksmithing and tanning and what seems to be an immense pottery factory. The residents there traded with other settlements, kept a stable, grew crops and raised sheep. Based on theories that the residents lived a communal lifestyle, some have termed it "the first kibbutz," complete with agriculture, light industry, a communal dining room and a common treasury - a cache of hundreds of silver coins was found on the site.

Loud rows are now erupting at academic conferences over a question that was once considered too ridiculous to ask: did the Qumran community include women and children? And the recent stunning discovery of a "Dead Sea Stone" - a first century BCE tablet found on the east coast of the lake, and possibly describing a suffering messiah who dies and is resurrected three days later - has stirred renewed interest in tracing the precursors of early Christian theology in the desert.

These were just a few of the hotly-debated topics at an early July conference in Jerusalem to mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the scrolls. Some 36 researchers from Israel, the United States, Canada, Austria, Germany, Britain and Belgium gathered in the Shrine of the Book - which houses the most famous scroll, that containing the complete text of the Book of Isaiah - on the grounds of the Israel Museum. The event was a testament to the persistent and even increasing interest in what are some of the world's most renowned historical documents.

Nearly everything about the scrolls is perennially fascinating, from their very existence, surviving intact in the dryness of the Judean Desert and the story of their chance discovery, supposedly by boys looking for lost goats, to the continuing, sometimes highly charged and emotional debates about their content and what they imply about Judaism in the Second Temple Period and early Christianity, which was just beginning to emerge in those years.

Add to that the drama of the rush by an Israeli archaeologist to acquire the first discovered scrolls against the backdrop of the approaching War of Independence, when the caves in which they were found were to fall under Jordanian control; the 35 years of delay in their publication by a team of scholars sworn to secrecy - generating multiple conspiracy theories; the circulation of controversial "bootleg" copies of the scrolls; and unsubstantiated claims that went as far as postulating that John the Baptist or even Jesus had lived in Qumran, and one has the makings of stories that could rival "The Da Vinci Code."
"When I first held the scrolls in my hand, I could feel history jumping across the millennia," says Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. "After all my years of studying them, they are still emotionally moving."

Despite the fact that six decades have passed since their discovery, the complete publication of the contents of the more than 900 manuscripts (most in extremely fragmentary condition) found over the years at Qumran was only completed in 2001, under the direction of Hebrew University Professor Emanuel Tov. The scrolls include at least fragments from every book of the Hebrew Scriptures except for the Books of Esther and Nehemiah, with several copies of major books such as the Five Books of Moses and Isaiah. Alongside them were apocryphal scriptures, some previously unknown, and scrolls detailing the rituals and beliefs of an extreme sect living an ascetic, communal lifestyle and obsessed with ritual purity as it awaited the end of days.

One of the most significant effects of the publication has been the explosion of interdisciplinary approaches to their study over the past decade, rejuvenating the field. "There are scholars from a wide range of disciplines now working on the study of the scrolls, including Biblical studies, Judaic Studies, Christology, Women's Studies, Textual Studies, anthropology and philology," says Schiffman. "This has led to new developments. The scrolls are being studied within their own context, as reflecting what the people who wrote them believed, instead of being conceived solely as a prism for understanding Rabbinic Judaism or early Christianity."

The full publication of the scrolls has also enabled a new generation of researchers to distance themselves from the views of Yigael Yadin and Roland de Vaux, the two scholars who laid the foundations of the mainstream theories regarding the origins of the scrolls and the identity of the community in Qumran.

Yadin, a colourful public figure who was chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces before composing his doctoral thesis on the scrolls, was the most prominent archaeologist in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s (following in the footsteps of his father, Prof Eleazar Sukenik, who had acquired the first scrolls). De Vaux, a French Dominican priest, oversaw the archaeological excavation at Qumran in the 1950s (when the site was under Jordanian control) and was the editor-in-chief of the publication of Dead Sea Scrolls until his death in 1971. He never published a definitive archaeological report of his work at Qumran, and he and the editors succeeding him, prior to Tov, were accused of moving too slowly in opening the content of the scrolls to wider study.

The availability of the scrolls has reopened a wide range of questions.

Scholars agree about only some basic facts:

The settlement in Qumran was founded some time between 120 BCE to 100 BCE, and existed until 68 CE, when it was destroyed by Roman forces savagely putting down the Great Jewish Revolt against Roman occupation. The scrolls found in jars in Qumran were produced roughly during that same period, an assertion based on palaeographical analysis of the Hebrew letters (mostly in the familiar square Hebrew script, with some biblical manuscripts written in palaeo-Hebrew letters), allusions to historical events in some scrolls, and carbon-14 testing.

Beyond that, there is little consensus about anything. Who lived in the Qumran settlement? Was it an all-male, celibate commune, or did it include children and women? What drove people to live in the extreme desert conditions prevalent in the Qumran area? Was the Qumran community a unique sect, or was it part of a larger sect that had other centers in Judea? Were the scrolls written by the Qumran sect, or brought there from elsewhere?

The earliest and most widely-known theory is that the scrolls were the sacred texts of a radical dissident Jewish sect called the Essenes. That theory was put forth by Yadin and de Vaux in the 1950s, based on the content of several of the scrolls expressing hatred and enmity to the normative Jewish leadership of the Second Temple and detailing the beliefs, initiation ceremonies and rituals of a sect devoted to unbending ritual observance, strict discipline, communal lives of shared property and absolute purity.

Given similarities between these descriptions and accounts of Essene practices in the writings of first century Jewish historian Josephus, along with a reference to an Essene settlement "on the west side of the Dead Sea" in an ancient text penned by Pliny the Elder, Qumran and the Essenes were identified with each other. According to that narrative, the Essenes in Qumran, chose to live in the desert in order to purify themselves and distance themselves from a world they rejected as they awaited an eschatological final battle between good and evil, hastily hiding their most sacred items - the scrolls - in nearby caves as the Roman legions marched ever closer in 68 CE.

Doubts regarding this theory began to be cast when scholars questioned the sheer physical plausibility that a tiny community - the Qumran settlement probably never contained more than 150 individuals at any given time - could produce the nearly one thousand Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written in many different styles of handwriting and calligraphy. Nor do the rituals mentioned in the scrolls fit precisely with Josephus' descriptions.

Pliny apparently never visited the area and relied on second-hand sources. He and Philo, a Jewish author of the first century writing in Greek, both ascribed celibacy to the Essene community, yet celibacy is not discussed in the scrolls, which seem to describe a community containing women, men and children, complete with ritual rules for matrimony and divorce - although a reference in Josephus to two types of Essenes, some of whom did marry in contrast to a celibate sub-sect, further clouds the issue.

Other anomalies cropped up as archaeological evidence was unearthed. The Essenes were described as forbidding defecation on the Sabbath and requiring toilets to be located far outside settlements - but a latrine has been identified within the Qumran ruins. When the bodies of women and children were reported to have been found in the Qumran graveyard, the celibate Essene theory took another hit.

There is no lack of alternative theories which have been proposed over the years. They include speculation that the Qumran settlement was a military fortress, a country manor house, a roadside inn, or even a pottery factory, based on large pottery kilns and thousands of clay fragments found at the site. Some scholars have claimed the scrolls had nothing to do with the Qumran site, and are books taken from the Temple library and buried to protect them from Roman destruction, drawing inspiration from a copper scroll found in Qumran that details hidden burial locations of gold and silver treasures from the Temple in the desert. Mainstream opinion in the academic community, however, has delegated nearly all of these suggestions to the margins, and most scholars regard the Dead Sea Scrolls as the texts of a sect that resided in Qumran - but not necessarily the Essenes.

Schiffman points to a major puzzle relating to the Essenes - they are not mentioned in any ancient Hebrew text. "The first time the word 'Essenes' is written in Hebrew is during the Renaissance," asserts Schiffman. This is particularly anomalous given that Josephus portrayed the Essenes as the third major political-religious movement in the late Second Temple period, alongside the Pharisees and Sadducees - yet, in contrast to the latter two groupings, neither the New Testament nor the entire corpus of Talmudic writings ever once speak of the Essenes. Nor does the word appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves.

The current practice in scholarly circles is to refer to the sect at Qumran as "the Yahad" - a term that can roughly be described as "togetherness" or "community" - because this appears to be what sect members called themselves, based on writing in the scrolls and on pottery sherds found at the site.

But who, then, were the "Yahad"? Schiffman posits that they were originally a mystical priestly sect that split off from the Sadducees, angered at the growing influence of the Pharisees in Hasmonean royal courts in the mid-second century BCE. He arrives at this conclusion through parallels in descriptions of Temple-related rituals appearing in the scrolls and Sadducee halakha as recorded in Rabbinic texts. "They followed their 'Righteous Teacher' into the desert at Qumran because they gave up on society," says Schiffman. "Their teacher eventually died and their messiah never materialized, but as we know that doesn't prevent a sect from existing for many generations."

There is evidence that Qumran was not the only settlement containing members of the Yahad community. Charlotte Hempel of the University of Birmingham told The Report that "the Yahad was not a single community based at Qumran but was spread out." In support of this she points to several statements in the Community Rule, one of the major sectarian scrolls found near Qumran, that speaks of "all of their dwelling places." The Qumran site was in this interpretation the gathering place of the elite members of a widespread umbrella organization. This might also explain how so many texts came to be collected at Qumran - the settlement could have served as a central library for Yahad scrolls which were produced by scribes in many different locations and time periods.

Despite the growing chorus of scholars calling for disassociating the Qumran sect from the Essenes of Josephus and Pliny, there are still plenty of researchers who defend the original De Vaux/Yadin identification. "If they were not Essenes, then they were extraordinarily similar to Essenes," says Jodi Magness, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her view, the similarities are too strong to be dismissed. "To take just one example, compare how Josephus describes the communal meals of the Essenes with what appears in the scrolls," says Magness. "In sharp contrast to Hellenstic symposia meals, which involved eating while reclining, dining from large communal bowls, and holding conversations, both Josephus' Essenes and the community described in the scrolls dined in silence while seated and ate from individual bowls instead of a communal bowl - because they were concerned impurity could be transmitted through food eaten in common. That also explains why there was a pottery factory on the site."

The fact that the word Essenes appears only in Greek sources is not sufficient to dissociate the Qumran sect from the Essenes, in Magness' view. "They might have called themselves the Yahad, or hassidim, while in Greek they were called Essenes," she says, "just as the Mormons officially term themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

Nor does the toilet at the Qumran site spoil the identification. "The Essene strictures regarding the placement of toilets may have applied only to an ideal description of Jerusalem. And the main concerns they had were avoidance of impure contact with excrement and an insistence that defecation be conducted entirely in private, out of sight from others - in Hellenistic times privacy in toilet habits was not common. The latrine found in Qumran conforms to this exactly - it was completely enclosed, and the excrement was collected in a deep pit." She also notes that the Qumran toilet was destroyed along with most of the buildings in an earthquake in the year 31 BCE, but was not included in the rebuilt and re-inhabited site - which might indicate that the sect was becoming more stringent in its observances. "Josephus and Pliny were writing late in the first century CE, but the scrolls were composed much earlier," says Magness. "Discrepancies between the sources might reflect evolving beliefs and rituals among the Essenes."

If the Yahad community was not an Essene sect, or at least not exactly the Essenes described by Philo and Pliny, is it conceivable that women formed part of the community? That option, long ignored by scholars influenced by Pliny's lyrical description of the Essenes living "as partners of the palm trees, without any women," was the focus of two lively debated sessions at the Jerusalem conference. The readiness to consider that possibility is, in part, the result of interest in the scrolls by Gender Studies researchers. Eileen Schuller, Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Canada, who advocates the position that women lived in Qumran, praised this as progress, noting that as recently as ten years ago "no one would have even conceived of a session on women and the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Evidence in favor of a co-ed Qumran, however, is still scarce, and there are more questions than answers. Eyal Regev, lecturer in archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, who is composing a study comparing the Yahad community with Christian sects such as Amish, Shakers and Quakers, sees the textual evidence as indicating a community of both sexes. "Celibate sects, such as the Shakers, always fill their writings with discussions stressing the importance of celibacy," he notes. "The Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing comparable, and in fact they describe a community of families." He nevertheless qualifies his statements by adding that there may not necessarily be an exact correspondence between what is described in the scrolls and the actual Qumran community.

Schiffman is also cautious. He praises the tendency to move away from regarding the Qumran community as "proto-Christian monks," and reiterates Regev's observation that women are mentioned in nearly every single scroll, but concludes that "the question is still open." One possibility he raises is that the geographically broader sectarian community was composed of families, but that there were virtually no women at Qumran because it was a site to which elite men in the community would repair for prolonged periods of textual study, leaving their families behind in their home settlements.

Magness, reviewing archaeological evidence, finds proof of only minimal presence of women at the site. She notes that consensus is growing that the graves of women and children uncovered at Qumran are those of Beduin buried long after the settlement was destroyed. Her review of de Vaux's excavations reveal an extreme paucity of artifacts that would indicate a female presence, such as cosmetics vessels, jewellery, or spindle whorls. But she cautions that the full record of de Vaux's findings is still to be published, and stresses that absence of evidence is not evidence of the absence of women.

One person emphatic that there were no women at Qumran is Joe Zias, retired former Senior Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Israel Antiquities Authority, based on his examination of bodies removed from the Qumran graveyard by de Vaux - which is a story in itself. Over 1,200 bodies were buried at Qumran during its habitation, in individual burials contrasting with the familial burial customs of the time. De Vaux exhumed a sample of about 40 skeletons from the cemetery, and had most of them shipped to Europe for study - where they were nearly forgotten, lying for many years in the cellar of a private home in Munich.

Zias, who travelled to Munich to see the skeletons, told The Report that "I could tell within minutes that they were virtually all male. Apart from the Beduin remains, there was only one woman in the sample, and she was buried at a considerable distance from the men. The only conclusion is that Qumran was an all-male, celibate settlement." Another nine Qumran skeletons excavated by de Vaux were recently discovered in Jerusalem, and a similar group of eight skeletons were located in Paris - and again, these include only one skeleton identified as female.

Schuller remains unconvinced by the skeletal evidence. "A sample of a few dozen out of more than a thousand is insufficient, given the complexity of the subject," she insists. "At minimum, this requires further excavations."

Zias relates that when he presented a paper at a recent Boston conference claiming that Qumran was an all-male enclave, "the reaction resembled a Jerry Springer show. People get very emotional about the subject." He sticks to his conclusions as "supported by science and physical anthropology," and expresses broad criticism of Scrolls scholarship that is rooted solely in textual reading. "They have been endlessly debating issues for 60 years based on the texts but ignoring the physical anthropological evidence," he complains.

One of the conclusions he has arrived at through physical study of the human remains is that the Qumran community suffered from extensive diseases. "The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever seen," he claims. "Two thousand years ago in Jericho, adult males had a 40 percent chance of living past 40. But at Qumran, the figure for surviving to 40 falls to six percent." His theory, perhaps surprising to modern ears, is that the diseases contracted by residents of Qumran were the result of their insistence on bathing several times a day. "After they went to the latrines, they were required to immerse in pools of water, in addition to regular twice-a-day immersions," he told The Report. "The problem is that in the desert, there are only three months of rain, so the water in the pools was stagnant for nine months, filled with bacteria shared by everyone dipping in them. And this was total immersion, which means that it gets in the eyes, the ears and the mouth. Young men entering the sect often contracted infections and died."

Zias has also conducted a physical study of the toilet habits of the Qumran sect. Based on descriptions in the scrolls of sect members walking several thousand cubits "to the north-west" out of sight of settlements for bowel movements, carrying shovels in order to bury their waste deeply, researchers set out from the Qumran settlement in a north-westerly direction and located a bluff about 500 yards away that was concealed from view. Zias reports that there are indications the ground there was once intensely shovelled, and soil samples unearthed the presence of desiccated eggs from intestinal parasites, indicating the area was used as an outdoor toilet.

Critics of Zias' findings argue that without precise dating of the desiccated parasites, they cannot definitively be related to the ancient Qumran sect, and also point to the on-site toilet at Qumran as counter-evidence. "Instead of just talking about the toilet, take a hands-on look at it," is Zias' reply. He has done just that himself, drawing samples from the excrement pit of the Qumran latrine, essentially studying the remains of 2,000 year-old fecal matter. The samples, he says, are rife with intestinal parasites, leading him to conjecture that the Qumran toilet was reserved for "emergency use" when the sect members felt they couldn't make the long trek up the hill. "With all the infections they contracted, they suffered from diarrhoea," he concludes.

Sensational claims that the Qumran sect was the cradle of early Christianity have long been dismissed by scholars as unsubstantiated. Studies relating the Dead Sea Scrolls to later Rabbinic Judaism or early Christianity usually avoid drawing direct lines of relationships between them, and instead concentrate on learning about general facts about Second Temple Judaism through the scrolls, or try to tease out subtle textual similarities between the scrolls and Rabbinic writings or the New Testament. The study of Christology, however, has recently been stirred by new theories emerging from the discovery of an unusual stone tablet, containing writing from the first century BCE, that was the subject of a lecture at the recent conference. The stone table, however, only came to the attention of scholars through a series of coincidences.

About ten years ago, David Jeselsohn, a Swiss-Israeli collector of antiquities, was visiting London when he was contacted by a Jordanian dealer with ties to the Jordanian Antiquities Authority. The dealer offered to sell him a mysterious, three-foot long and one-foot wide stone tablet with Hebrew lettering. "I don't think he really knew what he had on his hands," Jeselsohn told The Report. "He was willing to say anything about it if it would persuade me to buy it." Intrigued, Jeselsohn bought the tablet, but he sheepishly admits that he, too, did not know what he had on his hands. It was placed in his Zurich home alongside other collected antiquities, and he gave it little thought for several years. Three years ago an expert in Hebrew palaeography, Ada Yardeni, visiting Jeselsohn's home to view ancient Aramaic pottery sherds he had recently purchased, happened to glimpse the stone - and couldn't believe what she had stumbled upon.

The tablet, named "Gabriel's Vision" by Yardeni, is a rare find that has been dated to the end of the first century BCE. In contrast to most artefacts from the time containing writing, which are either engravings on stone or ink calligraphy on parchment or papyrus, Gabriel's Vision is composed of two columns of 87 lines of ancient Hebrew written in ink on stone - Yardeni terms it a "Dead Sea scroll in stone."

A lengthy analysis of the tablet co-authored by Yardeni last year caught the eye of Israel Knohl, professor of Bible Studies at Hebrew University. Although the stone is broken and much of the text has faded away, enough of it could be deciphered by experts for Knohl to develop a theory relating it to pre-Christian messianic theology.

"The story it tells is of an apocalyptic vision of a future war around Jerusalem, as told by the angel Gabriel to an unnamed person," Knohl tells The Report. Lines 80 and 81 of the text were of especial interest to Knohl. Line 80 begins with the words "by three days," followed by a word that Knohl reads as "you shall live" and which he construes, not without controversy, as meaning resurrection. The next line speaks of a "prince of princes" who is cast on "rocky crevices," which he interprets as indicating a bloody death.

In this, says Knohl, we can see an expression of what he terms "catastrophic, suffering messianism." Under this theory, messianic theology of the late Second Temple period spoke of not one but two messiahs - a militarily triumphal Messiah Son of David, and a suffering Messiah Son of Joseph, both of whom are needed for Israel's national redemption. In what he calls "Gabriel's Revelation," Knohl says, "we see firsthand the telling of the story of a suffering messiah, who is called the prince of princes. This messiah suffers for the sake of the people, is killed and then resurrected after three days."

The parallels to the New Testament are too strong to be ignored, in Knohl's opinion. When Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, tells his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed and then rise again after three days, according to Knohl he is repeating a well-established motif that predated his birth, identifying himself, son of a man named Joseph, as the suffering Messiah Son of Joseph - and perhaps dispensing with the need for a Messiah Son of David.

Other scholars caution against jumping to conclusions too hastily. "Gabriel's Vision is an important, first-rate archaeological find," says Schiffman. "But we need to guard against repeating mistakes made with the Dead Sea Scrolls, looking too hard to find pre-Christian themes based on a word here or there. The stone should be studied for its own sake, in its own context."

Schiffman also expresses a common complaint raised by academic scholars when archaeological artefacts emerge from dealers' shops instead of scientific excavations. "Where was the stone found?" he asks. "Who wrote it? Was it found in isolation or near an ancient settlement? What else was found in its vicinity? No one knows." Both Jeselsohn and Knohl tell The Report that they do not know where the stone was unearthed, saying only that it was somewhere in Jordan, apparently on the east coast of the Dead Sea. Knohl says that based on the geological composition of the stone, it was hewn near the narrow peninsula between the two main basins of the Dead Sea - and that there was a Jewish community in that vicinity in antiquity. He also posits the existence of another tablet containing earlier parts of the story, which seems to begin in the middle in the stone Jeselsohn purchased. Without definite knowledge of the site in which the stone was found, however, there is no telling what other secrets from the ancient past might still lie nearby, waiting to be discovered.

Near the Shrine of the Book, on the grounds of the Israel Museum, sits a replica of Second Temple Jerusalem. The model buildings, mute in the sun, seem peaceful, belying the turmoil of the time as reflected in the scrolls.

The museum is now making a three-dimensional rendering of the Shrine of the Book, along with the entire corpus of the texts of the scrolls, available to the whole world through the Internet. That is something the composers of the scrolls could hardly have envisaged. Nor could they have known that by hiding them in desert caves, they were bequeathing a legacy that would keep generations fascinated two millennia on.

Apiru Attack A Canaanite Town

By Ran Shapira

"To the king my lord and my sun: These are the words of your servant, Belit-nesheti [literally, "mistress of lions/lionesses"]. I fall at the king's feet seven times over. I must tell the king that this country is witnessing [acts of] hostility and that the land of the king, my lord, will be lost forever."

A Canaanite queen from one of the cities in Palestine's lowland sent this desperate request in the 14th century B.C.E. to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The name of the city ruled by Belit-nesheti is not mentioned in this letter or in others that depict violent acts that aroused in her a justified feeling that she was facing a dire threat.

During that period, the city of Gezer, and the Ajalon and Sorek valleys were the scene of events that seriously challenged the rule of Belit-nesheti and other monarchs.

In another letter, she conveys the following information: "The Apiru have written to Ajalon and Zorah and the two sons of Milkilu [king of Gezer] have been almost beaten to death. I must inform the king of this act." In yet another letter, she relates that one of the cities in the area under her rule has fallen to the Apiru, and she calls to the king, "I beg the king to save his land from the hands of the Apiru, before it is too late."

The Apiru, mentioned in various documents from different parts of the ancient Near East, were a people that had been uprooted from society and which had abandoned its native land. They formed bands that engaged in robbery and in the collection of protection money, and they served as mercenaries whom the rulers of the various Canaanite cities under Egyptian rule at the time recruited as a military force when they wanted to attack their enemies. The Apiru were supported by the powerful rulers of neighboring cities who sought to seize control of her city.

Her cries for assistance from Pharaoh, who was during this period the supreme ruler of the region and of a number of Canaanite cities, elicited no response, as indicated by the findings that have recently been discovered in Tel Beit Shemesh, about a half-hour's drive from Jerusalem. Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman, both of Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, have been conducting excavations there since 1990. In their scholarly opinion, the city was devastated in a monstrous wave of violence; the remnants extant from that massive act of destruction have been uncovered in the past few weeks. In Tel Beit Shemesh, site of this ancient Canaanite city, archaeologists have discovered entire walls that collapsed in a huge fire, which apparently occurred in the mid-14th century B.C.E. Inter alia, they have found a structures containing more than 200 toppled bricks, which show the effects of exposure to the extreme heat of the massive blaze. Adjacent to the bricks, the foundations of the plastered walls from which they fell have also been uncovered.

In one room, under a layer of rubble, more than 30 vessels, some of which served as grain storage jars, have been found, and thus scholars are assuming that this was a storeroom. On a plastered bench that stood in one corner of the room, archaeologists found a vessel for libations, two chalices and two oil lamps; these findings are cogent evidence that the city's inhabitants also used the room for ritual purposes. Not far away, the excavations uncovered entire brick walls that had collapsed. The archaeologists intend to dig under these walls.

Evidence of the desperate attempt made by Belit-nesheti and her subjects to defend their city is provided by bronze arrowheads discovered among the fallen bricks. They perhaps indicate that the capture of the city was preceded by a battle.

Belit-nesheti's letters are part of a collection of letters written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language (the lingua franca of that era) on clay tablets, that was discovered in the late 19th century in Egypt in Tel Amarna, which is located midway between Cairo and Luxor. The letters belong to the royal archives of King Amenhotep IV, the husband of the celebrated Nefertiti. He carried out a religious revolution, transferring the royal capital from No-Amon (present-day Luxor) to Amarna. The king, who changed his name to Akhenaten, deposited in the archives of the new capital some of the royal correspondence dating from the reign of his father, Amenhotep III. After Akhenaten's death, his son, the boy-king Tutenkhamun, abandoned the new religion, which was a form of sun worship, and returned to the old capital.

The excavations at Tel Beit Shemesh uncovered a large royal Egyptian seal, bearing Amenhotep III's name. From the seal we can learn that the destruction of the Canaanite city occurred toward the end of his reign or during his son's reign. Figurines of Canaanite goddesses were also found in the excavations.

Apparently, the clay tablets that were left at Amarna, which are the remnants of what the Egyptian foreign ministry's archives contained in the 14th century B.C.E., bear the texts of letters that dealt with matters that had already been agreed upon; the Egyptian officials no longer needed them for their contacts with neighboring world powers or with the governors of the Canaanite cities that were under Egyptian control. The archives also contain letters that, like those from Belit-nesheti, were sent by governors of these Canaanite cities to the Egyptian king. The letters are primarily complaints about neighboring rulers and about the precarious security situation in Canaan under Egyptian rule. They also contain numerous reference to the Apiru.

Most of the letters are signed by men; thus, Belit-nesheti, the female governor of a city (a very high position), is an exception in this male-dominated environment. Scholars have noted that, except for the letters quoted here, we have no information on Belit-nesheti's family or biography or on the circumstances that led to her playing such a high-profile rule; what is clear that she was extremely unusual for women of her era.

Lederman and Bunimovitz point out that the Norwegian Assyriologist Jorgen Alexander Knudtzon, who published the first scholarly edition of the Amarna letters as early as 1915, observed that there was considerable similarity between Belit-nesheti's letters and those of other rulers in Palestine's lowland. The similarity can be seen in the cuneiform characters and in the clay from which the tablets were made. Knudtzon's hypothesis has been solidly confirmed in a recent, comprehensive study of the clay components of the Amarna letters, which was conducted by Prof. Yuval Goren, Prof. Nadav Na'aman and Prof. Israel Finkelstein, all of Tel Aviv University's Nadler Institute of Archaeology. According to that study, at least one of Belit-nesheti's letters was written in Gezer. In the wake of this finding, Na'aman has offered the hypothesis that the author of that letter resided in what is present-day Beit Shemesh, on the southern border of the Gezer kingdom.

In 1911 and 1912, Scottish archaeologist Duncan Mackenzie conducted a dig in Tel Beit Shemesh, and, between 1928 and 1933, the American scholar Elihu Grant spent several excavation seasons at this site. In these two excavation cycles, the remnants of a prosperous Late Bronze Age (1550-1150 B.C.E.) Canaanite city were uncovered. An excavation party led by Bunimovitz and Lederman has now exposed the northern quarter of this city, which faces the biblical Valley of Sorek.

Up until recently, the excavations at Tel Beit Shemesh, which have been conducted in a fairly intensive manner since 1990, have focused on the impressive ruins of the settlements that were in existence during the biblical period - that is, in the era depicted in the Book of Judges and in the years when Beit Shemesh was part of the kingdom of Judah. Over the past few years, archaeologists have been discovering more and more Canaanite communities lying underneath the biblical ones. Alongside the storage jars that were discovered in the storeroom, other vessels have now been found; they were imported to Beit Shemesh from Cyprus and Mycenae (in Greece). It should be noted that the storeroom is located in a spacious building that has so far been only partially exposed. This building, scholars point out, is adjacent to the ruins of the Middle Bronze Age (17th and 16th centuries B.C.E.) city wall, which was constructed from massive rocks.

Did the ancient wall serve to protect the city or was it simply a support wall intended to prevent earth from sliding down the slope into the valley atop which the city had been built? The answer to this question is highly significant because scholars today all believe that the Late Bronze Age Canaanite communities, where the events described in the Amarna documents took place, were not fortified. The lack of any fortifications was in accordance with a policy enforced by Egypt's rulers, who wanted to weaken the Canaanite cities.

If the Canaanite city that is slowly being uncovered at Tel Beit Shemesh is, in fact, the city ruled by Belit-nesheti, these impressive archaeological findings supply fascinating evidence of the day-to-day reality in Canaan that is depicted in the Amarna documents.

Jewish Temples of Onias & Elephantine in Egypt

t is not well known that there were two Jewish temples in ancient Egypt. They do not form part of our traditional history, which concentrates on the going down into Egypt and the coming out of it, as based on the Torah accounts, for which there is little or no contemporary corroboration. But the two temples, though well attested by contemporary sources, have received little attention from our tradition.

One of these temples has been known about for nearly 2,000 years from Josephus Flavius and the Talmud, and its site was claimed to have been found just 100 years ago, but it has now been lost again. The other was never known of till just a hundred years ago and its site has only recently been discovered. The first is the Temple of Onias at Leontopolis dating to about 200 BCE, and the second is the Temple of Elephantine dating to 300 years earlier, to about 500 BCE.

Josephus describes the Temple of Onias as being both like and unlike that of Jerusalem. In his Antiquities, he says it is like Jerusalem, but in his Wars of the Jews he says that Onias built it like a fortress with a tower 60 cubits (30 meters) high. Who was this Onias? In Hebrew his name is Honiah and this name was carried by several high priests descended from the famous Shimon Hatzaddik. Our Onias was probably Honiah IV, who was prevented from following in the footsteps of his father, who had been supplanted by Jason, the high priest who started the process of Hellenizing Jerusalem that led eventually to the Maccabean revolt.

Honiah IV went off to Egypt and started the Temple at Leontopolis, with the agreement of Pharaoh Ptolemy IV and his queen Cleopatra I (not the famous Cleopatra VII), in an area somewhat north of today's Cairo. That would have been in about the year 170 BCE. Ptolemy IV was keen to have the support of Honiah, who brought with him a military force to reinforce Egyptian rule in southern Palestine, and was happy to allow him to erect a Jewish temple.

This temple had legitimacy in the eyes of the Talmud, as it was set up by the son of a traditional high priest and it fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt..." (19:19). The Mishna tells us that a sacrifice vowed in Egypt could be redeemed at Leontopolis, but a kohen (priest) who had served in Egypt could not officiate in Jerusalem, though he was allowed to eat the truma (priestly food) there (Menahot 13:10). This temple stood for more than 200 years and was destroyed by the Romans in 73 CE, shortly after their destruction of Jerusalem.

In early 1906 the famous Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie spent six weeks at a site called Tel el-Yehudiyeh (Hill of the Jewess) and claimed he had found the Temple of Onias, on a sandy mound attached to the city of Rameses III. Because of the great Jewish interest, he gave a lecture on it at King's College in London, which was reported in the Jewish Chronicle of May 18, 1906. He had made a model of the temple, which was like the towered fortress described by Josephus, and he invited all present to view it at University College. The British chief rabbi of the time, Hermann Adler, thanked Petrie for his great discovery and service to the Jewish community.

Unfortunately Petrie's model has disappeared and so has the original site. On a recent visit, I was unable to confirm Petrie's discovery and it has to be admitted that all traces of the temple have disappeared, though an identifiable ancient Jewish cemetery does lie nearby. Or perhaps Petrie had never found the real location, as he had claimed.

BUT NOT SO Elephantine, 700 km. further south. It is on the island that guards the southern boundary of ancient Egypt and lies opposite the town of Aswan, mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel as Syene (29:10). Aramaic papyri discovered there from 1893 onward have revealed the existence of a military colony of Jews that acted as mercenaries for the Egyptians and after them to the Persians by guarding their southern border. These soldiers established a township and built their own shrine or temple before the coming of the Persians in 525 BCE, when Cambyses, son of Cyrus II, conquered Egypt.

As more papyri were found at Elephantine and at Aswan, they were soon deciphered by British and German scholars, and before World War I it was known that the Jewish military colony had lived there with its little temple for well over 100 years. They had good relations on the island and had married some of the local women. But the search for the temple by German, French and Italian expeditions failed to find any trace of it. It was only 10 years ago that its existence was confirmed.

In 1969 a German archeological team started work on the island to classify and restore the many Egyptian temples, mainly to the god Khnum, that lay there in ruins. Khnum, the ram-headed god, was worshiped here as he was considered to have control of the Nile, and this island was the site of the first cataract, which was thought to influence the rise and fall of this river, the lifeline of Egypt.

Over the next 40 years, the German team, later joined by a Swiss one, started to uncover the remains of many temples and what they called the Aramaic village of the 27th Dynasty, the Persian period of the fifth century BCE. In fact they were excavating the ruins of the Jewish houses that had been identified by Bezalel Porten, of the Hebrew University, based on the Aramaic papyri and, some 10 years ago, in the location suggested by the documents, they found the remains of the Jewish temple.

The temple had been described in the contemporary papyri, as at one stage the Egyptian priests of Khnum had had it partly destroyed and the documents contained an appeal to the Persian governor, then in Jerusalem, to have it restored. It was rebuilt three years later, though the courtyard had to be reduced to allow the temple of Khnum to expand, and the Jews had to agree to offer no more animal sacrifices.

It was clear therefore that they had offered such sacrifices in the past, but that must have been anathema to the priests of the ram-headed Khnum, especially the Passover sacrifice of sheep. We know that the Jewish troops kept Pessah as they were specifically commanded by the Persian emperor, in one papyrus dated to 419 BCE, to keep it for seven days from 14 Nisan and to eat no leaven and drink no beer, Egypt's favorite tipple.

Though the temple was rebuilt, it would not have been for long, as that would have been shortly before 400 BCE and it was soon afterward that the Persians were driven out of Egypt and the Jews, who had served them, would have had to follow shortly thereafter.

Two major questions remain. Where had the Jews come from in the sixth century and where did they go after 400 BCE? The simple answer to the first question is that they would have come after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and gone down to Egypt with Jeremiah after the murder of the governor Gedaliah. But Porten thinks they must have come much earlier, at the time when King Manasseh defiled the Jerusalem temple, to be able to find the resources to settle and build a temple well before 525 BCE. We know the shrine existed before the invasion by Cambyses, as the papyri claim that he destroyed many Egyptian temples but not the Jewish one.

I think the Jews came from the Northern Kingdom after the fall of Samaria in 722 BCE. They were first deported to Assyria and then to Babylon, where they were used as mercenaries and later deployed to Egypt. This is supported by the fact that the shrine at Elephantine has strong similarities in layout and dimensions to the Tabernacle that may have stood at Shiloh, and which would have been retained in the folk memory of the Northern Israelites more than the image of the Temple of Jerusalem.

And to where did they go? It would have been impossible for them to return to Israel, trekking 700 km. and more to the north through what was now enemy territory. It is more likely they went south and here a romantic idea presents itself. They journeyed south through the Sudan to Ethiopia and formed the nucleus of a Jewish community there, perhaps even starting to convert their neighbors to Judaism.

The evidence was only a few sections of wall and a fine paved floor, but it was exactly in the position suggested by the papyri, and it was of a quality higher than that of the adjoining houses. It had a chamber of two rooms surrounded by a courtyard of fine plaster paving, its dimensions quite unlike the Temple of Jerusalem but much smaller and similar to the size and proportions of the mishkan or Tabernacle of the Bible.

That would be a nice idea, but an unlikely one. It is more probable that the Jewish military community, which came to an end 2,400 years ago, was either eliminated by the Egyptians or, more likely, abandoned its separate faith and customs and became absorbed by its Egyptian neighbors, which would not have been so strange, as many had already married local girls in earlier times.

Tablet ignites debate on messiah and resurrection

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

"Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism," Boyarin said.

Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding all Jesus-era artifacts and writings, both in the general public and in the fractured and fiercely competitive scholarly community, as well as the concern over forgery and charlatanism, it will probably be some time before the tablet's contribution is fully assessed. It has been around 60 years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and they continue to generate enormous controversy regarding their authors and meaning.

The scrolls, documents found in the Qumran caves of the West Bank, contain some of the only known surviving copies of biblical writings from before the first century AD In addition to quoting from key books of the Bible, the scrolls describe a variety of practices and beliefs of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus.

How representative the descriptions are and what they tell us about the era are still strongly debated. For example, a question that arises is whether the authors of the scrolls were members of a monastic sect or in fact mainstream. A conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls will begin on Sunday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone, and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, also will be discussed.

Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.

"I couldn't make much out of it when I got it," said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. "I didn't realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. 'You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,' she told me."

Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai.

Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 BC The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century BC

A chemical examination by Yuval Goren, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University who specializes in the verification of ancient artifacts, has been submitted to a peer-review journal. He declined to give details of his analysis until publication, but he said that he knew of no reason to doubt the stone's authenticity.

It was in Cathedra that Israel Knohl, an iconoclastic professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, first heard of the stone, which Yardeni and Elitzur dubbed "Gabriel's Revelation," also the title of their article. Knohl posited in a book published in 2000 the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus, using a variety of rabbinic and early apocalyptic literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But his theory did not shake the world of Christology as he had hoped, partly because he had no textual evidence from before Jesus.

When he read "Gabriel's Revelation," he said, he believed he saw what he needed to solidify his thesis, and he has published his argument in the latest issue of The Journal of Religion.

Knohl is part of a larger scholarly movement that focuses on the political atmosphere in Jesus' day as an important explanation of that era's messianic spirit. As he notes, after the death of Herod, Jewish rebels sought to throw off the yoke of the Rome-supported monarchy, so the rise of a major Jewish independence fighter could take on messianic overtones.

In Knohl's interpretation, the specific messianic figure embodied on the stone could be a man named Simon who was slain by a commander in the Herodian army, according to the first-century historian Josephus. The writers of the stone's passages were probably Simon's followers, Knohl contends.

The slaying of Simon, or any case of the suffering messiah, is seen as a necessary step toward national salvation, he says, pointing to lines 19 through 21 of the tablet — "In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice" — and other lines that speak of blood and slaughter as pathways to justice.

To make his case about the importance of the stone, Knohl focuses especially on line 80, which begins clearly with the words "L'shloshet yamin," meaning "in three days." The next word of the line was deemed partially illegible by Yardeni and Elitzur, but Knohl, who is an expert on the language of the Bible and Talmud, says the word is "hayeh," or "live" in the imperative. It has an unusual spelling, but it is one in keeping with the era.

Two more hard-to-read words come later, and Knohl said he believed that he had deciphered them as well, so that the line reads, "In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you."

To whom is the archangel speaking? The next line says "Sar hasarin," or prince of princes. Since the Book of Daniel, one of the primary sources for the Gabriel text, speaks of Gabriel and of "a prince of princes," Knohl contends that the stone's writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.

He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.

"This should shake our basic view of Christianity," he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. "Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story."

Yardeni said she was impressed with the reading and considered it indeed likely that the key illegible word was "hayeh," or "live." Whether that means Simon is the messiah under discussion, she is less sure.

Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University, said he spent a long time studying the text and considered it authentic, dating from no later than the first century BC His 25-page paper on the stone will be published in the coming months.

Regarding Knohl's thesis, Bar-Asher is also respectful but cautious. "There is one problem," he said. "In crucial places of the text there is lack of text. I understand Knohl's tendency to find there keys to the pre-Christian period, but in two to three crucial lines of text there are a lot of missing words."

Moshe Idel, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University who has just published a book on the son of God, said that given the way every tiny fragment from that era yielded scores of articles and books, "Gabriel's Revelation" and Knohl's analysis deserved serious attention. "Here we have a real stone with a real text," he said. "This is truly significant."

Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

But there was, he said, and "Gabriel's Revelation" shows it.

"His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come," Knohl said. "This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel."

Second Temple Period Quarry

For the second time in the past year, archeologists have uncovered a Second Temple Period quarry whose stones were used to build the Western Wall.

The latest archeological discovery was made in the city's Sanhedria neighborhood, located about two kilometers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

The quarry was uncovered during a routine "salvage excavation" carried out by the state-run archeological body over the last several months ahead of the construction of a private house in the religious neighborhood.

The quarry is believed to be one of those used to build the Jerusalem holy site because the size of the stones match those at the Western Wall.

"Most of the stones that were found at the site are similar in size to the smallest stones that are currently visible in the Western Wall, and therefore we assume that the stones from this quarry were used to build these structures," said Dr. Gerald Finkielsztejn, director of the excavation.

The stones were dated by pottery found at the site, he added.

"This is a rather regular quarry except that there are really big stones," Finkielsztejn said.

The largest of the stones found at the quarry measures 0.69 x 0.94 x 1.65 m, while some of the stones were apparently ready for extraction but were left in place.

The quarry was probably abandoned at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 CE, he said.

Last year, archeologists unearthed an ancient quarry that supplied enormous high quality limestones for the construction of the Temple Mount in an outlying neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Dozens of quarries have previously been found in Jerusalem, but these are the first two that archeologists have uncovered which they believed were used in the construction of the Temple Mount.

A few dozen quarries were likely used in the building of the Temple Mount, said Prof. Amos Kloner, a former Jerusalem district archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

He said it was "no surprise" that the first two had been found, and noted that the neighborhood where the latest quarry was found was in itself built on top of a qua

Genetics Confirm Oral Traditions Of Druze In Israel

DNA analysis of residents of Druze villages in Israel suggests these ancient religious communities offer a genetic snapshot of the Near East as it was several thousands of years ago

The Druze harbor a remarkable diversity of mitochondrial DNA types or lineages that appear to have separated from each other many thousands of years ago, according to a new study by multinational team, led by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Rappaport School of Medicine.

But instead of dispersing throughout the world after their separation, the full range of lineages can still be found within the small, tightly knit Druze population.

Technion researcher Karl Skorecki noted that the findings are consistent with Druze oral tradition suggesting the adherents came from diverse ancestral lineages "stretching back tens of thousands of years." The Druze represent a "genetic sanctuary" or "living relic" that provides a glimpse of the genetic diversity of the Near East in antiquity, the researchers write in the May 7th issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

But there is a modern twist to their story: the diversity of Druze mitochondrial DNA, which is the part of the genome that is passed on strictly through the maternal line, offers a unique opportunity for researchers to study whether people in different mitochondrial DNA lineages are predisposed to different kinds of diseases.

Skorecki points to metabolic syndrome, the combination of insulin resistance, high cholesterol, abdominal obesity and other factors, as one such disease. Mitochondria are the energy factories within cells, so one might expect that differences in mitochondrial DNA might be linked to different predispositions to energy-related diseases such as metabolic syndrome, he explained.

With the Druze, "you can look at 150 kinds of mitochondrial DNA within one group with a similar environment, and be able to see the specific contribution of these variations" to disease, Skorecki said.

Dan Mishmar, a genetics researcher at Ben-Gurion University who was not involved with the study, said there is another "great advantage" to studying the link between disease and mitochondrial DNA variation in a group like the Druze. Although the Druze have great variety in their mitochondrial genome, the rest of their genome inherited from both paternal and maternal lines has grown less diverse as a result of thousands of years of intermarriage.

That means that researchers searching for genetic mutations linked to disease would have an easier time discerning whether these mutations are limited to the mitochondrial genome, which could help researchers design specific, targeted therapies, Mishmar explained.

The findings also guide the approach to screen for genetic disease among the Druze. Instead of scanning for disease-linked genes associated with an entire population--as is the case with Ashkenazi Jews, for example-it may make sense to screen within smaller groups. "Since they are comprised of so many distinct lineages, genetic disease may vary from clan to clan and village to village," Skorecki explained.

The researchers, including Druze co-authors Fuad Basis of the Rambam Medical Center and former Technion student Yarin Hadid, took genetic samples from 311 Druze households in 20 villages in Israel. They soon discovered an unusually high frequency of a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup-a distinct collection of genetic markers - called haplogroup X - among the Druze. Haplogroup X is found at low frequencies throughout the world, and is not confined to a specific geographical region as are most other mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Even more unusual, the Druze villages contained a striking range of variations on the X haplogroup. Together, the high frequency and high diversity of the X haplogroup "suggest that this population provides a glimpse into the past genetic landscape of the Near East, at a time when the X haplogroup was more prevalent," the researchers note.

How did the Druze become a genetic sanctuary in the Near East? The religious minority has lived for centuries in remote, mountainous regions, and unlike other monotheistic religions, the group has not sought converts since shortly after the "Dawa" or "revelation" of the religion in 1017 C.E. These factors, along with other cultural and political practices, may have kept the Druze a people apart for thousands of years, according to Skorecki and colleagues.

Skorecki is best-known for his 1997 discovery of genetic evidence indicating that the majority of modern-day Jewish priests (Kohanim) are descendants of a single common male ancestor, consistent with the Biblical high priest, Aaron. He also led an international team of researchers who, in 2006, found that some 3.5 million or 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four "founding mothers," who lived in Europe 1,000 years ago.

Researchers from the Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, Israel, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel also contributed to the PLoS ONE study.

Friday, September 5, 2008

New "Biblical" Clay Seal Found in City of David

A 2,600 year old clay seal impression, or bulla, bearing the name Gedaliah ben Pashur has recently been uncovered completely intact during archaeological excavations in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, located just below the walls of the Old City near the Dung Gate.

The name appears in the Book of Jeremiah (38:1) together with that of Yehuchal ben Shelemayahu, whose name was found on an identical clay bulla in the same area in 2005. The two men were ministers in the court of King Zedekiah, the last king to rule in Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple.

According to Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University who is leading the dig, this is the first time in the annals of Israeli archeology that two clay bullae with two Biblical names that appear in the same verse in the Bible have been unearthed in the same location.

"It is not very often that such a discovery happens in which real figures of the past shake off the dust of history and so vividly revive the stories of the Bible," Mazar noted.

The first bulla was uncovered inside an impressive stone structure, which Mazar believes to be the Palace of David, while the second bulla was found at the foot of the external wall of the same structure, under a tower that was built in the days of Nehemiah.

Both bullae, clearly preserved, measuring 1 cm. in diameter each and lettered in ancient Hebrew, were found among the debris of the destruction of the First Temple period (8th to 6th centuries BCE).

Dr. Mazar recently completed the third phase of her excavation of what she believes to be King David's palace at the City of David site. More finds are expected as archaeologists continue to sift through the rubble from the dig.

3,000 Year Old Beehive Found In Israel

The Bible refers to ancient Israel as the “land flowing with milk and honey,” so it’s fitting that one of its towns milked honey for all it was worth. Scientists have unearthed the remains of a large-scale beekeeping operation at a nearly 3,000-year-old Israeli site, which dates to the time of biblical accounts of King David and King Solomon.

Excavations in northern Israel at a huge earthen mound called Tel Rehov revealed the Iron Age settlement. From 2005 to 2007, workers at Tel Rehov uncovered the oldest known remnants of human-made beehives, excavation director Amihai Mazar and colleagues report in the September Antiquity. No evidence of beekeeping has emerged at any other archaeological sites in the Middle East or surrounding regions.

“The discovery of an industrial apiary at Tel Rehov constitutes a unique and extraordinary discovery that revolutionizes our knowledge of this economic endeavor, particularly in ancient Israel,” says Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Many scholars assume that ancient Israelis made honey from fruits such as figs and dates. Nowhere does the Bible mention beekeeping as a way to produce honey, according to Mazar.

The earliest known depiction of beekeeping appears on a carving from an Egyptian temple that dates to 4,500 years ago. It shows men collecting honeycombs from cylindrical containers, pouring honey into jars and possibly separating honey from beeswax. Beehives portrayed in ancient Egyptian art resemble those found at Tel Rehov, as well as hives used today by traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groups, says entomologist Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.

“Tel Rehov is so important because it contains a full apiary, demonstrating that this was a large-scale operation,” Kritsky says.

Mazar’s team has so far uncovered 25 cylindrical containers for bees in a structure that is centrally located in the ancient city at Tel Rehov. High brick walls surrounded the apiary. Beehives sat in three parallel rows, each containing at least three tiers. Each beehive measured 80 centimeters long and about 40 centimeters wide.

In the best-preserved beehives, one end contains a small hole for bees to enter and exit. A removable lid with a handle covers the other end.

Chemical analyses of two Tel Rehov beehives revealed degraded beeswax residue in the containers’ unfired clay walls. The researchers are now examining pollen remains and bee bodies found in charred honeycombs from inside the hives.

A violent fire in ancient times caused walls surrounding the hives to collapse and destroy many of the bee containers. Radiocarbon measures of burned grain from the apiary floor and nearby structures provided an age estimate for the finds.

Mazar estimates that the ancient apiary contained at least 75 and perhaps as many as 200 beehives. A clay platform of the same width as a nearby row of hives probably served as a foundation for some of the hives. The facility held more than 1 million bees and had a potential annual yield of 500 kilograms of honey and 70 kilograms of beeswax, Mazar says.

Writings and paintings from ancient Egypt suggest beehives possessed considerable value at the time. Honey was used as a sweetener, a salve for wounds and a ritual substance. Beeswax also had various uses, including being molded into casts for bronze objects.

Only a strong central authority could have established and maintained a large apiary in the center of town, Mazar notes.

The apiary apparently hosted ceremonies intended to spur honey production and ensure the operation’s success. Ritual finds near the hives include a four-horned clay altar that features carved figures of two female goddesses flanking an incised tree.

Find long-lost Jewish capital of the Khazars

Russian archaeologists said Wednesday they had found the long-lost capital of the Khazar kingdom in southern Russia, a breakthrough for research on the ancient Jewish state.

"This is a hugely important discovery," expedition organiser Dmitry Vasilyev told AFP by telephone from Astrakhan State University after returning from excavations near the village of Samosdelka, just north of the Caspian Sea.

"We can now shed light on one of the most intriguing mysteries of that period -- how the Khazars actually lived. We know very little about the Khazars -- about their traditions, their funerary rites, their culture," he said.

The city was the capital of the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic peoples who adopted Judaism as a state religion, from between the 8th and the 10th centuries, when it was captured and sacked by the rulers of ancient Russia.

At its height, the Khazar state and its tributaries controlled much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large parts of Russia's North Caucasus region.

The capital is referred to as Itil in Arab chronicles but Vasilyev said the word may actually have been used to refer to the Volga River on which the city was founded or to the surrounding river delta region.

Itil was said to be a multi-ethnic place with houses of worship and judges for Christians, Jews, Muslims and pagans. Its remains have until now never been identified and were said to have been washed away by the Caspian Sea.

Archaeologists have been excavating in the area if Samosdelka for the past nine years but have only now collected enough material evidence to back their thesis, including the remains of an ancient brick fortress, he added.

"Within the fortress, we have found huts similar to yurts, which are characteristics of Khazar cities.... The fortress had a triangular shape and was made with bricks. It's another argument that this was no ordinary city."

Around 10 university archaeologists and some 50 students took part in excavations in the region this summer, which are partly financed by the Jewish University in Moscow and the Russian Jewish Congress.

Sidon is a remarkable archaeological city

"Sidon is a remarkable archaeological city where we have found that economics and religion are closely related," archaeology expert and field supervisor Claude Doumet Serhal told The Daily Star. "And for the first time, we have discovered ways of burying the dead during the Canaanite period i.e. 3, 0000 years B.C. and the accompanying ceremonial religious rituals."

"Our discoveries included eight rooms and 25 warehouses containing pottery and burnt wheat," she said.

"But what surprised us," she added, "was the discovery of melted bronze material which indicated that the old Bronze Age existed before the Canaanite period."

Serhal also said her team had unearthed 92 graves where children and teenagers were found buried in jars, in addition to warriors along with their spears, knives and arrows that dated to 2,000 years B.C.

"We have also discovered the old oven known as 'Tannour' and a pestle to grind cereals," she added. "Some of the ovens discovered contained bones of goats, birds and fish representing the gifts that had been offered for the dead at the time.

"The Freres site also included a four-meter-wide building of which we have discovered the ruins of five rooms so far, which were also related to the religious rituals of that period. Some 300 broken earthen plates and 600 lamps of the Canaanite period were also unearthed," she said.

According to Serhal, the excavation team could also prove the existence of commercial exchange between old Sidon, Egypt and Greece through the discovery of utensils with hieroglyphic inscription and the signature of Pharaoh Taousarat in addition to some Greek cups.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Prehistoric funerary precinct in northern Israel

Hebrew University excavations in the north of Israel have revealed a prehistoric funerary precinct dating back to 6,750-8,500 BCE.

The precinct, a massive walled enclosure measuring 10 meters by at least 20 meters, was discovered at excavations being undertaken at Kfar HaHoresh. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B site in the Nazareth hills of the lower Galilee is interpreted as having been a regional funerary and cult center for nearby lowland villages.

Prof. Nigel Goring-Morris of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, who is leading the excavations, says that the precinct is just one of the many finds discovered at the site this year – including remains of a fully-articulated, but tightly contracted 40 year old adult male.

Accompanying grave goods include a sickle blade and a sea shell, while a concentration of some 60 other shells were found nearby. The sea shells provide evidence for extensive exchange networks from the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Symbolic items include small plain or incised tokens. An entire herd of cattle was also found buried nearby.

While fertility symbols during this period are often associated with female imagery, at Kfar HaHoresh only phallic figurines have been found to date, including one placed as a foundation deposit in the wall of the precinct.

Exotic minerals found at the site include malachite from south of the Dead Sea, obsidian (natural volcanic glass) from central Anatolia, and a votive axe on serpentine from either Cyprus or northern Syria.

"Cultic artifacts, installations and their contextual associations attest to intensive ritual practices in the area," says Prof. Goring-Morris.

Burials at the site now total at least 65 individuals, and display an unusual demographic profile – with an emphasis on young adult males. Graves occur under or associated with lime-plaster surfaced L-shaped walled structures, and are varied in nature from single articulated burials through multiple secondary burials with up to 17 individuals. Bones in one had been intentionally re-arranged in what appears to be a depiction.

The Pre-pottery Neolithic B, ca. 8,500-6,750 BCE, corresponds to the period when the first large village communities were established in the fertile regions of the Near East when a wide ranging cultural interaction sphere came into being throughout the Levant.