Archive for the ‘Biblical Site’ Category

Aphek and the Importance of Location

July 25, 2013

The other day, we spent a bit of time at Tel Afek, the site of…Aphek, also called Antipatris.

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Biblically, we first see Aphek as one of the cities taken by the conquest and given to the tribe of Asher. By this time, it was already old, having been controlled by Egypt for quite some time. In I Samuel 4, the Philistines were encamped at Aphek when they routed Israel’s army and took the Ark of the Covenant as spoil. Despite the fact that that incident ended rather unpleasantly for them, they again set up base there to fight the Israelites–though, for some reason, the princes of the Philistines protested against David’s presence in their army.

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

History tells us that Herod would eventually receive Aphek as part of his kingdom, which he expanded, adding a Roman forum and cardo through the city. He renamed it Antipatris, after his father. It was thus to ancient Aphek that the chief Roman captain of the Antonia, Claudias Lysias, spirited Paul away when the Jews made their assassination plot against him (Acts 23).

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

But why was Aphek so hotly contested? From its foundation in the Chalcolithic Period (4500-3000 BC) to the Ottoman empire, it is clear why it was a popular piece of real estate. Located at the headwaters of the Yarkon River, Aphek sat on a strategic point where the coastal routes–including the Via Maris–were blocked by the Yarkon and its surrounding swampland, and funneled through a narrow pass towards Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley. Whoever controlled Aphek controlled the pass and any trade or armies moving through it.

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek (A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek
(A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

And, as a side note, the local donkey population at Tel Afek is also worth viewing. They are as curious about you as you are of them.

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

Sea of Galilee Sunrise

July 25, 2013

Here is the sun rising over the Sea of Galilee this morning, about 3 hours ago.  It was a calm and peaceful scene, quite beautiful as well.  We’ve been traveling around the Galilee area for a day or two and are about to move into the Nazareth/Jezreel Valley area.

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Jaffa: From Egyptian Basket Cases to Napoleon’s Backfired Plan

July 23, 2013

It’s difficult to throw a rock in Israel and not hit a site that is deeply steeped in history. Such is the city of Jaffa (Joppa), which dates back to the Neolithic Period around 7500 BC. Jaffa is first mentioned in an Egyptian tale now known as The Taking of Joppa from around 1440 BC. This letter describes how Thutmose III’s general, Djehuty infiltrated the city by hiding his soldiers in baskets and passing said baskets off as gifts to the governor. Jaffa again makes Egyptian headlines in the Amarna letters, written between 1388 and 1332 BC. Ramses II even had a fort here in the 13th century.

Jaffa, with Andromeda's Rock

Jaffa, with Andromeda’s Rock

Around the 13th century, Israel appeared on the scene. Joshua 19:46 tells us that the tribe of Dan placed its borders against Japho. But, in the 12th century, the Sea People (remember our friends the Philistines?) leave a great destruction layer in the city’s stratigraphy. It is around this time and place the Aegean myth arises of Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from the clutches of the spiteful gods. Tradition has it that he swept her off her feet at the port of Jaffa. Later on, Huram, king of Tyre, would send Solomon cedars of Lebanon through the Jaffa port for the building of the temple. However, the port city never returned to Israelite control. The invading Assyrians placed Jaffa under the protection of Ashkelon, until it came under Phoenician control in the Persian Empire. During the Assyrian occupation, an opinionated prophet named Jonah took a notion to escape an omniscient God by using Jaffa as a jumping off point in a trip to Tarshish.

Downtown Jaffa

Downtown Jaffa

Jaffa spent the better part of the Hellenistic period in a tug of war between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empire. After a bit of destruction by the Maccabees, it would find itself in the hands of Herod, then Cleopatra, then Herod again. By the New Testament period, things had settled down a bit. Peter was called to Joppa to return the faithful Tabitha to life. While he was there, in the house of Simon the tanner, Cornelius sent for him from Caesarea Maritima.

Market at Jaffa by Gustav Bauernfeind, 1887

Market at Jaffa by Gustav Bauernfeind, 1887

Jaffa clung to history for years to come, surviving captures, recaptures, and destructions to prevent captures and recaptures (the Crusaders and Arabs tended towards that habit). Napoleon even took a crack at it 1799, until the bubonic plague ended that endeavor. It wasn’t until the 1950s that everyone got their act together and unified Jaffa and Tel Aviv into the Tel Aviv-Yafo that we know and love today.

Jaffa in the Evening

Jaffa in the Evening

Project #2: Vagabonding in Israel for 40 Days (or So)

July 22, 2013
Picture of the temple mount from a south view.  You may have to click to see the larger image, but from left to right you can see the Temple Mount, with the Old City Walls below it, the Kidron Valley, and then the Mount of Olives (green clump of trees on the right).  This shot was from June 14th, on a field trip/break day from the dig.

Picture of the Temple Mount from a south view. You may have to click to see the larger image, but from left to right you can see the Temple Mount, with the Old City walls below it, the Kidron Valley, and then the Mount of Olives (green clump of trees on the right). This shot was from June 14th, on a field trip/break day from the dig.

So you may remember from our first post from back in June, as we ramped up the blog again, we had a few “projects” coming up.  Digging in Ashkelon was #1, vagabonding in Israel for about a month is #2.

How did this project develop?  Project #1 is part of a larger endeavor, which will keep us here in Israel until December (more on that later, Project #3).  Project #2 is the in-between time of projects 1&3, about 40 days.

We faced the question of what to do with those 40 days.  Round-trip plane tickets home?  Sounds logical, but as we looked at that price, the question became, “Could we stay in-country for that or less, and visit the major sites in Israel relevant to the Biblical text?” This would be the ancient cities and tells (ancient mounds), not just popular tourist sites, although some of them are.  A little number crunching indicated that it would be close, assuming we used small hotels, hostels, and perhaps even a Bedouin tent :), and in general, lived life on the cheap.

While we dearly love our families, and desire greatly to see you all soon, you know the adventurous spirits we are. Project # 2 it is.

So, while the sun sets on the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, the sun rises on explorative vagabonding in Israel.

Sunset on the ancient seaport beach of Ashkelon.

Sunset on the ancient seaport beach of Ashkelon.

Hopefully, we will be able to keep you more up to date with Project #2, as our schedule will be a little more flexible and not quite so intense.

Archaeology 101

July 4, 2013

When we decided awhile back to go into the field of archaeology, we were on the receiving end of many questions. Number 1 was, “You’re going WHERE for six months?!” But there were other, more pertinant questions, such as “What exactly is archaeology?” and “What do you do at a dig?”

Archaeology is the study of the material remains of humanity (as opposed to paleontology). This is the study of artifacts. For a Biblical scholar, archaeology reveals the culture and practices behind the Bible narrative. Before your eyes, the Philistines transform from the wicked, Samson-hating enemies of Israel to a sophisticated and powerful people–who were also Israel’s enemies.

Philistine Pottery

Examples of Philistine Pottery Sherds (Left to Right): Philistine Monochrome, Cypriot Milk Jar, Another Cypriot Milk Jar, Monochrome Bell Jar Rim and Handle

But how do we get to those awesome artifacts that prove the Philistines weren’t just a bunch of hair-chopping savages? First, one must find the right spot. In this case, we’re at Ashkelon, which has maintained its identity through the ages. Archaeologists will divide such a site into grids. Each grid is divided into squares, and these can be divided into units or fine grids for digging. Through the use of technology, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), archaeologists can get a fairly good bead on where to start in terms of buried architecture. Then, the bulldozers and backhoes come in. Because that’s a lot easier than taking off the top layer ourselves.

Archaeology Tools

Tools of the Trade (Back): Turia, Pickaxe, Brush and Dustpan, (Front) Trowel, Patich, Pottery Bucket

This is where we get to the fun part. Everyone gets a pickaxe. Some people are really great with pickaxes, some people aren’t, some people are a danger to humanity. At some point during the melee, somone is going to hit some pottery, or a rock, or a brick. Eventually a wall or even a whole complex will begin to emerge. As the work becomes more delicate, so do the tools. Now, you may be down next to a wall, and your supervisor will hand you a patich. This is your little pick that you use to chip away smaller chunks of dirt, rock, and sand. After a bit, you may be right against your wall, or you even found a piece of pottery or bone. So, you take out your handy-dandy trowel–the one you bought off Amazon and schlepped over land and sea just for this moment. With this, you will scrape, carve, and pick at thinner layers, and close in on artifacts. However, if you layer is important, such as floor or fiber (called phytolith), you may use a sophisticated tool like the bamboo skewer to gently lift and flake away dirt. If it’s really close work, they’ll bring out the dental pick instead. And when working with such fragile layers and objects, you can’t simply swipe over it with a brush. You will use an air puffer to puff away those pesky dust particles around your glorious find.

Scraping a Section

Using a Trowel to Scrape Down a Section (To Reveal Layers, Such as Floors)Using a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a PitUsing a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a Pit

Inevitably, though, amongst all this pickaxing, patiching, and trowling, you’ll make a mess. Or your surfaces will get lumpy. Cleanup and leveling is easy with the turia to scrape dirt into buckets and even up your surface. You’ll also use your brush and dustpan to clean up your area. Any pottery goes into a bucket labeled for your particular spot, and bones go into a labeled bag. Really special stuff will be individually packaged and labeled for research.

Archaeology Workspace

A Clean Area Is a Happy Area–Tools at Ready and Dirt Buckets in Use

Once everything is labeled, dusted, and tidy, the last tool in an archaeologist’s repetoir is the hot shower. You’ve played with ancient humanity all day, and now it’s time to join your own modern culture again. Happy digging!

Ashkelon through the Ages, Part II

June 25, 2013

We left off last time with the history of the city of Ashkelon in the Persian occupation. This only occurred after the city had remained mostly abandoned for about 50 years following Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction. For awhile, they lived happily, burying dogs and digging pits to infuriate archaeologists. Eventually, though, a fabulous Greek by the name of Alexander swept through the Levant and incorporated Ashkelon into his magnificent empire. This began the Hellenistic period of Ashkelon’s life, marked mostly by a change of pottery and a rise in Grecian cultic practices. The Ashkelonites loved the Attic pottery so much that they began running a fairly blatant counterfeit business, selling knockoff Atticware.

Roman Theater, Ashkelon

Roman Theater Built over Hellenistic Fortifications, Ashkelon

But, as Alexander’s empire crumbled, and the Maccabean Revolt passed, the Hasmonean kingdom received Ashkelon for its own, and the formerly Philistine city was in the hands of the Israelites. As Rome rose to power, Ashkelon maintained a form of independence. Cleopatra VII was fond of the city, as it was of her. It welcomed her with open arms when she fled there for refuge for a time, and received a coin minted in her honor. The city was eventually absorbed into the Roman Republic at around 63 BC. In 30 BC, the Idumaean king, Herod the Great, beautified Ashkelon–as was his wont–adding baths and fountains, and his usual enormous pillars.

Byzantine Basilica, Ashkelon

Byzantine Basilica, Ashkelon

Rome faded, and her remnant, the Byzantine Empire took her place. Byzantium ramped up the religion, and even created a map for religious pilgrims called the Madaba Map–featuring such sites as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and even…Ashkelon. In time, the crusaders came to drive the heathen from the holy sites. A mild fiasco ensued when the Egyptian Fatimid army holed up at Ashkelon and conducted raids against the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The crusaders naturally retaliated, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Eventually though, in 1191 AD, Saladin leveled the city to prevent the crusaders from regaining a healthy foothold there. The Richards of England renovated it, but only to have it knocked down again in 1270 when the Egyptian Mamluk sultan Baybars decided enough was enough. Ashkelon laid low for the next 400 or so years, disguised as Majdal, until 1953, when it again took back its name and developed into the bustling vacation city it is today.

Crusader Arch, Ashkelon

Crusader Arch, Ashkelon

To summarize, here’s a quick timeline:

Canaanite — 2000-1150 BC

Philistine — 1150-604 BC

Babylonian Destruction — 604 BC

Persian — 604-332 BC

Greek — 332-63 BC

Roman– 63 BC-330 AD

Byzantine — 330-1453 AD

Crusader — 1099-1191 AD

Islamic — 1187-1270 AD

Ottoman to Modern Ashkelon — 1270-Present

Modern Ashkelon from Tel Ashkelon

Modern Ashkelon from Tel Ashkelon

Ashkelon through the Ages, Part I

June 18, 2013

Part of the fun of archaeology is watching history rewind itself through the layers–because, how will you get to the oldest stuff if you don’t dig out the newest stuff first? At Ashkelon, we’re fairly certain of what the oldest layer is, and how its history seems to have transpired.

Canaanite Gate

Canaanite Gate, Ashkelon

The earliest significant occupation appears to date from the third millennium (2000s) BC. This is often referred to as the Canaanite occupation, which manifests itself most notably in the monumental Canaanite gate–a magnificent 2-story arched gate leading into what was once Canaanite Ashkelon–and the iconic silver calf shrine. During the Canaanite occupation, the people seemed to live in relative prosperity, while maintaing a strained relationship with its neighbor Egypt, evidenced in the simpering letters from the city ruler to Pharaoh. In Genesis 21:22-34, Abraham interacts with these Canaanites when he makes a treaty between him and Abimelech.

Shrine of the Silver Calf

Canaanite Shrine of the Silver Calf, Found at Ashkelon

It is a fascinating realization that history does not occur in a vacuum: rather, history is the interplay of many cultures and many people. A decision in a far-away land may eventually have an impact on another place. Such was the case with Ashkelon. As far west as Spain and as far east as the Levant, a branch of the Mycenaeans landed in search of new homes. Soon, Egypt was invaded by a group known as the Sea People. On the Merenptah Stele, Pharaoh Merenptah details his defeat of the Sea People, driving them out of the land. Having been repulsed from the rich Nile Delta, they tried their luck further up the coast and soon became masters of the fertile Levantine coastline. Here they carried out a booming trade, since they were situated on the greatest trade routes–goods from as far away as Babylon and Cyprus passed through the business-savvy hands of the Ashkelonites. Ashkelon rose in importance, until it became a principle city of the Philistine pentapolis. There are many references to Philistine Ashkelon in the Bible, from Samson’s clothes raid to many dark curses, promising that the Philistines would not rule there forever.

Philistine Baboon Idol

Philistine Baboon Idol, Found at Ekron

Sure enough, in 604 BC, a young king had just taken the throne in Babylon, and new king Nebuchadnezzar wasted no time in finishing the job his father had started. As he had swept up from Egypt to claim his throne, his accompanying army laid out a swath of conquest all about them. As we know, in 605 BC, Jerusalem was swept up in this conquering blitz to begin the period of captivity. But the Jews were not the only people affected by this rapidly expanding empire. As though presenting a preview of coming attractions, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Ashkelon, leaving an astounding layer of destruction–pots, walls, grains, and bodies of all sorts, all placed as though the culture of that day were simply frozen in time. No one had time to clean, throw out their garbage, or finish cooking dinner before their city was reduced to a layer of ash and burnt material.

After Babylon came and went, the Persians exerted their gentle influence. Ashkelon rose from its ashes and blossomed once more into a bustling port town. Fish paste, grain, and wine from Judea all passed through the busy market. Around this time, the Ashkelonites created one of our first pet cemetaries, ritually burying thousands of domestic dogs in a designated part of the town.

Dog Burial

Dog Burial at Ashkelon, Photo Courtesy of Elsevier BV (c) 2013

Project #1: Archaeological Dig at Ashkelon, Israel

June 14, 2013

Rebekah posted a few days ago about an upcoming adventure.  I look at this more as a project, actually.  We have three projects coming soon, of which this is the first.  We thought these projects might interest you, so here we are.

First off, our apologies for the misleading last post.  We truly intended to continue posting continuing content concerning history, culture, art, nature, and such.  We’ve been busy since the last trip and we just could not make the time for it (as we were busy with these projects, among other things of life).

So, what’s the project?  Let’s say you are greatly interested in ancient history and archaeology, particularly in the timeframe of Biblical settings. What is one of the best ways to learn about this history and archaeology?  Rebekah and I asked this question many months ago and the answer landed us (figuratively and literally) on the coast of modern day Israel, just a few days ago. 

This summer we are participating in an archaeological dig, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.  Ashkelon is an ancient city mentioned many times in the scriptures.  One of these first mentions is Judges 14:19, when Samson slew 30 men of Ashkelon for their garments.  Ashkelon is an ancient site that was inhabited from the Middle Bronze Age (~2000 B.C.) to the time of the Crusaders.  It has a history from many peoples and cultures who have touched and inhabited this city for many years.  The core inhabitants and conquering nations of Ashkelon include the Canaanites,  Philistines, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, and finally, the Crusaders.  This spans a time from the early 12th century B.C. to the 12th century A.D.

While most of the Biblical activity and mentions of Ashkelon are associated with the Canaanites and Philistines, the city is also a wealth of information for the other nations, as these well known nations had major influences on Ashkelon, just as they played a major role in Bible history.  Information gleaned from this site can help us understand the governments, people, and cultural context of these nations.  This helps us understand how and why they appear in the scriptures and the historical backdrop they help provide.

On archaeological digs, the areas you are excavating are divided into “grids.” Ashkelon is a large site, consisting of about 150 acres, divided into 100 grids.  Being so large, active excavation squares may be quite a distance apart.  Yesterday, Rebekah was working in grid 38, which has had some famous finds over the past few years.  She has spent the past few days excavating a Late Bronze Age courtyard, an Iron Age destruction layer, and a Middle Bronze age Philistine room.  So far, she has uncovered mono- and bichrome Philistine pottery (monochrome is the just-off-the-ship, Grandma’s best pottery; and bichrome is  a later painted form).  She and her digging partner have also found weights, beads, and various stone tools.

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I am working in Grid 51 (which some like to refer to as Area 51).  Yesterday, I was working on removing an “occupational layer floor.”  Some layers are that of destruction or abandonment, but an occupational floor is a room where people have once lived and worked.  A destruction or abandonment layer may exist on top of this, but during the occupied time, you can see what the inhabitants left behind on the floor, such as our Persian era floor (538-330 B.C.) that contained pottery and bone fragments.  Pottery is heavily used in dating layers, but it also can tell us how homes are furnished, how they cooked and stored food, and more.   Bone can also tell us many things, such as the peoples diet and sacrificial practices. 

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New adventures…

June 7, 2013

…coming soon.

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Through the Shephelah and Beyond

September 15, 2012

On what was one of the most exciting days of the trip so far, we finished up our Israel leg by winding our way from Jerusalem down to Gath, and up to Tel Aviv through the Shephelah (or Shfela). This is the lowland area of southern Israel in Biblical Judea.

It’s interesting to note the difference between the two sides of the ridge in Judea–on the west is the Shephelah with rolling hills of fertile agricultural land, which you can see in the Sorek Valley photo. On the western side of the mountains is the wilderness of the hill country with its rugged and barren land.

We stopped at the tell of Beth-Shemesh first. This was originally in the Danites’ territory, which was abandoned when the Philistines became too aggressive for Dan’s sensibilities. God allowed their territory to be overrun because they violated His command to utterly drive out the inhabitants of the land (Judges 2:2-4). This city was at an important passage through the Shephelah and the old stomping grounds of our friend Samson. His birthplace and his wife’s hometown are both visible from this tell. The Philistines would later send the Ark of the Covenant up the Sorek Valley on a cart drawn by two very miserable milk cows.

Beth-Shemesh Samson David

View from the Tell of Beth-Shemesh into the Sorek Valley

Another stop on our way was the tell of Lachish. This was a geek-out site for us. The British Museum has a beautiful display of Sennacharib’s siege against Lachish (note the siege ramp on the right of the mound), from the beginning to the brutal end when the rebels were impaled or skinned alive as the rest of city was led into slavery. The Assyrian army was slowly moving through Judah, ravaging the land and conquering the fortified cities–cities which communicated to each other by signal fires. There’s an emotion that lands somewhere between heartrending and chilling when you read one of the final letters to the military governor saying, “…we cannot see [the signal fire of] Azekah.” Lachish was alone.

Lachish

Tell at Lachish, Showing Siege Ramp

The last site was Gath (Tell es-Safi). We know this best as the mighty giant Goliath’s hometown. Ironically, the brook of Elah runs at the foot of the city, the same brook from which, further along, David likely lifted the smooth stone that would be Goliath’s bane.

Gath Goliath David Elah Brook

Tell at Gath, Goliath’s Hometown

Now, for the weird note for the day. In Tiberias, across from our hotel, we snapped this photo of a creepy bit of graffiti. Creepy, because that buck-toothed teddy just seems to stare into your soul.

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare Graffiti

The Creepy Teddy Bear, Part 1

Much to our consternation, we stepped off the bus 10 days later at a random gas station in southern Judea near Lachish, and there–staring into our souls–was Creepy Bear. Again.

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare Graffiti

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare, Part 2

This is our last post from Israel–we’re heading to Seville, Spain next. We hope you enjoy the next step in time to the Renaissance and beyond!