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Digging up the Walls of Hebron (2003)

In 1999 E. Eisenberg of the IAA conducted excavations at the northern part of the mound of ancient Hebron (Tell Rumeideh). The excavations, covering an area of 500 sq m, revealed evidence of occupation at the site in various periods. Most interesting for Biblical archaeologists are the levels from the Early Bronze to the Iron Age periods, which correspond with patriarchal times, and up to the fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 BCE). The excavations show that at the end of the Early Bronze period a large wall was constructed at Hebron (#2 in the photo). The wall was 6 m wide and some parts are preserved to a height of 3.1 m. In the Middle Bronze period, considered by some as the time of Abraham, the site was re-settled and re-fortified with a wall running parallel to the old one (#3 in the photo). This wall is less well preserved. Both walls are important testimony for the location of Hebron in Canaanite times. Near this city Abraham bought a burial site in a cave for himself and his successors. Now known as the “Cave of the Patriarchs”, this is now a place of much veneration, and tension. According to the bible the cave is located outside the city, and the new excavations prove that it is indeed so.

In the 8-7th centuries BCE, when Hebron was part of the kingdom of Judah, some of its inhabitants built a four room house near the then abandoned Canaanite walls (#1 in the photo). Five pillars were exposed in the centre of the house. Originally there were probably eight pillars constructed in two rows. Next to the house archaeologists found a round silo and nearby they unearthed eight stamped jar handles, on five of which, the word “Hebron” in ancient Hebrew could be read.

The finds attest to the importance of the city during the days of the

kingdom of Judah. Four room houses are typical of Israelite architecture, and “Hebron” stamped jar handles attests that the city was the centre of production of some agricultural product.

Hebron excavations

Ancient Oyster Trade

The site of ‘Atlit, some 70 km north of Tel-Aviv, is known to have been a

Phoenician harbor city in Biblical days, and a major fortified port in  Crusader times. After the last Crusaders left the holy land in 1291, the Mamluks deliberately destroyed all the forts and harbors along the Mediterranean cost, including ‘Atlit. The site is abandoned to this day.

Small scale excavations were conducted at ‘Atlit in 1930-1935 by British archaeologist C.N. Johns. Today the site is closed to the public as it is part of an Israel Defense Force base.

Following a summer storm, an underwater survey took place in October 1998 in the northern bay of ‘Atlit by J. Sharvit and E. Galili of the underwater research unit of the IAA. About 700 m west of the shoreline, at a depth of 11.5 m, a complete jar was discovered. In and around the jar bivalve shells were scattered. The shape of the jar is similar to jars found in El-ma’adi, along the bank of the Nile at lower Egypt, and dates to Early Bronze I A (traditionally dated to c. 3500-3350 BCE). The ‘Atlit jar most likely originated from that area too, and the 18 shells discovered in the jar and around it were the species Aspatharia rubens which is indigenous to the Nile river and Lake Victoria, not the eastern Mediterranean sea. The shells may have been dropped from the vessel when anchoring near the harbor of ‘Atlit, or may be an indication that a contemporary whole vessel sank nearby, and is today completely covered by sand. The find is important and unique evidence for long range trade and its nature in the eastern Mediterranean at the dawn of history.

Oyster Jar from Atlit

Last minute Addition: The Joash Stele

Last week Channel One of Israel TV presented the results of tests performed by the Israeli Geological Institute on a stone tablet inscribed in ancient Hebrew. The tablet allegedly records the renovations of the temple by Joash, King of Judah in the ninth century BCE, yet it was not discovered in proper archaeological excavations and so many suspected it is a forgery.

On this TV show the text was not presented and only a blurred picture of the stele was shown, but the chemical and physical analyses seem quite convincing. Not only did the tests reveal traces of patina, but also indicated microscopic traces of gold, possibly indicating that the tablet was originally displayed in a gold-plated house and absorbed some of the gold when the building was burnt down. If true, this is one of the most exciting and important finds ever revealed in the holy land. A clear testimony for such temple renovations is described in the Old Testament, carried out by order of King Joash:

In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.  4 Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money that is brought as sacred offerings to the temple of the LORD -the money collected in the census, the money received from personal vows and the money brought voluntarily to the temple. 5 Let every priest receive the money from one of the treasurers, and let it be used to repair whatever damage is found in the temple.” (II kings 12:1-5)

The stone is in the possession of an antiquities collector. The rumor is that it originated from the Temple Mount, but there is no reliable documentation for that. Professor J. Naveh and Professor I. Ef’al from the Hebrew University have examined the inscription in detail and have concluded that it is a fake.

The story of this find is similar to that of the recently published “James brother of Jesus” ossuary. The fact that the two objects are “found” in close proximity also doesn’t sound good. Could it be that a clever forger is planning his retirement pension? On the other hand, whenever very important finds have been revealed in this region (such as Dead Sea Scrolls, Mesha’s Stele, and others), reactions always have also included doubts about the authenticity of the discoveries, and only gradually have scholars acknowledged them as genuine. I am eagerly waiting for a proper scientific publication of the inscription to judge for myself.

The Yoash Inscription. Real or fake?
The Yoash Inscription. Real or fake?