Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Search for Joshua's Ai at Khirbet el-Maqatir

By Petra van der Zande. 
"Archeology is a science in which progress can be measured by the advances made backward into the past."  James B. Pritchard.
For years, scholars and archeologists presumed Et-Tell (about 15 km North East of Jerusalem) to be the city of Ai. However, because no evidence was found to correlate this place with the Bible, secular scholars concluded the Bible was wrong and Joshua 7 and 8 were just a folk story.
The Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) didn't agree with this thesis. Committed to explore the ancient biblical world through archaeology, the archeological findings of this ministry frequently provide direct support for Scriptural accounts. When the Bible comes alive, study of the Scriptures is more interesting and meaningful.
A.B.R. sponsors and supports excavations in areas of which secular scholars claim that archeology does not line up with the Biblical accounts. The reason ABR digs at this particular site (Ai) is because they believe that not Et-Tell, but Khirbet el-Maqatir (KeM) is the site of Old Testament Ai as we find in Joshua 7 and 8.
Khirbet el-Maqatir, covering about 10 acres, is a series of low ruin piles above bedrock.
(An acre is the amount of land that could be plouged in one day with a yoke of oxen.)
It is located east of road no. 60, near Deir Dibwan, in Samaria (the West Bank).

Tell or Khirbet
"Tell" (or "tall" in Arabic) is an artificial mound consisting of layers of human occupation."Khirbet" (Arabic) means a low ruin.
It is always a joy to welcome Mrs. Janet and Dr. Eugene Merrill to Jerusalem Baptist Church. By their presence we know it is 'dig-time' again. As the excavation is only for two weeks at a time, this year I was determined to learn more about their exciting discoveries.
Dr. Eugene H. Merrill, served as Square Supervisor at the KeM excavations since 1996. The Distinguished Professor of O.T. studies at Dallas Theoogical Seminary published many articles and books. He is one of the most well-known and exceptional OT scholars in the Church today.
Mrs. Janet Merrill, with an MA in Jewish Studies, has accompanied her husband on many a KeM excavation. She volunteers as a ceramic typologist. 
Even though I didn't go to the excavation itself, I had the privilege to see the post-dig discoveries, meet some of the professional staff and the volunteers.

On Thursday, May 29, 2014, I had the privilege to interview Dr. Bryant Wood, the Archeological  Director Emeritus of the Khirbet el-Maqatir Excavations at Yad haShmonah, where the group stayed. 
Dr. Bryant G. Wood, Archeological Director Emeritus of the Khirbet el-Maqatir Excavations and Dig ceramic typologist. He founded the KeM excavations in 1995 and directed the Dig through 2013. He earned many University degrees and participated in numerous digs in the area. Dr. Wood is a specialist in Canaanite pottery of the Late Bronze Age.

Finishing up the second week of the two-week dig, Dr. Wood told me about the second Egyptian Scarab they found the previous week. Pottery finds are always subject to interpretation, critique and argumentation. Scarabs however, are rare and can be closely dated. This find was dated around 1600 B.C., the time of the beginning of the fortress mentioned in the book of Joshua. The other scarab, found during last year's dig, was dated about 200 years later- the end period of the fortress. Both finds were like book ends of an important Biblical period. The latest scarab may have been used by the last king of Ai, before the Israelites destroyed the city. The longitudinally drilled hole meant it was most likely worn as a necklace or attached to a ring. 
Scarab (from the French word scarabĂ©e = ‘beetle')Through their inscriptions and typology, these popular Egyptian amulets are an important source of information for archeologist and historians of the Ancient world.
Scarabs are favorite finds for archeologists, because, like coins, they can be dated rather accurately.In Ancient Egypt amulets in the form of scarab beetles were popular. They revered the dung beetle which they related to the sun god. From the middle Bronze Age, other ancient peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East imported scarabs from Egypt and also produced scarabs in Egyptian or local styles, especially in the Levant. 
Due to the archeological and biblical significance of the scarab, Christianity Today named it the #1 biblical archeology discovery of 2013.

This 12th season (2014) focused on an area of the 2nd Temple period town (between 2 BC – 69 AD), after which the town ceased to exist. They uncovered a building and part of a remarkably well preserved street, marking it as one of the best preserved towns of the period.
Leen Ritmeyer (archeological architect) plotted the outline of the city for future excavations.  Being a fortified town, they reasoned that Ai would have had a large tower, which was found on the north side. According to Amichai Mazar, a well-known local archeologist, this was the largest tower of this time period ever to have been found in Israel.
The ABR team works closely with the Israel Antiquity Authorities (IAA) who provide the dig permit and if needed, specialists, e.g. for dating the scarab. The IAA will publish an article about this year's scarab, while Dr. Wood will write about about last year's find.

The team of 2014
Each (independent) dig is funded by the volunteers who make up the work force. They pay for the dig equipment, the lodgings, travel, etc. Because each excavating season funds itself it is not necessary to raise lots of funds.

When excavating an area that is thousands of years old, one can never be 100% sure. However, the requirements and descriptions needed to match with the city of Ai are all there. Topographically it fits the Biblical text and also the archeological requirements: the town was fortified and occupied during the time of the Israelite conquest.
Dr. Wood's conclusions were confirmed by last week's pottery and scarab finds. Both scarabs tie into Egyptian history and provide scholars with beginning and end dates of the period of the Israelite conquest and burning of the fortress as described in the Bible.
Many coins were found of different periods. E.g. Alexander Jannaeus' coins (used until 1 AD), coins with inscriptions of NT figures, governors, (e.g. Pilate), Herod the great, etc. Also coins of the three Jewish revolt periods and Byzantine period were found spread over the site. 

The following distinct phases were found at the site:
1.     MB2C (1650-1550 BC) – the Egyptian scarab which probably belonged to the Hyksos.  The first scarab was produced locally, in Canaan.
2.     1550 BC – dating of the second scarab, produced in Egypt and imported to Canaan during the reign of Thutmose III.
3.     The 200 year of occupation of the Fortress (1600-1406 BC) ended with the Israelite conquest (1406 BC).
4.     People lived here during Iron Age I, the period of the Judges (1200-1000 BC). 
5.     Hasmonean dynasty: 140-37 BC
6.     First century AD - 69 AD
7.     Byzantine period: 4th century monastery 
The Hyksos or Hycsos ("ruler(s) of the foreign countries") were important Canaanite populations who took over the eastern Nile Delta. According to traditional accounts they ruled Egypt for 108 years, until Thutmose III regained control over Egypt.
Thutmose III (considered to have been a military genius) made 16 raids in 20 years. The active expansionist ruler (also called Egypt's greatest conqueror or "the Napoleon of Egypt") captured 350 cities and conquered much of the Near East from the Euphrates to Nubia. Thanks to his scribe and army commander, much information of the account of his campaigns were kept. In 1480 BC he campaigned in Canaan and took control of the area.
When Dr. Wood began excavating the site in 1995, until 2000 no armed guards were necessary. The Intifada (Arab uprising) forced the excavations to a standstill. Between 2001 and 2008 it was too dangerous to continue, and the dig was only resumed in 2009.
At present, the IDF must give clearance for the team to excavate and there is always an armed guard present at the site. Thankfully, the team never encountered any problems. They have good relationships with the local people; Palestinian workers help at the dig, and a local family who lives close to the site (near the edge, where the church is located) stores their tools.

The last three years there is an additional winter dig during the December Christmas holiday. During the first two seasons the team worked on the monastery and church. In 2013 the team arrived just after the big snow storm. Despite the difficulties and unexpected challenges they decided to go ahead. Wading through the snow the team reached the entrance to the cave which had been discovered on the last day of the previous season. Steps hewn out in the bedrock were cleared of snow. Once inside the cave the team was able to do their work.

Records of the KeM excavation:
  • ·  The 12th season (May 2014) had 60 people excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai) - the largest group in Israel.
  • ·       The amount of coins found at the site (last year 205, and then another 112 during the 1st week of the 12th season).
  • ·       The largest Hellenistic tower was found at KeM.
  • ·       KeM excavations near the record for the most stone ware found (used during the 1st century AD for purification rituals).
  • ·       Excavating in the snow has never happened before (according to the IAA). 

"This [typology] superficially straightforward task has proved one of the most time consuming and contentious aspects of archaeological research." Doran and Hodson.
Reading pottery (typology)
Typology is classification according to their physical characteristics into classes, or types. Most archaeological typologies organize artifacts into types, but also large structures like buildings, field monuments, fortifications or roads, are equally possible. A typology helps to manage a large mass of archaeological data. Archaeologists spend a great deal of time defining ceramic 'types'. Each type distinguishes one group of pottery (whether whole vessels or potsherds) from all other groups of pottery, such that each type was produced in a singel time and place. Ideally, identification is possible with the naked eye by looking at the pottery fragments. 

In archaeology, lithic analysis is the analysis of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts using basic scientific techniques.

In closing:
ABR's spectacular finds show the Bible is right. In the future they hope to find more evidence to prove that archeology does line up with the Bible and that the Biblical text is correct.


Further reading:

EXHIBIT: Khirbet el-Maqatir: History of a Biblical Site.
The Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum hosts the exhibit from January 21-December 19, 2014.  The Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria has approved the loan of these artifacts.  Starting from Genesis 12-13 and moving forward in time toward Maqatir's magnificent monastery, 4,000 years of history will be on display. Special attention will be given to the Late Bronze Age fortress (the Ai of Joshua 7-8) and the Early Roman/New Testament village (perhaps Ephraim of John 11:54).

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Abraham Tour to Shiloh


Monday, May 12, 2014, our guide for the day, Will Setz first showed us the topography of the route we were going to take today. The so-called Derech haGav"- road of the back, runs all the way from Lebanon in the north to the Red Sea in the south.

The high hills/mountains of this area form the biblical 'Heartland'. Here, God gave His people many promises. Beit El (Bethel)'s and Hebron's mountains are about 1.000 meters high, while Jerusalem lies at a height of 865 meter.

Just after going through the military checkpoint at Pisgat Zeev, Will gave us a short explanation of the area that was given to the Biblical tribe of Benjamin. Jacob called his son a 'ravenous wolf', hence you'll find many road signs with a wolf. We were now 'behind' the wall which presently covers 60% of Israel, and protects its citizens against terror attacks.
Geva Binyamin (the hill of Benjamin) is also called Adam (see Jozua 18:24). It is situated between the Arabic Jabah and Mikhmus (Geva and Michmas).
At about 839 meter above sea level lies Gibeah (of Saul), Tel el-Ful (hill of beans) in Arabic. Gibeah was a very important city in Bible times. Judges 19-21 tells us the story of the Levite and his concubine. Israel's first king, Saul, ruled 38 years from Gibeah (1 Samuel 8:31). In the time of the divided Kingdom the city is mentioned by several prophets: Hosea 5:8-10; Isaiah 10:29). During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the 10th Roman Legion camped here.

Between 1948 and 1967 this area was in the hands of the Jordanians. On this spot, where king Saul had reigned, King Hussein began to build a summer palace. It was never completed, because Israel conquered the territory during the Six Day War.

Not far from Gibeah, on the side of Road no. 437 we pass a stone wall called "Kubur Bani Yirsae'il" – "the graves of the Children of Israel", which are about 2000 years old.

Archeologist and Bible scholars believe that the grave of Rachel is here, and not as supposed near Bethlehem. Genesis 35:19. Joshua 18:23 mentions the city Farah, also called Efrat (has the same Hebrew root). Because this town was situated in an area which had many barley and grain fields, it was called "Beit Lechem" – House of Bread.
Barley and grain is still being cultivated in the valleys

The Arabic name kept the Hebrew tradition alive. In the 19th century, this helped the archeologists to locate and find many original Biblical cities.
Barren hills carry sound for long distances. That's why it is possible what Jeremiah describes in 31: 15 that the mourning for Rachel could be heard in Rama.

Standing above the settlement of Migron We had a beautiful view over the area, in the direction of Michmash and read the story of Jonathan and his weapon bearer in 1 Samuel 10; 1 Samuel 13-14.  The two stone teeth in the wadi are called Bozez (Philistine side) and Seneh (Israeli side).
According to the Bible Migron was the area where Saul and his 600 soldiers pitched their tents before attacking the Philistines who were camped in Michmash (1 Samuel 14:2) with the dry riverbed (wadi) between them.

God used Jonathan's seemingly suicidal mission to gain a great victory over the Philistines.  

On February 13 1918, British troops prepared to attack the Turks also camping at Michmash. The British army knew they would loose many man in this attack and that evening, Major Gilbert leafed through his Bible in search of a name that seemed to elude him. He found the story in 1 Samuel 13 en 14 and after reading it, he awoke General Watson to share the story with him. Figuring that the area had not changed much since Biblical times, the general sent out scouts. They found the pass, which was lightly guarded by the Turks.Instead of sending out a brigade, that night the general sent an infantry unit through the pass, between the stones of Bozez and Seneh, that overpowered the Turkish guards. The next day, presuming they were surrounded by many British soldiers, the Turkish soldiers panicked and ran away. A few thousand years later, Jonathan's tactic again proved successful.

Deir Dibwan is translated with "the monastery of the Council". 

According to Will this was the place where the prophet Elisha, on his way to Bethel, was taunted by a group of children. "Bold head" they called him. 2 Kings 2:23. (Because Elisha cursed the children, two bears mauled 42 of them. Deir Dibwan (Doobee = bear in Hebrew) – the monastery of the two bears – that seems more plausible.

Mizpah/mitzpeh is a watch tower. We saw several spread in the countryside. In Biblical times families lived in them during the harvest season. They also had a military function when part of a city wall.

Road no. 465 is also called the Trans-Samarian Highway. This ancient road from Shechem (Nablus) to Jerusalem has become much better compared to the picture taken in 1911!

Ma'aleh Levonah means "the ascent of the frankincense". The area was known for its bushes giving off white fragrant resin. This was used as frankincense in the Tabernacle in Shiloh, not far from there. In Judges 21:29 we read about a village with that name. The Arabic village still carries the same name: Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya (east Levonah).

On our way to Mt. Gerizim (near Shechem) we drove through a long village called Huwara. It was well known because of its excellent car mechanics. Before the Intifada (uprising) these Arabs used to work in Shechem (Nablus). When business closed (due to the many terror attacks) these mechanics opened their own car repair shops in Huwara – with great success!
Passing a water pipe shop, Will honked his horn. "On our way back we'll pay a visit to my friend," he told us.

Today, the Tappuach junction is freely accessible. During the Intifada it looked like a military stronghold with many security measures to protect Israelis against the constant terror attacks. Kfar Tappuach is a village near this biggest central junction in Israel.
From this point one can travel through all parts of the country.
Joshua 12:4 speaks about a village Tappuach (Apple). The fields belonged to the tribe of Menashe, but the village belonged to Ephraim. It lies on the Road of the Patriarchs, which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob travelled on their journey south.

Towards Shechem, same direction as the map

Via the Jewish village Beit Bracha (House of Blessing) we ascended a steep road up to Mt. Gerizim  (Jebel et-Tor). This for the Samaritans holy mountain is the home fora bout 376 Samaritans, the rest of the group live in Holon, near Tel Aviv.
Opposite Mt. Gerizim (886 meters) lies Mt. Ebal (938 meters), with Shechem (Nablus) in between. The Canaanite /Israelite city was called Tel Balata – now a notorious refuge camp. 
Balata refugee camp
Moses told the people of Israel to bless Mt. Gerizim and curse Mt. Ebal.
(Deuteronomy 27:11-13.) During the Roman Empire this ancient city was called
"Flavia Neapolis". Because no one could pronounce it, the people called it "Nablus".
modern day Shechem (Nablus)

Overlooking the city of Shechem stood a house like a palace. Will told us it was built by an Arab who had become very rich from helping the Americans during the Gulf War. He created beautiful gardens and imported marble from Italy and Greece to decorate his palace.

On our way down hill we passed through the Samaritan town, and took time for a photo shoot with some women and their children. 

Passing by a natural spring, we had another quick opportunity to take some photos - it's so beautiful there!

Around 2 p.m. Will's friend in Huwara welcomed us with Arab hospitality – freshly brewed sweet coffee. His road side water pipe shop didn't receive many customers, but he enjoyed our visit. It was a real 'cultural experience' to use the toilet above the shop and having to climb stairs that were lacking a railing.

Shilo (Tel Shiloh) is situated on a fertile valley in South Samaria, on the "Road of the Patriarchs". 
The valley is the geographical border between Judah and Samaria. In Biblical times, for 369 years Shilo was the spiritual and administrative center of the Jewish people. 

Joshua 18:1 tells the story how he cast the lot for the different tribes. In this place the Tabernacle stood, and Hannah prayed for a son.  (1 Samuel 1:3).

Will showed us around the archeological dig, we read different Scripture passages and watched a movie about the area. The Aramaic text doesn't say "Shiloh" but "Mashiach" – anointed. In the Byzantine period (about 1700 years ago), 4 Christian churches were build in and around Tel Shiloh. During excavations in 2006, beautiful mosaics were discovered – the most unique one (for a church) was a Star of David.

Road no. 437 brought us back to Jerusalem, where we arrived around 5 p.m.

It had been an unforgettable day. We had so much to ponder about. 
And check our agendas when we could plan another trip with Will – to Hebron!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fragrant Plumeria

Botanic name: plumeria

Plumeria Rubra
The name "Plumeria" is attributed to Charles Plumier, a 17th Century French botanist who described several tropical species. However, in 1522 the plant was already described by Francisco de Mendoza, a Spanish priest. The name, "frangipani" comes from the Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century. The scent of the frangipani flower reminded people of the scented gloves, thus the flower was called frangipani. The name can also be derived from the French frangipanier which is a type of coagulated milk looking like (the poisonous) Plumeria milk.

Plumeria Rubra Yellow
Plumeria or Frangipani is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical Americas. From Mexico and Central America, Plumeria has spread to all tropical areas of the world, especially Hawaii. Plumeria species have differently shaped leaves and their form and growth habits are also distinct.

Plumeria Rubra
The sweet scent and sheer beauty of the frangipani (Plumeria) make them universally loved, both as a tree and as a cut flower. The white and yellow species are more familiar, but they come in varied colours of tropical and sunset – the closer to the equator, the more colourful.

Frangipanis are tough plants that can survive neglect, heat and drought, insect and pest attacks and still fill the garden
Plumeria Rubra adult tree
with a wonderful perfume. The small trees only grow to about 5-6m in height, but often have wide branches. Their well-behaved root system makes them suitable for the garden (any soil type will do) and for growing in pots, but it needs to be well drained. They grow in all climates (except when there is severe frost) but prefer a hot, dry climate.
The deciduous tree allows maximum winter sun while providing shade in summer. With its gnarled branches, long leaves and distinctive flowers, the frangipani is easily one of the most common and identifiable trees. The bark is grey/green and scaly in appearance. Related to the Oleander, the milky, sticky sap is poisonous to both humans and animals.

Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to
Plumeria Pudica Pink
lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. As the flowers have no nectar, they simply dupe their pollinators who transfer the pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar.

The distinctively scented Frangipani flowers appear in clusters. The petals are waxy
Plumeria Rubra Pink
with the centre of the flower a different colour to the rest. The most common frangipani has white flowers with a yellow centre, but they can vary from deep crimson to orange, yellow and white (and every shade in between). In general, flowers appear from December to April and even longer in warmer climates.

Some facts about the Frangipani
               • Many Hawaiian leis are made from frangipani (Plumeria) flowers.
               • The colorful caterpillar of Pseudosphinx tetrio feeds only on the leaves of Plumeria rubra.
               • Frangipanis are good hosts for dendrobium orchids.
               • The frangipani is the national tree of Laos, where it is called dok jampa. Regarded as a sacred tree in Laos, Buddhist Temples have many trees that are hundreds of years old. These are spectacular, huge, gnarled giants.
               • The frangipani is the flower of the city of Palermo in Sicily, Italy.
               • The frangipani is the national flower of Nicaragua and it features on some of their bank notes.
               • Frangipanis won’t burn except in extreme (over 500 degrees) temperatures.
               • In Caribbean cultures the leaves are used as poultices (a healing wrap) for bruises and ulcers and the latex is used as a liniment for rheumatism.
               • In India the frangipani is a symbol of immortality because of its ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of the soil. Often planted near temples and graveyards, where the fresh flowers fall daily upon the tombs.
               • In Vietnam the frangipani is used for its healing qualities: the bark, mashed in alcohol, prevents skin inflammation, it is also used to treat indigestion and high blood pressure, while the roots have purgative effects on animals and the milk-like sap serves as a balm for skin diseases. The white flowers are used in traditional medicine to cure high blood pressure, hemophilia, cough, dysentery and fever.
               • Frangipani (Plumeria) is very rare in China, and even more precious than orchids. So, when a person gives frangipani flowers to a sweetheart, it is the closest thing to saying you're special, I love you in a culture where expression of personal feelings is frowned upon.
Plumeria Obtuse
Plumeria Rubra is the most common plant which comes in many colours: from white to cream to yellow, even oranges, pinks (both pale and hot pink), reds and even deep cerise. Rubra has the most fragrant flowers – always 5 oval shaped, medium sized petals.  

The long and oval leaves
Plumeria Rubra leaves
have a pointed end and drop when winter approaches. This tree can grow to 5m tall and almost as wide.

  • Plumeria alba   
  • Plumeria obtusa
  • Plumeria pudica
  • Plumeria rubra

Plumeria Obtuse 
In Israel, the Kal-Shtil nursery has a big variety of Plumeria species. Bitan-Aharon, Israel.  00-972-9-8663340

Plumeria Rubra in Israel - at the Sea of Galiee