Archaeology in Israel Update - September 2010

Also submitted to the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society of London

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By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem
October 2010

Herod's private theatre at Herodium.

In the wake of the rediscovery of the tomb of Herod, Prof. Ehud Netzer has now uncovered Herods private theatre on the eastern slopes of Herodium. Herod had his own royal box at the centre of the theatre and it was by Italian artists sent from Rome in about the year 15 BCE, eleven years before Herod died, when the theatre went out of use. The private box was was decorated with landscapes and a Nile river scene complete with feluccah, as well as human and animal figures. The theatre is being restored by the Hebrew University and it is hoped to open it to the public next year, but it can already by seen in outline from the upper part of Herodium.

Figure of Tyche at Sussita

In a private house in the Hellenistic city of Sussita, above the east shore of lake Kinneret, Prof. Arthur Segal and Dr. Michael Eisenberg of Haifa University have found a fresco depicting Tyche, the goddess of fortune, together with the figure of a maenad, one of the dancing girls that made up the procession of the god Dionysus in his annual fertility parade. The house and the figures remained in the Byzantine period and thus, according to the finds, these cult figures were not removed with the coming of Christianity, when several churches were built in Sussita.

Ring of Apollo found at Dor

A ring of the early Hellenistic period of the fourth century BCE was found at Tel Dor, on the coast, north of Caesarea. According to Dr. Ayelet Gilboa, of Haifa University, it is a rare find and shows that high-quality jewellery was appreciated and affordable in a provincial port like Dor. The head on the ring was identified as an image of Apollo, the god of light and music, and was part of a signet ring used as a seal honoring the god. It was found in the same area as a gemstone with the head of Alexander the Great and an elaborate mosaic floor that formed part of a major public building or large residence, uncovered during an earlier season.

Samaritan Synagogue south of Bet She'an

In an excavation directed for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) by Dr. Walid Atrash and Yaakov Harel south of Bet She'an, they uncovered the mosaic floor of a Samaritan synagogue dating back to the fifth century CE, which probably stood until the Moslem Conquest of 634 CE. The ruins of the large hall of the synagogue face Mt. Gerizim, the holy site of the Samaritan Temple, and the mosaic has an inscription "this is the temple…." which may refer to the synagogue or to the Gerizim site itself. This synagogue is one of several in the Bet She'an area and lies close to Nablus (Shechem), not far from the village that is still home to the remaining Samaritan community.

10,000th birthday of Jericho

The city of Jericho is anxious to attract tourists and is out to exploit its history as the earliest city in the known world, dating back to 8,000 BCE. Besides the actual remains of the ancient city, now undergoing its fifth major excavation, this time by an Italian team, the local authority is promoting two other ancient features to interest tourists. One is an ancient sycamore tree with a massive hollow trunk 2 metres in diameter that, according to local legend, is the tree climbed by Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who, according to the Gospel of Luke, was trying to get a better view of Jesus. A new museum and visitors' centre is planned adjoining the tree. However there is another dead, glass covered, sycamore in the courtyard of the nearby Greek Orthodox Church that claims the same venerable history. The second feature is the colorful mosaics of the Hisham Palace, adjoining north Jericho, where the largest local mosaic is being uncovered for public display. Both the museum and the mosaic depend on raising the necessary finance, for the building and for a weather shield for the mosaic. Another problem is that at the moment access to Jericho, which is in the area administered by the Palestine Authority, is not open to holders of Israeli passports, but it is hoped this may change in the near future.

Forgery trial draws to a close

After five years, the defense has completed its case and Judge Aharon Farkash is due to give his verdict in the local Jerusalem Court before the end of the year, after considering the opinions of many legal and scientific experts and 12,000 pages of evidence. The case has boiled down to two major artifacts, the Yehoash tablet and the inscribed Ossuary of James, son of Joseph and brother of Jesus, and to two defendants, Oded Golan, a Tel Aviv collector, and Robert Deutsch, a dealer and expert on ancient seals. The judge has already said that he will find it nearly impossible to reach a decision where the experts themselves cannot agree, and that he does not see that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that if there is forgery, that the defendants have carried it out. The prosecution was brought by the IAA, who must await the verdict with some trepidation.

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