Archaeology in Israel Update—February 2013

By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
February 2013

"Debris” Removed from Temple Mount

As mentioned last month, six lorry-loads of material were removed from the Temple Mount in early January discovered by Zachi Dvira (Zweik) who works with Gabby Barkai on the sifting project. The Jerusalem Police declared this to be ordinary debris, but the archaeologists see it as valuable excavated material, that has been removed from the Temple Moiunt against the High Court order prohibiting removal of any material from the Mount. Archaeologists are trying to retrieve the material from the local refuse dumps and bring it to the sifting site for proper examination.

Preservation of 300 Historical Sites

The 700 million shekel (about 120 million pounds sterling) preservation program is moving forward focusing on Biblical, Second Temple sites, and later periods. The earlier periods include funding for projects in the City of David, Tel Shilo, the Machpelah cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Herodian remains near Bethlehem.

Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitalized

The above-mentioned fund is also being used to support the publication of a database of the records of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) . The documents will become available to scholars and include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. The work will give scholars access to valuable documents and will also ensure preservation of the archives, many of whose documents are suffering from decomposition because of poor paper quality and unsuitable storage facilities in the past. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation) and some of the files are already on line, but no date has yet been given for the completion of the work.

Restoration Avdat National Park

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has now completed restoration of the UNESCO Heritage site of the Avdat National Park in the Negev, that was vandalized in October 2009. The work was carried out at a cost of nearly nine million shekels (1.5 million pounds sterling) but the Authority has made it clear that some of the archaeological evidence of original stonework has been lost forever due to the damage done by the vandals.

Herod the Great Exhibition at Israel Museum

This fine exhibition opened at the Israel Museum on 12th February 2013 and will run for eight months. It is a tribute to Herod's great building projects and also to the lifetime of investigation that Ehud Netzer devoted to their uncovering. In fact it appears Netzer planned the exhibition after his location of Herod's Tomb on Herodion, and before his tragic death at that site in October 2010. The exhibition mentions Herod's tumultuous life, as a great fighter, lover and indeed murderer, but it is his tremendous building structures that are given pride of place, such as his many palaces, the port of Caesarea and Herodion itself. Herod's tomb is shown with a reconstruction of the central tholos, using the actual carved stones from the site, and restorations of the three smashed sarcophagi that were found there. There are many clear wooden models, as were favored by Netzer, of the tomb and other projects with ingenious films showing their locations in Masada, Jericho, Caesarea. Netzer was of the opinion that Herod had played a personal role in the planning of these oversize projects, and without him no architects or engineers would have dared to produce such ambitious plans, he thought.

There are wonderful original oversize carved Ionic and Corinthian capitals as were used at the Temple porticos and at Herod's many palaces, but pride of place is given to the work at Herodion. The original unique paintings of the royal box at the intimate hillside theatre at Herodion are displayed. It appears that everything that Herod did was on the grandest of scales and with the finest materials. As has been rightly said, Emperors built for posterity but Herod built for eternity. This exhibition, coming more than two thousand years after his death makes that clear. The Herodion is a great tribute to the better side of Herod's genius and energy, and also to the indefatigable work undertaken by Ehud Netzer over nearly fifty years.

Comments (1)

There has been publicity recently, not too convincing to my mind, about Bethlehem of Galilee as Jesus' birthplace, one argument being that there are no buildings of Herodian era in the normal Bethlehem. That argument is interesting in itself. Do the buildings of the Herodium complex reduce its plausibility in any way?

#1 - Martin - 02/26/2013 - 14:27

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