Archaeology in Israel Update-- April 2011

By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
May 2011

Also submitted to:
Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society of London
See Also Strata:

Demonstrations over Graves in Jaffa

Problems continue with the ultra-orthodox trying to prevent the digging up of human remains for development and archaeological research. The latest incident has centered on the Andromeda Hill site in Jaffa, where 150 skeletons have been uncovered during archaeological digs that have been going on for some time before the building of the “Eden Hotel” luxury project. The digs were proceeding over the last year, and have also uncovered many pig bones among the human remains which, in the view of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), indicated that the burials were of a pagan nature and would not be of interest to the “Atra Kadisha,” the ulktra-orthodox Jewish movement. It seems that previous excavations in the area in 1993 – 1994 turned up a jar containing a fetus burial that was dated to c.1900 BCE. In the view of the IAA that find was conclusive evidence of the pagan nature of the area’s population. Last June protests were held, both near the site and in Manhattan near the home of the US developer, and in late March of this year, hundreds of followers of the Atra Kadisha movement held a mock funeral for the remains. Whenever human bones of any nature are uncovered by the IAA, they are treated reverentially and handed to the relevant funeral authorities after examination, and very rarely retained for further research.

Return of ancient Christian artifacts demanded by Jordan

The story goes that a Bedouin farmer found a cache of small metal plates, bound by leaden rings, formed into codices, about 70 in number, in Northern Jordan between 2005 and 2007, and had them smuggled into Israel for sale. Another Bedouin, Hassan Saeda, living in Northern Israel, is holding them and claims that they are his family heirloom. It is said that Israeli archaeologists, having been contacted by Saeda, who has been trying to sell the artifacts, say that the pieces are forgeries. The Jordanian authorities however claim that the codices or miniature books are extremely important and of significance equal to that of the Dead Sea scrolls, but so far the IAA have declined to comment, having no detail knowledge of them.

Nevertheless, David Ellington, a British historian of Christianity, is said to have told the BBC that the codices are a major discovery of Christian History and that he hoped to have them moved to Jordan for examination. The codices are in Hebrew and Greek but written in a code so far undeciphered, though the language is clear. It seems that a report on the matter was printed in the Daily Telegraph recently, so readers in the UK may have more knowledge of this matter than I have, as all details of the subject are very scanty here, and no-one seems to have seen the pieces, which is surprising if they really are so important.

See also:
Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History

Jacobovici discovers “Nails of the Cross”

Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian-Israeli maker of popular films on Biblical Archaeology, hit the headlines in mid-April by announcing that he had retrieved two Roman nails from the IAA storerooms and that they were the nails of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. He said that the nails had come from the ossuary of Caiaphas, the High Priest who had handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities. The ossuary had been reported by the IAA but no details of the nails had been given or even recorded, and Jacobovici was of the opinion that they were very significant, they had been buried with the remains of Caiaphas to indicate his guilt in arresting and reporting Jesus to the Romans. Jacobovici has made films on the Death of Jesus and on the Exodus, and Israeli archeologists have said that his latest claims make good TV but not good history.

See also:
A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross

The Kenyon Institute. formerly the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem

In recent years the name of the British School has been changed to the Kenyon Institute to give it a more modern title and yet retain its prime connection to the archaeology of the Holy Land, in honor of Kathleen Kenyon, the great British archaeologist. It is housed in an attractive older buildi8ng in the Sheikh Jarrah district of northern Jerusalem and houses an extensive archaeological library, two lecture rooms and a convenient hostel for the use of visiting scholars. It has for years been sponsoring lectures and even digs on archaeology and in September 2007 gave room to a one-day conference on “British Groundbreakers in the Archaeology of the Holy Land,” which was organized by this society, the AIAS, and was addressed by scholars from Israel, Palestine and Jordan, while the UK was represented by several speakers from the PEF.

Funding for the Institute comes mainly from the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), and the Institute is administered by the British School in Amman, Jordan, but has its own local director and staff. There were a number of recent changes in the directorship and the present acting director is Omar Shweiki. The Institute has not been very active in the recent past but has now started a series of three lectures entitled “The Modern Middle East,” which center on the recent revolutions in the Arab world, commonly called “the Arab Spring.” This trend in lectures is unfortunate as it shows that the Institute is turning to current politics and away from its original specialty in archaeology.

A recent flier for the talks claims that the Institute is “one of the leading academic centers in the region, seeking to serve both British scholarship and the local academic community.” The lectures now current both fail to serve British scholarship or to serve the original purpose of the School, the promotion of archaeology in the region. We trust that the CBRL and the Amman School will take the appropriate action to correct the position.

Comments (4)

The so-called ultra-orthodox Jews problem is real, yet it's not that severe. I have photos in which a group of ultra-orthodox Jews are working shoulder to shoulder with IAA people in and around a Jewish tomb. I took these photos in October 2009, in Zippori.
These Jews have their religious-cultural demands, but they are not too hard to settle with, as my photos clearly show.
I don't think the author of the above article is not telling the truth; sometimes these Jews tend to insist, but there is also another truth.
I wonder whether these Jews might serve someone's motives NOT to excavate one or another site.

#1 - Eldad keynan - 05/24/2011 - 15:05

Re the Jordanian tablets, although there's been a lot of coverage in the British media,the academic world is increasingly sceptical - apparently David Elkington (sic) has a previous history of making overinflated claims. For one commentary from a reputable scholar see

#2 - Peter Kay - 05/29/2011 - 19:39

finding the nails reafirms my faith in jesus that someone can even find something like that in this day and age is totally amazing to my mind. thanks so much

#3 - cindy riley - 05/29/2011 - 20:57

Isn't the Kenyon meant to be facilitating a diversity of subjects these days anyway? I've enjoyed the couple of lectures I recently went to on contemporary topics. The Kenyon seems to be the only place in East Jlm that is putting on such events, whereas there are multiple options for archaeology.

#4 - Jonathan Fieldman - 10/24/2011 - 21:49

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