Resilience After “Collapse”: New Discoveries from El Lisht, Egypt’s Renaissance Capital
This lecture will discuss ongoing work at the site of Lisht, Egypt. Lisht was Egypt’s Middle Kingdom Capital, called Itj-Tawy, dating to ca 1900 BC, and contains the pyramids of the two co-founders of Dynasty 12, Amenemhat 1 and Senwosret 1 (father and son), as well as a cemetery with the tombs of the many thousands of officials, artisans, and soldiers who called Itj-Tawy home. The city itself is buried in the floodplain, and its exact location is not known by Egyptologists. It is Egypt’s greatest primarily unexcavated ancient capital, and contains countless treasures that will help to rewrite the history of a period of time about which we know relatively little compared to Egypt’s Old and New Kingdoms (The Pyramid age and Egypt’s Golden age). The lecture will talk about how the site is representative of the great changes that can occur after a time of chaos (Middle Kingdom vs Egypt’s 1st Intermediate Period).
“King Solomon’s Mines” Revisited: 10 Years of Excavations in Timna Valley
The new excavations of Tel Aviv University in Timna Valley resulted in a dramatic change to the chronological of copper production there, demonstrating that the peak of industrial activities occurred during the 10th c. BC and not at the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom as suggested by the previous excavator. This brings back to the scholarly discussion the question of who was responsible to the vast mining activities, and if the Aravah copper could have been the source of wealth of David and Solomon in Jerusalem. In this lecture we will review the finds from 10 years of excavations and try to address these questions.
Jerusalem in the Iron Age as Seen from the Western Hill
With very exciting archaeological discoveries emanating from excavations in recent years in the area of the City of David, our knowledge of Old Testament period Jerusalem has grown exponentially, and the history of this city is constantly being rewritten. However, Iron Age Jerusalem was much larger than just the City of David, and in the eighth century BCE it had expanded to the Western Hill–to the area of the traditional Mount Zion and as far north as today’s Citadel. This part of the Iron Age city continued to flourish until the Babylonian conquest of 586 BCE. So, what actually do we know about the urban history of the Western Hill of Jerusalem in the heyday of the Iron Age? This lecture will unravel many of the archaeological discoveries, some made in recent years.
Women in the Biblical World
What do we know about women in the biblical world, and how do we know it? Both biblical texts and archaeological evidence give us clues about the status of women in ancient Israelite society, but sometimes these clues contradict each other. For instance, biblical law codes show how women might have been legally restricted, but narrative passages of the Bible, such as those about the matriarch Rebecca, show women wielding power in their communities. Beyond the texts, archaeological artifacts hint at the complexities of women’s lives and roles, giving windows into the essential tasks they performed within their households and their communities, as well as the ways they worshiped, which differed from official Temple practice.
This talk will examine various underappreciated artifacts of the Israelite household, from cook pots, to loom weights, as well as carefully crafted figurines representing women, and will also look at biblical texts. Together these will demonstrate that women had essential roles in communal life which helped shape Israelite and Judahite society as a whole.
A Reappraisal of the Teacher of Righteousness from the Dead Sea Scrolls
Early understandings of the Teacher of Righteousness were based on a limited range of texts that had been hastily published soon after the original discoveries. On the basis of this partial evidence, scholars created an early and popular portrait of the Teacher as a religious and political figure who established the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the face of fierce opposition. Early scholars insisted that the study of the Teacher could not be separated from the study of the enemies who opposed him, personalities who were referenced through ciphers like the Wicked Priest. Traditional scholarship on the Teacher of Righteousness has pursued a historical line of inquiry, with some scholars even identifying this enigmatic individual by name. Now that the entirety of the Scrolls corpus is published, it is overwhelmingly clear that an abundant number of them has not corroborated the centrality of this figure who looms so very large in both modern scholarship and the popular imagination. Today the historical identification of the Teacher has reached a scholarly impasse. Scholars no longer speak of a historical Teacher, but rather focus their attention on understanding what they can of the historical religious groups who retained and preserved these ideas about a Teacher figure. This paper will discuss this move away from the quest for a historical Teacher of Righteousness in light of larger changes in the field of Second Temple Studies.
Who is Tirhaka and What is He Doing in Hezekiah’s Judah in 701 B.C.?
The purpose of this presentation is to address the two questions raised in the title of the lecture. While Tirhaka – Taharka of Egyptian texts – appears just twice in the pages of the Bible (Isa 37:9 & 2 Kings 19:9), he is better known outside of the Old Testament. He was a member of the Kushite 25th Dynasty that ruled Egypt from present-day Sudan between ca. 747 and 664 B.C. Taharka left his mark throughout Egypt, building temples and adding to others, while building extensively in Nubia. He also followed the Egyptian royal tradition of burying in a pyramid. Indeed he was buried at Nuri near Gebel Barkal (Sudan) where the Nuri Archaeological Project has been working for the past six years, but investigation of Tirhaka’s complex only began briefly in January of 2020, but due to Covid and other complications was only renewed this year. I serve as co-director with the Taharka team, and thus have the opportunity to share new materials from the 2023 season in this lecture.
Special Guest Performance
The Sound and Music of the Biblical Lyre.
The People Behind the Text: Craft Literacy in Ancient Israel and Judah
Inscribed objects from the ancient southern Levant tell scholars about the evolution of writing and about the history of Hebrew and other languages from this region. And yet, these objects are also valuable resources that can help us to better understand the use of writing by diverse text makers, who were not necessarily scribes. The study of “craft-literacy” opens up a portal into the literacy practices of craft communities, and to the diverse ways that people used and valued writing in Israel and Judah.
Ideal Community and Counterfeit: The Conspiracy of Ananias and Sapphira in the Book of Acts
The Acts of the Apostles presents a puzzling narrative about a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who participate in a communal practice of sharing possessions but are killed because they hold back some of the money (Acts 4:32–5:11). By keeping these funds back for themselves, they violate the unified communal ethos and contrast with Joseph Barnabas who serves as the positive example. This passage has caused significant concern and embarrassment for readers of the Book of Acts from the second century to modern times. This lecture will provide a contextual and historical discussion about this couple’s story, the conventions surrounding “communities of shared goods” in the ancient Mediterranean environment, and the cultural dynamics at work in their confrontation with the apostle Peter. In examining the episode’s literary composition, historical context, and rhetorical value, this presentation will assess the couple’s crime, why it was punished so severely, and what it accomplished in Luke’s narrative about the early Jesus community.
A Tale of Two Swords – David’s Rise and Saul’s Demise
A misinterpretation of the archaeological evidence at Beth-shean has caused modern scholars to misunderstand the biblical portrayal of the death of Saul at Mount Gilboa, as well as the aftermath of what happened to Saul’s bodily remains and weaponry (1 Samuel 31). This misinterpretation has also obscured what I believe is a very intricate and sophisticated literary motif that runs throughout 1 Samuel 13–31. I call this narrative – the Tale of Two Swords. Once this biblical archaeological misinterpretation is corrected – the re-telling of the story with its epic elements allows modern readers to appreciate the literary beauty of David’s rise.
Amulets and Tefillin: What is the Difference?
In late antiquity, people wore many different types of objects on their bodies for protection and healing. Some were inscribed with texts or images, while others were thought to be effective due to their natural characteristics. Regardless of their form, we call these objects amulets, and scholars often study them as examples of ancient “magic.” Tefillin (phylacteries), in contrast, were understood by late antiquity as the literal fulfillment of Deut 6:8 to “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead” (NRSV). As a normative ritual of rabbinic Jews, scholars generally do consider tefillin within the category of “magic.” Nevertheless, there are clear similarities between amulets and tefillin. Both were understood to offer protection to those who wore them, and both could contain quotations from the Hebrew Bible. This presentation will explore what amulets and tefillin looked like in Roman and late antique Palestine and will consider the implications of using the word “magic” to differentiate between the two.
Zoara and Lot’s Cave from biblical to medieval times. Excavations and Studies, 1987-2019
Zoara and the Cave Sanctuary Lot are two closely associated archaeological sites in the Ghor as-Saf in modern Jordan. I discovered, excavated and restored the former, and conducted the most extensive excavations and studies to date at the second. They are both now fully published, and my talk is a summary of the results of my work from 1987-2019.
The sites have important remains from Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods.
The Jews of Arabia: From the Great Revolt until the Rise of Islam
Five centuries before the rise of Islam, we have evidence for Jews in the Arabian peninsula, stretching from oasis sites in the north to Yemen in the south. In the latter, most remarkably, the king of Ḥimyar converted to Judaism and thus arose an ancient Jewish kingdom 2500 km (1600 miles) removed from the land of Israel.
The Archaeology of the Amman Citadel in the Iron Age
The Iron Age kingdom of Ammon was situated between the regional powers Israel, Judah, and Damascus but was also on the fringes of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, the first empires of ancient Near Eastern history. The royal capital and center of the Ammonite kingdom was Rabbot-Ammon, which is still preserved today with the Amman Citadel in modern Jordan. Given the importance of this site, the Amman Citadel has been subjected to various archaeological excavations. In particular, the Iron Age remains of monumental architecture and its sculpture, as well as the often large-scale Ammonite statuary, give us an idea about the representation of the Ammonite royalty and its elite circles. The paper focuses on the Amman Citadel and its archaeological remains by taking the kingdom’s overall geographical and geopolitical situation into account. This enables an archaeological argument on the significance and peculiarity of Ammonite material culture.
Battle of the Gods: The Prophet Elijah and the Origins of Biblical Monotheism
The biblical books of Kings present the figure of Elijah as God’s lone prophet in the wilderness, an anti-establishment critic zealously devoted to the exclusive worship of the Israelite deity Yahweh. Most dramatically, Elijah participates in a public life-or-death contest with the prophets of the Phoenician storm-god Baal on Mt. Carmel to see who is truly the one God—Yahweh or Baal (1 Kings 18)? Two deities enter, but only one may leave.
While scholars often accept the Elijah story’s claim that Yahweh and Baal were ideological foes in ancient Israel, the historical evidence suggests another picture: that the biblical text’s monotheistic attack on Phoenician Baal comes from a much later time and place, one of empire and exile. Using biblical and archaeological evidence, this lecture explores Yahweh and Baal’s relationship in early Israel and why the later biblical authors of the Elijah story imagined a time when Baal’s worship once threatened Yahweh’s status as the only God.
Synagogue as Sensorium: Jews, the Senses, and Worship in Antiquity
Synagogues remain subjects of ongoing, intensive, and exciting archaeological investigation. This is so, even if the meaning of the term “synagogue” shifted considerably across time and regions in antiquity, variously designating a building, a space for gathering, or a communal institution associated with prayer. This talk, however, will take the discussion of the synagogue in yet another direction, by emphasizing the sensory dimensions of life inside ancient synagogues—experiences that were as much physical and corporeal as they were emotional or spiritual. Drawing from robust scholarship of material and everyday religion, the history of experience, and the history of the senses, this lecture considers the importance of sensory data in investigating Jewish life and worship throughout the Mediterranean. The synagogue, indeed, was a sensorium; reassessments of its archaeological features allow us to reclaim fragments of daily life that took place inside these remarkable spaces.
Actual and Experimental Archaeology: Lamp Manufacturing in the Galilee?
Since excavations began at the site of Shikhin in 2012, evidence of lamp manufacturing has been turning up in every dig season. Evidence indicates that Shikhin’s industry produced and regionally distributed three well-known lamp forms: the Herodian knife-pared lamp, the northern undecorated lamp, and the northern Darom lamp. The fluorite of the industry happened between the ends to two wars with Rome: 70 and 135 CE. During the 2022 season, Yeshu Dray of Restoration of Ancient Technology built a reproduction of a small kiln excavated at Shikhin and successfully fired reproduction northern Darom lamps. The presentation will cover the discovery and technology of lamp production and their economic implications in the region.