Did the Essenes Live at Ein Gedi or at Qumran?
Israeli archaeologist Yizhar Hirschfeld thinks he’s solved the mystery of the cells. A site overlooking the oasis of Ein Gedi, along the western shore of the Dead Sea, contains about 30 small, crude stone huts made from boulders found scattered around the area (photo at right). Since their discovery by archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni in the 1950s, no one has been able to say for certain how these shelters were used. Now Hirschfeld, basing his conclusion on excavations he carried out in January and on his reading of the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, says that there was an Essene settlement near the oasis of Ein Gedi. His identification, however, has yet to convince his colleagues.
The Essenes were noted for their austere lifestyle; the Roman historian Pliny recorded that “the solitary tribe of the Essenes is remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole world, as it has no women and has renounced all sexual desire, has no money, and has only palm trees for company.” But what really captured Hirschfeld’s attention was a telltale detail in Pliny, who wrote that “the town of Ein Gedi … lies below [infra hos] the Essenes.” Most scholars say infra, or below, was used to mean downstream, or in this case, south. Hirschfeld, following a minority opinion, thinks that Ein Gedi lay literally below—at a lower altitude than—an Essene settlement that was just uphill. If Hirschfeld is right, the rudimentary community overlooking Ein Gedi, rather than the settlement at Qumran, might be the true home of the Essenes. (Hirschfeld has long doubted Qumran’s link to the Essenes anyway, believing it to have been a fortified farm.)a
Hirschfeld, who has excavated about 20 of the cells discovered by Aharoni, notes that the cells are similar to those found in early Byzantine monasteries built elsewhere in the Judean desert a few hundred years later. Hirschfeld says that each cell, measuring about 6 by 9 feet, was occupied by one person, and that three larger rough stone structures found nearby served as communal areas. Hirschfeld identifies one of these, with three stoves and a thick layer of ash on the floor, as a kitchen. The floors of the individual cells were made of beaten earth, and the roofs were probably thatched. Based on coins, pottery and glass sherds found at the site, Hirschfeld has identified two phases of occupation: the first to early second century A.D. and the fourth to fifth century A.D.
Two pools were also uncovered during the excavations. A ramp leading to the floor of one of them was probably built so the pool could be used as a mikveh, or ritual bath. The other pool was probably part of the community’s irrigation system.
The Ein Gedi area was an important site for growing and processing a variety of balsam, now extinct, that was used to make an expensive perfume. Hirschfeld suggests that the Essenes who lived near Ein Gedi worked in the balsam industry; he points to agricultural terraces, the irrigation system and a small perfume bottle previously found in one of the cells as evidence.b
Hirschfeld has yet to win significant support for his assertion that Ein Gedi was home to the Essenes, nor are many persuaded by his reading of infra. Most scholars are sticking with the traditional interpretation of the term.
Canaanites in Suburbia
Vast Graveyard Emerges Near Tel Aviv
Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Canaanite cemetery south of Tel Aviv but have yet to find the city in which the buried Canaanites lived.
At least a thousand Middle Bronze Age II (c. 2000–1750 B.C.) skeletons have been uncovered in sand dunes bordering the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon L’tzion. Particularly poignant was the discovery of a woman still holding a child. According to Yossi Levi, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologist who led the excavation, this is not unusual. “There were a lot of family burials of children with parents, but we can’t be sure that the children and adults were related because we haven’t done expensive DNA testing,” said Levi.
In addition to the human remains, the excavators recovered pottery, jewelry, and weapons, such as axes, daggers and knives. Horses and donkeys were also buried in the cemetery, a common practice during the Middle Bronze Age.
The 4,000-year-old graves fall into two types: pit graves and shaft tombs. Pit graves were designed for 1 to 3 bodies, while shaft tombs were for up to 40. Excavators were particularly excited by more than 200 scarab rings ornamenting the fingers of the dead in the shaft tombs.
The IAA archaeologists are rushing to excavate the site before developers can proceed with plans to lay a road across the 400,000-square-meter cemetery.
“The contractors are angry at us because we didn’t let them build a neighborhood,” said Levi. “They wanted to build housing, but only a road will be built.”
Meanwhile, the IAA will continue its search for the Canaanite city. “It’s true we haven’t found the city yet, but the area is still covered with dunes,” said Levi. “Hopefully we will discover it soon.”
Site of the Month
Take a Virtual Tour
If you can’t actually make it to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, or even to one of its traveling exhibits, the museum’s home page may be the next best thing. By looking up https://www.penn.museum/ on the World Wide Web, you can explore current and future exhibits on topics ranging from Canaan and ancient Israel to Yup’ik Eskimo subsistence in southwestern Alaska. A typical virtual visit to the museum’s permanent collection will take you to the Egyptian galleries, complete with the story behind the museum’s mummified cat (below), through to the Lower Egyptian gallery, with pictures and descriptions of UPenn’s own sphinx and architectural elements from the palace of Pharaoh Merneptah (1212–1202 B.C.).
In another virtual exhibit, “tourists” can travel through the ancient Greek world. Text and images from this exhibit (which can also be seen in person at the museum) are easily accessible. Navigating from one room or subject to another is simple—and definitely easier on the feet than a visit to the museum itself. However, though the home page graphics are crisp and colorful, the inherent limitations of on-line visuals soon become apparent. It’s extremely difficult to make out the red figures painted on the curved sides of a black vase, especially in a 3.5-inch photo on a flat computer screen.
What’s in a Name?
Tracking Down the King on the New Temple Ostracon
It’s only natural that scholars were initially skeptical about the extraordinary 2,800-year-old inscription (recording a gift of three silver shekels to the Temple of Yahweh) that surfaced on the antiquities market without provenance (photo above).c That’s why tests were performed on both the potsherd (called an ostracon when it bears an inscription) and the ink to see whether it was a forgery. The tests showed that it was very unlikely that the sherd was a modern forgery, but some scholars remain unconvinced.
One puzzle is the inscription’s mention of a king, presumably an Israelite king, named Ashyahu (‘S
The element –yahu (YHW), called a theophoric, or divine, element is a form of the name of the Israelite God Yahweh (YHWH) that was added onto the end of numerous Hebrew names in the kingdom of Judah. Another form was used in the northern kingdom of Israel: –yah (YH), or sometimes –yo (YW).At the beginning of a name, this theophoric element may be written “Yo” (YW) or “Yeho-” (YHW). Thus transposed, Ashyahu would be equivalent to Joash (Yo-ash), the name of two different Hebrew kings, or Jehoash (Yeho-ash), another form of the same name. Or it could be Josiah (Yo-ash), the name of yet another Hebrew king.d
If the ostracon is a forgery, where would the forger have gotten the idea to transpose the name of one of these Hebrew kings? One possibility is from the frequent appearance of this name as applied to non-kings. But applying it to an otherwise unknown king would surround the ostracon with an air of suspicion. Is there an instance where the name has been applied to a king?
In the literature that this ostracon has spawned, no such case has yet been mentioned. But Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel (the excavator of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, in the wilderness of northern Sinai) has called our attention to a possible instance from his own excavation: A well-known inscription on a storage jar from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, which mentions “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah” (suggesting that Yahweh may have had a consort),e also refers to a king, presumably a king of Israel (photo and drawing at right). The name of the king has been only partially preserved, with the two middle letters missing. Meshel has suggested restoring the letters so that they read ‘[S
“If this reconstruction is sound,” wrote Meshel, “it is possible that we have in ‘
On the other hand, this appearance of King Ashyo on the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud storage jar could just as easily confirm the suggestion that the ostracon is authentic and that the king referred to is Joash (or Josiah). And as Meshel himself pointed out, the inscription on the ostracon would also tend to validate Meshel’s reconstruction of ‘[sy]w in the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscription.
Model of Herod’s Temple Tours Nation’s Capital
“He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life,” the Babylonian Talmud tells us in tractate Sukkah 51b. Although a glorious view of the Jerusalem Temple is no longer possible, anyone in our nation’s capital this spring will have an opportunity to see the next best thing.
Two large-scale models of the Temple rebuilt by King Herod (37–4 B.C.) and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. will go on display for the first time, in Washington, D.C., from May 21 through June 19, 1998. Leen Ritmeyer, a leading authority on the archaeology of the Temple Mount, designed both models.
The larger model (pictured above with Ritmeyer), measuring roughly 4 by 6 feet (a scale of 1:275), features the entire Temple Mount—which covers an area the size of 24 football fields—with the Temple and its courtyards at center. More than 800 human figurines make clear the vast scale of the original Temple Mount—the largest such public site in antiquity, about twice as large as Trajan’s Forum in Rome. Figures of priests reenact the selection of the scapegoat, the procession from the Siloam Pool to the Temple during Succoth and the sacrifice of the Passover lambs.
The smaller model depicts only the Temple, but on a much larger scale (1:75). Although not a stone remains of the original structure, Ritmeyer based his 30-inch-tall model on the description in the Talmud and in Josephus as well as comparative archaeological evidence.
Electric lights and openings in the side walls allow visitors to peer inside the Temple. Inside the Holy of Holies, the Temple’s innermost chamber, a priest offers incense on the altar while another trims the wicks of the lamps of the menorah. The blessing of the priests is reenacted on the steps of the Temple.
Ritmeyer spent more than two and a half years making the models, which were built with the help of a professional model-making company. The buildings are constructed of a special resin that can be carved. The stones were painted to resemble the honey-colored Jerusalem limestone that Herod used to build his Temple, while the roof of the Royal Stoa, the great hall at the southern end of the Temple Mount (at left in the photo) was painted the burnt red of the original terra-cotta roof tiles. The model’s columns and their capitals were cast in plaster.
For information on the Washington, D.C., exhibit, contact the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington at 301–230-3770. After the Washington exhibit, the models will travel to the Janice Charach Epstein Memorial Gallery in Detroit in fall 1999 and to the new Yeshiva University Museum in New York City in spring 2000. To arrange an exhibition of the models in your area, contact Benjamin Adelman, chairman, AFIES, 4211 Colie Drive, Silver Spring, MD, 20906. Those who miss the exhibit may purchase their own miniature model of the Temple (11.5 by 7 by 1.75 inches, for $395 plus $15 shipping) or a slide set based on the models ($75 plus $7.50 for airmail) by sending a check to Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, 50 Tewit Well Road, Harrogate HG2 8JJ, England; phone: 44–1423-530–143; fax: 44–1423-504–921; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pulling Our Legos
Toy Maker Aims at Budding Adventurers
“Discover one of the greatest archeological finds in all history!” the caption screams. “Join Johnny Thunder and Explore the PHARAOH’S TOMB!!” And you can partake of this exciting adventure without leaving your home—if you have the right Legos.
The latest Lego catalogue features four pages of archaeological adventures centered around a build-it-yourself sphinx, pyramid and various other Egyptian monuments. There’s a team of bad guy figures, including what appear to be grinning, walking, crowned Egyptian skeletons, and a team of somewhat interchangeable good guys: “inquisitive” Dr. Lightning (the one with the mustache), “supersmart” Gail Storm (the one with the lipstick), both under the leadership of “fearless” Johnny Thunder (the one with the broad-brimmed hat, of course).
Needless to say, there’s a lot more Indiana Jones than W.M. Flinders Petrie about these play sets. But despite all the booby traps and revolving walls, you do get the feeling that Lego tried to get some of the details right. In the packet of what they call “cool adventurer’s gear,” for example, there’s a sextant for measuring elevations, and a magnifying glass (“it really works!”). All the sets are covered with hieroglyphics to read with that magnifying glass, and although the hieroglyphics may not be absolutely accurate, they will intrigue the 6- to 12-year-olds for whom the sets are intended. And there’s even an archaeological moral to these stories: The heroic Johnny Thunder isn’t just out in the desert for a good time; he’s trying to “save these rare artifacts from treasure snatchers.”
Guides for the Perplexed
Pamphlets Help Visitors Plan Their Excursions
Need help deciding which sites to visit when touring Israel? The Israel Information Center in Jerusalem has inaugurated a series of slim, well-illustrated booklets designed to introduce laypeople to excavations throughout the country. The attractions in the first two volumes of Archeological Sites in Israel have been selected for their beauty and historical importance.
The series is best suited for tourists with a beginner’s knowledge of archaeology. The article on Sepphoris (Zippori in Hebrew), for example, gives a brief history of the city, which flourished as the capital of Galilee at the turn of the millennium. In the second century A.D., as home to the highest Jewish court, Sepphoris became the center of rabbinic law and learning. The booklet describes the city’s acropolis, with its Roman theater and villa, and the lower city with its synagogue. Sepphoris is known for its magnificent mosaics, and the booklet includes two large color photographs of in situ floors depicting the Nile festival and the zodiac.
The ten sites discussed in the first two booklets of the series are arranged geographically, north to south (perhaps to help tourists arrange their itinerary), instead of chronologically. Thus a Roman boat found along the banks of the Sea of Galilee (popularly known as the “Jesus boat”) is discussed before Neolithic stone dwellings found near Eilat, at the southern end of Israel.
Mark Your Calendar
Egypt: Antiquities from Above
Through June 20, 1998
An aerial view of Egyptian antiquities is provided in 52 black-and-white photographs by Marilyn Bridges. Bridges explores the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, documenting 4,000 years of architectural achievements that range from the early Dynastic to Greco-Roman periods (3100 B.C.–first century A.D.). Includes photos of the Lower Egypt pyramids, the mortuary complex at Giza and temple complexes in Upper Egypt.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Philadelphia, PA (215) 898-4000
Artisans of Ancient Rome: Production into Art
Through June 30, 1998
Roman artisans produced goods in stone, metal, pottery and glass for both private homes and public spaces. Examining the role of the artisan in Roman society, this exhibition shows you how they did it.
The Newark Museum
Newark, NJ (973) 596-6550
Nuzi and the Hurrians: Fragments from a Forgotten Past
Through April 2001
The pharaohs looked to them for marriage partners, the Hittites of ancient Turkey feared their armies, and Syrian musicians played their songs, but today the Hurrians may be the least known of the ancient Mesopotamian peoples. Now the Semitic Museum is displaying 100 objects from its collection of more than 10,000 Hurrian artifacts from the small town of Nuzi, in northeastern Iraq. Artifacts include lion statuettes from the temple of the goddess Ishtar, public and private documents, pottery, seals and jewelry dating to around 1400 B.C.
Harvard Semitic Museum
Cambridge, MA (617) 495-4631
What Is It?
A. Cheese grater
C. Musical instrument
D. Ornamental hair accessory
E. Earliest abacus
What It Is, Is …
C. Musical instrument.
Played primarily by princesses, priestesses and queens (and an occasional pharaoh) in Egypt, the instrument pictured on p. 16 and above is called a sistrum. In its complete form, as shown above, rings were arrayed along its metal bars. Shaking the sistrum set off a soft jangle similar to the sound of the wind blowing through papyrus reeds, a sound thought to appease the gods. Sistrums were used in the worship of the bovine goddess Hathor, who was associated with sexuality, beauty, music, love, joy, and cows. Her symbol, a cow, tops the sistrum on p. 16; her head, characterized by cow ears, forms the base of the sistrum painted on the walls of a temple chapel in Abydos, Egypt (above). Both of these examples date from the second to first millennia B.C.