Battle Over Archaeology in Israel Reaches a Boil
The long-standing conflict between the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) has intensified recently in the wake of an unconfirmed pact between haredi political parties and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace IAA director Amir Drori. But Netanyahu’s apparent promise to replace Drori with an appointee more sympathetic to haredi demands may not be realized because of anticipated opposition from secular parties in the government coalition.
The ultra-Orthodox parties have also demanded representation on the IAA Archaeological Council, a committee of archaeologists and professors that determines IAA policy.
At its heart, the conflict revolves around centuries-old human bones. The haredim, who hold sacred the concept of eternal rest for the deceased, vehemently oppose the excavation of Jewish graves. The IAA, however, is instructed by law to carry out rescue excavations at construction sites where ancient human bones are found. The bones are handed over the same day they are excavated to representatives from the Ministry of Religious Affairs for reinterment.
At a protest outside the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in July, 300 IAA employees and supporters smashed replicas of excavated pottery to symbolize the death of archaeology in Israel should the ultra-Orthodox demands be realized (photo, below). Demonstrators waved signs reading “Burying Archaeology” as members of the Knesset and archaeologists addressed the crowd.
“The prime minister’s capitulation to haredi pressures to replace the archaeological council with haredim—who are not professionals—and to replace the director with someone who is unfamiliar with archaeology will bring an end to archaeology in the state of Israel,” said IAA archaeologist Ronny Reich.
Drori told the Jerusalem Post that he believes the haredim are picking the wrong fight.
“If not for the Authority, the graves would simply be destroyed by the contractors’ bulldozers,” he said. “This way, the bones are given over to the religious authorities for burial.”
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have long fought for more control over state-sponsored excavations. Several months ago they demanded and received the right to send an Orthodox supervisor on IAA digs.
“Scientific archaeology reveals the basis of our history here,” said Knesset member Rehavam Ze’evi, who was the director of the Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) Museum in Tel Aviv until 1991. “I respect that the haredim want to safeguard the bones, but I am sure a compromise can be reached. If Drori is thrown out, archaeology in Israel will take a huge step backward.”
The conflict has become increasingly violent. It is not uncommon for IAA employees to receive death threats. Several years ago a bomb was placed on Drori’s doorstep, but it was dismantled without harming anyone.
A more recent example of violence occurred on April 24th, when Zvi Gal, director of the IAA’s northern regional office was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call. His office was on fire.
By the time Gal reached the office near Migdal Ha’emek at 4 a.m., one of the complex’s two buildings had been destroyed (see photo at the beginning of this article).
“Everything was burned—the computers, files, maps,” Gal said. “It was not just administrative files but also scientific files and, most important, hard copies from field excavations.” The loss included data from excavations in the Jezreel Valley, in the lower Galilee, in the Nazareth area and at Migdal Ha’emek.
Although the fire is still under investigation, a local newspaper reported that police suspect haredim set the blaze to protest IAA policies regarding excavations at burial sites. Arson is suspected because the window of the burned building was smashed and gasoline had been poured on the floor.
For the time being, the northern regional office is headquartered in a trailer. Gal said he hopes the building will be rebuilt by the end of the summer—an undertaking that will cost about $300,000.
“This is but one in a string of incidents targeting the work of the IAA and its employees,” said Drori. “The police have solved none of the incidents, but we think this particular incident results from haredi anger over digging at burial sites.”
Another incident highlighting tensions between archaeologists and haredim occurred at Ashkelon, the coastal site being excavated by Harvard University professor Lawrence Stager. In mid-June two haredim came to investigate the dig and to take pictures. Stager told them that they were not allowed into fenced-off areas and that they could not take pictures without permission. When one of the haredim 019pushed up against a fence and began taking pictures anyway, the dig’s 80-year-old foreman pulled him off. A scuffle ensued between the two haredim, the foreman and Stager, and all four were taken to police headquarters for depositions. Subsequently, representatives from the Ministry of Religion and the rabbinate visited the site, where Stager showed them that the Bronze Age burials he was excavating were much earlier than any possible Jewish graves. The dig season finished without further incidents.
The friction between the ultra-Orthodox and archaeologists is not the only troublesome affair facing the IAA today. Tucked away inside the massive stone walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, Jerusalem’s newest archaeological site is quickly becoming its most controversial.
In June, right-wing Jewish members of Ateret Cohanim (the Priests’ Crown), a religious organization and Talmudic academy that buys property in Arab areas of Jerusalem in order to establish Jewish enclaves, erected tents on a vacant lot in the Muslim Quarter where one of their students was murdered last May by an Arab. The tents were the first step to building a new study center in memory of the student, Haim Kerman.
But before the group broke ground, Arabs living nearby claimed they owned the land; Jews said they had bought it a year ago. Meanwhile, Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert announced that Ateret Cohanim had no building permit and that standard construction protocol would have to be followed.
Enter the IAA. Anyone who wants to build in Israel must first subsidize a preliminary excavation so that archaeologists can determine whether the site is too important to be covered up by a building.
The IAA is excavating the site but is caught in the political conflict between Jews and Arabs. Should the IAA decide Ateret Cohanim may build, the Arabs will protest. Should the Authority decide against construction, Ateret Cohanim will object.
A media tour of the site has already showcased volatile emotions on both sides. During an IAA on-site briefing in late June, Jewish and Arab members of Israel’s parliament engaged in a shouting match, trying to repudiate each other’s claim to the land.
The attention that the site is attracting is unprecedented, noted Drori. “Usually journalists come after an archaeological site is excavated to see what was uncovered. This is the only time I can remember that they came before the real excavation started.”
Jerusalem district archaeologist Gideon Avni estimates that months of excavation will be required to determine whether Ateret Cohanim will receive the go-ahead to build.
There are three options: to preserve the site as is, to construct the building on stilts above the site, or to build on ground level.
“It is too early to tell now if we need to preserve the area and tell them they can’t build here,” Avni said. “When we are finished with the first stage of excavation, we will make an ad hoc decision.”
But Yossi Kaufman, the director of Ateret Cohanim, has no doubt that the center will eventually be constructed. The group has even selected a name: Pirkhei Haim, meaning “the Flowers of Life,” in a tribute to the slain Haim Kerman.
“We believe this area [the Muslim Quarter] was the center of the Jewish population in Jerusalem,” Kaufman said. “I know we will find evidence of this during the dig. But even if there are important finds, I am sure we will be able to build.”
The Biggest Darn Appendix They’ve Ever Seen
Ancient Building Found Under Haifa Hospital
It started out as relatively minor surgery, but it turned into a major operation: Construction workers found rare evidence of ancient Haifa while renovating the modern city’s Rambam Hospital early this summer.
Pottery sherds, coins, storage jars, glassware and the walls of a building, all dating to the late Roman and the Byzantine periods, and a few Hellenistic artifacts from about the third century B.C. were found after construction on new operating rooms was halted so archaeologists could perform exploratory excavations. The excavations proved so fruitful that the archaeological survey was expanded to include the hospital’s radiology department. There, about 10 feet under the department’s existing floor, a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) found a late Roman or early Byzantine mosaic floor.
The discovery of antiquities during construction in Israel can delay or even permanently halt construction work. But it’s easier to justify rerouting a road or putting an office building on hold than it is to justify closing down a radiology facility. Dror Barchard, the IAA’s archaeologist for the Haifa district, said, “We completed all our work there, including measurements, photographing the finds and so on as quickly as possible to prevent a delay of the work on extending the radiology department, which serves oncology patients throughout the district.” Work on that part of the hospital lasted only a couple of weeks in June. A decision on when to resume work on the new operating rooms was pending at press time.
Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and a major Mediterranean port, was founded during the Hellenistic period and has been occupied ever since. However, almost all of what is known about the ancient history of the city comes from written records and not from archaeology.
The Best of BAR
Beit-Arieh, Seven Epigraphers Honored
Thanks to the generous support of the Leopold and Clara M. Fellner Charitable Foundation, through its trustee Frederick L. Simmons, we are able to honor several outstanding scholars for their contributions to BAR.
Asked simply to choose the two best articles that appeared in BAR in 1996 and 1997, Thomas E. Levy of the University of California, San Diego, and Andrea Berlin of the University of Minnesota based their selections on the clarity of the writing, the strength of the arguments and the authors’ ability to make “dead” subjects come to life.
Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, “Edomites Advance into Judah—Israelite Defensive Fortresses Inadequate,” BAR 22:06:
Until recently, the Edomites have been little more than a Biblical name, associated with scattered Iron Age sites, pottery and inscriptions found near the Dead Sea. In this article, however, Beit-Arieh succeeds in transforming these obscure references into a real historical people. He integrates older archaeological remains with a multitude of newly discovered ones, many from sites that he himself has excavated. In clear and compelling prose, Beit-Arieh reconstructs the details and the extent of both the early and later kingdoms of the Edomites.
Jo Ann Hackett, Frank Moore Cross, P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., Ada Yardeni, André Lemaire, Esther Eshel and Avi Hurvitz, “Defusing Pseudo-Scholarship: The Siloam Inscription Ain’t Hasmonean,” BAR 23:02:
It is rare to find a consensus among the experts of any field. However, a group of seven distinguished American, Israeli and European epigraphers presents a united front in illustrating why the famous Siloam Inscription—carved in a tunnel below Jerusalem and ascribed to King Hezekiah (c. 727–698 B.C.)—does indeed date to the Iron Age. The article is a model of clarity, precision and argumentation that debunks the suggestion by two British scholars that the inscription dates to some 500 years after Hezekiah. The epigraphic team honored here has produced an article that will be of great use to students and teachers interested in the link between archaeology and the Bible.
Sex Scandal Rocks Government
How Do You Spell “Monica” in Cuneiform?
The head of government is charged with an illicit sexual relationship while in office. In a deposition, he vehemently denies the charge. “Emphatically no,” he testifies. “I did not sleep with her.” His agents are called in to testify. The case has dragged on almost interminably. The hearings have been endless. The matter is of great public concern and interest.
Sound like Kenneth Starr vs. William Jefferson Clinton? Of course you’re wrong. It’s the case of Nuzi vs. Kushshiharbe. And it all happened in about 1400 B.C. We know about it from cuneiform records unearthed at Yorghan Tepe, ancient Nuzi, in northeastern Iraq.
The young lady’s name is not Monica, but Humerelli. And Kushshiharbe, the mayor of Nuzi, has allegedly been guilty of immoral behavior with Humerelli not only once, but twice. Worse still, Kushshiharbe used government agents to bring him to the trysting place. One of the agents so testified.
Kushshiharbe was accused of, and tried for, a number of other crimes as well, including misappropriating crown property, diverting tax collections to his own use and accepting bribes.
Alas, the tablet containing the verdict has not yet been found, so we know no more about the eventual outcome of the Kushshiharbe-Humerelli case than we do about the Clinton-Lewinsky case.
What we do know comes from 14 tablets unearthed in 1927 and 1928 by Edward Chiera on behalf of the Harvard Semitic Museum (where the tablets are now on view) and the Fogg Art Museum. The tablets are written in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the time. Nuzi was then a part of the kingdom of Mittani.1
X Marked the Spot
Roman Camp Found Beneath Jerusalem Convention Center
With grand fanfare, an elegant archaeological site was opened to the public in June: The Xth Roman Legion’s military base and earthenware factory may now be viewed through glass panels set into the marble floor of Jerusalem’s international convention center. Construction workers discovered the remains as they prepared to lay the foundation for the convention hall, located near Jerusalem’s central bus station.
The Xth Roman Legion spent 200 years in Jerusalem, where they fought to stem both the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 A.D.), during which Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed, and the Second Jewish Revolt (the Bar-Kokhba Rebellion, 132–135 A.D.). The troops left Jerusalem before 300 A.D.
The legion contributed to the city’s development by paving roads, erecting public buildings such as bathhouses and establishing water systems.
Hundreds of clay roof tiles and bricks bearing the initials LXF, short for Legio X Fretensis, the Tenth Roman Legion, have been discovered throughout Jerusalem. The Romans produced the bricks, roof tiles and pottery in the factory, firing the pottery at temperatures of 900°–1200° Celsius. Two of the eight original kilns have been preserved and may be seen in the convention center.
“The two kilns are the remains of a huge complex,” said Haim Goldfus, an archaeologist from Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheba, who worked on the site.
The kilns were moved to their current display site from their original location closer to the middle of the convention center. Some of the Roman pottery found at the convention center includes locally produced versions of Italic cooking pans and Pompeian redware platters.
Goldfus lamented that most of the site had to be destroyed to make way for the convention center. “It would have been possible to keep the entire site by raising the building,” he said.
Meanwhile, Amir Drori, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, recalled that when the remains were first discovered in the early stages of construction, archaeologists prostrated themselves in front of tractors to save what is now on display.
AIA: “Okay to Publicize Grants from Antiquities Collectors”
The board of governors of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) roundly rejected a resolution designed to deny publicity to archaeological publication grants made by a program funded by well-known antiquities collectors Shelby White and Leon Levy.
The resolution came out of the AIA’s committee on professional responsibilities, where it was initially approved. From there it went to the executive committee of the board of governors, where it was again approved. But the full board of governors voted overwhelmingly to rescind the resolution.
Although the resolution did not name the White-Levy grants as such, it was clearly aimed at them. The resolution provided: “The AIA shall not promote or publicize in its printed publications, annual meeting, or other public venues, the availability of funding sources that derive primarily from individuals directly involved in acquisition of undocumented antiquities.” The White-Levy grants are the only ones that fit this description.
Although the AIA has long battled antiquities collectors, regarding them as encouraging the looting of sites, the refusal to publicize grants supported by collectors proved too much for the AIA board to stomach.
The Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, which is administered by Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, has made over $800,000 in archaeological publication grants during the two years it has been in operation.
“We don’t solicit funds from auction houses or from antiquities dealers,” Claire Lyons, vice chairman of AIA’s professional responsibilities committee, told BAR. “AIA has the responsibility to balance the interests of those members who seek funding to complete publications of fieldwork with those who will never have the chance to fully publish sites that have been damaged as a result of the trade in undocumented antiquities,” Lyons added.
According to Patty Gerstenblith, an AIA trustee, it was defeated because the majority on the board of governors felt the grants did more good for archaeology than harm.
Seven Species, One Exhibit
On View at the Bible Lands Museum
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of streams, of springs and underground waters flowing out in valley and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vine and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”
Ancient artistic representations of the seven species of the Land of Israel—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and datesa—are the subject of Sacred Bounty, Sacred Land, an exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem in honor of Israel’s 50th anniversary.
More than 250 objects—including ancient coins, ossuaries, mosaics, and petrified fig and pomegranate seeds—demonstrate the importance of the seven species in the history of Israel and the ancient Near East and in Greek and Roman cultures.
The seven species, which appear in both art and literature, have religious as well as cultural significance, said Joan Goodnick Westenholz, chief curator of the Bible Lands Museum and curator of this show. “The exhibit is based on symbolism … These fruits are a symbol of prosperity throughout the whole Near East,” she said. “In terms of quantity and quality, Israel is very famous for producing these seven items.”
Wheat and barley were traditionally considered the staff of life. As a Sumerian proverb puts it: “for whosoever has gold, or silver, or cattle, or sheep, shall ever wait at the door of him who has grain.” Grapes are symbols of serenity and paradise, as in John 15:1, in which Jesus refers to himself as a vine: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-dresser.” Figs represent the tree of knowledge, and pomegranates are synonymous with beauty, love, fertility and life after death. Light, sanctity and peace are illustrated by olives, and the olive tree was an ancient image of beauty, fertility and endurance. In fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 4:1–3), two olive branches flanking a golden candelabrum serve as modern-day Israel’s emblem. Dates symbolize righteousness and victory. Muslim tradition holds that the date palm was fashioned from dust left over after God created Adam.
Among the lesser-known facts brought to light by the exhibit: The date orchards of Jericho were given as a present to Cleopatra from Anthony. And pomegranates and dates apparently were among the last foods eaten by the Jews resisting the Romans during the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132–135 A.D.): The pomegranate and date seeds on display were found in the Cave of the Letters, where letters written by generals serving under Bar-Kokhba, the Jewish leader of the revolt, were discovered.
The exhibit will remain on display through the end of the year.
Archaeology Publishers’ Clearinghouse
White-Levy Program Announces 1998 Grantees
For a second year the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publishing has awarded 13 grants to fund final publications for excavations throughout the Levant and Aegean. The grants, which typically offer $25,000-$30,000 per year for two years, went mainly to excavations in Israel, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank. BAR familiars William G. Dever, Hillel Geva, Joe D. Seger, Water E. Rast, R. Thomas Schaub and David Ussishkin are among this year’s recipients and will produce reports on sites in Hebron and the Negev, the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, Tell Gezer, a site on the Dead Sea plain and Tell Lachish.
“We fund what we call dormant digs, the older the better,” explains program director Philip J. King, the former president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association. “We had 36 applicants the first year, 56 the second. We have given away about $800,000 in two years. We wanted to start small. We arbitrarily excluded Turkey, Egypt and Mesopotamia only because they are so big with so many digs.”
Conversations with two of this year’s recipients, William Dever and Walter Rast, give an idea of what the archaeological community can expect from them within the next few years. Dever and his assistant J.P. Dessel, a Ph.D. student, both at the University of Arizona, plan to produce two different books on pastoral nomadism. Their material will come from excavations Dever conducted at Jebel Qa’aqir in the hills west of Hebron from 1967–1970 and at Be’er Resisim in the western Negev highlands from 1978–1980. “The first consists mostly of cemeteries and some possible cultic sites. The second is more a settlement site,” says Dever.
Walter Rast and R. Thomas Schaub will prepare their final report on Bab Edh-dhra, on the southeastern shore of the Dead Sea. Rast is a retired professor, formerly at Valparaiso University in Indiana; Schaub teaches at Indiana University in Pennsylvania. Their site was once a fortified town during the Early Bronze Age (3300–2200 B.C.). “This [site] is very important because the Early Bronze Age is the beginning of urbanization in the Middle East,” Rast told BAR. “We can see how early urbanization developed in early Palestine.” Rast and Schaub have been comparing the settlement pattern, the types of artifacts and the layout of their site to the Early Bronze Age site of Zaraqon, in northern Jordan.
The deadline for next year’s grant applications is February 12, 1999. Contact the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, Harvard University, The Semitic Museum, 6 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; fax 617–496-8904.
“The archaeologist is digging up, not things, but people. Unless the bits and pieces with which he deals be alive to him, unless he have himself the common touch, he had better seek out other disciplines for his exercise … In a simple direct sense, archaeology is a science that must be lived, ‘must be seasoned with humanity.’ Dead archaeology is the driest dust that blows.”
—Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth (1956).
Mark Your Calendar
Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians: Treasures from the Republic of Bulgaria
Through October 11, 1998
Ancient Thrace, which includes modern-day Bulgaria, northern Greece, western Turkey and most of Romania, was a cultural crossroads for the Greek and Roman west and the Asian East. Although renowned for their skills as warriors, the Thracians never achieved a strong position in regional politics. They also newer developed a written language. What we know of them comes from secondary sources such as the Iliad and from the gold and silver luxury items they left behind. This exhabit features more than 200 of those objects recently excavated from royal Thracian sites dating from before 4000 B.C. to 400 A.D.
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco 415-863-3330
Canaan and Ancient Israel
Opens October 18, 1998
The first major North American permanent display dedicated to the archaeology of ancient Israel and neighboring lands, this exhibit features more than 400 artifacts dating from about 3000 to 586 B.C., excavated in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon by University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists. Artifacts include clay sarcophagi excavated at Beth-Shean and small clay figurines of women.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Tours & Seminars
BAS Study Tour: Malta and Tunisia
October 1–15, 1998
The island of Malta, strategically located between North Africa and Sicily, has a tumultuous history dating back 5,000 years. Everyone from the crusading Knights of the Order of St. John, who invaded in the 12th century, to the Nazis, who bombarded Malta in the 20th, has wanted to control this island at one point or another. Tunisia is the home of ancient Carthage and the location of the first Islamic city in North Africa, making it a pilgrimage destination for Muslims. The Biblical Archaeology Society’s wide-ranging tour is led by Brien Garnand, a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and Chahinda Karim, who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic art and architecture.
For more information, call 800-221-4644 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Ways of Death in the Ancient World
University of Washington, Seattle
October 23–24, 1998
This symposium will focus on the lively topic of death and its commemoration in the ancient Near East, Greece, Rome and the late antique world. Papers will address the representation of death and dying on stage and in art, the archaeology of death and ancient philosophical perspectives on death.
For more information, call 206-543-5790 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art, Antiquity and the Law: Preserving Our Global Cultural Heritage
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
October 30–November 1, 1998
This conference will cover the looting and theft of cultural material from private collections, public monuments, museums and other sites, as well as the legal transfer of cultural property throughout the world. It will also focus on new preservation initiatives and efforts to regulate the trade in cultural material.
For more information, call 732-932-7066 or e-mail email@example.com.
BAS Study Tour: The Deserts of the Middle East
November 5–18, 1998
The deserts of the Judean wilderness, the Negev, Southem Jordan and the Sinai were the birthplace of monotheism. These arid and open lands were the home of pilgrims seeking spiritual purity, from the Jewish Essenes to the monks of the Byzantine monasteries at Mar Saba and Mt. Sinai. But the deserts of the Middle East also served as the frontiers of once-flourishing cultures that eventually died away, leaving only ruins: In Petra alone, artifacts have been found dating from the Stone Age to the Crusader era. This tour is led by Avner Goren, an archaeologist with the W. F. Albright Archaeological Institute and a popular lecturer-guide for previous Biblical Archaeology Society tours.
For more information, call 800-221-4644 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Is It?
A. Tongue depressor
What It Is, Is …
C. Towel (well, kind of).
During the classical period (fifth-fourth centuries B.C.), Greek, Etruscan and Roman athletes and bathers used strigils, or scrapers, instead of towels to wipe oil and sweat from their skin. Strigils were standard equipment in Roman baths, where people went to socialize, exercise, read in the library, walk in the gardens, attend athletic events or conferences, be anointed and massaged with oils and perfumes, and, of course, bathe in the caldarium (hot bath room), tepidarium (warm room) and frigidarium (cold room).
The second-century A.D. Greek physician and writer Galen records a less common use for the strigil: “After having heated the fat of a squirrel in a strigil, insert it into the auditory canal.” It sounds great for an earache but bad for wax build-up.
Most strigils were made of bronze and measured about 9 inches long. This Etruscan example is made of silver.
Battle Over Archaeology in Israel Reaches a Boil