Hebron’s Earliest Defenses Found
But No Sign of King David
Excavators in Hebron have uncovered the city’s earliest remains to date: a 20-foot-wide stretch of wall from the third millennium B.C. (Early Bronze Age III). They have also unearthed an eighth-century B.C. four-room house—but nothing yet from the tenth century B.C., when the Bible says the city served as King David’s capital before his capture of Jerusalem.
The third-millennium wall enclosed “the first fortified city of Hebron,” says Emanuel Eisenberg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the salvage excavation in northeastern Hebron, at Tel Rumeida. Constructed of stones weighing as much as one and a half tons each, the newly discovered wall is preserved to a height of 10 feet. Eisenberg estimates that it originally stood about 25 to 30 feet tall. Beside the wall are the remains of the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1550 B.C.) fortifications, parts of which were also excavated in earlier decades. According to calculations made in previous excavations, the ancient city covered between six and eight acres.
The newly discovered wall was found close to the surface on a hillside. Eisenberg explained that the slope created challenges for his team. “The strata are not always layered one on top of the other but are often stepped, so instead of one layer always following another, the layers cut into one another, making it more difficult to put together all the archaeological finds.”
Running alongside the Early Bronze Age wall is a well-preserved staircase made of natural stone slabs worn to a marblelike smoothness by the footsteps of the ancient city’s inhabitants. Eisenberg believes the staircase led to one of Hebron’s city gates, which may lie a few yards away under a modern road.
The four-room house excavated by Eisenberg’s team consists of three long rooms separated by pillars with a back room running the width of the building. The building was destroyed by fire, which caused the second floor to collapse and fill in the bottom floor, thus preserving it to a height of 6 feet.
But Eisenberg was as surprised by what he did not find as by what he did find. “According to the Bible, we should have found evidence from the tenth century B.C., but unfortunately this layer is absent here. But that doesn’t mean that somewhere else on the tell there won’t be something, since we are digging on one of the [more] difficult slopes on the site, and there may not be complete stratification here,” he said. “Also, the city may not have extended to this area at that time.”
Eisenberg’s team also found eight jar handles stamped with the Hebrew term lemelech, meaning “belonging to the king.” Five of them also included the name “Hebron.” Dating to the eighth century B.C., lemelech seals were royal stamps imprinted on jars containing goods certified by a royal official.
Eisenberg, who completed his four-month salvage dig in August, does not know what the future of the site will be. His team was called in because some Jewish settlers, who are currently living in trailers, were hoping to build permanent housing in this part of Hebron. With the new discoveries, it is unclear whether they can build and at the same time preserve the finds. To further complicate matters, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed in September to start implementation of the Wye River accords, which call for negotiations between the two sides before any further settlement can take place.
Cross Honored With Eretz-Israel Volume
Harvard Scholar Follows in Mentor’s Footsteps
The Israel Exploration Society’s Eretz-Israel series is one of the most respected scholarly publications in the fields of archaeology and Bible studies. Each folio volume honors an Israeli scholar, with the exception of volume 9, which was dedicated to William Foxwell Albright, the colossus of Biblical archaeology studies.
Now there is another exception: Volume 26 honors the California-born Frank Moore Cross, who served for 34 years as Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard until his retirement in 1992.
That Cross joins Albright in this honor is especially fitting because he studied under Albright at Johns Hopkins University and is considered by many to be Albright’s leading intellectual disciple. In one regard Cross has surpassed even his own great mentor: He has directed more than one hundred doctoral dissertations, many of them by today’s leading scholars in Bible and archaeology studies.
In addition to his broad mastery of ancient Near Eastern texts, Cross is acknowledged to be the world’s leading specialist in the study of ancient Semitic scripts. In 1953, at the relatively young age of 32, he was asked to join the small international team of scholars entrusted with deciphering the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. Relying on paleography (the study of the shape and stance of letters), Cross dated the bulk of the scrolls to between the second century B.C. and first century A.D.—an assessment that has held up remarkably well over the past half century. Johns Hopkins professor P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., a former student of Cross’s, notes in the preface to the new Eretz-Israel volume that when carbon dating finally confirmed Cross’s palaeographic dating, Cross remarked dryly that he was gratified that the lab tests “vindicated the confidence I have always had in the accuracy of … carbon 14 dating.”
Cross was presented with the volume honoring him this past summer at a reception at the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College, whose archaeological school he once directed. Speaking to an audience of 130, Harvard professor Lawrence Stager, director of the Ashkelon excavation and of the Harvard Semitic Museum, described how Cross helped him choose between careers in archaeology and law. Fresh out of college and on his first visit to Israel, Stager and a friend stumbled upon a sherd with four letters scratched on it. He sent a photo of it to Cross, who informed him that the find filled an important gap in our knowledge of 11th-century B.C. scripts. Cross urged him to publish the inscription—“very heady stuff for someone just out of college,” Stager said.
Stager then confided to the audience that Cross had recently disclosed to him how much the Eretz-Israel honor meant to him. “He described it,” Stager said, “simply as the high point of his career—and that’s very lofty indeed.”
Coin of the Realm
Jesus Coins Emerge from Galilee Treasure
Archaeologists cleaning a hoard of bronze objects found in Tiberias last year have discovered that the collection includes 58 rare coins featuring the likeness of Jesus, says Hebrew University professor Yizhar Hirschfeld, co-excavator of the site near the Sea of Galilee.
The thousand-year-old bronze coins bear Greek inscriptions reading “Jesus the Messiah, King of Kings” and “Jesus the Messiah, the Victor.” Some of the coins depict Jesus face; others show him sitting on a throne or standing with a cross. “There is a big cross behind him, and he has a big head and eyes like on the icons of the fifth century,” Hirschfeld said. According to Hirschfeld, the coins are very rare and the first of their type to be found in Israel. As images of Jesus were not ordinarily featured on coins, the discovery, says Gila Hurvitz, curator of an exhibit of the coins at Hebrew University, “is a treasure—there’s nothing like it in the whole world.”
The coins, which date to the 10th and 11th centuries, were part of the largest cache of objects from that period ever discovered in Israel (see Strata, BAR 25:01). The cache was found in three large clay pots—overflowing with oil lamps, candelabras and animal figurines—unearthed during a routine dig (these digs are required by law before major construction occurs). The cache may have been hidden for fear of invading Crusaders at the end of the 11th century.
None of the coins displays the name or image of the ruler of the time. According to Hirschfeld, the Jesus coins were minted by Christian kings in response to the rising tide of Islam. Also, Christians may have used the coins as currency with which to evangelize Muslims. Although they were not of high monetary value, being made of bronze, the Jesus coins seem to have had, for Christian pilgrims, a significance similar to that of religious medallions.
“These coins show that the owner was possibly a Christian, and if not, that he had contact with the Christian population of Tiberias,” said Hirschfeld. “This find also demonstrates that there were Christians in Tiberias at that time and that pilgrims from Constantinople came to Tiberias.”
Though the Crusaders invaded and destroyed ancient Tiberias, which at the time had a mixed population of Jews, Muslims and Christians, the coins and bronze items remained well concealed in their hiding place. “It is nice, at the end of the second millennium,” said Hirschfeld, “to find these coins in the same place they were hidden by their unknown owner at the end of the last millennium.”
Bringing the Past into the Classroom
Workshop to Focus on Middle Schoolers
Are you a teacher looking for innovative ways to get your students excited about ancient history? An upcoming workshop geared to educators working in the fifth through eighth grades should provide you with plenty of fresh ideas. Timed to coincide with the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (see article and the American Schools of Oriental Research, the workshop will be held on Saturday, November 20, 1999, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Harvard Semitic Museum. Sample topics include simulating a dig, interpreting artifacts, constructing a time capsule, deciphering historical documents, eating an ancient meal, dressing like someone from the ancient world and writing in cuneiform. For more information, contact Judith Cochran at 209–527-0466 or at email@example.com.
Mark Your Calendar
The Dead Sea Scrolls Millennium Exhibition
March 10–June 11, 2000
Field Museum, Chicago, IL
Organized by the Field Museum and the Israel Antiquities Authority, this exhibit will showcase portions of 15 scrolls, 4 of which have never been exhibited outside of Israel. The show will also include 80 artifacts from the area in which the scrolls were discovered, including coins, baskets and storage jars, in order to explore the historical context of the scrolls and the story of their discovery.
For more information, contact the Field Museum at 312–922-9410.
Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur
Through May 2001
In one of the most storied excavations of this century, Leonard Woolley uncovered the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, described by the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham. Woolley’s most spectacular discovery was a group of 16 undisturbed burials, which he called royal tombs. This exhibit features some of the 4,500-year-old grave goods: gold jewelry and semiprecious stones, ancient musical instruments, cylinder seals depicting royal rituals and celebrations, tools and weapons forged of precious metals and a large selection of artifacts from the tomb of a queen or high priestess. The Royal Tombs of Ur will travel from the Smithsonian Institution’s Sackler Gallery (through January 17, 2000); to the Cleveland Museum of Art (February 22–April 23, 2000); the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (May–September 2000); the Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago (October 2000–January 2001); and the Detroit Institute of Arts (February–May 2001).
For more information, contact the Sackler Gallery at 202–357-2700.
Lectures & Cruises
What Do We Learn When Archaeologists Go and Search Out the Land?
November 1–December 6, 1999
University of Judaism Extension, Bel Air, CA
A series of Monday night lectures make up the Simmons Family Charitable Foundation Tenth Annual Program in Biblical Archaeology. On November 1, Dan Perry asks, “What Did the Land of Israel Actually Look Like in the Time of the Bible?” The series continues with “The Tragic End of the Last Jewish Revolt: Return to the Cave of Letters,” by Richard A. Freund; “What Does Archaeology Teach Us About Holy Stones and Israelite Religion?” by Uzi Avner; “What Was Canaanite Religion Like?” by Eliezer Oren; “Good Samaritans: The Archaeology of a Biblical People,” by Steven Fine; and “What Do We Know After 100 Years of Biblical Archaeology?” by William G. Dever.
For more information, call 310–440-1246.
BAS Bible and Archaeology Fest II
November 19–21, 1999
Park Plaza Hotel, Boston, MA
Hear what world-famous scholars have to say about the latest discoveries relating to archaeology, the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible. Create your own program from a roster of eminent teachers who will be gathering in Boston for the Annual Meeting of Bible and archaeology scholars. Among the renowned lecturers are Avraham Biran, Hebrew Union College; William Dever, University of Arizona; Trude Dothan, Hebrew University; David Noel Freedman, University of California at San Diego; and Anthony Saldarini, Boston College.
For more information, call the Biblical Archaeology Society at 800–221-4644.
BAS Seminar at Sea: The Original Millennium—Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christian Origins Caribbean Cruise
February 19–26, 2000
Explore the origins of millennialism while celebrating the new millennium on a seven-night cruise on Holland America Line’s MS Ryndam, departing from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and cruising to Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Key West, Florida; Playa del Carmen; and Cozumel, Mexico. Lectures by John and Adela Collins, professors at the University of Chicago Divinity School, include “The Book of Daniel and Cosmic Conflict,” “Fallen Angels and Exalted Humans in the Books of Enoch” and “Jesus Replaces Rome in the Book of Revelation.”
For more information, call the Biblical Archaeology Society at 800–221-4644.
What Is It?
A. Clothes hook
B. Hearing aid
D. Funnel for liquids
What It Is, Is …
Of the 35 Bronze Age lurs, or trumpets, found in Denmark, this specimen unearthed in a peat bog in Tellerup on Funen is one of the best preserved. Dating from about 1000 to 500 B.C., these large wind instruments, often found in pairs, were technical masterpieces, manufactured by casting and tuned to the same pitch. Consisting of a tube, a mouthpiece, a sounding plate and a carrying chain, the lur has a deep resonance, similar to that of a modern trombone. Depictions of lur players on Swedish rock carvings indicate that the instruments were used at ritual ceremonies and royal entertainments.
Hebron’s Earliest Defenses Found
But No Sign of King David