Few objects in Biblical archaeology fire the imagination as the Ark of the Covenant. A week doesn’t go by without a call to our office inquiring, usually in a state of buoyant expectation, about a claim to have located this most venerated object in the Jerusalem Temple. We have to deflate our callers’ mood and tell them that all such claims have in the past proved to be wildly exaggerated. Indeed, scholars believe that the Ark never returned to Jerusalem following Pharaoh Shishak’s plunder of the city:
“He carried off the treasures of the Temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything … ” (1 Kings 14:25–26). Although there is little hope of finding the Ark itself, there is, surprisingly, new evdence for its ancient location. Leen Ritmeyer, a leading student of the Temple Mount, analyzes the natural and man-made markings on es-Sakhra—the Rock under the Dome of the Rock—to describe “The Ark of the Covenant—Where It Stood in Solomon’s Temple.” Ritmeyer’s findings form part of a forthcoming book on the Temple Mount to be published by the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Ritmeyer has worked as an archaeological architect on Jerusalem’s major digs, including the Temple Mount, the Jewish Quarter, the Citadel and the City of David. He directed the restoration of the Byzantine Cardo and the Herodian villas in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Ritmeyer’s reconstruction drawings of numerous sites throughout Israel appear in many journals and books on Biblical archaeology. His previous articles in BAR include “Reconstructing Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” BAR 15:06, “Locating the Original Temple Mount,” BAR 18:02, and “Akeldama—Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” BAR 20:06.
In the winter of 604 B.C.E., Nebuchadrezzar II’s Babylonians swept down from the north to conquer Ashkelon, on modern Israel’s western coast. Settled by Canaanites in about 3500 B.C.E., Ashkelon became a Philistine city during the Iron Age (after about 1200 B.C.E.); by the late seventh century B.C.E., it had grown into a prosperous seaport, visited by trading ships from around the eastern Mediterranean. In “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” Lawrence E. Stager shows us the city as it was on the eve of the Babylonian invasion: Its famous bazaars bulged with casks of wine and olive oil; vessels arrived from Egypt and the Greek islands to unload goods in elaborate pottery jars; the city’s streets were lined with shops, warehouses, an accounting office and a wide open-air plaza. All this came to an end when the Babylonians destroyed the city, leaving behind collapsed roofs, burned timbers, vitrified brick and the bodies of native Philistines crouching in terror.
Stager, Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel at Harvard and head of the Harvard Semitic Museum, has directed the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985. His most recent appearance in BAR came in 1991, when he contributed three articles on the Ashkelon excavations: “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” BAR 17:02, “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR 17:03, and “Eroticism and Infanticide at Ashkelon,” BAR 17:04.
One clue to life in Ashkelon before the Babylonian invasion is provided by animal bones. In “The Zooarchaeological Record: Pigs’ Feet, Cattle Bones and Birds’ Wings,” zooarchaeologists Paula Wapnish and Brian Hesse discuss the thousands of goat, sheep, cattle, pig, gazelle, deer and bird remains scattered about the Philistine city. Wapnish and Hesse believe they have identified a butcher’s shop in Ashkelon’s 005bazaar. Entire carcasses may have hung along Ashkelon’s streets, waiting for prospective purchasers to choose the choicest portions.
Wapnish combines expertise in cuneiform texts with knowledge of zoology. She teaches in the anthropology and history departments of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where her husband, Brian Hesse, is professor of anthropology. Along with numerous articles published individually, they collaborated on Animal Bone Archaeology (Taraxacum, 1985), soon to be reissued in a second edition. Wapnish and Hesse have served as zooarchaeologists for excavations at Megiddo, Beth Shemesh, Tel Miqne/Ekron and Tel Dan.
In Ashklelon’s Counting House excavators found an inscribed potsherd (ostracon) used as a receipt for a grain shipment—evidence of this seaport’s fertile commerce. More important, however, is the writing itself, which is in the little-known language of the seventh-century B.C.E. Philistines. In “The Epigraphical Record: A Philistine Ostracon from Ashkelon,” the eminent Bible scholar and epigraphist Frank Moore Cross discusses this receipt and its script, which is derived from Hebrew. Adopting a terminology suggested by Lawrence Stager, Cross calls this language “Neo-Philistine,” a language related to other Hebrew-derived languages, such as Edomite.
At the tender age of 36, Cross was appointed to one of the oldest and most prestigious positions in academia, the Hancock Professorship of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University, a chair he held for 35 years, until his retirement in 1992. He has published more than 200 scholarly articles.
HELP WANTED: Volunteers needed to do the dirty work (literally) on archaeological digs in the Holy Land. Spend next summer filling and dumping wheelbarrows, washing pottery sherds and, at the end of each day, scrubbing the soil off yourself. Anticipation of uncovering delicate ivories, sumptuous mosaics, fragments of fortifications and, perhaps, next season’s prize find, will alleviate drudgery as you uncover sites dating from the Paleolithic to the Islamic period. And you can be certain of finding pottery, walls and other ancient installations. This issue’s “Focus on Digs,” describing each site’s Biblical connection, excavation history and plans for the upcoming season, will help you find the dig that best suits your interests. For those who find the travel costs prohibitive, BAS is again offering dig scholarships. Testimonials from last year’s winners and information on how to apply appear in “Dig Scholarship Winners.” Even if volunteering doesn’t appeal to you, don’t miss last summer’s prize find, an exquisite golden cobra discovered at Tel Miqne (Biblical Ekron) and featured in “Prize Find: Golden Cobra from Ekron’s Last Days.”
Afraid you can’t make a significant contribution to a dig? Remember, the least experienced adventurers have unwittingly stumbled across some of the biggest finds ever made in the Near East, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. In “Two Dogs, a Goat and a Partridge: An Archaeologist’s Best Friends,” Kenneth Atkinson recounts how animals have participated in major archaeological discoveries. Luck, combined with eagle eyes or the agility of a mountain goat, Atkinson writes, can lead the most unlikely diggers to success.
Smitten with archaeology ever since he discovered 135 coins during his first few hours as a volunteer at Meroth, in Upper Galilee, Atkinson has since acted as area supervisor at Tel Haror. A Ph.D. candidate in Hebrew Bible and post-Biblical literature at Temple University, Atkinson wrote “Diggers—From Paid Peasants to Eager Volunteers,” BAR 20:01.
Few objects in Biblical archaeology fire the imagination as the Ark of the Covenant. A week doesn’t go by without a call to our office inquiring, usually in a state of buoyant expectation, about a claim to have located this most venerated object in the Jerusalem Temple. We have to deflate our callers’ mood and tell them that all such claims have in the past proved to be wildly exaggerated. Indeed, scholars believe that the Ark never returned to Jerusalem following Pharaoh Shishak’s plunder of the city: “He carried off the treasures of the Temple of the Lord and […]