Crucifixion was practiced as early as the first millennium B.C. by Assyrians, Phoenicians and Persians; written accounts dating to 71 B.C. refer to crucifixions numbering in the thousands. Yet, only one victim of crucifixion has ever been discovered in an excavation. In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis, an archaeologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, examined a tomb near Jerusalem that had been accidentally opened by a construction crew. Tzaferis discovered the bones of two generations of a Jewish family that lived in Jerusalem about the first century A.D. A large nail piercing the heel bones of one skeleton led to the conclusion that this man had been crucified.
In “Crucifixion—the Archaeological Evidence,” Tzaferis reconstructs the prolonged and painful death of this person. Relating the evolution of crucifixion from a form of punishment for slaves to a method of execution, Tzaferis places the victim, a young man possibly punished for a political crime, in the context of his times.
Born on the Isle of Samos, in Greece, Tzaferis received a Ph.D. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has directed many excavations, including those at Ashkelon, Tiberius, Beth Shean, Capernaum and at various locations in Jerusalem.
Joshua 8:30–35 describes an altar that Joshua built on Mount Ebal. Since 1980, on this same mountain, Adam Zertal has been excavating structures that he interprets as the earliest and most complete Israelite altar and cult center ever discovered. Zertal dates the structures to the 12th or 13th century B.C., generally considered to be the time of Joshua.
Zertal, a relative newcomer to archaeology, was introduced to the discipline at age 35 after his legs were severely injured in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. While hospitalized, Zertal was visited by archaeologist Yoram Tsafrir, who himself had sustained serious injuries in his legs in a previous war and who makes a practice of visiting soldiers with severe leg injuries. Tsafrir’s enthusiasm for archaeology and his own success as an archaeologist, despite his physical handicaps, helped move Zertal to study archaeology. Eventually, he enrolled at Haifa University.
Zertal spent ten months in the hospital and two years in a cast. He underwent his most strenuous physical therapy, however, when he began a detailed archaeological survey—on foot—of the tribal area of Manasseh.
During this survey of Manasseh, Zertal discovered a pile of stones on Mt. Ebal that was sprinkled with Iron Age I (1220–1000 B.C.) pottery sherds. In “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” Zertal traces the discovery of the altar under this very ordinary heap of stones. Zertal argues that the Mt. Ebal altar fits into architectural traditions established by Mesopotamian cultic structures and carried on into the building of the Second Temple altar in Jerusalem. But whether or not the Ebal altar is the altar of Joshua is still an open question.
Zertal’s excavation on Mt. Ebal is one of many seeking volunteers for the coming excavation season. In this issue, BAR presents “Excavation Opportunities 1985,” a special section that includes not only our annual list of dig opportunities, but also a photographic essay, “Doings at Digs,” and two commentaries on excavating written from the dig director’s perspective. In “Strange’s Laws of Archaeological Excavation,” James F. Strange, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of South Florida, injects some humor into his portrayal of the frustrations of archaeologists. Strange has codirected excavations at Meiron and has also dug at Sepphoris, Cana, Bethsaida and Capernaum. “Excavation Tactics and Strategy” takes a more serious tone in discussing a director’s responsibilities.
In the September/October 1984 BAR, Morton Smith’s article “The Case of the Gilded Staircase,” BAR 10:05, proposed that the Essenes’ plan of the Temple included a gilded staircase that may have been intended to be used for sun worship. In this issue, Jacob Milgrom questions Smith’s assertion, and Smith adds a rejoinder. “Challenge to Sun-Worship Interpretation of the Temple Scroll’s Gilded Staircase” asserts that the Essenes, a fundamentalist sect, would not have violated the explicit Deuteronomic prohibition against sun worship. Milgrom argues that the staircase was designed not for sun-worship on the Temple roof, but to serve an essential, non-ritual function in the normal maintenance and repair of the Temple. Milgrom is professor of Hebrew and Bible at the University of California at Berkeley, where he founded the Jewish Studies Program.
Scholars’ Corner is based on an article that won a 1984 BAS Publication Award. “Bible’s Psalm 20 Adapted for Pagan Use” presents the theory of Charles F. Nims and Richard C. Steiner that in the second century B.C., a hymn from the Hebrew Bible formed the basis of an Egyptian prayer to several gods, including the falcon-deity, Horus. Nims is professor emeritus of the Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, while Steiner is professor of Semitic languages and literature at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University in New York.
Crucifixion was practiced as early as the first millennium B.C. by Assyrians, Phoenicians and Persians; written accounts dating to 71 B.C. refer to crucifixions numbering in the thousands. Yet, only one victim of crucifixion has ever been discovered in an excavation. In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis, an archaeologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, examined a tomb near Jerusalem that had been accidentally opened by a construction crew. Tzaferis discovered the bones of two generations of a Jewish family that lived in Jerusalem about the first century A.D. A large nail piercing the heel bones of one skeleton led to […]