It’s a Natural: Masada Ramp Was Not a Roman Engineering Miracle

Hollywood could not have scripted it better: A band of 967 Jewish rebels retreats to a desert mountaintop fortress following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Two years later the Roman army sets out to quell this last vestige of the Great Jewish Revolt. Finally, in a massive construction effort, […]

Financing the Colosseum
Where did the money come from to build this magnificent Roman structure? An extremely unusual inscription—one without any extant letters—points to the spoils from the Jerusalem Temple. By Louis H. Feldman

“So long as the Colosseum stands, Rome also stands; when the Colosseum will fall, Rome also will fall; when Rome will fall, the world also will fall” (The Venerable Bede).1 The Colosseum is the most striking evidence of the grandeur of ancient Rome—its most massive, impressive and awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Originally known […]

Scholars Talk About How the Field Has Changed
New questions, new technologies, new specialties all leave their mark on the way archaeologists work. By Hershel Shanks

Archaeological periods are not always easy to define; for example, we cannot gauge precisely when the Late Bronze Age turned into Iron Age I. Not so, however, with the Age of BAR. This spring marks the end of BAR’s 25th year of publication, what we call BAR Age I (and the beginning of […]

Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown?

Three of the five cities of the famous Philistine Pentapolis have long been known—Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gaza. A fourth, Ekron, has recently been confirmed by an inscription, locating it at modern Tel Miqne. Gath, the fifth, remains somewhat of a mystery. We believe we have found it—at Tell es-Safi, where we have been […]

Digs 2001: Get Your Hands Dirty

Sure, reading about the ancient world is fascinating, but let’s face it: There’s just no substitute for holding history in your hands. That’s something hundreds of BAR readers have already discovered, and it’s something you can find out for yourself by volunteering for a dig this year. Volunteers are an indispensable part of archaeological […]

Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel

The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic. And doubtless there were Israelites, particularly those associated with the Jerusalem Temple, who were strict monotheists. But the archaeological evidence (and the Bible, too, if you read it closely enough) suggests that the monotheism of many Israelites was far from pure. For them, […]

25 Years of Kicking Up Some Dust

“We shun controversy,” BAR editor Hershel Shanks likes to tell visitors to our offices. Yeah, right.

Sacred Stones in the Desert

Take even a one- or two-day trip through the Sinai or Negev deserts and you’ll come across scores of them—standing stones erected in a variety of combinations. These stone installations may help us understand the very origins of Israelite religion. They dot the landscape of the Bible’s desert lands. The Hebrew Bible calls them […]

Holy Targets: Joseph’s Tomb Is Just the Latest

Shortly after a raging mob demolished the traditional site of Joseph’s tomb near ancient Shechem, first dismantling it stone by stone and then setting it aflame, a newspaper reporter called me for comment. Like most people, I was sickened by the violence. He wanted to know about endangered archaeological sites. The hate, the fierceness […]

Surprises at Yattir: Unexpected Evidence of Early Christianity

Archaeology is full of surprises. Sometimes we don’t find what we had expected to find. Or we find something we never expected to find. Either way, the experience is always exciting—and wonderful. A good case in point is our excavation at Khirbet Yattir (khirbet is Arabic for “ruins of”), a ten-acre mound in […]

25 Giants

The Giants of The Recent Past Here are 20 excavators and scholars who dominated the field and who have died during BAR’s tenure (or, in a few cases, slightly before), together with five who are—thankfully—very much still with us. Our readers may have other selections. As usual, we can expect to hear from them.

The Monastery of the Cross: Where Heaven and Earth Meet

Many years ago, before I had married and gone to work as an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, I lived for five years in the Monastery of the Cross as a Greek Orthodox monk. So I know the complex well. According to legend, the tree that furnished the wood for the cross of […]

Religious Jews: Save the Bones of Your Ancestors

Powerful segments of the religious community in Israel, supported by some Orthodox Jews in the United States, have long objected to the excavation of ancient Jewish tombs, claiming that it is forbidden by Jewish law (halakhah). But, as we have previously shown in these pages, halakhah requires only that the excavated bones be reburied […]

Return to the Cave of Letters: What Still Lies Buried?

A small shovel started it all. In the summer of 1996, at the excavation of the Galilee site of Bethsaida (which we codirect), we uncovered a small bronze incense shovel. Others like it were used in the imperial cult throughout the Roman Empire. Although not impressive in size (a mere 8 inches long), the […]

The Yattir Mosaic: A Visual Journey to Christ

Once the Yattir excavation team got over the surprise of finding a magnificent sixth-century C.E. church on the site’s southern spur, where we were looking for much simpler, earlier remains, we began to think about how to interpret the many complex symbols embedded in the mosaic floor of the nave. We were immediately struck […]

Excavating the Tribe of Reuben
A four-room house provides a clue to where the oldest Israelite tribe settled. By Larry G. Herr, Douglas R. Clark

We were lucky. There’s no other way to explain it. When our archaeological survey team, part of a larger expedition known as the Madaba Plains Project, discovered Tall al-‘Umayri1 in 1976, we had no idea it would yield great treasures.2 But now, almost 25 years later and after seven excavation seasons (beginning in […]

Sennacherib’s Siege of Jerusalem: Once or Twice?

The Assyrian monarch Sennacherib’s military campaign against King Hezekiah of Judah is one of the best-documented and most discussed events in the history of ancient Israel. The late-eighth-century B.C.E. encounter is reported in both Kings (2 Kings 18:13–19:37) and Chronicles (2 Chronicles 32:1–23). It is likely the backdrop for several prophetic teachings (for […]

How We Know When Solomon Ruled
Synchronisms with Egyptian and Assyrian rulers hold the key to dates of Israelite kings By Kenneth A. Kitchen

Ever wonder how scholars date the reigns of the Israelite kings but were too embarrassed to ask? If so, this is the article for you. The short answer is that scholars use a variety of approaches and data from numerous sources to deduce regnal years. Take, for example, the reign of King Solomon, […]

The Rise and Fall of the Dead Sea

Genesis 14, one of the most puzzling episodes in the Bible, tells of a strange and unlikely war: Five petty kings, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, rebel against an overlord king, Chedorlaomer, and his three allies. The battlefield is described both as a valley and a sea (Genesis 14:3). It is somehow […]

When Palestine Meant Israel

Most people assume that the name Palestine derives from “Land of the Philistines” (Peleshetin the Hebrew Bible; see Psalms 60:10; Isaiah 14:29, 31), via the Greek Palaistinêand the Latin Palaestina. But there is evidence, both philological and geographical, that questions this traditional attribution. The name Palestine, surprisingly, may have originated as a Greek pun […]

King Hezekiah’s Seal Revisited
Small object reflects big geopolitics By Meir Lubetski

Some two years ago, Harvard professor Frank Moore Cross published an article in BAR that described for the first time an extraordinary lump of clay.a Known as a bulla, the clay was impressed with a seal belonging to King Hezekiah, who ruled Judah from c. 727–698 B.C.E. It was Hezekiah who saved Jerusalem from […]

The New Struggle for the Scrolls: Will They Go to the Palestinians?

Will the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ruins of Qumran, adjacent to the caves where the scrolls were found, be given to the Palestinians? As the Israelis and Palestinians struggle slowly and painfully toward some kind of accommodation that eventually will almost certainly involve the creation of a Palestinian state, the future of the […]

Why Bone Boxes?
Splendor of Herodian Jerusalem reflected in burial practices By Steven Fine

People who hear of it for the first time are always surprised: Ancient Jews practiced secondary burial, gathering into bone boxes called ossuaries the bones of their dead a year or so after death, when the flesh had desiccated and fallen off. Ossilegium, as scholars call it today, was practiced by Jews mainly in […]

Where Was Abraham’s Ur? The Case for the Babylonian City

Hershel Shanks has reopened the debate raised long ago by Cyrus Gordon, about which Ur was Abraham’s.a Was the patriarch born in some northern Mesopotamian Ur rather than in Babylonia? I believe the case for identifying the Ur (of the Chaldees) in Genesis 11:28, 31 (compare with Nehemiah 9:7) with Ur, now Tell el-Muqayyar, […]

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
New study shows that John Strugnell substantially reconstructed and deciphered MMT

In the history of the struggle to free the Dead Sea Scrolls, the document known as MMT holds a special place. MMT (Miqsat Ma‘ase Ha-Torah, “Some Precepts of the Law”) is critical to the study of Jewish law at the turn of the era. It reveals the basis of the schism between the Dead […]

Is It or Isn’t It—A Synagogue?
Archaeologists disagree over buildings at Jericho and Migdal By Hershel Shanks

Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer claims he has found the oldest synagogue building in the Biblical Land of Israel, near Jericho. Not everyone agrees that it’s a synagogue, however. Meanwhile, Italian excavators Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda say they have found a synagogue about as old near the Sea of Galilee, at Migdal (sometimes called […]

Solomon’s Blessings
Would museums purchase these good-luck tokens today? By Hershel Shanks

I read an interesting article in a recent issue of the Israel Exploration Journal that intrigued but also saddened me.1 It is about 16 eulogiai (singular, eulogia) inscribed in Greek simply with the name “Solomon.” A eulogia, literally, “blessing,” is a small token that operated as a kind of good-luck charm, mostly associated with […]

Helios in the Synagogue
Did some ancient Jews worship the sun god? By Lucille A. Roussin

Archaeologist Zeev Weiss has described in these pages the extraordinary synagogue mosaic recently uncovered at ancient Sepphoris.a Its most striking feature is a zodiac in whose center is an abstract depiction of the Greek sun god Helios (represented as a radiant sun disk) riding in his quadriga, or four-horse chariot. What in the world […]

First Person: Does History Matter?
The connection between religious faith and our circulation By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Ruminations on Scholarly Animosity
It’s one thing our field has no shortage of
First Person: Changes at the Top
Ephraim Stern named Chairman of Archaeological Council By Steven Feldman
First Person: Dogged by Controversy
Does our Biblical subject matter lead to more intellectual disputes? By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Opryland = Orlando2
A host of problems plague SBL’s Annual Meeting By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Assessing “the Situation”
A recent trip to Israel finds few tourists but plenty of archaeology By Hershel Shanks
Eastern Greece or Cyprus
Karpenisi, Central Greece
South Arabia
Carthage, Tunisia
El-Amarna, Egypt