Israel Roundup

Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitized

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is working on publishing a database of their archives, many of whose documents are suffering from disintegration because of poor paper quality and poor storage facilities in the past. The documents include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation). http://iaa-archives.org.il/

Sifting Excavated Material from Temple Mount

I took clients, a father and 2 children, to the Temple Mount Sifting Project in Emek Tsurim, just below Mount Scopus and everyone really enjoyed it. For those not familiar with the project, it is under the direction of Prof. Gaby Barkai and since 2005 has been working on the massive amount of material (400 truck loads) that was removed from the Temple Mount illegally, after the unsupervised excavation of the entrance to the underground Marwani mosque, in the area of Solomon’s stables. The material was rescued from where it was dumped in the Kidron Valley. It is being steadily sorted and sifted by staff with the help of visitors. You start with an interesting presentation on the history of the Temple Mount, through the Israelite, Second Temple, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, followed by hands-on wet-sifting of buckets of raw material for artifacts which you sort into six categories: pottery, worked stone, metal, bone, glass and mosaic tesserae.

Excavations by Institute of Galilean Archaeology

An American-Israeli archeological team unearthed remains of the Jewish village of Sichin at the northern edge of the Tzippori National Park. The town was mentioned by Jewish historian, Josephus, as one of the first Jewish communities in the Galilee during the Second Temple period and later, in the time of the Talmud, as a village of Jewish potters near Tzippori. The excavations revealed the first evidence of the existence of a magnificent synagogue.

Dr. Mordehai Aviam from the Institute for Galilean Archeology, Kinneret College, said:

“It was a great surprise for us, the excavators, to discover seven stone molds for preparing decorated clay oil lamps. One of the lamp fragments manufactured at the site is decorated with a menorah (candelabra) with lulav (ceremonial palm fronds) next to it. According to the clay vessels finds, it seems that the settlement was abandoned in the fourth century CE, apparently after the earthquake which occurred in 363, or possibly as a result of the Gallus revolt which took place in 351, which was centered at Tzippori. The excavations will continue for the coming years, and will try to unearth the synagogue, manufacturing equipment and residential buildings.”

In other news, a joint Israeli-Japanese team uncovered, in the ruins of a Second Temple period Jewish farm-house being excavated in the Nahal Tabor nature reserve, a Canaanite cultic standing stone (like ones at Hazor or Gezer) in secondary usage as part of a door frame. The Canaanite temple, where this object would have originally stood, has not yet been found.

Nimrod Fortress

A second stone, with part of a relief of a lion, symbol of Mamluk Sultan Baybars was uncovered at Nimrod by the Parks Authority (INPA). This relief is approximately 1.1 meters long, 0.7 meters high and 0.6 meters wide (25% larger than the first lion discovered 15 years ago in an excavation by Hartal), with some parts of the lion still intact and visible, though lacking its head, mane and front legs.

Nimrod Lion 2

Photo: INPA

Baybar's Lion, Nimrod Fortress

First Station, at Jerusalem’s original railway station built in 1892, terminus of the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway, is advertised as the meeting place of food and culture. What we can say is it’s bopping.

FirstStation

One starting point is the visitors center where you can get information, book a Segway or electric bicycle tour and buy souvenirs. There is a Re:bar, frozen yoghurt and shakes, a Vaniglia ice cream, kiosk selling draught beer and snacks and a market building with cheese, produce, wine, pizza, chocolates, etc. There are 4 restaurants, 2 kosher and 2 not, an interesting balance of religion and marketing. The Miznon and Fresh are dairy kosher cafe restaurants; Landwers café and Adom restaurant and wine bar, not kosher, open Shabbat. Events this month include an Eco Sukkah competition and Seventy Faces photography exhibit, part of the Jerusalem Biennale. Check it out. For complete listing see http://www.firststation.co.il/en/

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Gedaliah at Mizpa

Today is the Jewish Fast of Gedaliah in which we remember the assassination in the town of Mizpa, in about 582 BCE, of the Babylonian appointed Jewish governor of Judah. Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shafan and many of his followers were murdered by ten men led by Ishmael son of Nethaniah of the Davidic line with the connivance of the Ammonite king (Jeremiah 41:1-3). There are two candidates for Mizpa, Nebi Samuel and Tell en-Nasbeh. See Todd Bolen’s very interesting post about why Nebi Samuel is not Mizpa.

Jaazaniah seal found at Tell en-Nasbeh, Cornell University

Archaeological excavations at Tell en-Nasbeh go back to 1926; see Zorn for more recent analysis of the site. Uncovered was a monumental inner and outer gate complex from Iron Age II. The city plan, which is characteristic of many other Israelite settlements, like Khirbet Qeiyafa, follows basically a ring-road arrangement: a town wall often with houses or other structures built up against it in a casemate manner. At least six spacious four-room houses have been identified as well as what may be remains of a Babylonian residence. Epigraphic finds include inscribed ostraca, in cuneiform and one with a Mesopotamian name written in Hebrew characters, weights, scarabs, a cylinder seal, and eighty-seven LMLK seal impressions. The prize was the seal of Jaazaniah, which possibly belonged to the officer of the same name who reported to Gedaliah at Mizpa (II Kings 25:23). This seal has the image of a cock in a fighting stance, one of the earliest representations of this bird ever recovered.

Gmaryahu ben Shafan seal

A clay bulla (seal impression) was found in the City of David that has the name Shafan.

A bulla with the name “Gedaliah who is over the house” was found at Lachish.Gedaliah seal, Lachish

Pomegranate for Rosh Hashana

This evening is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. One of the things that I love about living in Israel is that the Jewish holidays fit the seasons and the country. The pomegranates are ripening on the trees in our garden just in time for the holiday.

So to all, subscribers, readers of my blog, would-be clients, travelers to Israel, pilgrims, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year and may your year be filled with blessing, personal accomplishments, satisfaction, health and real joy.

Pomegranate sky

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

Although Israel is a small country it has about 200 km of Mediterranean coastline. There are many places along the coast where you can stand and look out to sea. In this post I’ve included 5 photographs of the sea, along the coast, from Ashkelon, Ashdod, Caesarea, HaBonim and Atlit – same sea but different geological features as we move up the coast.

Ashkelon

Ashdod

Caesarea

HaBonim beach sunset

Crusader cemetery Atlit

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Jerusalem Landmarks, Montefiore to Calatrava

A landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or place that is easily seen and recognized at a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.

As a photographer one of the things that I often do is look at a scene and choose a feature that is interesting, that stands out in some way. The city of Jerusalem has any number of landmarks, the bell tower of the International YMCA, the old train station or the Rockefeller museum. Leave a comment on what is a Jerusalem landmark for you?

As you approach Jaffa gate, one of the popular entries to the Old City, you’ll see a tower and minaret peering above the walls. Here is a photo of the landmark, a little less usual in that it is covered with a light dusting of snow.

Tower of David

Another striking landmark is the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock. The building goes back to 691 CE Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik and is considered the earliest example of Islamic architecture. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the mosaics on the exterior of the Dome of the Rock were replaced with ceramic tiles. By 1919 when some tiles needed replacement the British invited three Armenian families who worked in ceramics, Ohannessian, Balian and Karakashian, from the city of Kutahya, Turkey to Jerusalem but the project fell through due to lack of funds (an Armenian told me that the Muslims would not let the Armenian Christians work on the shrine). In 1955, an extensive program of renovation was begun by the Jordanian government, with funds supplied by Arab countries and Turkey. The work included replacement of large numbers of tiles which had become dislodged by heavy rain. In 1965, as part of this restoration, the dome was covered with a gold-colored durable anodized aluminum bronze alloy made in Italy, that replaced the gray colored lead covering. In 1993, the dome was refurbished with 80 kilograms of gold when King Hussein of Jordan sold one of his houses in London and donated $8.2 million to fund it.

Jerusalem Dome of Rock

In the 1850s, several institutions including the Russian Compound, the Bishop Gobat School, and the Schneller Orphanage marked the beginning of permanent settlement outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The public institutions were followed by the development of two philanthropically supported Jewish neighborhoods, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Mahane Israel.

MMMishkenot Sha’ananim was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860 as an almshouse, paid for by the estate of a wealthy Jew from New Orleans, Judah Touro. Nearby is another well-known landmark, Montefiore’s windmill. In 1857 Montefiore imported a windmill from Canterbury, England and erected it on this plot of land to provide Jerusalem’s poor Jews with an inexpensive source of flour.

Montefiore windmill

Many years have passed and now Jerusalem has a light rail system that connects the suburbs with the center. As the light rail crosses the main entrance at the west of the city it passes over an eye-catching suspension bridge built by Spanish architect, sculptor and civil engineer Santiago Calatrava that is probably the newest Jerusalem landmark. Called the Bridge of Strings, the 2600 ton curving bridge, only 340 meters long, will be supported by 66 cables from a single angular pylon 118 meters high.

Calatrava Bridge of Strings

This is how Calatrava described his plans for the bridge.

“Along the pedestrian walkway is a band of pastel blue light, like the blue of the Israeli flag and also the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl),” Calatrava says. “When you see the bridge from far away, it will appear like a modern obelisk. And at the top we would like to put a bronze plate, something that will reflect in the sun like a golden dome.”

Through My Lens at Israel Museum

Here is this week’s series of photos, week #3, of different views of Israel Through my Lens. These photos were taken at the Israel museum, Israel’s leading cultural institution and one of the leading encyclopedic museums of the world. The museum has nearly 500,000 objects of fine art, archaeology, Judaica and Jewish ethnography, representing the history of world culture from nearly one million years ago to the present day and should be on every visitor’s itinerary.

The museum campus underwent a major renovation in 2010 that included new entrance pavilions and an underground walkway, lit from the side by natural light with a view of streaming water that cascades down the steps above your head. This photo captures two custodians cleaning the glass side wall.

Cleaning glass

When you visit the museum plan some time to experience James Turrell’s installation in the sculpture garden, Space That Sees (1992) part of his “Skyspace” series. Observing the shifting hues and patterns of the sky from inside a pristine, rectilinear space, a shrine-like inner space evoking places of worship like pyramids, mausoleums, or temples, viewers can connect to the heavens. A square opening in the ceiling makes a frame for an ever-changing “picture” of the sky. Turrell, by confronting us with the empty space, turns our mind to our own way of seeing.

Turrell sky view

Another interesting structure is the Shrine of the Book that has been called “a milestone in the history of world architecture”. The two architects who designed it were an odd couple – the pragmatic Armand Phillip Bartos was evidently chosen based on his being married to Gottesman’s daughter (Gottesman was the philanthropist who had purchased the Scrolls as a gift to the State of Israel and donated the money to build the Shrine that houses the Scrolls); the oddball visionary Frederick John Kiesler who critics said had never built anything and was primarily an avant-garde stage designer who taught occasionally.

The exterior is dominated by two unique architectural features: a shimmering white dome reflected in a pool of water, representing the “Sons of Light” and a freestanding, polished black basalt wall, standing for the “Sons of Darkness” so vividly described in the War scroll. This photo captures the white dome under a cascade of water at night.

Shrine water light

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

I read photographer Jeff Sinon’s post Photography 101: Finding the Best Shot in which he discusses whether to shoot a scene in landscape (horizontally) or portrait (vertically). I tend to use many of my photographs of sites in Israel on my website and I find that horizontal photos fit better on my web page. But there are subjects where you pretty much have to shoot in portrait, such as cascading water. Jeff posed an interesting challenge:

The next time you’re out taking a picture, capture the scene horizontally and vertically. Then, ask yourself: does one shot work better than the other? Do you recognize why?

I was driving down to the Negev, about a 2½ hour drive from Jerusalem, to go stargazing in Makhtesh Ramon on Thursday night. I planned an early morning hike, from nearby Sde Boker to Ein Akev, a spring and pool in the desert.

Divshon Ascent vertSo with Jeff’s challenge in mind I took the same shot, two ways – this is part of the series, Through My Lens. All the photographs were taken with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera with 18-200mm zoom lens.

The two photographs displayed here were taken at the beginning of the hike, on the climb up the Divshon Ascent with a view of the Zin valley below. The technical details – ISO 800, the vertical photo 82mm, F/11, 1/640; the horizontal one 26mm, F/13, 1/800.

 

Divshon Ascent horz

Afterwards we hiked into the nature reserve at Ein Avdat. There is a 250-year-old Atlantic Terebinth (Pistachio Atlantica) tree at the entrance, with gnarled roots holding it firmly in the rocky ground – another shot, two ways.

 

Terebinth Ein Avdat vert

Terebinth Ein Avdat horz

Probably the classic photo at Ein Avdat is a scene of the white limestone cliffs and blue sky reflected in the pools of water – a great shot, two ways.

Ein Avdat reflection vert

Ein Avdat reflection horz

I’d love to hear your comments, what you think about each pair of photographs. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing a print of one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.