Tel Beth-Shemesh Report 4, 2017 —
The last week of the excavation is always hectic. In a snide way, we often say that the most dramatic finds tend to occur the last week of the excavation; my facetious response is: “Let’s only excavate a week!” That, of course, would not yield the same result since it takes almost a week to clean up the site from the eleven months’ dormancy.
The hectic nature of the end of the dig with its intense effort to finish what needs to be done, to clean for photographs, to pack the tools, shut down and pack up the excavation “office,” and to vacate the facilities where we stay always raise stress level. Frank, Jerry and I typically take time to unwind. We did not travel extensively this year, rest and relaxation were the agenda for this year. Jerry left on Sunday morning, however, our plan for Friday was to sleep in a bit and then finish some paperwork and photograph processing. On Saturday, we again slept in and then went to the Old City for a late breakfast at the Samara with its scrambled eggs and BACON—a very nice change in menu. We wandered around the Old City some and visited the Western Wall.
We tried to visit the Lachish excavations on Friday, but they were not in the field; we returned on Sunday morning and they were still not in the field! I called the director, Yossi Garfinkel with whom I had worked at Tel Miqne/Ekron years ago, and discovered that they have an unusual dig schedule. They work Monday through Thursday from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., but on Sunday they begin at 1:00 p.m. and work until 8:00 p.m. This leaves them with only 9 hours between the scheduled end of one day’s work and the scheduled beginning of the next! In addition they have to leave the dig site to go to their facilities, clean up and shower, and then rise early enough to travel back to the site again to arrive ca. 5:00 a.m. (The drive from their dig site to where they stay is at least 15 minutes!) I am glad that we do not have that schedule!
Our main mission other than the failed efforts to visit with the folks at Lachish was to visit museums where we had not been for several years. The Bible Lands Museum, across from the Israel Museum, has traditionally not allowed visitors to take photographs, but they have relaxed that policy a bit to permit photos without flash (the typical policy of most museums).
Some of the items in the collection were ivory fragments that had been discovered at Arslan Tash in upper Mesopotamia. In the remains of the excavations at Arslan Tash was an ivory fragment inscribed with a statement: “…the people [or ‘Amma’] for our lord Hazael in the year…” (Millard, Context of Scripture [2.40B1]—this fragment is not in the Bible Land Museum collection). It is thought that this inscribed piece was from the edge of a bed (Millard). This would likely be the Hazael mentioned in 2 Kings 8-10 and whom Elisha was instrumental to anoint. The display at the museum postulates that the items on display (photo previous page left and previous page right) may have been some of Shalmaneser’s plunder of Hazael. Indeed, Shalmaneser boasted of subjugating Hazael and that he “confined him in Damascus, his royal city. I cut down his orchards. … I carried away their booty without number” (Younger, Context of Scripture [2:113e, also similar descriptions in 2:113c and d]). Ivory, like now, was a prized commodity and to plunder such from an enemy monarch was considered some of the height of humiliation. In addition, Shalmaneser’s inscriptions note that it was in this context that Jehu paid his tribute (Younger, ibid.), which Shalmaneser depicted on the so-called Black Obelisk now in the British Museum (photo upper left).
A sobering presentation was a model of the Apadana which was part of the palatial spread of Ahasuerus in Susa and which served as the Royal Audience Hall (above). The museum explanation argues that this model portrays the structure in Susa that concerned Esther as she considered the danger of her plight to come before Ahasuerus (aka: Xerxes) without his bidding (Esther 4:11). The second photo shows the portrayal of the throne in the middle of the audience chamber (right). Looking at the proportions of the structure, the relative mass of the architecture in and of itself strikes intimidation. The internal debate of Esther becomes more dramatic as you consider the physical setting of the events.
Another artifact dealing with the post-exilic era is a fragment showing a man carrying a skin of wine as tribute to Ahasuerus at Persepolis (left). As the official representative of Artaxerxes in Jerusalem (Artaxerxes was Ahasuerus’ successor), Nehemiah could have demanded similar tribute, but explained that he provided the needs for his administration out of his pocket (Neh 5:18).
All of us are aware of the portrayal of people on coins and this tradition is not new. Coins were fairly late developments in culture and the Persians essentially standardized its usage. Human profiles appear on numerous coins from the ancient world and one of them shows the infamous Antiochus Epiphanes IV (lower left). This is the Antiochus who desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by dedicating it to Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar. This behavior so incensed the observant Jews that they rose up in rebellion led by Judas Maccabee—thus the term applying to his work as the Maccabean Revolt. One of the subsequent challenges was to rededicate the Temple to its proper ritual. That effort eventually took place during the Feast of Lights, also known as the Feast of Dedication, and also known as Hanukkah—which the Jews continue to celebrate in December. The Feast of Dedication is not part of the Mosaic law, but there is a reference to it in John 10:22 when Jesus was in the Temple during its celebration.
The iconic symbol of Hanukkah is the nine branch menorah (upper left). This menorah should not be confused with the seven branch menorah which was prescribed by the Mosaic Law and which is portrayed on the triumphal arch of Titus in Rome when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (upper right).
On Monday, we checked out of the hotel in Jerusalem and headed to Tel Aviv to visit the Eretz Israel Museum. The museum is near Tel Aviv University and on its grounds is the Philistine site of Tel Qasile (we do not know its Philistine name). Several years ago, the curators of the museum had restored and reconstructed completely one of the pillared houses to provide a full impression of the nature of one of these houses that eventually characterized almost all of the Iron Age occupants of Canaan (photo left; looking outward from back of house). Sadly, they let it deteriorate and all that now remains are elements of the foundations along with remnants of the restored elements (right; standing from which I had taken the photo earlier). The excavations revealed a sequence of temples superimposed one on the other (somewhat typical of many sites). One of those had pillar bases that supported the roof (below, showing the pillar bases; right shows drawing of temple). Some have suggested that this is the basic kind of structure that characterized the temple which Samson destroyed by causing the columns to collapse (Jdg 16:25-30). Given the description in the Bible, though, the temple in Judges would have been significantly larger than this to accommodate the number of people described in the text (cf. Jdg 16:27). The temple at Qasile, however, was roughly contemporary with Samson, perhaps a bit later.
While visiting the museum, I noticed in the background the high-rise building that reminds me of a Buck Rogers spaceship. It has always struck me as an odd design (next page, top left—I know many of you will have no idea of that allusion!!!!! The spot is NOT a UFO, but a flaw in my camera that was in its death throes).
One of the values of archaeology is that it often clarifies what is going on, not only historically, but even linguistically. Prior to 1907 the meaning of the Hebrew word pim in 1 Samuel 13:21 was unknown. The King James translators assumed it referred to a file or some sort of instrument used to sharpen and repair the tools: “Yet they had a file [Heb. pim] for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes…” In 1907, the excavations at Gezer discovered a stone inscribed with pim on it— this was a weight and thus clarified the reading: “and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel [Heb. pim] for the plowshares and for the mattocks…” The pim was a weight of about 7.8 grams, about 2/3 of a shekel’s weight (which equals ca. 11 grams). The photo shows one of the pim weights in the museum (right).
Another display shows numerous copper serpents characteristic of sites scattered throughout ancient Israel (left). These have been found at shrines dating from ca. 1700 B.C. into the Iron Age (ca. 1000 B.C.). Given their presence in shrines, we infer their connections with worship and that they may represent deities in some way. They have been found at shrines in Gezer, Tel Mevorakh, Shechem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Timna. The Bible indicates that the brazen serpent that Moses made at God’s command (Num 21:6-9), actually became an object of worship which Hezekiah eventually eradicated (2 Kgs 18:4).
The museum also has on display three examples of the Egyptian Execration texts (cf. right) which date from the 18th century B.C. These were texts written on images and then broken to activate the curse—sort of like a voodoo doll. Many of these refer to cities and rulers in Canaan implying Egypt’s concern about threats that might arise from Canaan.
REPORT OF THE EXCAVATION
Among the visitors I was privileged to show around the last week of the dig was Eli Shukron who is best known for his work in Jerusalem in connection with the City of David excavations (l-r: P. Reich of NY; DW.Manor; E. Shukron). It was an honor to meet him. He was very gracious and excited about the things we have been finding.
While we had some continued insight in the excavation effort, we did not find complete resolution of many of our questions.
The channel continues to elude us. We had expected it to continue in a southeasterly direction, but it made an abrupt turn to the east into the section (right). We will need to excavate there next season. We are unsure about its purpose, or its date. Does it relate to the temple or to the palace or to neither? Questions linger.
We had hoped to find the southwest corner of the temple, but instead found another very large olive press resting exactly on top of where we expected the corner to be (below; the extension from the top is the southern wall of the temple on which the press rests). This, too, is an industrial type press, very similar to the one we dismantled last year (for which an article is almost ready to go to press). It has a large slab of stone as its base with a stone construction with plastered surfaces for its sides. There is a sump depression to the south. It is not nearly as well preserved as the one from the previous season, but represents a major investment on the part of the ancient inhabitants. The stratigraphic relationship is indisputable—this press is a later construction immediately over the remains of the temple!
We have also found our first evidence of Middle Bronze Age construction other than the fortification system and gate. Admittedly we have not exposed a large area of this construction, but the prospects look promising. The ceramic read in this area is almost exclusively Middle Bronze Age and into the very early Late Bronze Age I period.
This discovery was a bit of a surprise. We had ended last year with the exposure of an unusual array of stones that seemed to have been deliberately placed. The spaces between the stones, however, showed gaps with no soil. This made us think that perhaps the array was covering something very deliberately. When we dismantled the western end of the “platform” we found nothing but soil chocked full of Middle Bronze Age sherds. We still wonder why was the layer of stones place here and in this fashion. Regretfully, we may not find the answer to that question. On the positive note, this is the first Middle Bronze Age remains that have been discovered in the southern part of the country in the last 30 years or so. Perhaps we can add some information to our understanding of the era of the mighty city-states of the Middle Bronze Age.
Until next year, when we hope to resolve some of these issues, and inevitably will raise others…
As always, I appreciate your on-going interest and support. We continue to need financial assistance, if you are able at all to help, it would be greatly appreciated.
—Dale W. Manor
Field Director of the Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project; Israel
Professor of Archaeology and Bible; Harding University; Searcy, AR