Posts belonging to Category Archaeology

Todd Bolen’s Top Ten Sites in Jerusalem

Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces Blog shares his top ten sites in Jerusalem. Todd also provides some interesting commentary and pictures on the various sites. I have never been to the Holy Land myself but would love to visit some day.

Tour Bible Times with UCLA’s Visualization Portal

Well, it’s not quite the Holodeck, but it still sounds pretty interesting. Has anyone ever heard about the Visualization Portal at UCLA before? I came across this in some reading this weekend.

A 40-seat theater with up-to-date virtual reality technologies located on the 5th floor of the Math Science Building, the facility is literally a portal into other times, places, and experiences. The Portal is used for both instruction and research, and has particular foci on Historical Architectural Monuments, Scientific Visualizations and Digital Technologies for the Performance Arts …

The historical architectural models shown in the Portal are an experiment in using virtual reality to recreate a place and time that no longer exist. Used both for research and instruction, there are currently 42 models under development to improve the understanding of the original historical site and to develop new applications that will ultimately heighten the research and instruction experiences.

Rhett Smith shares about his experience touring the Second Temple in the Visualizaton Portal. (The Second Temple was the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem which stood between 516 BC and 70 AD. Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, was destroyed in 586 BC.)

Bel Air Presbyterian attender and UCLA Chair for the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Bill Schniedewind was our host, as he walked us through the Second Temple. In just that short time the Bible was brought to life for me in ways that I could not have imagined. I have been to Israel, Syria and Jordan before, but even being there in person didn’t compare to walking through the Second Temple in practical “virtual reality.” Dr. Schniedewind also walked us through Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls which was also very, very fascinating.

You can view a sample video of the Portal here. The video takes you on a brief virtual reality tour of the Second Temple, the Coliseum, Port Royal, the Roman Forum, and of course a virtual UCLA campus. The video also includes samples from some of the scientific visualizations such as simulations of the creation of the universe, weather models, antibodies, etc. This sounds like a fascinating project and well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

Ben Witherington Hailing from Harran

Harran Astrological Tower Ben Witherington was in Turkey last week and offers some pictures and commentary from the town of Harran. Modern-day Harran is the site of the Biblical Haran where Abraham and his family settled before moving to Canaan. (“Together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” – Genesis 11:31.) This is a picture of an ancient astrological tower located in the ruins of Harran.

From this very tower in the second century B.C. the distance between the earth and moon was correctly calculated. Ancient astrologers were not tawdry palm readers– they were mathematicians scanning the heavenly realms and making calculations. Think of the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel. For someone on a spiritual journey, coming to Harran was like finding the ultimate ancient GPS device– you fell right into the lap of the greatest stargazers and mystics available. It is no surprise then that Gen. 12.1-3 depicts Abram himself as receiving a revelation in this very place to move on to Canaan. As a crossroads town, Harran was an important watch and signal post as well, and they sent messages by means of trained birds to the next caravanserai– trained birds like small hawks and carrier pigeons, just like the ones still nesting in the tower today. Imagine my surprise when I huffed and puffed up the tower only to find such birds still nesting there. Also in the center of the ruins was a huge reflection pool, also used for stargazing as in the movie ‘The Nativity’.

I thought the reflecting pool in The Nativity Story was awesome, so it is very cool to know these things actually existed. You can visit Ben’s site for more background information and more pictures from his trip.

King Herod’s Tomb Found?


Archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believe they have found the tomb of King Herod at Herodium, a fortified palace built by Herod 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem.

Professor Ehud Netzer of the university’s Institute of Archaeology told reporters Tuesday that the tomb was discovered when a team of researchers found pieces of a limestone sarcophagus believed to belong to the ancient king.

Although there were no bones in the container, he said the sarcophagus’ location and ornate appearance indicated it was Herod’s …

The professor, who is considered one of the leading experts on King Herod, has conducted archeological digs at Herodium since 1972 in an attempt to locate the grave and tomb.

It will be interesting to see how this discovery plays out in comparison to the lost Jesus tomb fiasco back in February/March of this year. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington weighs in on this:

Why should we believe this claim after the bogus one about the tomb of Jesus? In the first place the locale is right. The Herodium was a fortress which Herod built near Jerusalem so he would have a place to flee to in a hurry if an enemy was closing in. It is a fascinating site which involved the feat of shaving off several hills in order to build up the one on top of which this fortress is perched. There is also the fact that this claim by Netzer comports with what Josephus tells us about the demise of Herod the not so Great.

For more information on this blog about the Jesus Family Tomb, see the following articles:

HT: Between Two Worlds

Related post: Who’s Buried in Herod’s Tomb?

The Jesus Family Tomb and Bayes’ Theorum – You Do the Math!

Randy Ingermason, who has a PH.D in physics from U.C. Berkley, has put together a fun set of statistics relating to the Jesus Family Tomb. In his March 26, 2007 article here, he introduces the reader to Bayes’ Theorum and at the same time gives you a crash course in statistical analysis.

What’s fun about Ingermason’s article is that he not only gives you five different possible scenarios (click on “Continue reading …” below), but he also gives you a downloadable Excel spreadsheet so that you can run the numbers yourself. How likely is it that the tomb at Talpiot is really the Lost Tomb of Jesus? You do the math!

HT: Dr. Darrell Bock at Bock’s Blog (Dr. Bock has multiple posts at his blog relating to the Jesus Tomb, including email exchanges with Jim Tabor, the biblical scholar and historical consultant on the Lost Family Tomb Documentary.)

Note: For more information on this blog about the Jesus Family Tomb, see the following articles:


How to Ensure Bias in a Presentation

The Lost Tomb television special on the Discovery Channel reached four million viewers, and the accompanying book is now number six on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list. Unfortunately, unless these viewers and readers look elsewhere for information, they are only getting one side of a story. I have been following this story since it broke on February 26 and believe that it provides an excellent case study in bias.

Here are five ways to ensure bias in any presentation:

  1. Decide on your conclusion at the beginning rather than at the end of your investigation.
  2. Select only the evidence that supports your conclusion. Discard any evidence that contradicts your conclusion.
  3. Choose your experts accordingly. Ask them leading questions. Present only those portions of their answers that support your conclusion.
  4. Manipulate any numbers or statistics to bolster your case.
  5. Work in isolation. Do not submit your work for peer review. Present your conclusions publicly before other knowledgeable people have had the opportunity to examine and challenge the evidence at hand.

It would seem that the makers of The Lost Tomb special are guilty in all five of these areas. But rather than turning the guns on them today, let’s take this list and apply it to ourselves. How often are we guilty of introducing bias in any of these ways?

Updated 3/17/2007: I encourage you to visit Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s blog, Biblical Foundations, for more (and better) insights on this topic.

The Lost Tomb Losing More Ground

“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” aired on the Discovery Channel a week ago Sunday amid great publicity and debate. Produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici, the film-makers made the bold claim that they had discovered the lost tomb of Jesus. The thesis of the film has received nothing but ridicule from reputable scholars, and even some of the scholars represented in the film have publicly distanced themselves from the film’s conclusions.

One of the film’s central claims focused on the inscription, “mariamenoumara,” found on one of the ossuaries (bone-containers) in the tomb. The film makers claimed that this inscription could only refer to Mary Magdalene, and they then used this claim to further claim that this tomb contained the remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and their son Jude, as well as other members of Jesus’ family.

Well, the film lost even more ground today now that scholars are getting a closer look at the inscription. Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and the president of the University of the Holy Land, makes a convincing case that the inscription should read “mariamekaimara,” which would translate into two common names – Mary and Martha. This removes one of the central claims of the film leaving its other claims to flounder. You can see some neat color-coded examples of the inscription for yourself here. This will apparently be on the news tonight and tomorrow.

Updated 3/17/2007: More information continues to come in on the inscription. The most recent scholars weighing in seem to lean toward the two name theory, but there is still a question as to whether these were two different women buried in the ossuary or a single woman who went by two names. See Dr. Darrell Bock’s blog here for more information.