Jul 27, 2011

Ancient Bell, Coffin and Altar Revealed This Week

This past week has been a major week for Israeli archaeology.

1. A 3000 year old altar was discovered in the digs of Tel Tzafit, near the biblical city of Gat. Gat was a Philistine city, and the archaeologists see the altar as being indicative of how close the culture of the local Jews was to the culture of the Philistines, as the Philistines clearly designed their altar similar to the way Jewish altars were designed.

From Haaretz:
3,000-year-old altar uncovered at Philistine site suggests cultural links to Jews
Head of the archeological dig on Tel Tzafit Prof. Aren Maeir says the find indicates that the two peoples thought of as bitter enemies may have been closer than we think.

A stone altar from the 9th century BCE was found in an archeological dig on Tel Tzafit, a site identified with the biblical Philistine city of Gat. The altar is reminiscent of Jewish altars from the same period and sheds light on the cultural links between the two peoples, who fought each other for centuries.

The altar is approximately one meter tall, half a meter wide and half a meter long. It was found by a team of diggers led by Prof. Aren Maeir of the Land of Israel and Archaeology studies at Bar-Ilan University. The most outstanding features of the altar are a pair of horns on its front and a cornice in the middle. Its form is reminiscent of the descriptions of the Jewish altars in the scriptures, with the most noticeable difference being that the altar in the Temple was described as having four horns, while the Gat altar has only two.
Maeir said Monday the altar demonstrates the cultural proximity between the two nations, traditionally cast as the most bitter of enemies in the scriptures. “Every group continues defining itself distinctly, but there’s intensive interaction. Think about Samson for a second,”

he said. “It doesn’t matter if the story is real or not. It’s true he kills them and they kill him, but on the other hand, he does marry a Philistine woman and take part in their weddings.”

“The altar a small, but an impressive and special window into the Philistine and Israelite cultures of the time in general, and their rituals in particular. It’s not every day we find items from the biblical times so closely related to items described in the biblical text.”

2. A nearly 2000 year old Second Temple ossuary that was being held in private hands was returned to antiquities authorities. He claimed to have bought the ossuary from a dealer a number of years ago, and he says he kept the box in his bedroom until a friend told him that it is an ancient coffin that was used to hold bones a year after burial. At that point he decided he didn't want a coffin in his bedroom.

From Haaretz:
A Tel Aviv resident returned a Second Temple period artifact to the Antiquities Authority after realizing the item was an ossuary.

The man, who works in the field of art and design, contacted the authority inspectors at his own initiative, saying he purchased the ossuary from an antiquities dealer some time ago. He told them he kept the ancient artifact in his bedroom, until one of his friends told him this was a small coffin used to store bones a year after the burial. He said he was repelled by the thought that he slept with a coffin in his room.

The authority's experts determined that the ossuary was fashioned by Jerusalem stonemasons in the years before the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE. It has two carved rosettes and its original color was yellow. The experts believe it was stolen from a burial cave in or near Jerusalem, and sold to antiquities dealers.
3. A 2000 year old golden bell was discovered in Jerusalem under Robinson's Arch. It was found on what was the central path in the Second Temple leading from the Shiloah Pools in Ir David to the Temple Mount. While not having any definitive proof, the experts believe it is likely this bell had fallen off the robes of the Kohen Gadol.

From JPost:
A golden bell ornament that archeologists believed belonged to a priest or important leader from the Second Temple period, was found in an ancient drainage channel in ruins next to the Western Wall on Thursday, the Antiquities Authority announced.

The small bell, which has a loop for attaching to clothing or jewelry, was found underneath Robinson’s Arch. The area underneath the arch was formerly the central road of Jerusalem, which led from the Shiloah Pools in the City of David to the Old City and the Temple Mount.

The excavations were led by the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and financed by the City of David Foundation, which runs the archeological park across the street.

“It seems the bell was sewn on the garment worn by a high official in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period (first century CE),” the excavation’s lead archeologists, the Antiquities Authority’s Eli Shukron and Prof.

Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, said in a statement. “The bell was exposed inside Jerusalem’s main drainage channel at that time, among the layers of earth that had accumulated along the bottom of it.”

They believed that the bell fell off the official’s clothing while he was walking along the road and rolled into the drainage channel, where it has sat for nearly 2,000 years.

The archeologists based their findings on the biblical verse: “And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about.” (Exodus 28:34,36)

The Ir David people recorded the bell:

Amazing, listening to the chiming of a 2000 year old bell, that was probably hanging from the robe of a kohen gadol.

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