Monday, April 23, 2018

The synagogue at Umm el Kanatir

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE: THE HIDDEN TREASURE IN ISRAEL’S GOLAN HEIGHTS. On Israel’s 70th year of rebirth, an ancient synagogue comes to life (Ari Lieberman, Front Page Magazine).
Some refer to this site by its Arabic name of Umm el Kanatir or Mother of Arches, while others refer to it by its Hebrew name, Keshatot Rechavam or the Arches of Rechavam, named after Israeli general, Rechavam Zeevi. Both Hebrew and Arabic names reference two prominent and well-preserved Roman-era arches built over a local spring.

Keshatot Rechavam is no ordinary archaeological site. It has been identified as the site of the ancient Jewish village of Kantur and houses a spectacular and ornate Byzantine era, 5th century synagogue, some 60 feet long by 40 feet wide.

The synagogue along with the entire village was destroyed in 749 C.E. when it was struck by a massive earthquake. But the stones of the impressive synagogue remained where they fell or in archaeological terms, remained in situ, untouched for nearly 1,300 years; that is, until now.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the ancient synagoge of Umm el Kanatir/Keshatot Rechavam are here and here. The restoration work on the site mentioned in them is now far advanced and perhaps completed.

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On the sacrifice of Isaac again

CANDIDA MOSS: Was Abraham a Murderer? Archeologists have discovered and published an ancient version of the story in which Isaac actually died (The Daily Beast). More on that Coptic magical text that refers to "the Mountain of the Murderer" and to the possible extrabiblical traditions behind it.

Background here and links.

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TImna for tourists

TRAVEL: The Israeli Park with a Valuable Secret. Many people visit Israel’s Timna National Park to admire its rock formations, but the full story of this place can only be experienced by heading underground (Sara Toth Stub, BBC).
The caverns and shafts throughout Timna National Park reveal thousands of years of mining history. Evidence has been found linking these mines to Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom, which existed from the 16th through the early 11th Centuries BC. Copper from here enriched the series of Ramses pharaohs who used it for everything from weapons to jewellery. However, further evidence shows that mining here reached its peak several hundred years later. High-resolution radiocarbon dating of seeds and other organic matter left in the miners’ work camps indicates the mines were active between the 11th and 9th Centuries BC, lending credence to theories that Timna was the source of copper for the biblical King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

And until recently, experts assumed the gruelling manual labour had been done by slaves. But archaeological findings over the last few years, including high-quality dyed fabrics preserved by the dry climate, indicate that the metalworkers were employed rather than enslaved. Remains of sheep and goat bones as well as date and olive pits also suggest that the workers ate a rich diet of foods not usually found in the desert.
I have been exploring the implications of some of the finds at Timna mentioned above, as well as similar finds at Megiddo. See here and follow the links.

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Report on Cambridge LXX Seminar

INTERACTIONS OF TRADITIONS BLOG: ‘The Septuagint within the History of Greek’ seminar – 20 April 2018 (SRECKO KORALIJA, Interactions of Traditions Blog). I noted the seminar as upcoming here.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Wimpfheimer, The Talmud: A Biography

NEW BOOK FROM PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS:
The Talmud
A Biography


Barry Scott Wimpfheimer

Editions
Hardcover 2018 26.95 21.95 ISBN9780691161846 320 pp. 4 1/2 x 7 5/8 10 b/w illus.
E-book ISBN9781400890248

The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality


The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia.

Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud's prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book's origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated--but also excoriated and maligned—in the centuries since it first appeared.

An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.
Follow the link for more on the author and the book, including the full text of chapter 1.

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The sages on menstruation and (unhealthy) flow

PROF. CHARLOTTE E. FONROBERT: Menstruant as Zavah: How the Laws of Niddah Developed (TheTorah.com).
Leviticus 15 describes two types of impure bleeding for women: menstruation (niddah), and bleeding that is “not during her menstrual period (zavah).” The Rabbis attempt to define the difference in an abstract manner, and in so doing, elide the two.

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Another review of Quinn, In Search of the Phoenician

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Troubled and troublesome. Identities in the Middle East continue to haunt and raise questions—two books reviewed (Thomas Schellen and Riad Al-Khouri, ExecutivE).
In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2018 Hardcover, 360 pages

The book “In Search of the Phoenicians” by Josephine Quinn opens—not counting her introduction—with a 1946 quote by then freshly minted Member of the Lebanese Parliament, Kamal Jumblatt. The quote bubbles with fervor for the Lebanese “ancient young country” and, as Quinn points out, not only connects the nation of Lebanon with the Phoenicians through history and geography but passionately portrays the Phoenicians as being responsible for the idea of the nation itself. In Jumblatt’s phrasing, optimism for Lebanon is rooted via backward projection in the ancient history of the Phoenician coast which saw “the emergence of the first civic state.”
This is a very thoughtful review and I encourage you to read it. The article also reviews a new book of essays dedicated to Simon Wiesenthal.

Earlier reviews (etc.) of Professor Quinn's book are here and links.

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Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity

THE AWOL BLOG: Online Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity. First noted by AWOL in 2012, but I seem to have missed it then. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Another review of Sanders, From Adapa to Enoch

H-JUDAIC BOOK REVIEW:
Seth L. Sanders. From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylon. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism Series. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017. xiv + 280 pp. $194.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-16-154456-9.

Reviewed by Uri Gabbay (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Published on H-Judaic (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Katja Vehlow (University of South Carolina)

The book under review is an extraordinary example of a multidisciplinary endeavor, combining the fields of Sumerology, Assyriology, biblical studies, Qumran studies, apocalyptic literature, and religious studies. Not many books contain in their bibliography references both to Piotr Steinkeller’s studies on Sumerian literature and history of the third millennium BCE and to Gershom Scholem’s studies of Jewish mysticism, attesting to the wide range of sources handled insightfully and successfully by the author of this book.

[...]
Past reviews etc. of the book are noted here and here and links.

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Ancient Christians read the OT Pseudepigrapha

RICK BRANNAN: What Did Early Christians Read?.
P.Oxy. 63.4365 (transcription, images) is a letter from one woman to another regarding lending books to each other. This letter, albeit short, indicates that both women were Christian and familiar with reading Christian manuscripts.
The letter is one of the papyri recovered from Oxyrhynchus. It dates to the early fourth century. Specifically the two women were lending each other a copy of "the Ezra" (4 Ezra?) for a copy of "the Little Genesis" (Jubilees). How cool is that?

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch. There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts having to do with the Oxyrhychus papyri, some of which have to do with fragments of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and New Testament Apocrypha, and of course also of biblical manuscripts and many documentary texts like the one above. Recent posts on the Oxyrhychus papyri are here, here, here, here, here, and here. And follow the links for earlier posts.

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Wuppertal LXX conference 2018

WILLIAM ROSS: THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SEPTUAGINTA DEUTSCH CONFERENCE (WUPPERTAL). It takes place on 19-22 July 2018. Follow the link for details. Cross-file under Septuagint Watch.

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Proto-Theodotian and the Psalms of Solomon?

THE ETC BLOG: New Light on ‘Proto-Theodotion’ (John Meade). A post on a pre-publication by Jan Joosten which argues, inter alia, against the consensus, that the Psalms of Solomon were composed in Greek, not Hebrew.

In my book The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2005, pp. 160-161) I took an agnostic position on whether the book was composed in Hebrew or Greek. It's interesting to see someone making a case foro Greek composition.

Cross-file under Septuagint Watch and Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Masada siege from the Roman perspective

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Masada Siege. The Roman assault on Herod’s desert fortress (Robin, Ngo).
Archaeological investigations of the Roman siege works at Masada have been much more limited in scope than those conducted on the cliff-top fortress. According to author Gwyn Davies, we must therefore consider both the account given by Josephus and the surviving archaeological evidence in order to reconstruct what happened in the Masada siege.
As usual, the article by Professor Davies, "The Masada Siege—From the Roman Viewpoint," is behind the BAR subscription wall. But this essay will give you a taste of it.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Menstrual impurity according to P, H, and the sages

PROF. CHARLOTTE E. FONROBERT: Niddah (Menstruation): From Torah to Rabbinic Law (TheTorah.com).
In Leviticus 15, the laws of niddah are about purity; Lev 18 and 20, however, prohibit sex during menstruation. The rabbis, who inherited both of these texts, create a new, hybrid concept: the prohibition of sex while a woman has the status of menstrual impurity.

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IOTS 2018

TARGUM WATCH: Conference Programme: Targum Studies in London, IOTS 2018 (NTCS).
The focus of this meeting will be on two related issues:

The Aramaic dialects within their Late Antique environment
The development of the Targums within their wider interpretative milieu.
The conference takes place on 9-12 July. Follow the link for further particular.

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Michael Stone honored

ARMENIAN WATCH: Professor of Armenian Studies Michael Stone awarded Matenadaran Commemorative Medal.
YEREVAN, APRIL 7, ARMENPRESS. A special event took place on April 7 in Yerevan’s Matenadaran Institute of Ancient Manuscripts on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Michael Stone – Professor Emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Honorable Doctor of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences.

Matenadaran staff presented the invaluable contribution of Michael Stone in Armenian Studies to the audience of the event.

[...]
Congratulations, and belated happy birthday, to Professor Stone. In his long career he has made great contributions to Armenian studies, ancient Jewish studies, and their areas of intersection.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Top finds of Israeli archaeology

HAPPY 70TH INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ISRAEL! ToI asks the experts: What are the most important finds of Israeli archaeology? From Dead Sea Scrolls to space-age tech, the dramatic history of the ever-developing field is indelibly entwined with that of the nation itself (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Sukenik retrieved the other scrolls and fragments held by a Bethlehem antiquities dealer. After careful study, he held a press conference to share his initial findings in the Jewish Agency building in the middle of war-torn Jerusalem. A lengthy 1955 New Yorker article paints a picture of daily shelling of New Jerusalem neighborhoods, “between three and five every afternoon” — exactly the time and location of the press event.

“To attend it required some nerve. An American correspondent fainted in the street on the way, and had to be carried in by his colleagues. The reporters were flabbergasted when Sukenik, who seemed quite unperturbed by the flashing and banging about him, announced the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls,” writes journalist Edmund Wilson.

As Sukenik described his discovery, “a shell burst. The reporters had at first been rather peevish at having been asked to risk their skins for old manuscripts, but they ended by being impressed by the scholar’s overmastering enthusiasm.”
This article is not another top-ten list. It is much more nuanced and sophisticated. You should read it all.

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On Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem

THE WORLD IS FULL OF HISTORY: How Mice May Have Saved Jerusalem 2,700 Years Ago From the Terrifying Assyrians. The entire region quailed before King Sennacherib, known for horribly torturing rebel monarchs, but he didn't kill King Hezekiah. Inquiring minds have been asking why ever since (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
At the end of the day, all accounts – the Assyrians, the Bible, and Herodotus, interpreted events. They didn't invent them.

Something unexpected happened to the Assyrian army, which the people of the ancient Near East attributed to divine meddling.

The ancient kings had to keep their subjects and gods happy and propaganda was the most effective way to distort history and cover up failure. Sennacherib's failure to conquer Jerusalem was embarrassing and was over-compensated by grand reliefs on palace walls and extravagant claims of plunder. The fact that one of the main instigators of the Assyrian rebellion, Hezekiah, remained on the throne, albeit denuded of his wealth and women, may say it all.
This is a good article and is well worth reading. It's in their premium section, but you can still read it with a free registration with Haaretz.

As for the siege of Jerusalem, something remarkable happened there. I don't know what. The best story is the one in which the Angel of the Lord struck down the Assyrian army. Do what you will with it.

Past posts on Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem are here and here and follow the links.

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Ramos, Torah, Temple, and Transaction

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Alex Ramos.
Ramos, Alex. Torah, Temple, and Transaction: Jewish Religious Institutions and Economic Behavior in Early Roman Galilee. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2017.

My dissertation examines the regional economy of Galilee in the Early Roman period. It re-evaluates models and assumptions traditionally used to assess economic transactions and socioeconomic conditions in this region and time. Drawing on insights from scholars in Religious Studies who have demonstrated the artificiality of modern distinctions between religious, political, and economic spheres, I consider the ways that political and religious institutions and frameworks could have shaped the boundaries and incentives of economic behavior among Jews in Early Roman Galilee. Most crucially, I examine the vital role that religious rules and norms—namely the Torah commandments that govern cult practice at the Jerusalem Temple, pilgrimage for the festivals, and assorted aspects of agricultural production and consumption—could play in defining the parameters of economic necessities, structuring incentives for economic behavior, and defining a “bounded” economic rationality for Galilean Jews. By highlighting the role of religion in shaping the traditionally compartmentalized sphere of economy, this study indicates the value of integrating analysis of religion and economy not only for Early Roman Galilee, but also for ancient Mediterranean history and for Religious Studies more broadly.

[...]

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John Collins elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences

KUDOS: Three Yale faculty elected members of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Yale News). Among the three:
John J. Collins, the Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation
Collins has published many books and articles on the subjects of apocalypticism, wisdom, Hellenistic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. His class at the Yale Divinity School “What Are Biblical Values?” is a favorite of Divinity Schools students.
Congratulations to Professor Collins and to all of this year's inductees into the Academy.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Aqedah in a new Coptic magical papyrus

COPTIC WATCH: Ancient Egyptian Incantations Tell of Biblical Human Sacrifice (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Scientists have deciphered what they describe as a 1,500-year-old 'magical papyrus' that was discovered near the pyramid of the Pharaoh Senwosret I.

The text dates to a time when Christianity was widely practiced in Egypt.The unnamed person(s) who wrote the incantations in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, invoked God many times.

[...]
The text seems to have an unusual, but not unprecedented, take on the Aqedah:
Several times in the papyrus God is called "the one who presides over the Mountain of the Murderer" a phrase that likely refers to a story in the Book of Genesis in which God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, wrote Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, a researcher in the department of classics at Oxford University, who described the magical papyrus in the journal Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde.

The Book of Genesis says that God stopped Abraham before he actually sacrificed his son. However in this papyrus the story is described in such a way that it sounds as if the sacrifice wasn't stopped wrote Zellmann-Rohrer noting that other texts from the ancient world also claim that the sacrifice was completed. "The tradition of a literal sacrifice seems in fact to have been rather widespread," Zellmann-Rohrer wrote.
For more on the tradition that Isaac was actually sacrificed, notably covered in Shalom Spiegel's book The Last Trial, see here and here.

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Monetizing King Hezekiah's Book of Healings

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Ancient Hebrew Medicine of Judean Desert Heals Body, Soul (Maayan Hoffman, Breaking Israel News).
Ancient Hebrew medicine was practiced in the Land of Israel at least until the second century BCE, explained Amir Kitron, a Doctor of Chemistry who has learned to combine the herbs of the Judean Desert to create natural and effective skin care products.

Kitron said ancient Hebrew medicine involved combining powerful herbs into creams, oils and ointments for topical use and healing.

“In the Bible, you see many things being topically applied,” said Kitron, who company, Herbs of Kedem leverages such techniques. “The Tanakh is our inspiration.”
What, you ask, has this to do with the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha? Read on:
Jewish tradition teaches about a “Book of Remedies, which contained the accumulated healing wisdom of the Jewish People. King Hezekiah hid this book because the cures were too effective. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that when a person became sick, he would follow what was written in the book and be healed, and as a result people’s hearts were not humbled before Heaven because of illness.
According to the Mishnah (Pesahim 4:10), King Hezekiah suppressed this book. I have mentioned it before here and here. I doubt that story, but it may have served as an catchy back-narrative for an actual book of remedies circulating in the time of the Mishnah.

This is not an endorsement of the modern remedies discussed in this article. Their merit is for you to decide. You should not look for medical advice from philologists.

Cross-file under Lost Books.

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J. Harold Ellens (1932-2018)

SAD NEWS: I received word earlier this week that Dr. J. Harold Ellens passed away on 14 April. Hal had a lifelong career as a practicing psychotherapist. He also maintained an active involvement in theology and biblical studies. In 2009, he completed a PhD in Second Temple Judaism with Gabriele Boccaccini at the University of Michigan. He was a charter member of the Enoch Seminar and he contributed much to the field. He will be missed by many. His Wikipedia entry is here and his personal website is here.

Resquiescat in pace.

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Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries (2)

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL (CONT'D): Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries
To celebrate the 25th Volume of Dead Sea Discoveries, 25 articles from the past 25 Volumes will be available for free downloading during 2018.
The following 5 articles are now freely accessible until 15 June:
This is the second round of celebratory free articles. The first round (which is no longer available) was noted here. The current listing of free articles is as follows:
• Residential Caves At Qumran, Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel
(Volume 6, Number 3)
• Angels at Sinai: Exegesis, Theology and Interpretive Authority,
Hindy Najman (Volume 7, Number 3)
• Pliny on Essenes, Pliny on Jews, Robert A. Kraft
(Volume 8, Number 3)
• Scholars, Soldiers, Craftsmen, Elites?: Analysis of French Collection of Human Remains from Qumran, Susan Guise Sheridan (Volume 9, Number 2)
• From Literature to Scripture: Reflections on the Growth of a Text's Authoritativeness, Eugene Ulrich (Volume 10, Number 1)
Follow the first link above to access them.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Talmud on social hierarchy

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: When a King Sins. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the surprising origins of power’s responsibility to the governed. Plus: How the Kingdom of Judea became the Religion of Judaism.
The Talmud was the product of a Jewish society strongly concerned with hierarchy and deference. That has been clear in many ways throughout the Daf Yomi cycle, but never more so than last week, when we finished the brief Tractate Horayot. Horayot means “decisions,” and the tractate begins by discussing how a court can atone for making an incorrect ruling. In its last pages, however, the tractate turns to the subject of protocol: in Jewish society, who outranks whom? And what happens when Sages, who are notoriously proud and touchy, get into a contest over who is the most learned? At the same time, as often happens, the end of the tractate serves as a kind of grab-bag of moral sayings and aggadah on various subjects.

[...]
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Probation, not jail, for Golb

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE: Case of Dead Sea Scrolls, online aliases ends with probation (AP). In the end, Mr. Golb was sentenced to three years of probation (already served) rather than two months in jail.

Background on this long, strange, sad case is here with many links.

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Excavating the United Monarchy by naked mole rat?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Did King David's United Monarchy Exist? Naked Mole Rats Uncover Monumental Evidence Surveying by mole rat burrowing in studying Tel ‘Eton in the Hebron hills, sways the debate toward the existence of a major United Monarchy in the Davidic and Solomonic eras, archaeologist claims (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Did King David even exist, let alone his fabled son, the wise King Solomon? And if they existed, did they rule over a powerful, united Jewish kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem? The truth is that to this day, no categorical proof of either the kings or the great kingdom has ever been found, leaving aside one suggestive engraving that some believe says "House of David". Also, the interpretation of archaeological findings from their purported era, the 10th century B.C.E. has been controversial, to put it politely.

Now the discovery of a second monumental building confidently dated to the Davidic period has been announced, in a Canaanite town that apparently had allied with a powerful Judahite kingdom. The discovery was made with the help of naked mole rats, little burrowing rodents endemic to the region.

Skeptics claim that no fortifications, public works or signs of statehood have been found in the region of Judah from the Davidic era. Now, claim Bar-Ilan University archaeologists excavating a monumental structure at Tel ‘Eton, near the Hebron hills in the central Israeli lowlands – they have.

They believe that structures dated to later times, may have actually originated earlier. The Bar-Ilan team argues that they found evidence of that very thing, with the help of a system they developed – mapping by mole rat.

[...]
The naked mole rats dig their deep burrows and archaeologists sift the resulting dirt mounds.

Faunal-assisted archaeology seems to be a thing nowadays. We have also recently seen excavation by porcupine and important archaeological inferences from gerbil bones and pigeon poop.

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Finds on the Sanhedrin Trail

ARCHAEOLOGY: New Interactive ‘Sanhedrin Trail’ Yields Ancient Oil Lamp Adorned with Menorah (JNi.Media).
Students who participated in preparing a new archaeological hiking trail discovered a 1,400-year-old oil lamp bearing the symbol of a menorah. The discovery was just one of many side-benefits of the unique interactive trail that thousands of young people have been preparing and excavating.

The Sanhedrin Trail—offered by the Israel Antiquities Authority on the occasion of Israel’s 70th Independence Day—will be accompanied by a unique web application that will serve as a readily accessible “independent guide” in the spectacular landscapes of the Galilee, and will offer a different sort of hiking experience.

[...]
The finds also include a gold coin of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Background on the Sanhedrin Trail is here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.