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Archaeologists find rare writing, and then it vanishes


Inscriptions on the walls of the ritual bath. (Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists digging for ruins ahead of a new construction project in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery—that immediately began to vanish. During the last hours of a “salvage excavation” two months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old ritual bath when a stone suddenly disappeared into a black hole, reports Haaretz.

That hole turned out to be the remains of the bath, accessible by a stone staircase, which includes an anteroom with benches and a winepress. Carved into a natural stone cave, the bath itself wasn’t so unusual, but the graffiti that covered the plaster walls was.

Archaeologists were therefore horrified to find the Aramaic inscriptions and paintings in mud and soot, dating to the Second Temple era from 530BC to 70AD, per Discovery News, disappearing within hours of their discovery.

“The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them,” the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved.

Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to “served” and the name “Cohen.” Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus.

The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo. An IAA rep says graffiti in baths may have been “common, but not usually preserved.” (Another recent find: the remnants of a “treasured landmark” destroyed by the Nazis.)

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Largest trove of gold coins in Israel unearthed from ancient harbor


 (Israel Antiquities Authority)

A group of divers in Israel has stumbled upon the largest hoard of gold coins ever discovered in the country. The divers reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and nearly 2,000 coins dating back to the Fatimid period, or the eleventh century, were salvaged by the authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit. The find was unearthed from the seabed of the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, according to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the release. “There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected.”

Sharvit suggested that the treasure trove of coins might have been intended to pay the members of the Fatimid military garrison stationed at Caesarea, Israel. There are also other theories as the origins of the coins. Sharvit said that the coins could have belonged to a sunken merchant ship.

“The coins are in excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention,” said Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist – someone who studies currency – with the antiquities authority.

The five divers have been called “model citizens” by the antiquities organization. Had the divers removed the objects from their location or tried to sell them, they could have faced a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The oldest of the coins is a quarter dinar that was minted in Palermo, Sicily during the second half of the ninth century. The majority of the coins can be traced back to the Faimid caliphs, Al-Ḥākim and his son Al-Ẓāhir who were alive in during the eleventh century. These coins were minted in Egypt and North Africa.

“There is no doubt that the discovery of the impressive treasure highlights the uniqueness of Caesarea as an ancient port city with rich history and cultural heritage,” stated the Caesarea Development Company and Nature and Parks Authority in the release. “After 2,000 years it is still capable of captivating its many visitors … when other parts of its mysterious past are revealed in the ground and in the sea.”

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Dalmanutha, Biblical Town Mentioned In Gospel Of Mark, Possibly Discovered Archaeologists Claim

Dalmanutha, Biblical Town Mentioned In Gospel Of Mark, Possibly Discovered Archaeologists Claim

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 09/17/2013 2:47 pm EDT  |  Updated: 09/17/2013 4:51 pm EDT

Dalmanutha, a Biblical town described in the Gospel of Mark as the place where Jesus sailed after miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed 4,000 people, may have just been discovered by archaeologists, reports LiveScience.

So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.

And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha.

-Mark 8:8-8:10, King James Version 

Dalmanutha is only mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, but the corresponding passage inMatthew 15:39 says, “And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala,” which has been identified with some certainty as the modern-day town of Migdal, located slightly inland near Israel’s Ginosar Valley. Magdala is perhaps most well-known for its association with Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, who may have been born in the town.

Fields between today’s Migdal and the coast are rich with archaeological discoveries, reports Ken Dark of the U.K.’s University of Reading, whose team discovered the town they are proposing is Dalmanutha while conducting a field survey. They have linked it with the 1986 discovery of a 2,000-year-old boat which was found on the shoreline, and to date is the most famous artifact associated with the specific area.


“Vessel glass and amphora hint at wealth,” wrote Dark in the most recent edition of Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and “eights and stone anchors, along with the access to beaches suitable for landing boats — and, of course, the first-century boat … all imply an involvement with fishing.”

The findings indicate that the town was prosperous and likely survived for centuries, as the pottery pieces date from as early as the second or first century BCE to around fifth century CE, the time of the Byzantine Empire. A Jewish community likely lived alongside a polytheistic one as tesserae cubes and limestone vessel fragments, “associated with Jewish purity practices in the early Roman period” have been found,Dark told LiveScience.

Modern-day Migdal has also been a cornucopia of ancient finds, some of which were discovered out in the open, repurposed by the current residents. Some architectural remains had been turned into seats or garden ornaments, and over 40 basalt ashlar blocks were found in a single garden.

Though Dark is not certain that the newly uncovered town is the Biblical Dalmanutha, the size of the town supports that identification. Dalmanutha is one of a few place-names known by researchers to relate to the Ginosar Valley shore, that is not already linked to an archaeological site.

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My Take on Syria

I know that many people who I respect intellectually disagree with me.  I don’t know that I am right.  Nonetheless, I feel somewhat compelled to comment on such an important topic as whether the United States should strike Syria.  So here goes…

First – my background.  I served in the United States Air Force and was willing to put my own life on the line for my country.  I served in political advisor positions for around twenty years, working for both Democrats and Republicans during that time.  I think my experience gives me a good perspective.

The reasons for a strike seem to come down to four:  1)  chemical weapons usage cannot be tolerated; 2) President Obama declared a red-line on their use and if nothing is done he will lose authority overseas; 3) the protection of civilians; and 4) if America does nothing it impacts our national security by encouraging other regimes to break international treaties on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Respect – I am going to take those out of order.  No elected official should ever draw a line in the sand or declare a red line.  It’s the stupidest thing you can do.  It gives your negotiating authority to the opponent.  If they call you on it, you are either forced to do what you said or to back down.  I am not for killing people, destroying things, putting our people in harm’s way, etc., to save face for a member of either party.  Sometimes you make a mistake and you cut your losses.  If you said you would do something and you won’t, just stop while you’re behind.  The first rule of holes – when you find yourself in one, stop digging.


Chemical Weapons Usage – The first argument is the most valid.  If we were part of an international force that was going to Syria to destroy or confiscate all chemical weapons and apprehend those who ordered them to stand trial for crimes against humanity, I would say YES.  But we aren’t.  The fact is that no other country agrees with us.  France is willing to pat us on the back, but not help militarily.  Further, we aren’t getting rid of the weapons or the people who used them.  We’re throwing a few missiles at them and not accomplishing anything.

The evidence of the chemical weapon attacks is not clear to me either.  At first, I was convinced the attacks had occurred.  I am even thinking they did.  However, attacking another sovereign country is an act of war which requires a strong causus belli.  The initial photos I saw of body bags were in fact taken from Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein years ago.  At that time, Obama, Clinton and Kerry opposed getting involved.  Where was the trumpet call to punish chemical weapons when whole Kurdish villages were exterminated in Iraq?  The other evidence included a spent artillery shell “like the ones used for chemical weapons.”  Well, if you can take a picture of a whole shell, you can swab it for chemical residue.  There are supposed to be at least 1400 dead.  What about them?  What about the survivors?  Can’t they be tested?  I didn’t really give enough cynicism about the government position until someone asked, “Should Hillary Clinton let us know if this was the result of a video on YouTube.”  If they have not been forthcoming on the atack on Libya that actually killed Americans in our own embassy, why do I blindly trust unsubstantiated reports now?

Even if there were chemical weapons used in violation of global law… If no other country cares, how is America going to enforce it by launching some missiles?  It’s really sad, but if the world does not want to enforce the chemical weapons ban – there is no ban.  The world did not enforce the nuclear non-proliferation treaty either, now North Korea has nukes and Iran is soon to follow.  Nuclear weapons scare me a lot more than an artillery shell of chemical weapons in a civil war.  We did nothing about those countries either.


Deaths – Less than 2,000 Syrians are purported to be killed by chemical weapons.  Over 100,000 died in the civil war from other weapons.  We will kill more if we attack with missiles.  What lives will we save?  Why did we let the massacres occur in other countries like Rwanda then?  What about the 100,000 Christians killed world-wide last year because of their beliefs?  What about the 1,000 Christians killed in Syria this year?  We won’t save any lives, we will add to the list.  If we don’t get rid of the chemical weapons, they can use them again, or just blast civilians with conventional weapons.  After all, in a civil war, the enemy is the civilians.  If they were military, they would work for the Assad regime.

National Security – Syria has virtually no national security interest to the United States.  The lynch pins of peace in the Middle East are Turkey and Egypt.  Both of which are in turmoil yet we do nothing to help stabilize them.  Israel is our only clear ally.  Oil countries can impact our economic interests by driving up world prices.  We could help the oil situation if we did not regulate and prevent domestic energy production, but until we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, oil is important.  Syria is none of those things.  Killing their own people brutally is horrible, but does not seem to effect our national security in any way.

So, I guess I reject the arguments for intervention.  Now some reasons I oppose it:

Reasons to go to War – In Afghanistan we had a government in the Taliban training and housing Al Queda that not only attacked us but declared war on us.  Both the Taliban and their terrorist guests declared war and took action against us so we went in.  I wish we did not do ‘nation building’ but going in made sense to me.  In Iraq, we had a country that invaded another – Kuwait and WAS condemned by the United Nations and had a huge coalition go in to stop them.  The national security concern was that Iraq would control too much of the world oil and that Saudi Arabia would be their next target.  They had already fought a long war with Iran, used chemical weapons, and tortured people, but yes, it was a war for oil.  At the end, a truce was called.  Iraq violated the truce, and we went back to finish it.  We should have finished it the first time, and again, the nation building does not work.  Those are real wars with real national security concerns.


Repercussions – 1)  If I was Syria, why would I just take missile strikes and not fight back?  Why not send some missiles into Israel, or destabilize Jordan?  I would do something, what have I got to lose after all?  2) If I am Russia, and my only remaining foreign-based naval base and my best trading partner was attacked, what would I do?  Especially since I just sent a naval task force to help them.  3)  If I am Iran, why not get involved?  4)  If I am Afghanistan or Iraq and America is leaving, why not choose now to act up?  5)  If I am Egypt, why not act up more?  6)  If I am Turkey, and my leadership backs the rebels, why not get involved?

More repercussions – What if someone sinks one of our ships?  What if Assad uses more chemical weapons after we hit?  What if we really cut loose and help the America-hating Islamist revolutionaries take over the country bordering Israel?  What if the conflict widens and it expands out of control like WW1 that all started with assassination and countries afraid to lose face and back down?

Now, that brings us back to the decision to use force or not.  How many American lives are you willing to spend to go it alone in the world and attack Syria over a purported chemical strike that killed 1,400 people?  What is victory?  What is our exit strategy?  What will we achieve?  Are we simply going to unite the Islamic world against us, or at the very least make Assad look like a hero for standing up to us?

This is my thought process and why I oppose striking Syria at this time.

Someone just reminded me – President Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize when he entered office for all the reset to American foreign policy he was going to make to get us out of wars and have the world love us again.  Sigh.


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Pharaoh’s sphinx paws found in Israel

Pharaoh’s sphinx paws found in Israel

By by Megan Gannon

Published July 10, 2013

  • egyptian-sphinx

    This sphinx fragment was found by archaeologists with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during excavations at Hazor. (Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman / Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology)

Archaeologists digging in Israel say they have made an unexpected find: the feet of an Egyptian sphinx linked to a pyramid-building pharaoh.

The fragment of the statue’s front legs was found in Hazor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just north of the Sea of Galilee. Between the paws is a hieroglyphic inscription with the name of king Menkaure, sometimes called Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt during the Old Kingdom more than 4,000 years ago and built one of the great Giza pyramids.

Researchers don’t believe Egypt had a relationship with Israel during Menkaure’s reign. They think it’s more likely that the sphinx was brought to Israel later on, during the second millennium B.C. [Images: Glitzy Discovery at Giza Pyramids]

The inscription also includes the phrase, “Beloved by the divine manifestation that gave him eternal life.” Amnon Ben-Tor, one of the Hebrew University archaeologists leading the excavations at Hazor, thinks that descriptor could be a clue the sphinx originated in the ancient seat of sun worship, Heliopolis, which is today mostly destroyed and covered up by Cairo’s sprawl.

The part-lion, part-human sphinx was a mythical creature represented in art throughout the ancient Near East as well as India and Greece. Ben-Tor and colleagues say the artifact found at Hazor is the first-ever discovered sphinx fragment associated with king Menkaure. It’s also the only royal Egyptian sphinx ever to be unearthed in Israel, according to a statement from Hebrew University.

The statue fragment was exposed at the entrance to the city palace in an archaeological layer that dates to the mysterious destruction of Hazor when it was occupied by the Canaanites in the 13th century B.C.

The researchers think the sphinx could have been brought to Israel during the 17th to 16th centuries B.C., when part of Egypt was controlled by the Hyksos, a people believed to be originally from northern Canaan. Alternatively, the royal sculpture may have arrived in Hazor as a gift from an Egyptian king during the 15th to 13th centuries B.C., when Egypt controlled much of Canaan through a system of vassal states. At that time, Hazor was the most important city in the southern Levant, covering some 200 acres, with an estimated population of about 20,000.

Hazor was strategically located at a crossroads between Egypt and Babylon. Initially a Canaanite city, it had been fortified since the early second millennium B.C., conquered by the Israelites, rebuilt under King Solomon and ultimately destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 B.C.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/07/10/pharaoh-sphinx-paws-found-in-israel/?intcmp=trending#ixzz2amzYoC00

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Israel’s Moon Program

SpaceIL: Israel’s race to the moon  ‘If you will it, it is no dream’


February 19, 2013

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The challenge is to become the first team to successfully launch, fly and land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. Photo courtesy SpaceIL

The challenge is to become the first team to successfully launch, fly and land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. Photo courtesy SpaceIL

One day in 2015, a small Israeli spacecraft will land on and reconnoiter the moon, joining the United States and former Soviet Union in the world’s most exclusive extraterrestrial club.

That vision is not fantasy or chauvinistic braggadocio, but the sober prediction of Israel’s most experienced engineers and space scientists.

According to the leaders of the SpaceIL (for Israel) project, the unmanned micro-spaceship will pack more instrumentation into a smaller and lighter capsule than ever achieved before.

During a visit to Los Angeles in mid-February, Yariv Bash, founder and CEO of SpaceIL, and Ronna Rubinstein, the chief of staff, outlined the genesis, scope and anticipated impact of the moon mission.

In late 2010, Bash heard about the Google Lunar X competition, which offered awards up to $30 million for the first team to land a robotic craft on the moon that would perform several complex missions. For one, the craft had to move 500 meters (1,640 feet) from its landing site to explore the moon’s surface – or send out a search vehicle to do so – and beam high-definition videos back to earth.

Bash, an electronics and computer engineer, said that SpaceIL will traverse the distance in one spectacular jump. SpaceIL, by the way, is only an interim name and when the time comes will be replaced with an official designation.

Initial names suggested by the project staff include Golda, for the former Israeli prime minister, Ramon, for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia shuttle disaster, and Hatikvah, Hebrew for “hope” and the title of the Israeli national anthem.

As soon as Bash absorbed the details of the Google competition, he posted one sentence on Facebook, asking, “Who is coming with me to the moon?” Among the first respondents was Rubinstein, a lawyer who now oversees the project’s organization, marketing and fundraising.

The total estimated cost for the project will be $30 million, of which $20 million has been raised so far, primarily from industry and private contributors. The Israeli government has allotted funds for 10 percent of the total cost, the maximum a government can put up under the contest rules.


Israeli President Shimon Peres visits SpaceIL. Photo courtesy SpaceIL

According to Israeli statistics, the government money will be well spent, since for every $1 invested in Israel’s 10 satellites and other high-tech research, $7 are returned in civilian and commercial applications.

The prize for the winning entry is $20 million, with another $10 million available in bonus prizes for accomplishing different aspects of the mission.

But it’s not the prize money that is driving the 11 full-time staff members and some 300 professionals who are volunteering their services evenings and weekends, after finishing their regular day jobs. In any case, any money won will go to schools to enhance math and technology programs.

“What counts for us is the impact the moon landing will have on Israelis and Jews around the world, to show what Israel is and what it can do,” Bash said.

Most important is to instill both pride and scientific curiosity in Israeli youngsters, Bash added. Together with the Weizmann Institute of Science, the project has launched a nationwide program of high school visits, which so far has involved 27,000 students.

Plans also call for lectures and exhibits in Diaspora communities, and Bash and Rubinstein will address a plenary session at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC during the first week of March.

Other key partners in the project are Israel Aerospace Industries, Tel Aviv University, Technion, Israeli Space Agency, Ramon Foundation and private companies like Rafael and Bezeq.

The Israeli spacecraft, whatever its final name, will compete against 24 other entries, of which 11 will be launched by various U.S. teams. Other competitors will come mainly from Europe and some from South American countries, but none from China, or, for that matter, Iran.

Early favorites are entries from the United States, Israel and Spain, Bash said.

Israel’s main strength, he noted, “lies in its nano-miniaturized technology, and SpaceIL will be the smallest craft ever sent into space.”

At liftoff, it will weigh 120 kilograms (264 pounds), but on landing, after burning off its fuel, it will weigh less than 40 kilograms (88 pounds). To get into orbit, SpaceIL will piggyback onto a commercial rocket, either American or Russian, at a cost of between $3 million to $5 million.

To Israelis watching the moon landing from 239,000 miles away, “it will be the most exciting reality show of all,” Bash hopes.

The impact on Israelis, especially young people, would be similar to that created in 1969 by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he descended from the Apollo spacecraft to the moon’s surface, proclaiming, “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Israeli supporters of SpaceIL already have their own inspirational motto, taken from Theodor Herzl’s words as he prophesized the future creation of a Jewish state.

“Im Tirzu Ein Zo Agada” – “If you will it, it is no dream.”

For additional information, visit www.spaceil.com.

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Extinct date palm sprouts after 2,000 years

Seed of extinct date palm sprouts after 2,000 years

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Published 4:00 am, Sunday, June 12, 2005
  • Kibbutz Katura, Israel: June 9, 2005: The date tree (center) that was succesfully germenated from a 2000 year old seed found on the ancient Jewish Archeological site of Masada. Photo by David Blumenfeld/Special to The Chronicle Photo: David Blumenfeld/Special To The
    Kibbutz Katura, Israel: June 9, 2005: The date tree (center) that was succesfully germenated from a 2000 year old seed found on the ancient Jewish Archeological site of Masada. Photo by David Blumenfeld/Special to The Chronicle Photo: David Blumenfeld/Special To The


2005-06-12 04:00:00 PDT Kibbutz Ketura, Israel — It has five leaves, stands 14 inches high and is nicknamed Methuselah. It looks like an ordinary date palm seedling, but for UCLA- educated botanist Elaine Solowey, it is a piece of history brought back to life.

Planted on Jan. 25, the seedling growing in the black pot in Solowey’s nursery on this kibbutz in Israel’s Arava desert is 2,000 years old — more than twice as old as the 900-year-old biblical character who lent his name to the young tree. It is the oldest seed ever known to produce a viable young tree.

The seed that produced Methuselah was discovered during archaeological excavations at King Herod‘s palace on Mount Masada, near the Dead Sea. Its age has been confirmed by carbon dating. Scientists hope that the unique seedling will eventually yield vital clues to the medicinal properties of the fruit of the Judean date tree, which was long thought to be extinct.

Solowey, originally from San Joaquin (Fresno County), teaches at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura, where she has nurtured more than 100 rare or near-extinct species back to life as part of a 10-year project to study plants and herbs used as ancient cures.

In collaboration with the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, named in honor of its Southern California- based benefactor, Solowey grows plants and herbs used in Tibetan, Chinese and biblical medicine, as well as traditional folk remedies from other cultures to see whether their effectiveness can be scientifically proved.

In experiments praised by the Dalai Lama, for example, Borick Center Director Sarah Sallon has shown that ancient Tibetan cures for cardiovascular disease really do work.

The San Francisco Chronicle was granted the first viewing of the historic seedling, which sprouted about four weeks after planting. It has grown six leaves, but one has been removed for DNA testing so scientists can learn more about its relationship to its modern-day cousins.

The Judean date is chronicled in the Bible, Quran and ancient literature for its diverse powers — from an aphrodisiac to a contraceptive — and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria and toothache.

For Christians, the palm is a symbol of peace associated with the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The ancient Hebrews called the date palm the “tree of life” because of the protein in its fruit and the shade given by its long leafy branches. The Arabs said there were as many uses for the date palm as there were days in the year.

Greek architects modeled their Ionic columns on the tree’s tall, thin trunk and curling, bushy top. The Romans called it Phoenix dactylifera — “the date-bearing phoenix” — because it never died and appeared to be reborn in the desert where all other plant life perished.

Now Solowey and her colleagues have brought this phoenix of the desert back to life after 2,000 years.

The ancient seeds were found 30 years ago during archeological excavations on Mount Masada, the mountaintop fortress on the shore of the Dead Sea where King Herod built a spectacular palace. When the Romans conquered Palestine and laid waste to the Temple in Jerusalem, Masada was the last stand of a small band of Jewish rebels who held out against three Roman legions for several years before committing mass suicide in A.D. 73.

Archaeologist Ehud Netzer found the seeds, which were identified by the department of botanical archaeology at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. Then they were placed in storage, where they lay for 30 years until Sallon heard about the cache.

“When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, ‘You’re mad,’ but they gave us three seeds,” she said.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Seed-of-extinct-date-palm-sprouts-after-2-000-2628668.php#ixzz2KrQSUEBx

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