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Son of a Kohen Gadol

by josh October 29 2008
Ben Hakohen Hagadol (Son of the the High Priest)
Just before Yom Kippur, that holiest of days where we commemorate the special service done in the Temple by the Kohen Gadol, or high priest, came an October surprise that couldn’t be more apropos. Archaeologists working along the line of the proposed security fence say they've found a sarcophagus bearing the name Ben HaKohen HaGadol, or son of the high priest. Though they don't know the circumstances of the son's death or even his name, they surmise that it dates from the Second Temple period, specifically its waning days, when the Temple saw a number of (presumably snazzily dressed) Kohen Gadols come through its holy revolving doors. Via Haaretz:
"However, it should probably be identified with one of the priests that officiated there between the years 30 and 70 C.E.," the Authority said in a statement late on Monday Among the high priests who served during that period were Yosef Bar Kayafa, or Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) Ben Hanan, Simon Ben Boethus, and Hanan Ben Hanan.
Some of the Gospels link Caiaphas to the arrest and trial of Jesus, after which he was handed over to Roman authorities and crucified.

The Authority said the fragment was believed to have originated in an estate outside Jerusalem which belonged to one of the high priests who served in the Temple. "One can assume that the son of the high priest passed away for some unknown reason at the time when his father still officiated as the high priest in Jerusalem," it said.

The location of the find is being kept a secret for security reasons, but it is in an area of Binyamin north of Jerusalem where many aristocratic Kohens, and Cohens, and Cohns, and even Cones lived. Not unlike the Beverly Hills of today.

Researchers actually found the sarcophagus fragment outside of the Kohen Gadol's estate, where they believe it was used in construction of a Muslim building built on top of second temple era homes about a thousand years ago. Archaeologists are doing extensive digs along the proposed route before construction can take place and have unearthed several other artifacts of houses public and private, pools and cisterns. Should they unearth an old security fence, then we'll know we're screwed.

Photos courtesy of Assaf Peretz and Shlomi Ammami, Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria.

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Jerusalem Strolls: Egged does the great outdoors

by josh September 23 2008
Jerusalem strollsArchaeologyEnvironmentFor the kidsThings to do
Winding mountain roads are the perfect place for buses

Jerusalem Forest, sans Jerusalem

Jerusalem is usually thought of as that place you go to when you're sick of all those waterfalls and mountains that make up Israel's nature reserve scene. Though the city is known for its holiness to three religions, its kicking nightlife (if you're into drunk yeshiva kids) and the fact that it's made out of gold, it is actually also home to some decent hiking. And unlike many of the world's Walden Ponds, much of Jerusalem's varied nature zones are accessible by public transportation.

If you're looking to feel like you're in nature -but not too much - head over to the Gazelle Valley, a 260 dunam reserve within spitting distance of the Trump Towers-esque Holyland. Take buses 19, 31 or 32 to Tzomet Pat, and it will be hard to miss the large plot of (hard fought for) undeveloped land. The Jerusalem Post has a nice play by play of the hike - and we do the same - with nearby Valley of the Cross.

One of the few convenient things about Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital (really, who sticks a hospital on the edge of town?) is that it backs up to the Jerusalem Forest, meaning that any of the plethora of buses (12,27,42,19 or 153) that ferry people to the hospital and attached Hebrew University campus will also get you to a number of trailheads. From the parking lot of the hospital, hikers can take one of three trails, taking them to Hindak Spring, the quaint village of Ein Kerem (and requisite spring) or for just a quick jaunt around the mountains. Getting off before the hospital at Yad Kennedy is also the start of a 5.5 kilometer hike through a number of springs.

Though technically not a city bus, Egged's #183 from Binyanei Hauma to Kibbutz Tzuba will take you yet deeper into the heart of the Jerusalem Forest for a bevy of hikes around Sataf and Har Eitan.

Across town, the Ramot Forest also offers hiking trails up and down the pine treed mountains that surround Western Jerusalem. Buses 11, 7, 35 and 39 all end up at the Ramot Forest entrance in Ramot and from there you can traverse the large open spaces between Ramot and Mevaseret Zion, through Emek Ha'arazim and the recently saved mountaintop lookout of Mitzpe Naphtoach.

Bus 155 from the Central Bus Station will get passengers to the Harel interchange in Mevaseret, which is home to not only a mall, but the beginning of a 3 hour hike through the hills to Ein Harak, a small spring popular with groups.

Jerusalem's unique location and the extensiveness of the city's public transport system means that a few slices of nature are no more than an hour bus ride and 5.60 NIS out of your pocket, a fact that could make even the granoliest hippie (even with their crazy acid trip buses) green - with envy.

Happy trails!

Special thanks to the SPNI for research help - a full list of nature spots around Jerusalem can be found here. Photo of Evan Sapir courtesy of alexkon from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Archaeologists find evidence of sloshed predecessors - and ancient city wall

by josh September 08 2008
ArchaeologyMunicipal newsNews

Jerusalem sprawl, then and now
Where the beer (and wall) was found

Apparently drinking and littering on the job was not uncommon when it came to digging out the remains of Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century. That's one of two major discoveries made last week by a team of (sober) archaeologists, who also discovered the remarkably intact remains of a city wall dating back to the Second Temple period. Ok, maybe the vintage bottles of beer and wine they found in the 120-year-old dig site don't constitute a major discovery, but considering modern Jerusalem's infatuation with all things drunken (or imbibed) lately, it's still pretty cool.

The discovered wall on Mt. Zion (the actual major find) constitutes the southern end of the city at its peak size in ancient times, though at 3.5 miles long, the city's fortifications pale compared to Jerusalem's current sprawl. Despite being 2,100 years old, the wall still stands about three meters tall and represents one of the best examples of Hasmonean architecture ever found. Even more astonishing is the Byzantine-era wall discovered directly on top of the Second Temple period one. Of course, in a city like Jerusalem, where everything is built on somebody else's something, a wall on top of another wall isn’t exactly something to write home about. Except when the wall follows the exact same line as its predecessor, without, according to the (presumably still sober) archaeological team, the knowledge that they were plagiarizing the city's previous inhabitants. It's almost like they were both trying to defend the same area. Crazy.

As for the beer and wine, that was left by a team of (possibly drunk) British archaeologists working on the city's southern and western walls between 1894 and 1897. An original attempt to find their work shaft, which had been filled in with dirt over the years proved unsuccessful. This time though, archaeologists found the old dig sites, which yielded shards of both beer and wine bottles as well as part of a shoe and a gas light, begging the most archaeological of questions: Exactly what was going on down there?

Photo of Mt. Zion's latest dig courtesy of The Israel Antiquities Authority.

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How long shall they find evidence of plots to kill our prophets?

by michael August 05 2008
Set me as a seal on your extensive archaeological digs

Remember that time the ministers of King Zedekiah conspired to kill drama queen Biblical prophet Jeremiah? That was pretty awesome. Remember how archaeologists dug up the seal of one of the guilty ministers in the City of David? That was pretty awesome too.

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed a seal impression belonging to a minister of the biblical King Zedekiah, which dates back 2,600 years, during an archeological dig in Jerusalem's ancient City of David. The finding helps corroborate the story pertaining to the biblical minister's demand to have the prophet Jeremiah killed.

The seal impression, or bulla, with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur, who served as minister to King Zedekiah (597-586 BCE) according to the Book of Jeremiah, was found completely intact just meters away from a separate seal impression of another of Zedekia's ministers, Yehukual ben Shelemyahu, which was unearthed three years ago.

Both ministers are mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah along with two other ministers when they came to King Zedekiah demanding the death of the prophet Jeremiah for preaching to the besieged city to surrender.

The impressions, measuring 1 cm in diameter each, were found among the debris of the destruction of the First Temple period, by an excavation team led by Prof. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

And just in time for Temple-mourning holiday Tisha B'Av, too. 

You may remember Eilat Mazar from the last time she plucked the seal of a Biblical figure out of the dirt in the City of David. What the Bible doesn't mention, though, is the root cause of the apparent scourge of seal-dropping by Israelite Jerusalem's social elites. 

At this rate of historically- and Jewishly-significant archaeological discovery, it's probably only a matter of time until they find the Ark of the Covenant. So if you're in the neighborhood of the City of David and you see faces melting, you'll know why.

Image courtesy of bdnegin from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Haute cohen couture

by ben July 22 2008

Runway is old hat
When some Jerusalemites talk about the apocalypse, men in white coats come and take them away. When others do the same, the masses take out their credit cards and clamor to buy white coats from them. It's all in the pitch.

The redemption-minded Jews at the Old City's Temple Institute have been hard at work for over 20 years now, preparing replicas of the vessels from the ancient place of worship that once stood on the Temple Mount. Using rabbinic and Biblical teachings as their guides, the team's creations do not hold mere nostalgic value – they're meant for use in the messianic age, when believers say the Third Temple will be built. But they haven't just brought to life the Menorah (the symbol that we know and love from the seal of the State of Israel) and the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol that we know and love from that Indiana Jones movie).

According to a recent Associated Press feature, the Temple Institute has hand-sewn a full set of priestly garments at costs exceeding $10,000. Apparently interest among the general public has grown, because now, according to the article, "If you are a descendant of the Jewish priestly class, a full outfit, including an embroidered belt 32 cubits (48 feet) long, can be yours for about $800." It's a bargain, but a far cry from the wholesale Tel Aviv factory version seen here.

The Temple Institute managed to bring down costs by obtaining special rabbinic permission to use sewing machines.

"From the moment we see we're ready here, the clothes will be ready and the priests can get to work when the time comes," said Hagai Barashi, an assistant tailor. He wore a Biblical-looking robe, long sidelocks, and a pair of Nike flip-flops.

Illustrative painting of Second Temple priests accepting pilgrims' sacrifices courtesy of The Temple Institute, which can be reached at 02-626-4545 and visited at Misgav Ladach St. 36.

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The quarry quandry

by harry May 20 2008
ArchaeologyCity planning

The coolest basement ever?

The coolest basement ever?

Due to the historical nature of every single grain of dirt in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority pre-excavates all planned construction sites in the city. Lest someone build upon an ancient cistern or olive oil press. It is not uncommon for construction projects to be abandoned or roads rerouted in light of such discoveries.

Recently, during a routine excavation of land in the neighborhood of Sanhedria before the construction of a private house, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered a Second Temple-era quarry believed to have possibly been used for the construction of the Western Wall. Dr. Gerald Finkelstein, head of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, explains, "Most of the stones that were found, are similar in size to the smallest stones that you can see in the Western Wall today or to those in Jerusalem's 'third wall' (remains of which can be seen to the north of the old city walls and passes by Route 1). We therefore assume that these quarry stones were used to build these structures."

Some of the stones measured 0.69 x 0.94 x 1.65 meters, the same size as the stones used in the Western Wall, lending credence to the theory. Dr. Finkelstein estimates that the quarry was abandoned in the period of the Great Rebellion of 66-73 CE when the Jews rebelled against the Romans.

Jerusalemite can't help but wonder what is going through the minds of the owners of the land which was being dug up to lay the foundations for a new private house. Are they bummed that they can't build on the land or honored that their land is a Second Temple-era quarry, possibly for the Western Wall? Not sure which we'd be.... Do you think the land owners get any compensation? Is it possible that the Antiquities Authority "coincidently" made this "discovery" the same week that the new Indiana Jones movie is being released?

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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