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Burial Shroud from the time of Jesus discovered in Jerusalem

Dramatic finds in excavation at Akeldama, December 15, 2009


The DNA of a first-century C.E. shrouded man found in a tomb on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem has revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy. Details of the research have been published December 16 in the PloS ONE Journal.

The molecular investigation was undertaken by Prof. Mark Spigelman and Prof. Charles Greenblatt and of the Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Carney Matheson and Ms. Kim Vernon of Lakehead University, Canada, Prof. Azriel Gorski of New Haven University and Dr. Helen Donoghue of University College London. The archaeological excavation was led by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Boaz Zissu and Prof. James Tabor on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The burial cave, which is known as the Tomb of the Shroud, is located in the lower Hinnom Valley and is part of a first-century C.E. cemetery known as Akeldama or 'Field of Blood' (Matthew 27:3-8; Acts 1:19) - next to the area where Judas is said to have committed suicide. The tomb of the shrouded man is located next to the tomb of Annas, the high priest (6-15 C.E.), who was the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. It is thus thought that this shrouded man was either a priest or a member of the aristocracy. According to Prof. Gibson, the view from the tomb would have looked directly toward the Jewish Temple.

No second burial
What is particularly rare about this tomb is that it was clear this man, which is dated by radiocarbon methods to 1-50 C.E., did not receive a secondary burial. Secondary burials were common practice at the time, where the bones were removed after a year and placed in an ossuary (a stone bone box). In this case, however, the entrance to this part of the tomb was completely sealed with plaster. Prof. Spigelman believes this is due to the fact that this man had suffered from leprosy and died of tuberculosis, as the DNA of both diseases was found in his bones.

Historically, disfiguring diseases - particularly leprosy - caused the afflicted individuals to be ostracized from their communities. However, a number of indications – the location and size of the tomb, the type of textiles used as shroud wrappings, and the clean state of the hair – suggest that the shrouded individual was a fairly affluent member of society in Jerusalem and that tuberculosis and leprosy may have crossed social boundaries in the first-century C.E.

Disproves Turin Shroud?
This is also the first time fragments of a burial shroud have been found from the time of Jesus in Jerusalem. The shroud is very different to that of the Turin Shroud, hitherto assumed to be the one that was used to wrap the body of Jesus. Unlike the complex weave of the Turin Shroud, this is made up of a simple two-way weave, as the textiles historian Dr. Orit Shamir of the Israel Antiquities Authority was able to show.

Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

The excavation also found a clump of the shrouded man's hair, which had been ritually cut prior to his burial. These are both unique discoveries because organic remains are hardly ever preserved in the Jerusalem area owing to high humidity levels in the ground.

Social health in antiquity
According to Prof. Spigelman and Prof. Greenblatt, the origins and development of leprosy are largely obscure. Leprosy in the Old Testament may well refer to skin rashes such as psoriasis. The leprosy known to us today was thought to have originated in India and brought over to the Near East and to Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic period. The results from the first-century C.E. Tomb of the Shroud fill a vital gap in our knowledge of this disease.

The co-infection of both leprosy and tuberculosis here and in 30 percent of DNA remains in Israel and Europe from the ancient and modern period provided evidence for the postulate that the medieval plague of leprosy was eliminated by an increased level of tuberculosis in Europe as the area urbanized.



Read more on the excavations at Akeldama in the upcoming issue of ERETZ Magazine.

Did Caphias the High Priest Have a Son?

Son of the High Priest inscription from between the years 30-70 on display for first time


A fragment of a large sarcophagus lid found in excavations north of Jerusalem on display for the first time in the Davidson Center in Jerusalem. The lid is engraved with an inscription in square script that is characteristic of the Second Temple period. The lid is meticulously fashioned and the carved inscription on it reads: "Ben HaCohen HaGadol" (son of the high priest).

Numerous high priests served in the temple during the latter part of the Second Temple period and there is no way of knowing which of the high priests the inscription refers to. However, it should probably be identified with one of the priests who officiated there between the years 30 and 70 CE. Among the high priests we know of from the end of the Second Temple period are Caiaphas known from the New Testament as the high priest who arrested Jesus and had him handed over to the Romans, Theophilus (Yedidiya) Ben Hanan, Simon Ben Boethus, Hanan Ben Hanan known from the great rebellion of the Jews against the Romans that brought about the destruction of the temple and the city, and others. The high priests of the Second Temple period were members of the upper and priveliged classes of Jewish society. Excavations in the last 40 years in Jerusalem have revealed the extend of their wealth. The contrast between the difficult conditions of most of the population and the priesthood and royal families of Judea was one of the reasons for the rebellion and maybe even the main reason.

The excavations were conducted by the Unit of the Archaeological Staff Officer of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, under the direction of Naftali Aizik and Benyamin Hareven, within the framework of the salvage excavations along the separation fence that were conducted with funding provided by the Ministry of Defense.



The House of the Shofar
The most famous inscription from the Second Temple period is undoubtedly the inscription found on a stone that fell from the south-western corner of the Temple Mount. The stone, which was part of a terrace or small platform carries the inscription "lebeit hatekia lehakh…" – which means "to the house of the blowing of the shofar to announce" (in Hebrew lebeit could mean "to the house" – as in a direction ,or "belonging to the house"). From Josephus, the Jewish historian from the first century, we know that at the corner of the temple mount their was a place where the priests would blow the shofar to mark the beginning and end of Shabbat.

The inscription was found during the Southern Kotel Excavations, and is today exhibited at the Israel Museum Jerusaelm.

For more on Josephus read ERETZ Magazine November-December 2009:
A New Translation of the Jewish War.

Ancient Coins Exhibit in the Davidson Center, Jerusalem

Exhibit at the Davidson Center displays 2000-year-old coins found in Jerusalem


An exhibition displaying coins discovered in the excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount opened this week in Jerusalem. The exhibition was organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the East Jerusalem Development Company.

Among the coins displayed are a collection of coins which were burnt during the Great Revolt against Rome in the year 70 which brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple including a rare shekel minted by the rebels during the last month of the rebellion against Rome. Among them are coins that were minted in Jerusalem by the rebels during this period. Among the ancient Second Temple coins found in Jerusalem are coins from as far as Persia, North Africa and France, which attest to the many lands that pilgrims to Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period came from.

In addition to the coins a fragment of a large 2000-year-old sarcophagus lid is also displayed at the Davidson Center. It was found in excavations north of Jerusalem and is engraved with the inscription: Ben HaCohen HaGadol” (son of the high priest). The inscription should probably be identified with one of the priests who officiated at the temple between the years 30 and 70 CE. Among the high priests known from that period are Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) Ben Hanan, Simon Ben Boethus, Hanan Ben Hanan and others.



Read article on new discoveries in the City of David in Jerusalem in the May 2009 edition of ERETZ Magazine (issue number 119): King Solomon's Golden Treasure, New Discoveries in Jerusalem.

The issue also includes articles on: Preserving the Western Wall, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Blessing the Sun, and more.

700 Year-Old Marble Hoard Discovered in Acre

13th century marble treasure from the Crusader capital


In an excavation that was recently conducted c. 100 meters north of the Old City wall of Akko, a unique find was discovered from the Crusader period (the thirteenth century CE) – a hoard of 350 marble items that were collected from buildings that had been destroyed. The hoard was found within the framework of an archaeological excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority before the Akko Municipality began building a new structure to house classrooms in the Hilmi Shafi Educational Campus.

According to Dr. Edna Stern, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We have here a unique find, the likes of which have never been discovered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Crusader period (the capital of which was Akko). During the archaeological excavations we came upon a cellar that was sealed by collapse comprised of building stones and charred beams. Beneath the cellar floor a hoard of c. 350 marble items and colored stones was discovered, including two broken marble tombstones with Latin inscriptions (one belonging to a person by the name of Maratinus), flat marble slabs and marble tiles of various sizes and colors, etc. Some extraordinary items were also found, among them a large stone cross and a large fragment of porphyry (a rare precious purple stone, which has been the color of royalty from Roman times). The quality of the marble is excellent and it was undoubtedly imported from abroad."

Everyone knows that Crusader Akko was an important center for international trade, said Dr. Stern, and the marble hoard reflects the magnificent buildings that were erected here but have not survived, as well as also the commerce and the wealth of its residents. Just as there is a trend today to incorporate wooden doors from India or roof tiles from old buildings in Italy in modern villas, at that time they used to integrate ancient architectural items from the Roman and Byzantine periods in their construction. And just like today, people at that time also yearned for the classic and the exotic. We know from written sources that they bought and sold such stones, which were exceptionally valuable, to be reused in buildings. We can assume that the owner of the hoard, whether he was a merchant or he collected the stones for his own construction, was aware of impending danger and therefore buried the valuable stones until such time as the tension abated. However, the cache of stones was not sold in the end.

We can reasonably assume that the collapse that was found above the hoard is evidence of the building's destruction in 1291 CE, when Crusader Akko was conquered by the Mamluks and was completely devastated, adds Dr. Stern.



Ancient Footprints Under a Mosaic

Israel Antiquities Authority, 14 October 2009


Step by step, piece by piece, the conservation experts of the Israel Antiquities Authority detached the Lod mosaic from the ground and transferred it to the IAA conservation laboratories in Jerusalem.

The 1,700 year old mosaic, which is one of the largest and most magnificent ever seen in Israel, was exposed in the city of Lod in 1996 and was covered again when no resources could be found for its conservation. Thirteen years after efforts were made to raise the large amount required to treat the unique artifact, the IAA received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation that is specifically earmarked for the purpose of conserving and developing the site, in cooperation with the Municipality of Lod. The mosaic was re-excavated, exhibited to the public and is now being removed from the area for treatment in the IAA conservation laboratories. The mosaic, which constitutes a real archaeological gem that is extraordinarily well-preserved, is c. 180 sq m in size. It is composed of colorful carpets that depict in great detail mammals, birds, fish, floral species, and sailing and merchant vessels that were in use at the time. It is believed the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man in the Roman period.

Recently the conservators were surprised to discover that the builders of the beautiful mosaic left their personal mark there: while working on the plaster bedding which is done before attaching the mosaic, the artisans trod on it wearing sandals and in their bare feet.

According to Jacques Neguer, head of the IAA Art Conservation Branch, "When removing a section of mosaic it is customary to clean its bedding, and that way study the material from which it is made and the construction stages. We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed. This is also what happened with the Lod mosaic: beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic's builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of feet and sandals: sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44. At least one imprint of a sole resembles a modern sandal. Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet". Neguer added, "The mosaic consists of three parts that different artists built, probably in different periods. There are different kinds of art here, and we can see that the hand that affixed the tesserae is different: a trained eye recognizes that the preparation which was done prior to the work is different. Besides the necessary professionalism, exposing the footprints is also the result of a lot of luck. It is not always possible to cut the layers of the mosaic precisely so that we discover such a clear picture of the plaster with the incising on it".

Neguer states that, "the excitement here was great. It is fascinating to discover a 1,700 year old personal mark of people who are actually like us, who worked right here on the same mosaic. We feel the continuity of generations here".

The hand and foot prints that were revealed will be removed from the area and will be conserved and returned to the site together with the mosaic, to the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.

The conservation of the site in Lod is meant to be a springboard that will boost tourism and a leverage that will alter the image of the city. The mosaic is located in the eastern part of Lod, next to the entrance at Ginnaton Junction. This intersection is easily reached from Ben Gurion Airport and from two of the country’s main highways: Highway 1, which connects Tel Aviv with Jerusalem, and Highway 6, which links the north of the country with the south. The site is situated between two streets: He-HalutzStreet, which leads to the marketplace and Struma Street, which leads to the city's historic center. The location of the site next to the country’s main transportation arteries makes it highly accessible and will facilitate turning it into a site that is of interest to the entire country. The municipality, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, plans to integrate it into a tourism circuit that will include a number of historic sites in the city.



Read more about the Lod Mosaic in ERETZ Magazine 120, June-July 2008 issue:
Lod's Magnificent Mosaic.

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