Wednesday, May 12 2010    28 Iyyar,5770


Gibson and Lewis at work
Gibson and Lewis at work
Israel news photo: UNC 
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Published: 07/30/09, 12:37 PM

Stone Vessel with 'Priestly Inscription' Uncovered In Jerusalem

by Hana Levi Julian and Gil Ronen
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A rare 2,000-year-old ritual vessel made of limestone and inscribed with 10 lines of text has been discovered in an excavation near the Zion Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an unprecedented find, according to Dr. Shimon Gibson, the archaeologist who heads the University of North Carolina team conducting the dig.

Inscription found on Mt. Zion. Israel news photo: UNC

"Such stone vessels were used in connection with maintaining ritual purity related to Temple worship, and they are found in abundance in areas where the priests lived," Gibson reported. "We have found a dozen or more on our site over the past three years. However, to have ten lines of text is unprecedented. One normally might find a single name inscribed, or a line or two, but this is the first text of this length ever found on such a vessel," he said.

Although the letters are clearly visible it will take some time before their meaning can be discerned due to the style of the writing. Gibson estimated in his preliminary report that it could take up to six months to translate the inscription. "It is written in a very informal cursive hand and is quite difficult to read," he explained.

Initially, Gibson thought the inscription was written solely in Aramaic. However, a group of experts consulting on the matter was not convinced; they say there is a possibility that the text contains the sacred name of G-d and is deliberately cryptic.

Ancient mikveh. Israel news photo: UNC

"Stephen Pfann, of the University of the Holy Land, is leaving open the possibility that it is Hebrew. He has also suggested that the text might have had meaning within a closed circle of priests, similar to texts at Qumran," said Dr. James D. Tabor, co-director of the dig.

The excavations, which lasted several months, were carried out under the auspices of the Jerusalem branch of the Nature and Parks Authority.

At least 30 people per week "sacrificed their own money, time, and hard labor to advance this important effort," according to Gibson, who said the results "have been simply astounding, the finds quite spectacular, and the whole area has been transformed."

He added that the excavation site was in ancient times "precisely at the center of Herodian/2nd Temple Jerusalem...we have extraordinarily well preserved ruins from the 2nd Temple period, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE."

It is that terrible holocaust that is commemorated, as well as the destruction of the First Temple, on the Fast of Tisha B'Av.

Room with two ovens. Israel news photo: UNC

Excavations began on June 14, in the same site where previous archaeologists had probed the earth searching for clues to Israel's history in the 1970s.

This time around, structures from the First and Second Temple periods were discovered, including a mikvah (ritual pool) left almost completely intact, a vault, and a room with two ovens. Buildings from the Byzantine and early Islamic periods were also uncovered, as well multiple coins, intact lamps, ceramic and glass vessels, bits of jewelry and similar items.

Tekhelet snails found?
Also uncovered were at least half a dozen Murex snail shells with holes drilled through them. "Prior to our excavation one or two such shells had been found in all of Jerusalem," Gibson said. "That so many would be found at our site further supports our supposition that we are in a priestly residential area."

Murex snail. Israel news photo: UNC

Murex snails were cultivated in ancient times at sites along the Mediterranean Sea, and a royal blue dye was extracted from them. "According to some experts this blue color was used for the priestly garments, as well as the tzitzit or threaded tassels worn by all pious Jews of the period," he explained in his report, referring to the Biblical tekhelet -- the thread of blue that G-d commanded male Jews to include in the ritual fringes on the corners of their garments. 

"Speak to the Children of Israel and bid them that they make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue (tekhelet). And it shall be for you as a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them..." (Numbers 15:38-15:39)

Such fringes are worn by observant Jews to this day, although in most of them, the thread of blue is no longer included, since the precise technology for making the dye has been lost. However, in recent times rabbis have overseen a modern recreation of the tekhelet technique and some Jews have begun using tekhelet in their fringes again. (

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40.   Murex Snails
Yechiel Y. Perr, Far Rockaway NY (08/17/09)
39.   To Prof. Zvi Koren #38
Jew, Israel (08/03/09)
38.   Archaeologists & Discussants - Beware
Prof. Zvi Koren, Ramat-Gan (08/02/09)
37.   TWEAKER, there is no consensus
, (08/02/09)
36.   To # 33 - Promotion and Distribution of Techelet
EliMaimon, (08/02/09)
35.   To # 29. Women are allowed.
EliMaimon, (08/02/09)
34.   Raise your eyes to Heaven
EliMaimon, (08/02/09)
33.   A Solution to Problems Regarding Tekhelet
edu, Jerusalem (08/02/09)
32.   #27--Have Not Received His Response, but the Murex Position is a HOUSE OF CARDS
Bar-Ron, Ohel Moshe, (08/02/09)
31.   To #28, "Student V":  A Misunderstanding On Your Part
Bar-Ron, Ohel Moshe, (08/02/09)
30.   The cord of Blue
Deborah, Elizabeth (08/01/09)
29.   Women wearing Tzitzit
Rainkatt, Seattle (08/01/09)
28.   To Ohel Moshe #17
Student V, land (08/01/09)
27.   To Mori Bar-Ron and Eli Maimon and the rest of Torath Moshe yeshiva
Jew, Israel (08/01/09)
26.   Uncovered treasures
Christine Sherrard, Selby UK (07/31/09)
25.   To # 23 (cont.)
EliMaimon, (07/31/09)
24.   serious question
,, , (07/31/09)
23.   #22--Eli Maimon, you are 100% correct.
Bar-Ron, (07/31/09)
22.   To # 17/20 Techelet
EliMaimon, (07/31/09)
21.   Looks like Phoenician, eh?  
Avraham, Albuquerque, NM (07/31/09)
20.   addendum to #17
i, jeusalem (07/30/09)
19.   Yes Nita!
EliMaimon, (07/30/09)
18.   Priestly residential area
EliMaimon, (07/30/09)
17.   3,4,6,11,13 -- DON'T MAKE UP YOUR MINDS ABOUT TEKHELETH before objective study!
Ohel Moshe, (07/30/09)
16.   Runic first appears in Europe century/ies after this vessel inscribed so
roger, ComplexCreation (07/30/09)
15.   Priestly Inscription
Nita Taefi, Charlotte NC (07/30/09)
Bar-Ron, (07/30/09)
13.   to #11 of LA
true yid, (07/30/09)
12.   Stone Vessel Found
Floyd Helms, USA (07/30/09)
11.   Tekhelet
Carole Kracer, Los Angeles (07/30/09)
10.   Where?
J, Columbus, OH (07/30/09)
9.   Writing Looks Runic or Phoecian
Sandy, China (07/30/09)
8.   Stone Vessel w/Priestly Inscriptions
Nita Taefi, Charlotte NC (07/30/09)
7.   Stoneware not Earthenware
James Tabor, Charlotte, NC (07/30/09)
6.   1:Ritual Purity. 2:Tekhelet Today
Dr. I. Ziderman, Jerusalem (07/30/09)
5.   G-d and science
Robert, Indianapolis (07/30/09)
4.   Techelet
Yoni, Maale Adumim (07/30/09)
3.   Tekhelet
David Willner, Efrat (07/30/09)
2.   "the precise technology for making the dye
TWEAKER, (07/30/09)
1.   this is how G-d comforts us
ellen, bklyn (07/30/09)

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