Archaeology News





by Doug Ward

DECEMBER, 2006-Sherry and I hope to visit Israel someday, but we are not sure when we will be have available the time and money required for the trip. In the meantime, we enjoy taking advantage of opportunities to experience the "little bits of Israel" that occasionally pass through our area. In 2006 two such opportunities arose, in the form of traveling archaeological exhibitions.


In the summer of 2006, the new Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage near Cleveland hosted the Cradle of Christianity exhibit, a collection of ancient artifacts from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. After reading an enthusiastic review of the exhibit [2], we set aside a day in August to check it out.


The objects in this collection were chosen to illustrate the Jewish roots of Christianity and to emphasize the common ground shared by Christianity and Judaism as they developed in the land of Israel. Reviewer Jason Byassee ([2], p. 28) gives an excellent description:


"The entry to the exhibit features twin chancel screens with almost identical designs. They are the same size and the same material (marble), and they feature the same wreaths and vines as decoration. They could have been carved in the same shop. If you don't look hard you would miss this detail: one wreath frames a cross, the other borders a menorah.


This religious double vision is repeated throughout the exhibit. Christian and Jewish versions of oil lamps, bread stamps and mosaics are virtually identical. Of course, some of the images are part of both traditions-as in the case of a mosaic from a synagogue showing David after his conquest of Goliath."


Among the objects on display were some famous finds from the time of Jesus that have received extensive media coverage over the years. One was the Pilate inscription, which provides extra confirmation of the existence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. Translated into English, the Latin inscription reads, "Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius." The limestone block bearing the inscription was found in 1961 by Italian archaeologists who were excavating the ancient theater that Herod the Great had built at Caesarea. The block, though originally part of a temple, was apparently used at some point in repairing one of the steps of the theater [1].


The Cradle of Christianity exhibit also included several ossuaries, the stone boxes in which first-century Jews placed the bones of their deceased loved ones. Ossuaries have been in the news since 2002, when the furor over the "James ossuary" began. (The James ossuary is inscribed with the name "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," leading to speculation that it might have held the bones of early Christian leader James the Just, brother of Jesus of Nazareth.) The James ossuary is currently a key piece of evidence in an antiquities forgery trial in Israel-the authenticity of its inscription is the subject of an ongoing dispute-so it was not part of the exhibit in Cleveland. However, some other well known ossuaries of undisputed significance were on display at the Maltz Museum.


One of those was the Caiaphas ossuary [3], which is inscribed with the name "Joseph, son of Caiaphas." When it was found in a burial cave near Jerusalem in 1990, this ossuary contained the bones of six people: two infants, a child between two and five years old, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about sixty years old. It is quite possible that the man whose bones were found in the ossuary was the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, who was involved with the interrogation of Jesus on the night before his crucifixion (Matt. 26:57-65).1 Certainly the beautiful pattern with which this ossuary is decorated-two circles, each containing six rosettes-indicates that it belonged to a very prominent family.


Another ossuary in the collection is one that could be called the "crucifixion nail ossuary." This ossuary, which was found in 1968, contained the bones of a man in his twenties. We know that this man was crucified because a nail about seven inches long held his heel bones together [5]. The nail, with a replica of the bones in which it was found (The actual bones were reburied back in 1968.), was part of the exhibit. According to the ossuary's inscription, the man's name was "Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol."


After viewing the Cradle of Christianity exhibit, we checked out the Maltz Museum's permanent collection, which focuses on the history of Jews in America with special emphasis on the achievements of Cleveland's Jewish community. There were exhibits on the immigrant experience, anti-Semitism, Zionism, and the Holocaust. An art collection includes beautifully decorated Torah scrolls and copies of the book of Esther.


After its stay in Cleveland, the Cradle of Christianity exhibit is scheduled to visit Fort Lauderdale (December 7, 2006, to April 15, 2007) and Atlanta (June 16, 2007 to October 14, 2007). I highly recommend it to people interested in Christian history and biblical archaeology.


From Abraham to Jesus

In November 2006 a second archaeological exhibit, “From Abraham to Jesus,” made a brief two-week visit to Ohio. This exhibit, which features artifacts from Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem, was originally scheduled to go to twenty seven American cities between September 2006 and December 2008. We caught it in Columbus, Ohio, the third stop on its itinerary. (It has since been renamed “Ancient Treasures of the Holy Land” and is on display in Dallas, Texas, from March 14-July 28, 2007.)


As the title suggests, From Abraham to Jesus gives a survey of biblical history. Near Eastern artifacts from each period of that history-e.g., pottery, bullae, coins-are interspersed with

· replicas of other artifacts that complement the biblical record-e.g., Assyrian palace reliefs, the Mesha stela, and the stela found at Tel Dan that mentions the "House of David";

· timelines giving an idea of what happened when;

· sculptures depicting biblical people and events-e.g., a representation of two men carrying a huge cluster of grapes on a pole to illustrate Num. 13:23;

· hangings of the biblical illustrations of Gustave Doré.

At the entrance of the exhibit, each visitor receives a special headset with a keypad. The various stops in the exhibit are numbered, and one can punch in the number of a display on the keypad to hear a discussion of that display. The discussions, presented in the form of conversations between a Christian archaeologist and his college-age granddaughter, are very well done. We found them to be both informative and entertaining. These audio presentations also feature beautiful and appropriate background music, including the Israeli national anthem and a number of songs sung by Messianic worship leader Paul Wilbur.


This feature of the exhibit provides an effective solution to a problem families usually face when they visit museums: While adults want to spend a little time looking at each item, children become bored and would rather go at a faster pace. In this case, our nine-year-old daughter found the audio explanations interesting enough that she wanted to hear each one, and we stayed together through the entire visit.


There are two ossuaries among the artifacts in the exhibit, one of them especially interesting. According to its inscription, this ossuary probably held the bones of a man named Simon and his son Alexander. It was found in a burial cave with ten other ossuaries in 1941. Significantly, the names on the ossuaries point to a Jewish family from the Diaspora, most likely the North African province of Cyrenaica [4]. Taken together, the evidence suggests that the "Simon" mentioned on the ossuary could well have been Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus to Golgotha (Mark 15:21-22). This Simon had a son named Alexander (v. 21) who apparently became a Christian and was familiar to Mark's audience.


Adjacent to the exhibit is a shopping area at which one can purchase souvenirs from Israel and books from Zondervan Publishers, one of the main sponsors of From Abraham to Jesus. Books for sale include Zondervan's Archaeological Study Bible. There is also a smaller exhibit in the shopping area on the history of the Bible, with special emphasis on English translations of the Bible.


We were grateful for the opportunity to visit From Abraham to Jesus. It was well worth the 120-mile trip to Columbus.



1.  Robert J. Bull, "Caesarea Maritima: The Search for Herod's City," Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1982.

2.  Jason Byassee, "Double Take: Christian Artifacts in a Jewish Museum," Christian Century, July 25, 2006, pp. 28-30.

3.  Zvi Greenhut, "Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family," Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept./Oct. 1992, pp. 29-36, 76.

4.  Tom Powers, “A Second Look at the Alexander Son of Simon Ossuary:  Did It Hold Father and Son?”, posted at the Biblical Archaeology Society Website on September 26, 2006.

5.  Vasilios Tzaferis, "Crucifixion-the Archaeological Evidence," Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan./Feb. 1985.



1Although the New Testament does not say that this high priest's name was Joseph, the historian Flavius Josephus mentions this fact (Ant. 18.2.2; 18.4.3).

Issue 23


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On 10 Dec 2006, 13:13.