Archaeology


The digitization of 80,000 manuscripts of the Vatican Library, it should be realized, is not a light-hearted project. Even with only a rough calculation one can foresee the need to reproduce 40 million pages with a mountain of computer data, to the order of 45 petabytes (that is, 45 million billion bytes). This obviously means pages variously written and illustrated or annotated, to be photographed with the highest definition, to include the greatest amount of data and avoid having to repeat the immense undertaking in the future.

And these are delicate manuscripts, to be treated with care, without causing them damage of any kind. A great undertaking for the benefit of culture and in particular for the preservation and conservation of the patrimony entrusted to the Apostolic Library, in the tradition of a cultural service that the Holy See continues to express and develop through the centuries, adapting its commitment and energy to the possibilities offered by new technologies.

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A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written. Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time…

He adds that once this deciphering is received, the inscription will become the earliest Hebrew inscription to be found, testifying to Hebrew writing abilities as early as the 10th century BCE. This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research, which would not have recognized the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.

Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.” He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time…

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Pretty fascinating:

More than a hundred years ago an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera. It astonished the whole international community of experts on the ancient world. Was it an astrolabe? Was in an orrery or an astronomical clock? Or something else? For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than the facts. However research over the last half century has begun to reveal its secrets. It dates from around the 1st century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world. Nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The Antikythera Mechanism is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System…

During October 2005, another team of specialists from the cutting-edge company, X-Tek Systems, came to Athens… Their aim was to use the very latest x-ray technology to look at the internal structure of the mechanism with its complex and confusing gear trains. With them they brought the prototype of a very powerful new x-ray machine, the eight-tonne “Bladerunner”. Originally designed to search for minute cracks in turbine blades, this machine gives astonishingly detailed three-dimensional x-rays, using the latest “microfocus” x-ray techniques. It has opened a remarkable window on microscopic internal details of inscriptions and gearing at a resolution better than a tenth of a millimeter. Inscriptions can now be read that have not been seen for more than two thousand years and this is helping to build a comprehensive picture of the functions of the Antikythera Mechanism.

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Articles about this project published in Nature can be found here.
A reconstruction of the device can be viewed here.

October 24, 2007 (Jerusalem Post) – An ancient seal that surfaced in Israel more than four decades ago belonged to the biblical Queen Jezebel, according to a new study released on Tuesday by a Dutch university.

The seal, which some scholars date to the ninth century BCE, was first discovered in 1964 by the Israeli archeologist Nahman Avigad, with the name “Yzbl” inscribed in ancient Hebrew, Utrecht University said.

Although it was initially assumed that the seal belonged to Jezebel, the powerful and reviled Phoenician wife of the Jewish King Ahab, there was uncertainty regarding the original owner both because the spelling of the name was erroneous, and because the personal seal could easily have belonged to another woman of the same name…

The seal, which was donated to the Israel Department of Antiquities in the early 1960s by the private Voss-Hahn collection, not only bears symbols that indicate a female owner but also “well-worked” symbols that designate that owner as royalty, Korpel said.

Moreover, the seal is exceptionally large compared to those commonly possessed by ordinary citizens, she added.

Korpel, who is not an archeologist, suggested that the upper edge of the seal, which is chipped off, must have originally included two broken-off letters that would have correctly spelled Jezebel’s name…

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Probability and statistics lie at the heart of the startling claim by James Cameron, Simcha Jacobovici, and others that the Talpiot Tomb, discovered twenty-five years ago outside Jerusalem, is the tomb of the New Testament Jesus. Specifically, proponents of this view have put forward a number-1 in 600-as the probability that the Talpiot Tomb could be other than the tomb of Jesus. Thus conversely, it is supposed to be highly probable-with probability 599 in 600-that this is Jesus’ tomb. Thus, one is informed on the Jesus Family Tomb website: “After listening to filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici explain the so-called ‘Jesus equation’, you’ll realize just how unlikely it is that this isn’t, in fact, his tomb.”…

In this paper, we examine both the logic by which Feuerverger came to his improbability of 1 in 600 and then the logic by which Jacobovici et al. concluded that the Talpiot Tomb must in all likelihood be Jesus’ tomb. Although Feuerverger’s approach contains some valid insights, it also commits some fatal oversights. In cleaning up Feuerverger’s math, we find that the improbabilities are not nearly as bad as he makes out. Indeed, we find that a significant number of families in Palestine at the time of Jesus were likely to have the pattern of names found in the Talpiot tomb.

A corrected version of Feuerverger’s model using reasonable estimates of the probabilities for the New Testament names found in the Talpiot tomb shows that there were likely to be as many 154 Jewish families living in Palestine at the time with the pattern of names found in the Talpiot tomb. On the “Jesus Family Tomb” people’s reckoning, this would yield a probability of 153 in 154 that the Talpiot Tomb is not the tomb of Jesus. And even if we go with the “Jesus Family Tomb” people’s smaller probability estimates for the New Testament names found in the Talpiot tomb, a Bayesian analysis that takes into account additional evidence not considered by Feuerverger increases this probability close to one…

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July 11, 2007 (Creation Evolution Headlines) – Jeremiah mentioned Nebo-Sarsekim and Nebuchadnezzar, and so did Babylonian scribes. The Times Online reported today, “The British Museum yesterday hailed a discovery within a modest clay tablet in its collection as a breakthrough for biblical archaeology – dramatic proof of the accuracy of the Old Testament.” An article in the Telegraph calls it “a fantastic discovery, world-class find” and includes a picture and full translation of the small tablet.

The great King Nebuchadnezzar had been known from extra-Biblical sources, but Nebo-Sarsekim was not – till now. He is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3 as one of the officials of Nebuchadnezzar present at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah was an eyewitness to these events. Now, the same name has been deciphered on a clay tablet from Sippar, a site a mile from Baghdad, where the Babylonians had a huge sun temple. The tablet, recording Nebo-Sarsekim’s gift of gold to a temple in Babylon, dates to 10 years before the siege of Jerusalem.

The British Museum acquired this small tablet in 1920, but it had never been translated. Dr. Michael Jursa (U of Vienna), one of the few scholars who can read cuneiform script, made the discovery while translating tablets on a research trip to the museum. “Finding something like this tablet, where we see a person mentioned in the Bible making an everyday payment to the temple in Babylon and quoting the exact date, is quite extraordinary,” he said. Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum added, “If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.”

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You always have to wonder when a book writer or film maker decides to hold a press conference to talk about the claims in their book. This news conference is supposed to occur tomorrow, apparently. James White has posted a few blog articles on the matter in the past couple of days the posts are here and here. The second one has a few links that have some interesting information/comments. One of the links quotes:

Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and has published detailed findings on its contents, on Saturday night dismissed the claims. “It makes a great story for a TV film,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “But it’s impossible. It’s nonsense.”

Source: Dr. Jim West

The concept of DNA verification certainly is strange. How do you compare DNA to the DNA of Jesus? I guess the best they can do is to compare the DNA among the remains of those found and verify that they are related, and perhaps that they are Jewish. But even so, what relevance would that really have, other than to tie the tombs together?

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