Dig Quest: A Biblical Archaeology App for Kids

Dig Quest (iOS: free) is a light but entertaining educational app that gives kids a chance to explore Biblical archaeology by solving puzzles. Produced by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the app offers two sites to explore: Lod (location of an elaborate mosaic) and Qumran (of Dead Scrolls fame). 2014-11-23 15.27.45

In Lod, you brush away dirt to reveal the mosaic, and then play a timed visual quiz. At Qumran, you open jars and piece together Dead Sea scrolls like a jigsaw puzzle. Success unlocks artifacts with art and information. There are over thirty levels with fifty images of various antiquities, as wall as spoken excerpts from the Dead Sea scrolls.

The gameplay isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, but the process of uncovering and piecing together objects and texts and learning more about them should keep kids engaged and playing long enough to slip across some good educational content about ancient Israel.

This is an easy recommendation for parents and particularly home schoolers. The app is free, and IAA is planning to add content in the future.

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Baal Cultic Complex Discovered in Israel

This is a pretty big find, and the connection to Baal seems likely:

A massive cult complex, dating back about 3,300 years, has been discovered at the site of Tel Burna in Israel.

While archaeologists have not fully excavated the cult complex, they can tell it was quite large, as the courtyard alone was 52 by 52 feet (16 by 16 meters). Inside the complex, researchers discovered three connected cups, fragments of facemasks, massive jars that are almost as big as a person and burnt animal bones that may indicate sacrificial rituals.

The archaeologists said they aren’t sure who was worshipped at the complex, though Baal, the Canaanite storm god, is a possibility. “The letters of Ugarit [an ancient site in modern-day Syria] suggest that of the Canaanite pantheon, Baal, the Canaanite storm god, would have been the most likely candidate,” Itzhaq Shai, a professor at Ariel University who is directing a research project at Tel Burna, told Live Science in an email.

The artifacts include fragments of two masks. “The burna mask fragments, both of noses, are quite interesting, because they are quite large, although as seen in [a photo], they were clearly meant to be worn,” Shai said.

“It is difficult to determine exactly who the masks are depicting and whether it is a specific image. In general, masks are known to have been used in cultic ceremonies and processions.”

The researchers also found massive “pithoi” vessels (large storage jars), some almost as big as a person. “Along the eastern edge of the exposed area of the building, a row of sunken pithoi, with several smaller vessels found inside of them, were found,” said Shai. Two of the vessels were imported from Cyprus, as indicated by their design.

Read more.

Worship of the Baalim draws the condemnation of God in Judges, 1 Kings, and elsewhere in the Bible. Baal was a Canaanite thunder god (Hadad), but the name could also refer to various local gods.

Two Boys Play Chess: Madness Follows

 

Matan Poleg (above left) and Omar Eltigani (right) were paired at the World Youth Chess Championships in South Africa last week. They played a game. Poleg won on the 45th move.

Outrage ensued. Denunciations were issued. The Sudanese media couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Matan Poleg’s name. The head of the Sudanese Chess Association resigned, offering grovelling apologies.

You already know the punchline to this, of course.

Poleg is an Israeli Jew. Eltigani is Sudanese. In the Muslim world, this is an unbearable outrage.

[a] top Sudanese religious official issued a scathing rebuke of the Sudanese government for not stopping Eltigani from playing, asserting that Sudan is in a state of war with the Jews and has a policy of not recognizing “the Zionist entity.” He said that competing against an Israeli player is tantamount to recognizing Israel and gives it legitimacy, according to Sudanese news site Al Nilin.

Two girls under age 10–one Israeli, one Algerian–were also matched, and were also forbidden to play:

An Israeli Arab girl was paired against an Algerian girl and the Algerian girl was not allowed to play the match, he said. The girls, who conversed in Arabic, were each awarded a point even though the match wasn’t played, he said.

Good ole fashioned Jew-hate: it’s never out of season, even in the world of chess. As a writer and magazine editor, I’ve covered chess before, and this is not unusual. WYCC doesn’t have the guts to do what they should do: ban any team that refuses to play against Israelis. Cowards.

 

Ancient Monastery Discovered In Israel

They haven’t found a church yet, but the size, construction, and layout of a compound in the hills south of Beit Shemesh suggests a Byzantine-era monastery of the 6th century.

The discovery was made a few weeks ago during surveys conducted in advance of a construction project.

“Blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface,” the archeologists said. “These clues to the world hidden underground resulted in an extensive archaeological excavation there that exposed prosperous life dating to the Byzantine period, which was previously unknown.”

Zilberbod and Libman said the compound is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided on the inside into two regions, including an industrial area and an activity and residential area.

Additionally, an “unusually large press in a rare state of preservation that was used to produce olive oil was exposed in the industrial area, as well as a large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”

Despite not finding a church or inscription of any kind indicating religious worship, the excavation’s co-directors said they still believe the site served as a monastery.

“It is true we did not find a church at the site… or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship; nevertheless, the impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” they said. Based on that criterion, the archeologists noted it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations, and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.

“At some point, which we date to the beginning of the Islamic period (7th century CE), the compound ceased to function, and was subsequently occupied by new resident,” they said. “These people changed the plan of the compound and adapted it for their needs.”

More.

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Available Online

A fragment of Isaiah from Cave 1, Qumran

In a giant upgrade to The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, the Israel Antiquities Authority is making 10,000 multispectral images available to all via the web.

The entire site has better searching, browsing and indexing. You can search by keywords, or browse by language, location (including cave-by-cave), or content.

The scrolls are being specially photographed using a state-of-the-art system developed by NASA, and the results are eye-popping. The multispectral imaging captures 12 wavelengths (7 visible, 5 invisible), revealing depths of detail in both text and material that would otherwise be unseen by the naked eye. This allows us to peel away layers and recover lost or obscured text. Infrared photos from the 1950s are also included.

The site is very responsive, with fast load times and the ability to zoom in close for each image.

The IAA intends to place every scroll and fragment on the internet. I remember when simply looking at a photograph of a scroll was considered an illicit activity, so this is big news.

Francis/Netanyahu Meeting Cancelled (Actually, It Was Never Even Planned)

Last week, a report began circulating in the Israeli press that President Benjamin Netanyahu would be meeting with Pope Francis when Netanyahu traveled to Rome this week. The report set off a firestorm in Israel because of rumors that a visit by the pope to Holy Land was contingent upon the return of certain holy sites to the Church:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be traveling to Rome next week to meet with the pope; they will discuss, among other things, the transfer of certain holy sites to the custody of the Catholic Church. “It turns out,” says HaModia, “that the new pope has set a public declaration of the transfer as a condition for his promised visit to the land.” One of the sites in question is David’s Tomb, “which the Catholics have claimed as their own for hundreds of years.”

HaMevaser reports that Rabbi Haim Miller has appealed to Knesset Members in an effort to stop the deal from going through. Miller claims that it is better for the pope not to visit Israel than that the tomb be handed over to the Catholic Church, even if this causes a rift between the Vatican and Israel.

This sounds like a lot of nonsense, but there was no chance the meeting was going to happen since it was reported in the press before it was even planned, and you don’t get on the pope’s schedule with one week’s notice:

In a diplomatic foul-up, the announcement made last week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would meet with Pope Francis in Rome was retracted on Monday after it emerged that the Vatican had never scheduled it, Haaretz reported.

The pope’s staff said they only learned of the meeting through media reports. Efforts by Israeli officials to put such a meeting on the calendar at the last minute in order to avoid embarrassment after having announced it last Wednesday proved futile.

It was explained that protocol at the Vatican is such that a request for a meeting only a week in advance is unheard of and out of the question.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement: “As opposed to what was claimed, a meeting was planned this week between the prime minister and the Pope during his trip in Italy, but due to a scheduling conflict, it was postponed.”

Francis is still intending to visit Israel in March:

Pope Francis will make his first visit to Israel in March.

The pope told his close friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, of his lifelong dream to visit the Holy Land, and of his intentions to visit Israel and Bethlehem, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.

According to Channel 2, the pope hopes his visit will bring a message of reconciliation.

He dreams of embracing Rabbi Skorka in front of the Western Wall, in order to send out a message against anti-Semitism.

Last week, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein visited the Vatican and invited the pope to visit the Holy Land and be his personal guest in the Knesset.

“I’ll come, I’ll come,” Pope Francis responded.

 

Mysterious Structure Under the Sea of Galilee

Sonar image of structure on the floor of the Sea of Galilee

I filed this one away in Evernote this summer and forgot to blog it, but it’s too cool to let pass:

A huge, cone-shaped monument has been discovered by a team of Israeli archaeologists conducting a geophysical survey on the southern Sea of Galilee.

According to a paper published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, the structure was built several thousand years ago and later submerged under the water.

It is 230 feet (70 m) in diameter and about 39 feet (12 m) high. The estimated weight of the monument is over 60,000 tons.

“The site resembles early burial sites in Europe and was likely built in the early Bronze Age. There may be a connection to the nearby ancient city of Beit Yerah, the largest and most fortified city in the area,” explained Dr Yitzhak Paz from Ben-Gurion University, lead author of the paper reporting the discovery.

“The stones, which comprise the structure, were probably brought from more than a mile away and arranged according to a specific construction plan,” added co-author Prof Shmuel Marco from Tel Aviv University.

Read more here and here.

Hopeful Signs? UPDATE #2: Not a Hoax

The optimist in me says “yes.” The cynic says, “public relations ploy.” I try paying more attention to the optimist.

In any case, it’s welcome. From the President of Iran:

It’s worthwhile remembering that the Iranian people (particularly the young) tend to have positive feelings towards America, by and large. (They tend to despise the English, however.) Maybe if we stopped with the Middle East meddling and they throttled back on the crazy and the Jew-hating and the terror-exportation, some kind of peace could be achieved. I’ll take this message as a sign of hope.

UPDATE: Reader “Dale” sent this link saying it looks like a hoax:

Not only were the blessings not a diplomatic signal, they weren’t even really blessings from Rouhani himself, according to Iran’s official Fars News Agency.

Mohammad Reza Sadeq, an adviser to Rouhani, said the Iranian president doesn’t even have a Twitter account (although he kept referring to it as “tweeter”), let alone that he was behind the eyebrow-raising tweet purportedly from the leader of a country that wishes for Israel’s destruction.

UPDATE #2: Joanne McPortland tells me “Christiane Amanpour claims she just interviewed him. No hoax.”