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Christian Living

ChurchWatch 09/04/08

Wall of Second Temple Unearthed; Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

The Jerusalem Post reports the announcement from the Israeli Antiquities Authority that the remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem that was built by the Hasmonean kings during the time of the Second Temple have been uncovered on Mount Zion.

The 2,100-year-old wall, which was destroyed during the Great Revolt against the Romans that began in 66 A.D., is located just outside the present-day walls of the Old City and abuts the Catholic cemetery built in the last century where Oskar Schindler is buried.

"In the Second Temple period the city, with the Temple at its center, was a focal point for Jewish pilgrimage from all over the ancient world, and in the Byzantine period it attracted Christian pilgrims who came in the footsteps of the story of the life and death of their Messiah," said Yehiel Zelinger, the excavation's director.

He said the builders of the Byzantine wall were unaware of the existence of the earlier structure, yet they placed their wall precisely along the same route due to its advantageous location for the defense of the city.

The Second Temple Period wall, which was built without mortar, was "amazingly" well-preserved today to the height of three meters, more than 2,000 years after it was constructed, Zelinger said. He voiced the hope that the First Temple wall would be uncovered next.

The sturdy wall was previously exposed by an American archeologist at the end of the 19th century. The Israeli archeologist who started the ongoing excavation a year-and-a-half ago also uncovered the remains of a city wall from the Byzantine Period (324-640 CE) that was built on top of the Second Temple wall at a time when ancient Jerusalem reached its largest size after its southward expansion.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the excavation was initiated as part of a plan to build a promenade along the southern side of Mount Zion. The promenade is expected to become a major tourist attraction when it is completed in the next few years, and will run alongside parts of the newly exposed ancient wall.

The ancient walls were found by cross-referencing the detailed plans and maps of an excavation carried out in the 1890s by the Palestine Exploration Fund under the direction of archeologist Frederick Jones Bliss and his assistant Archibald Dickie with updated maps of the area.

"We knew that the walls were here somewhere but we didn't know exactly where," Zelinger said.

During the dig, the Israeli archeologists also found "souvenirs" left behind by the 19th century excavators: a laborer's shoes, the top of a gas light that was used to illuminate the tunnels, and fragments of Czech beer and wine bottles from 120 years ago.

"This is one of the most beautiful and complete sections of construction in the Hasmonean building style to be found in Jerusalem," Zelinger said.

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

Scientists using American space technology have started a huge project to digitally photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls and post them on the Internet, Israeli authorities announced last week. High-tech cameras using infrared photography are being used to uncover sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls that have faded over the centuries and become indecipherable, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

The project is expected to take about five years and the goal is to make the scrolls accessible to scientists and the general public, Antiquities Authority official Pnina Shor said.

"Now for the first time the scrolls will be a computer click away," said Shor, who heads the authority's department responsible for the conservation of artifacts. "This will ensure that the scrolls are preserved for another 2,000 years."

To protect the scrolls, Shor said, the new imaging will be done in a setting that minimizes exposure to light. A pilot project has been started and when it is finished, it will be possible to determine how long it will take to digitize the thousands of fragments from about 900 separate documents, Shor said, estimating five years.

Infrared technology was used to photograph all the findings in 1950, the Antiquities Authority said, but technology has advanced considerably since then.

The first scrolls were discovered by accident in 1947 by a young Bedouin shepherd who was chasing a runaway sheep. They were buried in a cave in Qumran, just above the Dead Sea - one of the most barren areas in the world.

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