The Sphinx and the Shard: Fascinating Finds from the 13th and 10th Centuries BCE in Israel

UPDATES 11 am Israel time, Sunday, July 14 2013:

*Muslim worshipers to Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the second holiest site in Judaism, desecrated the Tomb last night by tearing off Jewish mezuzot from three doors and vandalizing the entire site–all apparently in celebration of Ramadan. Where is the international outcry? Where is the outcry from the Israeli government?  

*A Palestinian from Gaza has been arrested by Egyptian forces in the Sinai and charged with blowing up the gas pipeline beween Egypt and Jordan last Sunday. The attack stopped the flow of gas which provides 80% of the electricity in Jordan. The Egyptian Army announced today that it has destroyed 805 Hamas smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Egypt thus far–with another 200 to go.

*The following picture which was published today illustrates the problems facing Israeli security forces. It is bad enough that Israel is letting in more than one million Palestinians to Israel this month, but on the micro-scale, Palestinians use all manner of guises to enter the country.

Palestinian men dressed like orthodox Jewish men, Palestinian men dressed like Palestinian women, and Palestinian women dressed like orthodox Jewish women: all of these variations are in play everyday.

In this particular case, a soldier recognized that something was awry when two religious Jewish women sitting together on a bus were apparently reading from an upside down prayer book. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the two women were Palestinians living in Ramallah–a fact confirmed by a passenger on the bus who snapped these pictures:

A person on the bus took these pictures: on the right before the women boarded the bus, on the left afterwards.

A person on the bus took these blurred pictures: on the right before the women boarded the bus, on the left afterwards with changed head coverings.

*There is much anger in Israeli government circles this morning over the “anonymous” disclosure by unnamed officials in the Obama Administration of the apparent Israeli Dolphin submarine cruise missile strike on the Russian missiles near Latakia, Syria several days ago.  


As regular readers of this blog know, your humble servant is an archaeology aficionado–and has on occasion in the past engaged in some archaeology himself.

Two discoveries revealed this week caught my eye.

The feet of the Mycerinius sphinx.

The feet of the Mycerinus sphinx.

The first was the finding of the feet of a sphinx at the Tel Hazor site in northern Israel. The sphinx was uncovered in a layer of destruction at the entrance to the city that is dated to the 13th century BCE.

Part of the extensive excavations at Tel Hazor.

Part of the extensive excavations at Tel Hazor. At various times in its history, Tel Hazor was a Canaanite city (according to Biblical accounts destroyed by Joshua), and later a town rebuilt and refortified by Solomon.  The city was burned to the ground a second time in 732 BCE during the Assyrian invasion.

Aside from the fact that this is the only piece of royal Sphinx sculpture ever discovered in the eastern Mediterranean area outside of Egypt, it is astonishingly inscribed with the name of Mycerinus–also known as Menkaura–who built the third and smallest pyramid in Giza.

All of this is fascinating to your humble servant because the first archaeological mention of Israel in existence is on the Merneptah stele in Thebes, Egypt which contains a reference to the defeat of  “Israel”  in battle–a stele that was apparently erected very close in time to when the sphinx was placed at Tel Hazor.

The Merneptah Stele with Israel mentioned as a footnote.

The Merneptah Stele with Israel mentioned as a footnote.

The second piece of archaeological “treasure” revealed this week comes from Jerusalem in the Ophel area of the Old City.

Actually, parts of seven storage vessels, known as pithoi, were found in an area associated with the 10th century BCE and with King David. One of these fragments was inscribed in proto-Canaanite, but no one knows what it says (possibly the address of the owner, the owner, or the contents?).

If you can read this, please notify the Israel Antiquities Commission.

If you can read this, please notify the Israel Antiquities Commission.

What you may ask, is Canaanite writing doing on a storage vessel from the time of King David? The answer is provided by the Tanach which notes that a number of officials of David’s (and Solomon’s) adminstrations were Canaanites. The Tanach also notes that the ancient Israelites absorbed and even partially copied the culture of those whom they had conquered.

In any case, the potshard, similar to many we have found in Ashdod, and the sphinx give us a fascinating glimpse into the complex history of the times as conquerors came and went and, in the case of the Jews, stayed.



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