Sojourning in the Negev


Our Johnson University teachers, residents, and students are troopers! They know how to ride easy when the road is smooth and hang on when the road gets rough. I am blessed to travel with such good people! 

This crew is nearing the end of their two week journey in Israel-Palestine (March, 2018).

Photo taken by Bible Land Explorer Brad Campbell.

The sounds of music

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Human disturbances and earthquake activity obliterated much of Aphrodite's sanctuary at Palaepaphos, Cyprus. Still, remains from the Roman era are sufficient to suggest that the site maintained its character as a courtyard-style sanctuary (a corner of Sanctuary II is visible in the image above). Imagination must be used to reconstruct a festival day here. Worshippers paraded from the harbor at nearby "New" Paphos (Neapaphos) to this spot in "Old" Paphos (Palaepaphos). Participants were crowned in myrtle and danced to the sounds of music. 

It is unlikely that this activity survived the "Theodosian decrees" of AD 389-391. At that time the Christian emperor Theodosius I outlawed the public practice of paganism and made it a crime to visit pagan temples.

The Roman Restart

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In 58 BC the Romans took control of Cyprus. The Bronze Age shrine to the goddess at Palaepaphos (see previous posts like this one) was rebuilt a short time later. Sanctuary II, as dubbed by archaeologists, was erected a stone's throw away from Sanctuary I, the old megalithic structure. The worship of Aphrodite blossomed. 

The Roman emperors patronized this site of fame. Expansions and improvements continued into the beginning of the fourth century AD. Tacitus tells us that Titus himself stopped here on the way to Syria in AD 69 (see link here). It is possible that the motivation for his visit was the ancient version of a selfie: he likely sought an audience with the oracle.

The gap between

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The sanctuary area at Palaepaphos, Cyprus seems to have been used from the Late Bronze Age into the Roman period. However, the structures that have survived the ravages of time cluster into two groups. Sanctuary I seems to have been the original focus of the site. It was erected in the Late Bronze Age (13th-12th c BC). Sanctuary II dates to the 1st or 2nd centuries A.D. 

The millennial gap between these two periods of time is infilled by excavations elsewhere. Notable among these is the work by Maria Iacovou. Her excavations of an "economic-administrative citadel" to the east of the sanctuary area have recently concluded (2016). See here for more.

This view peers from the Bronze Age courtyard to the Roman Period remains of the area associated with the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.

A sense of scale

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A few days ago I posted an image of the megalithic wall of the Late Bronze Age Sanctuary at Palaepaphos (see here). Since then I found this image of the southwest corner of the complex taken from a slightly different angle. It is still standing after more than 3,000 years. Andrea Berlin, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University helps communicate a sense of scale. 

The size of stones that frame the outer wall of this court sanctuary sets the place apart from other contemporary sites on the island of Cyprus. Equally astonishing is the fact that the stones on the eastern half of the plaza are gone, likely robbed and repurposed at a later time.

One or more altars were likely located inside the courtyard. These have not been preserved either.

Immediately north of this courtyard is evidence of a covered hall. It may have served the goddess of the complex as a "holy of holies." A circular pit found in this hall concealed a 13th or 12th century BC jar with decorated handles. 

For a plan of the entire complex, see the link here. The area under discussion is in the lower left corner of the plan, colored slate blue (and labeled "Späte Bronzezeit").

Note the broken "horns of consecration" on the distant left. Compare with post here.

Horn of consecration

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These architectural fragments are found at the sanctuary of Aphrodite in Palaepaphos, Cyprus. In the middle of this image may be half of a "horns of consecration" display. Only one horn of a symmetrical "U-shaped" construction is preserved. These features are known (and better preserved) elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Horns are found as adornments or wall crowns in alar areas or other sacred places. Scholars believe that this kind of Late Bronze Age décor was inspired by the Minoan culture and was spread by Aegean immigrants.

Sir Arthur Evans, excavator of Knossos, coined the phrase "horns of consecration." He believed this symbol was drawn from the horns of bulls destined for sacrifice.


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Enormous stones were used to build Sanctuary I at Palaepaphos. Students refer to this style of stonework as ashlar masonry, suggesting faced blocks stacked in parallel rows. The size of these stones--some measure 5 meters in length and two and a half meters tall (!)--also attracts the label megalithic.

Oddly enough the sanctuary at Palaepaphos seems to have been built in a moment of crisis. The end of the Late Bronze Age spelled the end of many palace states across the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Yet here on this corner of Cyprus, the goddess was given focused expression. The sanctuary was open to the sky above yet closed by the wall of megalithic stones to its surroundings (a temenos or courtyard). The holes in the stones continue to defy explanation.

Marsamxett Harbor, Malta


Almost twenty years ago I had a chance to visit Malta with my son. We traveled by boat, city bus, and bicycle on all three islands of this famous Mediterranean archipelago.

I'm excited about the opportunity to return in October of 2018, and hoping you will join us! We will conclude and end in Rome, but cruise to a number of islands and sites along the way. These include Sicily, Mykonos, Rhodes, and Santorini. Naturally, we can't miss the dazzling displays at Athens, Corinth, Naples and Pompeii.

If you or someone you know is interested in this 11-day excursion, see the brochure here or contact me at

"A place of celebrity"

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"A place of celebrity both among natives and foreigners." This is how Tacitus describes Palaepaphos, Cyprus. He goes on to describe its founder (Aerias) and consecrator (Cinyras).

The sanctuary of Aphrodite is perhaps the best-known site associated with the "laughter-loving" goddess (see post here). Several Greek and Roman authors mention it; archaeological excavations have revealed it. 

Homer praises the spot as the place where Aphrodite was bathed, "anointed with immortal oil," and clothed by the Graces. Nearer the time of Tacitus, Pausanias notes that Aphrodite's temple was built by one Agapenot, Greek king and hero of the Trojan war.

Remains of the sanctuary suggest it was used over the course of many centuries. In this shot, the first shrine (Sanctuary I) of the female goddess who would become Aphrodite is seen. The construction is dated to the Late Bronze Age, near the time of the Trojan War.

For Tacitus's mention (Histories 2.3.1) see here.

For the mention of Homer (Odyssey 8.364) see here.

For comments by Pausanias (Description of Greece 8.5.2), see here. 


Her town

Palaepaphos or "Old Paphos" rests on a plateau about two miles from Petra tou Romiou, the beach connected with mythology of Aphrodite's birth (see posts here, here, and here). Portions of the site have been revealed in excavations that that been conducted here since the 1950s. Other portions of the site, like the areas covered by these springtime weeds, have not yet been touched.

Excavations have revealed a sanctuary honoring the goddess Aphrodite. This cultural significance, underlined by impressive remains, put Palaepaphos on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

Palaepaphos is a short drive of 9 miles from Paphos, located on the southwestern corner of the island of Cyprus.

A foamy floozy


As suggested in recent POTD posts, the site of Petra tou Romiou on the island of Cyprus is traditionally associated with the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Roman Venus). That story is recounted by the poet Hesiod in grizzly detail. The short end of it is that wily Cronos castrated his father Uranus with a sickle and threw his lopped-off genitals into the sea. Foam developed around the immortal parts and out of that foam Aphrodite emerged. The scene of her birth is a favorite among classical painters and has been endlessly analyzed by art historians.

Incidentally the Greek term for "foam" is ἀφρός (aphros), hence Hesiod's explanation of the name Ἀφροδίτη (Aphrodite) as one who comes from the foam (Theogony 195). Scholars generally regard Hesiod's explanation as folksy, preferring a still older Near Eastern origin for this goddess favored by salty sailors and prostitutes across the Mediterranean world.

There are several other nicknames for Aphrodite. These include Cyprogenes (because she was from Cyprus) and Philommêdês (ahem, "genital-loving"). The latter is thought to be a coy play on Philomeidês ("laughter-loving").

While Aphrodite doesn't appear by name in the Bible, a place devoted to her sure does. Anyone heard of Corinth?


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When you find clumps of tissue hanging from the bushes where I come from, it means to watch your step. However if you are visiting Petra tou Romiou on the island of Cyprus (see previous post here), there may be another reason. Local legend has it that Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of love and procreation, was born here. She was so fertile, according to Hesiod, that greenery sprouted wherever she walked (Theogony 195)!

As you might imagine this Cypriot site is a popular tourist destination and has been for a long time. As far back as the 12th century BC worshippers visited a temple dedicated to Aphrodite at nearby Kouklia. In other, more recent forays, tourists go for a swim in the sea in hopes of becoming eternally beautiful. Another layer of lore concerns the tissues, hankies, undies, and other bits of clothing tied into the greenery pictured above. These are gifts to the goddess offered up in the hope of snagging eternal love.

It likely that the Apostle Paul passed this (very) pagan place on the way to Paphos (Acts 13:6).

A heart of stone

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I found this valentine off the B6 highway on the southwest corner of the island of Cyprus. Why here? Well, it is a perfect place to contemplate love. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, the island is the birthplace of the foamy and shapely-footed Aphrodite. Local tradition has even identified the billowy spot at Πέτρα του Ρωμιού ("The Roman Rock"). 

If you wish to read more, see Hesiod's Theogony (195-199). Read at your own risk.

Feline fountain

In Jordan's fertile Wadi as-Seer is an amazing structure known as the Qasr al-Abd (Arab. "Castle of the Servant"). Many believe it was built around 200 BC by Hyrcanus, a Jerusalemite who fled to Transjordan and established a residence there. The structure is made of huge stones and is considered a rare display of Hellenistic architecture in the region. Its exterior walls are flanked by two lions that functioned as fountains. 

Ron Wakeman of the Madaba Plains Project photographs one of them.

You would bounce a few times

Bill Weber checks out the steep slope falling off the side of Qal'at al-Subeiba, appropriately named the "Castle of the Large Cliff." This castle, located on the shoulders of Mt Hermon in occupied Syria (or the "Golan Heights") is actually an anti-Crusader castle. It was thrown together hastily by Al-Aziz 'Uthman in the 1230s (AD) to protect "the road to Damascus" from a Crusader return. The return of the Europeans never materialized. Three decades later, the Mongols took it. After being briefly used as a Turkish prison, it fell into disrepair. A few tourists like Bill still visit the site (I shot this in 2005) and likely remember it by the name "Nimrod's Castle."

Weekend wandering

Weekends are a precious commodity when working an archaeological site. For some diggers, the weekend is a time to relax, rehydrate, and escape the sun. For others, it is a perfect opportunity to explore the country beyond the 5 x 5 meter square. For several summers, I had the pleasure of rambling with Matt Grey (now Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU). On this day we hunted flints in the eastern desert of Jordan, not far from al-Harrana.

An important announcement

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The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel, celebrates a biblical memory. Here, according to tradition, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news that she would have a baby. A cave (grotto) at a lower level of the complex marks the spot. The text of Luke 1:26-38 recounts the meeting. In this view, we peer into the seating area of the building where the local parish continues to meet on a weekly basis.

Walls, both inside and outside the structure, present a rich variety of Marian devotions.

Just up the street is Nazareth's ancient spring. There one finds an Orthodox structure dedicated to this same memory of the announcement.

Image by Bible Land Explorer Jay Hess.

Partners in grime

M.J. and Julia commanded the effort in Square 3 in the 2011 "Megiddo East" excavations. Note the strategy of excavating within a grid marked out by string and established for purposes of dig-control. I'll never forget how the heavy clay soil surface of the Jezreel Valley made for a challenging (and blister-making) start-up for every square.

Ceramics in everyday life 2

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Some might suggest that earthenware vessels have few uses in our "tupperware" world. One farmer I know would challenge that. This vessel, retired from domestic use, now serves as a feed bowl for his chickens. I hope the chickens enjoy the incised decorations on the rim as much as I do.

Do we have any evidence for ceramic feed bowls (for animals) in antiquity? How would you know? Maybe they are depicted in Egyptian paintings?

Chickens are, admittedly, latecomers to the biblical world.

I shot this image about 20 years ago in the village of Burka, Palestine.