Do not leave the path


Middle East

An Unexpected Consequence of the Christian Crusades

From a western point of view, the Christian Crusades have a glorified and righteous history: countless films and books recount how the shining knights of Christianity set out to save Christendom from the “infidel.” Ironically, the reality of Crusades history is that probably the best thing to come out of the Christian Crusades for western civilization was not the conquest of, but rather the exposure to, the Muslim “infidel.” Below, J. Harold Ellens details this twist in Crusades history in “The Fihrist: How an Arab Book Seller Saved Civilization.”

At a time when western Christian society could be accurately characterized as superstitious, brutal, dogmatic and repressive, the Arab world during the Christian Crusades period was reaching a zenith of learning and enlightenment. Once such example of this is the watershed work called the Fihrist (meaning “the catalogue”), a compendium of all of the significant written works on religion, the humanities and science available at the end of the first millennium A.D. The Fihrist, and the scholarship it represents, is one of the shining positives that emerged from a Crusades history that was otherwise brutal and bloody.

As explained by J. Harold Ellens below, from the Fihrist western scholars gained from the Christian Crusades the wealth of human knowledge that spanned the preceding several millennia—even Aristotle’s will was included in the masterwork compendium. It could be—and has been—argued that in Crusades history the best and unanticipated consequence of the Christian Crusades is that the western world now had the opportunity to regain ancient knowledge—through works like the Fihrist—that centuries of political instability and religious superstition had lost.

It took time. The western Renaissance several hundred years later is largely attributed to this reacquisition of ancient learning from works like the Fihrist. But gradually this consequence of the Christian Crusades trickled down to men (and some women) of learning in later generations, who were able to incorporate this aspect of Crusades history into a revival of knowledge in the humanities and sciences.

What the Christian Crusades gave to the Muslim world in terms of destruction, death and conflict was nowhere near the unexpected and unanticipated gift that the western world obtained from Crusades history in the form of works like the Fihrist. The Christians set out to conquer the “infidel,” but the “infidel” ended up educating the Christians.

The Fihrist

by J. Harold Ellens

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

In a fiery speech delivered at Clermont, France, in 1095 C.E., Pope Urban II called on Western Christians to expel the “Infidel” from the Holy Land. Thus the Pope unleashed the Crusades, during which European armies gained control of most of the Levant, including Jerusalem. The Pope also unleashed something else—a kind of frenzied destructiveness that frequently accompanies righteous fury. The wars of the following two centuries were marked by unimaginable and often irrational acts of rapine and murder, not the least of which was the Crusader attack in 1203 upon Constantinople, in which hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Christians were slaughtered.

In return, the West received one of the greatest gifts ever presented by one civilization to another. The Crusades opened up a rich mine of Eastern scholarship. The West would be civilized by the “Infidel,” informed by refined Persian and Arab scientists, historians, physicians, poets and philosophers.

An important instrument in this cultural exchange was a remarkable book, the Fihrist (Catalogue). This tenth-century C.E. book is a catalogue of all the significant written works on religion, science and the humanities that were available at the end of the first millennium C.E. It includes a digest of ancient Greek and Roman literature, much of which was lost to the West after the fall of the Roman Empire and the destruction of the Alexandria Library.a The Fihrist also lists classical texts that were preserved by Eastern scholars in the great imperial libraries of Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus and Khurasan.

The breadth of learning revealed by the Fihrist is astonishing. It treats language, calligraphy and holy scriptures such as the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran. It contains chapters on Arab grammarians, history and politics, pre-Islamic poetry, the literature of the Umayyad (661–750) and Abbasid (750–1258) caliphates, as well as chapters on prominent jurists and legal authorities. It provides a summary of philosophy from the Hellenic thinker, Thales of Miletus (c. 620–555 B.C.E.), to the end of the first millennium C.E.—devoting considerable ink to Plato and Aristotle, even recording the entire text of Aristotle’s will. TheFihrist discusses mathematics, astronomy, medicine, fables and legends, Christian and Islamic sects, alchemy and bookmaking, and it tells what was known of such faraway places as India, Indochina and China.

The author of this signal work, Abu ’l-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim (c. 935–990 C.E.), was probably born in Baghdad, where his father ran a bookstore. The name “al-Nadim” (literally, “courtier”) means that he was a court official of some sort. His father was a warrag, or entrepreneur. Al-Nadim probably received a normal education: beginning instruction at the mosque at age six, memorizing much of the Koran by early adolescence, and then entering one of the mosque’s study circles. During the course of his life, he also had the opportunity to study under some of the luminaries of his day, such as the famous jurist Abu Sa’id al-Sirafi, the mathematician Yunus al-Qass and the historian Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Marzubani.
Al-Nadim’s greatest source of learning, however, was his father’s bookstore, where he was employed. No doubt his research was extremely useful to his father and their potential customers, especially his detailed knowledge of important books and authors. One imagines that his daily routine included copying manuscripts, entertaining scholars and acquiring books.1 In chapter four of the Fihrist, al-Nadim explains that his life’s work was “to present the names of the poets and the amount of verses written by each poet among them … so that whoever desires to collect books and poems can have this information.” Perhaps not accidentally, this system closely corresponds to that developed by the third-century B.C.E. scholar Callimachus for recording books in Egypt’s Alexandria Library.2

One of al-Nadim’s biographers refers to him as a Mu’tazili—that is, a member of a heretical Islamic sect that embraced the rationalistic and humanistic aspects of Islamic thought. The Mu’tazili, for instance, rejected traditional Islamic determinism, according to which everything happens because of the will of God. They believed, instead, that God’s justice could only exist if human beings were the authors of their own actions—and thus were punished or rewarded according to what they, not only God, willed and did. Even though al-Nadim was a Shi’ite who considered the rival Sunni Muslims crude and ignorant, he must have been seriously interested in the Mu’tazili, since he devotes a large part of chapter five to the sect.3 Mu’tazilism also seems like the sort of philosophy that would appeal to a man of al-Nadim’s learning.

Al-Nadim added to, arranged and rearranged his encyclopedia until his untimely death at the age of 55. On the title page of the Fihrist manuscript in Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library (see the second sidebar to this article) is a note, almost certainly penned by the great historian al-Maqrizi (1365–1441), indicating that al-Nadim died on the tenth day before the end of the month of Sha’ban in 990/1. Manuscripts of the Fihrist in al-Nadim’s own handwriting were probably placed in the royal library at Baghdad. In 1229 an Arab scholar claimed that he had worked from a manuscript of the Fihrist in its author’s hand; in 1252 the lexicographer al-Saghani made a similar claim.

One of al-Nadim’s persistent interests was the Arabic language. He cites scholarly debates about the origins of Arabic script—whether it was developed in a small Midianite Bedouin encampment in modern northwest Saudi Arabia or was borrowed from foreigners. Some sources say that Adam passed the script down, al-Nadim tells us; others claim that Ishmael gave it to his descendants. Al-Nadim is not much concerned with these folk traditions, but he is very interested in transcriptions of the Koran in the various dialects, scripts, hands and illuminations available in his day.

Al-Nadim not only sold and catalogued books, he was passionate about them. In the Fihrist, he comments on books and scripts of the Persians, Greeks, Hebrews (archaic and current), Syrians, Saxons, Chinese, Turks, Indians, Nubians, Russians, Bulgarians, Franks and Armenians. He loved all aspects of bookmaking, from orthography and calligraphy to methods of sharpening pens and making paper. Books, for al-Nadim, were almost alive; they were friends and teachers. “[B]ooks are the shells of wisdom, which are split open for the pearls of character,” he records one source as saying. From another source he quotes: “If books had not bound together the experiences of former generations, the shackles of later generations in their forgetfulness would not have been loosed.” Books represented an ideal existence without the failings to which men and women are prone. As one source says,

We have companions of whose conversation we never weary;
Confiding and trustworthy whether absent or present,
They give us the benefit of their knowledge … of what has passed,
With wise opinion, discipline, and instruction well-guided,
Without cause to be dreaded or fear of suspicion.

It is not surprising that al-Nadim devotes an extensive section of his volume to how the Koran was supposed to have been assembled from the revelations of the prophet Mohammed. He discusses the various sources, editions and interpretations of the Koran, along with the Islamic sages who commented on the holy book and the people and places mentioned in it. Al-Nadim also includes careful notes on discrepancies in the Koran— inconsistencies, special characteristics of language or ideas, as well as other notable peculiarities in the sacred texts.

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

Apparently al-Nadim visited official libraries, bookstores, authors and private libraries in his search for books. Of one book collector, Mohammed ibn al-Husayn, who lived near Aleppo, al-Nadim writes: “I have never seen anyone else with a library as extensive as the one which he had. It certainly contained Arabic books about grammar, philology, and literature, as well as ancient works. I met this man a number of times and, although he was friendly with me, he was wary and tight with his possessions.”

Hand-copied books were valuable objects—prized particularly by the feudal chiefs who ruled Aleppo from 944 to 967 C.E. and who were commandeering books to build their own library. Al-Husayn was “tight” because he was worried that the Aleppo sheiks would learn of his beloved volumes and then confiscate them. Among his precious antique manuscripts, al-Nadim reports, were “trusts and contracts in the handwriting of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali,” the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, along with documents in the hand of Mohammed’s scribes.

While making his way from library to library and from city to city, al-Nadim was always on the watch for especially rare books. He knew of two eighth-century C.E. Arabic grammar books that had apparently been lost, since he could find no one who had ever seen a copy or knew of anyone who had. One can sense the palpable grief of a true bibliophile in al-Nadim’s account of his futile search for these tomes.
Of a well-known man named al-Suli, “one of the brilliant men of letters and collectors of books,” al-Nadim reports a long list of admirable things, from his writing important books to his being a champion chess player. But the news about al-Suli is not all good. In his magnum opus on poetry, entitled Leaves, al-Nadim observes, “he relied upon the book of al-Marthadi about poetry and the poets; in fact he transcribed and plagiarized it. I have seen a copy of [the work of] this man [al-Marthadi] which came from the library of al-Suli and by which he was exposed.”

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

One intriguing passage in the Fihrist concerns ancient Persian astronomy. After carefully describing how Persian scientists treated the bark of the white poplar tree to produce a durable writing material, al-Nadim informs us that they wrote down detailed astronomical tables collected from as far back as the Babylonians. Then the ancient scientists looked for a city where the climate was optimal for preserving these records. They determined upon the Persian city of Jayy:

Then they went … inside the city of Jayy, to make it the depository for their sciences. This [depository] was called Sarwayh [Saruyah] and it has lasted until our own time. In regard to this building … many years before our time a side [of the building] became ruined. Then they found a vault in the cleft-off side … in which they discovered many books of the ancients, written on white poplar bark … and containing all of the sciences of the forefathers written in the old Persian form of writing.

Al-Nadim reports further that he had it on “reliable authority” that in 961 or 962 “another vaulted building cracked open … Many books were discovered in this place, but nobody found out how to read them.” The author then informs us that a decade before he had seen for himself books in Greek that had been found in a wall of the city (presumably Jayy). Al-Nadim closes this account by observing that in ancient times learning was forbidden except for those who were scholars or known to be able to receive learning by natural genius. Although the Greeks and Romans promoted learning, the Byzantine Christians forbade literacy except for the study of theology. In contrast, al-Nadim believed that Islam encourages the pursuit of literacy and knowledge.

Although the Fihrist is probably most valuable as a compendium of knowledge, it also preserves the spirit of its times through informative and entertaining narratives. One such story tells of a cotton worker named Mohammed ibn Kullab, who had a running theological debate with an acquaintance. Ibn Kullab contended that the Word of Allah, notably the Koran, is also Allah. His interlocutor then accused ibn Kullab of being a Christian, since Christians believed, on the basis of the Gospel of John, that the Word is God, and asked, “What do you have to say about the Christ (al-Masih)?” He would say the same thing about Christ that the Sunni Muslims say about the Koran, ibn Kullab responded: He is the Word of God.

This story nicely illustrates al-Nadim’s tone of mind: tolerant, curious, often bemused. Not only does the Fihrist show the breadth of al-Nadim’s knowledge, it is also a testament to his compassion. This devout Muslim, extremely proud of his culture and heritage, honored the beliefs of other peoples and gave them residence in his life’s work. He knew much about Judaism and Christianity, for example; he knew their histories, their scriptures, their religious beliefs. He knew the works of ancient Greek, Hindu and Chinese scholars. He was fascinated by the world beyond his own, so he built a monument to it, the Fihrist, which shines brightly with his humane spirit.


1. Al-Nadim provides numerous accounts of book collections in remote places. For example, he tells of one sage, Khalid ibn Yzid ibn Mu’awiyah, who ordered a group of Greek philosophers from a city in Egypt, presumably Alexandria, to translate Greek and Coptic scientific books into Arabic (p. 581). Al-Nadim gives one unusually interesting account: “I heard Abu Ishaq ibn Shahram tell in a general gathering that there is in the Byzantine country a temple of ancient construction. It has a portal larger than any other ever seen with both gates made of iron. In ancient times, when they worshipped heavenly bodies and idols, the Greeks exalted this [temple], praying and sacrificing in it. He [Ibn Shahram] said, ‘I asked the emperor of the Byzantines to open it for me, but this was impossible, as it had been locked since the time that the Byzantines had become Christians. I continued, however, to be courteous to him, to correspond with him, and also to entreat him in conversation during my stay at his court. … He agreed to open it and, behold, this building was made of marble and great colored stones, upon which there were many beautiful inscriptions and sculptures. I have never seen or heard of anything equaling its vastness and beauty. In this temple there were numerous camel loads of ancient books … Some of these [books] were worn and some in normal condition. Others were eaten by insects.’ Then he said, ‘I saw there gold offering utensils and other rare things.’ He went on to say, ‘After my exit the door was locked …’ He believed that the building was a three-day journey from Constantinople” (pp. 585–586). It is likely that this was the famous Celsus Library at Ephesus, built in the second century C.E.

2. Callimachus (c. 305–235 B.C.E.) served under four successive chief librarians as the collector and collator of the Alexandria Library. He produced a 120-volume catalogue, called the Pinakes, of the library’s 500,000 books (that number would reach 1,000,000 by the time of Jesus). The Pinakes contained information on each book’s contents, provenance and author. After the library was destroyed in the seventh century C.E., many of its surviving books were apparently carried off to the imperial libraries of the caliphates, where they were translated into Persian and Arabic. For more information, see J. Harold Ellens, “You Can Look It Up!AO 02:02; “The Ancient Library of Alexandria: The West’s Most Important Repository of Learning,BR 13:01; The Ancient Library of Alexandria and Early Christian Theological Development, Occasional Papers no. 27 (Claremont, CA: Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate University, 1993).

3. In the Fihrist, al-Nadim provides a summary of what others think of the Mu’tazilah (meaning “Those Who Separate Themselves”): “The Zaydiyah and Ibadiyah said that they did not believe in [God’s] grace, and were neither polytheists nor Muslims, but sinners. The companions of al-Hasan said that they were hypocrites and also sinners. All of the Mu’tazilah separated themselves from the things about which these [groups] differed. They said, ‘We agree about what they join in calling sin, but we avoid matters about which they disagree concerning unbelief, belief, hypocrisy, and polytheism’” (pp. 380–381).

First Person: Banning Ba’al

As published in the March/April 2016 Biblical Archaeology Review

hershel-shanksWas the proper name Eshbaal—man of Ba’al—banned in Judah after King David’s time? A recent analysis suggests that it was.

Ba’al, meaning lord or master, was a common divine appellative in Canaan and neighboring areas during Biblical periods, most frequently referring to the storm god.

Very recently an inscription was uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa—a site already famous for a late 11th–10th-century B.C.E. inscription—about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. According to excavator Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, the site is probably an imposing fortress erected by King David facing the Philistines. The dim five-line inscription in ink on a piece of pottery found there has been widely discussed and variously interpreted—with some claiming it as one of the oldest Hebrew texts ever found.a

Very recently two additional inscriptions—far less known—have been recovered at Qeiyafa. Only one has been deciphered so far. A team of scholars is continuing to work on the other one.


The deciphered one is short, but clear. It consists solely of a name: ’Ishba’al son of Beda‘.1The name ’Ishba’al or, more commonly, Eshbaal, is well known from the Bible. It means “man of Ba’al.” (The name Beda‘ appears for the first time in this inscription.)

Dating to about 1000 B.C.E., the inscription reads from right to left and consists of whole and partially preserved letters incised into the clay pot before firing. It is in so-called “Canaanite” script, the earliest alphabetic script in the world that wasprobably developed by Canaanites who were influenced by the writing system of the ancient Egyptians. The skilled hand that inscribed the letters reflects a trained artisan (and at least a partially literate society): The letters are large, clear, evenly sized and evenly spaced.

In the Bible various Ba’al names appear of people who lived in King David’s time or earlier (Jerubbaal [Judges 6:32], Meribbaal [1 Chronicles 9:40], etc.). But the Bible mentions no Ba’al names after this—neither Ba’al nor Eshbaal.

Ba’al names simply do not appear in the Bible after David’s time.

The archaeological situation is a bit, but not completely, different. We have more than a thousand seals and seal impressions (bullae) and hundreds of inscriptions from Israel and Judah from the post-David period (ninth–sixth centuries B.C.E.). The name Eshbaal is not to be found among these names. The situation with the name Ba’al is slightly different; it does occasionally appear in Israel—and of course in Philistia, Ammon and Phoenicia. But not in Judah!

It seems that Ba’al and Eshbaal were banned in David’s kingdom. One reason may have been that, at least officially, Judah was monotheistic. Thus, names constructed with a form of a foreign deity’s name—especially of Ba’al, who was Yahweh’s rival—would not have been considered kosher.

In addition, David’s predecessor and rival, King Saul, fathered a son named Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:332) who reigned for two years (2 Samuel 2:10)—another good reason to bar the name in David’s kingdom.


a. Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil, “An Ending and a Beginning,” BAR, November/December 2013; Hershel Shanks, “Prize Find: Oldest Hebrew Inscription,” BAR, March/April 2010; Christopher A. Rollston, “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription?” BAR, May/June 2012; Gerard Leval, “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israelite Monarchy,”BAR, May/June 2012.

1. Y[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ⌜bn⌝ | bdʿ

2. “Ishbosheth” in the account in 2 Samuel 2–4.

The History of Excavations at Tel Gezer

published on 12 January 2016

The archaeological site of Tel Gezer is located in central Israel at the edge of the western mountains near the Shephelah, about 9 or 10 km southwest of the city of Ramleh. Gezer was one of the famed “Solomonic” cities of the Hebrew Bible, said to have been fortified by Solomon (1 Kings 9:15–17), and the city appears in a number of Biblical accounts.


Like many archaeological sites in the Levant, Tel Gezer is centered on a man–made mound called a tell. A tell consists of several layers or ‘strata’, each of which contains the material remains of a period of human habitation and now rests on the layer representing the previous period of habitation and beneath the remains of the period that followed. The mound of Tel Gezer is about three times as long as it is wide – about 650 m long running east to west, by 200–250 m wide, and is, with a hill on the east and west ends, connected by a low point called the “saddle”.


Tel Gezer was occupied over a period of more than 3,000 years, from the latter half of the 4th millennium BCE through the 1st century CE. It was not fortified until the Middle Bronze Age (MB, c. 2000–1500 BCE), when fortifications were first built, including stone walls and towers, a glacis and a gate on the western hill. Later on, additional fortifications and monumental structures were built, especially in the Iron Age sometime during the period from the 10th through the 8th century BCE. The site continued to be inhabited, except for brief periods, until sometime in the 1st century CE.

The MB Canaanite gate found on the western hill.


Since the site was discovered in 1870, it has been excavated several times. The first excavation was conducted by the Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister for the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in the early 20th century. The site was then excavated by a joint expedition of the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School inJerusalem (HUC) and the Harvard Semitic Museum, from 1964–1976 and then by teams from the University of Arizona in 1984 and 1990. Excavations are currently being conducted by two groups. One is from the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and began work in 2006. The other, from the Moskau Institute for Archaeology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), began its excavations in 2010 and is focusing on the Gezer water system (See Tel Gezer Water System Project advertisement).

The entrance to the water system under excavation during the NOBTS team's 2011 season.

Perhaps the most notable archaeological development at the site in recent years was the discovery of evidence in the summer of 2015 that the Gezer water system was constructed in the MB, perhaps as early as 2000 BCE, unlike the water systems at Megiddo and Hazor which date to the Iron Age. In addition, as in the case of Megiddo and Hazor, the dating of the “Solomonic” Iron Age structures at Tel Gezer is being re-examined by scholars of the Ancient Near East.


Tel Gezer was discovered and identified by the famous 19th century CE French adventurer and scholar of the Holy Land, Charles Clermont-Ganneau. In 1870, Clermont-Ganneau read about a site called Tel ej-Jazar, and this Arabic name reminded him of the name of Biblical Gezer. He visited the site and in 1874, found two inscriptions in stone which he believed marked the boundaries of ancient Gezer. A total of nine inscriptions indicating the boundaries of Gezer have been found in total – all dating from the Roman period.

One of the nine Roman-period boundary stones.


The first excavation of Tel Gezer was conducted by R.A.S. Macalister for the PEF 1902-1905 and 1907-1909. In his excavation, Macalister discovered four sets of walls spanning more than two-thirds of the period of occupation of the site:

  • From the Early Bronze Age (EB), the Middle Wall,
  • From MB IIC, the Inner Wall with a triple gateway,
  • From the Late Bronze Age (LB), the Outer Wall, and
  • From the Solomonic period of the Iron Age (10th century BCE), the casemate wall, consisting of two parallel walls separated into compartments by stone crosspieces.

Macalister made a number of remarkable archaeological discoveries. He excavated the High Place and found the Gezer Calendar which describes the annual cycle of agricultural activities and dates to the 10th century BCE, making it the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. He also found several archaeological treasures, including Egyptian imports, Philistine pottery, and Persian silver pieces.

The original ”Gezer Calendar” found by Macalister and now on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. There is an exact replica in the Israel Museum and a mounted replica at Tel Gezer itself.

However, the objects were of limited archaeological value because the findspots of the objects and their context were not properly recorded. Most importantly, Macalister did not perform a recognizable stratigraphic investigation and analysis and did not record the elevations at which the various objects were found. Instead of identifying the strata of findspots, he classified the pottery and other materials he found according to periods, identifying eight periods as follows: the Pre-Semitic period, the First through Fourth Semitic periods, and the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. Macalister also made a serious error in dating the Iron Age gate, which he dated to the Maccabean period, centuries later than its actual date.

The work was not done systematically, probably because Macalister was the only archaeologist on a project working with large numbers of laborers, and because stratigraphic techniques had been developed only a few years earlier.


In 1914 and 1924, areas around Tel Gezer owned by Baron Rothschild were excavated by Raymond-Charles Weill, working for Rothschild. Reports of the excavations were not published until 2004, 80 years after the later of the two excavations. In 1934, a new expedition to Gezer was initiated by the PEF under the direction of British archaeologist Alan Rowe. This was to be a full-scale excavation, but the areas identified for excavation turned out not to be workable, and so the project was abandoned after about six weeks.


In 1964, the first major excavation of Tel Gezer since Macalister’s expedition more than 50 years earlier was launched. The new excavation was sponsored jointly by the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem (HUC) and the Harvard Semitic Museum.

The HUC-Harvard Expedition adopted an innovative approach to the staffing and administration of the dig, that was soon to be followed by most excavations led by American universities. For the first time, the expedition used student volunteers instead of paid laborers. It also offered the first field school for students on a dig. Following the New Archaeology that had emerged shortly before, It used specialists to explore specific issues involving the natural and social sciences and the arts, such as zoology, botany and geology.

The director of the project in the first season was G. Ernest Wright of Harvard, a legendary archaeologist long associated with the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). William G. Dever then served as director for seven seasons, 1965-1971, followed by Joe D. Seeger 1972-1974. Excavations continued in 1984 and 1990, under the direction of Dever but sponsored by the University of Arizona.

The HUC-Harvard Expedition re-excavated areas dug by Macalister, and also opened up new areas. It found more than 20 strata dating from about 3000 BCE to 100 CE.


Some of the most notable discoveries of the Expedition dated to the MB and the LB. The excavators found the Inner Wall and a 25-foot (c. 7.5 m) high glacis, both dated to the MB IIC. They also re-examined the High Place found by Macalister. This was a series of ten standing stones which may have served some ritual purpose but may also have commemorated an agreement or treaty among different tribes. The HUC-Harvard excavators dated them to MB IIC. Discoveries dated to the LB included the Outer Wall and a great palace with Egyptian treasures dated to the Amarna period (14th century BCE) which was apparently destroyed by Merneptah at the end of the 13th century BCE.

The standing stones at the ”High Place.”


In their excavation of the Iron Age strata, the HUC-Harvard excavators discovered the towers of the Outer Wall and a casemate wall – two parallel walls connected by perpendicular cross pieces which create a series of chambers.

In the Iron Age, a six-chambered gate was built on the saddle. While the HUC-Harvard excavation was going on, or shortly before, the great Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin re-examined Macalister’s dating of the gate at Gezer (erroneously dated by Macalister to the Maccabean period) and attributed the Gezer gate, as well as the gates at Megiddo and Hazor, to Solomon in the 10th t century BCE. However, other archaeologists have since adopted a “low chronology” and have re-dated the gates and certain other massive structures to later dates – in the 9th and the 8th centuries BCE.

The ”six-chambered” Iron Age gate.

The excavators also found that the apparent gap in the occupation of the site from the 10th to the 6th century BCE was probably due to the fact that Macalister had not published reports related to this period. There was evidence of the Neo-Babylonian destruction in the late 7th or early 6th century BCE.


The archaeological expedition currently responsible for the overall excavation of the site is called the Tel Gezer Excavation and Publication Project and is sponsored by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (See Tel Gezer Excavation and Publication Project advertisement).

The expedition began work in 2006 and has been concentrating on the Iron Age strata of the mound. The team has excavated the Iron Age layers on the south central side of the mound, seeking to connect the Iron Age structures uncovered by the HUC-Harvard project with those found by the current expedition. They are also examining urbanization during the Iron Age in an area to the west of the six-chambered gate, as well as in other areas where Iron Age public buildings and domestic structures are located. Most of the material found by the current excavators dates to the 10th, 9th and 8th centuries BCE, as well as the Hellenistic period, although only a limited amount of material from the Solomonic period has been found. The current directors of the project are also re-examining the dating of the six-chambered gate, but for the moment, they continue to maintain that the gate dates to Solomon and the 10th century BCE, as Yadin said.

The caliphate strikes back

The fall of Ramadi and Palmyra shows that the jihadists are still in business

FOR months Iraqis were told that Islamic State (IS) was on the way out. In April Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister, declared he had won the “psychological battle” after chasing the jihadists from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s old hometown. Baghdad residents played pop songs mocking IS on their car radios. But Ramadi’s fall on May 15th has punctured that optimism, and the streets are again filled with foreboding. IS is only a short drive away, and also menaces the oil refinery and power plant at Baiji on which Baghdad depends. The news five days later that IS had seized Palmyra, in Syria, heightened the alarm.

Ramadi, some 110km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, and was the last remaining city held by the government in the Sunni-dominated region. IS had occupied parts of the sprawling city for many months, but retaining control of government buildings there was a key part of plans to reconquer the province. In the event, the Iraqi army fared no better than when it fled Mosul, Iraq’s second city, last June, again leaving large quantities of military hardware behind. A wave of suicide trucks punched through Ramadi’s defences, and sent the men who held them running.

After almost a year of American-led bombardment and Iranian-backed ground operations, IS appears unbowed. It has suffered reverses and has lost territory to the Kurds as well as to the Baghdad government and its militias. It has seen some of its commanders, including its deputy leader, killed by American bombs. Air raids have wrecked oil installations it controls, slashing its revenues.

But IS still continues to attract foreign and local fighters. Its deployment of convoys of suicide bombers in 15-tonne trucks renders futile attempts to hold fortified lines. It is pushing forward again in Anbar, the heartland of Iraq’s Sunni tribes, and therefore fertile ground for IS, which has drawn much of its support from Sunnis fearful of and marginalised by the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. And it is also gaining ground again in Syria, on May 20th storming Palmyra. The fear is that it will destroy the site of one of the world’s treasures, a Roman-era city, as it has done to other pre-Muslim antiquities.

It is easy to blame Mr Abadi for the Ramadi debacle. But the government’s problems are far bigger than the choice of prime minister. Its army is a paper tiger, with commanders who inflate their ranks with ghost soldiers and claim the extra salaries, but who flee when in danger. The mostly Shia rank-and-file soldiers follow their lead, terrified of capture by a ruthless foe that views them as heretics. After overrunning Tikrit last June, IS butchered 1,500 army cadets at Camp Speicher.

Unable to depend on his own forces, Mr Abadi has turned to the Hashid al-Shabi, or “popular mobilisation units”, unleashed last June to prevent IS sweeping into Baghdad. These are a conglomeration of some 40 militias, almost exclusively Shia and many backed by Iran. Over the past year, they have pushed IS back from the Iranian border and cleared a belt around Baghdad. They are now preparing, along with the Iraqi army, to launch a counter-assault on Ramadi. But the Hashid al-Shabi could prove a double-edged sword. If the Shia militias lose, they weaken Baghdad’s best defence. If they win, they may challenge the government for control. Whatever the case, their deployment in Sunni areas risks sparking fresh sectarian bloodletting.

Instead, the Americans and Iraq’s Sunni neighbours have encouraged Mr Abadi to arm the Sunni tribes, though so far to little effect. They recall the “Sunni Awakening” of 2006-7 when America’s commanders paid, trained and armed Anbar’s tribesmen, and within seven months pushed IS’s precursors, al-Qaeda in Iraq, out of the province. But the trick will be hard to repeat. The province’s 13 main tribes are as divided as they are weak.

Concerned outsiders look on but would rather pass the buck. Jordan is helping the Americans train a small number of Sunni tribesmen but wants the Iraqi government to pay for a proper roll-out. Saudi Arabia is preoccupied with its war in Yemen. America continues to train Sunni soldiers at its Ain al-Asad base deep in Anbar, but pending their deployment has welcomed the militia’s intervention, apparently hopeful that the Shia units will succeed where the Iraqi army and the coalition have failed. Putting any more American troops, beyond a few thousand advisers and trainers, on the ground, risks dragging the United States back into ground combat.

For now, IS’s leaders seem focused on pursuing tactical advantages, while consolidating their hold on Iraq’s predominantly Sunni provinces and winning the battle, through both fear and the supply of government services, for local hearts and minds. Decapitations notwithstanding, their administrators win plaudits for their efficient management, clean streets and timely payment of salaries. They have partially restored electricity to Mosul, refurbished a hotel there and opened Saddam Hussein’s palaces for weekend strolls. Debt-burdened Jordan hopes that IS might see a mutual interest in keeping its border crossing open for trade, and even recognises the receipts it issues for import duties as tax-deductible.

The danger is that the IS caliphate is becoming a permanent part of the region. The frontiers will shift in the coming months. But with the Kurds governing themselves in the north-east, and the Shias in the south, Iraqis question the government’s resolve in reversing IS’s hold on the Sunni north-west. “Partition is already a reality,” sighs a Sunni politician in exile. “It just has yet to be mapped.”

The Middle Eastern mesh

ON APRIL 2nd, Iran and six world powers (America, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) agreed the outline of a deal to restrict Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb for a decade, in return for a gradual easing of sanctions. If implemented, said President Barack Obama, it would resolve by diplomatic means one of the greatest threats to world security. But it is unclear how the accord will affect the deepening turmoil in the Middle East. Four Arab civil wars under way—in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen—with Iran, America, Saudi Arabia supporting a complex mix of warring parties, as our interactive chart shows.

The conflicts reflect multiple divisions over religion, ideology, ethnicity and class. But the sectarian rift—in which Iran supports Shias and their allies, while Saudi Arabia backs at least some of the Sunnis—has become more acute. It is most apparent in Iraq, where the government is dominated by Shias and is allied to Iran. Most Sunni areas have been taken over by jihadists of the so-called Islamic State, who also control swathes of eastern Syria. In Syria President Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority sect, regarded as an offshoot of Shia Islam, dominates the government and is propped up by Iran and is Lebanese proxy, Hizbullah. The rebels are mostly Sunni and fragmented. In Yemen the link between the Houthis (followers of the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam) and Iran (devotees of the Twelver branch) is perhaps least clear. Yet this is where Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries have decided to draw a red line against Iranian encroachment: the Saudis lead a ten-nation coalition involved in bombing the Houthis.

America, for its part, straddles the divide. In Iraq it operates alongside Iran to support the Baghdad government; in Syria it gives lukewarm support to some of the more moderate rebels; in Yemen it is providing intelligence and logistical help to the Saudi military operation. Where there is no Shia-Sunni divide, there are marked Sunni-Sunni splits. In Egypt the government of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is backed by Turkey and Qatar. The same two groupings support rival governments in Libya.

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