Biblical Archaeology Forum

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The Biblical Archaeology Forum (BAF) begins its thirty-second year in September with Maryland University professor Kenneth Holum looking back on his own three decades excavating King Herod’s monumental building at Caesarea and highlighting recent discoveries.

Please join us for a series of eight scholarly lectures on the latest archaeological research findings and related fields such as history, art and texts of ancient times. Reservations are not required. Fees per lecture are: free – high school students; $5 – Residents of CES Life Communities, college students and co-sponsors; $8 – BASONOVA & Bender JCC members, and; $10 – the general public. For more information, please contact

Click here to subscribe to the BAF 2016-2017 lecture season.

2016-2017 SEASON

CaesareaKing Herod’s Harbor Temple at Caesarea Maritima

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Kenneth Holum | University of Maryland

Caesarea Maritima is a fascinating archaeological site that continues to spring surprises on the public and the scholarly world, including recent finds of Islamic coins and Roman sculpture from the Mediterranean.  Beyond these “blockbuster” discoveries reported in the press, work has continued on the site of the great pagan temple that King Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma and to the Roman emperor as a god.

Herod founded the city late in the first century BCE, even as he rebuilt the Second Temple to the God of Israel in Jerusalem.  Work on the remains of the Caesarea temple, brought to light by Dr. Holum and his team in the 1990’s, has now clarified both temple’s design and the motives of the king in building it.  Herod’s great pagan temple proves to have been a tool in his campaign to bring Caesarea and his Judean kingdom into the trading networks emerging in the eastern Mediterranean. Click here for the event page.

palmyra2Saving the Cultural Heritage of Ancient Syria and Iraq (Symposium)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC Auditorium

Expert Panel: Andrew Vaughn | Executive Director – American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and Administrative Director of ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiative; Jessica Johnson | Head of Conservation – Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and former director of academics, Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage; Salam Al Kuntar | Penn Museum and Co-Director – Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria Initiative; Katie Paul | Chief of Staff -Antiquities Coalition

The ancient Assyrian cities of Nineveh and Nimrud in Iraq, the Temples of Baalshamin and Bel in  Palmyra, Syria, the mosaics of the rich Syrian city of Apamea—these ancient sites and many more have been looted or destroyed during the current conflicts raging in the Near East. The monuments destroyed are irreplaceable memorials to the ancient civilizations that created the first cities, earliest writing systems, and oldest known legal codes.

In addition to destroying cultural property, extremist groups like ISIL are looting archaeological sites and selling the artifacts to fund their operations. Thus, protecting cultural heritage can also mitigate the human impact of these geo-political struggles.

BAF has assembled four well-known experts in Near Eastern heritage conservation who will illustrate some of the most notable examples of looted artifacts and archaeological destruction, offer an in-depth look at the biggest issues and challenges in historic preservation, detail their organizations’ roles in saving cultural heritage of ancient Syria and Iraq, and suggest what the general public can do to help. Following their presentations, the panel will take questions from the audience. Click here for the event page.

Hazor-siseraWhat Do Ancient Documents Tell Us About the People Who Lived At Hazor?

Monday, November 21, 2016 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Amnon Ben Tor | Hebrew University | Director of Excavations at Hazor

Hazor was strategically located in Canaan on ancient trade routes from the north, east and west. According to the Bible, the Israelites under Joshua burned Hazor; later, it was rebuilt by the Canaanites. At the advice of the prophetess Deborah it was taken by Barak, who went forth against the Canaanite king Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots and had ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. The result was one of the most remarkable victories for Israel recorded in the Bible.

Hazor is now the largest archaeological site in Israel. Documents  discovered at Hazor, and some discovered in other places, shed a vivid light on various aspects of life of the  inhabitants of Hazor, the major metropolis referred to in the Bible as “the Head of all Those Kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). Ancient practices of law, education, economy, culture and international relations come to life in these texts as described by Hazor excavations director Amnon Ben Tor. Click here for the event page.

carthageCarthage and the Forgotten Phoenicians in the Ancient Mediterranean

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Brien Garnand | Howard University

We often hear of conflict with Phoenicians—ancient Israelites fought against them (i.e. Canaanites) for control of the southern Levant; Greeks competed against them across the entire Mediterranean; and Rome fought three protracted Phoenician (Punic) Wars, nearly losing their empire to Hannibal—yet we rarely hear of Phoenician civilization.

Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon sent settlers westward as far as Spain and Morocco, spreading alphabetic literacy, expanding trade networks, and establishing urban centers. Their colonists at Carthage competed as equals against Greek colonists at Cyrene in Libya; those from Motya and Palermo competed against Syracuse in Sicily.

Perhaps we can attribute their exclusion from the ranks of the civilized to an overly credulous reading of hostile ancient sources; perhaps to modern scholars who have let racism (or Orientalism) cloud their assessment of Semitic cities, or; perhaps to allegations of ritual infanticide that present their culture as depraved. Click here for the event page.

Power, Politics and Palaces: The Architectural Innovations of King Herod

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Lisa Kahn | George Mason University

When Caesar Augustus appointed Herod as King of the Jews, the political and physical landscape of Judea was bleak. Herod, however, crafted a personal agenda that was to transform his country and his place in history.

Reviled for great cruelty, this king is now also recognized for his daring architectural innovations. Herod rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem and created the thriving port Caesarea Maritima with its Temple of Roma and Augustus overlooking a thriving harbor and one of his most luxurious palaces. He strategically placed other palace-fortresses throughout the country constructing a network of administrative centers. The archaeological evidence reveals an architectural genius, each palace designed with breathtaking synergy with its natural surroundings and clearly intended to impress.

Herod’s final project, his tomb at Herodium, further transformed the already remarkable site. These sites will be presented in light of current findings and analyses, revealing various aspects of this powerful ruler. Click here for the event page.

SekhmetAmenhotep III, Tiye, and Sakhmet: Interpreting the Lion Goddess Statues from the Temple of Mut

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Betsy Bryan | Johns Hopkins University

More than 700 statues of the goddess Sakhmet in the form of a lion-headed woman were placed in the Temple of Mut (in Luxor, Egypt) on the order of Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III, ca. 1375 BCE, along with statues of him and his primary queen Tiye. Amenhotep “The Magnificent” and Queen Tiye were the parents of Akhenaten, the heretic Pharaoh.

The sheer magnitude of the production of these statues — which were also made and placed in Amenhotep’s funerary temple at Kom el Hettan — has held the attention of both scholars and the general public for two hundred years. This illustrated lecture will examine the statues in the context of the reign of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye and will highlight the temple rituals associated with the two temples where the statues were erected. Click here for the event page.

deadsea_scrollsWhat the Dead Sea Scrolls Teach Us About The Bible

Sunday, April 30, 2017 • 7:30 pm • B’nai Israel Congregation

Sidnie White Crawford | University of Nebraska at Lincoln

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has dramatically increased our knowledge of the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible and the formation of the Jewish canon.  This lecture will explore what the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal about the text of the Bible.  How did the books of the Bible reach the form they now have?  How did scribes copy and pass down their inherited traditions in the Second Temple period?

The lecture will also consider the process of “canon formation” in the Second Temple period.  What biblical books were considered authoritative for all Jews?  Why did different Jewish groups have conflicting lists of authoritative books?  How did we get the present canon of Jewish Scripture?

Lavishly illustrated, this lecture will bring alive a little-known period of Jewish history through the lens of these transformative historical documents. Click here for the event page.

opheltes-nemeaLife and Death at Nemea: Greek Hero Opheltes and the Origin of the Nemean Games

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 • 8 p.m. • Bender JCC

Jorge Bravo | University of Maryland

The Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea was host to one of the great athletic festivals of ancient Greece, the Nemean Games, on par with the ancient Olympics. The Games spanned more than three hundred years, beginning early in the sixth century BCE. The ancient Greeks connected the origin of the Games with the myth of the hero Opheltes, a baby whose sudden death created a ritual obligation to honor the child with funerary rites and games.

This illustrated lecture will show archaeological evidence from the Shrine of Opheltes at Nemea, combined with literary and artistic testimony, to shed light on how the bond between the Games and the child hero was celebrated throughout antiquity with ritual observances such as sacrifice and libations. Click here for the event page.