Extreme Archaeology of the Black Desert, Jordan 

Yorke Rowan, on behalf of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project (EBAP) team 


Our adventures in extreme archaeology in the Black Desert of Jordan bring known expectations. We know that the long first day includes loading a Toyota Hilux and larger cargo truck; various stop offs to pick up water tanks, ice, and fuel; driving two hours off road through the rough basalt; arriving to unpack, build camp, inhale dust and flies; ending with the inevitable search for the first night’s mealThe sore limbs, chapped lips, more flies, snakes and melted ice are also all known. What was unknown during the 2018 expedition was the two days of torrential rains, wind and lightening. The soggy beginning brought on by this unusual weather episode encouraged us to appreciate the warm days that followed, and the pleasant discoveries of a region that can look so starkly unwelcoming. Logistics are a challenge in an area without cell phone reception and far from food and water, even for our small team of ten people.  


Figure 1. The team surveys their soggy surroundings after the final rain at Wisad Pools (Photo: Y. M. Rowan) 



Returning to Wisad Pools for the first time since 2014, a primary goal of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project was to complete the excavation of building W-80, a large structure with multiple building phases and occupations. These episodes indicate people lived in the building sporadically over at least 700 years during the Late Neolithic (C14 indicates intermittent occupation from the mid7th to mid6th millennia cal. B.C.)Situated on the southeastern edge of the harra (basaltic landscape), Wisad Pools consists of a short drainage (c. 1.5 km long) that flows from a plateau to a qa’ (mudflat) about ten meters lower in elevationNatural and blocked sections of this drainage created nine pools, surrounded by hundreds of collapsed basalt structureswhich until now had no known age or function. The pools of water attracted people and animals for millennia. Using basalt boulders and slabs as their medium, people pecked rock art representing animals and hunting traps, and the occasional human. Yet most of the animals depicted are not found in our excavations. 

Figure 2. Petroglyph depicting ibex and two hunters (Photo: A. C. Hill) 


Continuing the excavation of the large structure W-80, we were surprised to find deeper, continuing depositsAlthough very good news, this required establishing the connections between depositional phases and structural remodeling that occurred later in the building’s life. For example, the narrow entrance of the main northeast door was created by inserting a wall section into the earlier, much wider entrance. By removing this blocking wall to expose an earlier, roughly paved entrance, a working platform rich in artifacts was discovered. We found a large pierced mother of pearl plaque tucked away at the base of the later entrance. 

Figure 3. Mother of pearl plaque found at the threshold (Photo: G. O. Rollefson) 


Below this level at the same threshold, a large worked block of red ochre was unearthed, pressed vertically into the ground. At a slightly higher level, we have reported on a cache of caprine/gazelle astragalae (Rowan et al. 2015a: Fig. 11a).  

Conducted in 1 x 1 m squares and 5 cm spits, the excavations of these earlier interior layers had smaller hearths, ashy deposits, and small grinding slabs with handstones. In the later occupations, surfaces included massive grinding slabs and deep fire pits, suggesting significant changes not only in the structure but also its use. Around the central standing stone we discovered a concentration of mandibles and crania from gazelle, suggesting a foundation deposit.

Figure 4. Cache of gazelle mandibles and crania fragments at the base of the central pillar in W-80 (Photo: B. Heidkamp).   


 In the same shallow pit a polished sphere strengthens the idea this was a ritual deposit. Another cache of caprine/gazelle astragalae found at the base of this pillar leave little doubt that these were intentional ritualized deposits.  

After four seasons of excavation at Wisad Pools, our perceptions of the area are becoming radically transformed. We cannot attribute all of the many structures to the Late Neolithic period, but evidence points to a substantial building and reuse of the area during this time. The impressive structures and rich deposits hint at the repeated use by hunter-herders who returned and lived near the pools, possibly for substantial parts of the year. Although we might see this arid landscape as bleak and barely habitable for short periods, those soggy first days remind us that the ancient inhabitants developed strategies to thrive and build hamlets in the Black Desert despite the many unknowns. 


The Making of a Pasha: Charles Moore Watson 


Dr Michael Talbot 

Lecturer in the History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Middle East, University of Greenwich 

BBC & AHRC New Generation Thinker 




‘My dear Watson,  

Long live the Pasha! May Your Excellency enjoy every bliss, and flourish like the palm in which the doves sit and sing their love songs.’  

Herbert Kitchener, cited in Stanley Lane-Poole, Watson Pasha (1919) 


With this rather teasing note, Herbert Kitchener congratulated Charles Moore Watson on being awarded the rank of mirliva, or major-general, in the Egyptian army in 1885. This high office came with the Ottoman title pasha, with the result that Watson would ever be known as Watson Pasha“. An engineer by training with an interest in surveying, Watson was keen supporter of the Royal Geographic Society. A visit to Palestine in 1891 sparked an interest that would eventually lead him to becoming involved with the Palestine Exploration Fund, the chairmanship of which he would assume in 1905. However, he had cut his teeth in the Middle East surveying the White Nile in the mid-1870s, before participating in the British invasion of Egypt in 1882. Watson subsequently took on a number of senior duties in the military administration of that country. His involvement in organising the Egyptian armed forces led to him publishing an English-Arabic vocabulary for military use, and being awarded the title of pasha.  



Figure 1: Charles Moore Watson, 1887, from gallica.bnf.fr 


Kitchener’s mockery of Watson’s new title was not, however, directed at Watson himself, but rather at the ornate and elaborate style of writing found in the Middle East. In the archives of the PEF, there is a document that gives us an idea of what he was talking about, and it relates directly to Watson’s promotion. When I first saw the document, I’d expected it to be something to do with the British consulate in Jerusalem. From a brief initial glance over, it seemed to be a bog-standard Ottoman command, but with no mention of any of the usual names or places in Palestine for the period. In my haste, I’d missed out the key detail – the name of the subject of the command. This was in part because I hadn’t expected to see an English name followed by an Ottoman title. It was therefore a nice surprise to read out “Vatson Pasha” when I sat down and read through the document properly. 




Figure 2: “Watson Pasha”, PEF-DA-MISC DOCS-1 


Dated 21 Safer 1304 in the Islamic hijri calendar – that’s 19 November 1886 – this source is the official confirmation by Sultan Abdülhamid II of Watson’s new rank. Although Egypt had been under British military occupation since 1882, Abdülhamid II was still ruler of his province of Egypt on paper. Egyptian coins continued to bear his name, and commands issued by the Khedive in Cairo – technically a viceroy but basically an autonomous ruler – still had to be approved by Istanbul. Indeed, the dramatic flowery squiggles on the bottom left of the page indicate that this document was produced ‘in the locality of Well-Protected Constantinople’.  

 As proof of its genuineness, Watson’s imperial order is headed by the tuğra, the calligraphic cartouche of the sultan’s name, declaring to the entire world that this is the true command of ABDÜLHAMİD KHAN SON OF ABDÜLMECİD KHAN, THE EVER VICTORIOUS!  



Figure 3: The tuğra of Sultan Abdülhamid II and the first two lines of the command, PEF-DA-MISC DOCS-1 


Underneath the tuğra, the text itself is formulaic, but in the typical Ottoman court style is written in the beautiful divani script, intended to be both aesthetically pleasing and hard to copy. It also contains the grand and poetic imperial language contained in most kinds of official Ottoman correspondence. Let’s take a look at the opening line of text: 

“Most august commander of the commanders, pillar of the esteemed noblemen, possessor of might and honour, beneficiary of the of limitless benevolence of the all-knowing king, one of the commanders of my imperial Egyptian soldiers, Watson Pasha, who at this time has been bestowed and gifted the duty of the eminent rank of major-general by the lofty hem of my robe.”

Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? But it sounds even better in the original, because in Ottoman Turkish the first part (from “Most august” to “all-knowing king“) makes up the formal epithet (elkab) attached to Watson’s new rank – and it rhymes. I’ve included a full transcription of this document the end of this post for those who might be interested, but it’s worth trying to give this part a read out loud in the original Ottoman Turkish to appreciate the flow of the title; I’ve highlighted the rhyming bits for emphasis:  

“Emir ül-ümera ül-kiram, umdet ül-kübera ül-fiham, zü’l-kadir ve’l-ihtiram, el-muhtass bi-mezid-i inayet ül-melik ül-allam”

So Kitchener’s ridicule of the poetic nature of Ottoman writing had a bit of a point. But mockery aside, this shows Watson being formally tied in to the centuries’-old practices of the Ottoman court, even if the circumstances in the late nineteenth century were rather different.  

The command goes on to explain the rationale behind how and why this promotion was to be confirmed: 

“Through my high imperial sign let it be known that: By virtue of the skill and competence of your knowledge, you who are the aforementioned pasha have been bestowed the duty of the eminent rank of major-general by the declaration and communication made by the Khedive of Egypt. Having done so in this manner, my high imperial command and order decrees that, the attainment of the said rank being in accordance with the necessary requirements received from the Imperial Council, this my present mighty and supreme command has been issued and [the rank] conferred. “

Here we can see the chain of events. Khedive Tawfiq of Egypt, in the rather awkward position of being both Ottoman viceroy and British protectee, granted Watson his promotion within the British-run Egyptian army. But the Egyptian army, as the command noted above, was still technically the Ottoman sultan’s. Keeping up so far? So the command went to the sultan’s imperial council in Istanbul, finally to be approved by the sultan’s order. This process took quite a while. Watson received his initial promotion in Egypt in July 1885, so well over a year had elapsed by the time he received this formal confirmation in November 1886.  



Figure 4: Lines three to five of the command, PEF-DA-MISC DOCS-1 


Now recognised as an Ottoman general and pasha, Watson had to be presented with the standard terms and conditions for an Ottoman imperial military appointment: 

“You have in this way received your promotion by the requirements of my favour and authority, and in taking on the rank of major-general, on all occasions you will show the proofs of your expertise and integrity and give all your care and effort in discharging the affairs of your office. Beware! You shall never in any way do anything in contravention of my imperial consent, nor contrary to the order of the state. May you prosper, thrive, and grow in strength.”

The irony in the text is delicious. Watson, a military officer who had taken a prominent part in the British invasion that had seized control of Egypt, and who was now acting as a senior administrator of the occupation, had been warned not to do anything that would betray the sultan.  

Ottoman official commands may not have spoken of doves in palm trees as Kitchener jested, but in the flowing poetic script of a formulaic promotion document, we can witness the imperial transition in Egypt, with the British firmly set in the country but with the Ottomans still making their claim. We also have a new document in the archives of the PEF to add to our knowledge of the life and career of that pillar of the esteemed noblemen, Watson Pasha.   




Transcription of the original Ottoman Turkish text 




(1) Emirü’l-ümeraü’l-kiram umdetü’l-küberaü’l-fiham zü’l-kadr ve’l-ihtiram elmuhtass bi-mezid-i inayetü’l-melikü’l-allam  asakir-i Mısriye-i şahanem ümerasından olub bu defa uhdesine mir-i livalık rütbe-i muteberesi tevcih ve ihsan kılınan Vatson Paşa damen-i muallaya 


(2) tevki-i refi-i hümayunum vasıl olıcak malum oldur ki sen ki paşa-yı muma-ileyhsin senin derkar olan dirayet ve liyakatın cihetiyle uhde ki mir-i livalık rütbe-i muteberesi tevcihi Mısır Hidiviyeti canibinden ifade ve işar olunmuş ve ol vecihle icrası  


(3) hususuna emr ve irade-i seniye-i mülukanem müteallik şerefsüdur olmak olmağın mukteza-yı münifi üzere rütbe-i mezkureye nailiyetini mutazammın Divan-ı Hümayunumdan işbu emr-i celilü’il-kadrım ısdar ve ita olundu   sen dahi bu vecihle nail olduğun 


(4) iltifat ve itibara mütehattim ve mir-i livalık rütbesine müterettib olduğu üzere her halde umur-u memurende ibrazasardirayetmendi ve istikamete mezid-i itina ve sarfmakderet ve zinhar hilafrıza-yı şahanem ve muğayir-i nizam bir gune hal ve hareket 


(5) vukua gelmemesine bezl ve say ve kudret eyleyesin  tahriren fi’l-yevmü’l-vahid ve’l-ışrin min şehr-i Saferü’l-hayr li-sene erbaa ve selasü mie ve elf 


Be-makamKostantiniye el-Mahruse 

The Stonemasons of Beit Jala: Location, Skill, and Passion

By Dan Koski

[part 1 of 2]

The quiet hilltop city of Beit Jala that overlooks Bethlehem and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank has, by and large, escaped the interest of Biblical scholars, archaeologists, chroniclers and greater travelogues, but any serious student of the Holy Land will have at the very least come across its name or passed on through this Christian village. Yet the village has made its mark in more ways than one, including, quite literally, a mark in stone through its legacy of stonemasons.

The quality of the stonemasonry in Beit Jala is one of its many charms. From its Ottoman city centre to its more modern constructions from the British Mandate onwards, its residential, commercial and religious buildings have long been admired by pilgrims, travelers and researchers either passing through or residing in the village (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Historic Beit Jala buildings, late Ottoman to post-Jordanian era (photo by D. Koski).

It is said that Beit Jala was the first water-skin stop of the Holy Family en route to Egypt. With its abundance of water, relatively cool climate and proximity to both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it is no wonder that Beit Jala took the interest of many of the disciples of Jesus who passed through it in his first few days on Earth. While identified as a Christian place of pilgrimage by at least the Ottoman era on a surviving Greek Orthodox pilgrimage map of the Holy Land in Crete, its Arab Palestinian Christian population became of equal interest by the 19th century.

With a surge in Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox missionary activity in the late Ottoman Era, as well as a resurgent Greek Orthodox Church, local quality stonemasons were in high demand for innumerable building projects ranging from churches, schools and hospitals to more refined work such as statues needed for chapels (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Stone icon of Saint George above the lintel of a Beit Jala home (photo by D. Koski).

Being geographically close to Jerusalem and having contacts through the various Christian churches and communities which already had a keen interest in Bethlehem district, Beit Jala stonemasons had an invaluable leg up from the competition. Furthermore, with a local abundance of much-valued Jerusalem stone, known for its quality and pinkish rose-tinted hue (indeed, oral history attributes the columns of the nave within the Church of the Nativity to as being from the vicinity of present-day Beit Jala), administrators overseeing building projects could potentially use both local skill and building material, significantly reducing their overhead. The magnificent stonework of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene on Gethsemane and the façade of the Milk Grotto Church in Bethlehem, both completed in part by stonecutters from Beit Jala, bears witness to the quality work that could be accomplished by the end of the 19th century.

Unsurprisingly, a local market for expert stonemasonry begun to emerge in the late 19th to early 20th century, as the prosperity of several prominent Bethlehem and Beit Jala families from successful business ventures in the Americas resulted in a new urban middle class that sought to both house their growing families and show off their wealth. Unlike the family palaces of the Old City of Nablus which sought to emulate the grand hosh of Damascus, Bethlehem and Beit Jala families favored a style of residential architecture with more Western influences, with the front entrance of the home facing outwards and buffered by a small courtyard fenced off with either wrought-iron gates or a simple stone wall. Most famous of all of these homes is the Jacir Palace of Bethlehem near Rachel’s Tomb, at present the most prolific hotel in the region, if not the entire West Bank. The Greek Orthodox cemetery of Beit Jala boasts edifices which rival their Victorian peers (Fig. 3).

Fig 3: Relief panel of the Ottoman-Era Rizqallah family sarcophagus, located in the Greek Orthodox Cemetery of Beit Jala (photo by D. Koski).

Another unique structure is the Judah Salah House of Beit Jala, whose ornate decorative stone façade includes two caryatids of family members in 20th century dress.  During the Second Intifada, in which Beit Jala was occupied by the Israeli military in part due to its strategic, elevated position over Bethlehem, one of the heads of the caryatids was shot off in the crossfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, and has since served as a continuous reminder of the constant threat of conflict in the region.

As a principally Palestinian Christian city, it should come as no surprise that the village includes some excellent examples of stone work on its five churches (three Orthodox, one Catholic and one Lutheran), its cemeteries and in the homes and businesses of its residents.  As elsewhere in the Holy Land, Christian and Muslim homeowners alike place commemorative stones over the front entrance of their homes as a blessing (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Decorate stone lintel over a 20th-century Beit Jala home (photo by D. Koski).

By far the most common depiction of Palestinian Christian stone iconography is Saint George, patron saint of Palestine, followed by an ornate cross, the Virgin Mary and Christ. Beit Jala stone icons of Saint Nicholas can also be found, for the gift-giving saint was known to have resided in a cave near what would become a monastery dedicated to Saint George (and himself) in later years.

At Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in the town’s center on sleepy summer afternoon, an inquiry on local stone sculptors at the local parish office with the priests and office workers resulted in no less than half a dozen family names without so much as a pause between names:  Matar, Saba, Abu Ghattas, Rabah, Nastas….

“See Fawzy Nastas, my father in law,” the church secretary suggests. “My wife will take you to meet him. He’s one of the best there is.”

In Part 2 of this blog, Beit Jala stone sculptor Fawzy Nastas will delve into his experience of “Making the Stones Speak.” Dan Koski is long-term a resident of Beit Jala, and can be reached at dankoski1979@gmail.com.

Archaeologists in Print

By Amara Thornton

Over the course of two afternoons sometime in 2015, I wandered around the shelves of the PEF’s Library. I’d been there many times before, for meetings and archive research. But this time I came as a browser, my eyes scanned the spines as I paced round the room. I was focused on finding archaeologists’ popular publications. It was the subject of my postdoctoral research, now published as my first book, Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL Press).

Archaeologists in Print details the history of popular archaeology publishing in Britain roughly between the 1870s and the 1970s. It focuses on the books that British archaeologists produced for a non-scholarly audience, how these came to publication, and how archaeologists built a public presence in order to commodify their archaeological experience in popular formats. For the most part, the archaeologist-authors featured in Archaeologists in Print were working in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Names familiar to PEF members and friends (and represented on the Library shelves) are among those included: Flinders Petrie, David George Hogarth and John Garstang, for example. Women, including Mary Brodrick, Annie Quibell, Margaret Wheeler and Dorothy Mackay, were equally active in archaeology as these more famous men, not only in excavation, but also in promotion and public archaeology, particularly through tours and guidebooks. They are highlighted in Archaeologists in Print both in a specific chapter, “The Women Who Did”, and deliberately integrated throughout the book.

Archaeologists in Print is comprised broadly of two parts. The first part is an overview, charting how archaeologists were defined through education, training, and experience (especially travel-related), revealing the role of newspapers and compendiums in enhancing archaeologists’ public visibility as experts, and examining how books were marketed through series, circulating and public libraries, and bookshops.  The second part focuses on three important publishing houses: John Murray, Macmillan & Co, and Penguin. It details the rich histories to be found in publishers’ archives, and evaluates the careers and books of a number of different archaeologists who published with these companies. The book ends with an exploration of archaeology in fiction, concentrating on three genres: romance, horror/fantasy, and crime.

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into the fascinating history of popular archaeology publishing, and discovering some unexpectedly fruitful archives along the way. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the writing and research!

Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People can be downloaded as an open access pdf free from UCL Press: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/archaeologists-in-print 

Paperback and hardback copies are also available for purchase.


Holy Lands in the USA: Two Tabernacles and Christmas

by Crispin Paine

[part 2 of 2]

The remarkable use made of drama as a mission tool by US Evangelical Christians has attracted some attention. In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a Holy Land has grown out of a Passion Play. The Great Passion Play Theme Park was founded in the mid-1960s on the land of his retirement home by Gerald L. K. Smith, an ageing right-wing radio evangelist who hated Blacks and especially hated Jews (he insisted that Jesus wasn’t a Jew, but that Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower were.) Smith was a ‘Disciples of Christ’ minister, but also a very active politician whom even right-wing Republicans regarded as extreme. An active rabid pro-Nazi, after the War he campaigned for the release of Nazi war criminals. (The park today seems to have entirely escaped its founder’s racism: indeed, one of the attractions offered to visitors is an Israeli bomb-shelter, obtained via a colleague of Netanyahu.)

There he created his Sacred Projects, beginning with Christ of the Ozarks, a 67ft hilltop statue of Christ, following it in 1968 with the annual Great Passion Play, modelled on the Oberammergau Passion Play (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The Great Passion Paly stage (photo by C. Paine).

Smith’s plan was to create another major attraction: a full-size replica of the Old City of Jerusalem. He died when only the East Gate (of stone, and still impressive) had been built, and the project was abandoned (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: The “East Gate of Jerusalem” at “The Great Passion Play Theme Park” (photo by C. Paine).

Instead, in the early ‘90s, across the neighbouring hills were set up some 25 sites illustrating particular places/stories in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. These are used as foci for the New Holy Land Tour, which is in effect a two-hour mobile sermon. My tour was led by a Texan who, with her husband, spends the winter as a missionary in Mexico, and the summer acting in the Great Passion Play. Seven retired people and two newly-weds were taken round in a mini-bus; all the others appeared to be Evangelical Christians. Not all, however, seemed entirely familiar with their Bibles; an initial prayer, while parked under the East Gate, was followed by a discussion of whether Christ at the Second Coming would enter Jerusalem through the East Gate. One tourist remarked that ‘the Muslims’ had created a cemetery outside the gate in order to discourage Him.

The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the impressive replica of the Tabernacle, which gets 16,000 visitors a year (the Play gets 50,000) and where the tour-guide’s husband Rob suggested (with huge use of parallels, symbols and numerology) that “everything in the Tabernacle points to Jesus”. At each stopping-point on the tour the guide delivers a little homily drawing a Christian message from the site. Other high points are the Upper Room and the Sea of Galilee (a very pretty lake), where on larger tours actors reenact the Last Supper and Jesus walking on the water.

‘Holy Land’ attractions approached from an archaeological and historical perspective are quite common in the US. ‘Bible History Exhibits’ in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a very modest example, housed in a small bungalow on the main road (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: The “Bible History Exhibits”, Paradise PA (photo by C. Paine).

The simple displays are mostly of museum reproductions of artifacts, inscriptions and manuscripts, collected over the past twenty years and carefully chosen to tell the story first of the Hebrew Bible, then of the New Testament, and then of the Bible’s impact. In the garden is a modest replica of a Palestinian tomb and an olive press. The one-hour tour is led by Dr. Stephen Myers, who describes a selection of the exhibits, following broadly the story of the Bible.


Holy Lands appear in all sorts of places. The nearby ‘National Christmas Center’ is the life’s work of Jim Morrison, and includes a very large collection of cribs, a replica of a 1950s Woolworths Christmas display, endless Santa Clauses from a variety of countries, and so on. It also includes a display representing the Holy Family’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is a walkthrough combining replica Holy Land buildings and full-size dioramas of market traders in a Caravansarai (‘like a modern truckstop’) and of the birth of Christ (Fig. 4). The dangers of the journey are represented by a pair of stuffed mountain lions.

Fig. 4: Traders in the caravansarai, “National Christmas Center” (photo by. C. Paine).

Not far away is the Biblical Tabernacle Reproduction. This is one of the better-known Tabernacle replicas, though certainly inferior to that at the Great Passion Play theme-park, partly because the quality of reproduction is less, but also because this one is indoors. It was created in the late 1940s as the ‘Moses Tabernacle in the Wilderness,’ by a Baptist minister in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mennonites later purchased the replica and eventually joined it with the Mennonite Information Center. The Tabernacle has partly-open sides, enabling visitors to watch while a Mennonite minister gives an explanation. More straightforward than the presentation at the Great Passion Play, nevertheless he too drew a Christian message from the experience.

In his website http://www.materializingthebible.com, James Bielo of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, lists 433 visitor attractions worldwide themed on the Bible. ‘Some are educational, some for fun, some for devotion. Some playful, some deeply serious. Some elaborate, some simple. Some controversial, some not. A few are all of the above.’ Were he to extend his list to include other ‘Holy Land’ places, he might include such attractions as ‘Prophet Muhammad Cinematic City’ near Qom, which reproduces Mecca at the time of Mohammed, and even Vrindavan, where ISKCON is building a theme-park to celebrate the birthplace of Krishna.

Holy Lands in the USA: from the Garden Tomb to Noah’s Ark

by Crispin Paine

[part 1 of 2]

Replicas and re-imaginings of the Holy Land have been found throughout the Christian world for well over a thousand years. Today most are to be found in the US: some modest back-garden sites, some multi-million dollar visitor attractions. Last year, thanks to a generous PEF grant, I visited eleven of them.

Typical of the little sites is ‘The Garden of Hope’, a two-acre rather scruffy garden in a suburban back street of working-class Covington, across the river from downtown Cincinnati. In 1938 a Southern Baptist minister, Rev. Morris Coers, visited the Holy Land, and was so moved by the Garden Tomb that he determined to build a replica back home. His Garden opened in 1958; it is now maintained by a local church and used for occasional services and weddings, as well as for informal visits (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The ‘Tomb of Christ’ at ‘The Garden of Hope’ (photo by C. Paine).

Besides the replica tomb, the Garden contains a ‘Carpenter’s Shop’, with chairs for meetings or services, a mural of a 19th (?) century Palestinian carpenter, old carpentry tools given by Ben Gurion, and an Israeli flag. It contains alsoa small chapel used for weddings, with ‘a stone from the Horns of Hatton [sic]’ on which the couple stands while exchanging vows. Oddly, this building is vaguely based on a 1620 Spanish Mission church. Other Garden attractions include stones from the River Jordan, from Solomon’s Temple, and from the Good Samaritan Inn. The Garden offers a splendid view over downtown Cincinnati; beside the viewpoint sits a statue of Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount, and behind is (a label informs us) a ’30 feet cross put up by angels during the night.’

At the opposite end of the scale is the Museum of the Bible in Washington, opened in November. I was generously given a preview, plus interviews with the Director and senior staff. The museum was founded by Steve Green, a phenomenally wealthy businessman, and costed some $500m. Before the opening it had attracted some very bad publicity, because his company has been successfully prosecuted for illegally importing looted Iraqi antiquities. The museum tried desperately to distance itself, but Green remains chairman of its Board.

The museum’s focus is on the Bible as a book, and tries to engage with its history, its stories, and its impact; I was assured that it doesn’t promote any one religion or doctrine, but every faith community is given its own voice; as the director put it, they “hope for harmony, like a choir.” Certainly Catholicism receives a lot of emphasis, as does the role of the Hebrew Bible in Judaism and Jewish tradition, but it was less clear that its role in Islam is noticed.

There are six floors. The top two floors are devoted to restaurant, theatre, Biblical Garden, meeting rooms and so on, and the ground floor to reception and orientation, children’s gallery, shop and library. Between are three floors of displays. The lowest is the ‘Impact Floor’, focussed on ‘the impact of the Bible on Society, Government and Culture,’ the middle floor is the ‘Narrative Floor’, focussed on stories from the Bible. The highest is the ‘History Floor’, devoted to the history of the Bible as a book, and the most object-rich of the galleries. The Holy Land will appear in numerous places, most notably in the Hebrew Bible Walk-through, and in a substantial reconstruction, ‘The Nazareth Jesus Knew”, with volunteer actors (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Building Nazareth at ‘The Bible Museum’, Washington (photo by C. Paine).

Though there are many concerns, the museum – if only thanks to its size – is going to be a game-changer for religion museums. It aims to be the most technologically advanced museum in the world; the budget for technology alone is $42m.

Two attractions on an almost similar scale have been set up by the Creationist ‘Answers in Genesis’ organisation near Cincinnati. They present not the Holy Land exactly, but stories from the Bible. The Creation Museum attracts over half a million visitors a year. It was opened in 2007 as a major theme-park/museum, with the aim of persuading visitors of the truth of fundamentalist Christianity, and that the Earth was created about 6,000 years ago. The museum’s highlights are certainly the Bible Walkthrough, with its elaborate dioramas of the Garden of Eden and the famous figures of Adam and Eve, and of small children playing with baby dinosaurs (Fig. 3), but equally engaging are the animatronic figures of Noah and his family.

Fig. 3: Dinosaurs at “The Creation Museum” (photo by C. Paine).

The second of Answers in Genesis’s attractions opened in July 2016, and received 1.2m visitors in its opening year. There are plans for a pre-flood walled city, first-century village, Tower of Babel and a journey illustrating the parting of the Red Sea, but the main attraction at present is the wooden replica of Noah’s Ark, 510 feet long and 51 feet high. It really is astonishing. The dramatic exterior is matched by the Piranesi-like views up through the three decks, the timberwork created by Amish craftsmen (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Inside ‘Ark Encounter’ (photo by C. Paine).

The displays mix up conventional displays on aspects of the flood (and some more widely presenting Creationist theory) and reconstructions of animal cages and the living quarters of Noah’s family (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: One of Noah’s disaffected workers, at ‘Ark Encounter’ (photo by C. Paine).




A Day in Jerusalem

By Charlotte Kelsted

In April 2018, a generous travel grant from the Palestine Exploration Fund allowed me to carry out an introductory research trip to Palestine. My research explores the attitudes and experiences of British women (colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others) who resided in Palestine during the British Mandate (1920-1948), focusing specifically on encounters between these British women and local Palestinian Arab and Jewish communities. I started my PhD seven months ago, and this research trip has undoubtedly been the highlight of my doctoral study thus far.

After arriving into Tel Aviv late in the evening, I spent the first night of my trip at the charming Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem. The Kenyon Institute, formerly the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem (BSAJ), was established during the British military administration of Palestine in 1919, as result of a joint effort by the Palestine Exploration Fund, the British Academy and the Foreign Office. The library at the Kenyon Institute contains over 10,000 volumes on the Middle East and is particularly rich in material relating to Mandate Palestine.

Next to the Kenyon Institute is Dar Issaf Nashashibi, an inspiring archive and library devoted to promoting Palestinian cultural heritage. Dar Issaf Nashashibi was my first stop in Jerusalem and I was fortunate to meet Dua, Head Librarian, who was exceptionally helpful. From the top of Dar Issaf Nashashibi one can see Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Fig. 1). Founded in 1918 and inaugurated under the British Mandate, the Hebrew University has rapidly expanded since the early twentieth century: with 270 students in 1934, in 2017 there were 23,000 students registered at the university.

Fig. 1: Mount Scopus and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (photo by C. Kelsted).


Next I visited the Mount of Olives to see the Dome of the Rock in all its splendour. This iconic shrine dominates the Jerusalem landscape and as the golden dome sparkled in the midday sun, the adhan from Al-Aqsa Mosque drifted up the Mount of Olives. Setting eyes on this view for the first time was a stirring moment for me, having gazed longingly at a photograph of this view from my desk in Exeter for several months prior to the trip (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: The Dome of the Rock seen from Mount of Olives (photo by C. Kelsted).

Back in the heart of this remarkable city in the afternoon, I entered the Old City for the first time through Damascus Gate. The atmosphere that greeted me was intoxicating: narrow passageways full to bursting with fervent tourists, locals expertly weaving in and out of the crowds as they attempt to carry out their daily business, clamorous shopkeepers and street vendors selling their wares, young men speeding through the ancient, cobbled streets on motorbikes, popping up behind you without a moment’s warning and the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and other aromatic herbs and spices emanating from the souq.

Escaping the intensity of the Old City, I roamed along the ramparts from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate and onwards, finally reaching the Spafford’s Children Centre. I had first heard the moving story of this centre from The Right Honourable Lady Cope of Berkeley at a Remembrance Service for the British Palestine Police in November 2017, and had been looking forward to visiting ever since.

The Spafford’s Children Centre was founded by Bertha Spafford Vester – an ancestor of the Rt Hon. Lady Cope, a patron of the British Palestine Police Association – in 1925 (Fig. 3 – Special thanks to Rachel Lev at the American Colony Archives, for kindly supplying this image).

Fig. 3: Mothers, nurses and children, Anna Spafford Baby Home (today the Spafford Children’s Centre), 1925 – 1934; part of Members and Activities of the American Colony and Aid Projects, 1926 – 1937 (courtesy of American Colony Archive, Jerusalem).

Bertha’s parents, Horatio and Anna Spafford were pious Christians who moved to the Holy Land in 1881 following the loss of four of their children at sea and another to scarlet fever. On arrival in the Holy Land, Horatio and Anna Spafford founded the American Colony and embarked on a project of philanthropic work to benefit all sections of Jerusalem’s population. In 1925, inspired by the work of her parents, Bertha established the Spafford Baby Home (now the Spafford Children’s Centre). To this day, the centre aims to assist all children and families in need of support, regardless of race or religion.

In the early evening I left the Old City and headed northwards, back to the Kenyon Institute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. On the way I came across St George’s Cathedral (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Façade of Saint George’s Cathedral (photo by C. Kelsted).

This cathedral was built in the late nineteenth century under the instruction of George Blyth, who had founded the Jerusalem and East Mission (now the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association) in 1888. This charming cathedral was the principal Anglican place of worship in the Palestine during the Mandate and thus a focal point for the British community between 1920 and 1948. Taking a moment to envision the British colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others who would have congregated at this cathedral – several of whom taught at the adjoining school and college – was the perfect way to end my first day in Jerusalem.

Shifting Sands: A Reflection

By Philip Davies (PEF Chairman)

On that day I decided to visit an exhibition at the National Civil War Centre in Newark (UK): Shifting Sands: Lawrence of Arabia and the Great Arab Revolt, I awoke to news of another Islamist attack in London. It was hard not to keep pondering the possible connections between these two.

The main reason for my visit to Newark was the association between Lawrence and the PEF, which had lent some items for the exhibition, including a copy of the original edition of The Wilderness of Zin, from the title page of which Lawrence wished his name as co-author to be withheld, (his written instruction is documented in another exhibit).

It’s an exhibition I would strongly recommend to anyone, especially those not too familiar with the central place of the Arab and Muslim world in the Great War itself, about which so much has been said and written recently. As Peter Frankopan interprets it in his wonderful history of the world as seen from central Asia, The Silk Roads, this conflict, though triggered in Serbia, had roots in the struggle of the ‘Great Powers’ over Asia, with the encroachment of Russia on the borders of India and the ambitions of Germany to penetrate beyond the Middle East, not to mention protection of the Suez Canal. The covetousness of these Western powers (Russia, Britain, France, Germany) for the lands of the weakening Ottoman empire and the need to secure sources of oil to fuel their economies during the war and after, led to the configuration of the political geography of the Middle East that is now witnessing terrible upheavals (aided by further Western intervention). As the exhibition also reminds us, the mission of the PEF—including Lawrence himself—was used by the British War Office as an disguise for military intelligence-gathering in the years before the outbreak of the Great War.

The exhibition makes clear, too, the British government’s duplicitous—if, in the circumstances, minimally defensible—exploitation of both Jews and the Arabs for the purpose of gaining their benevolence and cooperation in the war. Promises were made on the one hand to support Jewish settlement in Palestine, while on the other the Emir Hussein was to be installed as ruler of an independent Arab kingdom in Syria, Palestine and Iraq. The first promise was kept; the other, on the basis of which Lawrence was able to secure the ‘Arab revolt’, was betrayed, and, as the exhibition explains, its breach left him deeply ashamed of both his government and of his own role in the deception.

Whether or not the contemporary British visitor also feels a sense of shame at such behaviour, the experience prompts an awareness that the jihad of which Lawrence was so proudly a part, and the Arab kingdom of which its participants dreamed, have both awoken again in grisly forms. Such terrorist attacks, and the creation of an ‘Islamic State’, are grisly perversions of what Lawrence and Hussein dreamed of. Arguably, the State of Israel is not what Balfour would have wished, either: it exists in the midst of hostility and enmity rather than in the peace and security for Jews that it was surely supposed to offer. The exhibition reproduces Balfour’s famous ‘letter’ in which he alludes to the ‘civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’, but also remarks that Zionism was of ‘far profounder import than the prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land’.

Current reflections on the Great War often remark that the reallocation of power within Europe after the fall of the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires (and the dissolution of the British) is still not quite accomplished. This is even truer of the Middle East, where long-established tribal identities were sliced through by lines on the ground, separating territories carved out among European victors. The exhibition shows Lawrence’s own proposed map of a post-war Middle East, which, unlike what became the reality, attempted to take account of the identities that mattered to its inhabitants.

That Western intervention in the Middle East will end as the Crusades did is unlikely. But between the nationalist jihad once vital to Britain’s seizure of Ottoman spoils and the fundamentalist jihad now waged against the it and other Western nations (along with countless Muslims, it must be added) runs the same stream. I left this impressive exhibition realizing how great is the need for an impartial, scholarly but sympathetic dedication to the history and culture of a land which has for centuries been the focus of the West’s Christendom, yet which our governments, past and present, have treated with such disdain.

War in the Holy Lands

Guest post by Briar Barry

We’d hear a heavy smack and know a horse had been hit. Mostly they were hit through the stomach and would just shake themselves a little. The owner would take the saddle off immediately, for it was always a mortal wound. The horse would nose around among his mates, shake himself, and five minutes later roll on the sand. It was the beginning of the end.”

Captain Arthur Rhodes, New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade, World War 1

War in the Holy Lands, a new temporary exhibition about New Zealanders’ First World War experiences in the Middle East, is now playing as part of The Great War Exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand. The show is fourth in a series of six created by Story Inc and Dusk, and funded by the Lottery Grants Board, with the intention of telling some of the lesser-known New Zealand stories of the First World War. The exhibit uses six big projection screens and an immersive audio environment to create a powerful visitor experience out of still imagery and first-hand verbatim accounts of soldiers’ experiences.

A talented photographer, Arthur Rhodes captured his experiences during the Beersheba Campaign in Sinai and Palestine on film. The Palestine Exploration Fund of London kindly provided some of the photographs which feature in the show.

Guns drawn up for inspection, a photograph by Captain Arthur Rhodes which features in War in the Holy Lands. PEF/P/RHODES/29, Palestine Exploration Fund, London.

The story of New Zealand’s war in the Middle East is often overlooked. It doesn’t fit with the traditional image of World War 1 – the mud and trenches of the Western Front. Some soldiers at the time shared this view, feeling that they were missing out on the ‘real war.’ A few people back home agreed, seeing them as ‘tourists in uniform’ having an easy time of it in the sun-drenched Middle East. But while the casualty rate was certainly lower than on the Western Front, the Sinai and Palestine campaigns were hardly a holiday. The men faced fierce battles, hordes of flies, extreme temperatures, and rampant malaria. In total 17,723 New Zealanders served in the Middle East. Of them, 640 were killed in action and 1,146 wounded.

The ‘Mounteds’ gained a formidable reputation as fighters and became known by Ottoman troops as “devils on horses”. They would often ride through the night, taking the enemy by surprise at dawn. But it was not all glory. At the end of the war, one of the most shameful events in New Zealand’s military history occurred: a massacre of civilians, in which some New Zealand soldiers played a prominent part, in the Palestinian village of Surafend. Of course there are no photographs or images connected with the event. Instead, a ghostly series of animated “shadowplay” silhouettes hinting at the violence are projected into an otherwise completely black room.

Behind the scenes of the Story Inc and Dusk “shadowplay” shoot. Photo by Story Inc.

Other moments that pack an emotional punch in War in the Holy Lands come from the stories about the bonds between the men and their horses. The open spaces in the Middle East made this a mobile war. The connection between animal and rider was strong, and only made stronger on the battlefield where horses even acted as shields by lying down on the sand so the men could fire over the top of them. However, New Zealand’s strict quarantine policy and a shortage of transport meant that the horses who survived the war could not come home. In the Middle East they were either declared unfit and shot, sold locally, or kept by the occupying British Army. Many troopers, worried about how their horse would be treated if it was sold, made the heart-wrenching decision to shoot their own animal after having them declared unfit. Trooper Ted Andrews described the task,

It was the saddest day of the war…. Each man had to hold two horses, and it was the most sickening job I had… It seemed awfully sad that these poor old faithful creatures, after suffering from thirst, hunger and fatigue and carrying heavy loads for hundreds of miles, should have to end their days being shot down by the very people they had so faithfully served…”

A New Zealand soldier shoots a wounded horse. National Army Museum of New Zealand.

War in the Holy Lands is running from 13 December 2017 until 20 February 2018. Thank you once again to the Palestine Exploration Fund for access to, and permission to use images from their collection.

Visitors watch War in the Holy Lands. Photo by Story Inc.