Category Archives: Archaeology and the Bible

The Dead Sea Scrolls Shed Light on the Accuracy of the Bible

Dr. Patrick Zukeran,

Dr. Patrick Zukeran reviews the discovery of and important historical findings from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The texts discovered provide clear evidence as to the accuracy of our version of the Old Testament and the care with which it was preserved.

The Story of the Scrolls

Worship at the sacred Jerusalem Temple had become corrupt, with seemingly little hope for reform. A group of devoted Jews removed themselves from the mainstream and began a monastic life in the Judean desert. Their studies of the Old Testament Scriptures led them to believe that God’s judgment upon Jerusalem was imminent and that the anointed one would return to restore the nation of Israel and purify their worship. Anticipating this moment, the Essenes retreated into the Qumran desert to await the return of their Messiah. This community, which began in the third century B.C., devoted their days to the study and copying of sacred Scripture as well as theological and sectarian works.

As tensions between the Jews and Romans increased, the community hid their valuable scrolls in caves along the Dead Sea to protect them from the invading armies. Their hope was that one day the scrolls would be retrieved and restored to the nation of Israel. In A.D. 70, the Roman general Titus invaded Israel and destroyed the city of Jerusalem along with its treasured Temple. It is at this time that the Qumran community was overrun and occupied by the Roman army. The scrolls remained hidden for the next two thousand years.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammad (Ahmed el-Dhib) was searching for his lost goat and came upon a small opening of a cave. Thinking that his goat may have fallen into the cave, he threw rocks into the opening. Instead of hearing a startled goat, he heard the shattering of clay pottery. Lowering himself into the cave, he discovered several sealed jars. He opened them hoping to find treasure. To his disappointment, he found them to contain leather scrolls. He collected seven of the best scrolls and left the other fragments scattered on the ground.

Muhammad eventually brought some of the scrolls to a cobbler and antiquities dealer in Bethlehem named Khando. Khando, thinking the scrolls were written in Syriac, brought them to a Syrian Orthodox Archbishop named Mar (Athanasius) Samuel. Mar Samuel recognized that the scrolls were written in Hebrew and suspected they may be very ancient and valuable. He eventually had the scrolls examined by John Trevor at the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR). Trevor contacted the world’s foremost Middle East archaeologist, Dr. William Albright, and together these men confirmed the antiquity of the scrolls and dated them to sometime between the first and second century B.C.

After the initial discovery, archaeologists searched other nearby caves between 1952 and 1956. They found ten other caves that contained thousands of ancient documents as well. One of the greatest treasures of ancient manuscripts had been discovered: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Date and Contents of the Scrolls

Scholars were anxious to confirm that these Dead Sea Scrolls were the most ancient of all Old Testament manuscripts in the Hebrew language. Three types of dating tools were used: tools from archaeology, from the study of ancient languages, called paleography and orthography, and the carbon-14 dating method. Each can derive accurate results. When all the methods arrive at the same conclusion, there is an increased reliability in the dating.

Archaeologists studied the pottery, coins, graves, and garments at Khirbet Qumran, where the Essenes lived. They arrived at a date ranging from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. Paleographers studied the style of writing and arrived at dates raging from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. Scientists, using the radiocarbon dating method, dated the scrolls to range from the fourth century B.C. to the first century A.D. Since all the methods came to a similar conclusion, scholars are very confident in their assigned date for the texts. The scrolls date as early as the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.{1}

Eleven caves were discovered containing nearly 1,100 ancient documents which included several scrolls and more than 100,000 fragments.{2} Fragments from every Old Testament book except for the book of Esther were discovered. Other works included apocryphal books, commentaries, manuals of discipline for the Qumran community, and theological texts. The majority of the texts were written in the Hebrew language, but there were also manuscripts written in Aramaic and Greek.{3}

Among the eleven caves, Cave 1, which was excavated in 1949, and Cave 4, excavated in 1952, proved to be the most productive caves. One of the most significant discoveries was a well-preserved scroll of the entire book of Isaiah.

The famous Copper Scrolls were discovered in Cave 3 in 1952. Unlike most of the scrolls that were written on leather or parchment, these were written on copper and provided directions to sixty-four sites around Jerusalem that were said to contain hidden treasure. So far, no treasure has been found at the sites that have been investigated.

The oldest known piece of biblical Hebrew is a fragment from the book of Samuel discovered in Cave 4, and is dated from the third century B.C.{4} The War Scroll found in Caves 1 and 4 is an eschatological text describing a forty-year war between the Sons of Light and the evil Sons of Darkness. The Temple Scroll discovered in Cave 11 is the largest and describes a future Temple in Jerusalem that will be built at the end of the age.

Indeed, these were the most ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament ever found, and their contents would yield valuable insights to our understanding of Judaism and early Christianity.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text

The Dead Sea Scrolls play a crucial role in assessing the accurate preservation of the Old Testament. With its hundreds of manuscripts from every book except Esther, detailed comparisons can be made with more recent texts.

The Old Testament that we use today is translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the Old Testament the form that we use today. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex which dates to A.D. 935.{5}

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by about one thousand years. Scholars were anxious to see how the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. If a significant amount of differences were found, we could conclude that our Old Testament Text had not been well preserved. Critics, along with religious groups such as Muslims and Mormons, often make the claim that the present day Old Testament has been corrupted and is not well preserved. According to these religious groups, this would explain the contradictions between the Old Testament and their religious teachings.

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text. Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.’”{6}

A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.

One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”{7}

Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

The Messianic Prophecies and the Scrolls

One of the evidences used in defending the deity of the Christ is the testimony of prophecy. There are over one hundred prophecies regarding Christ in the Old Testament.{8} These prophecies were made centuries before the birth of Christ and were quite specific in their detail. Skeptics questioned the date of the prophecies and some even charged that they were not recorded until after or at the time of Jesus, and therefore discounted their prophetic nature.

There is strong evidence that the Old Testament canon was completed by 450 B.C. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, is dated about two hundred fifty years before Christ. The translation process occurred during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus who ruled from 285 to 246 B.C.{9} It can be argued that a complete Hebrew text from which this Greek translation would be derived must have existed prior to the third century B.C.

The Dead Sea Scrolls provided further proof that the Old Testament canon existed prior to the third century B.C. Thousands of manuscript fragments from all the Old Testament books except Esther were found predating Christ’s birth, and some date as early as the third century B.C. For example, portions from the book of Samuel date that early, and fragments from Daniel date to the second century B.C.{10} Portions from the twelve Minor Prophets date from 150 B.C to 25 B.C.{11} Since the documents were found to be identical with our Masoretic Text, we can be reasonably sure that our Old Testament is the same one that the Essenes were studying and working from.

One of the most important Dead Sea documents is the Isaiah Scroll. This twenty-four foot long scroll is well preserved and contains the complete book of Isaiah. The scroll is dated 100 B.C. and contains one of the clearest and most detailed prophecies of the Messiah in chapter fifty-three, called the “Suffering Servant.” Although some Jewish scholars teach that this refers to Israel, a careful reading shows that this prophecy can only refer to Christ.

Here are just a few reasons. The suffering servant is called sinless (53:9), he dies and rises from the dead (53:8-10), and he suffers and dies for the sins of the people (53:4-6). These characteristics are not true of the nation of Israel. The Isaiah Scroll gives us a manuscript that predates the birth of Christ by a century and contains many of the most important messianic prophecies about Jesus. Skeptics could no longer contend that portions of the book were written after Christ or that first century insertions were added to the text.

Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide further proof that the Old Testament canon was completed by the third century B.C., and that the prophecies foretold of Christ in the Old Testament predated the birth of Christ.

The Messiah and the Scrolls

What kind of Messiah was expected by first century Jews? Critical scholars allege that the idea of a personal Messiah was a later interpretation made by Christians. Instead, they believe that the Messiah was to be the nation of Israel and represented Jewish nationalism.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, written by Old Testament Jews, reveal the messianic expectations of Jews during the time of Christ. Studies have uncovered several parallels to the messianic hope revealed in the New Testament as well as some significant differences. First, they were expecting a personal Messiah rather than a nation or a sense of nationalism. Second, the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. Third, the Messiah would confirm His claims by performing miracles including the resurrection of the dead. Finally, He would be human and yet possess divine attributes.

A manuscript found in Cave 4 entitled the Messianic Apocalypse, copied in the first century B.C., describes the anticipated ministry of the Messiah:

For He will honor the pious upon the throne of His eternal kingdom, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind, lifting up those who are oppressed… For He shall heal the critically wounded, He shall raise the dead, He shall bring good news to the poor.

This passage sounds very similar to the ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. In Luke chapter 7:21-22, John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus and ask him if He is the Messiah. Jesus responds, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news brought to them.”

But, with the similarities there are also differences. Christians have always taught that there is one Messiah while the Essene community believed in two, one an Aaronic or priestly Messiah and the other a Davidic or royal Messiah who leads a war to end the evil age.{12}

The Essenes were also strict on matters of ceremonial purity while Jesus criticized these laws. He socialized with tax collectors and lepers which was considered defiling by the Jews. Jesus taught us to love one’s enemies while the Essenes taught hatred towards theirs. They were strict Sabbatarians, and Jesus often violated this important aspect of the law. The Qumran community rejected the inclusion of women, Gentiles, and sinners, while Christ reached out to these very groups.

The many differences show that the Essenes were not the source of early Christianity as some scholars propose. Rather, Christianity derived its teachings from the Old Testament and the ministry of Jesus.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven to be a significant discovery, confirming the accurate preservation of our Old Testament text, the messianic prophecies of Christ, and valuable insight into first century Judaism.

Two Major Prophets and the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been an asset in the debate regarding two major and well disputed books of the Old Testament, Daniel and Isaiah. Conservative scholars maintained that Daniel was written in the sixth century B.C. as the author declares in the first chapter. The New Testament writers treated Daniel as a prophetic book with predictive prophecies. Liberal scholars began teaching in the eighteenth century that it was written in the Maccabean Period or the second century B.C. If they are correct, Daniel would not be a prophetic book that predicted the rise of Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Before the discovery of the scrolls, critical scholars argued that the Aramaic language used in Daniel was from a time no earlier than 167 B.C. during the Maccabean period. Other scholars, such as well-respected archaeologist Kenneth Kitchen, studied Daniel and found that ninety percent of Daniel’s Aramaic vocabulary was used in documents from the fifth century B.C. or earlier.{13} The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that Kitchen’s conclusion was well founded. The Aramaic language used in the Dead Sea Scrolls proved to be very different from that found in the book of Daniel. Old Testament scholars have concluded that the Aramaic in Daniel is closer to the form used in the fourth and fifth century B.C. than to the second century B.C.

Critical scholars challenged the view that Isaiah was written by a single author. Many contended that the first thirty-nine chapters were written by one author in the eighth century B.C., and the final twenty-six chapters were written in the post-Exilic period. The reason for this is that there are some significant differences in the style and content between the two sections. If this were true, Isaiah’s prophecies of Babylon in the later chapters would not have been predictive prophecies but written after the events occurred.

With the discovery of the Isaiah Scroll at Qumran, scholars on both sides were eager to see if the evidence would favor their position. The Isaiah Scroll revealed no break or demarcation between the two major sections of Isaiah. The scribe was not aware of any change in authorship or division of the book.{14} Ben Sira (second century B.C.), Josephus, and the New Testament writers regarded Isaiah as written by a single author and containing predictive prophecy.{15} The Dead Sea Scrolls added to the case for the unity and prophetic character of Isaiah.

Inventory of the Scrolls

The following is a brief inventory provided by Dr. Gleason Archer of the discoveries made in each of the Dead Sea caves.{16}

Cave 1 was the first cave discovered and excavated in 1949. Among the discoveries was found the Isaiah Scroll containing a well-preserved scroll of the entire book of Isaiah. Fragments were found from the other Old Testament books which included Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel, Ezekiel, and Psalms. Non-biblical books included the Book of Enoch, Sayings of Moses, Book of Jubilee, Book of Noah, Testament of Levi and the Wisdom of Solomon. Fragments from commentaries on Psalms, Micah, and Zephaniah were also discovered.

Cave 2 was excavated in 1952. Hundreds of fragments were discovered, including remains from the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms and Ruth.

Cave 3 was excavated in 1952. Here archaeologists found the famous Copper Scrolls. These scrolls contained directions to sixty-four sites containing hidden treasures located around Jerusalem. So far, no treasure has been found at the sites investigated.

Cave 4, excavated in 1952, proved to be one of the most productive. Thousands of fragments were recovered from nearly four hundred manuscripts. Hundreds of fragments from every Old Testament book were discovered with the exception of the Book of Esther. The fragment from Samuel labeled 4Qsam{17} is believed to be the oldest known piece of biblical Hebrew, dating from the third century B.C. Also found were fragments of commentaries on the Psalms, Isaiah, and Nahum. The entire collection of Cave 4 is believed to represent the scope of the Essene library.

Cave 5 was excavated in 1952 and fragments from some Old Testament books along with the book of Tobit were found.

Cave 6 excavated in 1952 uncovered papyrus fragments of Daniel, 1 and 2 Kings and some other Essene literature.

Caves 7-10 yielded finds of interest for archaeologists but had little relevance for biblical studies.

Cave 11 was excavated in 1956. It exposed well-preserved copies from some of the Psalms, including the apocryphal Psalm 151. In addition, a well-preserved scroll of part of Leviticus was found, and fragments of an Apocalypse of the New Jerusalem, an Aramaic Targum or paraphrase of Job, was also discovered.

Indeed these were the most ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament ever found, and their contents would soon reveal insights that would impact Judaism and Christianity.


1. James Vanderkam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 20-32.
2. Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 278.
3. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL.: Moody Press, 1985), 513-517.
4. Vanderkam and Flint, 115.
5. Price, 280.
6. Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking Press, 1955), 304, quoted in Norman Geisler and William Nix, General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 367.
7. Archer, 25.
8. J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1984), 665-670.
9. Geisler and Nix, 503-504.
10. Ibid., 137.
11. Ibid., 138-139.
12. Vanderkam and Flint, 265-266.
13. Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1996), 162.
14. Ibid., 154-155.
15. Ibid., 156-157.
16. Archer, 513-517.
17. Price, 162.


Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985.

Geisler, Norman and William Nix. General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.

Payne, J. Barton. Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1984.

Price, Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1996.

Scanlin, Harold. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Translations of the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993.

Vanderkam, James and Peter Flint. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

© 2006 Probe Ministries

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Hezekiah Bulla: More Evidence for Bible Inspiration

Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Outspoken unbelievers have attacked the Bible for years. They accuse it of being filled with errors and contradictions. For those who have listened to their accusations, it may come as a surprise to find out that the Bible is the most historically accurate book in the world. There has never been a single legitimate mistake found in its pages. To those who are familiar with the field of archaeology, the Bible’s accuracy comes as no surprise. In fact, over the centuries, thousands of discoveries have come to light that corroborate biblical stories and statements.

An exciting new discovery adds further weight to the case for the Bible’s accuracy and inspiration. In the Old Testament, we read about a king named Hezekiah. Second Kings 18:1 says that Hezekiah was “the son of Ahaz, king of Judah.” On December 2, 2015, a press release from Hebrew University in Jerusalem explained that a small clay seal was discovered near the Temple mount. The text on the seal reads, “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah” (Smith, 2015). This seal is called a bulla (bullae is the plural form). Clay bullae like this were used to seal documents. There are other such seals, but this one is the first of an Israelite or Judean king that has been discovered by professional archaeologists in situ (in the location where it was left) (Smith). Dr. Eilat Mazer and her team unearthed the bulla in a garbage heap, along with more than 30 other bullae.

The fact that the Bible is the inspired Word of God has long been a settled question (Butt, 2007). Finds like this one, however, add increasing weight to the ever growing mound of evidence that confirms the divine origin of the glorious book we call the Bible.


Butt, Kyle (2007), Behold! The Word of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press),

Smith, Dov (2015), “First Seal Impression of an Israelite or Judean King Ever Exposed in Situ in a Scientific Archaeological Excavation,” PhysOrg,

(original link)

Babel: More Historical Confirmation of the Bible

Dave Miller, Ph.D. From Issue: R&R – January 2018

The Bible possesses the attributes of divine inspiration with sufficient internal evidence to establish its divine origin. Hence, when it relates a historical incident that occurred thousands of years ago, one would naturally expect that such an incident might well be noted in other historical accounts from antiquity. Of course, one would not expect all, or even many, of the details to match exactly for at least two reasons: (1) the oral transmission of history is inevitably subject to human frailty, including both accuracy of memory and temptation to embellish, and (2) false religion has the tendency to distort and recast history in order to suit its own purposes and achieve its own agenda. An excellent example of these tendencies is seen in the multiplicity of, and variety in, the multitude of accounts of the great Flood of Noah’s day.1 Though they differ widely from culture to culture, country to country, and century to century, nevertheless, they share substantial agreement in too many significant features not to have arisen from the same historically factual event.

Consider another great event whose historicity is set forth in Scripture as factual:

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” …So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:1-9).

The great Joseon (Chosun) nation was a Korean dynastic kingdom that flourished for five centuries (1392-1897).2 During the 17th century, Korea was largely closed to the West and somewhat of a mystery to Europeans. But for a group of wayfaring Dutchmen on a journey to Japan, that all changed in 1653 when their ship “De Sperwer” (The Sparrowhawk) was shipwrecked on Jeju (formerly Cheju-do) Island off the coast of South Korea. The 36 survivors were taken into custody by the local prefect and, within a year, transferred from the island to the capitol of Seoul on the mainland where they spent the next 12 years. At the end of 13 years, in September 1666, eight survivors managed to escape to Japan. One of those survivors, Hendrick Hamel, spent the ensuing year in Nagasaki writing an account of his observations and experiences in Korea, which was published in 1668 under the title Journal van de Ongeluckige Voyage van ‘t Jacht de Sperwer. In what was essentially the first Western account, Hamel provided the world with a firsthand description of Korean society and culture. Only recently was his account translated accurately by a Dutchman based on the original manuscript.3

Apart from his fascinating assessment of Korean life in the 17th century, Hamel provides a portrait of religious life, including the customs and practices of Confucianism. At one point in his narrative, he makes a passing remark concerning the beliefs held by the Confucian monks: “Many monks believe that long ago all people spoke the same language, but when people built a tower in order to climb into heaven the whole world changed.”4 Keep in mind that Hamel encountered the monks’ belief circa 1660. No one knows for how long this belief was part of the religious traditions of Korea. Hamel claims that “many” of the monks believed the matter, and that the event occurred “long ago.”

Observe that the belief of the non-Christian monks regarding the Tower of Babel contained four salient points that explicitly and directly connect with the biblical account:

  1. The entire world’s population spoke a single language;
  2. The people constructed a tower;
  3. Their stated goal was to climb into heaven;
  4. Their efforts affected the entire world.

All four of these features are included in the biblical record found in Genesis 11:

  1. “[T]he whole earth had one language and one speech” (vs. 1).
  2. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower” (vs. 4).
  3. “a tower whose top will reach into heaven” (vs. 4, NASB).
  4. “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city” (vs. 8).

Christianity and the Bible have nothing to fear from the unbelief, skepticism, and hostility of infidelity. The more information surfaces from history and nature, the more the Bible is confirmed in its uncanny accuracy and supernatural endowment.5


1  See Kyle Butt and Harrison Chastain (2015), “Noah’s Flood and The Epic of Gilgamesh,” Apologetics Press,; Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt (2003), “Legends of the Flood,” Apologetics Press

2  The following historical details are gleaned from Gari Ledyard (1971), The Dutch Come to Korea (Seoul, Korea: Royal Asiatic Society); Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt (2013), Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary (London: Routledge).

3  Hendrik Hamel (1668), Hamel’s Journal: And, A Description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1653-1666, trans. Jean-Paul Buys (Seoul, Korea: Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, 1994 edition).

4  Ibid., p. 61.

5  My thanks to Shane Fisher, missionary to Korea, for calling my attention to this  fascinating incident.

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The Dead Sea Scrolls

6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls - HISTORY

The Dead Sea Scrolls were a large cache of ancient texts that were deposited in caves along the Dead Sea sometime before 68 CE. The prevailing opinion is that these manuscripts were placed in the caves (so far, 11 caves have been discovered) to protect them from the ravages of the first Roman-Jewish war. The 1st cave, discovered accidentally by Arab shepherds in 1947,  produced 7 intact scrolls and fragments of others.  Ten more caves would be discovered over the next 9 years.  The last, Cave XI produced the most well preserved and intact scrolls.  The largest amount of manuscript material, however, was dug from an ancient floor level of Cave IV in 1952 but were in tens of thousands of fragments representing more than 570 manuscripts. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls | The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

All 11 caves produced, intact or fragmentary, more than 800 manuscripts.  There are basically three types of manuscripts, Biblical, apocryphal (or pseudepigraphal) and sectarian (related to the community that produced them).  The manuscripts were inscribed on parchment, leather, papyrus, and one tooled in copper.  I became acquainted with them in 1948 from photographs in the possession of Dr. William F. Albright.  I was just a lad learning Hebrew and had stopped by the office of “Dr. Bill” at Johns Hopkins University, a short walk from my home in Baltimore.   He was showing the photographs to Dr. Gus van Beek whose office was next door.   He allowed me to sit at the credenza behind his desk and attempt to translate some of the lines of ancient script. After about a half hour of putting words together I was able to recognize a passage from the Book of Isaiah.  I will never forget the praise he gave me, even recalling Dr. Van Beek from his office to brag about his 8 year old student.

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain genetic clues to their origins | Science News

The manuscripts have had a long and controversial history since then.  I always kept up with their study and the progress of publications.  The manuscripts became caught up in politics and academic territorialism. A few select scholars had access to the scrolls which were assigned to them for publication in numbers that would have taken them two lifetimes or more.  This access gave them power, prestige and the hope that among the vast array of ancient fragments there may have been some very important text that might rock the foundations of academia. None of the scholars wanted anyone other than himself to find some potential “holy grail” among the thousands of fragments.  Picture 800 jigsaw puzzles where the pieces were all mixed together with a very small number of puzzle workers.  One of the pieces might bring fame, fortune and great recognition.  They were not about to release access to this treasure trove.  In 1991, other scholars had to literally “hijack” the scrolls, first from an extensive concordance and later from photographs clandestinely deposited for security purposes in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

US museum Dead Sea Scroll collection found to be fakes - BBC News

The consensus of scholarly opinion is that the Dead Sea Scrolls constitutes part of the library of a sect of Jews called the Essenes.   There has been much debate on the etymology of the name Essenes and numerous theories have been presented. One theory is that it is derived from Assaya, “healers” but this fails on etymological grounds. Another is that it derives from Osa ha-Torah “Keepers of the Torah,” The most likely origin for the name Essenes, Greek , is the Aramaic HASAYYA, the equivalent of the Hebrew Qedoshim, meaning “Holy Ones.” This opinion is generated by the content of the texts known as the sectarian scrolls.  What we know of the Essenes comes from three sources; Flavius Josephus (37-101 CE), Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), and Philo of Alexandria (app. 15BCE-50CE).   Let us first look at what Josephus has to say:

Wars of the JewsII.VIII.2-13

2. For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essens. These last are Jews by birth, and seem to have a greater affection for one another than the other sects have. These Essens reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence, and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue. They neglect wedlock, but choose out other persons children, while they are pliable, and fit for learning, and esteem them to be of their kindred, and form them according to their own manners. They do not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage, and the succession of mankind thereby continued; but they guard against the lascivious behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity to one man.

3. These men are despisers of riches, and so very communicative as raises our admiration. Nor is there any one to be found among them who hath more than another; for it is a law among them, that those who come to them must let what they have be common to the whole order, — insomuch that among them all there is no appearance of poverty, or excess of riches, but every one’s possessions are intermingled with every other’s possessions; and so there is, as it were, one patrimony among all the brethren. They think that oil is a defilement; and if any one of them be anointed without his own approbation, it is wiped off his body; for they think to be sweaty is a good thing, as they do also to be clothed in white garments. They also have stewards appointed to take care of their common affairs, who every one of them have no separate business for any, but what is for the uses of them all.

4. They have no one certain city, but many of them dwell in every city; and if any of their sect come from other places, what they have lies open for them, just as if it were their own; and they go in to such as they never knew before, as if they had been ever so long acquainted with them. For which reason they carry nothing at all with them when they travel into remote parts, though still they take their weapons with them, for fear of thieves. Accordingly, there is, in every city where they live, one appointed particularly to take care of strangers, and to provide garments and other necessaries for them. But the habit and management of their bodies is such as children use who are in fear of their masters. Nor do they allow of the change of or of shoes till be first torn to pieces, or worn out by time. Nor do they either buy or sell any thing to one another; but every one of them gives what he hath to him that wanteth it, and receives from him again in lieu of it what may be convenient for himself; and although there be no requital made, they are fully allowed to take what they want of whomsoever they please.

5. And as for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary; for before sun-rising they speak not a word about profane matters, but put up certain prayers which they have received from their forefathers, as if they made a supplication for its rising. After this every one of them are sent away by their curators, to exercise some of those arts wherein they are skilled, in which they labor with great diligence till the fifth hour. After which they assemble themselves together again into one place; and when they have clothed themselves in white veils, they then bathe their bodies in cold water. And after this purification is over, they every one meet together in an apartment of their own, into which it is not permitted to any of another sect to enter; while they go, after a pure manner, into the dining-room, as into a certain holy temple, and quietly set themselves down; upon which the baker lays them loaves in order; the cook also brings a single plate of one sort of food, and sets it before every one of them; but a priest says grace before meat; and it is unlawful for any one to taste of the food before grace be said. The same priest, when he hath dined, says grace again after meat; and when they begin, and when they end, they praise God, as he that bestows their food upon them; after which they lay aside their [white] garments, and betake themselves to their labors again till the evening; then they return home to supper, after the same manner; and if there be any strangers there, they sit down with them. Nor is there ever any clamor or disturbance to pollute their house, but they give every one leave to speak in their turn; which silence thus kept in their house appears to foreigners like some tremendous mystery; the cause of which is that perpetual sobriety they exercise, and the same settled measure of meat and drink that is allotted them, and that such as is abundantly sufficient for them.

6. And truly, as for other things, they do nothing but according to the injunctions of their curators; only these two things are done among them at everyone’s own free-will, which are to assist those that want it, and to show mercy; for they are permitted of their own accord to afford succor to such as deserve it, when they stand in need of it, and to bestow food on those that are in distress; but they cannot give any thing to their kindred without the curators. They dispense their anger after a just manner, and restrain their passion. They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury (4) for they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned. They also take great pains in studying the writings of the ancients, and choose out of them what is most for the advantage of their soul and body; and they inquire after such roots and medicinal stones as may cure their distempers.

7. But now if any one hath a mind to come over to their sect, he is not immediately admitted, but he is prescribed the same method of living which they use for a year, while he continues excluded’; and they give him also a small hatchet, and the fore-mentioned girdle, and the white garment. And when he hath given evidence, during that time, that he can observe their continence, he approaches nearer to their way of living, and is made a partaker of the waters of purification; yet is he not even now admitted to live with them; for after this demonstration of his fortitude, his temper is tried two more years; and if he appear to be worthy, they then admit him into their society. And before he is allowed to touch their common food, he is obliged to take tremendous oaths, that, in the first place, he will exercise piety towards God, and then that he will observe justice towards men, and that he will do no harm to any one, either of his own accord, or by the command of others; that he will always hate the wicked, and be assistant to the righteous; that he will ever show fidelity to all men, and especially to those in authority, because no one obtains the government without God’s assistance; and that if he be in authority, he will at no time whatever abuse his authority, nor endeavor to outshine his subjects either in his garments, or any other finery; that he will be perpetually a lover of truth, and propose to himself to reprove those that tell lies; that he will keep his hands clear from theft, and his soul from unlawful gains; and that he will neither conceal any thing from those of his own sect, nor discover any of their doctrines to others, no, not though anyone should compel him so to do at the hazard of his life. Moreover, he swears to communicate their doctrines to no one any otherwise than as he received them himself; that he will abstain from robbery, and will equally preserve the books belonging to their sect, and the names of the angels (5) [or messengers]. These are the oaths by which they secure their proselytes to themselves.

8. But for those that are caught in any heinous sins, they cast them out of their society; and he who is thus separated from them does often die after a miserable manner; for as he is bound by the oath he hath taken, and by the customs he hath been engaged in, he is not at liberty to partake of that food that he meets with elsewhere, but is forced to eat grass, and to famish his body with hunger, till he perish; for which reason they receive many of them again when they are at their last gasp, out of compassion to them, as thinking the miseries they have endured till they came to the very brink of death to be a sufficient punishment for the sins they had been guilty of.

9. But in the judgments they exercise they are most accurate and just, nor do they pass sentence by the votes of a court that is fewer than a hundred. And as to what is once determined by that number, it is unalterable. What they most of all honor, after God himself, is the name of their legislator [Moses], whom if any one blaspheme he is punished capitally. They also think it a good thing to obey their elders, and the major part. Accordingly, if ten of them be sitting together, no one of them will speak while the other nine are against it. They also avoid spitting in the midst of them, or on the right side. Moreover, they are stricter than any other of the Jews in resting from their labors on the seventh day; for they not only get their food ready the day before, that they may not be obliged to kindle a fire on that day, but they will not remove any vessel out of its place, nor go to stool thereon. Nay, on other days they dig a small pit, a foot deep, with a paddle (which kind of hatchet is given them when they are first admitted among them); and covering themselves round with their garment, that they may not affront the Divine rays of light, they ease themselves into that pit, after which they put the earth that was dug out again into the pit; and even this they do only in the more lonely places, which they choose out for this purpose; and although this easement of the body be natural, yet it is a rule with them to wash themselves after it, as if it were a defilement to them.

10. Now after the time of their preparatory trial is over, they are parted into four classes; and so far are the juniors inferior to the seniors, that if the seniors should be touched by the juniors, they must wash themselves, as if they had intermixed themselves with the company of a foreigner. They are long-lived also, insomuch that many of them live above a hundred years, by means of the simplicity of their diet; nay, as I think, by means of the regular course of life they observe also. They contemn the miseries of life, and are above pain, by the generosity of their mind. And as for death, if it will be for their glory, they esteem it better than living always; and indeed our war with the Romans gave abundant evidence what great souls they had in their trials, wherein, although they were tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, and went through all kinds of instruments of torment, that they might be forced either to blaspheme their legislator, or to eat what was forbidden them, yet could they not be made to do either of them, no, nor once to flatter their tormentors, or to shed a tear; but they smiled in their very pains, and laughed those to scorn who inflicted the torments upon them, and resigned up their souls with great alacrity, as expecting to receive them again.

11. For their doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. And this is like the opinions of the Greeks, that good souls have their habitations beyond the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with storms of rain or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is refreshed by the gentle breathing of a west wind, that is perpetually blowing from the ocean; while they allot to bad souls a dark and tempestuous den, full of never-ceasing punishments. And indeed the Greeks seem to me to have followed the same notion, when they allot the islands of the blessed to their brave men, whom they call heroes and demi-gods; and to the souls of the wicked, the region of the ungodly, in Hades, where their fables relate that certain persons, such as Sisyphus, and Tantalus, and Ixion, and Tityus, are punished; which is built on this first supposition, that souls are immortal; and thence are those exhortations to virtue and dehortations from wickedness collected; whereby good men are bettered in the conduct of their life by the hope they have of reward after their death; and whereby the vehement inclinations of bad men to vice are restrained, by the fear and expectation they are in, that although they should lie concealed in this life, they should suffer immortal punishment after their death. These are the Divine doctrines of the Essens (6) about the soul, which lay an unavoidable bait for such as have once had a taste of their philosophy.

12. There are also those among them who undertake to foretell things to come, (7) by reading the holy books, and using several sorts of purifications, and being perpetually conversant in the discourses of the prophets; and it is but seldom that they miss in their predictions.

13. Moreover, there is another order of Essens, (8) who agree with the rest as to their way of living, and customs, and laws, but differ from them in the point of marriage, as thinking that by not marrying they cut off the principal part of human life, which is the prospect of succession; nay, rather, that if all men should be of the same opinion, the whole race of mankind would fail. However, they try their spouses for three years; and if they find that they have their natural purgations thrice, as trials that they are likely to be fruitful, they then actually marry them. But they do not use to accompany with their wives when they are with child, as a demonstration that they do not many out of regard to pleasure, but for the sake of posterity. Now the women go into the baths with some of their garments on, as the men do with somewhat girded about them. And these are the customs of this order of Essens.

Pliny, the Elder writes in Natural History V.73, written around 77 CE:

On the west side of the Dead Sea, but out of range of the noxious exhalations of the coast, is the solitary tribe of the Essenes, which is remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole world, as it has no women and has renounced all sexual desire, has no money, and has only palm trees for company.  Day by day the throng of refugees is recruited to an equal number by numerous accessions of persons tired of life and driven thither by the waves of fortune to adopt their manners. Thus through thousands of ages (incredible to relate) a race in which no one is born lives on forever; so prolific for their advantage is other men’s weariness of life.  Lying below these was formerly the town of Engedi, second only to Jerusalem in the fertility of its land and in its groves of palm trees, but now, like Jerusalem, a heap of ashes.

Philo of Alexandria in On the Contemplative Life, 25 speaks about the Therapeutae, a group in Egypt that many scholars identify as the Essenes (Egyptian Style).

In each house there is a consecrated room which is called a sanctuary or closet and closeted in this they are initiated into the mysteries of the sanctified life.  They take nothing into it, either drink or food or any other of the things necessary for the needs of the body, but laws and oracles delivered through the mouths of prophets, and psalms and anything else which fosters and perfects knowledge and piety.

Philo in Hypothetica 11.14 also relates:

Furthermore, they abstain from marriage because they plainly perceive it to be the only or the primary danger to the maintenance of the communal life, as well as because they especially practice continence. For no Essene takes a wife, because a wife is a selfish creature, addicted to jealousy and skilled at beguiling the morals of her husband and seducing him by her continued deceptions.

The issue of when the scrolls were composed or copied has much to do with when the Essenes or “Dead Sea Scroll People” emerged in history. The prevailing opinion is that they emerged in the early second century BCE either as a response to the oppression of the Seleucid period or the continued Hellenization under the Hasmonians when the High Priesthood was usurped by a non-Zadokite. Although some of the biblical texts could predate this period, it would place the composition of the earliest sectarian texts between 175-150 BCE. An hypothesis that intrigues me has been offered by Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Relying strongly on clues in the text known as the Damascus Document, Fr. Murphy-O’Connor suggests that the Essenes had their origins in Babylonia during the Judean exile following the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. Some of the group may have returned to Judea during or shortly before the Maccabaean revolt. Clues for this hypothesis can be found in the Damascus Document, CDa, CDb (Cairo Genizah), 4Q266-272 (DSS). CD presents an historical account that ends with the exile. it gives an account of leaving the land of Judah and going to the land of the north. Since much of the legislation in CD governs a Jewish community among non-Jews, CD may hail back to more ancient times to the community living outside of Palestine and the Essenes may have existed long before the Teacher of Righteousness.
My late mentor, Dr. Bill Albright, one of the foremost palaeographers and orthographists of our time, believed the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QISa) had definite indicators of Babylonian origin. It may be reasonable to assume that some of the older texts of the DSS were brought to Palestine from Babylonia by these returnees. The range for the copying or composition of the DSS could span the late 3rd century BCE to the end of the 2nd temple period in 68 CE.
Scholars continue to debate when the scrolls were cached in the eleven (or more) caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea. In the center of this debate is the word KITTIM mentioned frquently throughout the texts. KITTIM means “people of Cyprus” and certainly originally referred to the Seleucids. It appears, however, to have become codified for any invader of oppresser from the sea to the west and was later applied to the Romans. The “Slain Messiah” text (4Q285) has been interpreted to refer to the Romans as illustrated in my reproduction of the fragment below:

The word “kittim” appears partially in the lacuna at the very bottom of the fragment.
Line 1 …..Isaiah the Prophet….
Line 2 …..The septer shall go forth from the root of Jesse…..
Line 3 …..branch of David and they shall be judges…..
Line 4 …..and they put to death the leader of the community, the branch …
Line 5 …..with piercings and the priest shall command….
Line 6 …..the slain of the Romans…….
Were the scrolls cached during the “kittim” oppression of the Seleucids, the “kittim” conquest under Pompey, or the “kittim” conquest of the 1st Jewish War? The debate continues.
Archaeologists are closing in on more Dead Sea Scrolls

(original link)

The Archaeology of Christmas

By Bryan Windle  

Many people approach the Christmas story in the Bible the same way they do the story of jolly old St. Nick.   It ’ s a nice tradition to celebrate during the festive season, and  possibly based on some historical facts, but still more myth than truth.   I mean, really, shepherds seeing angels? Wise men bringing gifts?   A virgin birth   (you do know how babies are made, right?!)?  
However, the two earliest records of the birth of Jesus of  Nazareth were written by a man who spent years following him (Matthew) and by a historian who carefully investigated the claims about it by speaking directly with eyewitnesses (Luke).   Further, they were written within the lifetime of those who actually knew Jesus: his mother, his siblings, and his disciples. 1   Peter himself said, “ We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty ” (2 Pt 1:16). Finally, the accounts of that first Christmas contain numerous historical synchronisms and descriptions of specific places and customs.   Is it possible, over two thousand years later, to evaluate the credibility of the Christmas story through archaeology?   I believe it is.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin ’ s name was Mary   (Lk 1:26  –  27).  

A common objection by atheists is that there was no town of  Nazareth in the first century as the Bible describes.   This is  presented, for example, by René Salm in his book    The Myth of  Nazareth, The Invented Town of Jesus ,   where he argues that  Nazareth didn ’ t begin to exist until the second century AD, after Jesus was born. 2   To be fair, for years the archaeological evidence for a first – century Nazareth was scant.

  Papyrus 75 (P75) is the earliest manuscript of the Gospel of Luke.  It dates to the second or third century AD (circa AD 175  – 225),  and is currently housed in the Vatican Library. Luke claimed to have “ carefully investigated everything from the beginning ” as it was “ handed down ” from those who were eyewitnesses (Lk 1:1  – 3). The historical accuracy of Luke has been confirmed time and again by archaeology and by other ancient writings.   Wikimedia Commons    

The Nazareth Archaeological Project has been excavating in Nazareth since 2006.  They have uncovered a first – century “ courtyard house ” which was partially hewn out of the rock with rock walls constructed on top. It was discovered beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent near a cistern, tombs, and the remains of a Byzantine church. An account called De Locus Sanctis , written by the Irish Monk Adomnán of Iona in the seventh century,   indicates that this site may have been venerated as the childhood home of Jesus.

As is often the case, however, archaeological finds in recent years have vindicated the biblical record, with numerous first – century discoveries.   Tombs with fragments of ossuaries have now been excavated in Nazareth, indicating a Jewish presence there in the first century. 3   Storage pits and cisterns from the time of Jesus have been discovered. 4   Recently, two first – century “ courtyard houses ” were unearthed in Nazareth, including one that still had its windows and doors intact.   The lead archaeologist on this project, Dr. Ken Dark, has presented evidence of early Christian veneration of the site, suggesting that it may have been the childhood home of Jesus. 5   There is no longer any doubt about it: the village of Nazareth existed at the time the Bible says, when an angel appeared to the young virgin named Mary to tell her of God ’ s plans for her and her child.  

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David   (Lk 2:1  –  4).  

These verses have caused much ink to be spilt in trying to vindicate Luke ’ s accuracy, as some have argued that there was no census taken around the time of the birth of Christ (shortly  before King Herod ’ s death), and that Quirinius was not governor of Judea at that time.   Most of the problem is based upon a copying error in Josephus that was propagated in later manuscripts, suggesting that Herod had died in 4 BC.   A recent examination of the manuscripts of Josephus in the British Library and the Library of Congress proved that all 29 manuscripts dating before 1544 indicate that Herod actually died in 1 BC. 6   Dr. Andrew Steinmann, Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University Chicago, has shown that King Herod actually died around the time of the total lunar eclipse of January 10, 1 BC, and that the birth of Jesus occurred sometime in mid – to – late 3 BC or early 2 BC.   Further, Roman records show that Quirinius was indeed a governor of Judea and that an empire – wide census took place in 3 BC. 7  Joseph, being of the house of David, thus journeyed from Nazareth to his ancestral hometown of Bethlehem to be registered for the census.

In recent years, some have suggested that Joseph did not go to Bethlehem in Judea (108 mi [175 km] south of Nazareth),  but rather to another town called Bethlehem of the Galilee (located only 4 mi [7 km] west of Nazareth). 8   However, both Matthew and Luke are clear that the actual location was Bethlehem in Judea, as both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David.   Furthermore, the prophecy in Micah 5:2 states that the “ ruler of Israel ” would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, which was in the territory of the biblical tribe of Judah (i.e., the southern Bethlehem in Judea).

The Aemilius Secundus Inscription was discovered in Venice on the tombstone of a Roman officer named Aemilius Secundus. He states that he was commanded by Quirinius to conduct a census of Apameas 117,000 citizens. In the inscription, P. Sulpicius Quirinius is given the titlesLegate of Caesar in Syria and Prefect of the first  Augustan cohort.
The Bethlehem Bulla is the earliest archaeological evidence that Bethlehem existed during the First Temple period. It is the clay impression of a seal that likely sealed a shipment of tax payments from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem. At that time taxes were paid in silver or agricultural goods, like wheat or wine. Based on the dating of the seal, the king who received the taxes was either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah.

Others point out that there is little archaeological evidence in Bethlehem of Judea from the time of Jesus.   While it is true that there used to be a lack of material culture from first – century Bethlehem, recent discoveries have silenced this claim.   In May 2012, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a bulla  (a clay seal impression) that mentions Bethlehem and was on the tax document of a shipment from Bethlehem to nearby Jerusalem.   It dates to the seventh   or eighth century BC, 9   and is the earliest reference to the town of Bethlehem outside of the Bible.   We also know there was a village there in the time of Constantine in the fourth   century AD. The fact that the village of Bethlehem existed 700 years before Jesus and 300 years afterwards suggests it was there during the time of Jesus too.   Furthermore, a recent excavation led by Shimon Gibson next to the Church of the Nativity turned up pottery shards and other evidence  proving the existence of the village of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus ’    birth. 10   The reality is that it was likely a small, seemingly insignificant village in the first century.   This would certainly be in keeping with the humble way our Savior entered the world.

The Stable  
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn   (Lk 2:6  –  7).   Each year tourists to Bethlehem flock to the Church of the Nativity, the supposed site of the birth of Jesus.   It was built over a cave in AD 326 which was said to be the stable in which the Christ child was born.   While there is an early tradition that speaks of a cave (Justin Martyr in the second   century), nowhere in the gospel accounts is a cave mentioned, or even a stable.

The only clues given by Luke as to the actual birthplace of Jesus are the mention of a manger and that there was no room at the inn. If there was a manger, many assume it was in a stable out behind an inn.   Images of an old barn behind a Motel 6 come to our Western minds.   The gospel accounts, however, do not mention a stable, and even the word “ inn ” does not mean “ motel. ”   Archaeologist Gary Byers has pointed out that the word Luke uses for “ inn ” is the Greek word   kataluma , which is used in only one other place in the New Testament— the story of the Last Supper in the   kataluma   (upper room/guest room). 11   In fact, if Luke had meant there were no rooms available at the “ motel, ” he likely would have used a different Greek word,  pandocheion . This he does in the story of the Good Samaritan, who takes the injured man to a “ motel inn ” where there is even an innkeeper, a  pandocheus  (Lk 10:34).   It was common for homes at the time of Jesus to have an upper room or a guest room.   With the census taking place, no doubt many family members had returned, and the guest room likely already housed many family members.  

Further, mangers were often found inside common dwellings in the first century.   Permanent, stone – carved mangers have  been discovered by archaeologists in the floors of homes from the biblical period. 12  There are also archaeological remains at Chorazin and Capernaum with a special domestic stable room on the ground floor of homes, which included “ fenestrated walls ”  —walls with square storage areas (think cubby holes)— in which animals, such as suckling lambs, would have been  placed. 13   Often animals that were young or valuable, like the fattened calf, were kept in these stable rooms inside the houses where they would be safe. Occasionally a first – century house was built beside a cave that was used as a stable, such that it was actually part of the ground floor structure of the home.   The picture that emerges, then, is not one of a pregnant woman being shoved aside to give birth in the barn out back,  but rather one in which Mary and Joseph are housed in the stable room on the ground floor of a relative ’ s home, because the guest room upstairs was already taken.

The Shepherds  
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “ Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has  been born to you; he is Christ the Lord ”   ( Lk 2:8  –  10).   Just north of Bethlehem was a place called Migdal Eder, “ the tower of the flock. ” While its exact location is uncertain today, it used to be where certain shepherds grazed special f  locks of sheep that were for sacrifices at the Temple.   It is mentioned in Micah 4:8 as the “ watchtower of the flock, ” interestingly just a few verses before Micah ’ s prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:8). Alfred Edersheim, in   The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , describes it this way:  

This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple – sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before Passover—that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine [Israel] the average rainfall is nearly greatest. 14

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1657.

There is no way of knowing conclusively that this is the exact place the shepherds were watching their flocks. It is interesting that there was likely a group of shepherds near Bethlehem tending the paschal lambs that were bound for sacrifice in Jerusalem the night that Jesus was born.   It ’ s quite  possible that the angel brought to these shepherds the glad tidings of great joy of the final Paschal Lamb ’ s birth (1 Cor 5:7).  

The Dedication at the Temple  
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “ Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord ”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “ a pair of doves or two young pigeons ”   ( Lk 2:22).  

In this passage, we learn three things about Jesus.   We learn that his parents were devout Jews who took the law seriously, coming to present their son to the Lord and offer purification sacrifices.   We know that Jesus was born into a poor family, as the sacrifice for purification was actually a year  – old lamb (Lv 12:6), and only if she could not afford that could two birds be offered as Mary did.   Finally, we can conclude that Jesus at this time made his first trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, the same temple where he would spend much time later in life.   In fact, it was in the Temple courts that old Simeon praised God for  being allowed to see the promised Savior (2:27).   Today, tourists to the Temple Mount can still see remains from the temple that Jesus knew.   The Southern Steps are the ancient steps that Jesus ’  parents likely walked on to enter the Temple, as they form one of the primary access points to it and they face south towards Bethlehem, from which they would have made their journey.   A first – century street was unearthed in the mid – 1990s, and was clearly built decades before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. 15    Numerous examples of the massive stones from Herod ’ s renovations to the Temple complex are visible today around the Temple Mount.   Herod ’ s Temple, known as the Second Temple, was where two nervous parents would have brought their son, the Christ – Child, to be dedicated.

The Magi, King Herod and King Jesus  
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “ Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him ”   ( Mt 2:1  –  2).  

Who were these magi, translated as “ wise men ” in the King James Version? Some have suggested they were kings, Babylonian astrologers, Persian Zoroastrians, or monk  – like mystics from as far away as China. 16   The Greek word that Matthew uses is   magoi,   the plural of    magos  or    magus . Thayer  ’   s Greek Dictionary  defines a magus  as:  

The name given by the Babylonians (Chaldaeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests,  physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc. 17  

The word is used to describe Elymas, the magician or sorcerer in Acts 13:6.   The magi who visited Jesus had obviously studied the Hebrew Scriptures and had probably taken note of several prophecies: “ A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel ”   (  Nm 24:17); “ But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times ”   ( Mi 5:2). They may have even understood from Daniel ’ s prophecy (9:25  –  26) that the time set for the Messiah to appear was nigh.   When they saw the mysterious star in the east, they came to pay honor to the newborn king.   Their arrival in Bethlehem caused quite a stir.  
King Herod was not pleased to hear that a rival to his throne had been born.   Herod the Great was a notoriously paranoid tyrant who had three of his own sons killed because he suspected them of plotting against him.   When Caesar Augustus heard about the deaths, he reportedly quipped, “ It is better to be Herod ’ s pig (Gk. huis ) than his   son ( hus ).” 18   The Herod we know from history is the same Herod we see in the Bible: a  paranoid man who would stop at nothing to maintain his grip on power, whether that meant killing his own sons, or the sons of the people of Bethlehem and its vicinity (Mt 2:16).   In addition to being a tyrant, Herod the Great was also a  prolific builder, and many of his structures remain to this day.   In 1999, archaeologists excavating beneath the Kishle, an Ottoman – era prison near the Tower of David, discovered the foundation walls of Herod ’ s palace in Jerusalem. 19  Matthew records that Herod secretly summoned the magi to question them personally about the star (Mt 2:7). It is likely the magi met with the paranoid king at his palace in Jerusalem.

After leaving Herod, the magi proceeded to complete their quest of honoring the newborn king.   Unlike most Christmas cards and nativity sets, which show the wise men present the night of Jesus ’  birth, they likely arrived some two years later.   Matthew uses the Greek word    paidion , which means child or toddler, to describe Jesus, rather than the word for  baby.   Remember that Herod ended up killing all of the boys two years of age and younger, in keeping with the information he received from the magi. Hence, it was likely a toddler the wise men found with his parents in Bethlehem, and to whom they presented their gifts.
  The Bible doesn ’ t say how many magi came to worship Jesus, only that they brought three gifts to give the new king: gold, frankincense and myrrh.   Gold was a precious metal that was found throughout the Middle East.   Havilah (Gn 2:12) and Ophir (1 Kg 9:28; 10:11; 22:48) were two places renowned for their gold in biblical times.   Frankincense was a perfume or incense.   The Nabataeans held a monopoly on the Frankincense trade, 20  amassing considerable wealth from the sale of it from their rock  – hewn city of Petra. 21   It is quite possible that the magi stopped at Petra to purchase the frankincense that they gave to Jesus, or at the very least, that it was Nabataean frankincense that was given.   Myrrh was used as an anointing spice at that time.   These were standard gifts that were given to honor kings and gods in antiquity.   All three are recorded among the gifts offered by King Seleucus II Callinicus at the Temple of Miletus to Apollo in 243 BC. 22

The Flight to Egypt  
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “ Get up, ” he said, “ take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. ” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “ Out of Egypt I called my son ” (Mt 2:13  –  15).  

The oft – forgotten part of the Christmas story is the flight to Egypt of Jesus ’ family immediately after the Magi left.   While it is not possible to know for certain exactly where Joseph took his family in Egypt, it is likely they settled near Heliopolis.   There was a large community of Jews dwelling in Egypt near Heliopolis at this time because of its proximity to the Temple of Onias. 23   The Temple of Onias was a Hellenistic and Roman –  period temple that had been built in Egypt for Jewish worship and sacrifice. Rather than it being seen as heretical to offer sacrifices at this temple, the Jewish Virtual Library states:  

The Talmud takes a somewhat relaxed view of this temple. It claims that it was not an “ idolatrous shrine ”  because Onias had  based himself on Isaiah 19:18, which says that, “ One day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, ” and because he was a legitimate Zadokite priest, a descendant of the high priest Simon the Just (Men. 109b). The Mishnah states that some vows made in the Temple of Jerusalem could  be redeemed in the Temple of Onias and, while a priest who served at Onias was precluded from serving in Jerusalem, he could nevertheless eat the terumah  (consecrated food) there together with his priestly brethren (Men. 13:10). 24

Joseph and Mary were devout in their Judaism, and would have likely sought out a place to commune with others of like ancestry and faith. It is remarkable that, even in this little detail, we find a plausible destination for the holy family in Egypt recorded in ancient sources.


The description of the Christmas story in the Bible is steeped in history.   Many of the people and places described have been verified through archaeology.   Even some of the minute details in the account of the birth of Jesus have proven to be accurate.   Furthermore, from the writings of other ancient historians such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Josephus, as well as from the ancient Jewish Talmud, we know that Jesus of Nazareth existed; that he lived in the place and time the Bible describes; and that many people in the first century believed him to be the Messiah, the long – awaited Savior of the world. 25  
Of course, none of this “  proves the Bible is true. ”   It simply demonstrates that the Bible is historically reliable when it describes the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.   I would suggest it also means we can trust that the words of Jesus  passed on to us in the gospels are faithful records of what he actually said. None are more familiar than the words Jesus spoke one night to a devout Jewish leader:  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God ’ s one and only Son ” (John 3:16  –  18).  

At the end of the day it is a matter of faith.   We live in a world that seeks the elusive “  proof beyond a shadow of a doubt, ”  but Jesus says, “ Believe. ”   To people who desperately search for love in all the wrong places, Jesus offers himself as the ultimate demonstration of God ’ s love.   To the condemned and dying, Jesus promises that there is eternal life and peace with God through him.   This truly is the good news of great joy for all people that the angel of the Lord declared that first Christmas: “ A Savior has been  born to you; He is Christ the Lord. ”  

Bryan Windle  is a pastor, youth leader and singer/songwriter in  Northern Ontario, Canada, where he pastors Island Bible Chapel. He blogs regularly about God’s Word (, and serves ABR by regularly updating the Current Events section of the website.  

Ten Major Archeological Discoveries of the Past Century

Keith N. Schoville
Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Semitic Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This article was published in Stone Campbell Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, and is published here with the kind permission of Dr. William Baker, editor of the Stone Campbell Journal, and Dr. Schoville, the author. Over the years I have always looked forward to a short visit with Keith Schoville at the annual meetings of the Near East Archaeological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. We have added photographs to make the article of more interest to the general public. Photo credits are visible when you move your cursor over the photo. Visit the Stone Campbell Journal web page for information about subscriptions.

Ten major archeological discoveries of the past century that are significant for understanding the world of the Bible are identified. For each find, a narrative of its discovery and the crucial information it unlocks is relayed, plus its connection to key biblical events or references. These ten discoveries illustrate the point that new facts about the Bible, its world and personalities, come through diligence in archeological research.

Any list of the major archaeological discoveries of the last century of significance for understanding the world of the Bible must of necessity be arbitrary and based to a considerable degree on the selector’s judgment; that is true of this list. Nevertheless, identifying these ten should arouse the interest of readers to the continuing work of archaeologists in the ancient Near East, including at least the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. We should be reminded, too, that the only new facts about the Bible and the world in which the events occurred, the personalities lived, and it was written come from archaeological research. The search for the past and the resultant discoveries are always subject to chance finds, so at any point in time it is possible for evidence to surface that brings a biblical figure or event out of the dust of the past and into the present through the recovery of a new text, inscription, or relic of antiquity.


Qumran Cave 4 and Jar. Ferrell Jenkins.
Cave 4 at Qumran and One of the Dead Sea Scroll Jars on Display at the Amman Archaeological Museum in Jordan.

The initial discovery was by chance in 1947, and not by archaeologists! Bedouin shepherds found seven scrolls or parts of scrolls and fragments, along with store jars and broken pottery jars in a cave overlookingthe northwest end of the Dead Sea. When a dealer acting on behalf of the shepherds sold the scrolls, they came to the attention of scholars in Jerusalem and then the scholarly world.

Subsequent investigations in the area of the cave of discovery ultimately led to the recovery of documents in a total of eleven caves and the excavation of a modest ruin nearby known as Khirbet (the ruin of) Qumran. All of this was occurring as the modern State of Israel was coming into existence, with all the political upheaval involved in that development. [2] As this century ends and a new one begins, efforts for a peaceful political settlement in the region continue and give signs of reaching fruition. In the meantime, scholars continue to study the multitude of fragments recovered and to attempt to assess their significance.

Among the more than eight hundred documents represented by whole scrolls, incomplete scrolls, and a myriad of fragments which have been recovered are complete copies or portions of all the books in the Hebrew Bible (our OT), except for the Book of Esther. These texts are older by at least a thousand years than any previous biblical texts written in Hebrew that we had prior to the discovery. They provide a window into the textual history of the OT prior to the closure of the canon. [3]

Besides copies of scriptural texts, from the caves in the Qumran area came sectarian documents that open a panorama on the obscure Jewish group apparently related to the production and deposition of the manuscripts. [4] This group was likely the Essenes, previously known from references to them in the writings of Flavius Josephus, Philo Judaeus, and Pliny the Elder. All the texts discovered, taken together, open a critical window into events in Palestine in the decades prior to and following the birth of Christ (although no NT texts were found among the scrolls) up to the time of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The historical period of the Dead Sea Scrolls illuminates the environment in which Christianity developed in Palestine, the transformation of Judaism into Rabbinic Judaism in the aftermath of the First Revolt of the Jews against the Romans with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the context in which the canonization of Holy Scripture was progressing.

The Dead Sea Scrolls now reside mainly in the Shrine of the Book, a part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where they are on display. The Copper Scroll can be seen in the Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan. Many of the small fragments are housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. Scholars work almost exclusively with photographs and microfilm of the fragments, however, and these are available to scholars at many of the major universities around the world. It is likely that researchers will still be at work on the scrolls fifty years hence. [5]


David inscription from Dan. Near East Archaeology photo.

More than a quarter of a century of excavations at Tel Dan in the north of Israel at the foot of Mount Hermon produced little in the way of written material. The excavations have been directed through the years since 1966 by Dr. Avraham Biran, distinguised Israeli archaeologist. Then on July 21, 1993, while work crews were preparing the site for visitors, a broken fragment of basalt stone was uncovered in secondary use in a wall. Surveyor Gila Cook glanced at the stone in the rays of the afternoon sun and saw what looked like alphabetic letters. On closer examination it turned out that, indeed, they had found an inscribed stone.. The discovery was of a fragment of a large monumental inscription, measuring about 32 cm. high and 22 cm. at its greatest width. Apparently the stone had been purposely broken in antiquity. It turned out that the stele fragment mentions King David’s dynasty, “the House of David.” As the preparatory work for tourism proceeded, two additional fragments of the stele were recovered in two separate, disparate locations in June of 1994. The partially reconstructed text reads as follows:

1. [ … …] and cut [ … ]
2. [ … ] my father went up [against him when] he fought at [ … ]
3. And my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors]. And the king of I [s-]
4. rael entered previously in my father’s land. [And] Hadad made me king.
5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven [ …-]
6. s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha-]
7. Riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab]
8. king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]
9. g of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned]
10. their land into [desolation … ]
11. other [ … and Jehu ru-]
12. led over Is[rael … and I laid ]
13. siege upon [ … ] [6]

The pavement and the wall where the fragments were found was laid at the end of the 9th or beginning of the 8th century BC, according to pottery fragments recovered in probes beneath the flagstone pavement. Since the fragment and the entire pavement was covered by the debris of the Assyrian destruction of Tiglath Pileser III, in 732 BC, it could not have been laid latter than that year.

The surmise is that Jehoash (798-782), grandson of Jehu, or Jehoash’s son, Jeroboam II (793, co-regent 782-753), and more likely Jehoash, was the monarch who had this reminder of Aramaean domination smashed (2 Kgs 13:25). It is further assumed that Hazael (844/42-798?) was then king of Aram- Damascus, because Hazael fought against Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah ( 2 Kgs 8:7-15, 28; 2 Chr 22:5). Hazael was followed by his son and successor, Ben-hadad III, early in the 8th century BC

The discovery provides an archaeological connection to the biblical references to the ruling dynasty established by King David approximately two centuries before the events that are mentioned in the inscription. It is the first mention of King David and the earliest mention of a biblical figure outside of the Bible. The discovery is of particular importance in the face of those scholars who were either skeptical or denied the historical existence of King David [7]


Amulet scroll. Israel Museum.

In 1979 Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, working with a group of students from the Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College), excavated several tombs in Jerusalem on the “Shoulder of Hinnom,” on the southwestern slope of the Hinnom Valley adjacent to the Scottish Presbyterian Church of St. Andrew. In one burial cave a repository for grave goods was found, containing approximately 700 items, including burial gifts of pottery vessels, over 100 pieces of silver jewelry, arrowheads, bone and ivory artifacts, alabaster vessels, 150 beads and a rare, early coin. Among the silver items was a rolled-up amulet bearing the tetragrammaton, the name of God (the consonantal letters yod, he, waw, he), YHWH.

The tomb dates to the end of the Davidic dynasty, approximately the seventh century BC. The silver amulet thus dates to the end of the seventh or early sixth century. The prayer-like inscription containing the divine name provides the oldest extra-biblical evidence for the name of God thus far archaeologically recovered in Jerusalem. The scripture passage on the amulet is from the Aaronic or priestly blessing found in Num 6:24-25. The owner apparently wore the inscribed, rolled-up silver amulet during his/her lifetime, and people felt it appropriate that such objects should accompany the owner in death as in life.

Of secondary interest is the fact that the evidence from the Shoulder of Hinnom tombs indicates a population in the Jerusalem area in the aftermath of the Babylonian destruction of the city. The evidence also indicates a certain level of wealth on the part of those buried in the tombs.


A severe drought in 1985-86 brought the Sea of Galilee to unusually low levels, exposing large areas of the lakebed along the shoreline. Two brothers–Moshe and Yuval Lufan–from Kibbutz Ginnosar, near Tiberias along the northwest shore of the sea, discovered the remains of a 2,000 year old boat buried in the mud along the shore. Israeli archaeologist Shelley Wachsman, an expert in marine archaeology, examined the sunken boat in situ and was able to confirm that it was an ancient rather than a modern craft. His judgment was based on a construction technique used in antiquity in which the planks of the hull were edge-joined with mortise and tendon joints held together by wooden pegs. This was the first time an ancient boat had been discovered in the Sea of Galilee.

Galilee Boat. Ferrell Jenkins.
The Galilee Boat on Permanent Display
at the Nof Ginosaur Museum.

The boat measured approximately 30 feet long and 8 feet wide at its greatest width. It was excavated during February, 1986, and carefully moved some 1600 yards to a specially constructed conservation pool where it remained for several years undergoing treatment for its preservation. On the basis of pottery fragments found in the boat, it has been dated between the latter part of the first century BC to approximately the mid-century AD. Seventeen pieces of pottery were used in the analysis, including a complete lamp and cooking pot, as well as identifiable fragments of cooking pots, store jars, a jug and juglets. The pottery was identifiable as a part of the assemblage known from other Galilee excavation sites. In addition, carbon 14 dating gave corroborating dates between 120 BC and AD 40.

Evidence was found that the boat could be both sailed and/or rowed. Apparently the boat could accommodate four oarsmen plus a helmsman. It is estimated that the boat could hold some fifteen individuals, similar to the boats in which Jesus and his twelve disciples traveled across the sea (See Matt 8:18, 23-27, 9:1, 14:13- 14, 22-32, 15:39, 16:5; Mark 4;35-41, 5:18, 21, 6:32-34, 45-51, 8:9-10, 13-14; Luke 6:1, 8:22-25, 37, 40; John 6:16-21).

In recent years the boat, now preserved through the conservation efforts, has a permanent home in a specially constructed exhibit hall at Kibbutz Ginnosar. It has become a highlight for tourists visiting the Holy Land and a visual reminder of the Gentle Teacher from Galilee.


Literally hundreds of Hebrew seals and seal impressions have been discovered in the last century and a half either in authorized archaeological excavations or by clandestine diggers; the results of the latter ending up in the hands of antiquities dealers, subsequently to come into the hands of collectors or of scholars. Hardened clay seal impressions are called “bullae” (sg., bulla). Bullae have survived in damp earth in a remarkable way.

In biblical Israel, papyrus was the primary form of writing material. Once an official document was written, it would be rolled up, one end folded in one-third of the breadth and the opposite end similarly folded in. The document, now shortened by folding, was tied with a string and a lump of clay was impressed on the knotted string. Then the upper surface of the clay lump was impressed with the signet ring of the owner of the document or its writer. Such documents were stored in temple or palace archives, with the unbroken seal guaranteeing the validity of the document’s contents.

The reason the clay bullae survived is that a conflagration that destroyed the building and the papyrus archive fired the clay sealings, making them practically indestructible. The evidence of the knotted cord to which the clay had been attached remains on the underside of the bullae.

Sometime during the 1970’s, a bulla containing the stamp and name of the scribe of Jeremiah appeared on the antiquities market and was acquired by a collector, Dr. R. Hecht. He permitted Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad to publish the bulla, which came from an unidentified place, now thought to be the “burnt house” excavated by Yigal Shiloh. The bulla is now in the Israel Museum. It measures 17 by 16 mm, and is stamped with an oval seal, 13 by 11 mm. A single line borders the impression, and it is divided by double horizontal lines into three registers bearing the following inscription:

lbrkyhw Belonging to Berechiah
bn nryhw son of Neriah
hspr the scribe.

The script used is the pre-exilic ancient Hebrew linear script, rather than the post-exilic script adopted by Jews from the contemporary Aramaic script. Reading the Hebrew from right to left, the first letter, Heb (l), is the preposition “to, belonging to,” and the last three letters, heb. (yhw)is a shortened form of the name of God, Heb. (yhwh), the shortened form was likely pronounced “yahu.” Baruch’s name means “Blessed of the Lord (Yahweh).”

This bulla was without doubt from the impression of Baruch ben Neriah , the scribe who wrote to the dictation of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 36:4). Dr. Avigad expressed his personal feelings as he worked with the Baruch Bulla as having the feeling “of personal contact with persons who figure prominently in the dramatic events in which the giant figure of Jeremiah and his faithful follower Baruch were involved at a most critical time preceding the downfall of Judah.” [11]

Avigad also published a seal bearing the inscription “Belonging to Seraiah (ben) Neriah.” Seriah was the “chief chamberlain” in the court of King Zedekiah (Jer 51:59). [12] He accompanied the king to Babylon, and he carried a written oracle from the prophet Jeremiah looking for the ultimate destruction of Babylon, which he was to read aloud on his arrival in the city, then to throw the document into the Euphrates (Jer 59:64). Seriah ben Neriah was the brother of Baruch ben Neriah, and both were close friends of the prophet Jeremiah.


A dump truck accidentally smashed through the roof of a tomb in November, 1990, during some work in the Jerusalem Peace Forest, leading to the discovery of the ossuary which contained the bones of the High Priest in the time of Jesus. The Jerusalem Peace Forest is located on the southwest side of old Jerusalem, across the Hinnom Valley from Mt. Zion. Here, on the slope of the hills is a large cemetery from the late Second Temple era (1st century BC to 1st century AD). Rock-cut burial chambers used by Jews in this period contained typically four burial niches, shelves cut into the sides of the chamber; ossuaries are also characteristic of and unique to the period.

Caiaphas Ossuary. Israel Museum photo.

An ossuary is a stone bone box, used for secondary burials. Initially the body is laid to rest in a burial niche. After decomposition, the bones were collected and placed in an ossuary, making the burial niche available for a subsequent burial. Tombs belonged to families, so subsequent burials were normal. Two of a dozen ossuaries in the tomb contained a form of the name Qafa’, or Caiaphas. Several of the ossuaries were decorated with traditional carved rosettes, zig-zag patterns, and other designs. The most intricately carved ossuary was decorated with two circles each containing five rosettes, and twice carved into an undecorated side appears the name, “Yehosef bar Qafa'” (Joseph son of Caiaphas). The ossuary contained the remains of six people: two infants, a child aged two to five, a boy aged 13 to 18, an adult female and a man about 60 years old. The latter are believed to be the bones of Caiaphas, before whom Jesus was brought for questioning (Matt 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13, 14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6) [14]


Pilate Inscription replica. Ferrell Jenkins.
Replica of Pilate Inscription on Display at Caesarea.

Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of Roman Judea, under whose governance Jesus of Nazareth was crucified (Matt 27:2, plus 60 additional occurrences in the gospels, Acts, and 1 Timothy). He was appointed by the emperor Tiberius in AD 26 and suspended by L. Vitellius, Roman governor of Syria, in AD 37, after slaughtering a number of Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim.

Although Pilate is also mentioned in Josephus, Philo and Tacitus and coins issued during his governance exist, inscriptional evidence for Pilate was discovered in Italian excavations at Caesarea Maritima in 1961. Antonio Frova, director of the excavations, found a dedicatory stone that bore a three-line inscription: Tiberieum/[Pon]tius Pilatus/[Praef]ectus Iuda[eae], “Tiberius [the Roman emperor of the period]/Pontius Pilate/Prefect of Judea.” The stone, in secondary use in the theatre at Caesarea, had been shaped to fit its new use and in the process some of the inscription had been mutilated, although it was easily reconstructed. The inscription not only confirms the historicity of Pilate, it clarifies the title that he bore as governor. It is now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


In 1993, archaeologists Seymour Gitin of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research and Trude Dothan of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were in their thirteenth and final season of excavations at Tel Miqne in Israel. They had long suspected that Tel Miqne was the site of one of the main cities of the Philistine pentapolis, specifically biblical Ekron (Josh 13:3, plus 23 other references in the OT). Then a royal dedicatory inscription carved into a slab of limestone dramatically confirmed the place name, along with the names of five of its rulers, and two of them are specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The inscription was found in a destruction layer attributed to the Babylonian conquest dating to 603 BC It was within a 186 by 124 foot structure, considered a temple complex. The complex followed the design of known Assyrian palaces, and one section contained a sanctuary with a stone pavement; the inscription had fallen in the destruction to the pavement. The five lines of the inscription reads:

1. The temple which he built, ‘kysh (Achish, Ikausu) son of Padi, son of
2. Ysd son of Ada, son of Ya’ir, ruler of Ekron,
3. For Ptgyh his lady. May she bless him, and
4. protect him, and prolong his days, and bless
5. his land.

Ekron Inscription. Tel Miqne/Ekron Publications.

Both Ikausu and his father, Padi, are known from Assyrian records as kings of Ekron. Sennacherib’s annals mention Padi, in connection with the Assyrian campaign against the region in 701 BC that included the siege of King Hezekiah’s Jerusalem. Padi also payed his taxes to his Assyrian overlord in 699 BC, as recorded on a royal clay sealing, indicating a contribution of a light talent of silver, about 67.5 pounds. Ikausu is numbered among twelve regional kings who transported building materials to Nineveh for the construction of the palace of Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) and also in a list of kings who assisted Ashurbanipal in his first campaign against Egypt in 667 BC The other three kings in this Philistine dynasty, Ysd, Ada and Yair, are otherwise unattested.

The goddess Ptgyh may be an unknown Philistine deity or, more likely, by reading the damaged fourth letter of the name as “nun=n”, as Pt[n]yh. [16] This would be read as “Potnia,” meaning “mistress” or “lady,” the formal title used for various goddesses in ancient Greek The goddess behind the title was likely Asherah, a Semitic deity, since the other known Philistine deities bear clearly Semitic names: Dagon and Ba`al-zebul. The inscription thus helps confirm that the Philistines, whose origins were in Caphtor=Crete, in biblical tradition (See Amos 9:7), had largely assimilated to Canaanite culture in the centuries between their arrival and the dedication of the temple of Ekron.


This is a controversial pick, because the interpretation of the discovery is far from settled; nevertheless, Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal, who came across the ruins during an archaeological survey of the tribal region of Manasseh in 1980, still adheres to his interpretation. He went on to excavate the site located on Mt Ebal, the mountain from which Joshua pronounced the curses, [18] lying opposite Mt. Gerizim, the mountain of blessings, and separated by the valley in which the ruins of ancient Shechem lie near modern Nablus. He determined to excavate the site because in the survey he had found a great quantity of pottery sherds lying around the large pile of stones. The sherds dated to Iron Age I, ca. 1220-1000 BC, the period in which Israelites apparently settled in Canaan, as well as the period of the Judges. Further, though many Iron Age I sites were discovered in the survey, this was the only such site on Mt. Ebal.

Mount Ebal from East. Todd Bolen.
Photo of Mount Ebal by Todd Bolen – BiblePlaces.Com

Excavations began in the fall of 1982 and were concluded after six seasons. What was revealed was a compound consisting of enclosure walls, a large rectangular structure built of unhewn stones, including spaces deliberately filled with four distinct layers of earth, stones, ashes, animal bones, potsherds, or combinations of each. In the ash layers were 962 animal bones which were burned or scorched. These included the remains of four species: sheep, goats, domesticated cattle and fallow deer. These faunal remains differ from those found in typical Iron Age I sites because the range of animals represented is quite narrow. Usually evidence of the donkey and the dog are also found in Iron Age sites. Further, the pig, which is attracted to the same environment as fallow deer, is lacking at this site. All this suggests that the Mt. Ebal ruins was a cultic site where animals were sacrificed and eaten. The place was abandoned by 1130 BC Because of its unique location and singular characteristics, Zertal believes this was the altar built and used when Joshua fulfilled Moses’ command to build an altar to Yahweh on Mt. Ebal (8:30-35).

10 UGARIT [19]

Tell Ras Shamra contains the ruins of an ancient city known as Ugarit. The name was known, although the location was not, from references in the Amarna letters of Egypt and the political correspondence from ancient Mari prior to the discovery in 1928. The major excavator was Claude F. A. Schaeffer followed after his retirement by several other French directors. Excavations still continue in the face of growing urbanization both at the tell and at a seaside site a few kilometers away, Ras Ibn Hani.

Ras Shamra Excavation. Ferrell Jenkins.
Some of the Excavations of Tell Ras Shamra.
Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, May 2002.

Apart from the architecture and artifacts of a wealthy, cosmopolitan center recovered, the significance of Ugarit is in the recovery of thousands of cuneiform tablets, written in several languages current in international circles of the day, but particularly a heretofore unknown language now bearing the name Ugaritic, after the site. When deciphered, the cuneiform signs used for writing were discovered to be based on the Semitic alphabet rather than on the syllabic signs of Mesopotamia. Even more important were the contents of the documents written in Ugaritic. Some were recovered from palace complexes and were primarily administrative and economic texts, opening a window on the international diplomacy and trade current before the city’s destruction and demise c. 1180 BC. Others were recovered from temple complexes, including the legends and myths of Ugarit. Two legendary epics focus on ancient kings, Keret and Danel. Mythological texts recount the stories of Baal and Anath, Kathir-and-Khasis, El (the patriarch of the gods), Athtart, Mot (the god of sterility and death), Yam (the sea monster god) and others.

The myths and legends of Ugarit permit us to glimpse the conceptions of the supernatural that infused Canaanite life and thought and to observe their cultic rites and practices. The Canaanites were polytheists, and their gods were primarily deified aspects of nature. What we have is an unbiased view into the culture which dominated the land of Canaan into which the Israelites came, permitting us to understand the religious and cultural environment that in part Israel conquered and in part which conquered Israel. The Ugaritic literature and material continue to provide a rich source for comparative studies with biblical texts, including the Hebrew language, sociological, economic, monarchical, and religious areas. [20]

End Notes

[1] For a balanced overview of the subject written for the […]
[2] For a recent publication on this topic, see C. Marvin Pate, Communities of the Last Days (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
[3] On this important topic see Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).
[4] A comprehensive one-volume edition of the non-biblical texts is available in English; see Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, (2nd ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1996).
[5] For bibliography and up-to-date information on scrolls research, go to this web site:
[6] Israel Exploration Journal 45 (1, 1995) 13
[7] For discussions on the discovery, its significance and related controversies, see BAR 20.2 (Mar/Apr, 1994) 26; BAR 20.4 (Jul/Aug, 1994) 54; BAR 20.5 (Sep/Oct, 1994) 22; BAR 20.6 (Nov/Dec, 1994) 47.
[8] BAR 9.2 (Mar/Apr, 1983) 14-19.
[9] Shelley Wachsmann et al, The Excavations of an Ancient Boat in the Sea of Galilee (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1990; ‘Atiqot 19, English Series) 138 pp.; illustrations, 3 folding plans. Cf. “The Galilee Boat–2,000-Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact, ” Shelley Wachsman, BAR 14.5 (Sep/Oct, 1988) 18-33.
[10] Nahman Avigad, “Jerahmeel & Baruch,” BA 42.2 (1979) 114-118; Hershel Shanks, “Jeremiah’s Scribe and Confidant Speaks from a Hoard of Clay Bullae,” BAR 13.5 (1987) 58-65.
[11] “Jerahmeel & Baruch,” BA 42.2 (1979) 118.
[12] “The Seal of Seraiah,” Eretz Israel 14 (1978, Ginsberg festschrift) 86-87.
[13] Zvi Greenhut, “Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family,” BAR 18.5 (1992) 28-36.
[14] Ronny Reich, “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes,” BAR 18.5 (Sep/Oct, 1992) 38-44.
[15] Seymour Gitin, Trude Dothan and Joseph Naveh, “A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron,” IEJ 47 (1997) 1-16.
[16] Aaron Demsky, “Discovering a Goddess,” BAR 24.5 (Sep/Oct, 1998) 53-58.
[17] Adam Zertal, “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11.1 (Jan/Feb, 1985) 26-43; “Ebal, Mount,” ABD, 2:255-258.
[18] Deuteronomy 27-28.
[19] Marguerite Yon,”Ugarit,” Stephen Rosoff, trans., in ABD 6:695-706 (treating the archaeology of the site) and D. Pardee & Pierre Bordreuil, ABD 6:706-721 (dealing with Texts and Literature).
[20] Note: This selection is based on a similar list prepared by myself and Gordon Govier of Radio WNWC-FM in Madison, Wisconsin, (a Christian radio station) for our weekly “Book and the Spade” show.

Stone-Campbell Journal © 2002

(original link)

Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2020

Gordon Govier

Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2020

Image: Courtesy of Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

There was no shortage of biblical archaeology news in 2020, despite COVID-19 restrictions that canceled almost all of Israel’s scheduled excavations. Some limited digs still took place in Israel and surrounding countries, and research on previous excavations continued, resulting in some major announcements.

Here are 2020’s biggest stories about archaeology connecting us with the biblical world:
10. Assyrian god carvings

Italian and Kurdish archaeologists uncovered 15-foot rock carvings depicting an Assyrian king and seven Assyrian gods standing on the backs of sacred animals. The artwork was carved in relief in a cliff along a canal in the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq. The king is believed to be Sargon II, who ruled from 722 to 705 B.C. and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:6). It is possible that the canal where the relief was found was dug by Israelites enslaved by Sargon II.

9. Church built on a solid rock

A dig in Banias in northern Israel has revealed the remains of a fourth-century church built, as was a common practice, atop a shrine to another god. Banias was a cultic center of worship of the god Pan, and the shrine was likely for worship of the Greek deity associated with sex and spring.

Christians in the fourth century, however, would have recognized the location as the biblical Caesarea Philippi, near the location where Peter told Jesus, “You are the Christ” and Jesus replied, “On this rock, I will build my church” (Matt. 16:13–19). One stone in the ruin is marked with cross etchings left by pilgrims who visited the church shortly after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

8. Fort allied with King David
The Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at the Golan’s Hispin, where a circa 11th century fort was discovered, which could be the earliest evidence of the biblical ‘Geshurites.’ (Anya Kleiner, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists uncovered a fortified building in the Golan Heights dated to the time of David’s rule, about 1,000 B.C. A large basalt stone in the fortress is engraved with two horned figures with outstretched arms.

Archaeologists believe this building was an outpost of the kingdom of Geshur, an ally of King David. David’s wife Maacah, the mother of Absalom, was the daughter of the king of Geshur.

7. Holy smoke residue
Shown here is a view of the Canaanite city ruins in the lower area of the Tel Arad archaeological site, Israel.

A new test on organic remains on the burned surface of an eighth century B.C. altar revealed a residue of marijuana. This is the first evidence cannabis was associated with any form of worship in ancient Israel and the oldest known ritual use of marijuana to date. The altar was dedicated to the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The worship center at the desert stronghold of Arad was first excavated in the 1960s. Tests done half a century ago came back inconclusive. New tests were done using improved equipment and techniques. A second altar at the site carried traces of frankincense.

6. A temple to rival Jerusalem

Tel Aviv University archaeologists calculate that a temple, discovered during reconstruction of Israel’s Highway 1, near Jerusalem, was built around 900 B.C. The Motza temple is estimated to be similar in size to the temple built by Solomon a half-century earlier and just five miles to the east. The rival temple was likely used to worship the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt—and other gods too.

The discovery was startling but fits well with the Old Testament narrative of national disputes over where, how, and who to worship. Scholars think some key Scriptural texts were composed as defenses of Jerusalem-based worship, and 1 Kings recounts how, during the same century, the northern kingdom of Israel constructed worship centers at Dan and Bethel.

5. Smiting gods of Canaan
Temple at Tel Lachish (Courtesy of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish)

Israeli archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel uncovered the ruins of a Canaanite temple from the 12th century B.C. The excavation site, located in Lachish, one of the most important Old Testament cities in the region, has yielded a trove of artifacts used in Canaanite worship, including jewelry, daggers, and two four-inch-tall bronze figurines of “smiting gods.”

Perhaps the most significant discovery at the temple is a bronze scepter coated with silver. Garfinkel believes it was held by a human-sized statue of the Canaanite god Baal. The statue itself was not found, but large statues of ancient Canaanite gods are rare.

4. Well-preserved palace
Archaeologists believe this pillared building found at Horvat Tevet served as an Israelite royal estate in the 9th century B.C.E.Credit: Rachel Lindeman, courtesy of Omer Sergi and the Horvat Tevet Archaeological Project

Archaeologists working on a road project in the Jezreel Valley outside the modern city of Afula discovered a royal complex that served Israelite kings such as Omri and Ahab. The complex is located just a half dozen miles from Tel Jezreel, site of another palace of King Ahab. A large pillared building they uncovered was described as “the best preserved building of the House of Omri ever found in Israel.” Storage jars found at the site reveal what appears to have been a centralized system of food distribution.

3. Church in a house at Laodicea

Turkish archaeologist Celal Şimşek discovered sacred items used in Christian worship while excavating a house in Laodicea. The peristyle house—built around a central garden or courtyard—was located next to a theater and was likely owned by wealthy people. The apostle Paul sent an epistle to the church at Laodicea, which is mentioned in Colossians but appears to have been lost. The church is also mentioned in Revelation, when Jesus condemns the Christians for saying, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,” when actually they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

Şimşek has not the detailed the religious items he unearthed, but concluded the house with a church will add to scholars’ understanding of “how Christianity spread in Laodicea since the middle of the first century.”

2. “Replica” is real; fragments are fake

One ongoing problem for biblical archaeologists is determining the authenticity of artifacts they don’t personally excavate—the items sold on the antiquities market. This year saw several major examples of how cutting-edge technology can help: A clay seal impression, once believed to be a forgery, was shown to be authentic, while fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, once believed real, were uncovered as fakes.

Ben Gurion University professor Yuval Goren and his team determined that a “bulla,” or clay seal, depicting a roaring lion, dates to the reign of Jeroboam II, who ruled from 788-748 B.C. It was purchased at a Bedouin market for a small sum a few decades ago.

At the same time, a firm that specializes in detecting art forgery discovered that 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the collection of the Museum of the Bible were all modern forgeries. The museum won praise for its thorough investigation and is now displaying the fakes with an exhibit focused on the problem of forgery. There are more than 70 other possibly faked fragments that have been offered to evangelical collectors since 2002.

1. Remains of Manasseh’s reign
Column heads dating back to First Temple era (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The discovery of the remains of a palace possibly belonging to King Manasseh, the ruler in 2 Kings 21 who “did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger” and led the people to “do more evil than the nations had done that the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel,” dramatically expands archaeologists’ understanding of the reign of the later kings of Judah.

The ruins are located on the Armon Hanatziv promenade, a site that overlooks the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem from the south. The “proto-Aeolian” stonework is associated with royal buildings in the first temple period. The structure dates to the 55-year rulership of Manasseh, who took over the southern kingdom from his father King Hezekiah.

A few blocks away, near the newly constructed US embassy, archaeologists also found the remains of a large warehouse. It is believed to be a centralized food distribution facility and perhaps also served as storage for agricultural surplus. It dates from the same period.

A decade ago, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a palace and administrative center nearby in Ramat Rachel. This year’s publication of the report of the excavation, combined with the new digs, shows scholars that this area along the road to Bethlehem was a major center of activity for the later rulers of the kingdom of Judah.

Gordon Govier is editor of Artifax, a quarterly biblical archaeology news magazine, and host of the weekly radio program The Book & The Spade.

(original link)

From Jesus’ Time: The 10 Most Interesting Biblical Discoveries of 2019

By Stephanie Pappas
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Israel and its neighbors are a rich archaeological ground. Hardly a month goes by without the excavation of some 2,000-year-old bit of human history. This past year was no exception. Archaeologists uncovered new mosaics, altars, churches and villages with ties to ancient Hebrew and Biblical texts. They also found new secrets in texts themselves. Read on for some of the most intriguing biblical discoveries of 2019.

An altar with a tale to tell

A stone altar discovered in Ataroth, Jordan, is etched with tantalizing clues about a rebellion that took place more than 2,800 years ago.

The rebellion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, which tells of an uprising by the kingdom of Moab against the kingdom of Israel. According to the Biblical tale, Moab had to pay Israel tribute in the form of lambs and wool. Then, the king of Moab, Mesha, grew frustrated with this arrangement and raised an army against the larger power. A stele, or inscribed stone, discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, records that Mesha successfully conquered the Israeli-controlled city of Ataroth.

The altar, first excavated in 2010, was analyzed and its contents reported in the journal Levant this year. Its inscription — partly written in the Moab script — confirms that Mesha and his army did conquer Ataroth, mentioning the loot of bronze from the defeated city. Another portion of the inscription describes 4,000 foreign men “scattered and abandoned in great number” and mentions a “desolate” city.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…

Church of the Apostles?

A Byzantine-era church discovered in northern Israel may be a long-lost place of worship built above the home of the apostles Peter and Andrew.

The structure was discovered this year near the Sea of Galilee. It dates back about 1,400 years and still holds the remains of intricate mosaics and carved marble. Its discoverers believe that the church may be on the site of the Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida, the town where Jesus Christ is said in the Bible to have fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. If so, the church could be the legendary “Church of the Apostles,” which was built to honor two of Jesus’ original disciples, one of whom (Peter) would become the first leader of the early Christian church.

The claim, however, is disputed by other researchers, who argue that they’ve been excavating Bethsaida at a nearby site called et-Tell. Stay tuned for further excavations that might settle the debate.

Origin of the Philistines

One of the most intriguing Biblical discoveries of 2019 occurred not in desert sands, but in the DNA of ancient individuals buried at a Philistine archaeological site.

The DNA analysis suggests that the Philistines descended from people who migrated to the Levant (an area encompassing the eastern Mediterranean) from Greece, Sardinia or the Iberian Peninsula some 3,000 years ago.Advertisement

The Philistines are a people repeatedly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and also in the writings of ancient Egyptians. These texts led archaeologists to the city of Ashkelon, in what is today Israel, where they found artifacts reminiscent of those seen in Bronze Age Greece. The new genetic analysis cements those ties, showing that these cultural relics were brought by migrants to the Levant.  

Balak: Myth or legend?

Remember that stele from Dhiban, Jordan, that told the tale of King Mesha defeating the Israelites at Ataroth? Well, that same stele was at the center of another Biblical controversy in 2019: Does its inscription confirm the existence of a Moab king named Balak?

Balak gets a mention in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Numbers, but there hasn’t been any non-Biblical confirmation that he existed. This year, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel tried to decipher some of the hard-to-read portions of the Mesha stele (which is broken and held at the Louvre in France) using a rubbing of the stele that was created before it was broken. They concluded that one fragment contained a B, which may stand for Balak … or for something completely different.Advertisement

“We can read one letter, b, which they’re guessing may be filled out as Balak, even though the following letters are missing,” Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “It’s just a guess. It could be Bilbo or Barack, for all we know.”

A village with ties to Jesus’ crucifixion

The Gospel of Luke in the New Testament tells the story of Jesus’ return after the crucifixion. According to the disciple, Jesus appears before two followers on the road to Emmaus, which is 60 stadia (10 to 12 kilometers) from Jerusalem. This year, archaeologists reported that they may have discovered Emmaus — though the identification remains controversial.     

Israel Finkelstein, professor emeritus at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and Thomas Römer, a professor of biblical studies at Collège de France, argue that the archaeological site of Kiriath-Jearim, which sits the proper distance from the Old City of Jerusalem, is actually Emmaus. Fortifications discovered at the site match what is known from written records of Emmaus. But there are other sites that are also contenders for the real location of Emmaus, so it’s not yet clear if Kiriath-jearim is the real holder of the title.

Miraculous mosaic

A fire in the seventh century may have destroyed an elaborate church in the ancient city of Hippos, but it couldn’t wipe away a mosaic depicting one of Jesus’ miracles.

Archaeologists found the mosaic underneath a layer of ashes in the ancient church that overlooked the Sea of Galilee and was built in the fifth or sixth century. The mosaic depicts five loaves of bread and two fish in one section, then baskets overflowing with loaves and fish in others — a reference to the New Testament tale of Jesus multiplying a few servings of food into a feast for 5,000.  

Pontius Pilate’s grand avenue

Pontius Pilate went down in Biblical history as the Roman prefect who supervised the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps he’d have been happier to be remembered for his public works.

Archaeologists have now uncovered a 2,000-foot-long (600 meters) boulevard built by Pilate. The street would have taken 10,000 tons of limestone to build and likely connected the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem to the Temple Mount, a holy place where ancient Jewish pilgrims went to worship.Advertisement

The existence of the street may indicate that Pontius Pilate wasn’t quite as insensitive to his Jewish subjects as history has painted him, the archaeologists reported in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

“It is no longer possible to view this first period of direct Roman governance in Judea as one exclusively characterized by self-interest and corruption,” they wrote.

The secret of the Temple Scroll

The Dead Sea Scrolls are an archaeological miracle. Despite being nothing but parchment, these ancient texts survived for 2,000 years in desert caves near the archaeological site of Qumran. This year, researchers discovered the secret to the preservation of one of the most intact scrolls, the Temple Scroll.

This scroll, they found, is imbued with salty minerals that don’t come from the cave where the scroll was discovered; nor are the minerals seen on other scroll fragments. The Temple Scroll, they concluded, may have been deliberately preserved by a method that’s different from what was used on other contemporaneous scrolls. The custom brew of salts may have helped keep the scroll in tip-top condition for thousands of years.

All along a watchtower

In May, paratroopers with the Israel Defense Forces discovered evidence of the fortifications of their forefathers: A watchtower dating back to the eighth century B.C.Advertisement

According to Haaretz, the modern soldiers were taking part in the dig as part of a military preservation program. The watchtower measured 16 feet by 11.5 feet (5 by 3 m) at its base, and its existing ruins stand 6.5 feet (2 m) high. It was likely a two-story tower when it was built, according to archaeologists. Pottery at the site dates the tower to the reign of Hezekiah, who ruled Judah starting around 715 A.D. 

A coded message in a Christian epic

English poet John Milton was known for sneaking hidden messages into his epic, “Paradise Lost.” Using the first letters of each line of poetry in this tale of Adam and Eve’s temptation by Satan, he’d already been known to spell out thematic words like “Satan” and “Mars” in some sections of the saga.

This year, an undergraduate named Miranda Phaal at Tufts University discovered a pair of these acrostics, which had never been noticed before. In sections of the poem in which Adam and Eve debate what to do about Satan, Milton had spelled out FALL and FFAALL; the former spellout is possibly a reference to Satan’s fall from heaven, and the latter is likely a reference to the double fall of humanity represented by Adam and Eve. Advertisement

Originally published on Live Science.

Eric Metaxas

In 1846—before archaeology even existed as a field—an Assyrian obelisk was discovered in what is today northern Iraq. It referred to Jehu, a ninth-century BC Hebrew king. For the first time, an archaeological find corroborated what was in the Bible, and Victorian society was electrified. But this was only the first in a torrent of similar discoveries that challenged secular claims that the Bible is a collection of made-up myths and folktales.

This trend of archaeology corroborating Biblical accounts continued so consistently that in 1959 Rabbi Dr. Nelson Glueck declared “no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Since then, the evidence has kept coming.

For example, in 1961 an inscription was found bearing the name “Pilate,” the earliest known reference to this figure outside of the New Testament. In 1968, a first-century home in Capernaum was identified as that of the apostle Peter. In 1990 an ossuary was found bearing the inscription—and bones—of Caiaphas, the high priest who infamously pushed for Jesus’s execution. In 1993, a stele mentioning the “House of David” was discovered, yanking King David out of the realm of myth and into the historical record.

But just two weeks ago, the details of perhaps the most astonishing of all such finds appeared in a lengthy, peer-reviewed paper in Nature Scientific Reports. It described the cataclysmic destruction of a Middle Bronze Age city north of the Dead Sea and represented years of research and technical analysis by 21 scientists, who likely never expected to author a paper in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals that mentioned the destruction of the Biblical city of Sodom. But in the end, the parallels proved impossible to ignore. >

For starters, the archaeologist who excavated the site had been guided there by what the Bible said about Sodom. Dr. Steven Collins knew if the place existed, this site—today called Tall el-Hammam—must be it. In 2006 he began excavating. When he and his team got down to about 1650 BC—when Sodom was believed destroyed—they uncovered a five-foot layer of soot. Randomly scattered throughout this vast “destruction matrix” were bits of melted brick, burned fragments of human bones and other baffling detritus. No volcanic eruption—or fire or earthquake—could have produced this.

The day they found it, Collins discovered the shard of a jar. A seasoned ceramic typologist, he tagged it instantly as from about 1700 B.C. But one side of it had a strange glassy green glaze. The technology to intentionally produce anything like that would not exist for another 24 centuries. What could it be? A lab in New Mexico concluded that the pottery had been melted by super-intense heat lasting a very short period of time. What would do that?

Israel archaeological site
Israeli researcher Filip Vukosavovic displays a missing section of the city wall of Jerusalem that the Babylonians encountered on the eve of its destruction in 586 BC, after it was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the City of David national park, in Jerusalem on July 14, 2021. – According to the researchers, this find connects additional sections of the wall, which were uncovered decades ago, and proves, that the eastern slope of the City of David was protected by a single impressive fortification line. Near the wall, a number of finds were uncovered such as a Babylonian stamp seal, a bulla (stamp seal impression) bearing a personal name in ancient Hebrew script as well as vessels that were in use on the eve of the destruction. Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP/Getty Images

Another perplexing fact: though the site was inhabited for millennia before the cataclysm, immediately afterward, there was a gap of 700 years before humans again settled there. Why would a site offering unmatched natural resources and military advantages be shunned for so long? It was unprecedented.

What Dr. Collins came to believe—and what the recent Nature article corroborated in extraordinary detail—is that what happened was a “cosmic airburst/impact event” very similar to what happened in Tunguska, Siberia in 1908. That’s when an asteroid of about 180 feet in diameter entered the Earth’s atmosphere at 34,000 mph, and exploded a few miles above that largely uninhabited region. The equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs, the 1908 blast flattened 80 million trees, and so disturbed the upper atmosphere that for three days people in London could read newspapers at midnight. The Nature article says the Tall el-Hammam explosion was likely even more powerful.

The destruction it wrought is hard to fathom. The most powerful hurricanes produce winds approaching 200 mph, but this explosion may have generated winds of 700 mph. Walls 15 feet thick were utterly obliterated. The heat was such that nearly all of the thousands of inhabitants were vaporized. In fact, Nature tells us that the temperature at the center of the Tunguska explosion was 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit; the Tall el-Hammam explosion was perhaps even hotter. Whatever charred bone fragments survived—along with melted pottery, plaster, and roofing tiles—indicate that for 25 seconds the temperature was roughly 3,500 degrees, hot enough to melt stainless steel and titanium.

  • The only events comparable to what happened at Tall el-Hammam are the atomic bomb tests in the New Mexico desert in 1945, which melted the sands into a glaze so similar to what Collins found on the Bronze Age pottery that when he first showed the fragment to the lab scientist she assumed it was from the Los Alamos testing site.

The Nature article concludes explicitly that what happened in 1700 BC bears inescapable parallels to what the Bible says about Sodom. And indeed, they are startling: “(i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed.” It even says that what happened “may have generated an oral tradition that…became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis.” That a prestigious journal of science would admit these things should at least make skeptics sit up and take notice. Few people—whether religious believers or skeptical scientists—ever dreamt such a thing was possible.

Archaeology has been pointing to the accuracy of the Hebrew scriptures for 170 years. But this latest find—pushing things all the way back to the Middle Bronze Age world of Abraham—is arguably the most astounding of all. And perhaps the one question to ask at this juncture is simply: whatever will they find next?

Eric Metaxas is the author of IS ATHEISM DEAD? from which much of the above information has been taken. The book may be ordered at

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

(original link)

2021’s Top Ten Biblical Archaeology Stories

Nathan Steinmeyer

we look back at some of 2021’s top ten stories in BHD. From newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls to striking new evidence for the development of the early alphabet, 2021 provided some incredible archaeological news, as well as an especially sad passing for the Biblical Archaeology Society. The articles below are not ranked or listed in any particular order.

Scrolls Fragments  Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

New Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered: One of the most groundbreaking discoveries of 2021 was the discovery of several scrolls near the Dead Sea that were hidden at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–136 C.E.). The scrolls are the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered by archaeological excavation in more than 60 years. The scrolls, which contain Greek translations of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum, shed new light on the history of the Bible.

Aerial view of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean hills.
Credit: Yosef Garfinkel

King David’s Judah Found?: Was King David real? While the question is still hotly debated, a new study from Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel suggests that there might be more archaeological evidence for the biblical story than previously thought. According to Garfinkel, the findings from an ongoing archaeological project in the Judean Hills shows evidence of a quickly expanding Judahite kingdom during the Iron Age IIA period (c. 1000–925 B.C.E.), around the time of the biblical King David.

The Jerubbaal inscription  Credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Archaeological Evidence of Gideon the Judge?: It was announced this summer that a 3,100-year-old inscription was discovered in central Israel bearing the name of a biblical judge who possibly lived around the same time. The inscription from Khirbet al-Ra‘i (possibly biblical Ziklag), while likely not referring to the biblical figure, sheds new light on the development of the Canaanite and Hebrew script as well as the historicity of the biblical text.

“Christ born of Mary” Credit: Teach Lang, Israel Antiquities Authority

Inscription, ‘Jesus, son of Mary,’ Found in Jezreel: In January, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery in northern Israel of a fifth-century inscription mentioning “Jesus, son of Mary.” The inscription, which included an appeal for prayer, originally formed part of the lintel of a Byzantine church.

A fragment Courtesy of the The British Library/add. ms. 41294, fol. 33

The Shapira Fragments: Earlier this year, the long-standing argument about the authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls once again appeared in the headlines. Some scholars believe the Shapira Scrolls might be the oldest-known biblical manuscript, while others believe them to be a clever forgery. The rekindled debate gained popular attention in the New York Times in March and also appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Dr. Joe Uziel, Ortal Kalaf, and Dr. Filip Vukosavovic  Credit: Koby Harati, City of David

Missing Wall of Biblical Jerusalem Discovered: In July, the IAA announced the groundbreaking discovery of a previously unknown section of Jerusalem’s Iron Age city wall, famously constructed by King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C.E. This new wall section conclusively proves that Jerusalem was strongly fortified during the time of the kings of Judah.

Lachish Sherd Early Inscription

Inscription  Credit: Austrian Archaeological Institute/Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Early Alphabetic Writing Found at Lachish: This was a big year for the discovery of ancient Canaanite inscriptions. In April, the excavations at Tel Lachish announced the discovery of the oldest-known alphabetic inscription in all of the southern Levant. The inscription dates to the 15th century B.C.E. and appears to include a personal name and possibly the Canaanite word for nectar. It had previously been thought that alphabetic writing did not appear in the region until two centuries later.

“cheaters weight”
Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David.

First Temple Cheating Weight: Archaeologists excavating in the City of David Archaeological Park in Jerusalem discovered an interesting cheating weight from the First Temple period. Cheating weights would have been used to defraud customers, a practice frequently condemned in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 25:13: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small.”).

Saqqara Coffin

Saqqara Coffin Credit: Ministry of Antiquities

Funerary Temple Found in Saqqara: One of the most widely publicized archaeological finds of 2021 was the excavation of the funerary crypt and temple at Saqqara in Egypt. The site, which contained structures from the Old Kingdom (c. 2575–2150 B.C.E.) to the New Kingdom period (c. 1550–1070 B.C.E.), contained more than 50 sarcophagi and many other funerary items.

Heel bone pierced by nail  Credit: Adam Williams, courtesy of Albion Archaeology

Bonus—Rare Evidence for Roman Crucifixion Found in Second-Century Britain: Earlier this year, a team in Britain announced the discovery of the remains of a man from the second century C.E. who appears to have been the victim of Roman crucifixion. Although this execution method is well attested in historical documents, this is only the fourth time an archaeological find has provided direct evidence of the practice.

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