NOTE: Here is the video version of this blog, from episode 15 of the TV show, Digging for Truth by the Associates for Biblical Research.
It’s time for my annual look back at the top ten discoveries from the world of biblical archaeology. 2017 did not disappoint as many exciting artifacts were unearthed in the lands of the Bible. My criteria for this list are simple; first, discoveries must be directly related to people, places or events mentioned in Scripture or to the composition of Scripture (as opposed to the many discoveries that are made in Bible lands which teach us much about the different cultures; these discoveries are helpful too, but I’ve chosen to narrow the focus for my list). Secondly, they must be discoveries, as opposed to announcements. In my work for the Associates for Biblical Research writing their weekly Current Events column at biblearchaeology.org, I often note important announcements, such as the recent one to restore the stadium at ancient Laeodica, or that news report that the Temple of Artemis is falling into disrepair. To make this top ten list, it must be an actual archaeological discovery. With this in mind, these are my choices for the most exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology from the past year.
I should begin with some honorable mentions; it’s always difficult to narrow the list of discoveries down to just ten. While these three didn’t make the top ten, they were nevertheless important discoveries in their own right:
–The New Dig At Shiloh (May/June 2017)
The Associates for Biblical Research began new excavations at Shiloh – the place the tabernacle and ark of the covenant resided for 400 years and where Eli and Samuel dwelt. Numerous exciting finds were made, including a legible seal impression from the Middle Bronze III, 10 enormous pre-First Temple pottery jugs (pithoi), and over 100 coins. Each of these discoveries is one more piece of the puzzle that may lead archaeologists to the ultimate discovery of the location of the tabernacle.
–Roman-Era Tombs Uncovered in Corinth (Nov. 2017)
Greek archaeologists recently unearthed numerous Roman-era tombs near the ancient city of Corinth. Fourteen graves had been organized in a circular fashion, as was the Roman custom, and contained gold and silver coins, vases and lamps.
Read more here: https://greekcitytimes.com/ancient-artifacts-discovered-2000-year-old-tombs-corinth/
For two years, the Israel Antiquities Authority quietly carried out excavations beneath Wilson’s Arch near the Western Wall. They recently announced that they had unearthed eight stone courses of the wall that had remained buried for 1700 years and had discovered a Roman theater. Archaeologists discovered the curved, theater-like structure while they were searching for a known Second Temple road.
Here now are the top ten discoveries in biblical archaeology in 2017:
Researchers using multispectral imaging discovered a previously undetected inscription
on an ostracon from the Arad fortress. The ostracon (a clay shard with ink text), known as Arad 16, was unearthed at the ancient Judean military fortress of Arad in 1965 and has been dated to 600 BC. While the recto (front side) has been studied extensively for years, the verso (back side), was thought to be blank. The recto inscription is addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the fortress, and begins with a blessing by Yahweh. Using new, advanced imaging several new lines of text on the recto were discovered, and new readings were provided for other lines with the new clarity of the inscription. The previously unknown inscription on the verso seems to be a continuation of the text on the front, revealing more than 50 characters and 17 new words. Most ancient, biblical Hebrew inscriptions that have survived are ostraca; they are often poorly preserved and fade quickly over time once unearthed. This new technique of multispectral imaging will greatly assist archaeologists and scholars in translating and documenting inscriptions on ostraca which may even be invisible to the naked eye.
Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Advanced-imaging-reveals-rare-Hebrew-inscription-from-First-Temple-period-496878
- Gatehouse Excavated at Timna Copper Mines (Jan. 2017)
Archaeologists excavating at an ancient copper-smelting factory in the Timna Valley, believed by some to be the mines of King Solomon, have uncovered a gatehouse that dates to the tenth century BC. The fortified gatehouse and animal stables which were studied reveal a highly organized defensive system. Excavators also analyzed the well-preserved dung from the stables and discovered the remains of hay and grapes which originated from hundreds of miles away on the Mediterranean coast. The archaeologists believe this is evidence of a network of trade within the region. These latest findings match earlier analysis from 2014 of organic material and textiles which indicate a sophisticated society. Despite the claim of minimalists, this is further evidence of an organized and complex tenth-century BC culture thriving in the regions of Israel and Edom, just as the Bible describes, as well as of the military conflicts recorded in Scripture between the Israelites and Edomites in the Arava Valley. In fact, some researchers have suggested that copper may have been the resource at stake in some of these battles.
Read more here: http://www.livescience.com/57494-fortification-found-israel-mining-camp.html
- Human Remains Discovered at Gezer (July 2017)
Excavators at Tel Gezer have unearthed the skeletal remains of an adult and child. Researchers found the bodies inside a massive building (15×20 meters in size) that had been destroyed. The fiery destruction layer covered the bodies in a meter-thick layer of ash and burnt bricks. The human remains were too badly damaged in the fire for archaeologists to identify their nationality. The destruction has been attributed to Pharaoh Merneptah and confirms his claim on the Merneptah Stela (also known as the Israel Stele) that, “Canaan is plundered with every hardship. Ashkelon is taken, Gezer captured, [and] Yano‘am reduced to nothing. Israel is laid waste, his seed is no more.” The layer of destruction indicates that Merneptah may have encountered more resistance from the Gezerites than expected.
Read more here:http://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.798934
Hungarian archaeologists discovered a large mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) during excavations in the ruins of Machaerus, the fortress of King Herod in modern-day Jordan. The mikveh had 12 steps and a reserve pool of water from which to fill the main pool when its water ran low. It was located 9 feet below the courtyard, and was at one time covered by a vaulted stone roof. It was likely used for ritual purification by Herod and his family while they were at Machaerus. According to Josephus, John the Baptist was beheaded at Machaerus. The death of John the Baptist is recorded in both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels.
Read more here: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/hungarian-archaeologists-unearth-herods-fortress-ritual-bath-east-of-jordan-river/2017/06/15/
Excavations at the Jerusalem Walls National Park uncovered evidence of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Archaeologists discovered significant burn layers in the buildings that were outside the city walls on the eastern border of the city at that time. Numerous artifacts were unearthed within the collapsed rooms, including an ivory statue of a woman and several smashed pottery jars, one with a rosette seal dating to just before the fall of the First Temple. The rosette replaced the “For The King” seal used during previous administrations in Judea. The Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadnezzar is described in the Bible in 2 Kings 25.
Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Evidence-of-Babylonian-destruction-of-Jerusalem-unearthed-in-City-of-David-500786
Archaeologists in Iraq have documented ISIS’s destruction of the purported tomb of
Jonah, which they blew up soon after their seizure of the area in 2014. While investigating the damage, they discovered that ISIS had dug tunnels under the shrine and into the previously unknown palace of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. While investigating the tunnels, archaeologists found a cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon, dating to 672 BC. In another tunnel, an Assyrian stone sculpture of a demi-goddess was discovered. This is the first evidence of ISIS tunneling in ancient mounds in search of artifacts to plunder and sell on the antiquities market. Archaeologists are working against time to document as many of the finds as possible, since the tunnels look ready to collapse soon. 2 Kings 18 and 19 describe Sennacherib’s unsuccessful attack on Jerusalem, his murder, and how Esarhaddon eventually came to the throne.
Read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/27/previously-untouched-600bc-palace-discovered-shrine-demolished/
The Temple Mount Sifting Project announced the discovery of a capital from one of the columns that formed the eastern colonnade of the Second Temple, known in the New Testament as “Solomon’s Colonnade.” Josephus also describes the colonnade in both Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War. The capital itself is in the Doric style and would have adorned the top of one of the columns that surrounded the Temple Mount area to provide shade for those who visited the Temple. Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, one of the world’s leading experts on the Temple, has responded to the announcement by agreeing that the capital is likely from Solomon’s Colonnade while correcting information about the size of the column the capital likely came from. The Bible records that Jesus (Jn 10:23), Peter and John (Acts 3:11), and the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 5:12) all spent time at Solomon’s Colonnade.
Read more here: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=41549 and http://www.ritmeyer.com/2017/04/05/a-capital-from-solomons-porch-on-the-temple-mount/
3. Excavators Suggest el-Araj was Bethsaida/Julias (Aug. 2017)
For years the site of NT Bethsaida has been a matter of debate, with at least three different sites contending for the honor. Et-Tell has been the frontrunner despite the numerous problems with this identification, including its distance from the Sea of Galilee, its elevation from the ancient level of the lake, and the lack of remains from the first century. Excavators at a competing site, el-Araj, have just announced that they believe they have identified the ancient city of Julias. Josephus writes that Herod Philip expanded the village of Bethsaida to create the Roman polis of Julias. The site is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve. Archaeologists found a layer of Roman-era remains beneath the Byzantine level, which contained pottery sherds and coins dating from the first to third centuries AD. In addition, the remains of a Roman-style bathhouse were uncovered. Evidence was also discovered that this site, previously thought to be under water during the NT era, was actually near the shore and that the ancient sea level was 6 ft lower than most had believed. If further excavations confirm these findings, it may be that the site of Bethsaida/Julias – home to Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44, 12:21) – may have finally been found.
Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/New-evidence-of-Lost-City-of-Julias-unearthed-near-Sea-of-Galilee-501701
New test results from the purported tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre appear to confirm the traditional history of the site. Accounts describe Constantine’s order to raze a Roman temple that had been built over the tomb of Jesus and to enshrine the limestone tomb discovered beneath. Until now, however, the earliest archaeological evidence found in the tomb complex dated from the Crusader period, only 1000 years ago. In October 2016, when the tomb was opened for the first time in centuries [linked here], mortar samples from different locations in the Edicule were sent away for testing. Mortar taken from between the limestone burial bed and the marble slab that covered it dated to approximately 345 AD, and a sample from the southern wall of the cave dated to 335 AD. This confirms historical accounts that the tomb was enshrined sometime in the first half of the 4th Century AD during Constantine’s reign. Another mortar sample obtained from the tomb entrance dated to the 11th century, confirming the record of the Edicule being rebuilt after it was destroyed in 1009. A further sample taken from the wall of the cave dated to 1570, consistent with a known 16th-century restoration. The mortar was dated using a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) that calculates the last time the quartz sediment was exposed to light. The tests were conducted independently at two separate labs.
Read more here: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/jesus-tomb-archaeology-jerusalem-christianity-rome/
- New Dead Sea Scroll Cave Discovered (Feb. 2017)
For the first time in over 60 years, a new Dead Sea Scroll cave was discovered west of Qumran, near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. If confirmed, this would be the 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave. A team of archaeologists from Hebrew University, along with Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University, recently excavated the cave and found the remains of six jars which were identical to the jars found in several other Qumran caves. The cave appears to have been looted, as the jars were broken, no scrolls were located, and two pick-axes from the 1950s were found, probably left by the looters. One jar did contain a rolled-up blank parchment. Scientific testing will determine if the ceramic and parchment share a similar origin to those discovered in other Dead Sea Scroll caves. Other finds include a leather strap for binding scrolls and a cloth for wrapping scrolls. Moreover, the mouth of a 13th cave, still sealed, may have been discovered nearby, providing the tantalizing possibility of more Dead Sea scrolls yet to be discovered.
Read more here: https://academic.logos.com/new-dead-sea-scroll-cave-discovered-after-60-years/
Every year thousands of archaeologists dig in ancient near eastern places described in the pages of Scripture. For over 150 years, discoveries have been made that time and again demonstrate the historical reliability of the Bible. Does this prove it’s true? No, it simply demonstrates that the Bible is a historically reliable document. Believing it’s true is a matter of faith, but not a blind faith that is uncertain. My faith that the Bible is the true Word of God is bolstered by the findings of archaeology which demonstrate the accuracy of Scripture. The writer of the book of Hebrews declared, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This is exactly how I would describe my faith…sure and certain.
My colleague at the Associates For Biblical Research, archaeologist Gary Byers, has said:
“From my two decades of doing archaeological excavations in the Holy Land, I can see how archaeology demonstrates that we can trust the Bible for the past (history). And, if we can trust the Bible for history, we should also be able to trust it for the future (eternity). And if we can trust the Bible for both the past and the future, we should also trust it for the present – learning how to live, under God, one day at a time!” (From a personal email).
If you’d like to follow along with all of the latest discoveries in biblical archaeology in the coming year, you can find them here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/currentevents.aspx