Top Ten Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2018

As another year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the world of biblical archaeology and choose the top ten discoveries.  Every year I sift through over 200 news reports coming from archaeological excavations in the lands of the Bible. I do this both for my own personal study as well as for the Associates for Biblical Research, a group of scholars and archaeologists dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through their research.  Each week I write a Current Events update for their website at BibleArchaeology.org.  2018 did not disappoint with more amazing discoveries made that confirmed numerous details from the biblical text.

For those who are new to my annual top ten list, here are my criteria:

  1. These 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; helpful, but I’ve chosen to narrow the focus of my list.
  2. They must be discoveries, as opposed to announcements, such as the announcement in March that the “Jesus Christ God” mosaic which was discovered in 2005 was going on display in a new archaeological park in Israel. This was a big announcement about an important find, but I’m not considering it for this list.

With that said, here are the top ten discoveries in Biblical archaeology in 2018:

#10 – Evidence of Aramean Destruction Unearthed at Biblical Gath (Sept. 2018)

Archaeologists working at Tell es-Safi – biblical Gath – have released a summary from the 2018 excavation season. This year they focused entirely on the lower city at the site, and unearthed significant evidence of the destruction by Hazael, King of Aram at Damascus in the ninth century BC. This confirms what is recorded in the Bible in 2 Kings 12:17: “About this time Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem.” The remains of the siege system built around the site have been discovered, as well as evidence of defensive actions taken by the residents of Gath in attempting to use soil from the garbage dump to fortify and buffer the inside of the city wall against the Aramean forces. Four new squares were also opened in one area that revealed the half-meter-thick “Hazael Destruction Layer” just a few centimeters below the surface. Archaeologists have concluded that the lower city was not substantially resettled after the destruction of the city.

Read more about this discovery here:  https://gath.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/first-summary-2018-season/

gath-aerial-of-area-d-2016-med
An aerial photo of the excavations at Tell es-Safi/biblical Gath. Photo Credit: https://gath.wordpress.com/about/project-overview/

#9 – Advanced Imaging Reveals Script on Previously Unreadable Dead Sea Scroll Fragments (May 2018)

Researchers at the conservation labs of the Israel Antiquities Authority used advanced multispectral imaging to decipher Hebrew text on several Dead Sea Scroll fragments that had been invisible to the naked eye. In the 1950s archaeologists stored batches of smaller fragments from Cave 11 in cigar boxes. Some of these fragments were analysed as part of the digitalization project of the scrolls, resulting in three significant discoveries. One of the fragments seems to come from a previously unknown manuscript. Another belongs to the Temple Scroll, which deals with instructions for conducting services in the Temple. There had been some debate as to whether there were two or three copies of the Temple Scroll in Cave 11; the new portion indicates there were indeed three copies. The third fragment belonged to the Great Psalms scroll and fills in the missing portion that begins Ps. 147:1. It is estimated that there are 19 cigar boxes of Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Cave 11 still to be analyzed. The recently deciphered fragments were recently presented at an international conference in Jerusalem called, “The Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy: Clear a Path in the Wilderness.”

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/dead-sea-scroll-fragment-unveiled-in-israel-may-point-to-an-unknown-manuscript/

Great-Psalms-Scroll-With-Fragment
The new DSS fragment of Ps. 147:1 shown where it fits in the Great Psalms Scroll (11Q5). Photo Credit: Shai Halevi, The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

 

#8 –Evidence of United Monarchy Unearthed at Tel ‘Eton…by Mole Rats (April 2018)

Archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University excavating at Tel ‘Eton in the Hebron hills noticed that piles of dirt left by burrowing mole rats contained pottery sherds, indicating the area had once been inhabited. This led to the discovery of an ancient city at the site, including a monumental structure, which the researchers say is evidence of a United Monarchy during the time of King David and Solomon. The “governor’s residency,” as they have dubbed it, contains abundant evidence of destruction by the Assyrians around 701 BC, including arrowheads in the courtyard, obvious signs of conflagration, and 200 intact, abandoned pottery vessels. The structure itself was built using ashlar stones and deep foundations with quality building materials, which archaeologists suggested are evidence of a complex society and strong political administration during the construction phase. In addition, the excavators discovered a foundation deposit. Radiocarbon samples from this deposit, as well as from olive pits and coal found on the floor, indicate that the Tel ‘Eton residence was first built in the late 11th or 10th century BC. This is the second such monumental structure dating to the Davidic and Solomonic eras discovered in the region (with Khirbet Qeiyafa being the first).

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-molerat-archaeology-supports-united-monarchy-theory-says-new-study-1.6007916

Tel-Eton Ashlar Stones
These large ashlar stones form the main entrance to a building at Tel ‘Eton that dates to the 10th century BC. Photo Credit: Avraham Faust​/ Tel ‘Eton Archaeological Expedition)

#7 – First Temple-Era Stone Weight Unearthed in Jerusalem (Nov. 2018)

A small stone weight which was once used to measure the half-shekel temple tax during the First Temple period was unearthed in Jerusalem. The weight was found at the City of David’s wet-sifting project in the Emek Tzurim National Park amidst the rubble taken from the 2013 excavations under Robinson’s Arch. Exodus 38:26 mentions the “beka” in regard to the weight of silver brought by the Israelites for the maintenance of the temple: “A beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men.” Archaeologist Eli Shukron explained, “When the half-shekel tax was brought to the Temple during the First Temple period, there were no coins, so they used silver ingots. In order to calculate the weight of these silver pieces they would put them on one side of the scales and on the other side they placed the Beka weight. The Beka was equivalent to the half-shekel, which every person from the age of 20 years and up was required to bring to the Temple.” This particular stone weight is extremely rare, as it is the only one yet discovered that has the word “beka” inscribed in ancient Hebrew script in reverse. Scholars hypothesize that it was inscribed by someone who was used to making seals, which are also inscribed in reverse. The fact that the “beka” was discovered in dirt taken from next to the foundations of the Temple Mount confirms what is known biblically and historically about payments at the Jewish Temple.

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Half-shekel-from-First-Temple-era-unearthed-near-City-of-David-572423

bekaweightjerusalem
The first-Temple era Beka weight discovered in Jersualem. Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

#6 – Oldest Hebrew Inscription of “Jerusalem” Found (Oct. 2018)

A 2100-year-old inscription on a stone column drum with the full spelling of the modern Hebrew word for Jerusalem was discovered. The stone column was unearthed in a pottery production site where cooking vessels were manufactured, that operated from the Hasmonean period to the Roman era. The inscription reads, “Hananiah, son of Dodalos, of Jerusalem.” This is the first stone inscription ever found with the word “Yerushalayim” spelled in full, rather than in shorthand as it usually appears. The column would have originally been part of a Jewish structure, likely belonging to Hananiah, son of Dodalos. It was discovered in secondary use as part of a workshop used by the Tenth Roman Legion, which had taken over the area before they destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. The inscription is now being displayed in the Israel Museum as part of an exhibit on Second Temple-era artifacts. From a biblical point of view, the word “Yerushalayim” is spelled in this rare, long form five times in the Old Testament (Jer 26:18, Est 2:6, 2 Chr 25:1, 2 Chr 32:9, and 2 Chr 25:1). This discovery confirms that the modern full spelling was used in ancient times, just as it is in the Bible.

Read more about this discovery here:http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/IsraelExperience/History/Pages/Second-Temple-Period-stone-inscription-found-9-October-20181009-6325.aspx

Jerusalem Inscription
A stone column drum with a 2100-year-old inscription bearing the full spelling of the modern Hebrew word “Yerushalayim.” Photo Credit: Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority

#5 – 2800-Year-Old “Royal” Figurine Discovered at Tel Abel Beth Maacah (June 2018)

The head of an ancient figurine discovered at the archaeological site identified as the biblical city of Abel Beth Maacah was put on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The intricately carved head reveals a regal-looking man with a black beard and black hair encircled with a yellow crown. Scholars have suggested that it represents a king, although which king is unknown. Given that the head dates to the ninth century BC, a time when Abel Beth Maacah changed hands between several ancient kingdoms, researchers have suggested it could depict the face of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre – all biblical kings. It was discovered in a dirt clod located in a large building at the summit of the site, possibly an ancient citadel. Abel Beth Maacah is located in northern Israel, near the border of Lebanon. It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, including 1 Kings 15:20, which mentions Able Beth Maacah as one of the cities Ben Hadad, King of Syria in Damascus, conquered from the kingdom of Israel.

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.livescience.com/62758-biblical-king-sculpture.html

Abel Beth Maacah head
The head of an ancient figurine, dating to the ninth century BC, discovered at Abel Beth Maacah. Photo Credit: Gabi Laron

#4 –Ceramic Pomegranate Discovered at Biblical Shiloh (Aug. 2018)

The Associates for Biblical Research announced the discovery of a ceramic pomegranate during the 2018 excavation season at biblical Shiloh. Shiloh was the center of Israelite worship and site of the tabernacle for over 300 years. The 4.3 cm-long pomegranate was unearthed in situ, and still had four of the five prongs intact. Pomegranates were common motifs in the Israelites’ worship at the tabernacle, having adorned the hem of Aaron’s robe (Ex 28:34; 39:26), and later were part of the decor in the first temple (1 Ki 7:17, 42). This discovery confirms the biblical description of Shiloh as a temenos (a sacred, dedicated precinct) early in Israel’s history.  A peer-reviewed article about the Shiloh pomegranate will be in the June 2019 issue of the journal, Judea Samaria Research Studies.

Read more about this discovery here:
– http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2018/08/22/NEWS-RELEASE-ABR-Makes-Important-Discovery-at-Biblical-Shiloh.aspx

-http://www.jewishpress.com/news/archaeology-news/almost-fully-intact-clay-pomegranate-from-tabernacle-time-found-in-tel-shiloh/2018/12/02/

Tel-Shilo-Pomegranate
A clay pomegranate dating to time of the Tabernacle was found in situ at the site of the ancient city of Shiloh Photo Credit: Ancient Shiloh Visitors’ Center

#3 – 2700-Year-Old Governor of Jerusalem Seal Confirms Biblical Title (Jan. 2018)

Archaeologists in Jerusalem announced the discovery of a 2700-year-old clay seal impression inscribed with the words, “belonging to the governor of the city.” The small clay impression was discovered in the dust of a First Temple-era structure near the Western Wall plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, and depicts two figures in striped garments facing each other. Conservationists from the Israel Antiquities Authority who were preserving the structure wet-sifted the dust that had fallen from between the ancient stones in the wall and discovered the clay impression. Other bullae (seal impressions) had previously been discovered in the structure, leading scholars to believe this area was inhabited by high-ranking officials during the First Temple period. This is the first time a “governor of Jerusalem” seal has been found in an archaeological excavation, and confirms the biblical record of such a position. Two governors of Jerusalem are named in the Old Testament: 2 Kings 23:8 refers to Joshua as the governor of the city, and 2 Chronicles 34:8 mentions Maaseiah in the position during the reign of Josiah.

Read more about this discovery here:  https://www.timesofisrael.com/2700-year-old-seal-impression-cements-existence-of-biblical-jerusalem-governor/

Governor Seal Jerusalem
A First Temple-era seal impression bearing an inscription stating, ‘Belonging to the Governor of the City.’ Photo Credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

#2 – Roman Ring Inscribed with Pilate’s Name Revealed (Dec. 2018)

A copper ring unearthed during the 1968-69 excavations at the Herodium was recently cleaned, photographed and analyzed revealing the name of Pilate.  This discovery was announced in the latest issue of Israel Exploration Journal under the title, “An Inscribed Copper-Alloy Finger Ring from Herodium Depicting a Krater.”  The artifact itself is as simple stamping ring with the image of a Krater (a wine vessel) surrounded by Greek letters which translate to, “of Pilatus.”  It was found in a room at the Herodium with an archaeological layer dating no later than 71 A.D.  Given the rarity of the name Pilate in the first century, many are naturally asking whether this ring belonged to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect of Judea who sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified.  The authors of the article write, “Simple all-metal rings like the Herodium ring were primarily the property of soldiers, Herodian and Roman officials, and middle-income folk of all trades and occupations.  It is therefore unlikely that Pontius Pilatus, the powerful and rich prefect of Judaea, would have worn a thin, all copper-alloy sealing ring.”  They do allow that it may have belonged to someone under Pilate’s command, a member of his family or one of his freed slaves.  Another scholar has suggested that Pilate may have had a gold ring for official duties and a simple copper ring for his private, everyday affairs.   This is only the second archaeological artifact discovered in Israel that bears the name of Pilate.  The other is the famous “Pilate Stone” which was discovered in Caesarea Maritima in 1961 and refers to “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/2000-year-old-ring-engraved-with-pilate-may-have-belonged-to-notorious-ruler/?fbclid=IwAR3T910QFiI0hjXfdt7nGSxVT1sU6Ch1uG_feLg40na0k_wDYHV8iUxKSQM

pilat-ring
A copper ring bearing the inscription “of Pilatus” Image Credit – drawing: J. Rodman; photo: C. Amit, IAA Photographic Department, via Hebrew University

#1Seal Impression of the Prophet Isaiah Found (Feb. 2018)

The discovery of a clay impression (called a bulla) that may have been from the Prophet Isaiah’s personal seal was announced in February 2018. The bulla was unearthed by archaeologist Eilat Mazar and her team in the Ophel excavations just south of the Temple Mount. It was in a batch of seal impressions that included the famous Hezekiah bulla (see HERE) which was discovered in 2015. The 2700-year old bulla is not fully intact, with the top and left side partially damaged. Enough of the bulla is legible to clearly read the name “Isaiah” in the middle portion and the letters “N-V-Y” – the first three letters of the Hebrew word “prophet” – below it. Unfortunately, the crucial letter aleph to complete the word “prophet” is missing. By reconstructing the missing part of the border ring, it is likely that another letter was present on the damaged portion of the seal. This fact, along with its discovery within a few feet of the Hezekiah bulla, have led many to believe this is likely the impression of the personal seal of Isaiah the prophet. In the Bible, King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah were more than just contemporaries, they were personally close, and their names appear together at least 14 different times (2 Kings 19-20; Is 37-39).

Read more about this discovery here: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/prophet-isaiah-signature-jerusalem/

bulla-for-print-with-credits-horizontal-copy
The Isaiah Bulla, a 2,700-year-old clay seal impression which quite likely belonged to the biblical prophet Isaiah. Photo Credit: Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar

Of course, none of these discoveries prove the Bible is true.  Each one, however, adds to the  significant collection of evidence that demonstrates that the Bible is a historically reliable document.  What I accept by faith from the pages of Scripture is confirmed again and again through discoveries made in the Holy Land.  2018 was a banner year for such discoveries…I look forward with excitement to seeing what finds are unearthed in 2019.

Those who wish to stay up-to-date with the latest discoveries in biblical archaeology can follow my weekly Current Events posts at http://www.biblearchaeology.org/currentevents.aspx.

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