Top Three News Reports in Biblical Archaeology – March 2019

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In March 2019, news reports from the world of biblical archaeology were made about the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Israelites, and Nabateans.    Here were the top three:

3. Looted Babylonian Artifact Seized at Heathrow Airport

A 3000-year-old inscribed cuneiform tablet was confiscated at Heathrow Airport by an astute Border Force officer who became suspicious when the declaration described a “carved stone for decoration” worth “300” in an unspecified currency. The officer searched the object on Google before contacting the British Museum, which confirmed that it was an authentic Babylonian kudurru, a document recording a gift from a king to one of his subjects, often used as a boundary stone. The tablet includes depictions of the Babylonian gods Enlil and Marduk one side and dates to the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I (circa 1126-1103 BC). Little is known about this lesser known Nebuchadnezzar’s reign; the more famous Nebuchadnezzar II (circa 605-562 BC) is the Babylonian king of the same name who is known in Scripture (ie. Jeremiah, Kings, Chronicles, Daniel, etc.). Officials believe the artifact was illegally looted during the Iraq War.

Kudurru
A Babylonian Kudurru boundary stone that was recently seized at the Heathrow Airport. Photo Credit: British Museum

2. New Study of Phoenician Silver Traces Their Migration

A study by scholars from Haifa University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem traces the migration of the Phoenicians. Scientists analyzed the lead isotopes in three Phoenician silver caches discovered in archaeological digs at Tel Dor, Acre and Ein Hofez, which allowed them to identify where the silver came from. The silver in the oldest cache unearthed at Tel Dor came from Anatolia, while the silver in the most recent cache discovered at Ein Hofez came from the Iberian Peninsula. The authors of the study suggest that silver was the motivating factor that drove Phoenician expansion in the Mediterranean and that “the quest for silver was a major trigger for a long ‘precolonization’ phase, during the 10th to 9th centuries B.C.” While Phoenicians are never mentioned by that name in the Old Testament, their major cities of Tyre and Sidon are mentioned frequently. In Ezekiel 27:12, we read a lament for Tyre in which it says, “Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of every kind; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares.”

Phoenician Silver Hoard
A hoard of silver discovered at Ein Hofez, Israel, Photo Credit: Warhaftig Venezian/Israel Antiquities

1. Discovery of Ancient Egyptian Ship Proves Herodotus Right

In 450 B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt and wrote about his travels in his Historia. One of the ships he describes in detail, called a baris, has been an enigma to historians, as no known Egyptian ship has matched his description.  Herodotus described a long barge with one rudder passing through a hole in the keel that was constructed of cut planks 2 cubits long (about 40 inches) arranged like bricks with beams stretched over them.  Such as sunken ship was recently discovered at the underwater ancient port city of Thonis-Heracleion.   Ship 17, as it is known, was investigated by underwater archaeologists and found to have a similar architecture of thick planks held together with smaller pieces of wood.  The long internal ribs that Herodotus describes were present on Ship 17.   The ship likely sank in the 5th century B.C., but may have been constructed in the 6th century B.C.  Archaeologists are confident that they’ve discovered the first example of a baris, and Herodotus’s description has now been confirmed.  Egyptian ships are mentioned numerous times in the Bible (Is 18:2; 30:9; Acts 27), although it does not appear that a baris is being referred to in any of these passages.

Ship17
The wooden hull of ship 17 matches the description of an Egyptian baris by Herodotus. Photo Credit: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Summary

Each month new discoveries are made and reports are published that add to our knowledge of the people, places and events described in Scripture.  These help both illuminate and affirm details in the biblical text.  After having closely followed the world of biblical archaeology for years I’m convinced that, when properly understood, biblical archaeology demonstrates the historical reliability of the Bible.

You can stay up-to-date on latest news reports relating to the archaeology of the Bible by reading my weekly current events posts for the Associates for Biblical Research here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/currentevents.aspx.

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NOTE:  Every year I sift through over 200 news reports from the world of biblical archaeology in order to write my weekly Current Events updates for the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR).  My top three news monthly news reports in biblical archaeology are brief summaries of the current events posts I write for ABR, with links to the original Current Events posts.  I should note that occasionally, due to the timing of an announcement or the timing of my Current Events post for ABR, the news is from a previous month.

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