Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – July 2019

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In July, we saw many of the summer excavations release their key findings to the media.  Many of these discoveries related to the identification of biblical towns and cities. Here are the top three news reports in biblical archaeology for July 2019.

3. Early Iron Age City from the Time of David Unearthed at Gath

Iron I Fortifications at Gath
Early Iron Age fortifications unearthed at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Credit: TELL ES-SAFI/GATH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT)

This season’s excavations at Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath), uncovered the remains of an early Iron Age city, dating to the time of King David.  The previous excavations at the site have focused on the later Iron Age city from the 9th and 10th centuries BC, which was destroyed by King Hazael of Aram in 830 BC (2 Kings 12:18).  The excavators discovered that the earlier, 11th-century BC city of Gath, had larger fortifications than the later city (4 meters wide, as opposed to the later 2 meter-wide city walls), and larger building stones (blocks 1-2 meters in size, compared to the smaller half-meter blocks).  The size of the earlier structure have led scholars to conclude that the city of Gath reached its height during the 11th century BC – the time of David and Goliath.  While some have speculated that the size of the newly discovered city gave rise to the “myth” of Goliath – only a giant could move such stones – such speculation is both a stretch and unwarranted – the musings of scholars whose presuppositions exclude the possibility of the historical reliability of the Bible beyond a “kernel” of truth.

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2. Archaeologists Claim To Have Found the City of Ziklag

Khirbet a-Rai excavations
Pottery vessels unearthed at Khirbet a-Ra’i, which the excavation’s lead archaeologists have identified as biblical Ziklag. Photo Credit: Excavation expedition to Khirbet a-Ra‘i

Archaeologist, Yosef Garfinkel, recently announced that he believes his team has discovered the Philistine city of Ziklag, where David lived when he fled from King Saul.  Since 2015, Garfinkel and his team have been excavating at Khirbet al-Ra’i, located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish.  They believe they have unearthed a Philistine village at the site dating back to the 12th century BC. A large, stone structure was excavated in which were stone and metal vessels similar to ones found at other Philistine sites.  They’ve also uncovered a rural settlement dating to the 10th century BC with pottery vessels that are common to other Jewish sites from the time of David.  In addition, a destruction layer, which they attribute to the Amalekites (1 Sam. 30:14), was also unearthed.  However, several other prominent archaeologists have objected to the claims that Khirbet al-Ra’i is Ziklage, including Aren Maeir and Israel Finkelstein.   They argue that the site in question is in the wrong geographical location, given the biblical description; Khirbet al-Ra’I, they claim, is too far north, since Ziklag was given to the tribe of Simeon in the southern portion of Judah’s inheritance (Joshua 19:5).

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1. El Araj Excavations Unearth First-Century Artifacts and a Byzantine Church

Bethsaida el-araj byzantine mosaic
The mosaic floor of a Byzantine church discovered at el-Araj, which some experts believe is the village of Bethsaida. Photo Credit: Zachary Wong
Cross - El-Araj
A relief of a cross from a Byzantine church discovered at El-Araj. This could be the Church of the Apostles, described by Willabald, bishop of Bavaria, in 725 AD, which was said to have been built over the home of Peter and Andrew in Bethsaida. Photo Credit: Zachary Wong

The excavations at El Araj – one of the leading candidates as the site of Bethsaida – have unearthed more evidence of first-century Jewish occupation, items related to the fishing industry and a Byzantine church.  Numerous artifacts, including the handle of a Galilean cooking pot and two spouts from Herodian oil lamps, testify to occupation at the site during the first-century BC.   In addition, hundreds of lead fishing weights have been discovered, as well as a chalk mold for making lead fishing weights.  Finally, the stunning mosaic floors of a Byzantine church were uncovered for the first time in almost 1500 years.  A limestone frieze that once decorated a window or door and several gold-gilded glass tesserae were also found.  They excavators believe they may be uncovering the remains of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles that was supposedly built over the house of Peter and Andrew in Bethsaida, which was described by Willabald, bishop of Bavaria, in 725 AD.

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Stay Up-To-Date

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 to both illuminate and affirm details in the biblical text.  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: https://biblearchaeology.org/current-events-list

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