Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – August 2019

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Choosing the top three reports in biblical archaeology each month is no easy task.  August was especially difficult as there were numerous significant finds that were reported on.  So this month you get a bonus – a tie for third place means that there are four discoveries to read about this month.

3a. Horns of an Ancient Altar Discovered at Shiloh, Israel

The altar in this photo is a replica of the four-horned alter at Beersheba. It gives an idea of what the horns of the alter discovered at Shiloh would have originally looked like. Image Credit: Associates for Biblical Research (using a photo from Todd Bolen at

Three altar horns were discovered during this year’s excavations at Shiloh, Israel, led by the Associates for Biblical Research ( Horn one: 38 cm long and 23.5 cm wide (15” x 9.25”) comprised part of an Early Roman wall. Horn two: 18 cm long and 12.5 cm wide (7” x 5”) lay about three meters (10’) to the southwest. Horn three: 38 cm long and 20 cm wide (15” x 7.8”) emerged from a destruction matrix in an adjacent square. The elevation of horns one and two was virtually identical, but the elevation of horn three measured one meter (3.2’) lower. All three horns came from the general area of a monumental Iron Age building (1177-980 BC) which orients east-west. The same area yielded a ceramic pomegranate and a Thutmose III scarab in 2018. The original altar likely included four horns, like the four-horned Beersheva altar that was dismantled and placed in secondary usage in King Hezekiah’s 8th century reforms (2 Chronicles 29-32, 2 Kings 18:4). Shiloh served as the location of the Israelite tabernacle for over three centuries, and the altar fragments may have been part of the early Israelite cultic system that operated there. A peer-reviewed article by Tim Lopez, Kevin Larsen, Mark Hassler, and Scott Stripling is forthcoming.


3b. Inscribed Alter May Reference Biblical Battle

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An inscribed altar from the Khirbat Ataruz Moabite sanctuary with close-ups of one of the inscriptions. Photo Credits: Adam L. Bean

A recently translated inscription on a stone alter discovered in the ancient city of Ataroth in Jordan may reference the rebellion of Mesha King of Moab, described in 2 Kings 3.  The 2800-year-old round, stone alter was discovered in 2010 in a Moabite sanctuary.  A translation of the inscription on the alter was recently published in the journal, Levant.  The alter bears two inscriptions: one that records quantities of bronze, likely looted from the conquered city that were presented as an offering, and the other describes Ataroth as “the desolate city,” and “4,000 foreign men” who were scattered and abandoned in great number.  Both the inscription and the archaeological context in which the alter was found date to the late 9th or early 8th century BC.  The importance of the inscribed alter, and its connection to the battle described in 2 Kings 3, lies in the fact that the Moabite Stone/Mesha Stele records how the King of Moab conquered the Israelite city of Ataroth during the rebellion.  It states: “Now the people of Gad had dwelt in the region of Atarot for a long time, and the king of Israel built Atarot for them. But I fought against the city and I took it, and I killed all the people, and the city was a satiation for Kemosh and for Moab.”  The researchers conclude that the alter was placed in a Moabite sanctuary at Ataroth to commemorate this event.  If this interpretation is correct, it would confirm that the Moabites succeeded in conquering Ataroth during Mesha’s rebellion.  The inscription also demonstrates that 2800 years ago, the Moabites had skilled scribes and used their own script.


2. Monumental Staircase Unearthed at Hazor

The monumental staircase at Hazor. Photo Credit: The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin

A monumental staircase, first excavated at Hazor in 2018, has been conserved and is now open to the public. The seven basalt steps are 4.5 meters wide, and exhibit remarkable craftsmanship. They hint at the grandeur of the ancient city of Hazor, which is described in the Bible as the “head” of the Canaanite kingdoms (Josh. 11:10). The excavators believe that there are more stairs to be uncovered and that they may lead from the paved courtyard into the palace complex. Reports of the dating of these steps have been somewhat ambiguous and seem to be reported from the perspective of the late-exodus theory (ca. 13th century BC). It appears that the staircase was constructed in the Late Bronze Age, and then were part of the city that was destroyed around 1200 BC. While those holding to a late-exodus theory believe that this destruction happened under Joshua’s leadership, a straightforward reading of Scripture places the Conquest in the 15th century BC (ca. 1406 BC). The Bible also describes the Israelites defeating Jabin, King of Hazor, under the leadership of Deborah and Barak, and it is likely this destruction of the city that is being referred to in media reports (Judges 4:24).


1. More Evidence of Babylonian Destruction Unearthed in Jerusalem

Jewelry and an arrowhead discovered in the destruction layer of a house in Jerusalem: evidence of the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. Photo Credit: Mount Zion Archaeological Expedition

Excavators from the Mount Zion Archaeological Project have announced the discovery of evidence of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587/586 BC.  While digging in an Iron-Age structure within the old city walls, they unearthed layers of ash that contained arrowheads, lamps, potsherds, and a piece of gold and silver jewelry.  The arrowheads, known as “Scythian arrowheads,” were commonly used by Babylonian soldiers, having been found at other sites.  The jewelry may have been an tassel or an earing and appears to depict a silver bunch of grapes attached to a gold clasp.  It testifies to the biblical description of the wealth of Jerusalem prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city.  The pottery that was discovered in the ash layer helped date the finds.  While the discovery of an ash layer does not automatically point to the Babylonian destruction, the excavators of the Mount Zion Archaeological Project believe the layer can be dated to this event because of the unique collection of artifacts and the context in which they were found.  Archaeologist, Shimon Gibson, states: “It’s the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle: Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered… and arrowheads and a piece of jewelry which might have been lost and buried in the destruction.”  This discovery affirms again the destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar described in 2 Kings 25.

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