Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – September 2019

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Month-after-month reports of excavations and studies related to the world of biblical archaeology affirm details in the biblical text. Here are the top three reports from September 2019.

3. Archaeologists Say Evidence Points to Identification of Emmaus

Kiriath Yearim Wall
Workers excavate the fortification wall at Kiriath Yearim. Photo Credit: Ariel David.

A group of archaeologists excavating at Kiriath Yearim have uncovered clues that they say may identify the site as biblical Emmaus.  The excavators unearthed a set of fortifications that are 2200-years-old, which they believe were built by the Seleucid general, Bacchides, who defeated Judah Macabeees at the Battle of Elasa.  The recently discovered walls are up to three meters thick and still stand up to two meters tall in some places.  They were dated to the Hellenistic era by means of pottery and Optically Stimulated Luminescence, which reveals when a certain material was last exposed to sunlight.  According to 1 Macabees 9 and Josephus’ Antiquities, Bacchides built a group of protective fortresses around Jerusalem.  The excavators point out that, while most of the places listed can be identified with sites north, south and east of Jerusalem, Kiriath Yearim, located 7 miles west of Jerusalem, is not on the list by that name.  However, the lists do include a site to the west called Emmaus.  Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Romer have suggested that, since there are no other major Hellenistic fortresses west of Jerusalem, Kiriath Yearim and the adjacent village of Abu Ghosh, ought to be identified as Emmaus.  They point out that it matches the biblical description of being 60 stadia (7 miles) from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-35).  Other scholars have pointed out that there is not yet enough concrete evidence to identify Kiriath Yearim as Emmaus, and that there are other sites nearby that have been identified as the New Testament town were the Lord Jesus met Cleopas and a friend after his resurrection in Luke 24.

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2. New Study Affirms Biblical Description of Edomite Kingdom

Faynan Copper Mine
At this copper production site in Faynan, Jordan, archaeologists dug through more than 6 m. of slag to get samples that covered over four centuries of mining. Photo Credit: T.E. Levy, Levantine Archaeology Lab, UC San Diego

In a recent study published in the journal, PLOS One, a team of Israeli, American and Jordanian archaeologists have concluded that there was an organized Edomite kingdom operating copper smelting sites in the Aravah Valley by the mid-11th century BC.  The team analyzed 154 slag samples from the ancient copper production sites at Timna and Faynan, measuring the temperature of the furnaces, the amount of other minerals used to improve the smelting process, and the amount of copper left over in the slag.  They discovered that the people at the various sites, some of which were separated by over 100 km, used standardized smelting techniques, which improved over time in a coordinated way.  This, they claim, is a sign that there was a centralized government organizing the copper production.  Tel Aviv University Professor, Ezra Ben-Yosef, explained, “Using technological evolution as a proxy for social processes, we were able to identify and characterize the emergence of the biblical kingdom of Edom. Our results prove it happened earlier than previously thought and in accordance with the biblical description.”  This study affirms the biblical claim that there were “kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” (Genesis 36:31).

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1. Seal Impression of Royal Steward Discovered in Jerusalem

Royal Steward Bulla
This bulla dates to the 7th century BC, and reads, ‘Belonging to Adoniyahu, Royal Steward.’ Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai / Courtesy City of David

A bulla (clay seal impression) dating to the seventh century BC was recently discovered by the City of David sifting project.  The earth that was sifted came from an excavation in 2013 beneath Robinson’s Arch at the foundations of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  The bulla itself is one centimeter in size and bears the Hebrew inscription “Adoniyahu asher al habayit,” which literally translates as “Adoniyahu, who is over the house.”  The name, Adoniyahu, occurs three times in Scripture, with the most famous person being a son of King David and Haggith, known by his shortened name, Adonijah (1 Kings 1:5).  The title in the inscription, Asher al Habayit, means “Royal Steward” which is a biblical title mentioned in Isaiah 22:15.  Some have suggested there may be a link between this seal impression and a grave discovered 150-years ago, which also dates to the seventh century BC and is inscribed with the phrase Asher al Habayit. Interestingly, the name of the grave’s owner is only partial, and ends with the same three letters as on then recently discovered bulla.  Others believe the grave to be that of the famous steward, Shebna, also known as Shevaniyahu, who was deposed from office for carving a grave for himself (Is. 22:15-19).

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