The new decade began with a bang, as significant discoveries were announced from the world of biblical archaeology in the first month of 2020. This included a marketplace in Jerusalem from the time of Jesus, an ancient Hebrew inscription that affirms biblical details, and numerous Assyrian reliefs depicting a biblical king – the first significant Assyrian reliefs to be found and studied in almost 200 years! Here are the top three discoveries in biblical archaeology in January 2020.
3. 2000-Year-Old Marketplace Unearthed in Jerusalem
Archaeologists excavating in the City of David along the Stepped Street, a 2000-year-old Pilgrim’s Road connecting the Pool of Silaom with the Temple Mount, believe they have unearthed a marketplace. A rare “standard volume” table and numerous stone weights have been discovered, suggesting the area was a place where commodities were traded. The table features two cavities, each with a drain hole in the bottom, that would have been used for measuring liquids, such as olive oil or wine. Scholars have suggested the table would have been used by the agoranomos, who oversaw the weights and measures in the marketplace. This is only the third measuring table to be found in Israel, although others have been found throughout the Roman Empire. If the identification of the site as a marketplace is correct, this would indicate the area once served as a town square in the lower city where people could buy and sell various goods.
2. Reliefs of Assyrian King, Sargon II, Unearthed in Iraq
Ten stone reliefs on the walls of an ancient canal system have been discovered in northern Iraq by a team of Italian and Iraqi Kurdish archaeologists. The tops of three of the stone panels were noted in 1973, and a survey of the site began in 2012, but had to be abandoned and the reliefs hidden when ISIS took over the region. In the fall of 2019, full excavations began at the site, resulting in 10 stone carvings being unearthed. The reliefs portray a procession of the seven main ancient Assyrian gods and goddesses, who riding various animals, including dragons, lions, bulls and horses. An Assyrian king, thought to be Sargon II, is seen paying homage to the gods. The stone panels were carved during the eighth century BC, when the canal was built to irrigate the nearby farm fields, which likely provided barley, wheat, and other crops to the city of Nineveh. Sargon II is mentioned once in the Bible (Isaiah 20:1) where it describes his campaign into Canaan during which he captured the city of Ashdod. Prior to 1847, Sargon was only known from this reference in Scripture, and scholars believed his name might have been an alias for another Assyrian ruler. We now know that Sargon II was a powerful Assyrian king who built a vast palace at Khorsabad. The recently unearthed reliefs of Sargon II are the first significant Assyrian carvings to be found and studied in almost 200 years. Unfortunately, recent vandalism and the construction of a modern aqueduct threaten the site; scholars are seeking to protect the reliefs and ultimately create an archaeological park nearby.
1. Ancient Hebrew Inscription Unearthed at Abel Beth Maacah
Scholars analyzing the broken remains of a large wine jug unearthed at Abel Beth Maacah, have discovered an ancient Hebrew inscription on one of them. The inscription reads, “LeBenayau,” meaning “Belongs to Benayau.” This is a Hebrew name, with the classic Israelite “Yahwehist” ending yau (later, yahu). Archaeologists believe the wine jar was found in a storehouse that belonged to a Hebrew man named Benayau, indicating a Hebrew presence in the city in the 10th or 9th century BC, based on the dating of the jug. While minimalist archaeologists today believe the area of the town was abandoned during the 10th-9th century BC, and that it was only in the 8th century BC that it became an Israelite city, this discovery affirms the biblical description Israelites living at Abel Beth Maacah in the 10th century BC. In 2 Samuel 20:19, during the days of King David, Abel Beth Maacah is called “a city that is a mother in Israel.”
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