Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – March 2020

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This month, we saw news about a new discovery in Rome and two studies of older artifacts.  Here were the top three reports in biblical archaeology for March 2020.

3. Possible Shrine to Romulus Discovered in Rome

The sarcophagus and round altar discovered in an underground chamber at the Roman Forum. Photo: Parco Colosseo

Archaeologists excavating at the Forum in Rome have unearthed an underground temple and sarcophagus which they believe may commemorate Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.  The shrine dates to the sixth century BC, and contains what appears to be an altar, as well as a sarcophagus.  The stone box is 4.5 feet long in length and is empty.  The entrance to the underground temple – called a “hypogeum” – is hidden in the northwest part of the Forum, beneath the Senate House (the Curia Julia).  At one time, it would have been beneath the “Comitium,” the place where ancient public assemblies were held to vote on issues.  It is also near the Lapis Niger, a black marble shrine with an inscription warning people not to disturb its sacred grounds, which contained the remains of a “holy king.” Some scholars believe is a reference to Romulus. 



2. New Study Questions Context of Nazareth Inscription

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The Nazareth Inscription – a first-century Imperial edict pronouncing the death penalty for anyone caught stealing bodies from tombs. Photo Credit: Poulpy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A new study in the latest issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science questions whether the Nazareth Inscription, an imperial edict imposing the death penalty on those who steal bodies from tombs, was originally written in response to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The authors of the study obtained permission from the National Library of France to obtain a small sample from the back of the tablet.  Geochemists then ground 1mg of the marble into powder and used a process of laser ablation to analyze the carbon and oxygen isotopes to measure the chemical “fingerprint” of the marble used in the tablet. The results indicate the tablet was made of marble that likely came from a quarry on the Greek island of Kos. The authors of the study conclude that their tests support the theory that the inscription was ordered by Caesar Augustus, decades before Christ, in response to an event described in an ancient poem in which the people of Kos broke into the tomb of the tyrant-ruler, Nikias, and desecrated his corpse. They suggest that Froehner, the man who purchased the Nazareth Inscription, was misled about the provenance of the stone in an effort to get more money for the artifact.

While the advance technology used in this study has exciting possibilities for tracking the trade of marble throughout the ancient world, several cautionary comments regarding the authors’ conclusions should be considered. First, this study really only demonstrates that the marble for the inscription came from Kos. Given that almost all marble in ancient Israel was imported, due to the lack of local sources, it is hardly surprising to find that the marble itself did not originate in the area of Nazareth. Secondly, there is a close connection, historically, between the Island of Kos and Galilee. Both Herod the Great and Herod Antipas are named in inscriptions to their honor on the Island of Kos, suggesting political and commercial links between the two places. We would recommend Dr. Clyde Billington’s two-part article on the Nazareth Inscription, in which he highlights six features in the text which do not fit a non-Jewish, gentile context (see links below).




1. All DSS Fragments at the Museum of the Bible are Forgeries

The final report from Colette Loll of Art Fraud Insights has concluded that all of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Museum of the Bible collection are forgeries.  Loll had been hired by the Museum of the Bible to determine the authenticity of their fragments and was given complete independence, with no input from the Museum of the Bible, and was guaranteed that her report would be final and released to the public.  Her team has concluded that there were numerous inconsistencies that pointed towards the fraudulent nature of the fragments, including:

–   The fragments were made of the wrong material. While most of the authentic DSS fragments are tanned parchment, these were made of leather, which is thicker and and bumpier.  Experts suggest that the leather itself may be ancient.

–   Testing revealed that the fragments had been soaked in an amber liquid, most likely animal-skin glue, in order to mimic the waxy sheen of the real Dead Sea Scrolls

–    Microscopic analysis showed that the Scripture passages were painted onto already ancient leather, with many fragments displaying ink pooling in cracks and waterfalls off of the torn edges

–   The fragments appear to have been dusted with sediments from the Qumran area, where the original Dead Sea Scrolls were found

The conclusion of the team calls into question the authenticity of all of the 70+ Dead Sea Scroll fragments that surprisingly appeared on the antiquities in 2002.  It does not, however, cast any suspicion on the real Dead Sea Scrolls, which are authentic and held by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


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