Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – May 2020

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With the cancellation of so many digs in the Middle East due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there are fewer reports emerging from the world of biblical archaeology.  Here are the top three that caught my eye in May 2020:

3. New Excavations Scheduled At Petra      

Petra - Treasury small
The Kazneh (Treasury) at Petra. Photo: LiAnna Davis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority recently announced that they will be initiating new excavations at Petra in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities in Jordan.  The goal of the project is to unearth the front courtyard of the Treasury in order to understand the architectural elements of the lower part of the structure.  Scholars also hope to follow-up on some work from 2003 that discovered some tombs and facades below the treasury, as well as uncover more of the water system the ancient Nabataeans used.  There was no word on the exact timing of the excavations in the announcement.  In Scripture, Petra may have been  where the magi obtained the frankincense they gave as a gift to Jesus, since the Nabataeans held a monopoly on the frankincense trade at that time.  The Nabataean king, Aretas, is also mentioned in 1 Cor. 11:32.


2. First-Century Synagogue at Beit Shemesh to be Dismantled

Beit Shemesh Synagogue
The remains of a first-century synagogue at Tel Beit Shemesh. Photo: Israeli Institute of Archaeology

A first-century synagogue discovered near Tel Beit Shemesh is being dismantled and moved to make way for Highway 38.  Archaeologists were called in when workers at the highway-widen project encountered artifacts from First-Temple period.  The highway was rerouted, but during the excavations for the route change, they unearthed a Second-Temple era site.  One of the buildings uncovered was a synagogue that dates to the first century.  Archaeologists believe the structure itself dates to the Herodian period and that the village was eventually abandoned during the Bar Kochba revolt of the early second century.  Authorities have decided to dismantle the synagogue and move it to another location, as they cannot reroute the highway again.  Unfortunately, the relocation budget is in now question given the current economic situation from the coronavirus pandemic.


1. Underground Complex Unearthed Near Western Wall

Underground Complex Near Western Wall
This underground complex discovered near the Western Wall dates to Second Temple-era. Photo: Yaniv Berman / Israel Antiquities Authority

A 2000-year old underground complex was recently discovered near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The three-room complex was unearthed beneath a Byzantine/Umayyad mosaic floor in the “Beit Strauss” complex. In the Second Temple-era, the site was the public civic center of Jerusalem next to the “big bridge” that connected the upper city to the Temple. It had been hand-chiseled out of bedrock prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Clay cooking pots, oil lamp cores, a stone mug, and a qalal – a large stone basin for holding water were all discovered within the structure and helped with its dating. The structure itself has three rooms that occupy different floors and were connected with stairs.  Two of the rooms measured 2.5m x 2.5m, while the third measured 2.5m x 4m. Archaeologists are unsure of the exact purpose of the complex, but are continuing their excavations.



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