Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – Dec. 2020

2020 ended with a flurry of news reports related to the world of Biblical Archaeology. Here were the top three in December 2020.

3. First-Temple-Era Golden Bead Discovered At The Temple Mount Sifting Project

A gold bead dating to the First Temple-era discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Photo: Temple Mount Sifting Project

The Temple Mount Sifting Project recently announced the discovery of a gold granule bead dating back to the Iron-Age.  The cylindrical bead measures 6mm in diameter and 4mm in height, and is constructed of four layers, each consisting of tiny gold balls attached to one another.  The Co-Director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, Dr. Gabriel Barkay, recalled that several almost-identical silver beads were found at Ketif Hinom. Similar gold beads were also found at Megiddo, at Tel el-Ajjul and at Tel el-Farah, in layers dated to the 12th to 9th centuries BC. Finding gold jewelry outside of graves or treasure troves is rare in Israel; in antiquity, gold jewelry was only worn by the rich, and not by the common people.  Scholars are unsure of the purpose of the bead, and whether it was worn by a wealthy person visiting the First Temple or by one of the important priests.


2. Scholar Claims to Authenticate the Bulla of Servant of King Jeroboam II

The clay impression from a seal of a servant of the Israelite King Jeroboam II (8th century BC). Photo: Dani Machlis/Ben Gurion University

Ben-Gurion University Professor, Yuval Goren, recently announced his authentication of a clay seal impression (bulla) of a servant of King Jeroboam II.  This announcement comes ahead of the publication of his scientific study in the Eretz Yisrael journal, which will later to be published in English in the Israel Exploration Journal.  The bulla’s impression is almost identical to the much larger jasper seal that was discovered at Megiddo in 1904, and subsequently lost.  It bears the image of a roaring lion and a paleo-Hebrew inscription, “l’Shema eved Yerov’am” (Belonging to Shema the servant of Jeroboam).  Scholars believe Shema was a servant in the courts of the Israelite king Jeroboam II, who reigned in the 8th century BC.  The clay bulla was purchased in the 1980’s without provenance from a Bedouin antiquities dealer for only 10 old Israeli shekels.  Given the lack of provenance, and the fact it was purchased so cheaply on the antiquities market, it was believed the seal impression was a forgery.  However, Goren developed a strict set of testing protocols involving a series of overlapping tests from a variety of disciplines.  One test involved removing a fragment of the clay to examine the mineral makeup and another analyzed the isotopic composition of the patina. He assembled an interdisciplinary team and studied hundreds of authentic seal impressions discovered in excavations to secure a reference point.   Goren began testing the artifact five years ago on the condition that it be turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority if it proved authentic.  The authentication of the seal impression of Shema, the servant of Jeroboam, if accurate and properly understood, affirms the historicity of King Jeroboam II, son of Joash (2 Kings 13:13).


1. Ritual Bath From The Time of Jesus Unearthed in Gethsemane

The stairs of a ritual bath at Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Photo: Yaniv Berman/ Israel Antiquities Authority

A 2000-year-old mikveh (ritual bath) was recently uncovered on the Mount of Olives, near the site believed to be Gethsemane.   The discovery was made during the construction of a tunnel linking the Church of Gethsemane (also known as the Church of the Agony or Church of All Nations) to the Kidron Valley in preparation for a new visitors’ center.  When the church was built in the early 20th century, remains of churches from the Byzantine and Crusader periods were found, but no traces from the Second Temple period.  Recently, as workers were digging a few meters away from the modern church, they chanced upon an underground cavity with the remains a plastered mikveh.  The fact that this bath was in isolation, without accompanying buildings, suggests that it may have been for workers who were producing olive oil nearby.  Jewish purification laws of the time required workers in oil and wine production to purify themselves.  If this interpretation is correct, it would be evidence of the very name Gethsemane (which means oil press).  The ritual bath was dated using stratigraphy and typology.  Researchers plan to send plaster samples to micro-archaeologists to look for olive pollen grains and other organics.


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