Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – February 2021

In the news this month: something deciphered, something discovered and something damaged. Here were the top three reports in biblical archaeology in February 2021.

3. New Study of Tablets from Deir ‘Alla, Jordan Reveal Late Bronze Age Alphabet             

Tablet 3291 was discovered in 1994 at Deir‘Alla, Jordan. It bears a script similar to tablets found at that site in the 1960’s. A recent study has concluded the script is similar to the proto-Sinaitic script and is a Northwest Semitic language. Photo: Gerrit van der Kooij

A new study of tablets which were discovered in the 1960’s at Tell Deir ‘Alla has revealed a Late Bronze Age alphabet, the only one known from this time period in Jordan.   The clay tablets were discovered while archaeologists were excavating a Late Bronze Age temple and auxiliary buildings that had been destroyed sometime around 1180 BC.  They were rectangular in shape, inscribed with a stylish, and featured a script with linear lines and dots at the ends.  Over the years 15 such tablets have been unearthed at Tell Deir ‘Alla.  While numerous attempts at translation have been made, a satisfactory reading remained illusive.  Recent studies have demonstrated that the script was written from left to right and contained 29 signs, small enough to consider it an alphabet.  Scholars have concluded that the Deir ‘Alla tablets share similarities with the proto-Sinaitic script and other proto-Canaanite alphabets.  The language has been identified as Northwest Semitic, which the authors of the study are calling Canaanite. By reading the signs with reference to later Hebrew grammar, which preserves earlier Canaanite forms, the tablets seem to contain short ritual texts and cultic prophetic proverbs related to the local temple.  It appears that the Deir ‘Alla alphabet disappeared sometime around the end of the Late Bronze Age.


2. Monumental Gateway in Honor of Cyrus the Great’s Conquest of Babylon Unearthed Near Persepolis

The remains of a gateway, built near Persepolis to celebrate the victory of Cyrus the Great over Babylon. Photo: Tehran Times

A team of Iranian and Italian archaeologists have discovered the remains of a monumental gateway which Cyrus’ the Great commissioned to be built in honor of his conquest of Babylon.  The structure was unearthed at Tall-e-Ajori near Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire.  The gateway, which was 30-40 meters wide and would have stood 12 meters high, was constructed out of mud brick.  The bricks on the lower part of the walls are decorated with lotus flowers and the façade of the walls are decorated with mythical animals, and symbols.   The central room inside the gateway has Babylonian and Elamite inscriptions.  These inscriptions, and the carbon dating, which places construction after 539 BC, have led the archaeologists to conclude this gateway was constructed to celebrate Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon, and would have been operational during the reign of his son Cambyses.  The Persian conquest of Babylon (Dan. 5:31), and Cyrus the Great’s order allowing the Jews in exile to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23; Ez 1:1-4) are important events recorded in Scripture and affirmed by archaeology.


1. Damage Done to Mt. Ebal Altar Site

Damage was done to the early Israelite wall surrounding the cultic site of Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal. Photo: Shomrim Al Hanetzach

Workers for the Palestinian Authority recently destroyed part of an ancient wall surrounding the site of the famous altar on Mt. Ebal.  The PA was paving a new road nearby, connecting the village of Atzira a-Shamalia and the city of Nablus (ancient Shechem), when workers crushed stones from one side of the wall to use as substrate for the new road.  Some are calling this an intentional desecration of an important early Israelite cultic site, while others are saying it was an innocent mistake, as the contractor apparently mistook the wall for a modern terrace, common to the area.  The damaged section of the wall was poorly rebuild without input from archaeologists about conservation.  The altar was excavated by Adam Zertal in the 1980’s; more recently, ABR’s Dr. Scott Stripling led a team that wet-sifted material from Zertal’s dig.  Beneath the rectangular altar on Mt. Ebal, and right at the epicentre, lies an earlier, circular altar.  Many evangelical scholars believe this to be the remains of Joshua’s altar (Jos 8:30).  There have been calls from numerous archaeologists to protect archaeological sites throughout Israel. 


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