Here are the top three reports in biblical archaeology for April 2021. They include two ancient texts and the discovery a lost Egyptian city. An honorable mention goes to the report of Egypt’s lavish procession, moving 22 royal mummies to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. While this made headlines around the world, I believe these three reports will have a greater impact on biblical studies.
3. New Study: A.I. Used To Determine That Two Scribes Copied The Great Isaiah Scroll
New research suggests that the Great Isaiah Scroll (ca. 2nd century BC), the most famous of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was copied by two scribes, not a single worker, as previously believed. In a new study in the journal, PLOS ONE, researchers used a computer pattern recognition program that utilized artificial intelligence in order to detect letter differences and ink traces which were unique to each scribe. The program was able to identify patterns in the way letters were written that were beyond a human’s ability to see. The researchers concluded that there are two distinct halves to the scroll, written by two scribes, with the break at columns 27-29. Moreover, the similarity in the two sections suggests that the scribes were trying to match their styles and may have been trained in the same school. This technology could be used on other texts and will no-doubt illuminate the way ancient biblical manuscripts were produced.
2. Lost Royal City of Amenhotep III Unearthed in Egypt
Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the lost city of So’oud Atun (Ascension of Atun or Rise of Aten) just south of Luxor. The city was founded by Amenhotep III, who reigned in the 14th century BC, as evidenced by the presence of his cartouche all around the city – on wine vessels, rings, scarabs, pottery, and on mudbricks. Historical documents testify that this city was the location of Amenhotep III’s three royal palaces, as well as his administrative center. The team that made the discovery was actually searching for Tutankhamun’s mortuary temple, which they believed to be in the area, when they began unearthing the remains of an entire city. Complete streets lined with houses, some with walls up to 10 feet (3 meters) high, have been discovered filled with everyday items. Several sections of the city have been excavated over the past seven months, including a residential district, a bakery, and a mudbrick production facility. The discovery of the lost city will provide scholars with information about the everyday lives of Egyptians in antiquity, as well as shed light on why Amenhotep III’s son, Akhenaten, moved his administration from So’oud Atun to Amarna.
1. – Oldest Alphabetic Text in Israel Discovered at Lachish
In 2018, archaeologists excavating a Canaanite settlement at Lachish unearthed a 3500-year-old pottery sherd from a decorated Cypriot bowl which was inscribed with characters. In a recent article in the journal Antiquity, researcher Felexi Hoflmayer, has analyzed the text and suggests it is the oldest alphabetic yet discovered in Israel. According to the study, the Lachish ostracon dates to the mid-15th century BC, based on stratigraphy and was discovered in a large building that was once a part of the Late Bronze Age fortifications at Lachish. The words on the ostracon are difficult to decipher as the text is short, incomplete, and the direction in which it should be read is unclear. Still, researchers are hailing the find as an important step in filling in the gap in the history of alphabetic scripts between the earliest inscriptions in the Sinai and the later texts of Canaan. Some of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions come from Serabit el-Khadim, an ancient Egyptian turquoise mine in the southern Sinai, and were likely written by Semitic slaves from Egypt as early as the 19th century BC. Dr. Doug Petrovich, from The Bible Seminary, has studied the inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadim and believes that the language behind the world’s oldest alphabet is Hebrew. Future study of the Lachish ostracon will help us understand the development of the earliest alphabet script and may lead to an understanding of the language behind it.
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