Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – Oct. 2021

The top three reports in biblical archaeology this month include a news item related to the period of the Old Testament and two from the New Testament-era.

3. 2000-Year-Old Seal Depicts Biblical Balsam Tree

The amethyst seal depicting a biblical balsam tree. Photo: Eliyahu Yanai / City of David

An engraved lilac amethyst seal depicting a biblical balsam tree was recently discovered along the “Pilgrim Way” in Jerusalem, the road that connected the Shiloah Pool with the Temple Mount. It had apparently fallen into the underground drainage channel 2000 years ago. The small stone seal depicts a bird and a branch with five fruits, which scholars believe to be the image of a biblical balsam tree, also known as the “Balm of Gilead” or “persimmon” in later periods. This is the first-known visual depiction discovered to-date. The “Balm of Gilead” was used in the ancient world to produce perfumes, incense, and medicines, and was known to be a component of the favorite perfume of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. Excavator, Eli Shukron, was quoted as saying, “This is an important find because it may be the first time a seal has been discovered in the entire world with an engraving of the precious and famous plant, which until now we could only read about in historical descriptions.”


2. 2700-Year-Old Toilet Discovered in Jerusalem

An archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority excavates the ancient toilet discovered in Jerusalem. Photo: Yoli Schwartz / IAA

An ancient bathroom, complete with a toilet, was discovered in-situ near the Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem. The cubical is part of the 7th-century BC palatial structure in which several Judahite capitals were unearthed in 2020. The recently-discovered lavatory cubical is approximately 1.5m by 2m (5ft by 6.5ft), and includes a septic tank beneath the toilet hewn out of the limestone bedrock. A carved stone toilet seat with a hole in the center was found positioned over the septic tank. Dozens of bowls were also found in the room, leading scholars to speculate they may have been used for incense to make the room smell better. Private toilets like this were considered a luxury during the era of the kings of Judah, and this is more evidence of the important nature of the structure. 


1. Inscriptions Discovered in “Church of the Apostles” at El-Araj (Bethsaida?)

A Byzantine mosaic inscription at el-Araj in what may be the lost “Church of the Apostles” from Bethsaida. Photo: Achia Kohn-Tavor

Excavators at El-Araj, a candidate for the site of New Testament Bethsaida, unearthed two inscriptions which they believe demonstrates they have found the remains of the Byzantine “Church of the Apostles.” The Byzantine church is said to have been built over the house of Peter and Andrew in Bethsaida, and was described by Willibald, Bishop of Bavaria, in AD 725. The two inscriptions are incomplete, but enough is left to determine that one is a dedication to a bishop and describes renovations to the church during his time in office, and the other mentions the church deacon who built the compound. In addition, more flowing mosaics and walls were unearthed, which are oriented in an east-west direction, typical of many Byzantine churches. The excavators also discovered that the church was mysteriously buried after it was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749. Walls were built on top of it along the exact outline of the original structure. In recent years, the excavators of both El-Araj and Et-Tell (located 3 km inland from the shore of the Sea of Galilee), have claimed to be the site of Bethsaida. A link to ABR’s Digging For Truth episode entitled, “Where is Biblical Bethsaida?” is included below.


BONUS: Watch Digging for Truth – Episode 85 – “Where is Biblical Bethsaida?”

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