The final month of 2021 provided some exciting finds in biblical archaeology, all related to the New Testament period. Spoiler alert: one of two of them might find their way onto my year-end top ten list of discoveries which comes out in a day or two. Here were the top three reports in biblical archaeology for December 2021.
3. Shipwrecks with Christian Artifacts Discovered Off Coast of Caesarea
Two ancient shipwrecks have been discovered off the coast of Caesarea; one dates to the third century and the other is 600 years old. The structures were found at a depth of 13 feet (4 m) and the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit believes the were probably anchored nearby when they were destroyed by storms. Treasure hordes of coins were found in both shipwrecks, including hundreds of silver and bronze Roman coins and a large trove of silver coins from the Mamluk period. A variety of items were found, including an inkwell, a bronze figurine in the form of an eagle, numerous bronze bells, pottery vessels and a large iron anchor. One of the most striking artifacts was a gold ring engraved with the figure of the shepherd holding a lamb on his shoulders. Scholars believe it to be a depiction of the Good Shepherd, a well-known image in early Christian art, likely meaning its owner was a Christian. Another gemstone was discovered featuring the image of a harp/lyre, an instrument made famous by King David (1 Sam. 16:18). The IAA noted Caesarea’s great significance in Christian tradition in their press release about the finds.
2. Evidence of Roman Crucifixion Discovered in the UK
The skeleton of a man from Roman England was recently unearthed in the UK with a nail embedded in one his heel bones. The remains were found in a cemetery which held the graves of 48 people and dated to the third or fourth century AD. The victim was approximately 25-35 years old at the time of his death, and his skeleton displayed evidence of poor dental health and arthritis. He also had thinning leg bones, which archaeologists believe indicate he had been chained to a wall for a considerable period of time before he was executed. While Roman crucifixion is widely known from ancient writings, this is one of only a few archaeological discoveries that provide evidence of this type of punishment. The most famous find was unearthed in Jerusalem in 1968 when a first-century ossuary (bone box) containing the skeleton of a crucified victim were found in a tomb. The victim, named Jehohanen, also had a nail embedded in his heel bone, indicated he had been crucified. That artifact was named the number one discovery in biblical archaeology related to the New Testament (see links below).
1. Second Ancient Synagogue Discovered at Magdala
The expansion of a highway near the ancient Galilean town of Magdala (now known as Migdal) has led to the discovery of an ancient synagogue. This is the second synagogue dating to the Second-Temple period that has been discovered at Magdala. The first synagogue was discovered in 2009 and was larger and more ornate than the recently discovered structure. The newly-found synagogue has a main hall with two side rooms and is constructed out of volcanic basalt and limestone. Six pillars would have held up the roof; the bases of two of these were found. The walls were plastered and still bear evidence of paintings on them. A small room at the south end of the main hall had a shelf which may have been used to store the Torah scrolls. The structure was dated by the glassware, pottery and coins that were unearthed within. The two synagogues of Magdala were situated less than 700 feet (200 meters) apart: the first was in an industrial area, the second on a residential street. This is the first time two ancient synagogues from the Second-Temple period have been discovered in the same town. Dina Avshalom-Gorni, the co-director of the dig, is quoted as saying, “The more we study this time, the more we realize that synagogues were very common.” This discovery affirms the biblical description of Jesus’ ministry: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Mt 9:35).
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