Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – January 2023

The new year began with significant stories related to the Romans, Moabites, Israelites, Judahites, Canaanites and Akkadians. Here were the top three reports in biblical archaeology in January 2023.

3. The Mystery to Roman Self-Fixing Cement Finally Solved

An aerial view of Caesara Maratima, with the remains Herod the Great’s seaside palace jutting into the sea. Photo Credit: Ferrell Jenkins /

According to a recent article published in Science Advances, researchers have figured out how Roman concrete was able to fix its own cracks. The Romans were experts in the use of their innovative concrete, which had the ability to “self-heal” when exposed to water, causing the cracks in the concrete to disappear. One of the key ingredients in Roman concrete was pozzolana, an ash from Italy that was transported all across the empire. In their research, the scholars noticed lime clasts, small white granules of calcium, in the concrete. When they analyzed these with Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, they discovered the chemical composition of the granules and determined that water dissolves the calcium over time, causing them to recrystallize and seal the cracks. With this knowledge, the researchers were able to recreate Roman concrete, pouring cylinders which they intentionally cracked. When they subjected them to water, the cracks disappeared. Herod the Great used Roman concrete in many of his building projects, including at the port of Caesarea Maritima, his palace at Jericho, and his family tomb in Jerusalem.


2. Cuneiform Tablets from 1800 B.C. Translate Canaanite Phrases into Akkadian

A cuneiform tablet from Iraq that translates Amorite/Canaanite phrases into Akkadian. Photo: David Owen/ דויד אוואן

An article published in the French journal, Revue d’Assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale, recently translated two cuneiform tablets from Iraq dating to 1800 BC, demonstrating that they contain a translation of common words and phrases, from Canaanite into Akkadian. While we know of only a few inscriptions in ancient Canaanite, a language that there is an incomplete knowledge of, Akkadian is well-known to scholars. These tablets act like a Canaanite-Akkadian dictionary, providing translations of phrases related to meeting people, addressing a king, and preparing food. For example, the Haaretz article notes that the phrase “Fetch the table” is translated as “Bring us bread,” converting the idiom from one language to the other. This discovery will add a great deal to the knowledge of ancient Canaanite and various related Semitic languages. Moreover, it demonstrates that by the second millennium BC, a language closely resembling Hebrew was in common use.


1. New Study of Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone) Affirms the Inscription Includes the Phrase “House of David”

New imaging techniques by scholar, Michael Langois, improves the reading of the “House of David” inscription on the Moabite Stone. Image courtesy of Micahel Langois,

André Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme recently published an article in Biblical Archaeology Review (Winter 2022) summarizing new evidence supporting the claim that the Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone) refers to Beit David, the “House of David.” While Lemaire first suggested the possibility 30 years ago, recent developments in photography have provided new images to analyze. In 2015, a group of researchers from the University of Southern California used Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), combining multiple, high-resolutions photos taken from different angles into a single 3D image. In 2018, a team from the Louvre Museum took new photos by shining a light through the original squeeze of the damaged part of the stele. Since the phrase “House of David” occurs in a section that covers both the original stone inscription and damaged part that remains only through the squeeze that was taken, both of the new developments in photography have been helpful. These images establish that, of five letters in btdwd, the first, third, fourth, and fifth have been confirmed. Only the second letter is somewhat unclear, but is likely a taw based on the context. Furthermore, the new photographs clearly establish that there are word dividers in the form of dots that occur before and after these letters, implying it is a single phrase. In their article Lemaire and Delorme conclude that “the new photographs clearly establish the presence of the first dalet and confirm the last dalet, while only the letter taw remains somewhat unclear. Given this and the presence of word dividers before and after this five-letter unit, we believe the reading btdwd is confirmed once and for all” (“Mesha’s Stele and the House of David,” BAR 48:4, Winter 2022, pg. 40). The Mesha Stele is a victory monument set up by the Moabite king, Mesha, recording events during his reign, including his rebellion against Israelite subjection (2 Kings 3). It is one of the top ten discoveries in biblical archaeology related to the Old Testament.



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