James Ossuary

James Ossuary

Amnon Rosenfeld et al recently published an article in the Open Journal of Geology citing further evidence vindicating the authenticity of the James Ossuary.


HT: Ben Witherington

The latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2014) has an article detailing 50 people named in the Bible, both great and small, that have been confirmed archaeologically. It’s not an exhaustive list, but very informative. Read all about it at BAR.

I visited the Asian Art Museum today to see their exhibit featuring the Cyrus Cylinder.  If you don’t know what the Cyrus Cylinder is, or why it is important, visit my post here.  I must say that I was beyond ecstatic to see this little 9″ long piece of baked clay!  I must have stood there for an hour just gazing away. Here’s some photos I took:


Herod's SarcophagusKing Herod reigned for 33 years.  He is most famous for his building projects, including the glorious expansion of the temple in Jerusalem.  Christians know of him from the New Testament as the king who reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth, and who attempted to kill the newborn king.  Herod died shortly thereafter in 4 B.C.

Archaeologists have been excavating King Herod’s summer home at Herodium (near Bethlehem) for 40 years.  Approximately 250 artifacts, including his bathtub, statues, palatial columns, sarcophagus, and a replica of his mausoleum, went on display today at a special exhibit at the Israel Museum titled “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.”

The best pictures are available at the Pinterest, Mail Online, and The Times of Israel.

News sources:


This story continues to fascinate me.  It’s like CSI Miami for Biblical nerds!  And new insights and arguments continue to be offered for and against the authenticity of the GosJesWife.

Christian Askeland has a nice 10 minute video demonstrating some of the peculiarities of the writing on the GosJesWife which cause scholars to doubt its authenticity.

Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu discuss the problems around dating the GosJesWife and evidence that a paintbrush was used for the writing.

Timo Paananen disputes James Watson’s methodology for concluding that the GosJesWife is a patchwork of the Coptic GTh.

Peter Head examines some of the reasons King et al concluded that the writing was authentic, including the lack of ink in a hole created by an insect, the lack of ink where fibers have gone missing from the papyrus, ink on the frayed edges, and the faded ink on the recto and finds them wanting.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

The web continues to be abuzz with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  So much is being written that it’s hard to keep up!  Here are the latest and most important developments.

James Watson has written two more papers (here and here) further developing his original thesis that The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a collage of various words and phrases culled from the Gospel of Thomas to form a new composition that is supposed to appear like a new gospel.  Andrew Bernhard has also tested Watson’s thesis in two papers (here and here), and agrees that “a modern author could have created the text of GJW simply by using short excerpts culled exclusively from Coptic GTh.”[1]  Both of Bernhard’s papers present an excellent visual and summary of the extensive semantic borrowing of the GosJesWife from the Coptic GTh.  He notes that only 14 out of 139 legible letters on the recto of the GosJesWife do not correspond to the Coptic GTh.  Eight of these 14 letters make up the phrase “my wife.”  Of the other 6 letter differences, they are either due to gender shifts in the pronoun or uninterpretable because they are single letters that come at the beginning or end of the line and lack sufficient context for reconstruction.


Karen King, professor of divinity at Harvard and specialist in Gnostic Christianity, recently announced the existence of a small (3” x 1.5”), late-4th century[1] fragment in which Jesus speaks of his wife. Written in Sahidic Coptic with black ink[2] on papyrus, the fragment contains eight lines of text on the recto and six lines of text on the verso, with all margins missing.[3]  The extant text on the recto side reads:

1  Not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe
2  The disciples said to Jesus
3  deny. Mary is worthy of it.[4]
4  Jesus said to them, “My wife
5  she will be able to be my disciple
6  Let wicked people swell up
7  As for me, I dwell with her in order to
8  an image[5]

Although the text bears some striking resemblance to known Gnostic texts (particularly the Gospel of Thomas[6], and to a lesser degree the Gospel of Philip), it does not match any known apocryphal or Gnostic gospel.  This may be an independent Gospel of unknown character (Gnostic, apocryphal, etc.) or, as Francis Watson has argued, it may be a modern forgery created using key words from the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas (more will be said concerning this momentarily).


In an earlier post I discussed the Qeiyafa Ostracon, identifying it as the earliest extant example of Hebrew writing.  That was what was being reported at the time, but the truth appears to lie elsewhere.  The May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review discussed this inscription, noting the many problems associated with the identification.  


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Israel Antiquities Authority just announced the discovery of a bulla (small clay stamp used for sealing documents) bearing the name of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The bulla dates to the 8th or 7th century BC, roughly the same time Micah prophesied that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  It is the only extra-biblical reference to Bethlehem, and one of only ~40 bulla to be discovered from the First Temple period. 

The tiny (1.5 cm) bulla has three lines of fragmented text in paleo-Hebrew:



לתב ים


English transliteration:

Bat Lechem

English translation:

“in the seventh

The third line only contains a single Hebrew letter, but it is speculated that it is the final letter in the Hebrew word melek, or “king.” Eli Shukron, the excavation’s director, thinks the bulla “belongs to the group of ‘fiscal’ bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of theKingdom ofJudah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE.” 

While some scholars immediately questioned the paleographic identification of“Bethlehem,” several have since retracted their arguments and agreed that it is indeed Bethlehem.   

A high resolution image is available here.

It’s long been the conclusion of scholars that Esther and Nehemiah are the only books of the OT not represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), however, reports that Norwegian scholar, Torleif Elgvin of the Evangelical Lutheran University College in Oslo, Norway, and Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University are publishing a collection of two dozen previously unknown DSS fragments from Cave 4, the Bar-Kokhba caves, and Wadi ed-Daliyeh in a book titled Gleanings from the Caves (T&T Clark publishers).  If this checks out, then Esther would remain the only book not found in the DSS.  Of course, if Nehemiah and Esther were written on the same scroll as most scholars believe, then while we may not have an extant copy of Esther from the DSS, there is good reason to believe the text was present in the community as part of the Nehemiah scroll.

Oded Golan with the James Ossuary

Oded Golan, an antiquities collector, and Robert Deutsch, an antiquities dealer, were acquitted today of forgery charges brought against them by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA).  The IAA had charged these men with forging some of the most famous and recent finds related to Biblical archaeology including the James Ossuary, Jehoash Inscription, Ivory Pomegranate, and Three Shekels ostracon

The verdict does not prove that these artifacts are authentic. It only shows that the prosecution could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  But given the fact that the trial lasted five years, there were 138 witnesses, and 400 exhibits, the fact that the IAA could not demonstrate that these artifacts are forgeries says a lot.  There are good reasons to think they are authentic, and there are world-renowned experts in the field who agree with this conclusion.

I wonder how the media will report this given the fact that most media outlets have been referring to the James Ossuary as a forgery simply based on the IAA’s charge.  If you see any media reports, please provide the link in the comments.

I’ve been sitting on this report for several months now….

The Merneptah Stele, dated to between 1210 – 1205 BC, has long been thought to contain the earliest extra-biblical reference to “Israel.”  However, there may be a reference to Israel in an artifact that is ~200 years older than Pharaoh Merneptah’s stele, but has been lying unnoticed in a museum storeroom for nearly 100 years.

University of Munich Hebrew scholar and Egyptologist, Manfred Görg, recently discovered a small granite slab in the storeroom of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin that he and a couple of colleagues argue contains a reference to Israel that predates the Merneptah Stele by ~200 years.[1]

The 18” x 15.5” fragment is believed to have been part of a pedestal for a statue. It contains two wholly preserved and one partially preserved Egyptian “name rings.”  Pharaohs would often record their exploits by listing in rows the names of all the cities or peoples they conquered. The name of the city was written in a round-edged rectangle, and above this name ring was a pictorial representation of the people of that city – consisting of a head and upper torso.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On July 27, 2011, the day after the announcement of the discovery of the Philistine horned altar, Francesco D’Andria, who has been excavating in the ancient city of Hierapolis for 32 years, announced the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Philip.  The grave has not been opened yet, but he’s convinced it belongs to Philip.

There is a church dedicated to St. Philip on Martyr’s Hill in Hierapolis, but Philip’s grave was never found there.  But in June D’Andria unearthed another church just 131 feet away.  There, they discovered a tomb.  D’Andria believes Philip’s body was moved from the St. Philip church on Martyr’s Hill to this newly discovered church sometime in the 5th century.


On July 26, 2011–just two days after the announcement of the golden bell discovery–archaeologists announced the discovery of a 3’ tall Philistine altar in the ancient city of Gath (the city of Goliath).  It has two horns, which is similar to the Israelite altars described in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 27:1–2; 1 Kings 1:50).  Israel’s altars differed in that they had four horns.  The altar has been dated to the 9th century BC.


  1. This is further confirmation of the fact that the authors of Scripture were intimately familiar with the cultures they wrote about, and thus must have lived relatively close in both geographical and temporal proximity to them.

Mk 12:41-44  And Jesus having sat down over-against the treasury, was beholding how the multitude do put brass into the treasury, and many rich were putting in much, 42 and having come, a poor widow did put in two mites (lepta), which are a farthing [kodrantes]. 43 And having called near his disciples, he saith to them, “Verily I say to you, that this poor widow hath put in more than all those putting into the treasury; 44 for all, out of their abundance, put in, but she, out of her want, all that she had put in — all her living.” (NLT)

Previously I blogged on a Constantine I coin that was given to me. Now, I’ve been given a mite (also known as a lepton).  A mite was the smallest coin with the smallest monetary worth. It was worth half a quadrans. A quadrans was worth 1/64 of a denarius, which was a day’s wage, so a mite was worth 1/128 of a denarius.  In other words, this is what the average person would make for six minutes worth of work (assuming a 12 hour work day). How much was a mite worth, then? By today’s standards, it would be worth ~$0.56 (assuming a $6 per hour rate for 12 hours). Two mites, then, was little more than a dollar by today’s standards.  It is strange, then, that so many translations render Mk 12:41 as “penny,” “cent,” “less than a penny,” or something similar. The 2011 NIV and CEV are closest when they translate it as a few cents/pennies, but even this is severely undervalued. Whatever it may be worth, here is a picture of my mite:

Front of mite


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ex 28:31-35  “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear. 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. (ESV, see also Ex 39:26).

On July 24, 2011 it was announced that a 2000 year old golden bell was discovered in an ancient sewer inside the Old City walls of Jerusalem (a few paces from the Temple Mount) last week.  It is only one half inch in size.  It contains a small loop on the top so it can be sewn onto a garment.  Given the requirement for golden bells to be attached to the high priest’s robe, it is quite possible that this bell was once attached to the robe of one of the high priests.

Interestingly the bell still makes a sound!

The Israel Museum teamed up with Google to make high-resolution, searchable images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online.  It even provides a translation for you.  To begin with, only five scrolls are available for viewing.  Two of them are Biblical documents: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk commentary.  This is really cool!

FYI, last month I posted a link to a site that allowed you to view the Great Isaiah Scroll.  That link is now connected to the Israel Museum/Google Dead Sea Scroll site.

The picture above is a picture of Isaiah 7:14 in the Great Isaiah Scroll.


Acts 14:5-6  When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled [from Iconium] to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country. (ESV)

This passage was in historical dispute for many years because it says Lystra and Derbe were cities in the district of Lycaonia, implying that Iconium (from which Paul had just come) was not.  This conflicted with later Roman writers such as Cicero(106-43 BC), who said Iconium was in Lycaonia.  In the words of William Ramsay, this made as much sense as talk of leaving London to go to England.[1]

At this point in the story, many apologetic treatments of this will tell you that in 1910 Sir William Ramsay, the famed archaeologist, discovered an inscription which proved that Iconium was not part of Lycaonia, but part of Phrygia.  Some even add that it proved Iconium was in Phrygia between AD 37-72.  I have read this a million times.  In fact, I have even taught it.  But as I was preparing for this series I became skeptical of the claim for a few reasons.  First, I noticed that different sources provided different years for the discovery (1910 and 1911).  Secondly, no one ever quoted Ramsay himself.  If any footnotes were provided at all, it was always to some other source.  Thirdly, no one ever provided a translation of the inscription.  All of this made me think “urban legend.”  So I did some digging and discovered that the claim is a mixed back of truth and error.


The earliest archaeological evidence for grocery shopping.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Acts 18:12-18  But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (ESV)

Luke speaks of a Gallio who was proconsul of Achaia.  Scholars doubted his existence because it didn’t appear anywhere in the history books and no artifacts had been found bearing his name.  But in 1905 a doctoral student sifted through some inscriptions collected from Delphi.  He discovered nine fragments that formed a message from Emperor Claudius.  In the text Claudius writes “Gallio, my fr[iend] an[d procon]sul….”[1]  The inscription was etched into a stone that was likely attached to the Temple of Apollo.


Next Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 320 other followers