Archaeology


Archaeologist Eilat Mazar has made another discovery confirming the Biblical record. A portion of the remnants of ancient walls that once surrounded Jerusalem were previously dated to the Hasmonean period (2nd century B.C.), but new evidence discovered by Dr. Mazar has led her to re-date the wall to the mid 5th century B.C. and identify it as a portion of the wall that Nehemiah built to protect the Jews who returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon.

Another clay seal (bulla) bearing the name of a Biblical person has been unearthed in the City of David. The tiny clay seal was found in the remains of a large housing structure that had been destroyed by fire in the sixth century B.C. The seal reads, “[belonging to] Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King.” Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in 2 Kings 23:11, and is said to be an official in the court of King Josiah. (more…)

A few weeks ago, a news story broke regarding a sealing ring discovered in 1969 in Herodium – a fortress built by King Herod near Bethlehem. This ring would have been used to stamp documents and goods with an inscription. Only recently was the artefact cleaned and examined, and discovered to bear the inscription “of Pilatus.” This is a Roman name, and a rare Roman name at that. The only Romans who would have been in Israel during this time were rulers and soldiers, and the only Roman ruler who lived near the area during this timeframe is the infamous Pontius Pilate spoken of in the NT, who was prefect of Jerusalem and the man responsible for condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion. Could this be his ring, then?

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In 2009, archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered 33 bullae (small clay seal impressions) in the Ophel area of Jersualem. In 2015 she announced that one of the bullae bore the impression of the seal of King Hezekiah.  Now, she has announced that one of those bullae may belong to the Biblical prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah bulla

Discovery location

If valid, this would be the first archaeological evidence of the prophet.

The bulla in question was discovered less than 10 feet from King Hezekiah’s bulla.  Given the close relationship between the two men, it would not be surprising to bullae belonging to both of them in close proximity.  But is this truly the bulla of Isaiah the prophet?

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Unfortunately, someone took the scrolls from the cave years ago.  We can only wonder where those scrolls are now.

Two new books have been published reporting on the discovery of 25 Hebrew Bible texts, at least some of which may be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There have been ~70 such texts that have appeared on the antiquities market since 2002.

The provenance of these manuscripts is uncertain since they were found on the antiquities market, but they may have come from the Qumran caves. They are believed to be ~2000 years old.

Nehemiah was the only book that was not found among the original Dead Sea Scrolls. This new cache of manuscripts, however, contains portions of Nehemiah (2:13-16), as well as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel, and Jonah. Given the unknown provenance, however, the manuscript may not be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if it dates from the same period of time.

Work is currently underway to investigate the manuscripts to make sure they are not forgeries.

News articles:

Live Science

History

 

Update 3/16/20: The Museum of the Bible held 16 of these ~70 post 2002 fragments. They were recently discovered to be forgeries, casting doubt on the other ~55 as well. See the National Geographic’s “Exclusive: ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ at the Museum of the Bible are all forgeries

hezekiah-toiletArchaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be a toilet in a pagan shrine in Lachish. We know the practice of installing a toilet to desecrate a shrine was practiced from an account of King Jehu doing so in 2 Kings 10:27. The toilet in question, however, dates to the time of Hezekiah. While there is no Biblical record of Hezekiah doing the same, 2 Kings 18:4 tells us that he destroyed pagan sacred places. It would not be unexpected that he also desecrated pagan sacred sites by installing toilets. Tests indicate the toilet in question was never used, and just had a symbolic purpose.

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It was announced last week that another King Hezekiah bulla has been found (initially discovered in 2009).  This is a small clay seal (13×12 millimeters) used by Hezekiah to seal and authenticate a document. It was molded around the strings that tied the document shut. In fact, we can still see the impression from the fibers on this bulla.

We already had eight other bullae bearing King Hezekiah’s name, but they were unprovenanced. This new bulla was uncovered during an official excavation at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Dr. Eliat Mazar. It reads, “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.”

There’s a nice video on the find here.

The discovery of this bulla should remind us again that the Bible is not a book of fairy tales. It is written as history, and archaeological finds such as this prove that it is based on real historical people and real historical events.

"Jesus said to them, 'My wife'" highlighted.

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

I had previously written about the so-called Jesus’ Wife fragment that was brought to the public’s attention in 2012 by Karen King of Harvard Divinity School (here, here, and here). It was greeted by a lot of controversy regarding its authenticity, with the evidence leaning heavy in the direction of forgery. We had been waiting for tests to be performed on the papyrus and ink for well over a year to see if they also pointed in the direction of forgery. Those results finally came out in April 2014. It turns out that the materials are old (~8th century A.D.), but not nearly as old as King initially suggested and the paleographic evidence indicated (4-5th century A.D.).

Despite the ~300 year difference between estimated age and actual age of the papyrus, this seemed to be a vindication for King against those who argued that it is a modern forgery.  But is it?  Couldn’t it be a modern forgery using ancient materials?  After all, no forger buys his paper at the local Wal-Mart!  We would expect a forger to use an old papyrus for his forgery, so an analysis of the materials alone is not sufficient to tell us whether this is a forgery (it can confirm forgery, but not preclude it).  The analysis of the contents (vocabulary, grammar, writing style, etc.) is equally important, if not more important than the material composition itself for evaluating authenticity.

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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.  

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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:

Hebrew:

בשבעת

לתב ים

למל]ך]

English transliteration:

Bishv’at
Bat Lechem
[Lemel]ekh 

English translation:

“in the seventh
Bethlehem
king”

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.

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