I am leaving today to lead a tour in Israel and Jordan. This is my sixth trip to Israel since 2005 and I am looking forward to this one a great deal. I have 14 students on this trip and they are all ready for an adventure. We arrive in Tel Aviv and begin with a walk through the Old City, the Rampart Walk, Western Wall and Davidson Archaeological Park. We have a couple of days in Galilee, visiting all the “Jesus sites” as well as Tel Dan. We will cross into Jordan at Tiberius, see Jerash and Mount Nebo on the way to Petra. Finally, after crossing back into Israel at Eilat, we get a few days in the Negev, visiting Arad, Masada, En Gedi, Qumran and a few other sites.
Ten Dan, 2011
I am particularly looking forward to the Southern Temple and City of David excavations, there are always and exciting things to be seen there. One of the highlights of my tours is spending a few days at Tamar, an archaeological part south of the Dead Sea. The site is small but unique, with remains from the Iron Age (include a small Solomonic Gate and a four-room house), an Edomite shrine, a Roman bath and store rooms, a Turkish water system, a building once used as a jail during the British mandate, and an Israeli bomb shelter.
Look for frequent updates from Israel and Jordan over the next two weeks!
Southern Temple Excavations. There is a great deal of archaeological activity around the southern end of the Temple. Since the first two examples I used concern the Old Testament, I will focus on the importance of these excavations for New Testament studies. There are few who would deny the Western Wall represents the walls built by King Herod to expand the Temple Mount.
In 1838 E. Robinson, one of the first archaeological explorers of Jerusalem, discovered the remains of an arch on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. Photographs show that this arch was only a few feet above ground level at the turn of the twentieth century, and even in 1968 it was near ground level with a vegetable patch growing beneath. Today, visitors to the archaeological park can see the arch some twenty feet from the ground level. Archaeologists have excavated to the level of the first century streets. The arch is part of a stairwell from ground level to the Temple Mount.
Photo Taken May, 2009
One of the most spectacular finds in this area was the “trumpeting stone” from the corner of the wall. On the inside of the parapet is an incomplete inscription saying “to the place of trumpeting.” The stone was 138 feet above the street level! It appears that a priest or Levite would sound a shofar (Josephus, JW 4.582, b. Sukk. 5:5).On the southern end of the Temple Mount a stairway goes up from the street level to a double gate and triple gate. It is likely that there was a plaza at the base of the steps, and there are several public ritual baths near the steps. The double gate is built in the Herodian style, although it was filled in by the Crusaders and a building was added by the Umayyads, nearly covering the entrances. Since the other since of the gate is now part of the Al Aska Mosque, detailed investigation is impossible. Ritmeyer suggests that this may be the Beautiful Gate mentioned in Acts 3, although it is impossible to know for certain. These gates opened up into the Royal Stoa, a huge area on the south end of the Temple Mount.
In summary, the southern Temple excavations demonstrate what Jerusalem looked like during the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. The archaeology of the Southern Temple area gives the physical context of last week of Jesus life and the early part of the book of Acts. Let me suggest one application of this physical context to the book of Acts. As is well known, on the day of Pentecost 3000 people respond to the preaching of the apostles and were baptized. In Acts 4:4 and additional 5000 believe. How is it possible to baptize such large crowds in the Temple area? The only real possibility are the many mikvoth around the Temple area, including the pools of Siloam and Bethesda. I think that the baptism of Acts 2 and 3 is a self-baptism in one of the many ritual pools around Jerusalem. In this case, the archaeological context helps explain a detail of the text.
Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Valley of Elah. The Valley of Elah is the site of the well-known story of David and Goliath (1 Sam 17). The valley is about 18 miles southwest of Jerusalem, the ruins of Qeiyafa are on top of a hill that borders the valley to the north. The small settlement was protected by a casement wall and two gates, but was destroyed. The site is significant for several reasons. First, it is certainly an Israelite site dating to the early Iron age, or the kingdom of David. It is along the border of Judah and Philistia, indicating that there were indeed tensions along that border during the time of David requiring a military post to guard the valley.
The most significant artifact to be found at Qeiyafa is a small ostracon (pot sherd) with some early Hebrew writing on it. William Shea offers a unique translation of the text which recognizes that some of the letters are in fact pictograms. His suggested translation of the first two lines is a command to the king to “not make two servants of the judge and the prophet” (604). He suggests that the text was “written in a time of transition” from local judges and prophets to kings. These lines would be advice to a king to not usurp the tradition roles of the judges or the prophets. As Shea puts it, the judge and the prophet may have diminished in authority when the monarchy was established, but they were to continue “independent of the king” (610).
There are other suggested readings of the text, some differing a great deal from Shea’s reconstruction. For example, Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa renders the second and third line as“judge the slave and the widow and the orphan and the stranger.” Despite the variety of suggested readings, they all sound like advice to the king, whether that advice sounds like the voice of a prophet or a sage. After reading 2 Sam 23:1-7 and Prov 31:1-9, I would suggest that whatever the Qeiyafa Ostracon is, it represents advice to a young king on how to rule wisely. This advice reflects a transition from the rule of Judges to Kings, exactly as 1 Samuel records.
Introduction. I have been asked to give a “top ten archaeological finds” list on a few occasions. There are in fact far more major finds that I would be able to list in a single article or seminar. The list of inscriptions and other monuments mentioning biblical characters in the Old Testament is quite long given the relatively minor status of Israel in the ancient Near East. For the New Testament, the archaeology of Ceasarea, Bet-Shean, Sephoris, and Tiberias shows the Roman influence on Jewish life during the time of Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls are of monumental importance for understanding the Jewish religion in the first century. I have chosen to focus the attention of the rest of this paper on just two examples from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament which are both important as biblical history, but are also relatively recent and exciting.
The City of David in the Silwan Valley. The City of David was a Jebusite citadel captured by David in 2 Sam 5:6-9. There were a number of structures built along the ridge from the Temple Mount down to the end of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys. The City of David is best known for Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a tunnel cut through the stone to reach the Gihon Spring at the bottom of the valley. The Siloam Inscription was found in this tunnel in 1880 and has been in Istanbul since 1890. The inscription is one the most important artifacts ever found in Israel since the inscription commemorates the place where workmen joined the two tunnels, connecting the City of David to the Pool of Siloam at the bottom of the hill. Robert Coote comments that “it is the nearly unanimous view of historians that the Siloam tunnel is Hezekiah’s conduit, and that the inscription in it was written shortly before 701 B.C.E.” The tunnel is mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chron 32:30, and is alluded to in Isaiah 22:11. It is unfortunate, on the one hand, that the inscription does not mention Hezekiah. But, on the other hand, any mention of Hezekiah might have been grounds for claiming that the inscription is a fake or dates from a later time.
Recent excavations at the City of David have uncovered hundreds of bullae, or seal impressions dating to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. These impresses are seals placed on a papyri document as a legal seal. That so many of these little seals have been found is an indication that there was an administrative center which houses a large number of legal documents. It is likely that a fire destroyed the archive, burning the paper but hardening the seals. One seal bears the name “Gemaryahu ben Shafan” (Jer 36:10) and another seal discovered in 2008 appears to have the name Gedeliah, son of Pashur, an administrator in the last days of the kingdom of Judah (Jer 38:1). In summer of 2011 a small golden bell was discovered near the bottom of the valley. The bell may have been sewn into a priestly garment in the first century (Exod 28:33), although it is not certain that the bell came from a priest nor is it clear when the bell was made (it likely dates to the late Second Temple Period, much nearer the time of Jesus than Solomon!)
The excavations at the City of David are a good example of the politics of archaeology in Israel today. Since the archaeological work runs along the border of the village of Silwan. Israeli archaeologists are constantly expanding their work, crossing into a village which is historically Arab. In 1967 the neighborhood was annexed by Israel, but the residents consider this an occupation. They view the work of archaeology as a kind of cultural imperialism since the work is done by Israelis for the purpose of proving that Jerusalem is a Jewish birthright. (Whether anyone actually does archaeology for this reason is debatable, but that is the perception in Silwan!) Any further encroachment into the valley will be met with resistance, yet there is much to be learned by working in the valley. Likely there is no solution, whatever compromises are reached will be entirely political.
Unfortunately, people tend to expect too much from archaeology. It would be nice if archaeologists discovered a tablet in Egypt which said something like, “I am glad I finally let those people go, Moses is such a nag….signed Rameses II.” Yet even if we did have such a remarkable artifact, many will remain unconvinced of the claims of the Bible. Unfortunately, there will be no proof-positive which convinces all the doubters. There are two reasons for this.
Jessica and her Major Find
The first reason is the nature of archaeological finds. Rarely do archaeologists find anything which specifically supports a particular story. The vast majority of things found by archaeologists are rather mundane. For every spectacular find like the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are tens of thousands of pottery shards discovered. The average person thinks an archaeologist is like Indiana Jones, having great adventures and finding golden idols or ancient writings. In 2011 a group of GBC students worked for a few hours on an archaeological site, sifting an area of a dig. We discovered pottery, a bucket’s worth for our morning’s effort. For the layman, the pottery is rather boring, but for the archaeologist it is quite exciting! The pottery can tell us a great deal about the people who lived at a site, although there is rarely anything in the pottery which can be described as a “biblical proof.”
We also might want to think about the sorts of things which potentially could be preserved which support biblical stories. For example, what sort of evidence would Abraham leave behind which could be discovered today? I doubt there are tent-spikes out there with “if found, please return to Abraham” inscribed on them. The earliest stories in the Old Testament are such that direct archaeological confirmation is unlikely.
Another factor is that the archaeological record is extremely incomplete. As a science archeology is relatively young and the methods used for digging have developed a great deal over the last 50 years. Since digging destroys the site, archaeologists must decide where to dig and how deep they should dig. If something significant is found, rarely will they attempt to go any deeper since that would destroy whatever was found. Because of this, a site is rarely excavated completely.
There are many reasons for this selectivity, but a primary reason is finances – it is very expensive to run an archaeological dig and there are not very many which have any real “pay-off” in terms of public interest. Let me offer a couple of examples from my experience in leading tours to Israel. I have spent time at a location in the Negev which is likely the location of Tamar, a small border town mentioned in 1 Kings. The small site has a great deal to see, but because of the location, it rarely attracts many visitors. As a result, no one really invests much money in the site. On the other hand, Megiddo is a rather spectacular site in the Jezreel Valley. The city is also mentioned in 1 Kings in the same context as Tamar, but because of the location of the city it is of far more importance. Megiddo has been excavated since the mid-1920’s and boasts some of the more spectacular archaeological sites in Israel. This includes a well-preserved water system which tourists may walk through. Because it is close to the main highway, the Israeli Antiquities Authority is able to put a great deal more money into the site as a “tourist attraction.”
The second issue concerns the politics of modern archaeology in Israel. For some in Israel, any archaeological find which supports a Jewish claim on the land or Temple Mount is immediately suspect. When a fragment of a stele with the phrase “house of David” was found at Tel Dan, several scholars immediately declared it was a fraud simply because it proved that there was a “house of David” in the seventh century B.C. When it became clear that the stone fragments were not planted by an Israeli, the same scholars tried to re-read the text so that it did not refer to the house of David at all. When a major find does occur, the immediate suspicion is that the artifact has been created by the Israelis in order to bolster their claim to the land. Imagine the impact of the discovery of evidence of a the first Jewish temple, prior to 586 B.C. Such a discovery would be denied by some because of the political implications and accepted by others on equally political grounds as a support for a Jewish homeland. Unfortunately, several artifacts have been proven to be fakes, or at the very least modifications of real artifacts to make the more valuable.
So what can we expect from archaeology? Aside from the occasional spectacular find, archaeologists regularly confirm the general history and culture of the biblical world. There are a number of important finds from the last 20 years which confirm Israel’s presence in the land from early Iron Age and the destruction of both Samaria in 722 B.C. and Jerusalem in 586 B.C. There is an impressive list of biblical names found in Assyrian records or other monuments. Recent excavations around the City of David, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem have found post-exilic Jewish building projects. Around the southern end of the Temple Mount on-going excavations have uncovered first-century streets, the remains of shops and other buildings which serviced visitors to the Temple, including a number of ritual baths (mikvoth). All of these sorts of “mundane” finds go a long way in illustrating how people lived in the ancient world and almost always confirm the history and culture of the Bible.
In summary, expecting too much from archaeology is almost as bad as expecting too little. By expecting to find a golden tablet inscribed with David’s name claiming the Temple Mount as his everlasting possession goes far beyond what archaeology is able to prove. On the other hand, archaeology does in fact go a long way in confirming the Bible’s presentation of the history and culture of both the Old and New Testament.