This week we are focusing on some remarkable discoveries by archaeology in Mesopotamia which give reference to biblical history, more specifically, the divided monarchies of Israel and Judah and their interaction(s) with the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 - 609 BCE).
The Kurkh Monoliths
The Kurkh Monoliths are among the extrabiblical discoveries which actually mention an Israelite king and provides information concerning the strength of the empire. These monoliths were found in Turkey by a British archaeologist by the name of John George Taylor in Turkey. They are monuments with Akkadian writing describing a famous battle known as the Battle of Qarqar which was between the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III and West Semitic kings in 854 - 846 BCE.
Among these West Semitic kings was listed one “ "A-ha-ab-bu Sir-ila-a-a" which among scholars is accepted as “Ahab of Israel,” assumed to be the very King Ahab of the house of Omri mentioned in the 2 Kings chapters 18 through 22. The inscription mentions each West Semitic king by their name and by the military might which they attributed to this battle. Ahab was said to have brought “2,000 chariots, 10,000 soldiers,” a military force listed among the other West Semitic king’s armies, second in strength only the Hadad-ezer of the Arameans. The numbers of 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 chariots was extraordinarily large for ancient times however, it indicates that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was a major military power.
What is also of interest is Ahab’s title “of Israel.” Assyrian inscriptions usually address kings by their capital city or dynasty. The Stele does not mention “Ahab of Omri” similar to the Black Obelisk of Shallmanesser III as this seems to be the usual terminology of the Assyrians. It remains one of the earliest mentions of the name Israel and shows that neighboring empires knew the Omirdes by this name as well as their dynastic name.
The picture being painted here is one that shows the background of the impending exile of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. Ahab showed his military might against the Assyrians, which the Bible says the prophets have been warning since the beginning. This extrabiblical artifact displays the conflict between Shalmanesser III and Assyria’s Levantine enemies. Ahab is unsuccessful and his war with the Assyrians ends with his successor Jehu forming an alliance with them as can be inferred with the Black Obelisk discovered in Nimrud.
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
The next discovery follows chronologically taking place after the Kurkh Monoliths. In fact, the object in question concerns the very same king who battled Ahab at Qarqar. Found in the ancient city of Nimrud, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is another monument describing the Assyrian king’s reign and extended empire in the Ancient Near East. It contains four registers, which each scene continues around the object, 360 degrees. The registers display scenes of hunts and wild, exotic animals. However, the focal point of the monument are the two foreign kings bringing tribute to the Shalmaneser III in his throne room depicted pictorially and named in the inscription.
This object is important for biblical studies because it is the only pictorial representation of an Israelite king, in this case Jehu. On the obelisk, Jehu is in the second register in which he is shown, surrounded by Assyrian officials and bowing down to Shalmaneser III. Below this scene is written in Akkadian, “Jehu of the House of Omri.” It is interesting that in the identification of King Jehu of Israel, he is not in fact from the Omride Dynasty. This is most likely an example of foreign empires addressing the nation according to its most powerful or famous dynasty. Other scholars suggest that the reference to “Omri” was intentional in order to show Assyria’s capture of the troublesome Semitic nation.
Further along the second register, going counter-clockwise, also shows what appear to be other Israelites forming a procession and carrying tributes to the king. This was a common practice in the ANE where a smaller kingdom would pay tribute or taxes to a major empire in hopes of reaping the benefits of said empire. In this case the Israelites were allowed their independence but were under the protection and authority of the Assyrian Empire from the looming threat of the growing Arameans to the north.
Combined with these archaeological discoveries and the biblical text, one can deduce a series of events which fills in gaps of these Northern King’s histories. The Kurhk Monoliths showed the conflict between the West Semitic kings and Shalmaneser III in Assyria. The biblical narrative then provides context for the event as 2 Kings 9 through 10 records that Jehu, formed a coup d-etat against the house of Ahab and his queen Jezebel. After he successfully takes the throne from the Omrides, little else is not known about Jehu politically. However, the next event is not mentioned in the Bible, but it assumed to have happened, in that Jehu pledges allegiance to Shalmaneser III, the very king in which Ahab was at war during his reign.
Obviously, this treaty formed between the two kingdoms only went well for Assyria since Israel was later exiled in 722 BCE. This alliance eventually put the southern Kingdom of Judah in danger as the Assyrians then set their eyes upon Judah as is seen in the books of 2 Kings and Isaiah along with another extrabiblical source of another Assyrian king, the Annals of Sennacherib.
The Annuls of Sennacherib
Another discovery that illustrates intersections with biblical history and Mesopotamia are the Annuls of Sennacherib, found on a series of objects known as prisms. These clay prisms were inscribed in cuneiform and contain one full text, the annuls of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. It was discovered in 1830 by Colonel Robert Taylor in the ancient city of Nineveh and the account dates to the early 7th Century BCE. It discusses Sennacherib’s exploits and campaigns across his vast empire and attempts to expand his reach through the Levant. It is also important for biblical studies because it mentions the siege of a certain Judahite king named Hezekiah and his royal city, Jerusalem.
This event is also recorded three times in the Bible: the books of Isaiah (chapters 36 and 37), 2 Kings (chapter 18), and 2 Chronicles (chapter 32). In the biblical account, Sennacherib takes siege of the city only to be decimated by the army by an angel of the Lord, forcing the Assyrian king to retreat. The account on the prism record the same siege however it differs in some important ways. It indeed mentions “Hezekiah of Judah” by name, but it states only that Sennacherib had him “caged like a bird in his own royal city.” His annals do not mention his defeat at the hands of an angel or heavenly host, nor does it say that he conquered the city. However, it does say that Hezekiah paid tribute to him in the end implying that the siege was successful.
Perhaps an interesting point to take away from this artifact and its connection with the biblical text, is that, as far as we know, Sennacherib did not conquer the city of Jerusalem. It is implied in his annuls that he took the city for himself as Hezekiah is forced to pay tribute. But this victory is only mentioned in these annuls. The Bible and these ancient records differ on the same story. Which one is the correct one? Perhaps the next archaeological discovery can provide some evidence, albeit circumstantial, as to the historical event in 701/702 BCE.
The Lachish Reliefs
Another great archaeological discovery that helps provide context to the Bible and Mesopotamia, are the Lachish reliefs found in the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. It was carved sometime between 700 and 681 BCE and located in the Palace of Sennacherib. The reliefs were discovered in 1853 and first assumed to allude to a different city other than Lachish conquered by the Assyrians, originally proposed by Henry Rawlinson. Yigael Yadin, a famous Israeli archeologist, however pointed to the excavations at Tel Lachish and showed that the excavations match precisely the events shown on the relief. This was also in agreement with David Usshishkin’s excavations in 1973 (Usshishkin 1980, 174-195).
The Bible also mentions the siege of Lachish in 2 Chronicles 32:9: “Later, when Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish, he sent his officers to Jerusalem with this message for Hezekiah king of Judah and for all the people of Judah who were there.” The reliefs depict a major battle showing archers firing, a siege machine used on a ramp to breach the walled city, soldiers being impaled on stakes, and prisoners being marched away bound. The excavations at Lachish discovered a major destruction layer in the Iron Age II 7th century BCE level, along with many Assyrian arrow heads and a massive siege ramp which is still surviving today. There is little doubt among scholars that this Lachish is the same one mentioned in the reliefs in Nineveh that Sennacherib claimed as his prize.
The Assyrians were masters of psychological terrorism and intimidation as depicted in much of their royal and military iconography. It was used to show the might and control of the empire. The Lachish Reliefs are a symbol of that power and a trophy for his throne room. The question then becomes whether or not Sennacherib was successful at taking the city of Jerusalem as he took the city of Lachish. Where is the Jerusalem relief? The Lachish relief took a major place within Sennacherib’s palace however the only mention of Jerusalem is in his annuls as a brief mention. A relief or boasting of an event such as the sacking of Jerusalem would be expected to be plastered in many palaces throughout the Assyrian Empire. Sennacherib, however, only mentions the destruction and battles of smaller cities and towns (46 in all), but it can only be assumed that Jerusalem remained standing.
The Annals of Sennacherib and the Lachish Reliefs both are ignored when those who favor a low chronology of ancient Israel allude to the status and significance of the Kingdom of Judah. The kingdom of Judah seemed to have some status among the major world powers in order to be given such a grand representation in Sargon’s throne room and among his annals.
That's it for the Assyrian Empire for now. Next time we will focus on the Babylonian Empire, Exile and Persian Period. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them in them below!
Prior to the “Golden Age of Archaeology” in Palestine, convergences between the Bible and Mesopotamia had already been underway considering the excavations taking place in Iran. Prior to these discoveries, the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah, the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy) and Mosaic authorship was under severe skepticism after the Documentary Hypothesis and the Source Critical school had ripped the Torah apart in attempts to create a historical backdrop in favor of different authors (sources) rather than explore the context of the narratives themselves. This post will be a short summary of archaeological work in the Middle East that relate to the kingdoms of Mesopotamia and their interaction with events in recorded in the Bible.
An officer of the British army by the name of Claudius James Rich was of the first to explore the many ruins and mounds of Iran while working for the East India Company. It was his writings and descriptions of Nineveh, Persepolis and Babylon which inspired the British Museum, archaeologists and explorers to seek out the mysteries of Mesopotamia (Moorey 1992, 7). The Behistune Inscription, a trilingual inscription carved on the side of Mt. Behistune, was well documented by the Germans in the 18th century, however the cuneiform script had not been unlocked until Sir Henry Rawlinson deciphered the Old Persian inscription and eventually translating the Elamite and Babylonian portions as well. Thus Assyriology, the study of the language and civilizations of Mesopotamia, was born.
The French were also involved as they employed Paul-Emile Botta as a Consul in Mosul and he discovered the ruins of ancient Dur-Sharrukin, the Assyrian capital of Sargon the Great. Scholars quickly made the connection to Sargon mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 and became the first real polemic for archaeology against secular scholarship and their Documentary Hypothesis (Moorey 1992, 8). The remainder of these posts will focus on specific archaeological discoveries in the Ancient Near East which illustrate convergences between the context of the biblical narratives and the history of the Mesopotamian civilizations.
The Patriarchal Period
When biblical archaeology had become a major discipline in the early to mid 1900s, it had been a response to source criticism’s attack against the history of the Levant based off of textual evidence in the Bible. William F. Albright had suggested that the archaeology of ancient Palestine had reflected the collapse of the Early Bronze age brought on by the migration of pastoral nomads from Mesopotamia into the hill country Canaan. Albright had hypothesized that Abraham was among the Amorites whom invaded the land and, in this case,, archaeology confirmed the conditions of the 2 millennium BC (Albright 1939). This at the very least would provide a framework for a historical patriarchal age.
Perhaps one of the fiercest attacks against this archaeological assumption are the anachronisms in the biblical account referring to the Philistines in Genesis 26:1 by Isaac. Other anachronisms are the appearance of camels in the ANE as a domesticated animal. Excavations at Timna in 2014 had been the only evidence of camel bones in Israel yet they only dated to 10th century. Kitchen and others have long shown that camels have been in use in the Fayum "Pottery A" period. Other documented cases of camels in use date to 2400 BCE or earlier (Martin 2011, 368).
The Nuzi texts are another source of circumstantial evidence for practices and context of the Patriarchal period. Nuzi was an ancient Mesopotamian city along the Tigris river in modern day Iraq. The texts are mainly legal and economic in nature but they provide a strong context to social structures practice in the Genesis narratives. Of the 5000 tablets discovered, some of the social and legal portions contain parallels with Bible and Hurrian culture such as hand-servant surrogates to produce an heir on account of barrenness of the wife (Al-Khalisi 1970, 109-206). These assumptions have been challenged more recently by some scholars saying that the social practices instituted continue into the 1st millennium BCE and therefore do not necessarily point to the patriarch specifically. The texts therefore can only be used in illustrative function (Pitard, 1998, 52).
This is yet a sampling of archaeological data which provide a histrocial backdrop for the Patriarchal period. My next posts will focus on later periods of Mesopotamian civilization and their interaction with the Israel and the Biblical narratives. Let me know what you think in the comments!
 Although still a mystery, the emergence of the Philistines (sea peoples?) is said to have happened in the 12th century BCE.
 Timna Valley Excavations. 2014.
 The Hurrian texts also contain similar legal language concerning barren wives and surrogate hand servants to produce heirs.
The discipline of archaeology is still relatively new compared to other subjects. Every year, new discoveries are shaping the way scholars view the history, people and religion of the Ancient Near East (henceforth ANE). Admittedly to most, their approach to these topics began with religious presuppositions tied to either a Christian or Jewish background. The Western/Modern desire to “prove” the Bible with archaeology is unique to the Judeo/Christian religions who has used it apologetically in response to scientific work done in the Middle East. When addressing these two very different fields of archaeology and biblical studies, scholars have been placed on a spectrum in which they have been labeled as “maximalists” and “minimalists,” referring to the integration of the comparative biblical data with the historical, archaeological data.
A minimalist perspective assigns little to no historical value in the biblical text, more specifically the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. These texts are considered late (6th - 5th centuries BCE) and do not contain solid, historical context to the archaeological data. Therefore, any attempt to integrate biblical data with archaeological data is useless and hurtful to the discipline. Proponents of this view are Neils Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson, Philip Davis, and Israel Finkelstein along with others from Tel Aviv University.
The complete opposite side of the spectrum, which is the maximalist prospective, is held by many “conservative” scholars who have embraced the archaeological finds and employ them apologetically and polemically. However, this typically leads to a surface-level reading of the biblical text and also results in archaeology used as an evangelism tool in order to combat skeptics. An extreme maximalist view is just as dangerous as the minimalist view, in that it limits the text according to its historical value rather than what it has to say theologically. Toward the end of this study, I will attempt to give a healthy view of both the Bible and archaeology, addressing weaknesses and strengths to linking both ideologies.
Pioneers of Biblical Archaeology
Prior to the Enlightenment (17th and 18th Centuries CE) the Bible was the authority on most scientific and biological issues. The characters and events in the narrative were assumed to be historical and most universities and centers for higher education where, first and foremost, places of theology and training grounds for clergymen. Early in the 17th Century, a skepticism formed around the Church and a desire for philosophical rationalism fell upon the major scholars of the world. The miracle narratives of the Bible were in question as were its divinely inspired nature. Perhaps the subject of the most critique was that of Mosaic authorship and the composition of the Pentateuch (or Torah, Genesis – Deuteronomy). German scholar Johan Eichhorn, influenced by French scholar Jean Astruc, were of the first to formulate the “older documentary hypothesis” suggesting that the book of Genesis was composed by two identifiable source, the “J” source (called the Yahwist) and the “E” source (the Elohists), referring to places in Genesis where the author subscribes to the name of God either as his covenant tetragrammaton, “YHWH,” or the generic name for God, “Elohim.” Later scholars eventually identified two other sources, “P” (the Priestly source) and “D” (the Deuteronomist) respectively.
This eventually led to the German school of thought led by Julius Wellhausen in 1878 and his revolutionary work, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels in 1883. Thus the “JEPD” Theory (otherwise known as the Documentary Hypothesis, “DH”) was born and became standard in biblical scholarship as the way to correctly interpret the Pentateuch in the 19th century continuing into the 20th century. This period of modernism along with Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species ushered in a century of apologetics and polemics in biblical studies by conservative scholars’ frontline attempts to “dig up” proof of the Bible by means of archaeology in the Middle East.
Prior to work in the Palestine under the British Mandate, convergences with archaeological data and the Bible were already underway in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone in Egypt, and the Behistun Inscription in Iran, unlocked the language of hieroglyphics and cuneiform in such a way that allowed orientalists and scholars to study ancient empires lost by time. Continued work by the British in the late 19th century resulted in the excavations of Nimrud and Nineveh, and successfully brought in a new discipline of “Assyriology.” This quickly introduced connections to the Patriarchal period and texts contemporaneous to the Mesopotamian Empires.
After growing support from the Western world in data collected from the Middle East, organizations such as the Palestinian Exploration Fund (PEF) and the Society for Biblical Archaeology were created, and efforts were made to explore and excavate in Palestine. Pioneers in archaeological work in the Levant include names like Charles Warren, William Flinders Petrie, Earnest Sellin and George Reisner began excavations in Palestine under the authority of the British Mandate. Their successes ushered in the “Golden Age of Archaeology” which attracted mass attention to Europe and America. William Foxwell Albright, G. Ernest Wright and Yigael Yadin began a scientific standard which addressed the historical reliability of the Old Testament.
The Death and Resurrection of "Biblical" Archaeology
William G. Dever, a disciple of G. Ernest Wright, and former director of the Program for Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona, has been at the forefront in the discussion of “biblical archaeology.” He entered the field as a Protestant clergyman but became enamored with archaeology while studying under Wright and working at the Shechem excavations. He eventually tried to breath new life into archaeology by divorcing it entirely from biblical studies, instead allowing it to function under the subject of anthropology. He argued that the Hebrew Bible only deals with a specific time frame in Israel’s history, the Middle Bronze age (2000-1550 BCE) to the Persian Period (538-400 BCE) in the Old Testament, a span of approximately 1500 years. The questions asked of archaeology relating to the Bible are only limiting the discipline in its scope. Archaeology can also answer questions to the Neolithic Period/Stone Age (8,500 BCE) through the Early Bronze Age (2400-2000 BCE) in Palestine (a span of 6,500 years).
Dever even championed for a name change from “biblical archaeology” to “Syro-Palestinian Archaeology” to include more dialogue from archaeologists who specialize in different time periods and locations in the Levant which include Anatolia, Syria and Lebanon. This would also expand the discipline by introducing experts in different fields such as anthropology, metallurgy, chemistry, botany, GIS (global information systems), etc.
This name change was not received ceremoniously. He was accused of killing a discipline which his predecessors had established and mastered. However, there came another problem with the name change. The mass media attention in the early and mid 1900s was gathered on the assumption that archeology was discovering new and exciting data which illuminated the Bible. Although it ushered in new scientific studies on archaeological work in Palestine, there was a divorce from dialogue with those in biblical studies. On a separate note, archaeologists, whose funding for excavation and publishing depended on benefactors, immediately saw that philanthropists (especially religious) were less inclined to fund Syro-Palestinian archaeology rather than the more intriguing “biblical archaeology.” Dever later revised and even accepted the era of “New Biblical Archaeology” as the methods of the discipline had been established scientifically as well as benefited from the interested gathered by those involved in biblical studies.
Unfortunately for some, the change went from a divorce, to complete mistreatment of the biblical text as an ancient document. Mainly from the Copenhagen School and those from the Tel Aviv School, a minimalistic view was the only correct to way to perform archaeology in the Levant and address the theology and nature of the Hebrew Bible. The prevailing view of those whom fall into this camp, believe the Hebrew Bible to be a product of the Persian Period (5th Century BCE) or even to the Hellenistic Period (3rd to 2nd Centuries BCE). Most conservative scholars typically do not have a problem dating some of the biblical texts to a Hellenistic or Persian redactor/compiler, however the minimalist school believe most of the Hebrew Bible to be propaganda created to establish a national identity to the Jews and give them claim to the land from their Hellenistic/Persian rulers and Arab neighbors.
Finkelstein and co. have adjusted their chronology of the many occupations in Israel and have questioned the evidence (or lack thereof) of major biblical periods such as the patriarchal period, the Exodus, the Conquest, and the Judean Monarchy. The remainder of this paper will address these three subjects which have been argued on the basis of archaeology providing both sides along with the data.
The Patriarchal Model
Albright had been one the first to attribute the patriarchal period to the Middle Bronze Age I and began his chronology with the text. He assumed that sites with an EBIV/MB I and II (19th and 18th Centuries BCE) occupations showed signs of migration from Mesopotamia into Palestine. However, Dever, Thomas Thompson and Van Seters attacked Alrbight’s models based on the evidence of nomadism and pastoralism. Rather, it appeared that the MBII was an already flourishing occupation at many sites, such as Gezer, Shechem and Bethel (Davis 2004, 155).
The minimalist position of the Patriarch Narratives have been challenged by several conservative scholars, namely John Bimson, Alfred Hoerth and Kenneth Kitchen. They have argued that archaeology cannot prove the existence of Abraham and the Patriarchs, but rather it suggests that a nomadic family could have existed and migrated in the time from of EBIV or in the MBII periods. Additionally, most sites have continual occupation in the EBIV or MBII periods with the exception of perhaps Beer-Sheba however Kitchen notes that the town “Beer-Sheba” may be a later editorial referring to a settlement (Kitchen 2006, 336). Kitchen also addresses a popular argument of the use of camels in the patriarchal narratives in which claims that the domestication of such animals happen much later. He argues however, that there is quite a number of archaeological finds referring to the domestication of camels found in the Egyptian Fayum (Pottery A), a MB tomb at Tell el-Far’ah along with others (Kitchen 2006, 339).
The Patriarchal model has mainly come under attack as a result of textual studies along with the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). It seems that as conservative scholars are scrutinized for their presuppositions and bias towards the Hebrew Bible, the same can be said by those whom hold to the DH while evaluating archaeological data.
 Gen 24:10-64, 30:43, 31:17, 32:7, 34, 37:25.
The Conquest Model
When archaeology began in Palestine, one of the main sites of interest was Jericho. Excavated in the 1930s by a British archaeologist by the name John Garstang, he claimed to have discovered the 13th century walls (Late Bronze Age) based on early methods of excavation and ceramic analysis. In the 1950s, Dame Kathleen Keyon further excavated the site revealing two walls from different periods. The first, an impressive MB fortification which surrounded the site with massive stones (megaliths). The second wall was the one discovered by Garstang which he dated to the LB period. However, after revaluation, Kenyon proposed that Garstang had misdated the wall based on ceramics and instead dated Garstang’s LB period to the Early Bronze Age. She claims that if there was a LB period at Jericho, it was a minor occupation and an unwalled settlement. This would, of course, bring to question the formidable city by which was destroyed by the Israelites in the Joshua account. The read more about Jericho's excavations see my previous post here.
This revaluation of Jericho brought into question the Conquest Model proposed by Albright and E. G. Wright. Several sites have clear destruction layers in the LB period (the time of Joshua 14th or 13th Centuries BCE) such as Lachish, Bethel, and Hazor. However, some sites have yet to show any destruction or no occupation at all in the LB period. This has led to some scholars to revaluate the Conquest Model and propose different models of their own. The prevailing model amongst secular scholarship is the “Peasant Revolt Model” proposed by G. E. Mendenhall. This theory explains that the emergence of the Israelites are not from an external group of people moving into the land of Canaan, but rather and internal uprising of lower-class peasants who overthrow their Canaanite overlords (Mendenhall 1962, 66-87). This theory has clear Marxists tones to it and is based more off of social theory and literary evidence in the Amarna correspondence rather than archaeological data. The archaeological data he eluded to in his research is that Israelite and Judahite sites reflect architectural and ceramic traditions based off of the MB and LB Canaanite settlements. However, Finkelstein’s own regional survey in the Judean hill country show a massive population increase in the Early Iron I in this area (Finkelstein 1993). There are some similar Canaanite traditions but for the most part, scholars agree that this is evidence of a migration of a new ethnic group into the Levant (Stager 1998, 123-175). They would even go as far as to consider them “Israelite” since these traditions continue through the remainder of the Iron age in Palestine.
 Other models include the Peaceful Infiltration Model, Symbiotic Model and more popularly, the Peasant Revolt Model.
 G. E. Mendenhall, 'The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine', BA XXV/3 (1962), pp. 66-87.
The Search for King David
Perhaps the loudest of these arguments has been the ongoing debate between Finkelstein and Yosef Garfinkel, chair of archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the subject of the historical David along with the status and significance of the Judean Monarchy. Finkelstein in his controversial book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of the Sacred Text brought some of the skepticisms of biblical history to the mainstream public that had been researched for the past two decades. It received both praise and criticism from archaeologists and scholars from either side.
A quick summary of the book will show that although Finkelstein and others have an appreciation of the biblical text as a piece of literature, they rather abandon it completely for archaeology as the primary and secondary source of their research. They argue for a late date composition of the Hebrew Bible (Persian or Hellenistic Periods) and give no historical merit to the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. Finkelstein also attempted to push his chronology lower than others have suggested it, almost a full century. He leaves room for the Northern Kingdom of Israel on account of the overwhelming archaeological evidence and inscriptions dating to or alluding to the period of the Omride kings. However, he argues for the kingdom of Judah to be a minor chiefdom, if anything at all. He echoes what some other scholars such as Philip Davis has said in the past that “the biblical ‘empire’ of David and Solomon has not the faintest echo in the archaeological record-as yet” (Davis 1992, 67).
This of course is an “argument from silence” which is a dangerous presupposition in archaeology. The published work of this book came out in 1992 when the skepticism of David was at its highest. The very next year, the Tel Dan Inscription was discovered bringing the debate back and giving conservative scholars new life. The artifact is a victory stele supposedly written by an Aramean king, Haz’el of Aram Damascus. Hazael is mentioned several times in the Bible as the King of Aram (1 Kngs 19:15-17, 2 Kngs 8:8-29, 9:14-15, 10:32, 12:17-18, 13:3-25, 2 Chron 22:5-6, Amos 1:4). Haz’el described his campaign against the Israelite kingdom and mentions, by name, the “House of David.” This shows that David was not simply a myth but existed and was remembered as a founder of a dynasty by an extrabiblical source 140 years after his life from a kingdom outside of Israel (Biran 1993).
Excavations at Khirbet Qieyafa have also reinvigorated the historicity of the Judean kingdom. Located in the Elah Valley, it is fitting that the location of this site is the place of his legendary battle against the Philistine giant, Goliath. Michael Hasel and Yosef Garfinkel believe near the site of Qeiyafa was the Israelite “encampment” with the valley between described in 1 Samuel 17. Only one Iron Age II phase was found in almost every area of the khirbet, A – F with large quantities of restorable pottery. Their result showed a fortified city with a casemate city wall and two gates to the west and south. It has been suggested that the city is the biblical “Sha’arayim” mentioned is several places in the Bible as it is listed in the vicinity of Azekah and Soccoh (Josh 15:36, 1 Sam 17:52, 1 Chr 4:31). Their contribution to the Judean Kingdom debate show a chronology and transition from Iron I and IIA, a pottery repertoire of the 11th-10th centuries, as well as answer questions to other subjects like: settlement pattern in Judah, social organization, city planning in the Iron Age, early writing with the Qeiyafa Ostracon, early administration and cultic activities (Garfinkel, Ganor and Hasel 2014). This material culture gives evidence to a larger administration and government than that of a small chiefdom in the Judean Hill country in the 10th Century.
Conclusions and a Healthy Alternative
This has been a very brief summary of the current debates in archaeology along with an evaluation of the maximalist and minimalists views of the biblical data. As mentioned before, it is best to treat these issues along a spectrum and not necessarily as polarizing labels as they are typically used. No true scholar or academic can be wholly a maximalist or a minimalist because the nature of archaeology is in constant flux. New discoveries are uncovered every year which sometimes radically change the way we view chronology, history, and literature. It is somewhat useless to label certain scholars as maximalists or minimalists because they find themselves sliding up and down the spectrum in order to keep up with research and hold to their academic integrity.
Additionally, if one has indeed labeled themselves as one of these polarizing identities, they have admitted to abandoning the pursuit of knowledge and have closed themselves off from any dialogue which may be challenging to their presuppositions. This is not how good scholarship is performed. We do not purse a question with the conclusion already answered in our minds. A healthy alternative to this debate is to keep searching and remain open to new and exciting discoveries that give us a better understanding of daily life in the ancient Near East which may ultimately help us to better interpret the Bible.
Abright, W. F.
1939 The Israelite Conquest in the Light of Archaeology. BASOR 74: 11-22.
Biran, A. and Naveh, J.
1993 An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Dan. IEJ 43:81-98
2004 Shifting Sans: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
1992 The Search of Ancient Israel: A study in Biblical Origins. Bloomsbury T&T Clark.
1992 Archaeology and the Israelite ‘Conquest.’ ABD ed. David Noel Freedman vol 3. 545-58. New York: Doubleday.
1988 The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem: IES.
1993 Archaeological Survey of the Hill Country of Benjamin. Jerusalem: IAA.
Finkelstein, I. and Silberman, N.
2002 The Bible Unearthed. Touchstone: New York.
Garfinkel, Y. et all.
2014 Khirbet Qeiyafa: Vol 2: Excavation Report 2009-2013 Stratigraphy and Architecture (Areas B C D E). IES.
Mendenhall, G. E.
1962 The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine. BA XXV/3: 66-87.
1991 A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Westminster/John Knox Press: Louisville.
1985 Israelite Settlement in Canaan. Biblical Archaeology Today. Ed. Janet Amitai, 83-87. Jerusalem: IED.
1998 Forging and Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel. Pp 123-175. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Ed. Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press: New York.
Archaeology and the Church: Can Archaeology help Answer Questions Dealing with Women in Ministry and the Church?
Women’s roles in church and ministry have been evaluated and debated for some time now. 2000 years after the writings of Paul in the New Testament, and still, theologians and scholars are not quite sure what to make of the passages concerning women’s roles in church and ministry. The passages in question (1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 13:34-35), seem cryptic, out of place, and void of context. We as the readers are simply not given enough information as to why Paul adds this prohibition into his letters to Timothy and to the church in Corinth. Could it be possible that there was something going on at Ephesus and Corinth during the time of the early church which led to Paul’s prohibition?
Here are the passages in question:
1 Timothy 2:8-15;
1Tim. 2:8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
1Tim. 2:9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes,
1Tim. 2:10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.
1Tim. 2:11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.
1Tim. 2:12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
1Tim. 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
1Tim. 2:14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
1Tim. 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
And 1 Corinthians 14:34-35;
1Cor. 14:34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.
1Cor. 14:35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Historical Context and The Temples at Ephesus and Corinth
Ephesus’ excavations in 1869 (again in 1904) and historical documents by historians, such as Pleny the Elder, confirm that the ancient temple of Artemis (goddess of the hunt, wilderness and wild animals) may be as old as the 7th Century BC and was reconstructed in 550 BC. It was perhaps the first Greek temple created completely with marble. It was destroyed in 356 BC and rebuilt again in 323 BC. The temple itself is considered one of the “7 Wonders of the Ancient World” and consisted of 100, 13m high columns.
The temple of Artemis plays a central role in Paul’s missionary journey to the Ephesians in Acts 19. The text claims that Paul was causing such a commotion in Ephesus that it stirred the citizens into a frenzy, and they gathered at the “Temple of the great goddess, Artemis” chanting and rioting into the night. At risk of his life and others, Paul was forced to leave the city.
Likewise, the city of Corinth was known for its three temples to Aphrodite (the goddess of love, fertility, beauty and pleasure). The main temple of the city was known as the Temple of Aphrodite at Acrocorinth. It has been suggested that the temple was famous for its “temple worship” or “temple prostitution” however the historicity of this type of worship is uncertain.
What is clear, is that in both of these cities, female deities reigned supreme and women were at the heart of both cities’ cultic practices. If we are to put this historical context along with the writing of the Paul’s letters to Timothy at Ephesus and to the Corinthians, we may be able to see that there is a social and political statement being made by Paul regarding specific situations within these two churches.
Now, a bit of exegesis.
Regarding the letter to Timothy:
First, the argument typically made is that woman should not have authority over a man because, Paul says, they are easily deceived. Paul continues and says that since Eve was deceived first, therefore all of woman-kind is now cursed. However, this is not a valid response and a misreading of the text and of the narrative in Genesis 3. In Genesis 3:6 the author is sure to mention in the narrative that Eve ate, gave the fruit to her husband “who was with her and he [also] ate.” The text does not single out Eve as the sole transgressor and neither does Paul. It is unlikely that Paul misread Genesis 3, and came to the conclusion that Eve alone was deceived, but rather both woman, with man, transgressed and are equals as sinners before a holy God.
(Side note: if churches were to implement this literally, that ‘women should not have authority over men,’ then why do majority of congregations give women authority to teach other women and also children if they are so easily deceived? Would this not run the risk of deceiving the other women and the next generation of Christians?)
The key to this passage is the word, “permit” [ἐπιτρέπω/epitrepo] which some scholars have suggested that the word in Greek implies a temporary and local nature rather than an umbrella term or command for each early church to employ to their own home congregation.
Something we need to keep in mind when reading the Epistles of Paul is that his letters were perhaps not meant for mass circulation. They were meant for local circulation to the house churches in a specific region (hence: the Letter to the Romans, the Letter to the Galatians, etc.) We are essentially reading someone’s ancient mail and although some may consider it Scripture, we have to acknowledge that Paul is addressing specific needs and issues at specific churches. Churches are then (and likewise nowadays) to take these concepts, doctrines and ideas, and apply them to their own churches.
For example: when Paul encourages the Thessalonians to continue to work and live out their lives as they are waiting on the return of Christ, it is unlikely that the Galatians would have read this letter and thought Paul was calling them (the Galatians) lazy. Alternatively, Paul had a few other, choice words to say specifically to the church in Galatia that was not intended for the Thessalonians.
Secondly, if the people of Ephesus are converts from the cult of Artemis, they are coming from a woman-led religion. In fact, one could say that it was a strong “feminist” society (some of the myths surrounding the ancient women of the Amazonians come from the Artemis cult). This seems likely considering Paul’s reaction and his reference to the creation of man first and then Eve in Genesis 1. We are usually quick to assume that the ancient, more primitive cultures resort to being masculine, misogynistic societies but from the historical documents and archaeology it is possible that men could have been seen as second-class citizens in the city of Ephesus. If this is the case, then Paul is imploring the Ephesian women to act in a way of mutual submission to their male counterparts.
Paul then ends the discussion on women saying that they will be saved by childbirth which is confusing to anyone that would assume he is talking about everyday reproduction in the natural sense. If women are saved through childbearing alone, then how does this function, for those that are barren? Is the blessing of salvation withheld from these women because they cannot have children? This is rather unlikely.
If Paul is as egalitarian as the historical context would lead us to believe, then the “childbirth’ he is referring to is the birth of a single human, the incarnation of God, Jesus Christ. In this case, both man and women are both saved by the “childbirth/childbearing” of one woman (Mary), which harkens back to the promise/covenant to Abraham and Sarah in Gen 18:18, 22:18 and 26:4 that all of the nations of the earth, both male and female, shall be blessed through their lineage.
Regarding the letter to the Corinthians:
The passage 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is referring to Paul’s prohibition for women to speak in church. These two verses seem out of place considering Paul, previously in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:26, encouraged the congregation (gender inclusive “brothers and sisters”) to pray and prophesy (assuming out loud). In fact, some of the early copies of this letter have these verses out of order or not included in the letter at all.*
Again, like in Ephesus, this may be another case of a specific situation addressing a woman-dominated city of Corinth where there were three temples to Aphrodite.
Syntactically, some scholars have suggested that Paul may be addressing a series of “quotations” or “sayings”, and v.34-35 may be one of them. This is not out of character for Paul as he addressed other common sayings in the very same letter on account of meeting the congregations where they are in their ministry. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 he quotes “all things are lawful for me” and “food is meant for the stomach and stomach for the food” which were two common sayings Paul wished to stomp out of these churches as a false doctrine.
If we are again to assume the historical documents and situations of the text, Paul may be dealing with a common saying that has been floating around the house churches as the leaders have been trying to overcorrect a female-dominated society into a male-only led congregation which suppressed the ministry involvement of its fellow women. It brings to light a very different understanding if we are to read it in this way:
(Note: the quotations marked in brackets are my insert. The original and early manuscripts did not have punctuation so we are left to interpret this verse as it is. Even punctuation is something we have all added in our own translation for it to make sense in our language.)
1Cor. 14:33-35 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,
[“]women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.[”]
It brings to light a different understanding if we read this passage with the aforementioned in mind. If we read this assumed prohibition as a quotation rather than a commandment from Paul, then this certainly helps understanding the following verse:
1Cor. 14:36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?
By asking the following rhetorical questions he addresses the interpretation of the word of God not only being gifted to one gender, but to both.
Paul’s relationship with Women in his Ministry
Paul had faith in several women during his ministry as he entrusted them with the transmission of the gospel and with his correspondences. In Roman’s 16:1, he specifically mentioned by name, Phoebe, who was a successful business woman living in Rome. He entrusted to her his letter to the Romans and it is also likely that she was the first person to ever read aloud the letter to the Romans in her home congregation. In fact, the word he uses to describe her was a “(fem)deaconess of the church/διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας.”
This also brings another question. Why not mention this order and command with the other churches in other letters? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul addressed a situation of quarreling women, Euodia and Syntyche, to put aside their differences which seemed to be dividing the church. He spoke very highly of them and said they “struggled beside me in the work of the gospel” in Phil 4:3. He could have simply told them that they should remain silent and report to their husbands, yet he does not. He addresses them publicly (in the letter) as if they are indeed leaders in the church at Philippi for whom the letter was no doubt intended.
Conclusions and Implications
Both letters, The First Letter to Timothy and the First Letter to the Corinthians, warn of false doctrine finding its way into the church. An alternative understanding to both of these scenarios is that in a woman-dominated society, the false doctrine entering (whether consciously or subconsciously) in these churches was anything that was anti-egalitarian. It would put the focus on gender issues and dominance rather than on the gospel of Jesus. This was the issue Paul was pursuing in these epistles (Galatians 3:28).
Now what does this mean for the modern Church? Is it possible that a misinterpretation of such passages have occurred, therefore, over a millennia of Spirit-filled women have been silenced in the Church? Does this mean more women preachers and teachers should take to the pulpit? I honestly do not know. I wanted to do an honest assessment of the data from the brief study I can do for a monthly blog post. Some of the ideas I pose may not be the most popular to some people but for a moment, take an inward look and ask yourself where your feelings lie on this topic and are they thought out, reasonable feelings? Or do your feelings on the subject stem from years of tradition and personal preference?
I do think however, that this is an endeavor worth pursuing if there is even the slightest chance that Christians have gotten this wrong. If Church History and a simple reading of the text have failed us, then perhaps archaeology and biblical studies can shed some light on a rather difficult passage. There is still work to be done and we may only be scratching the surface of this topic. My pursuit in archaeology and biblical studies mean to dig deeper into some of these rather complex and divisive issues.
No doubt, you will have something to say about what you just read. Please contribute to this post with any questions or comments!
*Pg 492 The New Testament in its World NT Wright
For further reading:
Lucy Peppiatt - Unveiling Paul’s Women
McRay – Archaeology and the New Testament
N.T. Wright – The New Testament in its World
Carson and Moo – An Introduction to the New Testament
Gundry - A Survey of the New Testament
The battle of Jericho is one of the more popular events that take place in the Old Testament. In the Book of Joshua, it also takes place within a series of events which culminate into the complete entrance and settlement of the Israelites within the land of Canaan, also known as “the Promised Land.” If the Israelites indeed enter the land from Transjordan, they would have come into contact with the inhabitants of this major city/fort residing in the oasis of the Jordan River valley.
Geographically, Jericho falls along a major ancient road in the valley. The imposing mound, Tel Es-Sultan has been identified as ancient “Jericho” even though there has been other identifications of a “Jericho” at Tell Abu el’ Alayiq which contains a large Hasmonean palace, Tell El-Hassan in the byzantine period, and one of Herod the Great’s Roman Period palaces discovered at Khirbet en-Nitla. It is not uncommon for sites to move over time which can make some identification of ancient towns and cities difficult.
For the purpose of this article we will focus on Tel Es-Sultan and assume its location, since it is the largest tel (the Hebrew for “ruin; manmade mound created from centuries of occupations built on top of each other) in the area. It also has evidence of occupations from the Epipaleolithic Period approximately 9000 BC to the Late Bronze II age, using standard archaeological dating methods (not focusing on biblical chronology).* According to this dating, it would make Jericho the oldest city discovered in the archaeological record! One of the more impressive structures from the excavations are a round stone tower from the Neolithic Period (8.5m in diameter and stands to this day, preserved 7.75m tall) built against the inner-city wall. The society living there suggests a transition from hunter-gathers to one of the first, budding sedentary civilizations.
The city flourished in the Early and Middle Bronze ages (3250-1550 BC) as there was monumental architecture (palaces, buildings and wall fortifications) built on the site as well as several cave burials and family graves on and around the tel.
Now, to answer the question: “What about Joshua and the Israelites, is there any evidence of them or a battle at Jericho?” There is a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is: it’s complicated. The reason of this complication lies in methodology and interpretation. Which results in my long answer. For those of you still with me and would like an explanation, here it is:
When referring the Biblical time period, the emergence of the ancient Israelites would have taken place during the Late Bronze Age (1550 – 1200 BC). Whichever way you look at biblical chronology (which usually has something to do with where you date the Exodus: 15th Century or 13th Century BC), the emergence of Israel into Canaan has to take place shortly after this episode, i.e. one generation after the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt.
Jericho was one of the first sites excavated when scholars rushed to the Holy Land in order to excavate and find the hidden secrets of an ancient Israelite culture to battle skeptics of the Bible. The first excavations took place between 1907-1909 in which an Austro-German team under the direction of E. Sellin and C. Watzinger. Before scientific methodology and modern methods of excavation became standardized, someone thought it would be a good idea to dig a series of trenches into these delicate tels in order to evaluate the stratigraphy. This accomplished the goal of reading the occupations, but at what cost? Archaeology is already destruction of that which has been buried by time. Once it is uncovered, it cannot be put back again. It was discovered later in the discipline’s infancy, that this tactic was not sustainable and the loss of data was incalculable. Even so, the data collected during this work for subsequent excavations, was and is useless to this day.
Methodology improved with the excavations of J. Garstang in 1930-1936 who excavated the Late Bronze portion of the tel. He believed his findings were the remains of the Canaanite fortress in which was destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites. However, when an up-and-coming archaeologist by the name of Kathleen Kenyon later excavated the site in 1952 and 1958, she declared Garstang’s pottery chronology wrong and instead claimed that the city was destroyed much earlier in the Middle Bronze Age. Therefore, according to Kenyon, Joshua and the Israelites would have come upon an already empty town; leaving the event of Joshua at Jericho, fictitious.
There are archaeologist and historians who still feel this way concerning the absence of a Late Bronze civilization and destruction at Jericho. But there is also a considerable number of archaeologists who view who Kenyon to be wrong in her evaluation of the site and the destruction of the outer walls and subsequent destruction by fire. They would believe that Garstang’s assumption does indeed fall correctly in line with biblical chronology and the Late Bronze Age II (13th Century BC). There is also a period of little to no occupation of the Iron Ages and Persian Periods which is also verified by the Biblical Text after Joshua places a curse upon anyone who rebuilds Jericho (Josh 6:26).
There is a battle being fought when it comes Ancient Jericho and it is not the one fought in Joshua 6. Ultimately because of these two things, methodology and interpretation, that the battle rages onward between Biblicists and secular archaeologists. The fact remains that it is probably futile to make any claims as to an Israelite presence at Jericho because there was barely any presence if there ever was one. The text claims that the Israelites were in and out in 7 days and on account of extensive erosion and poor excavation methods, it is a miracle anything survives at the site at all.
In the Bible, the destruction Jericho is yet another sign from God that he fights the battles for His people. In this God’s desire for his people is their faith, rather than their military prowess. The salvation of Rehab and her family (Josh 6:25) is also telling as to the extension of Yahweh’s promise to the Israelites and also to the Canaanites if they were willing to accept it. It is an important story, yet the main points of the narrative are not driven by archaeology (although supplemented), but by are implied theologically and exegetically.
Let me know what you think in the comments!
For further reading on Jericho excavations please see the following:
The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Jericho. Pg 674-697.
On the Reliability of the Old Testament. K. A. Kitchen. pg 187-188.
*One day I will do a post concerning numbers and dating in the Bible compared to modern dating systems, absolute/relative chronology. For the moment I am using the standard dating systems we have available to us based on ceramic typology and radiocarbon dating.
Merry Christmas Eve! Christmas Day is tomorrow and we are down to number one. The greatest archaeological discovery that is related to the discipline of biblical studies are the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 1946, along the hilly West Bank of the Dead Sea, a Bedouin shepherd boy was throwing rocks into random caves, as no doubt any child would do at that age, passing the time while his sheep grazed in a nearby field. He did this until he heard one of the rocks collide with something (perhaps ceramic) in one of the caves. Afterwards, the shepherd boy alerted his family and they inspected the cave, discovering seven scrolls and fragments in jars near the site of Qumran. As fantastic of a story this is, one would be surprised to know that most great archaeological finds begin in a similar fashion. This is the story of the discovery of Cave I. Since then eleven caves have been located in which the scribal community at Qumran hid their precious documents during the time of the Jewish Revolt in 68/69 CE.
Some would like to compare the transmission of the Bible to a game of "Telephone," an entertaining children's game where one child whispers a word or phrase and waits as it is whispered around the room, waiting to see the product of the transmission. Usually the end result is nothing compared to the word or phrase which began the game. In the same way, questions were raised concerning the continuous copying of the biblical text and over time, one would expect what we have in our Bibles to be different to what was originally written.
After the discovery of the scrolls, the biblical texts found in the caves date as early as the 2nd Century BCE, almost a thousand years older than the MT! Scholars jumped at the possibility to examine the text to see if there were discrepancies and were baffled at the unusual accuracy of the texts compared to the Old Testament text we have today. One of the pioneers of Biblical Archaeology, William F. Arbright stated "We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Ancient Near Eastern literature."
Of the scrolls, over 225 Biblical texts were found in the caves of Qumran. Other deuterocanical books recognized by the Catholic and Orthodox faiths were discovered such as the books of Tobit, Ben Sirach, Baruch 6 and Psalm 151. An entire Isaiah scroll (known as the Great Isaiah Scroll) was among the first seven scrolls discovered in Cave 1 and remains the only complete Biblical text and is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (shown above). This however is only the tip of the iceberg as this great discovery is still making waves today in Biblical Studies.
One of the great DSS scholars, James VanderKamm spoke at Andrews University last year. To see what new developments are made by DSS research and to learn more about the Qumran community who lived there, see the lecture in the button below.
Thats it for this list! Ever year more exciting things are discovered that reveal the world of the Bible. Thank you for keeping up with our countdown and don’t forget to leave a message in the comments below. Let me know what you think.
Take care and Merry Christmas!
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve which means we have two more posts to go. Today is perhaps my favorite archaeological discovery that illuminates the context of the Bible, the Merneptah Stele.
Discovered in Thebes by Sir Flinders Petrie, the father of Egyptology, the Merneptah Stele is a large stone monument describing the campaigns and victories of the Nineteenth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh during his reign between 1213 – 1204 BCE.
Among his exploits against the Libyans, the stele mentions several Canaanite nations which Merneptah claimed to subdue. The way that Egyptian Hieroglyphics designates these nations is with something called a “determinative.” We use these all of the time in English, for example: if I am writing something and I want to let the reader know that I want to convey an amount of currency I use the “$” determinative. This way the reader knows that they number following the “$” is a currency. Egyptian Hieroglyphics does the same thing just more frequently in its language.
In line 27 of the stele, along with a list of Canaanite nations, it mentions the name “Israel.” The full line says “and Israel is laid to waste, its seed is not.” If there were any doubt that this "Israel" was anything other than a people group, the determinative for ethnic group is used after the word, “Israel” spelled out in hieroglyphics.
This is the earliest reference to the Israelites in the archaeological record and it is written during the time of an Egyptian Pharaoh, Merneptah, who was the successor to Rameses the Great, one of the assumed Pharaohs of the Exodus. This also dates to the time of the emergence of the Israelites in the land.
The Conquest of the Promise Land has been debated by archaeologists for decades. However, there has to be some historicity to the emergence of Israel into the land of Canaan based on this evidence. Because of what this discovery brings to the Origins of Israel debate, I give this number two in our countdown.
See you tomorrow for Christmas Even and number 1 in our countdown of most significant archaeological discoveries in biblical studies.
3 days until Christmas and we are down to our last 3 discoveries. Today’s archaeological discovery is the Tel Dan Stele.
The Tel Dan Stele was discovered in the 1993 at the site of Tel Dan during Avraham Biran’s excavation. It was written in Aramaic and in an ancient Phoenician Script closely related to an early Hebrew.
The stele dates to the 9th Century BCE and is said to be authored by Hazael of Aram-Damascus. He discuses how he took the city of Dan and killed the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s kings Joram and later Ahaziah from the Omride Dynasty. However, in this stele, it does not designate these kings as the Omride dynasty, instead he says they were kings from the “House of David.”
This is a quite significant discovery considering that before this event, scholarship had not yet found any real historical confirmation of the biblical King David. It was assumed that he was a legendary figure like King Arthur. However, when this stele was discovered it changed everything we knew about the history of Israel.
It is interesting that that the king of Aram, from outside of Israel, mentions by name the House of David and designates it to the Northern Kingdom which separated itself from the Southern Kingdom of Judah after the reign of King Solomon. This shows that there was, at the very least, a tradition of both kingdoms once being united and the kingship was called the “House of David.” Also, kingdoms would call nations typically by the name of their ruler or most powerful ruler when they refer to them in monumental inscriptions.
This stele shows there is some historicity to the human figure of King David. It was obviously debated as to its authenticity after its initial discovery but now there is not too much debate on the subject. The Tel Dan Stele remains one of the most important archaeological discovery in the realm of biblical scholarship.
Tune in tomorrow as we will be two days away from Christmas!
Number four are the Ketef Hinnom amulets. Found near Jerusalem, these miniatures, silver scrolls were found in a series of burial chambers. They were excavated by Gabriel Barkay in 1979.
Much can be said about these scrolls but for an attempt to be brief I will give a summary of the debate regarding these scrolls. The assumption among biblical scholars is these texts from the priestly source (labeled P) are typically dated, to the 4th Century BCE, after the Judean Exile and during or after the Persian occupation.
This assumption was challenged after the discovery of these scrolls because, after analysis of the Hebrew writing on the silver, it was revealed to be inscribed with Numbers 6:24-26 which is known as the “Priestly Blessing.”
Num. 6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
Num. 6:25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
Num. 6:26 the LORD lift up his countenance3 upon you and give you peace.
This passage which is usually considered a P source, dating to the 4th Century BCE was found in a burial context from the 7th Century BCE. This shows that at the very least, the Priestly Blessing, and the tradition of this blessing dates much early rather than the assumed later date from Source Critics of the Bible
This is another perfect example of how archaeology is constantly changing the way we think and know things concerning the Bible.
Tune in tomorrow as we are only 3 days away from Christmas!
At this point in the list any of these objects can be anyone’s favorite discovery which connect archaeology and the Bible. However, I am ranking this list by what I think is most significant for biblical studies.
Next in our countdown is the Mesha Stele or also known as the Moabite Stone. It is a stone monument authored by a Moabite king by the name of Mesha. The inscription is written an ancient Phoenician alphabet which scholars believe to be an Old Hebrew Script. Discovered in 1868 by Fredrick Augustus Klein, in the ancient Moabite city of Dibon, located in modern day Jordan.
It is the longest Iron Age inscription ever found and contains 34 lines of text. It describes how king Mesha falls back into the grace of his god Chemosh, the god of Moabites. It mentions their subjugation under the nation of Israel and how he, Mesha restored the land of Moab and dates to the context of the 9th Century BCE Iron Age Transjordan.
The reason it is significant is because it mentions an event that takes place in 2 Kings 3:4-8 which is a significant for Israel and Judah against the Moabites. The inscription is one of the earliest epigraphical evidences for “Israel,” “House of Omri,” the Divine Name (YHWH), and perhaps the name “House of David.”
Tune in tomorrow for Day 4!
Rollston, Chris A. (2010). Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Society of Biblical Lit. p. 54.