For some, the summer means school is out for students. Growing up in Florida, it meant going to the beach daily, barbecues, bon-fires and fishing. When one is in academic discipline of archaeology, summer means: “dig season.”
It is true that there are other excavations, which operate outside of the months of May – July, but in the Middle East, summer is the most convenient for students. Field schools are in full swing and archaeological projects either begin or pick right up where they left off last year.
In this case, Khirbet Safra kicked off its second season in Jordan for 6 weeks (end of may to mid-July). Andrews University has been involved with excavating major sites in Jordan since 1968 led by the renowned archaeologist Sigfried H. Horn. In fact, Tall Hesban Excavations just celebrated its 50th year anniversary of continuous work as apart of the Madaba Plains Project. Two additional excavations at Tall El-Umayri (1984) and Tall Jalul (1992) have also been excavated by Andrews.
:::Warning::: Technical, but not too technical, archaeology jargon coming henceforth. All pictures I use in this post are my own (unless specified) and are, by no means, publishable quality. I do this intentionally to protect the integrity of the publications.
To answer more questions regarding the Iron Age in Transjordan (the politically correct term for the land in modern-day, Jordan) excavators moved their focus southwest to Khirbet Safra. Some sites in archaeology are called Tells/Talls or Khirbets. A Tell is a mound created over time with layers of ruins and occupations beginning with the most recent occupation on the top and the earliest material culture at the lowest levels. (For a better description of Tell structures check out my blog post here.)
A khirbet is the designation for a site where its ruins or architecture are exposed prior to any excavation or disturbance to the site. From aerial photographs, the khirbet has a clear outer-wall surrounding the circumference along with an inner wall also running along the interior forming what is known as a “casemate” – a double reinforced wall structure commonly seen in the Levant.
Initial surveys of the site found several different time periods of pottery on the surface ranging from Iron IIA (10th-8th Century BC) to the Byzantine periods (AD 3rd century). Four fields were opened on the four areas of the city -- A, B, C, and D. These fields were strategically placed in order to 1) delineate the casemate (in all fields); 2) expose any remaining gate structure in the north and east on site (fields C and D); and 3) expose any large, assumed administrative structures in logical locations (Fields A and B).
The first season (2018) yielded fine results of pottery and helped establish a better chronology of the site. Two squares were opened in each Field and majority of the squares were finished and closed by the end of the season on account of bedrock laying a meter to a meter and a half under the surface. In most areas, upon the exposed bedrock was a sealed locus of Iron I pottery dating to the 13th Century BC, which was earlier than what the excavators expected since Iron II pottery sherds were collected in the initial 2017 ground survey.
The second season in 2019 was focused primarily on Fields B and D respectively. Field B opened four new squares where a monumental building was discovered abutting the casemate wall to the south. Field D also opened four more squares and discovered several rooms connected to a 13th century BC gate complex to the city, complete with a threshold stone and stone benches. The gate finding is significant for several reasons since it is a high traffic area for entrancing and exiting the city. Many administrative and legislative processes occur at city gates. For ancient and biblical parallels, see texts dealing with events where the elders meet at the city gates to make judgements and form contracts. (Gen 19:1, 34:20; Exod 32:26; Deut 25:7; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:1, 4:11; Prov 31:23; etc. ).
A better picture of phasing is appearing and tells us that the first settlers to Khirbet Safra built a walled town/city upon bedrock, filling in holes and depressions in the bedrock with a red-bricky material in order to make it flat. The site was most likely destroyed at one time as there is a thin ash layer in Fields A and B most likely caused by an earthquake on account of tectonic/seismic activity frequent along the Jordan River Valley which is a known fault line. There is also a possiblity that that destruction could have occured by the growing Moabite presence in the Iron Age II seen at other sites in the surrounding areas like Dibon and Ataruz. Some settlers during the Byzantine period reused the abandoned/destroyed walls in Fields A and B but only had a short period of occupation.
For copyright and publication reasons, I will leave any more details about the findings of Khirbet Safra for now. It is a fascinating site which will help answer questions we may have concerning the Transjordan in the Iron Age I. For those interested in biblical chronology and archaeology, this is most likely the time period of the books of Joshua and Judges. If geographic information and boundaries in the Bible are accurate then the city of Khirbet Safra lies within ancient Reubenite territory.
Next Season we hope to reopen all 4 fields and continue with excavation. Although some questions were answered, more questions are raised. We have yet to find any inscriptional evidence or material culture which shows what kind of people lived at Khirbet Safra, whether they were Moabite, Ammonite or -- dare we say, Israelite? Only time will tell as we press onwards and downwards. Consider joining us next year as we dig into history and uncover the secrets of Khirbet Safra.
I realize a lot of this text can appear as technical, archaeology “mombo-jumbo.” However, these are valuable results that we uncover which help us understand the world that came before us and ultimately tell us something about ourselves. Archaeology is about discovering our intellectual heritage. It is not all working in the hot sun every day. You can see my video in what a typical day in the life of an archaeologist looks like here. When we are not working, we tour exotic sites, eat wonderful Jordanian cuisine and more importantly, form relationships with people who are not much more different that ourselves. Archaeology is an opportunity for building a bond between people of different cultures. It brings together people from all walks of life in different age, ethnicity, language, religion and politics. We coexist and work towards a better understanding of humanity. See my video of our wonderful volunteers and students from last year here. Come join in on the adventure with us next year. You will not regret it.
Since I am in the field this summer I will have to put my Genesis project on hold until the Fall. In the meantime, you will be able to follow me on my travels to Jordan. I am excavating with Andrews University at Khirbet Safra and I will use the resources at my disposal to document our efforts and show you what it looks like to be an archaeologist in the Middle East. I will also vlog from some key sites in Jordan that are referenced in the biblical text or subject to "Biblical Archaeology" such as Mt. Nebo, Jerash, Tel Dhiban, the Dead Sea and others. Stay tuned all of the month of June as I will attempt to put out as many videos as I can.
There will also be a portion of the vlog where I will answer questions from you guys! So, be sure to either comment below or ask questions to my twitter handle accessed by the button below. This is a great opportunity to ask an archaeologist your questions!
Additionally, while you are waiting for more content, enjoy my blog and subscribe to my YouTube channel in order to get updates for when I post new videos. I hope this may be a rewarding experience for myself and for you as you get an inside look into the Bible and Archaeology.
November for academics is perhaps one of the most stressful months of the year. Project deadlines are due, professional meetings take place (SBL, ASOR, ETS) and preparing for finals is on the horizon. Contrary to what you may believe, I have always said that finals week and the week before is actually quite pleasant. By this time I have typically wrapped up all of my projects and papers and I only have to focus on finals. For this semester, I have gotten the chance to try my hand at teaching some courses in Andrews University's seminary. One course in particular is called "Egypt and the Bible." Next semester, I will most likely post something that pertains to material and research I have been doing for this class, but for this month, I wanted to address a popular subject in Biblical Studies: the Dead Sea Scrolls
Working with the Horn Archaeological Museum, I get the opportunity to work aside great scholars and archaeologists. One of my earlier posts this year was on the subject of Zoroastrianism and Critical Scholarship, in which I was able to present at our Horn Lectureship Series (see post below). This Fall we were able to invite Dr. James VanderKam from the University of Notre Dame. He is an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls (from now on DSS) and has been involved with DSS studies for the past few decades. Many people no doubt have heard of the discovery of these ancient texts, and know that they have some relationship to the Bible we have today, but how exactly are the two connected? How do they give us any reliability in the Bibles we have on our shelves and on our coffee tables? In this post I would like to introduce the subject of the DSS, and its influence on the Bible and Biblical studies. Then I will let Dr. VanderKam (who is indeed the expert) do the rest of the talking as I am linking his lecture at Andrews to this post.
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.
Who were these people? Why did they do such a thing? Dr. VanderKam has some interesting theories as to these people (so be sure to click the link to watch his lecture). Regardless of who or why, this archaeological discovery is no doubt perhaps one of the greatest in the history of "Biblical Archaeology" and Biblical studies. Before the discovery of the scrolls, the oldest Hebrew Text was the Masoretic Text (known as the MT in Biblical Studies) dating to the 10th Century CE. There were questions as to the reliability and transmission of such a text that has ancient claims when the earliest documents which survived are significantly late.
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.
However, 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.
Many books and articles have been published as to the results of intense analysis of these great scrolls and the community that may have preserved them. Why were they preserved? What purpose did they serve to their creators? Now is the time for me to step down and let Dr. VanderKam do the talking. Please watch his lecture and feel free to post comments and questions!
There are few accounts that take place within the Bible that can be cross-referenced by other ancient cultures in such a way such as the Battle of Lachish. In the early 8th century BC Assyria with its king, Sennacherib, campaigned throughout the Levant (that ancient land strip from modern day Lebanon and Syria south all the way to Gaza and Sinai) on a mission to expand his empire and while collecting tribute.
These events are well recorded in Sennacherib's annuls and in wall reliefs at his palace in Nineveh. For those that are familiar with their Old Testament Bible, they should recognize the name Sennacherib and Lachish in passages such as 2 Chronicles 32:9 and Isaiah 36:1-2. However, the event spoken of in the text and what is represented in reliefs and in the famous "Sennacherib Prism" speak of the same event, but it plays out much differently.
In the Sennacherib Prism, also known as the Taylor Prism (one of them kept right here in Chicago at the Oriental Institute of Research Museum), reads:
"As for the king of Judah, Hezekiah, who had not submitted to my authority, I besieged and captured forty-six of his fortified cities, along with many smaller towns, taken in battle with my battering rams. ... I took as plunder 200,150 people both small and great, male and female, along with a great number of animals including horses, mules, donkeys, camels, oxen, and sheep. As for Hezekiah, I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem. I then constructed a series of fortresses around him, and I did not allow anyone to come out of the city gates. His towns which I captured I gave to the kings of Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza" (translation provided by Oriental Institute).
It is intriguing how the two stories conflict considering the Biblical Text claims that the Assyrian army was unsuccessful in taking the city of Jerusalem. What is far more interesting is that in Sennacherib's palace wall reliefs, he is depicted taking the city of Lachish in 701 BC. However, there is no relief showing him conquering Jerusalem, which he even admits is "a royal city." Why does he focus on Lachish and not Jerusalem? A colleague from Andrews University, Bruno Barros, writes a publication for ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) this month that perhaps Sennacherib focuses on the victory of Lachish because he was perhaps, as the Bible accounts, unsuccessful in his assault on Jerusalem.
Assyria was well known for its "psychological terrorism" by employing fear upon smaller nations, bullying them to pay tribute to their mighty empire. Much of this imagery is depicted of the Assyrian assaults show how brutal they were in warfare and in maintaining their empire. In the reliefs, one can see people impaled on large stakes, which was one of the fear-tactics that made Assyria infamous. Also, what appears to be a siege ramp for their "battering rams" is shown in the relief.
At Tell Lachish in Israel, remains of the Assyrian siege ramp are still present (see above). For a view of the Siege of Lachish, search "Lachish Reliefs" and online you will find pictures taken at British Museum where they are currently held (below). To see the Taylor Prism, do the same or visit the Oriental Institute museum at the University of Chicago, it's a free museum!
Let me know what you think in the comments!
As part of the Persia Symposium back in February of 2018, three students and myself researched topics of interest and presented our research to the university and community. My paper was on Achaemenid Religion and Zoroastrianism.
I remember in my younger undergraduate days, someone out of the blue asked me if I knew that Zoroastrianism was the world oldest Monotheism and in turn, heavily influenced the writers of the Bible. Coincidently, there are quite a few scholars who follow this line of thinking. As I have often questioned, I asked, "where does this tradition/assumption come from?" I discovered that much of what is assumed about this religion is based off of what we know in modern dayZoroastrianism. In my lecture, I explore Archaeological evidence to determine if there is enough data to exhibit that Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC). I also explore what critical scholarship considers as "influence" upon another religion. I approach the subject logically and come to several conclusions. One of these conclusions is that we know very little about ancient Zoroastrianism, if it was at all practiced in Ancient Persia. What appears to be happening is a problem of propinquity (something being associated within time and space). Critical Scholars whom believe this, impose modern day Zoroastrian theology and themes upon ancient Judaism. Please watch my lecture and let me know what you think in the comments.
Before watching, if you are not familiar with the arguments, let it be known that Critical Scholarship typically places the composition of the Bible during or after the Persian period (550-330 BC). The assumptions of Zoroastrian ideas imposed on the Bible are made by those that believe in a late composition of the text.
Also, let me know if you would like me to upload the full paper or send a pdf to you personally.
Hope you enjoy! Click the button below to watch the lecture.
There is an abundance of information available to us. In a world of subjective truth, fake news, and where everyone is entitled to their opinions, how can one find answers to difficult questions or simply find information which pertains to their interests? I attend a local congregation where I often am given the opportunity to teach and I find more and more, people are ill-informed and settle for information that was found in an instant rather than taking the time to process data and information while considering the source. Technology has come a long way and it has benefited us a culture, however post-modernity has given everyone a voice and unfortunately, not every voice is informed on the subject by which they may be discussing. Sadly, the most uninformed are, in some cases, the loudest. This is one reason why I created this site. I want to make it perfectly clear how archaeology is applied within the realm of Biblical Studies.
Originally, archaeology became popular in the late 19th Century until the mid 20th century on account of evangelicals whom walked through the Holy Land with a shovel in one hand and a Bible in the other. Archaeology as a discipline is ever evolving and becoming more scientific with its methodology. Motivations have changed in the discipline and archaeology has melded in with other humanitarian disciplines such as Anthropology. This, however, is not a bad thing. Those within archaeology have developed ways in order to keep themselves and their colleagues accountable, and more importantly, being able to publish discoveries that help mankind preserve its cultural and intellectual heritage. This makes the finds and discoveries more credible to every party, not just religious or ideological groups.
With that said, I will say this, archaeology is not going prove the Bible and it is safer to simply let the Bible be the Bible and let archaeology be archaeology. This blog was created to simply make information available to those that are interested in Biblical studies and archaeology. There are some that believe that the Bible should not be considered to have historical merit because it does not fall in line with the ways in which we ourselves write history. However, who is to say that we are masters of history? Winston Churchill famously quotes that history in this day and age is often "written by the victors." Does this not imply that there is a bias and lens by which all of history is viewed through? Therefore, the writers of the Biblical Text were writing their form of history in the way they knew how. With research, you will find other cultures, propinquitious with those as the culture of Ancient Israel, writing in a very similar literary function. Archaeologist and historians use king's lists/annuls from Egypt and Mesopotamia (also written with content which contained mythology and the supernatural) and correspond these with their political histories with little to no scrutiny, so why cannot the Bible be used in the same manner?
I believe this is enough for my first blog post. I have brought up several topics that I am sure can each be a discussion and further blog posts on their own. I will however keep philosophical discussions to a minimum and post more about new discoveries and archaeology that illuminate the culture and history of the narratives and events of the Bible. Additionally I will also upload any papers, topics of interest and streamed or videoed lectures that come up as I am working on my PhD. Please let me know what you think and we can start a conversation. I do ask that all comments and discussions stay appropriate and respectful. Thank you for visiting my site!