Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2016

Christianity Today - Gordon Govier

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Archaeological discoveries announced in 2016 help us better understand the Bible and the biblical world, and affirm the Bible’s details about events and people.

Below are the top findings from the important excavations taking place in the lands of the Bible or that have a biblical connection. (This list is subjective, and based on news reports rather than peer-reviewed articles in scientific publications.)

10. Ancient papyrus mentions Jerusalem

What appears to be the oldest non-biblical Hebrew-language reference to Jerusalem was found on a small piece of papyrus recovered from antiquities robbers who said they had found it in a cave in the Judean desert. The inscription reads, “From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.” Dated to the seventh century B.C., the inscription was found four years ago but announced this past October. Only one other papyrus document from Israel’s First Temple Period has ever been found. However, some archaeologists and textual scholars have raised questions about the provenance of the text, and have suggested that since it was not found in a supervised excavation, it may be a forgery.

9. Ancient glass factory

Judea was known as one of the centers of glass manufacturing in the Roman world. Archaeologists excavated the remains of a glass production facility at the foot of Mt. Carmel, near Haifa, when it was discovered by workers of the Jezreel Valley Railroad Project.

8. Sunken junk from Caesarea Maritima

Old metal objects were typically melted and recycled, so a ship that sank on the way to the recycler offered a treasure trove of ancient metal objects when its cargo was discovered by scuba divers last summer. Protected by the sand on the sea bottom for 1,600 years, the mostly bronze objects include idols, lamps, and several clumps of coins.

7. Solomon's Palace at Gezer

A monumental residence built in the 10th century B.C. and excavated this past fall has been dubbed “Solomon’s Palace,” even though there’s no direct connection to the Israelite king outside of the dating, which was done through pottery remains and stratigraphic chronology. According to 1 Kings 9:16–17, the Egyptian pharaoh conquered and burned Gezer, and presented it as a dowry for his daughter’s marriage to Solomon, who then rebuilt the city.

6. Hundreds of Roman writing tablets

From the other end of the Roman Empire comes evidence for the ubiquity of writing in the first century. (Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, used a writing tablet in Luke 1:63.) More than 400 ancient wooden tablets were excavated in London, the oldest dating to A.D. 57. The tablets were originally covered with wax and written on with a stylus. The wax is gone, but the impressions of many notes in Latin remain. They are being translated and studied.

5. Temple Mount floor designs identified

The geometric patterns of the stone tile floors of the porticos of the Jewish Temple built by King Herod have been identified from tile fragments recovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Volunteers have been steadily processing tons of dirt illegally excavated from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in 1999. Seven different tile designs have been recreated so far by Frankie Snyder, a project team member with an academic background in mathematics and Judaic studies.

4. Philistine cemetery excavation

Some of the secrets of the Philistines, the nemesis of the ancient Israelites, are expected to be revealed as archaeologists study remains excavated from a cemetery at Ashkelon. The excavations took place over the last three summers, but were revealed only in 2016. Although most of the main cities of the Philistines have been excavated, there is still a lot of important information that has eluded scholars. But that may change with the new information gleaned from these burials. “It was just a goldmine of a cemetery,” said Daniel Master, a Wheaton College professor who co-directs the excavation.

3. Stone jar factory found near Cana

Halfway between Cana and Nazareth, a cave was discovered where limestone had been mined and carved into cups, bowls, and jars, which were highly valued for their ritual purity during the first century. The cave’s proximity to Cana suggests it may have been the source of the water jars that were used for the wedding in Cana attended by Jesus and his disciples in John 2:1–11.

2. Lachish gate shrine illustrates Hezekiah’s reforms

In the ruins of a shrine excavated next to the gate of Lachish, the largest city of the kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem, archaeologists found an altar with the horns cut off from each corner. They also found a stone toilet that was never used, which had been placed in the holy of holies, apparently to desecrate it. They attributed both discoveries to the religious reforms under King Hezekiah, described in 2 Kings 18:4.

1. Unsealing the tomb of Christ

The most notable aspect of repairs that took place at the traditional tomb of Christ in October—the first look inside the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since at least the year 1555—is that the workmen found just what they expected. The badly-in-need-of-repair marble edicule that surrounded the tomb was stripped down to the limestone platform where the body of Jesus was believed to have been laid after his crucifixion. “It appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades," said Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s archaeologist-in-residence. The original limestone cave walls of the tomb were also preserved to a higher level than expected inside the edicule.

Ancient stone bowl fragments unearthed in Jerusalem

Israeli archaeologists digging beneath a parking lot in Jerusalem have uncovered fragments of a rare, 2,100-year-old stone bowl that was fashioned from chalk (a type of limestone) and had a name inscribed on it in Hebrew.

The bowl, which bears the name “Hyrcanus,” was found beneath the foundations of a mikvah, a small pool built into the ground that Jews used for ritual bathing, a practice that continues today among Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews.

"This is one of the earliest examples of chalk vessels to appear in Jerusalem,” said Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University, in a press release.

“In the past, these vessels were widely used mainly by Jews because they ensured ritual purity.… They were considered vessels that cannot become ritually unclean."

The bowl was discovered during an excavation of the Giv’ati ​​parking site in the City of David, a contested area of Jerusalem that has been settled by Israelis.

The researchers are fascinated with the name etched into the bowl because there are few archaeological records inscribed with names from the Hasmonean period. They can’t tell if the inscription was a routine act or a special tribute, or if Hyrcanus was a high-ranking person or an ordinary citizen.

“The name Hyrcanus was fairly common in the Hasmonean period," Ben-Ami and Eshel said.

“We know of two personages from this period who had this name: John Hyrcanus, who was the grandson of Matityahu the Hasmonean and ruled Judea from 135–104 BCE, and John Hyrcanus II, who was the son of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome Alexandra; however, it is not possible to determine if the bowl belonged specifically to either of them.”

The Giv’ati ​​parking site in Jerusalem Walls National Park is among the largest excavation areas opened in Jerusalem. Archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of artifacts from different periods at the site.

Hanukkah surprise: Ancient coin found at Jerusalem’s Tower of David

An ancient coin from the time of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who features in the Hanukkah story, has been discovered at Jerusalem’s Tower of David.

The Tower of David is a medieval citadel located near the Old City of Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate. The citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is built on the remains of an ancient fortification.

The amazing find was made during routine conservation work in the Tower’s archaeological garden, according to a statement from the Tower of David Museum. Orna Cohen, the Tower of David’s chief conservation officer, saw a metallic object flash among the stones of a wall.

On close inspection, the archaeologist realized that the coin was a bronze-leaf cent, which was used in Jerusalem during the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.

A portrait of Antiochus’ head is engraved on one side of the coin. A goddess shown wrapped in a scarf is on the other side of the coin.

A Greek king of the Seleucid Empire that spanned much of the ancient Middle East, Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews of Judea and Samaria sparked the Jewish Maccabees’ revolt between  167 and 160 B.C.

The Maccabees were victorious over the Seleucids and reclaimed Jerusalem’s Temple. The victory and the miracle of a menorah that burned for eight days with only one day’s worth of oil, according to Jewish tradition, are marked by the festival of Hanukkah.

The coin was found near walls that cut through the center of the citadel’s courtyard next to a tower base built during the time of Yonaton and Shimon, brothers of Judah the Maccabee, who led the Maccabees’ revolt. Stones from ancient missile launchers called ballista, as well as iron arrowheads, have been discovered during excavations at the Tower of David.

It is hard to give an exact date for the coin, according to the Tower of David Museum, but it is known that the coins were minted in the city of Acre. The coin has been dated to sometime between 172 and 168 B.C.

This year the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah starts on the evening of Dec. 24 and ends on the evening of Jan. 1 2017.

Underwater Hebrew tablet reveals Biblical-era ruler of Judea

LiveScience - Tia Ghose

The stone slab, dating to the second century, was found underwater at Tel Dor, south of the city of Haifa.  (University of Haifa)

A stone slab found off the coast of Israel has finally revealed the name of the ruler during one of the most iconic moments in Jewish history: the Bar Kokhba revolt.

The slab dates to the second century A.D., a bloody time in Jewish history when a fiery leader named Simon bar Kokhba led a failed revolt against Roman rulers . The huge chunk of stone was found at an underwater site called Tel Dor, located about 18 miles south of the city of Haifa. [Photos: 5,000-Year-Old Stone Monument in Israel]

The area once housed the Biblical city of Dor, which was occupied until the fourth century. Over the last 70 years, the site has yielded a treasure trove of pottery , anchors and other artifacts from ancient Israel. Ehud Arkin-Shalev and Michelle Kreiser, researchers from the Coastal Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Haifa, uncovered the giant slab while looking in the water of the Dor Nature Reserve.

The inscription was clearly visible, even beneath the water, the researchers said. The team eventually decided to bring the slab out of the water, to prevent damage to the inscription. Researchers discovered that the massive, 1,300-lb. slab had seven lines of ancient Greek inscribed upon it.

"The stone probably formed the base of a sculpture from the Roman period. As far as we know, this is the longest inscription found underwater in Israel," Assaf Yasur-Landau, the University of Haifa archaeologist who led the excavation, said in a statement.

Although the researchers have not completely deciphered the text, they have already made two discoveries: The inscription identified the Roman prefect in charge of Judea as Gargilius Antiques. Though researchers had found one other inscription bearing this name, that artifact did not mention the region Antiques ruled. In addition, the inscription confirms the name of the province involved in the revolt as Judea, which, until now, no inscription immediately preceding the Bar Kokhba revolt had stated, the researchers said.

The inscription dates from a tumultuous time in Jewish history. The second temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and around A.D. 132, tensions simmering between the Roman rulers of the province and the Jewish inhabitants boiled over once again. At that point, the Jewish leader Simon bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Romans. During the four years of fighting, both sides sustained heavy casualties, and many Jews were ultimately sold into slavery or scattered.

"Immediately after the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans decided to abolish the province of Judea and to obliterate any mention of its name. The province was united with Syria to form a single province called Syria-Palestine," Yasur-Landau said. "So what we have here is an inscription dated to just before Judea ceased to exist as a province under that name. Of the two inscriptions mentioning the name Judea, this is the latest, of course. Because such findings are so rare, it is unlikely that we will find many later inscriptions including the name Judea,"

5 mind-boggling Moon mysteries that science cannot explain

With a diameter of about 3,476 kilometers the Moon is a quarter the size of Earth, all other moons in our solar system orbit their planets around the equator, our moon does not, and there are lunar rocks that have been found to contain PROCESSED METALS such as Brass, Mica and Uranium 236 and Neptunium 237.

Simply put, Earth’s moon is one of the most mysterious objects in our solar system. It is considered a ‘weird’ celestial body due to its numerous physical qualities which scientists are unable to explain, and due to the fact that it is the most unique object in the solar system, incomparable to any other moon found to date. 

In fact, the moon is so unique that Dr. Robert Jastrow, the first president of NASA’s Commission of Lunar Exploration called the moon “the Rosetta Stone of the planets.”

To get an idea just how weird the moon is, we only have to take a look at a quote by Robin Brett, a scientist from NASA who stated, “It seems easier to explain the non-existence of the Moon than its existence.”

But what makes the moon so weird?

It’s big. In fact, it is huge. With a diameter of about 3,476 kilometers the Moon is a quarter the size of Earth. Except for Pluto and Charon, this is the largest known proportion between a moon and its parent body among the numerous objects of our system.

It has a weird orbit that’s so unique scientists have not been able to find it anywhere else in the solar system. It turns that all other moons in our solar system orbit their planets around the equator. Our moon does not, and orbits Earth at an inclination of five degrees. The moon has a precise altitude, course, and speed, allowing it to “function” properly in regards of planet Earth. Simply put the Moon should not be where it is currently.

The Moon is almost an Earth. The composition of our natural satellite is similar to that of Earth, unlike most other moons. Who are clearly different from their parent planets.

If the above details did not catch your attention, there’s more. 

There are some lunar rocks that have been found to contain PROCESSED METALS such as Brass, Mica and Uranium 236 and Neptunium 237. These elements have NEVER been found to occur naturally. Uranium 236 is a radioactive nuclear waste which is found in spent nuclear and reprocessed Uranium. More interestingly, Neptunium 237 is a radioactive metallic element and a by-product of nuclear reactors and the production of Plutonium.

These mysterious lunar characteristics have led Mikhail Vasin and Alexander Shcerbakov from the Soviet Academy of Science to write an article in the 1970’s about the moon called “Is the Moon the Creation of Alien Intelligence?”

Furthermore, Dr. Harold Urey, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry said he was “terribly puzzled by the rocks astronauts found on the moon and their Titanium content. The samples were unimaginable and mind-blowing since researchers could not account for the presence of Titanium.

In other words, our Moon does not share any characteristics with other moons found in our Solar System. If that isn’t strange enough, consider that from any point on the surface of our planet only one side of the Moon is visible.

Oldest alphabet identified as Hebrew may confirm Biblical exodus

Protestante Digital, Sciencenews

According to archaeologist Douglas Petrovich, inscriptions in stone slabs from Egypt contain an early form of Hebrew, with references to figures from the Bible.oldest-alphabet

Douglas Petrovich, archaeologist, and epigrapher of the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo (Canada), is proposing an innovative reading of several inscriptions on Egyptian slabs from the 18th to 14th centuries BC. These slabs could be the first "alphabet" in the world, an early form of Hebrew with data that coincides with some contents of the early books of the Bible. On November 17, at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), Petrovich stated that Israelites living in Egypt transformed the civilization’s hieroglyphics into "Hebrew 1.0". That would have happened more than 3,800 years ago, at a time when the Old Testament describes Jews living in Egypt. Hebrew speakers, seeking a way to communicate in writing with other Egyptian Jews, simplified the pharaohs’ complex hieroglyphic writing system into 22 alphabetic letters. “There is a connection between ancient Egyptian texts and preserved alphabets”, Petrovich said.

Petrovich's thesis allowed him to translate some inscriptions that until now had no interpretation. He combined previous identifications of some letters in the ancient alphabet with his own identifications of disputed letters, to peg the script as Hebrew. Then, armed with the entire alphabet, he translated 18 Hebrew inscriptions from three Egyptian sites. Several biblical figures turn up in the translated inscriptions, including Joseph’s wife Asenath and Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt. In the inscriptions across the top “The overseer of minerals, Ahisamach” is also mentioned. Joseph only appears in ME (Middle Egyptian) inscriptions.oldest-alphabet-2

An inscription, dated to 1834 B.C., is translated as “Wine is more abundant than the daylight than the baker than a nobleman.” This statement probably meant that, at that time or shortly before, drink was plentiful, but food was scarce, Petrovich suspects. Israelites, including Joseph and his family, likely moved to Egypt during a time of famine, when Egyptians were building silos to store food. Petrovich is aware that his study will be controversial. Many specialists argue that, despite what is said in the Old Testament, the Israelites did not live in Egypt as soon as Petrovich proposes it. The biblical dates for the Israelites' stay in Egypt are not reliable, they say. A book that Petrovich promoted through a crowdfunding project (detailing his analyses of the ancient inscriptions) will be published within the next few months. Petrovich says the book definitively shows that only an early version of Hebrew can make sense of the Egyptian inscriptions.