Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology


1731 Clyde Billington – Tefach, a Biblical Unit of Measurement

The diameter of the opening of a storage jar is always the same, one tefach.

The diameter of the opening of a storage jar is always the same, one tefach.

Storage jars come in all shapes and sizes but archaeologists have discovered that the mouths of the storage jars are always the same size, one hand breadth. One hand breadth equals one tefach, a biblical unit of measurement much like a cubit.

Today, we are taller and heavier than our biblical counterparts, but our hand breadth is still basically the same size. This is one of the stories from the autumn issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology newsmagazine.

Other stories include a story on the oldest metal forge in the world, an update on the world’s oldest and largest wine cellar, and the discovery of another Assyrian siege ramp at the walls of a Judean city.

1730 Clyde Billington – Is Israel Saving Enough Archaeology?

Professor Clyde Billington

Professor Clyde Billington

The late summer/autumn stories included in the archaeology news digest of the Autumn 2020 issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology news magazine, includes an item from some Israeli archaeologists who question why Israel can’t do more to protect and save its abundant archaeological resources. In this issue my ARTIFAX co-editor, professor Clyde Billington, and I discuss the pressures that are working against archaeology in Israel today.

This issue also features several more items from the archaeology news digest in the latest issue, including a report on Israel’s 320 archaeological gardens, a decision to make biblical archaeology the focus of next summer’s vacation Bible schools, and the latest update on Methusaleh, the 2,000-year-old date tree who is thriving in southern Israel.

1729 Jeffrey Kloha – Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit at Museum of the Bible


Jeffrey Kloha

The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC announced earlier in 2020 that all of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in their collection were 20th century forgeries. They hosted a symposium to discuss the forgeries and experts at the symposium urged the museum to include the forgeries in their Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit as an object lesson. The museum’s DSS exhibit has now been updated, and recently Jeffrey Kloha, the museum’s chief curatorial officer, gave me a tour via online video, which I recorded for this week’s program.

1728 J.P. Dessel – Excavating Small Villages

JP Dessel

JP Dessel

We all know the famous biblical archaeology sites, cities like Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer. But people also lived in villages, of course. And archaeologists like J.P. Dessel are just beginning to study them.

We continue our conversation with University of Tennessee archaeologists J.P. Dessel on this program with a new focus, on his excavations at several Galilean village sites.

1727 J.P. Dessel – Archaeology and Technology


JP Dessel

Archaeological results today are being shaped by innovations in technology. J.P. Dessel, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Tennessee discussed some of these innovations in a recent archaeological webinar and we followed up with this conversation.

One of the most important innovations was radiocarbon dating in the middle of the last century. But since then computerization has opened the door to all kinds of additional tools that help archaeologists better understand the remains that they are uncovering.

1725-1726 Jonathan Greer – Tel Dan’s Sacred Precinct

The altar at the high place of Tel Dan

The altar replica at the high place of Tel Dan

Tel Dan, on Israel’s northern border, has been under excavation for decades. Professor Keith Schoville, my long-time co-host, worked on the excavation under the late Avraham Biran.

A new team is leading the most recent work, including Jonathan Greer, professor of Old Testament at Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He has been studying bone remains excavated near the cultic center at Tel Dan and discovering new insights into the religious practices of the inhabitants of the northern kingdom.

165-166 Dennis Pardee – Ugarit and the Bible

Entrance to the Royal Palace of Ugarit

Entrance to the Royal Palace of Ugarit

One of the most important Biblical Archaeology discoveries of the early 20th century took place, not in Israel, but in Syria. Excavations that began almost 100 years ago uncovered the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit, at Ras Shamra near the Mediterranean coast in northwestern Syria.

The remains of Ugarit contained hundreds of cuneiform tablets, many in an alphabetic language rather than syllabic. That alphabet turned out to be the forerunner of our modern English alphabet (after hundreds of years of transition through Greek and Latin, etc.).

These two programs from our archives date to 1988: a presentation by Dennis Pardee, professor of Hebrew Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. This is important background on the development of the Bible and the cultures of the Levant.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


1723-1724 Scott Stripling – A New Metric for Dating & Tel Shiloh Update

Scott Stripling
Scott Stripling

Continuing our series of interviews with US archaeologists who were not able to excavate in Israel during 2020, due to COVID 19, we check in with Scott Stripling, Provost of the Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. He directs the excavation at Tel Shiloh, the site of Israel’s tabernacle for 300 years before the temple was built in Jerusalem.

Before discussing current issues related to the excavation at Tel Shiloh, we also discussed a new archaeological dating scheme that focuses on the human and animal waste and other organic matter found in mud bricks, a key building block of the ancient world. And we discussed the recent series of archaeological discoveries tied to the kings of Judah around the time of Hezekiah, found south of the City of David, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

1721-1722 Dan Warner – The Gezer Water Tunnel & Tel Hadid

Another archaeologist who wasn’t in the field this summer is Dan Warner of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Orlando campus). He was planning on excavating at Tel Hadid, where work started just a couple of seasons ago.

Gezer Tunnel map
Gezer Tunnel map

Instead he is working on finalizing the report on nine seasons of excavations at the Bronze Age Gate at Tel Gezer. This work included the amazing Gezer water tunnel, from which they mucked out hundreds of tons of mud and dirt.

The tunnel is dated to 2000BC. Warner says there’s nothing like it in the ancient world. It appears much older than similar tunnels at Megiddo, Hazor, and Jerusalem. But those tunnels may be older than previously thought.

Tel Hadid is a huge tel on the opposite side of the Aijalon Valley and has been little excavated. So far they have found a huge industrial wine press but much more work remains to be done there.

UPDATE: My story on how Dan Warner and other US archaeologists have been occupied during this summer of hiatus has now been posted by Christianity Today.

1720 Clyde Billington – Solomon’s Pools and The Church of the Apostles


Solomon’s Pools

Solomon’s Pools, south of Bethlehem, were connected to Jerusalem by aqueduct and helped supply the temple (think of all those bloody sacrifices) with a much needed source of water. A recent study suggests that the pools were built by Roman soldiers, centuries after the time of Solomon.

We discuss the Pools of Solomon and some other news items from the latest issue of our ARTIFAX biblical archaeology news magazine on this program. That includes an update on the search for Bethsaida, along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.