Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology


1771-1772 Benyamin Storchan – The Church of the Glorious Martyr


Church of the Glorious Martyr eagle mosaic

During the Byzantine period, the first Christian period in Israel’s history, churches will built all over the Holyland. Many of these churches have been excavated, including The Church of the Glorious Martyr.

Benyamin Storchan was the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist assigned to a salvage excavation at the site of a new neighborhood near Beit Shemesh, 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem. On these programs he explains why he was surprised that such a large and ornate church was found at this location.

Some beautiful mosaics were found, including inscriptions that helped date the church. There’s no identification to tell us who was “the glorious martyr.” But Storchan has his ideas. Even though mosaics flourished in the Byzantine period, some have been found that are 1,000 years older.

BONUS: You can visit a digital reconstruction of the church online.

1770 Clyde Billington – 7000 year old Seal / 2000 year old Codex

7000-year-old seal impression

7000-year-old seal impression

In an excavation that took place 14-17 years ago at Tel Tsaf, near Beit Shean, 150 clay seal impressions were found that dated to about 5000 BC. This is the first evidence of sealings used to make shipments or to close silos and barns. Writing didn’t develop until a couple thousand years later so these have symmetrical lines/geometrical shapes. This is one of the items in the news digests of the latest, summer issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology news magazine.

With co-editor Clyde Billington, this week’s discussion also touches on references to portable parchment books called libellos in first century Rome. This appears to be an early example of the transition from scrolls to books. The codex became popular in the next centuries, especially among Christians, as they recorded and re-recorded the Scriptures.

We also observe that the Corinthian Diolkos road is being restored, the road between the Corinthian Gulf and the Saronic Gulf that saved time for maritime traffic and made Corinth one of the richest cities of Roman Empire. Without it, boats had to sail around the dangerous Peloponnesian Peninsula. The road was constructed about 600 BC, and we are hoping to see this road when we visit Corinth a year from October in our Footsteps of Paul tour.

1769 Clyde Billington – Ashkelon Basilica, Sussita Theater, Missing Walls

Ashkelon Basilica

Ashkelon Basilica

A basilica today is a large church, but in biblical times a basilica was a large Roman public building, usually not particularly religious in nature. And one of the largest ever built is being partially reconstructed in Israel. That’s the cover story of the summer issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology newsmagazine. This basilica is almost as large as a modern football field. Built by Herod the Great, it has beautiful marble features. 

Discussing some of the other news items from the ARTIFAX digests, there’s the Roman theater at Hippos, which has just been discovered but has not been excavated. They are also reconstructing one of 7 churches excavated at Hippos in last few decades. 

We also discuss the discovery of a eastern wall of Jerusalem near the Gihon spring and a missing wall story from Tel es-Safi Gath, the home of Goliath the Philistine. This was the final season of excavations at Gath. The story in this issue is that the Philistines were so desperate during a siege by Hazael the Aramean king, that they made arrowheads out of bone. Archaeologists found a bone weapons workshop.

1768 Clyde Billington – Gideon’s Jug and the Temple Mount Banquet Hall

Jerubbaal inscription

Jerubbaal inscription

The oldest biblical figure who has been independently attested archaeologically is King David, with the Tel Dan inscription, discovered in 1993. But now we have an intriguing discovery that connects us to the period of the Judges, a century or two, or three earlier.

In a storage pit at Khirbet er-Ra’i, which is located between Lachish & Ashkelon, near Lachish, archaeologists found a piece of pottery with writing on it: an ostracon. And it appears to be the name Jeruba’al, right out of Judges chapter 6, the story of Gideon.

Also on this week’s program, as we discuss news items from the latest issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology newsmagazine, the story of the Temple Mount Banquet Hall, which has been fully excavated and is now open to visitors. This banquet hall was used by the high priests and other elite leaders in the first century, the time of Jesus. It’s located right next to the Temple Mount and is being incorporated into the Western Wall Tunnel tour. Coins and pottery date its completion to 20 AD and archaeologists attribute its first destruction to an 33AD earthquake.

It’s quite possible Caiaphas and Herod and other elites could have been banqueting here while Jesus and his disciples were at the Last Supper. To me, this also appears to be the first evidence for an AD33 earthquake outside of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

1766-1767 Amanda Borschel-Dan & Zachi Dvira – Times of Israel Times Will Tell Podcast on the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Amanda Borschel Dan

Amanda Borschel Dan

We’ve done a couple of programs on Seals, Seal Impressions and Wet Sifting and it just so happened that Times of Israel editor Amanda Borschel-Dan, who writes a lot of their archaeology stories, did a podcast interview at the Temple Mount Sifting Project with co-director Zachi Dvira. So we got permission to rebroadcast this interview as a part of this special series.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project began about 2004 and soon there were annual stories about the discoveries of seals and seal impressions directly linked to people we read about in the Bible. Before 2004 the news digests in our biblical archaeology newsmagazine ARTIFAX seldom carried stories on the discovery of seals and seal impressions.

So that got us thinking and then got us interviewing a bunch of people, some of whom we have featured on this program. Watch for an article in a few weeks reporting on this research.

1765 Jimmy Hardin – Wet Sifting Or Not, An Archaeological Dilemma


Jimmy Hardin, Mississippi State University

Archaeologists want to learn everything they can as they’re excavating ancient ruins. But are they getting everything? The relatively new practice of wet sifting has yielded a surprising number of seals and seal impressions in the past 15 years, texts in ancient Hebrew that connect us to people who lived in biblical times. But archaeologists have been slow to embrace wet sifting for logistical reasons.

To find out what kind of impact wet sifting might have if it became more common, I went to an old friend who’s been on the program several times before, Jimmy Hardin, who has just been named director of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University. He’s co-director of excavations at Khirbet Summeily, a small site between Lachish and Gaza, at the northern edge of the Negev desert.

One additional note, you may have noticed that we are featuring more and more videos on our website. Many of these videos are produced by the Israel Antiquities Authority, highlighting the latest announcement of new discoveries. Along with this weeks TB&TS episode, we’ve just added video of the latest IAA announcement, remains of a biblical earthquake discovered in Jerusalem.

1763-1764 Robert Deutsch – Seals, Seal Impressions, and Wet Sifting

Robert Deutsch

Robert Deutsch

Archaeologists are pleased when they excavate ancient objects that contain writing, it adds to their knowledge of the ancient world. But in comparison with Egypt and Mesopotamia, Israel offers comparatively little in the way of ancient inscriptions.

Perhaps the best source of ancient Hebrew are the seals and seal impressions that have been excavated. To find out more about these precious objects, we interviewed Robert Deutsch, an archaeologist and Bible scholar. To be fair, Deutsch is also an antiquities dealer, which makes him controversial in the world of biblical archaeology.

But he has a PhD from Tel Aviv University and has scientifically published almost half of the known seals and seal impressions that have been found so far in Israel, so we sought him out for this interview.

1762 Summer 2021 Discoveries and Developments

Radio guyThere’s too much going on right now! Even since recording this program there has been another big archaeological story out of Jerusalem.

On this program I briefly mention two other exciting recent discoveries: a monumental building next to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and an inscription connected to the Old Testament’s Gideon.

Then there’s additional news. We have not just one but two biblical archaeology adventures planned for 2022. In March we’re going to Israel, a tour postponed from 2020. But we are also announcing a Footsteps of Paul tour to Greece, the Greek Isles, and Turkey, plus an extension to Rome. This will be in October 2022.

After that, some additional information to bring you up-to-date on all of our biblical archaeology adventures.

1760-1761 Fazale Rana – Neanderthals and Biblical Archaeology

Fazale Rana

Fazale Rana

In Israel’s Negev Desert, Israeli scientists say they have found the earliest evidence that modern humans, homo sapiens, existed in proximity to a Neanderthal population. According to the “recent African origin” theory, Homo sapiens originated in Africa a couple hundred thousand years ago. Boker Tachtit is considered a key site for tracing their migration into Eurasia, documenting an important prehistoric Paleolithic milestone: the transition from a predominantly Neanderthal prehistoric culture to the beginning of modern humans’ pre-eminence, that occurred around 40-50,000 years ago.

This recent announcement from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science is a big story in Israel Archaeology this month. It falls in a location we visited in our most recent Israel tour, Ein Avdat National Park. But it falls outside the bounds of the biblical periods that we usually talk about.

To help us get a handle on how this relates to the biblical chronology, we invited to The Book & The Spade Fazale Rana, Vice President of Research and Apologetics for the organization Reasons to Believe. He has a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Ohio University, and he pursued postdoctoral studies at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia. Before joining Reasons to Believe he was a senior scientist in research and development at Procter & Gamble.

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