Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology

1149 – An incredible week for archaeology

What a week for archaeology. It used to be that major announcements were sometimes saved for the annual meetings of archaeologists and Bible scholars that happen every year in mid-November. Now it looks as if archaeologists are releasing their discoveries in advance of the meetings to insure more news coverage.

News coverage is important for archaeologists because it helps with fund-raising, a very important element of modern excavating. Each of these discoveries and developments is a major announcement. It’s incredible to have them happen in the same week. We’ll be discussing these developments for weeks to come in our Book & the Spade programming. Read the stories now, and stay tuned in.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s so important about each of these discoveries.

#1 – The James Ossuary is a first century stone burial box for bones with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The ossuary is unquestionably authentic but the inscription is controversial. The Israel Antiquities Authority has pronounced it a fake and accused its owner of forging antiquities. It may still be a fake inscription, but it doesn’t appear as though the IAA can prove it in a court of law in Israel. The IAA was hoping to put a big dent in the antiquities trade with this case. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. For a fascinating, behind-the-scenes tale about this artifact and others like it, check out the new book Unholy Business, by Nina Burleigh. The book will raise more questions in your mind, but doesn’t officially take sides in the controversy. Maybe it really was the repository for the final remains of Jesus’ brother, James.

#2 – The Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation is going to be a major excavation in Israel because it’s a single period site (at least around the tenth century, there’s also occupation during a later Helenistic period). And it’s dated right smack dab in the middle of the time of greatest controversy in Biblical Archaeology right now, the time of David and Solomon. This could be a benchmark site for that era and clear up a lot of controversy. The discovery of an ossuary (pottery sherd with writing on it-shown above) may provide further evidence for the state of the Israelite kingdom at that time. In addition to the link above, there’s more background in this blog post by one of the dig directors. The excavation also has two websites. One is at And the other is here, with lots of photos.

On our Book & the Spade tour last winter we crossed the Valley of Elah twice, stopping the first time to discuss the famous battle between David and Goliath that occurred there. Little did we know it would be the scene of probably the most important archaeological discovery of the year, if not the decade.

#3 – Another seal found in Jerusalem with the name of a Biblical figure. These seals and seal impressions have been popping up with increasing frequency in the various digs going on around Jerusalem lately, giving us an incredible hands-on connection to the Biblical world. This one not only has a name on it, it has a beautiful engraved archer depicted, a true work of art.

#4 – The water tunnel found in Jerusalem also seems to date from the time of the Davidic kingdom. It’s location suggests in may be the water conduit used by David’s army to conquer the seemingly impregnable Jebusite city. It was once thought that Warren’s shaft was that water conduit but recent archaeology has disproven that idea. This water feature bears further study.

#5 – Another discovery that may bolster the case for David and Solomon, particularly Solomon, being the kind of powerful kings depicted in the Bible. This discovery is in Jordan and further investigation may yield additional evidence.

For some good commentary on some of these discoveries I also recommend the weblog of my friend Todd Bolen.


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