Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology

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1835 Amnon Ben-Tor – 40 Years of Archives – Where is the Archive of Hazor?

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Amnon Ben-Tor

 Sometimes archaeologists find what they expect to find, sometimes it’s a total surprise. And sometimes they don’t find what they are certain is there…somewhere. That’s been the case with Hazor, one of the largest ancient cities in northern Israel. I interviewed Israeli archaeologist Amnon Ben Tor at Hebrew University 27 years ago, near the beginning of the excavation, as he was picking up where Yigael Yadin left off.

Yadin’s excavation 40 years ago was published in the 60s, and provoked many lively debates dealing with chronology, pottery typology, archaeology, the Bible, etc. all connected to Hazor. Yadin’s conclusions are still being discussed. When we talked, Ben-Tor said he was certain there was an archive of Bronze Age cuneiform documents at Hazor, and that he would find it. The Book of Joshua famously refers to Hazor as “the head” of all the Canaanite kingdoms.

We’ll be celebrating the 40-year anniversary of this radio program on February 15th and we are inviting you to join us in the celebration. It’s going to be a live recording on the Zoom webinar platform. Our special guest will be Scott Stripling, president of the Near East Archaeological Society, and you can ask him questions, as part of the program. We also have some biblical archaeology prizes to give away. If you would like to receive an invitation to be a part of this anniversary celebration, send us an email.

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1834 William Dever – 40 Years of Archives: The Demise of Biblical Archaeology

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William Dever

40 years of Biblical Archaeology will be celebrated on February 15, 2023, as I look back and celebrate four decades of reporting on the work by archaeologists and Bible scholars who have helped us better understand the Bible and the biblical world. There’ve been a lot of exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology over those 40 years, that we have reported on this program. But there was also a time, a little over 25 years ago, when the future of biblical archaeology looked…dismal, at least in the view of one of America’s top archaeologists working in Israel.

William Dever was facing the shutdown of his program at the University of Arizona, one of the top programs in the country. At the same time the National Endowment for the Humanities was cutting back on research proposals for archaeological projects. A lot of the money being raised for excavations in Israel was being raised in the US by Israelis, and American churches seemed less and less interested in supporting archaeological research. So Dever wrote an article for Biblical Archaeology Review in 1995 called “The Demise of a Discipline.” My co-host, professor Keith Schoville and I called him up to talk about it. This is a portion of that conversation back in 1995.

By the way, if you want to join us for the celebration, we’d love to send you an invitation. Just let us know. There will be prizes to give away.


1832-1833 Kyle Keimer – The Ancient Israelite World

Kyle Keimer

Kyle Keimer

Biblical Archaeology is getting better all the time. New scientific tools and new discoveries are constantly challenging those in the field to keep up. And new textbooks are needed to educate the next generation of archaeologists.

Kyle Keimer is co-editor of a new book, The Ancient Israelite World, published by Routledge, which aims to meet these challenges. In this interview, he brings us along with him, exploring the new horizons of biblical archaeology.


1831 Clyde Billington – Elamite Script and a Mitanni City

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Linear Elamite Inscription

Finally on this week’s program, we’re wrapping up our review of some of the biblical archaeology stories we still hadn’t mentioned in 2022, gleaned from the Autumn issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology newsmagazine.

Like Egyptian cuneiform, which began to be read in modern times just 100 years ago, the code was cracked on the linear Elamite script by using an inscription written in multiple languages, in this case linear Elamite and Akkadian cuneiform. A group of scholars from across the globe collaborated to make this breakthrough.

Our discussion also includes a report of a 3400-year old Mittani city being excavated along the Tigris River, due to low levels in the Mosul reservoir. The Mittani were a part of the Old Testament world that also included the Hittite and Assyrian empires. The fact that cuneiform texts were discovered as part of the excavation may lead to new information that will help us understand the biblical world better.

We close the program with a short discussion of astragali, animal knucklebones used as dice.


1830 Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Stories for 2022

The Lachish lice comb with inscription, dated to 1700 BC.

The Lachish lice comb with inscription, dated to 1700 BC.

We’ve been doing the list on our Book & The Spade radio show for over 10 years, and Christianity Today has been publishing the list for almost that long. And this year, a new version: illustrated on YouTube. We actually have been collecting a lot of videos on biblical archaeology on our archaeovideo page.

The top stories on our list involve discoveries related to ivory and the development of ancient languages, starting with the 3700-year old ivory comb excavated at Tel Lachish in 2016, but not read until 2022.

Looking ahead to 2022, we will be marking the 40-year anniversary of The Book & The Spade radio program in February, with a live broadcast on or about February 14, the official day. If you would like to be a part of the audience for that celebration, perhaps ask a question you’ve already wondered about, or win a prize, send us an email and we’ll add you to the list.


Izbet Sartah

I went on a field trip to Izbet Sartah in 1978 when I was a volunteer with Moshe Kochavi’s excavation nearby at Tel Aphek. Would love to go back there again. Ferrel Jenkins has information on his blog.


1828 Clyde Billington: Ancient Ivories in Jerusalem – Undisturbed Burial Cave – Repatriated Papyrus

One of the tiny ivories discovered in Jerusalem's City of David Givati Parking Lot excavations.

One of the tiny ivories discovered in Jerusalem’s City of David Givati Parking Lot excavations.

The cover story on the latest issue of ARTIFAX, our biblical archaeology newsmagazine, involves the discovery of tiny pieces of ivory in the ongoing excavations at the Givati parking lot, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Ivory was more precious than gold to the ancient rulers of Israel, like Solomon and Ahab.

We covered this discovery several months ago but now have a chance to discuss it further as we review some of the news digest items from our Autumn issue. Our discussion continued, looking into the discovery of an undisturbed burial cave from 3300 years ago, found along the coast south of Tel Aviv.

And then there was that scrap of papyrus, apparently older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, that had been framed and hanging on a wall in a home in Montana for the past half century. How did that happen, and how did it get back to Israel? Those are the stories we discuss in this episode.


1826-1827 Michael Hasel – The Ivory Comb Alphabetic Inscription

The Lachish lice comb with inscription, dated to 1700 BC.

The Lachish lice comb with inscription, dated to 1700 BC.

Sometimes it takes years to assess an archaeological discovery, and that’s what happened with a small ivory comb that was excavated in 2016, and then was recently discovered to have writing on it. That writing makes it one of the most significant inscriptions ever discovered in Israel!

On these programs we are joined by Michael Hasel — Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology at Southern Adventist University, Director of the Institute of Archaeology at Southern Adventist University. He is the Co-Director of The Fourth Expedition to Lachish and it was his team that actually found this ivory comb during the 2016 excavation season.

The style of writing dates this comb to 1700 BC and makes it “a landmark in the history of the human ability to write,” according to Hasel’s colleague Yosef Garfinkel, co-director of the excavation. It is the first full sentence of alphabetic writing in recorded history.


1824-1825 Charles Aling – King Tut’s Tomb Discovery – 100 Years Later

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Image from King Tut – Immersive Experience

November 1922 the world learned of the discovery of the virtually untouched tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, Tutanhamen. It was one of the most sensational discoveries in the history of archaeology due to the rich treasures found inside the tomb.

King Ay was the successor to King Tut, and his tomb was excavated in 1972. Professor Charles Aling, professor Emeritus at the University of Northwestern St. Paul was a member of the excavation team. In these two programs we discuss the details of excavating a royal tomb in Egypt and the connection between biblical archaeology and the reign of King Tutankhamen.

One additional note: Here in the US, the celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb includes a unique presentation called Beyond King Tut, The Immersive Experience, which I happened to see with my granddaughters at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC this past summer.

The presentation is now embarking on a tour of some of the largest cities around the country. I thought it was quite impressive and would recommend it, if you have the chance to see Beyond King Tut, The Immersive Experience.


1823 40 Years of Archives – The House of David Inscription – Avraham Biran

The House of David inscription

The House of David inscription (in white letters) on the Tel Dan stele discovered in 1993.

Over the 40-year history of TB&TS, which will be officially marked next February, we have discussed hundreds of biblical archaeology discoveries. Some discoveries were later determined to be fraudulent. And it’s an open question about some others. So the most important discovery in biblical archaeology…over the past 40 years?

That’s a subjective question. Different archaeologists would probably give us lots of different opinions.

But a few years back, when we talked with journalist Jeff Sheler, about his book, Is the Bible True? he identified one mayor recent discovery as a “Eureka Moment” in biblical archaeology.

This discovery was, in his words, “A perfect example of what archaeology can do to debates over the veracity and historicity of the Bible. Overnight it turned the arguments of skeptics on their ear. Up to that point, there was no reference to David outside the Bible. Lo and behold, they discovered there was this inscription that mentioned David, and it wasn’t in the writing of Jewish scribes, but written by an enemy of Israel.”

It’s called the House of David Inscription. We mentioned it in our last program when we featured our meeting with archaeologist Avraham Biran at the gate of Tel Dan. That meeting was in 1992. Then, just a year later, this amazing discovery, at that very site, was in news headlines around the world.

I called professor Biran at his office in Jerusalem, and he told me the story of the discovery of the Tel Dan inscription.

BTW, if you are a regular listener to this radio program, or a regular reader of this blog, this 40-year anniversary would be a good time to let me know you’re out there. I’d like to hear from all listeners and readers. How long have you been listening? Where are you located? What do you like about the program? Let me hear from you!


1822 – 40 Years of Archives – “At Tel Dan’s Gate” with Avraham Biran and Keith Schoville

Avraham Biran and Keith Schoville in Jerusalem, 1992

Avraham Biran and Keith Schoville in Jerusalem, 1992

Over the 40 year history of TB&TS program, which will be officially recognized in February 2023, we have had some memorable moments. A decade ago, when my co-host, professor Keith Schoville retired, someone asked about the most memorable moments.

On this week’s program, we re-visit one of the most memorable moments from our 1992 Israel tour when we met professor Avraham Biran at the Iron Age Gate at Tel Dan. Professor Schoville had spent several seasons excavating at Tel Dan with professor Biran.

What followed was an off-the-cuff biblical lesson on the importance of the gate as a meeting place in ancient Israelite cities, as reflected in biblical stories.


1821 The ArchaeoTourism Initiative – Steve Ortiz, Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, and Jonathan Greer

The Temple Mount Sifting Project,

The Temple Mount Sifting Project, where volunteers do the sifting.

Biblical Archaeology becomes more scientific every year, as new technology tools help archaeologists generate and study more data on the sites they excavate, and improve their conclusions. But at the same time, the entre into biblical archaeology is wide open.

Anyone can pay their way to Israel and volunteer on an archaeological excavation, as I did in 1978. Recently, Israel’s tourism ministry initiated a new campaign to bring more archaeology volunteers to Israel and my editor at Christianity Today wanted to know what US archaeologists thought about that.

So, for this week’s program, I started with Steve Ortiz, who we’ve talked with a number of times about the 10-year excavation he co-led at Tel Gezer. Steve is director of the Lanier Center for Archaeology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.

I also talked with Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, Associate Professor of Religion at Baylor University in Texas; and Jonathan Greer, visiting professor of archaeology at Grand Valley State University in Michigan; both of whom have been on the program before. They all thought it was a potentially good idea, because volunteers are key to the success of biblical archaeology excavations today.

But they also had some concerns. Here’s the story I wrote for Christianity Today.


1820 40 Years of Archives – The 2000-year old Galilee Boat – Shelley Wachsmann

The 2000-year old Galilee Boat,

The 2000-year old Galilee Boat, now on display at the Yigal Allon museum at kibbutz Ginosar.

Over the 40-year history of The Book & The Spade program one of the most dramatic discoveries we have announced was the discovery of a 2,000-year old boat buried in the mud along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes called The Jesus Boat, it was discovered by two members of kibbutz Ginosar at a time when the Sea of Galilee was at a low level.

Shelley Wachsmann is Professor of Biblical Archeology in the Nautical Archaeology Program, at Texas A&M University and Coordinator of the Nautical Archaeology Program. But in 1986 he was called on the direct the excavation of this 2000-year old boat. We interviewed him in 1992, six years later, when the boat was still immersed in a plastic solution to preserve it.


1819 40 Years of Archives – The History of Writing – Alan Millard

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Alan Millard

As we’ve said, the history of writing is intertwined with the story of the Bible. We’ve done a number of programs on the history of writing and one of our first was back in 1988 when we had the opportunity to talk with Alan Millard.

Professor Millard has taught at the University of Liverpool since 1970 and is now Rankin Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic languages, and Honorary Senior Fellow, at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology in the University of Liverpool. He has worked on several excavations in Syria, at Petra in Jordan, and at the Assyrian capital Nimrud in Iraq. The people of the Bible, who are mentioned in the Bible, played a major role in the development of writing.


1818 40 Years of Archives – The Future of Writing in 1986 – Keith Schoville

Schoville

Keith Schoville

The history of writing is intertwined with the story of biblical archaeology. Writing developed on the same landscape that tells the biblical story: Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean. And when I saw the title of this program in our archives, I thought that was what we talked about.

But I discovered something perhaps even more interesting, a discussion on The Future of Writing, that took place almost 40 years ago. The discussion came about as a part of a major exhibit on writing that my co-host and mentor, professor Keith Schoville had helped research and present.

So in this part of our 40-year TB&TS retrospective, a 1986 conversation with my long-time co-host on the future of writing, back when most homes did not have computers, typewriters were still ubiquitous in offices, and the smartphone was a Dick Tracy pipedream.


1817 40 Years of Archives – Tel Aphek Where It All Began – Moshe Kochavi

Wilbur Williams and Moshe Kochavi in the lab at Tel Aviv University

Wilbur Williams and Moshe Kochavi in the archaeology lab at Tel Aviv University

As I look back on 40 years of The Book & The Spade program, which will be officially marked next February, I have to go back to the archaeological foundation of this program, which is actually 45 years ago, in 1978. Then, just getting started in my news broadcasting career, I decided to have an adventure.

I reconnected with my college Bible professor, Wilbur Williams, at Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan University), and went to Israel. It took several years to save up enough money but I decided to join his group volunteering on an archaeological excavation.

Hundreds of people do this every year at a variety of sites. We joined the excavation at Tel Aphek, which is near Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv. Aphek is not as well known as places like Jerusalem, Megiddo, and Gezer but it has a unique and very important history, as Tel Aviv University archaeologist Moshe Kochavi explained, in my first archaeological interview, that we have brought from the archives for this week’s program.


1816 Ancient Ivory in Jerusalem + City of David Excavations Circa 1987

One of the tiny ivories discovered in Jerusalem's City of David Givati Parking Lot excavations.

One of the tiny ivories discovered in Jerusalem’s City of David Givati Parking Lot excavations.

The Bible comes alive with many biblical archaeology discoveries and that is particularly so with one of the most recently announced discoveries by the Israel Antiquities Authority: ancient ivory panels that were used to decorate furniture, and were condemned by the prophet Amos. In the ruins of a palatial residence being excavated in Jerusalem, evidence of that luxurious, callous, lifestyle condemed by Amos: remains of ivory panels that were used to decorate the furniture of the elite residents of that city.

This week’s program features the audio soundtrack from a video produced by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The video can also be seen on our website. And to set the scene, this is from the Givati Parking Lot excavation in the oldest area of Jerusalem, just down from the Temple Mount. The dig has been going on for 15 years, layer after layer, and to make sure they don’t miss anything, every layer is taken to the Temple Mount Sifting Project for wet sifting.

Since we are nearing our 40-year anniversary, I also pulled from our archives, a 1987 report from Israel Broadcasting on earlier groundbreaking archaeology done in that same oldest area of Jerusalem, outside today’s city walls, in the area now called the City of David. In this report, Jenny Goldman talks with archaeologist Yigael Shiloh.


1815 Forty Years of Archives – The Dead Sea Scrolls @ 50 – A Special Report

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Dead Sea Scroll scholars and archaeologists (clockwise from upper left) Yigael Yadin, William F. Albright, John Trever, and Roland DeVaux.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls occurred 75 years ago. To mark the 50-year anniversary of that famous event, I put together a special report about 25 years ago for The Book & The Spade using material from program archives as well as from some recordings I had inherited from professor Menahem Mansoor.

Professor Mansoor had interviewed many of the central figures of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery story for a public radio documentary series, including John Trever, William F. Albright, Yigael Yadin, and Roland DeVaux. I added some additional perspectives from modern scholars such as James Vanderkam and Peter Flint.

The rebroadcast of this report is the second in our series leading up to next February’s 40-year anniversary of the beginning of The Book & The Spade radio program.


1814 Forty Years of Archives – Menahem Mansoor

The Book & The Spade exhibit graphic - 1975

The Book & The Spade exhibit graphic – 1975

A major milestone is approaching for The Book and The Spade. Six months from now, in February 2023 this radio program will begin its 40th year of broadcasting. Forty years is significant, just think of all of the 40s in the Bible: 40 is mentioned 146 times.

We began TB&TS in 1983 with no ambitious plans, just a fascination with biblical archaeology. And we kept going because there’s something new happening all the time in biblical archaeology.

Going back to the beginning: where did we get the name? We stole it. Or borrowed it, with the blessing of professor Menahem Mansoor, the founder of the University of Wisconsin Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies.

Professor Mansoor was the mentor of our long-time co-host, professor Keith Schoville. Together, eight years earlier in 1975, they put on a special archaeologically-oriented exhibit at the University of Wisconsin called The Book and The Spade that attracted thousands of visitors.

But the name goes further back than that, as professor Mansoor explains in this interview from our cassette archives.


1812-1813 Matthew Adams – Digging Megiddo 2022

Megiddo Prison mosaic

Megiddo Prison mosaic with the inscription, “The God loving Aketous has offered this altar to the God Jesus Christ as a memorial.”

Megiddo is a legendary site for biblical archaeology. It was a major site for biblical archaeology when the University of Chicago excavated there almost 100 years ago. It was also the site upon which James Michener loosely based his historical novel, The Source.

Matthew Adams directs the Jezreel Valley Regional Project and is co-director (with Israel Finkelstein) of the current excavations at Megiddo. In this 2-part interview he brings us up-to-date on the just-concluded 2022 Megiddo excavation, and also reports on what’s happening archaeologically in the Jezreel Valley.

For instance, between Tel Megiddo and Megiddo Prison (a couple of miles east at Megiddo Junction) lies a huge second and third century Roman Legion base, the largest in the eastern Mediterranean. And this year, a legionnaires’ amphitheater was excavated in that area (reported in the latest issue of ARTIFAX). The prison itself is the site of historically important mosaics excavated a couple of decades ago (photo). He brings us up to date on what’s happening there.


1809-1811 Clyde Billington – Summer News from ARTIFAX

The latest issue of ARTIFAX magazine.

The latest issue of ARTIFAX magazine.

Although we do our best to keep up with the latest discoveries and developments in biblical archaeology on this radio program, going on almost 40 years now, we can go into a lot more detail in our quarterly biblical archaeology newsmagazine, ARTIFAX.

So with each new issue I’m joined by my ARTIFAX co-editor Clyde Billington, and we review some of the top news digest items. To really stay on top of the biblical archaeology news takes a subscription to ARTIFAX.

These are some of the news digest items from the latest, summer issue, that we discuss in these three programs: Our cover story on a Hasmonean farmstead near the Sea of Galilee that was suddenly abandoned about 2100 years ago, the opening of a new mosaic museum in Lod, another famous mosaic found in a prison that’s now open for visitors, an amphitheather restored at Laodicea, an aqueduct that has served Jerusalem for 2000 years, and what archaeologists are discovering during the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

But wait, there’s more: a proposed cable car to the Old City of Jerusalem is looking more and more likely, why the city of Tiberias may become a national park, what archaeologists found in the garbage dumps of desert caravansaries, a new park at Mt. Gerizim, what kinds of games people played in the ancient Philistine city of Gath, and where Herod the Great got his fancy bathtubs.


1808 Steve Ortiz – Tel Gezer After the Fire

Steve Ortiz

Steve Ortiz

I Kings chapter 9 reports that the Pharaoh of Egypt burned Gezer, killed its Canaanite residents, and then presented the city to his daughter as a wedding gift, as she married King Solomon. Just recently Gezer was burned again, not as a part of a wedding, but when a farmer’s fire was blown out of control.

To find out the impact of this fire on such an important archaeological site, we talked with Steve Ortiz, who recently co-directed 10 years of excavations at Tel Gezer. He was working nearby at Tel Burna, believed to be the site of the biblical city of Libnah. Steve directs the Lanier Center for Archaeology at Lipscomb University in Nashville.


1807 John DeLancey – Volunteering at Tel Dan Excavation 2022

Gordon Govier recording John DeLancey

Gordon Govier recording John DeLancey at the Capernaum synagogue.

What’s it like to volunteer at an excavation and actually participate in Biblical Archaeology? It’s surprisingly easy, and something we have an encouraged our listeners to do since the earliest days of The Book & The Spade.

Our tours co-leader, John DeLancey, has volunteered at seven excavations in recent years and is just back from working at Tel Dan following his latest Israel tour. So we asked him to share his experiences, digging into the tel not far from the Bronze Age Gate that we visited when we were there last March.


1805-1806 Scott Stripling-Tel Shiloh Excavation Report 2022

Scott Stripling

Scott Stripling

Scott Stripling has become a regular guest on our program; he directs one of the largest annual excavations in Israel and is an innovative archaeologist, particularly in the area of wet sifting. We’ve gotten into the habit of connecting with Scott after each excavation season at Tel Shiloh, where he directs the Associates for Biblical Research excavation. He is the director of the Archaeological Studies Institute of the Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas.

The Tel Shiloh excavation has not been able to get into the field for the last two years because of COVID, but they were back this year, and even earned a gold star. In fact two gold stars were found in this year’s excavation, as well as a stronger indication of the location of the Shiloh city gate. All that and more discussed in this 2-part interview.