Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology


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


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


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


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.