Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology

Posts tagged “Jerusalem

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.


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.

1792 Clyde Billington – Saul’s Palace/Lachish Siege Ramp

Site of Saul's Palace in Givat Shaul

Site of Saul’s Palace in Givat Shaul

I had no idea that the ruins of Saul’s palace might be located on a hilltop in western Jerusalem. But one of the stories in the winter issue of ARTIFAX included a call to excavate that site and find out what’s really there. That was one of the item’s we discussed in this week’s program. (And we’ll have more on this story in the next issue of ARTIFAX-you might want to consider subscribing to our biblical archaeology newsmagazine.)

Also on this week’s program, we report on new research into the construction of the siege ramp used by Assyrian King Sennacherib to conquer Lachish. The archaeological findings match the depiction of the siege in reliefs excavated from Sennacherib’s palace in the 19th century.

We also report on the excavation of St. Hilarion’s monastery in Gaza. Yes, in Gaza.

1754 Clyde Billington – Azekah and Royal Purple

Tower of David

Tower of David

Azekah, an ancient city overlooking the Elah Valley, was totally destroyed in the 12th century BC, according to the latest archaeological research. Azekah was one of the few sites excavated during 2020. Archaeologists analyzed remains found in what was left of a workshop of the period.

An inscription found in secondary use at Jerusalem’s Tower of David has redated the structure’s construction, around the 12th century AD. Workers are currently renovating the historic structure next to Jaffa Gate.

An amazing discovery at Timna, the copper mining site in southern Israel. Archaeologists are analyzing 3,000-year-old fabric that was dyed with royal purple, the prestigious dye that came from tiny murex snails.

1735 Gordon Govier – The Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Stories of 2020

Proto-Aeolic Capitals from the Palatial Residence

Proto-Aeolic Capitals from the Palatial Residence

For the past decade or more we have been identifying some of the top stories each year that connect us to the Bible and the biblical world through archaeology. Since 2013 Christianity Today has been publishing our list and has done so again this year. This year there has also been interest from the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC about our list. If we find out more about what they’ve decided to do with the list, we will post it here.

The Museum of the Bible and their issue with the fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments in their collection made the list but our top story related to the discovery of the remains of a palatial residence overlooking Jerusalem from the south, and the additional archaeology that shows how the kings of Judah used the area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem during the latter years of the kingdom.

1566 John DeLancey – The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The newly renovated edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The newly renovated edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by John DeLancey

This Easter, the Church that marks the traditional location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is coming out of a 4 million dollar renovation.  John DeLancey, co-leader of our Israel tour next year, is just back from another visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and discusses the newly renovated edicule in its rotunda.

The edicule, a small structure that covers the tomb of Jesus, has been rebuilt and strengthened against collapse.

In addition, we review news coverage of a recent open house at the Israel Antiquities Authority warehouse where relics from the time of Jesus are displayed for reporters.

1564 Clyde Billington – Walls of Jerusalem, Jebusite and Roman

Walls of Jerusalem - built in the 16th century

Walls of Jerusalem – built in the 16th century

News stories about the walls of Jerusalem, reported in the latest issue of ARTIFAX magazine, include stories about the discovery of two triclinia (banquet rooms), along the western wall of the Temple Mount; the discovery of the location where the Romans breached the “Third Wall” during the first Jewish revolt; and new information about the Middle Bronze Age fortifications built by the Jebusites around the Gihon Spring.


1542 Clyde Billington – Jerusalem’s Trash & Ancient Writing

Kidron Valley - Jerusalem

Kidron Valley – Jerusalem

More news digest items from the latest issue of ARTIFAX magazine covered in this week’s program with ARTIFAX co-editor Clyde Billington, including:

  • The discovery of the garbage dump from first century Jerusalem including the remains of the Last Supper (not identified yet, but it’s got to be in there somewhere)
  • A cache of first century writing tablets from London, at the other end of the Roman Empire
  • An abecedary (alphabet listing) from 15th century BC Egypt, the time of Moses
  • And conclusive evidence that the ancient Coptic papyrus fragment that mentions the wife of Jesus is actually a forgery

Information on subscribing to ARTIFAX is at the radioscribe website.


1506 Todd Bolen – Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Stories of 2015

prof. Brent Seales

prof. Brent Seales

It’s always fun to look back at the end of the year and see how Biblical Archaeology has opened up new perspectives on the biblical world. This year it was not just the discoveries of the year, but how discoveries from previous years were finally realized. Many of our Top 10 items were discovered decades ago, but their significance was only now becoming apparent in 2015.

Once again I was joined by Todd Bolen, the editor of, to discuss the news stories of 2015. And our top item on the list highlighted the work of University of Wisconsin alumnus Brent Seales, now a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky. His software developments could open the way for the reading of many more ancient texts, such as the carbonized scroll of Leviticus from the Engedi synagogue that we reported on this year.

1431 Todd Bolen – Magdala and a Jerusalem Inscription

1195 - Magdala synagogue and menorah

The synagogue table inscribed with a menorah, excavated at Magdala.

Two recent articles on important developments in Biblical Archaeology are discussed: a New York Times article on the excavations at Magdala (hometown of Mary Magdalene) and a Biblical Archaeology Review article on the discovery of the oldest alphabetic inscription found in Jerusalem.

Todd Bolen, a professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s College and editor of, joins me to reflect on these two developments and how they add to our understanding of the biblical world.

We will be visiting Magdala on our Book & The Spade Archaeological Adventure Study Tour coming up next March, and I’m looking forward to my first visit to the site of this synagogue that was probably visited by Jesus during his ministry. Why don’t you join us?



1400-1401 Gabriel Barkay – Ancient Jerusalem’s Streets and Sewers

Gabriel Barkay

Gabriel Barkay

Gabi Barkay was one of our first guests on The Book & The Spade three decades ago, and has returned to the show about a half dozen times. On this latest program we got his report on some of the latest excavations in Jerusalem, such as the 2,000-year old streets that led from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount. Two parallel streets have been excavated in the last few years and visitors to the City of David area have been able to walk through the sewers under the streets.

These are the same sewers that were used as hiding places by first century Jews as the Romans besieged and then conquered the city. The ancient historian Josephus describes how the soldiers went after their hidden enemies. And Barkay noted that some of the paving stones show the evidence of being broken apart by the sledge hammers of the Roman soldiers.

We also discussed, in the second program, some of the results of the wet sifting process that Barkay developed for sifting debris removed from the Temple Mount in 1999. Other archaeologists are now starting to use the process and have discovered some exciting artifacts that might have otherwise been overlooked. In addition we discussed some of the archaeology taking place in the western wall plaza area.

1372-1373 Paul Maier – Herod the Great, How Great?

Herod the Great

Herod the Great

Herod the Great is the subject of one of the largest exhibitions ever mounted by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This video from CBN News gives somewhat of a sampling of what a visitor would see. We wanted to find out more about this brutal tyrant (according to New Testament accounts) so we called up Paul Maier. Prof. Maier is a professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, and thoroughly familiar with Herod after re-translating the largest source of information about Herod, the ancient historian Josephus Flavius.

1364 Clyde Billington – The Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter

The Tomb of Pharaoh's Daughter

The Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter

The tombs located in the Kidron Valley and the Hinnom Valley around the Old City of Jerusalem have all been surveyed but many have not been given detailed scrutiny. On this program, we look at the details about one particular tomb, as reported in the January-February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

#1248 Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade


Kjell Magne Bondevik

Kjell Magne Bondevik - former Prime Minister of Norway


We haven’t had this many distinguished voices on the program since our Dead Sea Scrolls anniversary program featuring Yigael Yadin and William F. Albright. We had the opportunity to attend and record a special program of the Wisconsin Book Festival, sponsored by the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. The focus of the program was a book we discussed almost a year ago, Where Heaven and Earth Meet, Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade. The program featured an introduction by former Norwegian Prime Minister (and Lutheran pastor) Kjell Magne Bondevik. The panelists were Benjamin Kedar, emeritus professor of history at Hebrew University and chairman of the board of the Israel Antiquities Authority; Mustafa Abu Sway, an associate professor of philosophy and Islamic studies at Al Quds University; and Guy Stroumsa, professor of the study of Abrahamic Religions at Oxford University.

The topic of discussion was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as it’s known to Jews and Christians, Haram es-Sharif as it’s known to Muslims. The book offers a new description of this contested plot of land, the Sacred Esplanade. But, as professor Kedar explained, it has had many other names over the years. A question about the archaeology of the Sacred Esplanade generated some controversy, which we included in the second half of this program.

The book looks fascinating, quite well illustrated, but a bit expensive at $75.

The Jerusalem Post has some late-breaking news about the Western Wall Plaza, right outside the Temple Mount.

#1236 – Jerusalem’s Oldest Writing

Cuneiform fragment

Cuneiform fragment

Archaeologist Eilat Mazar and Assyriologist Wayne Horowitz with the Cuneiform tablet fragment

This week’s program is the first in a number of months where we’re able to report on late-breaking archaeological news from Jerusalem. Just a few days ago Hebrew University announced the discovery of a fragment of a cuneiform tablet which was dated to the 14th century B.C.  The find was made through in the excavation directed by Eilat Mazar (above left) in an area near the southern steps of the Temple Mount where she believes she is uncovering a tower dating to the time of King Solomon, the 9th century B.C. Fill uncovered from the excavation was taken to the Emek Tzurim National Park where the Temple Mount Sifting Project is underway, and that’s how the fragment surfaced. What does it mean? Well the official version is in the news release, and that’s the basis for our conversation on this program. It is a significant discovery, that may help us understand the history of Jerusalem a little bit better. Among other views, we might point you to Christopher Rollston, who was on our program earlier this year.

Added Note regarding my own experience with cuneiform tablets: In 1978 when I was working on the excavation at Tel Aphek a cuneiform tablet was found in the ruins of the Egyptian governor’s palace that was under excavation. The tablet was dated to about 1240 B.C.