6 significant discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2013
Announcements of archaeological discoveries and research of Biblical significance, mainly from Israel, have been made throughout 2013. In this article Bryant G Wood updates readers on six of these recent findings.
1. Gerzeh, Egypt, 3200 BC*
Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron (Gen. 4:22).
Modern Bible students have been puzzled by Genesis 4:22 and other early references to iron in the Bible since archaeological findings indicate that iron was not in common use until ca. 1200 BC. While it is true that 1200 BC marks the beginning of the Iron Age when the use of iron for tools and weapons became widespread throughout Bible lands, there are many examples of iron objects that are much earlier than 1200 BC. Prior to 1200 BC iron was rare and considered a precious metal. The earliest known iron objects are nine tubular iron beads excavated in 1911 in a cemetery in Gerzeh, Egypt, 45 miles south of Cairo, dated to 3200 BC. Seven were found in one tomb, three from the waist of the deceased and four from a necklace along with lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate and gold beads. The other two came from a very rich tomb containing, among other things, the largest number of beads found in a burial in the cemetery, consisting of lapis lazuli, obsidian, gold, carnelian, calcite, chalcedony, steatite, faience, garnet and serpentine. The nature and origin of the iron beads has been a matter of uncertainty and dispute, until modern scientific tests were conducted on them, published in August in the online Journal of Archaeological Science. The 15 authors concluded the beads were made from meteoritic iron and “that already in the fourth millennium BC metalworkers had mastered the smithing of meteoritic iron.” They went on to say that when the production of iron metal from ore started in the mid-second millennium BC, the Gerzan cemetery beads “demonstrates that metalworkers had already nearly two millennia of experience to hot-work meteoritic iron when iron smelting was introduced.”
Three of the nine iron beads from a cemetery in Gerzeh, Egypt, that date to 3200 BC (© Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, photo by Gianluca Miniaci).
* Editorial note from Associates for Biblical Research: Dating from this time period is usually dependent on Carbon-14 dating, and should be considered tentative. The date of the Flood is critical to our understanding of this era. ABR is conducting research in this area in order to more precisely ascertain the date of the Flood and then correlate archaeological dates accordingly. More will be announced in the future.
2. Shiloh, Israel, mid-11th century BC
He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men (Psalm 78:60).
“Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel” (Jer. 7:12)…“Then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth” (Jer. 26:6).
The instrument of God’s judgment against Shiloh is not named in the above verses, but the Philistines are a prime candidate since Israel was at war with them at that time. On July 1st the Israeli online newspaper Arutz Sheva headlined “Shiloh Find May Show It was Sacked by Philistines.” The article went on to describe a broken jar and remains of ash from a fire which they say were indicative of large scale destruction. Finding ash at Shiloh is nothing new. Both the Danish excavations of 1929 and the Israeli excavations of 1981–1984 at Shiloh found evidence of a massive destruction by fire in the mid-11th century BC:
These buildings were destroyed in a fierce conflagration. Burnt floors were found all over. Collapsed burnt bricks accumulated on these floors to a height of more than three feet. Some of the bricks had been baked by the blaze that had raged here. Roof collapse was discernible in many places. All this dramatic evidence of fire must be associated with the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines after they defeated the Israelites near Ebenezer in the mid-11th century B.C. Jeremiah knew what he was talking about when he later threatened the people with destruction like Shiloh’s (Finkelstein 1986:39).
Evidence of a mid-11th century BC destruction at Shiloh, most likely carried out by the Philistines (Bryant G. Wood).
3. Hazor Sphinx Fragment
Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms (Josh 11:10).
The culmination of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan was the annihilation of a coalition of northern city-states led by Jabin king of Hazor in 1400 BC (Josh. 11:1–15). The coalition consisted of the kings of the Galilee region, from Mount Hermon in the north, as far south as the Jezreel Valley south of the Sea of Galilee, west to the Mediterranean and east to the Hulah and Jordan Valleys (Josh. 11:1). It was an enormous force: “They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (Josh 11:4). After recording the Israelite victory in just three verses (7–10), the author added the historically significant footnote quoted above. Excavations at Hazor have verified the truth of this statement. The city was found to occupy an area of over 200 acres, making it the largest city-state in all of Canaan. A fragment of a sphinx excavated at Hazor in 2012, but only announced on July 9, 2013, is yet further confirmation of the Bible’s description of Hazor as the most important city-state in the region.
The fragment is the front part of the base, including the front paws and a hieroglyphic inscription between the paws. The inscription bears the name of King Menkaure, ruler of Egypt from about 2551 to 2523 BC, some 400 years before Abraham. He was the builder of the so-called “third pyramid,” the smallest of the three great pyramids at Giza. This is the only known sphinx of this king and the only portion of a royal sphinx to be found in the eastern Mediterranean. It was unearthed in the entrance of a 13th-century royal palace, buried in the debris of a destruction which was undoubtedly caused by the Israelites under Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:24). The intriguing question is, “How did the sphinx come to be in a palace in Hazor nearly 1400 years after the rule of Menkaure?” Canaan came under the dominion of Egypt following the campaign of Tuthmosis III in the 22nd year of his rule in ca. 1485 BC. It is most likely that the sphinx came to Hazor sometime after 1485 BC, perhaps as a gift to the king of Hazor, but more likely to be set up in a prominent palace as a symbol of Egypt’s dominance over even the mightiest kingdom in Canaan. In any case, this rare sphinx provides tangible evidence of the significance of Hazor at the time of the Conquest as recorded in Joshua 11:10.
Sphinx fragment excavated at Hazor during the 2013 season. Along with the king’s name, the inscription reads “Beloved by the divine manifestation…that gave him eternal life” (Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman via Bloomberg).
4. The Ophel Inscription
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David (2 Sam. 5:11).
On July 10 the Hebrew University issued a press release announcing the publication of a 10th-century BC alphabetic inscription incised on the rim of a large storage jar excavated in Jerusalem. Found in what is believed to be the palace of David, it is referred to as the Ophel Inscription. The Ophel, meaning “hill,” was the area south of the Temple Mount, today referred to as the City of David. The inscription is older by some 250 years than the previous oldest alphabetic (Hebrew) inscription found in Jerusalem. ABR research associate Doug Petrovich was quick to enter the scholarly fray on the interpretation of the seven surviving letters. You can read Doug’s detailed analysis here on the ABR website. Doug was interviewed by Fox News about this important find. The excavators and other scholars suppose that the writing is Canaanite, but Doug believes it to be Hebrew. The new inscription has far-reaching implications. Doug said in his concluding statement: “the relationship between the Hebrew and Egyptian languages goes back even further into the 2nd millennium BC.” This is truly an exciting find and ABR will be providing more details in the future.
5. Timna Copper Mines (11th–9th centuries BC)
And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David (1 Sam. 8:13–14).
In February a team led by archaeologists from Tel Aviv University explored the ancient copper mining industry at Timna in the Arabah Valley 15 miles north of the port of Elat at the northern end of the Gulf of Elat. Carbon-14 tests of 10 date seeds and one olive pit determined that the mines were being operated in the 10th century BC, when David (1010–970 BC and Solomon (970–930 BC) were ruling the United Kingdom of Israel. This agrees with the results of a 2009 Tel Aviv University excavation that determined the mines were in operation from the 11th to the 9th centuries BC, with the main period of copper smelting being the 10th century BC (Ben-Yosef, Shaar, Tauxe and Ron 2012). Archaeological evidence indicates that the mines at Timna were operated by Edomites and were an offshoot of a much larger operation in the Wadi Faynan 70 miles north-northeast of Timna.
The Bible records that Edom had been subjugated by David and that Solomon carried on trade from the port of Ezion Geber near Elat (1 Kings 9:26–28). It is quite possible that Israel controlled the copper mining and smelting industries at both Wadi Faynan and Timna. Erez Ben-Yosef, who directs the excavations at Timna, said, “the findings at the Slaves’ Hill undermine criticisms of the Bible’s historicity based on a lack of archaeological evidence. It’s entirely possible that David and Solomon existed and even that they exerted some control over the mines in the Timna Valley” (http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=19081). The online newspaper Israel Hayom further quoted Ben-Yosef as saying, “The events of the bible are consistent with the findings at Slave Hill, which suggest the local population present at the site was most likely an ancient group from the Edomite Kingdom that had been placed under Jerusalem’s control in the wake of David’s conquests. I believe Jerusalem had a garrison stationed there whose job it was to defend the area and collect taxes from the Edomites, as well as to oversee its operation.”
6. City of David 8th–7th-Century BC Inscription
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s…’” (2 Chr. 20:14–15).
The prophet Jahaziel went on to deliver a stirring message to the king and the people of Judah, followed by a worship and praise service, on the day before they entered into battle against the Ammonites, Moabites and men of Seir (2 Chr. 20:16–19). As they marched off the next morning the warriors continued to sing and praise the Lord (2 Chr. 20:20–21). With God’s miraculous intervention, the Judahites returned triumphant (2 Chr. 20:22–30). Recent excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the area of the Gihon Spring in the City of David have uncovered a layer of rich finds, including thousands of pottery sherds, clay lamps and figurines. One of those sherds, that of a bowl, was inscribed on the inside, just below the rim, with a personal name. The name had been inscribed prior to firing indicating that the name was intended to be permanently inscribed on the bowl and not merely a name written on a broken piece of pottery. The excavators suggest that the bowl was for an offering given by the individual whose name was inscribed on the bowl. Unfortunately, the name is incomplete, but what remains is intriguing. It reads […]ryhu bn bnh, or […]ariah [the] son [of] Benaiah. The best match for this name is the father of the prophet Jahaziel, Zechariah son of Benaiah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:14. There is no way to be certain, of course, but it is a possibility.
Benaiah was a relatively common name in ancient Israel, so our […]ariah could have been a son of one of the other Benaiahs mentioned in Scripture. It is clear, however, that both names are good Hebrew names as they both end in the theophoric element yahu, a shortened form of Yahweh, the unique name of the God of Israel, translated as Lord in our English Old Testaments. Hebrew names had meanings and in the case of Benaiah, it means “Yahweh has built up.” If Zechariah is the correct reconstruction of […]ariah, the meaning would be “Yahweh remembers.” Many Old Testament names end with the theophoric element indicating that the parents of the individuals were followers of Yahweh. Many such inscriptions with Biblical names ending in yahu have been found in archaeological excavations, verifying the historical accuracy of the names recorded in the Bible. These inscriptions also validate the Bible’s portrayal of ordinary people as being followers of Yahweh, not just the religious elite, as some critics have claimed.
Seventh-century BC pottery sherd from a bowl excavated near the Gihon Spring in the City of David with the inscription […]ryhu bn bnh, […]ariah [the] son [of] Benaiah (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority). Biblical Archaeology
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