Archaeologists propose new site as biblical Ziklag. Is it so?

My most recent dig site, Khirbet a-Ra’i, has just been proposed as the location of biblical Ziklag, a town linked with David shortly before he became king over Judah. I worked with this excavation for two weeks of its summer, 2019 season. We were aware of the archaeologists’ identification of the site but naturally waited until they announced before posting anything publicly. (See the IAA’s press announcement.)


The group I led to the 2019 (summer) Khirbet a-Ra’i excavation. From l to r: Ashley, Becky, Jimmy, my son Caleb, Steve, LaDonna, Doug, Madison, and Yours Truly

Is it Ziklag? Some archaeologists have dismissed the proposal while others are waiting for discussion to develop. Archaeology doesn’t provide 100% certainty on these kinds of things, so we go with the weight of (current) evidence. Numerous other sites have been proposed as Ziklag, most of which have been dismissed over time.


View to the east from the summit of Khirbet a-Ra’i, recently proposed as Ziklag. Across the rolling foothills one sees the mountains of Judea in the distance. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The famous biblical story of Ziklag relates to David. The Philistines inhabited the town but gave it to David and his men in 1 Samuel 27. The town was attacked and burned and the families taken by the Amalekites while David and his men were away (1 Sam. 30). David mounted a rescue mission and retrieved everyone alive, along with a great quantity of spoil that was distributed to numerous allies in Judah.

The stratigraphy lines up well with what we know of Ziklag from the biblical text, but there is at least one big question that lacks resolution. Here are some points to consider:

  • Over seven excavations seasons the team has uncovered two Philistine Iron I strata from the 12th and 11th centuries BC (the time of the biblical Judges) topped in some places by a different material culture from the late-11th/early-10th century (the time of David). This would be consistent with what we know of Ziklag in 1 Samuel 27.
  • This late-11th/early-10th century stratum appears identical to Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site linked with Judah that has been radiometrically (Carbon-14) dated to ca. 1000 BC, the biblical time of David. It’s not just another Iron Age level – it dates specifically to David’s time, which stands out from most other sites.
  • This Qeiyafa-esque stratum was destroyed and burned, which lines up with events in 1 Samuel 30.
  • The site has post-exilic construction that would fit Ziklag’s mention in Nehemiah 11.
  • This specific sequence of habitation and destruction layers is what caught the excavators’ attention and led them to offer a-Ra’i as a candidate for Ziklag.

The big question I mention relates to Joshua 15 which lists Ziklag among cities further south, along the Negev (vs. 21-32). The city of Lachish, just 2 miles from Kh. a-Ra’i, is listed among a separate group of towns further north (vs. 33-44). From this, it seems the Bible places Ziklag several miles further south than Khirbet a-Ra’i.

The archaeologists at Kh. a-Ra’i will be publishing a formal article that likely addresses this geographical question. Without knowing how they approach it, I cannot say this issue is insurmountable. Some scholars have quickly criticized new claims before having to backtrack or modify their criticism as more information comes forth. At this point I am comfortable seeing this as an interesting proposal that is already producing discussion. The excavators anticipate critique and look forward to addressing the kinds of questions that have already arisen.

For a number of years, the leading candidate for Ziklag has been Tel Sera. We don’t have any inscription that says “Ziklag” at either site and probably never will. We must go where the evidence directs us.

The excavators at Khirbet a-Ra’i were not seeking Ziklag when they began digging. They knew from surveys that the site had an Early Iron Age level, which fit their research interest. The Philistine finds were unexpected and have produced new research questions.


A massive Philistine wall foundation near the summit of Khirbet a-Ra’i. Archaeologists at this site recently proposed the site could be biblical Ziklag. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

On that note, one current goal of the a-Ra’i project is to pin down an approximate date for the Philistines’ entry to Canaan. Some scholars have re-thought the traditional timeline, and it holds implications for dating the development of the Israelite kingdoms. Keep your eyes – and screens – open for updates on these issues and discussions.


With Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, co-Director of the Khirbet a-Ra’i excavations.

Posted in Ancient sites, archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, Khirbet a-Ra'i, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Philistines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electronic authorization for travel to Europe for U.S. Citizens and others beginning in 2021

Citizens of many countries, including the United States, have enjoyed visa-free travel to Europe for decades. We simply get on a plane or ship, show up with passport in hand, and receive free entry for up to 90 days. That will change in a little over two years from now.

Starting July 1, 2021, citizens of the U.S. and dozens of other countries that enjoy visa-free travel will need to apply online for permission to enter Europe at least 96 hours before travel. Once approved, each traveler may come and go freely for 3 years before having to apply again.

This new requirement, called ETIAS (EU Travel Information & Authorisation System), is a security check rather than a visa, so citizens of the affected countries will still have visa-free travel to and within Europe as before. The only difference is that travel must be authorized in advance.

Here are the key points according to Forbes magazine:

  • The ETIAS application process will take place online and should take less than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Applicants will be asked to provide three types of information: 1) a valid passport (with an expiration date that is at least three months longer than the intended stay; 2) a credit or debit card, and 3) an email address.
  • Application must take place at least 96 hours before travel.
  • Applications need to be made for infants and children as well as adults.
  • The cost will be 7 Euros per person, waived for those under the age of 18. Payment will need to be made online via credit or debit card.
  • The application will be checked against a number of security databases as well as an ETIAS watchlist, and then will either be approved or denied by email. If an application is denied, an explanation will be provided (which can be appealed).
  • ETIAS travel authorization will be valid for multiple entries over the course of three years.

(Image courtesy of the EU Travel Information & Authorisation System.)

In the end, not a big difference for travelers. The United States already does a version of this for many Europeans and others who visit.

The ETIAS program won’t arrive in time to affect my upcoming “Biblical Greece & the Greek Isles” tour this October. Registration is open! Email me or comment to request details.


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Recommended Resource: “Book of Acts” Photo Companion to the Bible

When BiblePlaces’ social media began posting an image from Acts each day in February (28 chapters in 28 days), I suspected an announcement was coming for the next volume of the Photo Companion series. This proved to be right. BiblePlaces has just announced the new “Book of Acts” volume with more than 4,000 informative, researched images to accompany your study and teaching, and it’s on sale this week (starting February 11th).

Here is a description of this resource from BiblePlaces.

The Photo Companion to the Bible is a unique collection of digital photographs that illustrate the biblical text verse by verse.

  • PowerPoint-based resource
  • Library of images provides broad selection
  • Created by team of professors and scholars
  • Organized by chapter and verse
  • Each chapter is illustrated by 65–250 photographs
  • Photographs of every site mentioned in Acts
  • Detailed markings of major features and routes
  • Annotations explaining the image selection and background
  • Free lifetime updates
  • Generous copyright permissions
  • Satisfaction guaranteed
Highlights from Acts:
  • The apostles’ early ministry in Jerusalem
  • Peter’s journey to Joppa and Caesarea
  • Paul’s three missionary journeys
  • Paul’s shipwreck and final journey to Rome
  • Ancient inscriptions, artifacts, and cultural features

The “Book of Acts” Photo Companion to the Bible (courtesy of

BiblePlaces invites you to download Acts 18 for free and sample what the collection offers. Give it a try. You will be glad you did.

I frequently use the Photo Companion volumes in my teaching. They have transformed many of my classes and lessons. Students and church members can better visualize biblical events and engage the stories with greater clarity and detail.

The Book of Acts collection comes in two volumes that may be purchased separately or together. Learn more about this new collection and purchase it today for a greatly-reduced price.  If you are a teacher or serious student of the Bible, this is a must-have resource to complement your library.


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Dramatic Scene from the British Museum’s Special Assyria Exhibition

The British Museum has a special exhibit titled, “Ashubanipal, King of the World, King of Assyria.” I saw it a couple of weeks ago and it is fantastic. If you’re a Bible teacher or serious student, it’s worth a special visit – but it closes after February 24th.

Here is a short video of a favorite selection from the special exhibit, showing a dramatic and graphic battle scene between Assyria and Elam. The video does a good job but it’s even better to see it in person with technology that highlights the details. I watched this segment of the exhibit 4 times. It’s compelling to absorb it on-site with the exhibition’s crafted ambience and take in the story with your own senses.

I’ll include this official notice from the video description: “WARNING: Includes scenes of drowning, flaying and wearing your deceased leader’s head as a necklace.”

HT: Todd Bolen

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“Journey Through the Testaments” tour to the Bible Lands

There are a few weeks remaining to join my “Journey Through the Testaments” tour from June 10th to 22nd, 2019. Whether it’s your first time or a repeat visit, this trip helps you perceive and understand the Bible on a fuller, deeper level.

Tour bannner 1

The 13-day tour package includes:

  • Round trip flights between New York (JFK) and Israel. (optional flights from CA available)
  • First Class hotels with daily breakfast and dinner buffets
  • All ground transportation in Israel
  • A licensed Israeli guide to accompany our group
  • All entrances and admissions
  • All gratuities, taxes & fees
  • An itinerary that takes you “from Dan to Beersheba” and many biblical sites in between. Visit all of the highlights and some places few tours get to see. Download the brochure for details.
  • Five free presentations on biblical archaeology and related topics with opportunity for Q & A.

This complete 13-day package is $4,245, payable in up to three installments. This is less expensive than many shorter tours. With the greater number of places you will visit, and the experience and archaeological training of your tour leader and guide, this trip is a tremendous value. It deepens and enlivens your Bible study in fresh, new ways.


We will visit the Capernaum synagogue, built on top of the 1st century structure. Be in the same space where Jesus likely taught.


The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was arrested.

If you have the inclination, extend it an additional 13 days and spend time with a real archaeological dig for just $1,000 more. Meet like-minded people from around the world and discover artifacts from biblical times. You also get to enjoy bonus days in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Model_Israel Museum

The stunning model of 1st-century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

If you have already visited Israel, you probably recall how the places and experiences were nearly overwhelming at times. It’s impossible to absorb everything in your first visit, and there are many things you did not get to see. This will be my fourteenth trip to Israel, and I still learn new things with each visit.

Download the full brochure and registration form, then reserve your place today. The trip begins to close in just a few more weeks. Send in your registration before time runs out on this trip of a lifetime.


The Harod Spring, where Gideon’s 300 men were chosen.


Posted in Ancient sites, Bible Lands tour, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Jerusalem, Jesus, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

See Sennacherib’s biblical invasion of Judah in the British Museum

The Bible describes Sennacherib’s invasion of Hezekiah’s Judah in three different books. Sennacherib dedicated a central room in his palace to this same event. Clearly, it made an impression all around.

All three biblical accounts describe Sennacherib’s army coming to Jerusalem after conquering the city of Lachish. Take a look at 2 Kings 18:13-17, 2 Chronicles 32:9, Isaiah 36:2 and 37:8 then view this video showing Assyria’s “graphic novel” of the war. The biblical and Assyrian versions end at different places, but both are dramatic.

Sennacherib’s wall panels describing the attack are in the British Museum in London. Admission is free and the museum’s resources are amazing, so plan a few hours to enjoy the visit. When you go, I recommend taking an occasional break to sit down and refresh your mind & body with drinks and food from the museum’s cafes. You can also have fun browsing its extensive and varied gift shop items. There’s something for everyone.

If you visit the British Museum by February 24, 2019, I highly recommend the special exhibit “I am Ashurbarnipal, King of the World, King of Assyria.” It is a well done, insightful look at the Assyrian Empire at its zenith. You will enjoy a number of items not normally shown at the museum plus technological displays that highlight details you will never forget.

HT: Barnea Selavan for posting his own video of these panels on Facebook a few months ago, and for recommending the special exhibit. It was worth the visit.

Posted in Ancient Battles, Assyria, Bible comments, Biblical Archaeology, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Interesting places to visit, Lachish, Museums, Publications & Study Materials, Short videos, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bohemian Chanukah (a Queen adaptation)

Hanukkah began yesterday evening. Whether or not you celebrate, this version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” may bring a smile. Enjoy!


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New BiblePlaces photo collection of Persia

The fabulous BiblePlaces photo collection has a new addition most of us would not have expected to see. A 1,600 high-res photo volume on Persia is now available for purchase at the introductory price of just $25.


The new Persia volume of the BiblePlaces photo collection

Ancient Persia is of course modern Iran, which brings political barriers for many Western travelers, particularly from the United States. Todd Bolen was able to visit earlier this year and describes his experience in the new BiblePlaces newsletter.

… The trip was everything I could have hoped for and more. I was able to visit every site on my itinerary, following in the footsteps of such figures as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes. I saw the famous Behistun Inscription, walked around one of the best preserved ziggurats, explored numerous museums, and marveled at the well-preserved tomb of King Cyrus. You can still see the ancient necropolis where Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes carved their tombs into a cliffside, and the famous Persian gardens (from whence we get our word “paradise”) are as beautiful as they say. The people were friendly and the food was fantastic. The highlight for me was walking through the ancient palace where Esther approached Ahasuerus to beg him to stop the evil plot of Haman.

A lot of work goes into the BiblePlaces collection, but the photos would not be as valuable without the researched explanations that accompany them. It is one thing to see a place, but wholly different to understand its connections and meaning. The BiblePlaces collection accomplishes this on a higher and more affordable level than most things you will find. The Persia volume comes with 1,600+ high resolution photos in jpeg format. The photos also come organized into pre-made PowerPoint presentations with illuminating notes for each slide plus a bibliography.

I just purchased my Persia volume. If you are a teacher or serious student of the Bible, you should do the same. Ancient Persia, including Elam and Media, illuminates the books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, and connects with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. People from Parthia (Roman-era Persia) were present in Jerusalem for Peter’s sermon in Acts 2.

The other volumes appear to be on sale right now (Dec. 3rd, 2018) so consider purchasing your favorites, or even the complete set. These are not simply pictures. The BiblePlaces Photo Collection is a valuable resource for understanding biblical locations and events, and is fully worth your investment.

Posted in Bible comments, BiblePlaces, Interesting places to visit, Links to interesting stuff, Persia, Publications & Study Materials, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Bible Lands Tour in June, with optional extension to Join a Dig

If you want to have a special Bible Lands experience, join my “Journey Through the Testaments” tour from June 10th to 22nd, 2019. Whether it’s your first time or a repeat visit, this trip will help you perceive and understand the Bible on a fuller, deeper level.

Tour bannner 1

This immersive 13-day tour includes:

  • A marvelous itinerary that literally takes you “from Dan to Beersheba”
  • Round trip flights between New York (JFK) and Israel.
  • Accommodation in First Class hotels with daily breakfast and dinner buffets
  • Exclusive use of a motor coach with professional driver throughout the tour
  • A licensed Israeli guide to accompany our group
  • All entrances and admissions
  • All gratuities, taxes & fees
  • Five half-hour Master Classes during the tour on biblical archaeology, cultures, and geography

This complete 13-day package is $4,245 and is payable in up to three installments.

If you want to go even deeper with your Bible Lands trip, extend it another 13 days, through July 5th, for just $1,000 more. This additional time gives you bonus days in Jerusalem and lets you join an archaeological dig with me at a biblical site. Meet like-minded people from around the world, learn directly from world-class scholars, and discover artifacts from biblical times. This is the experience of a lifetime, and it is available to you.

If you have already visited Israel, you need to go again. There is so much more to see and learn that you couldn’t absorb your first time, or even your second time. This will be my twelfth guided overseas tour and my fourteenth personal visit to Israel, and I still learn new things every time. Download the full brochure and registration form, then reserve your place today on this magnificent trip. I hope to hear from you soon!

Brochure cover

Posted in Bible Lands tour, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Jerusalem, Khirbet Arai, Overseas trips, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Island appears in the Sea of Galilee

The land of Israel is undergoing one of its periodic droughts, to the point that an island has appeared in the receding Sea of Galilee.


The newly revealed island near the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Credit: Yuval Gassar)

The Sea of Galilee water level frequently drops during the dry summer months and rises with the rainy season in late fall and winter, so the island will almost certainly be covered again by November or December at the latest. Its surprise appearance shows the intensity of the current drought in Israel.

As a recent article in Haaretz states, “The situation is dimmer than it was [during a previous drought] in 2001. At that time water was pumped out of the lake into the national water system, but that has almost completely stopped. Israeli Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor warns, “The levels are low despite the almost complete cessation of pumping water out. If we were taking water out, the level would drop below the black line and the lake would be finished.” (The black line is the estimated minimum level to prevent ecological damage.)

Israel’s growing population has put strains on the region’s limited water sources. The construction of several expensive desalination plants to convert seawater into potable water has decreased reliance on natural freshwater sources such as the Sea of Galilee. Hopefully the drought will break soon and avoid any permanent impact to the lake’s ecosystem.

Read the Haaretz article for more photos and details, including a flyover drone video. (Possibility of a paywall)


A view of the newly revealed Galilee island from the southern shore. (Credit: Gil Eliyahu)


Posted in Israel, Sea of Galilee | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments