“Spectacular” ancient shipwreck discovered at Caesarea’s harbor

A shipwreck with bronze statues, thousands of coins, and other finds has been discovered at ancient Caesarea Maritima, the same harbor used by the Apostle Paul. The Israel Antiquities Authority calls this the largest underwater discovery in 30 years. The wreck dates to the late Roman period and appears to have been a ship that had just left the safety of the harbor.

The coins bear the images of Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity in early 4th century AD, and Licinius, a rival and co-emperor whom Constantine eventually defeated in battle. These coins from the shipwreck number in the thousands.

The shipwreck itself tells a story:

A large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated [for] recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks. A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached shore by casting anchors into the sea; however, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in.”

You can download the official press release with further details of this discovery. The Israel Antiquities Authority has provided a number of photos, most of which are shown below.

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Rare bronze artifacts discovered in the shipwreck. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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The divers who discovered the shipwreck and its treasures by the ancient Caesarea harbor: Ran Feinstein (right) and Ofer Ra’anan. (Photo credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center)

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Bronze figurine of the moon goddess Luna. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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The Luna figurine as discovered on the seabed. (Photo credit: Ran Feinstein)

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Bronze lamp with image of the sun god, Sol. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Lamp with image of the head of an African slave. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Figurine of Dionysius, the god of wine. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Ship anchor as discovered on the seabed. (Photo credit: the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Lumps of late Roman coins discovered in the shipwreck. The lumps retain the shape of their original containers. These coins weigh nearly 45 lbs./c. 20 kilos. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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An ancient balance scale. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Caesarea National Park is a favorite stop for tour groups. It has spectacular ruins of the Roman city and harbor plus a well-perserved Crusader fortress. In recent years the park authority has added trendy restaurants, cafes, an art gallery, two short movies on the history of the ancient city, and interactive technological displays for visitors to enjoy. I am planning to be there with my group in a few weeks.

HT: Joe Lauer

Caesarea harbor view

View of the Caesarea harbor interior ruins. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Posted in Ancient Rome, Caesarea, Israel, New Discoveries, Paul, underwater archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Methuselah” Date Palm Fertilizes other Tree, Bears Fruit

Many readers are familiar with the 2,000 year-old seed that sprouted and brought back a single specimen of the extinct Judean Date Palm. Scientists named the new sprout “Methuselah” and raised the possibility of reviving the species.

Date palms have gender and the Methuselah plant is a male, so it will not directly produce fruit. Scientists recently took pollen from Methuselah to fertilize another date palm and succeeded in getting fruit. This raises the possibility that the Judean Date Palm, famed in antiquity, may be brought back from extinction and even reintroduced to commercial markets.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released this short video on Methuselah’s newest accomplishment.

HT: Barnea Selaven

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Initial Pottery Results from Khirbet Arai

A new excavation at Khirbet Arai, an ancient site some 40 miles (61 km) SW of Jerusalem, may produce new data on the origins of the Philistines. I posted previously on some early test pit finds by excavators Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor. They have now completed a new two-week excavation.

Khirbet Arai is less than 2 miles from Lachish, a well-known city in both Biblical studies and Archaeology. The history of these two sites likely correspond in some way. Results from Khirbet Arai may illuminate our understanding of Lachish, particularly during the transition from Canaanite to Judahite habitation. Its location along the Judah/Philistine border may provide insights into the Philistines’ arrival into Canaan and their relationship with the later Kingdom of Judah.

Garfinkel and Ganor have allowed me to share results of the initial pottery reading from their recent two-week season. Below are five photos from the ceramic assemblage with analysis from the excavation staff.

Ninth century BC handles with figure-impression. At Khirbet Qeiyafa 693 handles were found, but most of them had only one impression.

Ninth century BC handles with finger-impressions. At Khirbet Qeiyafa 693 handles were found, but most of them had only one impression. (Courtesy of Khirbet Arai Expedition)

Group of pottery from the early 11th century BC building.

Pottery assemblage from the early 11th century BC building. (Courtesy of Kh. Arai Expedition)

Pottery sherds decorated with classical Philistine painted style.

Pottery sherds decorated with classical Philistine painted style. (Courtesy of Kh. Arai Expedition)

A pottery sherd with classical Philistine spiral motif.

A pottery sherd with classical Philistine spiral motif. (Courtesy of Kh. Arai Expedition)

A pottery sherd with the classical Philistine bi-chrome painted style.

A pottery sherd with the classical Philistine bi-chrome painted style. (Courtesy of Kh. Arai Expedition)

Aren Maeir, director of the Tel es-Safi/Gath excavation project, posted a comment on my earlier post regarding the painted ware from Khirbet Arai. It will be interesting to see how this discussion develops.

The “finger-impressed” handles in the first photo above struck me in their similarity to the hundreds of similar handles found at late-11th/early 10th century BC Khirbet Qeiyafa, as the caption notes. Will we gain further insights into this phenomenon?

Late-11/early-10 century BC finger-impressed handles from Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation)

Late-11/early-10 century BC finger-impressed handles from Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation)

Posted in archaeologists, General Archaeology, Khirbet Arai, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Lachish, New Discoveries, Philistines | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Khirbet Qeiyafa website updated with info, photos

The official site for Khirbet Qeiyafa has just been updated with new information and photos. This Iron Age site happens to overlook David and Goliah’s biblical battlefield and has produced a wealth of data from the period when the tribal societies of Israel and Judah were beginning to transition to centralized states.

Here is an overview of the site updates:

  1. Additional data on the ostracon
  2. A new section dedicated to the Eshbaal inscription with many photos now published for the first time. (Some in large files)
  3.  Updated publications list of books and articles on Khirbet Qeiyafa. This includes the new volume on Numismatic finds by Yoav Farhi.
  4.  New sections in the Photo Gallery on pottery, metal tools and stone objects.
  5.  A new section in the photo gallery with large scale images of the shrine models.

This is an excellent resource for anyone interesting in learning more about Kh. Qeiyafa and the discoveries made there.

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View of Khirbet Qeiyafa at the conclusion of excavations in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition)

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Bronze axe head discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition)

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Original pieces of the Eshbaal inscription. The discovery of this biblical name (1 Chron. 9:39) incised on pottery was announced in 2015. (Courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition)

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Grinding stones for turning grain into flour, discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition)

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Imaging scan of the late 11th/early 10th century BC ostracon inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa. This could be our oldest extant Hebrew inscription but is not fully legible with current technology. (By CRI laboratory)

Posted in Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Publications & Study Materials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traditional Tomb of Jesus on Verge of Collapse

A two century-old structure covering the traditional location of Jesus’ tomb is ready to collapse, prompting rare collaboration among rival priests inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Aedicule, a small shrine covering the tomb, suffered damage from a 1927 earthquake and its cracked stones have been held together by a metal cage since 1947.

Space in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is partitioned in a tense status quo among priests from the Roman Catholic, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Greek Orthodox churches. This complicates any repair or restoration work since such action implies ownership and may pique one group against another. Disagreements sometimes degenerate into fistfights among the priests.

The New York Times has the complete article with several photos.

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The Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, covering the traditional location of Jesus’ tomb. On the left are bars of the metal cage mentioned in the article. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Is this the actual site of Jesus’ tomb? Probably, though we cannot prove it. The Holy Sepulcher fits all of the physical details from the Gospels. (Outside the city walls, Roman-period tombs, a nearby garden, a candidate stone for “Golgotha”) The tradition for this location is very early. The Roman-period tomb under the Aedicule was destroyed long ago, so there is nothing visible that could possibly connect to Jesus.

The article mentions a rival tomb location. This is the Garden Tomb north of Damascus Gate. It is a beautiful and peaceful location but is not the site of Jesus’ burial. The Garden Tomb dates to several centuries before Jesus’ time, disqualifying it as a “new tomb” used for Jesus’ body.

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Dr. David McClister demonstrating one of the Roman-period tombs within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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The Stone of Unction, a marble slab in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that commemorates the traditional spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Posted in Ancient Architecture, Interesting places to visit, Israel, Jerusalem, Jesus | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Dig at Khirbet Arai may reveal Philistines, Kingdom of Judah

A new excavation in the Judean foothills may reveal details about the arrival of the Philistines, the decline of the Canaanites, and the development of the Kingdom of Judah. The site is called Khirbet Arai and is located near Tel Lachish, along the ancient border of Judah and the Philistines in the southern Shephelah (foothills). Initial results show levels from the Late Bronze/Early Iron transition as well as two other levels from the Iron II period. These are the biblical periods of the later Judges and the Israelite Kingdoms, respectively.

Excavators Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor did a week of test squares in October and are planning a two-week excavation next month. Here is a summary from Garfinkel and Ganor with preliminary results and photos. All photos are courtesy of the excavators.

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[Khirbet Arai] is located 3 km west of Tel Lachish (Fig. 1). It was tested during one week in October 2015, and a two week season is planned for April 2016. The project is directed by Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority), with the help of Joey B. Silver. The main results are:

  1. A Massive Stone building, dated to the 12th century BC. A large concentration of bowls was found here, typologically very similar to the pottery of Level VI at Lachish. In this assemblage an undecorated Philistine bell-shape bowl was found (Figs. 2).
  2. In another excavation area a classical Philistine layer was found with typical painted Philistine pottery (Fig. 3). This layer is probably dated to the late 12th or early 11th century BC.
  3. A massive Iron Age structure, standing for nearly 2 m. It was suddenly destroyed by fire and a large quantity of pottery vessels was found here. This pottery is decorated by red slip, and irregular hand-burnish, like Level IV at Lachish. This building is probably dated to the 9th century BC (Figs. 4).
  4. A debris layer with LMLK handle and pottery decorated with red slip and wheel-burnished pottery. This layer was probably destroyed by the Assyrians at 701 BC.

These are preliminary observations, based on the excavation of three squares of 5 by 5 meters. We hope to get organic materials for radiometric dating, which will clarify various questions about the end of the Canaanite culture, the appearance of the Philistines, and the spread of the Kingdom of Judah into the lowland.

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(Figure 1) A general view of Khirbet Arai, located in the Shephelah (foothills), 3 km west of Tel Lachish.

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(Figure 2a) A massive stone building dated to the 12th century BC.

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(Figure 2b) A pottery assemblage from the massive stone building. One of these vessels was an undecorated Philistine bowl.

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(Figure 3) Painted Philistine pottery dated to the 12th or 11th centuries BC.

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(Figure 4a) A large Iron Age structure destroyed by fire. This is preliminarily dated to the 9th century BC, the period of the biblical Divided Kingdoms.

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(Figure 4b) Mud brick wall from the Iron Age structure.

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(Figure 4c) Excavation of the C9 BC Iron Age structure.

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(Figure 4d) Large quantities of pottery were discovered in the Iron Age structure.

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(Figure 4e) Intact vessel from the Iron Age structure.

As noted above, the above layer from the 12th/11th centuries BC contains pottery similar to that of Level VI at Tel Lachish, which was destroyed around this time. Perhaps Khirbet Aria will offer clues as to who destroyed Lachish (the Philistines?) and why it was abandoned for some time afterward. The Iron Age levels are also interesting, dating to the approximate time of Asa/Jehoshaphat of Judah and the Omride kings of Israel, including Ahab.

Posted in archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Israel, Khirbet Arai, Lachish, New Discoveries, Philistines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ben Gurion airport exhibition includes Qeiyafa ostracon

Air passengers in Israel will now walk by an exhibition that includes what may be the oldest existing Hebrew inscription, the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon. A year-long exhibit on Science in Israel has opened at Ben Gurion airport (TLV) in Tel Aviv.

This new exhibit focuses on scientific and technological innovations originating from Israel.

The exhibition will feature cherry tomatoes, the flash drive, Teva Pharmaceuticals’s Copaxone drug for treating multiple sclerosis, the PillCam disposable capsule that films the gastrointestinal tract, a robot that helps with back pain, the Mobileye collision avoidance system for cars, and Intel chips that were developed in Israel, among other innovations.

The Qeiyafa ostracon is included to represent the developing ancient alphabet. This ink inscription was unearthed in 2008 and is around 3,000 years old. Though we cannot yet translate all of it, the excavators believe it relates to the early kingdom of Judah.

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Image of the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon in the entrance hall for International arrivals at Ben Gurion airport. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Yosef Garfinkel)

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Image of the Qeiyafa ostracon on display at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Yosef Garfinkel)

The Qeiyafa inscription is one of several recent discoveries indicating significant literacy in the 10th and 9th centuries BC. The scarcity of inscriptions a few years ago led some scholars to question whether early Israelite/Judahite peoples were able to keep records or preserve a literary history. The Qeiyafa ostracon and other new inscriptionary finds give evidence of reading and writing around the time of the early Israelite monarchy.

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English translation of the Hebrew caption for the Qeiyafa ostracon.

Previous visitors to Israel will probably recognize the long, inclined walkway near Passport Control in the photo below.

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The exhibition on Science from Israel displayed along the wall of the International Terminal walkway at Ben Gurion airport. (Courtesy of Dr. Yosef Garfinkel)

Read about the full exhibition here and here.

Posted in archaeologists, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Museums, Tech & Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Canaanite Idols Discovered

A 7 year-old boy in Israel recently made the news by discovering a 3,400 year-old idol of a Canaanite goddess in a field. These accidental finds happen in a land with so much history and so little space.

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3,400-year old Canaanite figurine found in a field by 7 year-old Ori Greenhut at Tel Rehov, Israel. (Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

A photo of the boy’s discovery reminded me of something we found at Lachish last summer. Do you notice a resemblance?

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A ca. 3,400 year-old fertility goddess discovered at Tel Lachish in 2015. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

These are typical Late Bronze figurines from the biblical period of the Judges. People such as Deborah and Gideon were familiar with these kinds of objects, even if they did not pray to them.

Posted in 2015 Tel Lachish excavation, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Lachish, New Discoveries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1st Temple Period seal belonging to woman found in Jerusalem.

Archaeologists announced the discovery of a woman’s seal dating to the period before Babylon’s destruction of the Kingdom of Judah. The find came from the long-running Giv’ati parking lot excavation in the City of David.

The woman’s name on the seal is “Elihana bat Gael.” This name does not appear in the Bible but is the feminine form of the male biblical name “Eli.” Judging from the article Elihana likely lived in the years leading up to of the Kingdom of Judah.

Personal seals belonging to women are relatively rare, especially from the Iron Age period in Israel and Judah. This kind of personal seal indicates Elihana was likely wealthy and possessed prominent social status.

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Seal bearing the Hebrew inscription: “to Elihana bat Gael”. ()Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Epigrapher Haggai Misgav was interviewed for the article.

“It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence, even after her marriage, and therefore her father’s name was retained. However, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period.”

Misgav said the name Eliha is known from a contemporary Ammonite seal, and is the feminine form of the name Eli, known from the Bible.

“The script appearing on the seal is remarkably similar to the script on Ammonite seals, and this might indicate the foreign origin of the artisan who carved the seal, and possibly the foreign origin of Elihana, who apparently came from east of the Jordan River,” he said.

Misgav added that the Book of Proverbs (31:13-23) states that an ideal wife is responsible for providing for the needs of her household when her husband is engaged in public and legal affairs at the city gate. “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands…,” it says. “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.”

Excavators also found another seal bearing a man’s name, “Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu” which translates to “The Lord, which was revealed in a storm.”

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Seal bearing the inscription: “to Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu”. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Recent visitors to Jerusalem may recall seeing this excavation just south of the Old City’s walls. The work area is surrounded by a metal fine along the street, close to the “City of David” archaeological park. Visitors coming up from the Pool of Siloam via the Roman-era sewers often exit through this excavation area.

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The Giv’ati excavation in the City of David. This area has produced numerous finds from many centuries of Jerusalem’s history. (Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Additional details are in the Jerusalem Post’s full English article here.

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The wall of the building where the seals were found, probably an administrative center, dating to the First Temple period.

HT for the photos: Joe Lauer

Posted in Biblical Archaeology, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel, Jerusalem, New Discoveries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel in Archaeology: The Merneptah Inscription

The Merneptah Stele is a hieroglyphic inscription on stone that attests to Israel’s presence in Canaan in the late-1200’s BC, during the biblical period of the Judges. The inscription was made by Pharaoh Merneptah who reigned over Egypt from ca. 1213 – 1203 BC. Merneptah was son and heir of the famous Ramses II who reigned from 1279 to 1213 BC.

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The Merneptah Stele, a record of Pharaoh Merneptah’s military exploits in the late 13th century BC. “Israel” is listed toward the bottom with other enemies in Canaan. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

The stele was contemporary with Merneptah’s reign and declares his military exploits against various enemies. (Ancient Egyptians referred to their enemies collectively as the “Nine Bows.”) Most of the inscription describes Merneptah’s defeat of the Libyans but the latter portion names vanquished enemies in Canaan. For Bible students, lines twenty-six to twenty-eight are the most interesting.

The princes are prostrate, saying “Peace!”

Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.

Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified

Plundered is Canaan with every evil;

Carried off is Ashkelon;

Seized upon is Gezer;

Yenoam is made as that which does not exist;

Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;

Kharu has become a widow because of Egypt!

All lands together are pacified.”

“Israel” is listed with Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yenoam – all cities in Canaan. However, the name of Israel is the only one of these followed by the hieroglyphic symbol that denotes a people rather than a political unit. In other words, Egypt saw these enemies as political (governed) territories but recognized Israel separately as an ethnic or social group. This distinction shows that Egypt regarded Israel as a non-politicized, non-centralized people in or around Canaan in the late-thirteenth century BC.

Israel’s identification as a non-centralized people is consistent with the Bible’s description of this time period. The book of Judges contains accounts of Israel in Canaan from the early fourteenth century to the eleventh century. The text describes distinct Canaanite polities (city-states), headed by kings, existing among the various tribes of Israel. “Ephraim [the tribe] did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer [the city-state], so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.” (Judge. 1:29) This and other statements in Judges agree with Pharaoh Merneptah’s depiction of Israel as a non-politicized people in Canaan during the 13th century BC.

The Merneptah Stele may be the earliest inscriptionary evidence we have for Israel, though another inscription may now be vying for that. Either way, the Merneptah Stele supports the biblical accounts of pre-monarchical “Israel” in Canaan, able to be recognized by Egypt, in the late 1200’s BC.

Posted in Ashkelon, Biblical Archaeology, Egypt, Gezer, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment