Report: Entire Siloam Pool to be excavated, open to public

The City of David foundation has announced plan to finish excavating the Pool of Siloam for the public. Currently, most of the pool remains covered by the accumulated fill of many centuries. Just a small section has been cleared and is available for people to visit. Jerusalem’s Pool of Siloam is biblically known from the story of Jesus healing a blind man in John 9.

In New Testament times the pool was filled with water brought in through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, built nearly 8 centuries earlier. Today, tourists who walk through the water tunnel exit nearby, climb some steps, and find themselves here. All of my tour groups visit this space that was certainly known to Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Christians.

The 1st century Siloam pool was discovered in 2005 and work has been ongoing around the pool for years. It sat along the main pilgrim street that led to the temple’s main entrance. The pool may have served as a large mikveh for worshipers to ritually purify themselves on the way to worship God.

Most of the Pool of Siloam sits under a garden space owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. I’m thrilled an agreement has finally been reached to clear the massive amount of fill dirt and expose the complete pool area. My group will definitely continue to visit this place. Who knows what surprises may await us?

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Proposed text of new Hezekiah inscriptions in Jerusalem

Eli Shukron and Gershon Galil have announced the identification of several stone inscriptions from Hezekiah in and around Jerusalem’s ancient water system. Remarkably, one of their newly identified inscriptions is at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel, just below the spot where the original Siloam inscription was cut away more than a century ago. No one has noticed the additional text before due, according to Galil, to heavy erosion.

The first lines of the inscription are in Istanbul but here is Galil’s translation of the Siloam inscription’s other lines still on the wall of Hezekiah’s tunnel.

9. of king Hezekiah, he brought ˹the˺ water into the city, ˹the ki˺ng ˹l˺e˹d˺

10. the water into the pool. Hezekiah smote ˹the˺ Philistines

11. from Ekron to Gaza and placed ˹the O˺RE[B] unit [o]f the army of ˹Ju˺dah

12. there. He braked the images and removed the high places, braked in pieces the Nehushtan, and cut down

13. the Asherah. He accumulated in his treasure houses and in the house of YHWH

silver and gold, perfumes and good ointment.

Galil has also identified additional words in the original cut-away portion of the Siloam inscription, including the names Hezekiah, Ahaz, and Judah.

One of the other inscriptions is located near the Canaanite Pool. Galil translates it as follows.

1. Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, king of Judah,

2. made the pool and the conduit.

3. In the seventeenth year, in the second (day), in the fourth (month),

4. of king Hezekiah, the king brought

5. the water into the city by a tunnel, the king led

6. the water into the pool. He smote the Philistines

7. from Ekron to Gaza and placed there the OREB unit of

8. the army of Judah. He braked the images and braked in ˹pieces˺ the Nehu˹sh˺tan

9. and he removed the high ˹places and˺ cut down the Asherah. Hezek˹ia˺h, the king,

10. accumulated in all his treasure houses and in the house of YHWH

11. a lot of silver and gold, perfumes and good ointment.

Galil notes these translations read very much like biblical texts in 1 Kings 18 and 20, and goes on to suggest these 8th century BC inscriptions could be called “the earliest manuscripts of the Bible.” That’s quite a way to describe them, and sure to excite some passions.

One of the text frames identified in Jerusalem’s ancient water systems. (Courtesy of Gershon Galil)

The big issue I and some others have is that this announcement is huge, if correct, yet was not made known through peer review in an established journal. It’s certainly possible these scholars don’t have everything right, yet no one’s had opportunity to verify the claims. What if Shukron and Galil end up being wrong about something? Perhaps something significant? Too late! The cat’s out of the bag. Good luck getting any corrected information into circulation. Unpublished announcements that claim to confirm the Bible risk a backlash if there are mistakes or errors – even unintentional ones.

If all of this is correct, then wonderful. As a biblical Believer, I’ll be as happy as anyone. For those who have put on patience and self-control, let’s give this some time for evaluation and verification before starting to use it in our teaching – especially anything involving evidence for the Bible.

Addendum: This information comes directly from posts Gershon has made on his Facebook page. He also has a video with himself and Shukron in the tunnels discussing these inscriptions. You may watch it here, though be advised it’s in Hebrew. This announcement is also showing up in Israeli media. Give it another day to start appearing in Western news sources.

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Claim: New Inscriptions from Hezekiah Discovered in City of David

Gershom Galil and Eli Shukron are announcing a set of newly-discovered inscriptions in Jerusalem that they attribute to Hezekiah. They are said to be monumental inscriptions that summarize some of Hezekiah’s accomplishments with specific dates.

These new texts have been identified in and around the water system that King Hezekiah constructed in the 8th century BC. The texts were not identified before now due to heavy erosion in the stone. Initial word of this, from a post by Gershom Galil, is that these texts include mentions of Hezekiah and his father Ahaz, the Philistines, the city of Gaza, and wealth accumulated in Hezekiah’s reign. Some of these inscriptions apparently mirror details described in the Bible.

If this discovery and the proposed interpretation are true, this would be informative and exciting. However, let’s wait until these interpretations have been formally published and tested before jumping in too deeply. Books could be written (and have been) about exciting archaeological discoveries that turned out to be different than initially believed. The facts should be evident in due time. It’s wise to be cautious and deliberate, especially when navigating passions (and the associated fundraising) that accompany biblical connections.

Stay tuned for updates...

Image of an eroded inscription within the City of David. (Courtesty of Eli Shukron and Gershom Galil)
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Photo Companion to the Bible – Revelation now available

BiblePlaces’ Photo Companion to the Bible has just released the book of Revelation at a promotional price. This volume completes the New Testament series. All 27 books from Matthew to Revelation are now included in the Photo Companion set.

Revelation, the most visually stunning book in the New Testament, is illuminated in more than 3,000 curated, high-quality images from the Bible Lands along with scholarly commentary and insights on ancient history & culture, geography, archaeology, and theology. Everything comes preset in PowerPoint format so you can browse, study, and simply copy/paste to add any of the beautiful and informative slides to your teaching presentations. This is a truly unique resource with no current peer.

For just a few more days, you can purchase the Revelation volume for instant download and DVD at the promotional price of $49 (discounted from $79). Some of the volume’s visual highlights include:

  • Photos of Patmos and the cities of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3
  • Examples of ancient artifacts, including trumpets, swords, lampstands, keys, crowns, pillars, eye salve, and scrolls
  • Imagery of victory, dominion, worship, temple service, and wedding celebrations
  • Greco-Roman depictions of creatures referenced throughout the book
  • Photos of meteorological and astrological phenomena illustrating apocalyptic events
  • Diverse examples of seals and signet rings
  • Historical photos of smoke-, locust-, and earthquake-related disasters
  • Many instances of the alpha and omega symbols across church history

If you don’t have many other Photo Companion volumes, the complete New Testament set is currently on sale for $299 (instead of $649) with the coupon code ALLNT. You should also browse the existing Old Testament volumes and subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter to stay aware of new releases.

The Photo Companion to the Bible is a standout resource for Biblical Studies. It deepens your understanding and benefits anyone who learns from you. There is nothing else like it. I highly recommend BiblePlaces’ Photo Companion series to any serious teacher or student of the Bible.

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Discovery of First Known Sentence in Canaanite Language at Lachish

A small ivory comb unearthed at biblical Lachish in 2017 turns out to have produced the first known sentence from the ancient Canaanites in their language. Archaeologists Yossi Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbeil announced the discovery this morning. The comb was found in 2017 but the inscription was only observed later.

Ivory comb showing an early Canaaite alphabetic inscription, discovered at Tel Lachish in 2017. (Credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The inscription is an anti-lice spell that reads, “May this [ivory] tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu noticed the inscribed characters during cleaning and processing in the lab. Ancient lice combs, like modern ones, were designed to remove lice and embedded eggs from hair. This comb’s owner apparently felt the extra verbage would lend an advantage.

Rendering of the comb (Credit: Daniel Vainstub).

The first alphabet seems to have been invented around 1800 BC and this inscription dates to just 100 or so years later, making this find among the earliest examples of an alphabet. Other Canaanite inscriptions have been found, but they have only been a few words at most. This is the first discovery of a complete Canaanite sentence in alphabetic characters.

It should be noted that other writing systems such as hieroglyphs and cuneiform existed long before 1700 BC, but they were not a simple collection of symbols that represent sounds. Scribes had to train for years to use those systems, whereas an alphabet is a much simpler and flexible approach. One could say our modern alphabets came from the scribbling on this ivory comb.

The comb was found in 2017, during the final season of the 4th Lachish expedition. I participated briefly during that last season but was not involved in the comb’s discovery.

See more images and read the press release at this link.

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Possible Monumental Inscription with Hezekiah’s Name

A large limestone fragment discoverd in a Jerusalem excavation may show the name of biblical king Hezekiah, according to archaeologist Eli Shukron and epigrapher Gershom Galil. The broken slab measures around 5.5″ x 4″ x 2″ and was found near the Gihon Spring back in 2007. Scholars published the large fragment a year after its discovery but just recently concluded the letters may show a portion of Hezekiah’s name and refer to a “pool.”

Epigrapher Gershon Galil’s drawing of the inscription fragment. (Courtesy of Gershon Galil)
Eli Shukron showing an image of the inscripton fragment on Israeli television’s Channel 14. (Screen grab)

These scholars propose the large inscribed fragment was associated with Hezekiah’s water system, described in 2 Kings 20:20. They link this stone to another limestone fragment of similar style, discovered in the same general area back in 1978. The second fragment mentions the “seventeenth” which could refer to a regnal year, such as the seventeenth year of a king’s reign. Together, these two fragments may have been part of the same dedicatory inscription for a water collection pool completed in Hezekiah’s seventeenth year.

A fragment of similar size and style, discovered by Yigal Shiloh back in 1978. Shukron and Galil believe this and the proposed “Hezekiah” fragment may have been part of the same monumental inscription. Together, the fragments could refer to a water pool constructed by Hezekiah in the 17th year of his reign.

The beginning and ending characters of the proposed Hezekiah name are missing, so this proposed interpretation is based on a reconstruction. This is another example of some unwritten rules with biblical inscriptions. 1) The inscription will usually be damaged. 2) The damage will affect the key word(s) relating to the Bible. It can’t be too easy, right?

You may read a fuller description of the announcement here.

Hezekiah’s name has already been found on clay seals (bullae) and in ancient foreign records. If the new interpretation is correct, this fragment would be the first evidence of a monumental inscription erected by a King of Judah.

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BiblePlaces’ General Epistles sale ending shortly

If you haven’t obtained the recent BiblePlaces photo volumes on the General Epistles, be aware the current promotion is really, really good. “For slightly more than the cost of any one of the volumes, you can purchase all four.” But this deal is about to end.

This morning’s BiblePlaces Newsletter describes it best:

This is just a quick reminder that the sale price on the new volumes ends this week. 

For slightly more than the cost of any one of the volumes, you can purchase all four: 

We’ve made it easy and affordable: you get immediate download and free shipping when you order the General Epistles set ($49) with one of these links:DVD+download or as download-only.

If you want to get a closer look before you buy, download one or more of these free PowerPoints:

I highly recommend BiblePlaces resources. There is nothing else like them on the market to both inform and illustrate the biblical text, whether you’re teaching or studying it.

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New BiblePlaces photo volumes for the General Epistles

The impressive BiblePlaces Photo Companion series has just added Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, and 1 & 2 & 3 John to its collections. And there’s a sale!

Together, these collections give you nearly 5,000 photos illustrating every verse of these 8 letters, along with scholarly commentary for your study and research. Every photo also comes in PowerPoint format so you can copy/paste as desired into teaching presentations.

Here’s perhaps the sweetest part: The volumes are currently on sale for $29-$39 each but you can get all of them together this week, for immediate download and FREE shipping, for just $49 total. That’s just about a penny per photo, with scholarly commentary included.

Looking for a thoughtful and useful gift for your favorite Bible teacher or student? This is a gift that will benefit that person, and everyone they teach, for years to come. Check out the new BiblePlaces Newsletter for more details. Get these new additions to the Photo Companion series while they’re still on sale!

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Biblical inscription from Mt. Ebal, but a note of caution

Archaeologists have revealed a small, ancient lead amulet with an inscription that was discovered on Mt. Ebal in the rubbish pile of a previous excavation. Back in the 1980s, Dr. Adam Zertal uncovered a stone structure atop Mt. Ebal that some interpret as an altar built by Joshua in the Bible (Josh 8:30-31) Mt. Ebal is also one of the mountains of blessing & cursing in Deut. 27 and Josh. 8. These types of amulets are known from the ancient world and contained inscriptions folded and sealed inside thin sheets of lead. The lead folds on this amulet couldn’t be opened without breakage so researchers employed tomographic scans of the exterior and interior to try and discern the hidden inscription.

Images of the folded lead tablet found on Mt. Ebal. The object is small, roughly 1 inch square.
Photo by Michael C. Luddeni. (Courtesy of Associates for Biblical Research)

Dr. Scott Stripling and staff with the Associates for Biblical Research recently announced the results of this scientific analysis at a press conference at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston. Dr. Scott Stripling, the project head, stated that thousands of scans enabled them to discern 40 proto-alphabetic letters. The researchers did not share any original images or transliteration from the scans, which is curious for an inscription reveal, but offered their English translation of the hidden text.

Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW.

You will die cursed.

Cursed you will surely die.

Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.

The amulet is a “curse” tablet, a type of ancient legal text describing consequences if a person does not fulfill conditions of an agreement. The Blessings & Curses at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal in Deut. 28 are an example of this ancient practice.

Big Claims: The researchers claim this is the earliest example of Hebrew writing yet discovered, though written in a precursor alphabet to paleo-Hebrew. (This is not unusual since we have other inscriptions from this approximate period written in early alphabetic scripts.) Some scholars insist early Israel was not a literate society, meaning the historical books of the Hebrew Bible could not have been written in the era of Moses, the Judges, or the earlier kings. This inscription would show the tribes of Israel were literate, able to record their history and laws, and potentially compose biblical books at that time.

Scott Stripling also claims this inscription may date to around 1400 BC, when Israel entered Canaan in the traditional biblical chronology. This is a big point of contention among scholars since many archaeologists believe the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt would have occurred in the 1200s instead. If these claims are true, this would suggest the Israelites entered Canaan around the earlier date.

Its discovery near a place biblically associated with the renewal of a covenant agreement would also be notable. Mt. Ebal is associated with a famous blessing/cursing event in the Bible (Duet 27-28). The ABR people suggest this tablet could be connected with that famous story.

If all of these claims are true, especially regarding the inscription date, this discovery would be on the level of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the “House of David” inscription from Tel Dan. However, big claims require solid evidence, and their press announcement didn’t offer it.

Concern and Caution: ABR presented weighty conclusions on controversial biblical matters, yet chose not to share the actual data that informed their conclusions. They announced an inscription without showing the inscription. This is unusual. Why withhold original images while announcing an inscription and a proposed translation?

Putting faith in the Bible and believing a certain archaeological claim are two different things.

Assuming the inscription scan results were indeed clear enough to support the translation, the proposed dating to ca. 1400 BC seems to be the least established conclusion, yet the most consequential. The amulet was taken out of its original context around 40 years ago, away from the pottery and other remains that best inform the dating, before being recently sifted from dump debris. The press conference and previously published materials note the site’s pottery ranged from the Late Bronze to Early Iron ages, a period that extends into the 11th century BC, far later than the proposed early 15th century date. The most secure dating for the altar site points to the 1200s BC, so a claim of ca. 1400 needs clear supporting evidence.

The stated reason for the early 15th century BC date is the writing style. While the shape and orientation of the letters can suggest approximate dates, the lack of standardization in the Late Bronze and Early Iron periods (the biblical judges and early kings) make it difficult to pin down dating. Writing rules often differed from one place to the next. It’s possible the amulet could date to 1400 BC but maybe just as likely (or more likely) that it dates to the 1200s or later. The press conference was sprinkled with words like “possibly,” “could be,” and “maybe,” indicating the ABR team is aware the amulet may not fit their desired paradigm.

This drawing shows the Divine Name of YWHW rendered in a proto-Canaanite (or Early Alphabetic) script. This is the only part the inscription that was revealed at the press conference, but it is only a reconstructed drawing. None of the scans or images on which this drawing is based were shown during the announcement of the inscription. (Drawing by Gershon Galil, courtesy of the Associates for Biblical Research)

Whatever its date, this amulet is a genuine ancient find in a notable place. However, believers have been burned many times by quickly embracing preliminary announcements, even from sincere people, because the results seem to support the Bible. Early conclusions often do not withstand later scrutiny. Once they publish their actual data, we can see if these announcements hold up. There’s always a gap between conclusions we form vs. what we actually find. Mind the Gap!

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Contrary to earlier report, Turkey not returning Siloam inscription

A couple days ago, an Israeli news source quoted an Israeli official that Turkey had agreed to send the Siloam inscription to Israel as a result of diplomatic negotiations. Turkey has since responded that the Siloam incsription will not be returning to Jerusalem after all.

Maybe someone just got excited too early, or perhaps a higher-up nixed the proposal. In any case, this is not the first time the attempt has been made. Nor, undoubtedly, will it be the last.

One can see a replica of the inscription in Israel. If you want to see the original 8th century BC Siioam inscription with your own eyes, you must visit Istanbul’s archaeological museum.

The original Siloam inscription from Hezekiah’s tunnel on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. (Wikipedia Commons)
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