Archaeology Updates in San Antonio

My wife and I are attending the ASOR Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. This is one of several professional organizations for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies that meet in a different U.S. city every November to share results and research. It is also an opportunity for archaeologists and other scholars to network and shop for books directly from the publishers.

I have been a member of ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) for a number of years, though this is only the third time being able to attend the Annual Meeting. Other professional organizations with similar interests such as SBL (Society for Biblical Literature) and ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) meet around the same time every November. Each year some scholars stay around and present for two or three of these groups on different days.

ASOR is the most archaeologically-based of these groups, and most of the presentations I’ve attended relate to Biblical Studies. Some of the sessions my wife and I both (hopefully) have enjoyed include new results from Jerusalem, Philistine Gath, ancient Egypt, and sites all over ancient Canaan/Palestine including the project I work with at Lachish.


Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at ASOR presenting on results from our work at Tel Lachish. His presentation includes an aerial photo from my friend Ferrell Jenkins.

This is also a good time to connect with people. I’ve enjoyed connecting with several friends from Tel Lachish and my previous site of Khirbet Qeiyafa. It’s also been a pleasure to introduce them all to my wife, Melanie. (She has not yet been to Israel, though we hope to remedy that next summer.)


Reconnecting with Itamar Weissbein and Igor Kreimerman, staff members with the Tel Lachish excavation.


The ASOR meeting began Thursday and concludes Saturday.

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New Excavations to Begin at Masada

After a 10-year hiatus, the Dead Sea mountain fortress of Masada will be excavated again according to this news article. Though much has been found in the past, Director of Excavations Dr. Guy Stiebel says much remains to be discovered.

Masada (“stronghold”) is a large, flat-topped mountain along the western shore of the Dead Sea, next to the Lisan Peninsula that separates the north and south basins. The Bible suggests David may have used the mountain while hiding from King Saul. Herod the Great later fortified the summit with two palaces, casemate walls, hot and cold baths, and enough storage for food, water, and weapons to withstand long sieges from below.


A view of Masada from the east. Herod fortified the summit to add the mountain to his network of palace fortresses. The white zig-zagging line in the center is the Snake Path, the only natural ascent by foot to the summit. The Roman ramp is on the other side of the mountain. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

During the Jewish War in the 1st century, rebels seized the summit and holed up until the Roman 10th Legion built a massive assault ramp and broke through the outer wall. Josephus records the Jews of Masada killed themselves and their families rather than be captured.

Dr. Guy Stiebel was my first archaeological supervisor on my first dig. My father and I worked under him at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2009 and had an excellent experience. He was the chief archaeologist for Masada back then and it appears he will lead these new excavations as well. I see no indication of which area he plans to dig but look forward to the results.

HT: Jim Davila


With Dr. Guy Stiebel in 2009. He supervised in Area A of Khirbet Qeiyafa during my first excavation season.

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How did bells on the High Priest’s garment sound?

In 2011, archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich uncovered a golden bell in Jerusalem that may have belonged to a 1st century High Priest. Small golden bells were part of the High Priest’s official attire when ministering in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle or Temple.

On the hem [of the ephod] you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. (Exodus 28:33-35)


A small golden bell recovered in 2011 excavations in Jerusalem’s Roman-era sewers. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Researchers have recreated how up to 72 of these bells could have sounded on the High Priest’s garments when he walked around. The Bible does not give an exact number of bells on the ephod, though the question is debated in the Talmud.

The animated High Priest in this video walks with some swag. (Video in Hebrew with English subtitles)

The High Priest did not wear the ephod with bells when entering the Holy of Holies, on the other side of the veil. According to the Law of Moses he entered that space only one time a year, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Leviticus 16 describes a special, all-linen outfit for that occasion.

Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die…. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place…  He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. (Lev. 16:2-4)

Continuing in Leviticus 16, after completing atonement rituals inside the veil, in the Holy of Holies, and sending the scapegoat away from the camp, the High Priest was to change back into his regular vestments with the ephod and bells for the final offerings.

Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people. (Lev. 16:23-24)

We cannot prove the golden bell discovered in 2011 belonged to the High Priest, though it is certainly possible. If it wasn’t the High Priest’s, it was no doubt similar to ones the priest would have worn.

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Jesus Tomb Update: Original stone uncovered beneath two marble slabs

Continuing my previous post, National Geographic has photos, a short video, and an excellent article on the renovation of Jesus’ Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It avoids sensationalism and takes a fairly objective view of the location. A couple of the photos show closeups of the original stone surface, seen for the first time since perhaps the Crusader period.

An excerpt:

While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb recently uncovered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, there is indirect evidence to suggest that the identification of the site by representatives of the Roman emperor Constantine some 300 years later may be a reasonable one.

The article gives the reasons why this location may be accurate. It is important to note that many tombs were in this area. The location of the Edicule was chosen 3 centuries after Jesus’s time, and after being buried for 200 years. We cannot be sure of the specific tomb or tomb chamber that should be associated with Jesus. If not the current location, it was probably somewhere very close.

Some Roman period tombs are still visible in the Holy Sepulcher Church if one knows where to look.


Steven Braman demonstrating a Roman period tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

As I’ve written before, some revere the Garden Tomb north of Damascus Gate as the actual Golgotha, but this is not so. The Garden Tomb dates to several centuries before Jesus’ time and cannot be the “new tomb” described in Matthew 27:60 and John 19:41.

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Jesus’ Burial Place Exposed for First Time in Centuries

The small building covering the traditional burial site of Jesus is getting a thorough renovation, and the original stone burial slab has been revealed for the first time in centuries. National Geographic posts a nice article and video on this. After visiting once or twice every year for a while, I recognize a Greek Orthodox priest, a Coptic priest, and (I believe) a Catholic priest whose faces are featured in the video. The Holy Sepulcher Church is shared among those groups along with members of the Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian churches.

Is the Aedicule (or, Edicule) in the Holy Sepulcher Church actually the tomb of Christ? I explored this in an earlier post. Several edicules have come and gone since the first one built by Constantine in the 4th century. The current structure was finished in 1810 but was destabilized by an earthquake in 1927. Since then, the Edicule has been held together by an unattractive steel frame.

Version 2

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

Restoration work began earlier this year and was ongoing during my visit in June.


The Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher Church under renovation in June, 2016.

The restoration work is scheduled to finish next year, so I can hopefully show photos of the finished work during my trip next summer.

HT: Steve Wolfgang for the National Geographic link.

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First Temple “Jerusalem” Papyrus Revealed to Public

We have more news about the papyrus discovery I mentioned earlier. The Israel Antiquities Authority has revealed what they describe as “the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.” C14 tests and paleographic analysis date the papyrus to the 7th century BC, around the time of kings Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah.


A First Temple-era, 2,700-year-old papyrus bearing the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew. (Credit: the Israel Antiquities Authority)

This papyrus was plundered from a desert cave before being recovered in an IAA anti-theft operation. It is an ancient packing slip. Here is an interesting excerpt from the IAA press release.

Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.

[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na‘artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.

“From the king’s maidservant, from Na‘arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”

This is a rare and original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, indicating the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, the capital city of the kingdom at this time. The document specifies the status of the sender of the shipment (the king’s maidservant), the name of the settlement from which the shipment was dispatched (Na‘arat), the contents of the vessels (wine), their number or amount (jars) and their destination (Jerusalem). Na‘artah [Hebrew rendering – LC], which is mentioned in the text, is the same Na‘arat [English rendering – LC] that is referred to in the description of the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7: “And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Na‘arat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan”.

According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah. It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century BCE… It is not possible to know for certain which of the kings of Jerusalem was the recipient of the shipment of wine”.

Israel Prize laureate and biblical scholar Prof. (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv attests to the scientific importance of the document, “It’s not just that this papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing; it is the fact that to date no other documents written on papyrus dating to the First Temple period have been discovered in Israel, except one from Wadi Murabba‘at.  Also outstanding in the document is the unusual status of a woman in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE.”

One might think we have many examples of the name Jerusalem in Hebrew from the First Temple period, but in fact we have virtually nothing at all on papyrus from that time. (The Dead Sea Scrolls are from the Second Temple period, roughly half a millennium later.) Papyrus does not hold up in environments with moisture, which leaves us only the desert as a source for more manuscripts. Is the Judean Desert tapped out yet? This discovery gives hope that more manuscripts may be found in time.

Here’s a YouTube video showcasing this First Temple papyrus.

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Two New Discoveries Relate to Ancient Jerusalem

Two new archaeological finds relate to Jerusalem in the Old and New Testament periods.

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have found the northernmost wall of 1st century AD Jerusalem and discovered the point where the attacking Romans breached it during the Jewish War in AD 70. Excavators found many ballista balls and sling stones fired by the Romans during the battle. You can read the original press release here.

Josephus records how the Romans under Titus besieged Jerusalem and broke through the northern defenses. The fighting eventually reached the Temple Mount and resulted in the destruction of the entire city.

Perhaps many of us have seen maps of 1st century Jerusalem showing two possible locations for the northernmost wall. This find seems to settle that debate, showing the city wall located well north of the current Ottoman wall. This article describes the finds and has photos.


The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. (Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)


A sling stone on the ground, used during the battle waged along Jerusalem’s northernmost wall nearly 2,000 years ago. (Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)


A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. (Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Also… scholars are about to reveal an 8th a 7th century BC papyrus fragment from the Judean Wilderness that mentions “Jerusalem” in Hebrew. This dating puts the fragment around the time of Uzziah or Hezekiah, perhaps even Manasseh. It will be formally presented in a conference next week.

There is one problem with this Hebrew fragment. It is unprovenanced, meaning we don’t know from where it came. Radiocarbon tests supposedly date the papyrus material to the 8th 7th century, so we will hope the inscription is just as old. Forgers have been known to create fake ancient manuscripts on ancient materials.

Aren Maeir will be a respondent in next week’s conference session on this papyrus. He wrote about it under a gag order but the cat seems to have gotten out of the bag with this short article. We’ll hope that when full details are revealed, its authenticity can be confirmed.

HT: Jim Davila, Joe Lauer

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Yossi Garfinkel at Florida College Nov. 7th

For anyone in Central Florida on Monday, November 7th, archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel will be at Florida College to present on recent discoveries from biblical Lachish. His work will focus on physical evidence regarding the early Kingdom of Judah, a subject of controversy among archaeologists.

Here is the official announcement from Dr. David McClister, chairman of the Biblical Studies Department at Florida College.

This year the Department of Biblical Studies is honored to sponsor a presentation by Dr. Yossi Garfinkel, on our campus on the evening of Monday, November 7. Dr. Garfinkel is a world-renowned Israeli archaeologist and is currently the Yigael Yadin Chair in Archaeology of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of a dozen books and numerous scholarly articles; he most recently was director of the dig at Khribet Qeiyafa (2007-2013) and is currently co-director of the Fourth Archaeological Expedition at Lachish (2014 to present).

Dr. Garfinkel will share a presentation on the latest work at the Biblical site of Lachish. The presentation will be at 7pm in the Puckett Auditorium. Admission to the event is free.

Please mark this date on your calendar, and we hope to see you there.

Prof. Garfinkel spoke at Florida College two years ago on his excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site at a great location that dates to the time of David’s kingdom in the Bible.

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (green shirt) examining a fresh discovery at Lachish in 2014. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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The New “Dead Sea Scrolls” – Are They Real?

My previous post on newly-surfaced fragments of “Dead Sea Scrolls” mentions they may be a great discovery “if they can be authenticated.” A followup article by the same author asks if some or most of these fragments are forgeries. That’s an important question since they are unprovenanced. (def.- We don’t know where they come from.)

Around 70 papyrus fragments have appeared on the antiquities market in the past 15 years. They are allegedly from the Dead Sea region, perhaps even some of the missing fragments from Dead Sea Scrolls. Professor Eibert Tigchelaar believes this new batch is a mix of genuine fragments from Dead Sea caves amongst some fake manuscripts.

Why might many be fake? According to Tigchelaaar only one or two of the new scroll fragments, a “statistically impossible” low number, appear to belong to the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in caves near Qumran. Some fragments seem to have small letters crammed into the limited space on the papyrus fragments, which shouldn’t be the case since the fragments would have detached from larger scrolls. These new fragments also consist entirely of Bible texts, but the Dead Sea Scrolls include many non-biblical texts.

It is exciting to find potential Dead Sea Scrolls, but we should not embrace these kinds of new discoveries too quickly until we can confirm if they are truly ancient.


Cave 4 at Qumran, which yielded the largest number of Dead Sea Scroll manuscript fragments. There have been many caves along the shores of the Dead Sea, and perhaps some of the newly-surfaced scroll fragments originated in these. There is a lot of antiquities fraud, so we must be careful about accepting new claims as true. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

HT: Joe Lauer

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25 New Dead Sea Scrolls(?) Revealed

25 published Bible manuscripts may be genuine “Dead Sea Scrolls” from some 2,000 years ago, and there are more to come. This is a great discovery if they can be authenticated, though some are concerned they could be forgeries.

The origin of these scroll fragments is unknown. They include portions of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah.

See the full article about them here.


This scroll fragment preserves parts of Leviticus 26:6-9, in which God promises to reward the people of Israel if they observe the Sabbath and obey the 10 commandments. Credit: copyright The Schøyen Collection, Oslo and London, MS 4611

These new fragments are currently owned by a couple of private collectors. One of them is Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, who has donated them to the Museum of the Bible, opening next year in Washington D.C.

HT: Joe Lauer

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