Masada Dig Yields New Discoveries from Jewish War

Preliminary results from the new excavations at Masada have been released, with “tremendous amounts” of new finds illuminating the famous Roman siege. Here are some excerpts:

“We’re actually excavating a refugee camp,” said Guy Stiebel, the archaeologist leading excavations carried out earlier this year by Tel Aviv University. Masada’s inhabitants during the seven years of the revolt were “a sort of microcosm of Judaea back then,” comprised of refugees from Jerusalem and across Judaea, including priests, members of the enigmatic monastic group from Qumran that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and at least one Samaritan.

… “We have the opportunity to truly see the people, and this is very rare for an archaeologist,” he said. Among them are women and children, who are too often underrepresented in the archaeological record. Through archaeology, the study of the material culture found on Masada, architecture and a restudying of Josephus, he and his team can even pick out where different groups originated from before coming to Masada.

“We know people by name, we know people by profession. We can learn about the way this group of rebels lived,” he said.

Stiebel was loath to disclose too many particulars about his team’s finds until they could be published in a scientific journal. He divulged, however, that he and his team have managed to extract “tremendous amounts of data” from the newly excavated areas of the site…

Excavating at Masada not only sheds light on its inhabitants, but on the people who lived in Jerusalem and Judea in the nascent years of Christianity, and the twilight of Jewish independence.

Masada is famous for Josephus’ account of the battle between the besieging Romans and the Jews atop this Dead Sea fortress. Josephus writes that the Jews committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the assaulting Tenth Legion. Scholars debate whether the Jews actually killed themselves, but the impressive remains on the summit and the complete Roman siege works preserved below indicate a compelling battle.

Read the full article here. I have previously written about the beginning of this new excavation. We will leave it to Dr. Stiebel and the staff to identify structures and finds in later reports. Their next excavation season is scheduled for February, 2018.


One of the excavation areas from the 2017 Masada expedition. (Nikki Casey)

Read one of my previous posts with general information on Masada here.

I had the pleasure of working under Guy Stiebel during my first excavation season at Khirbet Qeiyafa back in 2009.

HT: Joe Lauer

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The New “Photo Companion to the Bible” – It’s Much More Than Pictures

A new resource has just become available and is a “must have” for any Bible teacher. The Gospels: Photo Companion to the Bible has thousands of images that illustrate and illuminate nearly every verse in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The photos are already formatted in PowerPoint with insightful commentary from multiple sources. Each slide’s “Notes” contain information on the archaeology, geography, historical and cultural contexts, along with textual insights. Anyone teaching or studying from the Gospels will benefit from this.

To understand the breadth and value of this collection, it’s best to visit the web site and look it over.  Watch the introductory video and download the free sample chapters. The Photo Companion to the Bible is from the same people who created the incredible BiblePlaces photo collection. (17,500+ high-res photos from the Bible Lands with commentary.) I use BiblePlaces photos all the time in my teaching and cannot imagine going without them.

I was fortunate to obtain a preview copy of the Photo Companion collection before the official release. Here is an excerpt from my review to Todd Bolen, one of the creators of this new set:

This new photo collection on the Gospels is stunning. It’s far beyond what I imagined, even with the experience of the full BiblePlaces photo collection. The amount of work and the level of detail defy an easy description.


There is nothing like this resource available for teachers today. I cannot recommend the Gospels Photo Companion to the Bible strongly enough. Take advantage of an affordable introductory price that is good through Monday, August 21st. Check it out now and invest in this valuable resource for your own understanding and teaching.

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Another Dead Sea Scrolls Cave Found (Photos)

For the first time in over 60 years, scholars have identified another Dead Sea Scrolls cave. This newly excavated cave has everything one finds in a DSS cave (storage jars with lids, protective cloth wrap, leather binding straps, etc.) except for the actual scrolls. Evidence indicates the scrolls were looted during the 1950’s by scroll hunters trying to make a quick profit.

Modern publications say the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered amongst eleven caves. We can now identify twelve that contained hidden scrolls during the Jewish war against Rome in the 1st century AD.

A lightly edited version of the press release is below, followed by several photos.The full press release is here with links to the full set of downloadable high-res photos. (Probably a temporary link, so take advantage now.)

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Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12.

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, with the help of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.


… Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12. Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).

“This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave,” said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation. “Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more.”

The finds from the excavation include not only the storage jars, which held the scrolls, but also fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that was a part of a scroll.

… This first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of “Operation Scroll” will open the door to further understanding the function of the caves with respect to the scrolls, with the potential of finding new scroll material. The material, when published, will provide important new evidence for scholars of the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea caves.

“The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered,” said Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. The State of Israel needs to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to launch a historic operation, together with the public, to carry out a systematic excavation of all the caves of the Judean Desert.

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Remnants of a scroll from the newly discovered Q12 cave. This fragment was blank, apparently being prepared for use. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Remnant of the blank scroll removed from its storage jar. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Cloth that was used for wrapping the scrolls. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Cliff by the Dead Sea with cave entrance on the left. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Archaeologist Ahiad Ovadia digging in cave Q12. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Ziad Abu Ganem and a student sifting material from the cave. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


Fragments of jars that contained Dead Sea Scrolls. (Credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)


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Bible Lands Museum Video: “Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley”

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem has a special exhibit, “In the Valley of David and Goliath,” on the archaeological site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley. The exhibit’s feature video is now online and can be viewed from the comfort of your home or office.

The video is just under 9 minutes long and does a nice job explaining why Khirbet Qeiyafa is important for understanding the time of the biblical United Monarchy. Archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel does much of the talking but others share in the explanations. (I make an appearance for about 3 seconds.)

The Bible Lands Museum website allows you to download a free app with the audio guide for both the Khirbet Qeiyafa exhibit and the museum’s permanent collection. Scroll down the page to find the links for Android and iPhone.

For a unique archaeological experience, check out this music video with an original composition for harp, cello and pecussion inspired by the Kh. Qeiyafa exhibition, composed by Rali Margalit. The video provides views of the exhibit area and the actual Qeiyafa site.

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Join My 2017 Bible Lands Tour

Registration is open for my next Bible Lands Study Tour from June 7th – 17th, 2017. This is an immersive experience in the biblical text, its history, archaeology, culture, and geography that helps your study become deeper and more vivid. Enjoy the thrill of connecting so personally with events and people who inspire your life as a Christian.

This 11-day tour is available for $2,890, including round trip airfare between New York and Tel Aviv. All of our lodgings in Israel are in excellent locations and include free Wi-Fi.

This will be my 11th trip to Israel. I have put together a customized itinerary that brings you up close to a great number of Bible events. Walk where Jesus and others walked. Sail on the Sea of Galilee. Swim in the Dead Sea. Spend the night in places that allow you to soak in the history around you.

Are you interested in archaeology? For just under $1,100 more you can stay until June 30th and spend time with the dig at biblical Lachish. Meet renowned archaeologists and get a taste of real archaeology as you uncover objects and buildings from the past. Enjoy free lectures on biblical archaeology (given by the archaeologists), field trips to nearby biblical sites, and bonus days in Jerusalem.

For details, download my Bible Lands Tour brochure and registration form and the trip itinerary.

Want to stay longer and join a dig? Download the dig trip brochure and registration and the extended itinerary.


Join my 2017 tour to the Bible Lands from June 7th to 17th. If interested, stay longer and join the archaeological dig at biblical Lachish.

People with the Lachish excavation made this 10-minute video that asks volunteers (including me) what it’s like to experience a biblical dig. Check it out!


Fla. Seller of Travel Ref. No. ST37750

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Archaeology Updates from ASOR

My wife and I are back with our kids after hearing some great things at the ASOR annual meeting in San Antonio. Here are some highlights from our experience.

Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring: The massive 18th century BC tower over the Gihon Spring has surprisingly given some radiocarbon dates for the 9th century BC, the time of the kings of Judah. Was this massive fortification built in the 9th century, or was it built in the 18th century and repaired in the 9th century? Not sure at this point. It’s a pretty big thing to re-date a well-known monumental structure by 900 years.


The ancient Gihon Spring Tower in 2011. Visitors to the City of David park, which includes Hezekiah’s Tunnel, will remember this site. It’s been assumed this fortification existed when David took Jerusalem. New C-14 tests suggest it could date to one of David’s descendants instead. If I heard correctly, the tested samples came from soil beneath the large stones to the right. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The Ark of the Covenant: We heard a proposal that two recently-discovered Iron Age (kingdom period) temples at Beth Shemesh and Tel Moza might relate to the Ark of the Covenant’s journey from its capture by the Philistines to its final home in Jerusalem. Further investigation is needed on this one.

Philistine skeletons: The excavators of a newly-discovered Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon reported details on their findings. (This discovery made the news this past summer.) The cemetery dates from the 10th to 8th centuries BC, making it contemporary with the monarchies of Israel and Judah. Some 200 skeletons of men, women, and children. Interesting burial practices. Groundbreaking stuff (literally and figuratively).

The Gezer Water Tunnel: We got an update on the project to clear the underground water tunnel at Gezer. They’ve been going at it for 6 years and are still going deeper. The bottom is surprisingly not yet in sight. There are some interesting carvings on the tunnel ceiling and side walls that deserve attention. They might relate to those massive monoliths discovered on the surface.


Some of our excavation team posing with some of the monoliths at Gezer. These Canaanite stones may have represented gods, or possibly a political alliance. The issue is debated. Carvings in the underground Gezer water system may help to shed some light.

There were too many presentations to mention here, but a few other favorites covered new archaeological results from the biblical city of Azekah and the Judean Shephelah (foothills), some discussions on the Exodus from Egypt, and a paper on whether 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 refers to Roman emperor worship. (The presenter argued against this, based on an assemblage of inscriptions from that area.) In my previous post I mentioned some great sessions on Gath and our own excavations at Lachish.

Next year’s ASOR meeting is in Boston. It’s too early to know if I will be able to attend, but it promises a plethora of opportunities to learn of new discoveries from across the biblical world.

Posted in Bible comments, Biblical Archaeology, Conference, Gezer, Jerusalem, New Discoveries, New Testament, Paul, Philistines, Tel Azekah, Water systems | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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