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Thursday, January 1, 2015
Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014
Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014
A glimpse at the important work that goes on at excavations every year.
Gordon Govier/ December 30, 2014
Image: Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
flurry of year-end announcements provided some late-breaking additions
to the list of archaeological discoveries made public in 2014. Below are
the top ten findings of the broad variety of institutional and salvage
excavations taking place in the lands of the Bible.
10. Tomb of St. Stephen
The tomb of the first Christian martyr
may have been located in an excavation just west of Ramallah. An
Orthodox church news service recently reported that a church complex
excavation revealed an inscription indicating that the church had been
built over the burial site of St. Stephen, who was interred there in 35
AD. However, the lack of news of this discovery from other sources
raises questions that bear further investigation.
9. Theater where Polycarp was martyred
Archaeologists in Izmir, Turkey, are currently uncovering the Roman theater of ancient Smyrna,
one of the seven cities of Revelation. This theater is also the site
where Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the Apostle John,
8. Tablet that said the ark was round
The world's potentially oldest clay tablet containing a flood story
was found in the British Museum archives and put on display last
January. Discovered by the museum's cuneiform curator, Irving Finkel,
the tablet makes note of a round ark and is one of several versions of
the flood story that have been found in Mesopotamian excavations.
Although this tablet from ancient Babylon, dated around 1750 BC, may be
the oldest found containing the flood story, it's not necessarily the
earliest version of the story.
7. Olive oil from 8,000 years ago
Archaeologists announced in December that organic residue on pottery shards
excavated at Ein Zippori, near Nazareth, was olive oil. The vessels
were dated around 5800 BC, making them some of the earliest evidence of
olive oil production in the region and indicating that it was a diet
staple 4,000 years before the time of the biblical patriarchs.
6. Rosh Ha`Ayin farmhouse
Earlier this month, archaeologists announced that they had uncovered a large farmhouse
near the headwaters of the Yarkon River at Rosh Ha`Ayin, east of Tel
Aviv. In the early Israelite period, houses were typically small, with a
standardized 4-room design. But this house, dating to the Assyrian
conquest in the 7th century BC, is 100 feet by 130 feet, with 23 rooms.
Numerous wine presses and a large silo for storing grain were also found
The agricultural production continued at this farm through the Persian
and Hellenistic periods; a Greek coin with the images of Zeus and
Heracles was recovered in one of the rooms.
5. Temple at Tel Burna
The first major temple discovered
in Israel in 60 years is being excavated at Tel Burna, near the modern
city of Kiryat Gat. It dates back to 1300 BC, approximately the time of
the Exodus and Judges. The courtyard of the 2,700-square-foot building
yielded remains of sacrificial rituals, perhaps honoring the Canaanite
4. Stone rejected by the builders and Western Wall coins
Over the years archaeologists have been gradually excavating the total
length of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. At the
foundation layer of the southern end of the wall, they recently uncovered a unique stone.
While Herodian architecture typically uses stones that have a margin
around the edges and a raised-boss center, this one's surface was smooth
and rounded. Archaeologists Roni Reich and Eli Shukron believe it was
left over from the building of the Second Temple, the temple of Jesus'
day. This has led some Bible scholars to suggest it was the literal
"stone rejected by the builders," referenced by Jesus in Matthew 21:42,
quoting Psalm 118:22-23.
Those two ideas are speculative. But the discovery of coins minted in
17-18 AD under the foundation level has led the archaeologists to
conclude that at least part of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount was
not built by Herod the Great but by his heirs decades later.
3. Sheshonq’s scarab
A scarab bearing the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq
was discovered in 2006 but not announced until earlier this year.
Sheshonq I has been identified as the biblical pharaoh Shishak, a
contemporary of Solomon and his son Rehoboam. The scarab provides new
evidence for Shishak's raid into Judah as described in II Chronicles
The scarab was found in the ruins of an ancient copper smelting
facility at a site called Khirbat Hamra Ifdan in Jordan, south of the
Scarabs, coins, seals, and bullae are very small but can have a
significant archaeological impact because of the information they
reveal. Earlier this year, another Egyptian scarab was found at Khirbet el-Maqatir, from the Hyksos period.
2. Khirbet Summeily bullae
In recent decades, some archaeologists and Bible scholars have argued that David and Solomon were minor or mythological leaders
and not the major rulers depicted in the Bible. But the discovery this
summer of six clay seal impressions—or bullae—from the 10th century BC
indicate significant administrative activity at a remote outpost at
Khirbet Summeily near Gaza, on the ancient border between Judah and
Philistia. The bullae are the latest in a series of discoveries that
support the existence of a major Jerusalem-based kingdom in the 10th
1. Herod's Gate at Herodium
The discovery of what was believed to be the tomb of Herod the Great
in 2007 ended a 30-year search by the late Israeli archaeologist Ehud
Netzer. But this desert palace/fortress still has more secrets to
reveal. Earlier this month, Hebrew University archaeologists announced
the discovery of a monumental entrance—60 feet long, 20 feet wide, and
60 feet high—providing direct access to the inner courtyard.
Archaeologists say the entryway may never have been used. Instead,
Herod ordered the entrance backfilled and the adjacent royal theater
covered up, creating the setting for his monumental mausoleum.