The Recovered Gezer Boundary Inscription

Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan have written an article for the Baptist Press about their success this season in discovering a new Gezer boundary inscription and recovering one lost for more than 100 years. The article includes a photo of the recovered inscription (#4), and promises a full report in a journal in due course.

This lost boundary inscription was discovered in 1881 by Charles Clermont-Ganneau and his description of the episode helps to explain why scholars failed to locate it in the last century. From Archaeological Researches in Palestine 2:232:

In 1881, seven years after this incident, I had occasion to return to Palestine, and resumed, on my own account, the exploration of the neighbourhood of Gezer, which had been so unduly broken off. I had been persuaded all along that some more inscriptions must be in existence, similar to those I had discovered, marking out the boundary of the town towards the north-west. I started searching in this quarter, with the help of the fellahin, as on the previous occasion; it was not long before my labours were crowned with success, for about two or three hundred yards to the northwest of the first inscription I discovered some large characters, absolutely similar to the former, and cut into the face of a rounded rocky platform with almost perpendicular sides.
I have no record of these characters, but a rough sketch hurriedly made in my note book. I meant to go back and take a squeeze of them, fix the exact position of the inscription, and pursue my investigations on the spot; but, unfortunately, I was suddenly recalled to France, and was unable to carry out this intention. I regret this, for I am convinced that there still remains quite a series of these texts to be collected round about Gezer, I am certain that a search of this kind would not be unfruitful, and recommend it to future Palestine explorers.

As of this month, 13 boundary inscriptions have been found near Gezer, but I have to ask, did no other cities have similar markers?

Clermont-Ganneau’s sketch of “Inscription D”

Interview at BibleX

Over at the BibleX blog, Charles Savelle has interviewed me about the new photo collection and its value for those teaching the Bible. He asks:

1. How does understanding the geography and archaeology of the Holy Lands contribute to the practice of Bible exposition?

2. You have just released a revised and expanded edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (PLBL). How have you used pictures like those in the PLBL in your own teaching and preaching ministry?

3. The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands contains more than 17,500 images. Do you have any suggestions for relatively new Bible teachers on how best to use these images without getting overwhelmed?

4. How can a Bible teacher be more effective by using the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands?

The full interview is here.

Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Revised and Expanded edition, released earlier this month

Judge Proposes Destruction of James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription

From the Jerusalem Post:

A Jerusalem judge will announce on Wednesday whether he has decided to order the destruction of a burial box that could have held the bones of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed tablet that could have come from the First Temple.
At a Jerusalem District Court hearing in April, Judge Aharon Farkash said he might exercise “the judgement of Solomon” and order both items to be destroyed.

It’s hard to believe that the judge was being serious, especially since he has concluded that the artifacts may be authentic. Advocates on both sides of the forgery debate are against destruction of the objects.

Andre Lemaire, the Sorbonne scholar who published the first analysis of the ossuary in 2002 and has stood by its authenticity, said its destruction would be “scandalous” and “a manipulation of historical evidence.”
“It would be necessary from a scientific point of view to start a new suit, on a real basis this time, for voluntary destruction of historical evidence and tentative manipulation of history,” Professor Lemaire told The Jerusalem Post.
Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Emmanuel Christian Seminary who appeared as a prosecution witness, said “it is never prudent to destroy antiquities, regardless of the controversy surrounding them.”
“I would certainly not wish to see the Ya’akov (“James”) Ossuary destroyed. Indeed, to destroy the ossuary would only fuel the controversy, effectively turning this ossuary into an archaeological martyr of sorts. I wish to see it returned to its legal owner,” he said.

The full article is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Not a Forgery: Jehoash Inscription

Five geologists have written a new article in light of the judge’s acquittal of Oded Golan on charges that he forged the Jehoash Inscription. The geologists believe that the inscription is genuine and make their case in a 30-page document recently published by The Bible and Interpretation. The abstract:

The carbon particles in the patina yield a radiocarbon age of approximately 2250 years BP (third century BCE). The presence of micro-colonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. No modern elements related to the use of modern tools were found. All evidence indicates that the production of the tablet and the carving of its inscription occurred at essentially the same time….. We would like to emphasize that we found nothing suspicious to indicate that the JI [Jehoash Inscription] is a forgery. We came to the conclusion that our analyses strongly support the antiquity of the patina, which, in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription of the JI is authentic…..

It’s possible that these five experts have been fooled by someone more brilliant in geological matters, but it’s too much to ask me to believe that they are part of a conspiracy to conceal a forgery.

I do not recall hearing of the alleged provenance of the inscription (before it was sold on the antiquities market), but the article claims that it was found “near the southeastern corner of the wall of the Temple Mount complex where it was used as a secondary building stone in a tomb.” New tombs have been dug in this Muslim cemetery in the last decade, but whether or not this claim is true is impossible to know apart from some trustworthy witnesses. Some had speculated previously that it came from the Muslim construction of an exit for a mosque in “Solomon’s Stables.”

Temple Mount southeast corner from south, tb091306324
Southeastern corner of Temple Mount where the Jehoash Inscription was allegedly recovered (photo source)

New Gezer Boundary Inscription

A thirteenth boundary inscription near Tell Gezer was discovered last week in an archaeological survey led by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. They also re-discovered inscription #4, one initially located by Charles Clermont-Ganneau but not seen since. Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister doesn’t come out looking very good in this story either. From SWBTS:

The new boundary stone inscription located by the Gezer survey team this season is the first to be found in over a decade, increasing the total number of known Gezer boundary inscriptions to 13. The new inscription is very weathered and is a bilingual inscription like many of the others, with some minor differences. It is a three line inscription, rather than the typical two, with the Greek name Alkiou on the first line (literally “belonging to Alkios”), remnants of the Hebrew word for “region of” on the second line and small remnants of the letters spelling “Gezer” on the third line. The Greek letters are larger than in other inscriptions and both the Greek and Hebrew lines are oriented in the same perspective. The survey directors will seek to publish the inscription as soon as possible in an academic publication.
The second inscription discovered this season has not been seen by scholars in over 100 years. Originally discovered by a 19th century French explorer, a later excavator RAS Macalister admitted to having spent considerable time during his 1902 through 1909 expeditions searching for this particular boundary stone. Unable to find the inscription, he concluded that it must have been defaced to unintelligibility in the years subsequent to its discovery. Based on a published field sketch of the stone, this boundary inscription and the 19th century discovery are one and the same.

The full story is here. Sam Wolff, who mentioned this report on the ANE-2 list, writes that the two inscriptions are 50 meters apart. When Ronny Reich discovered inscription #12 about a decade ago, he and Zvi Greenhut published a survey of all the inscriptions, with GPS coordinates, in Israel Exploration Journal 52/1 (2002): 58-63. The SWBTS article states that survey directors Eric Mitchell and Jason Zan have written an article on the first five survey seasons to be published soon by Hadashot Arkheologiyot.

See this month’s issue of the BiblePlaces Newsletter for a photo of inscription #8.

Gezer boundary inscription number 12, tb061307232
Gezer boundary inscription #12 (source). Bottom line reads “of Alkios” (in Greek); top line reads (from the other side, in Aramaic) “the boundary of Gezer” (taham gezer).

Weekend Roundup

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg reviews significant discoveries in his Archaeology in Israel Update—April 2012.

The Washington Post has a good slideshow of the gold hoard from Megiddo.

Wayne Stiles considers the difference between the “reunification” of Jerusalem and the “restoration” that the Bible predicts.

The Good Book Blog has an infographic depicting the Rulers of Israel and Judah.
Sensation Before Scholarship: Gordon Govier writes in Christianity Today about the problem of
media hype in archaeological and textual discoveries.

The ASOR Blog has a new Archaeology Weekly Roundup.

Eisenbrauns has announced their 2012 Mug.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Evidence for April 3, 33 CE Crucifixion Earthquake?

by Chris McKinny

A recent study of seismological activity carried out in the Dead Sea region by geologist Jefferson Williams claims to have found evidence for an earthquake that can be dated to April 3, 33 CE. This study then goes on to make the claim that this earthquake relates to the crucifixion earthquake mentioned in Matt. 27:51. However, later in the article Williams concedes that the earthquake could have happened some time “before or after the crucifixion” at which point it was “borrowed” by the “author of the Gospel of Matthew.” Jennifer Viegas writes in Discovery News: 

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea. Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.  

In terms of the earthquake data alone, Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.” If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion – darkness. Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 PM after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a dust storm, he believes. Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the early first century Jerusalem region earthquake. 

This last paragraph effectively shoots holes in the somewhat sensationalistic exactness of the claim.

What’s the point of arguing for the calendar week and day in which Jesus was crucified if you are going to say it could have happened any time in 33 CE? Moreover, the fact that he is looking for naturalistic ways of explaining the phenomena mentioned in Matt. 27 reeks of the formula used in “The Exodus Decoded.” So prepare yourself for a Discovery channel documentary in the near future.

That said – if the report is to be trusted – it is quite interesting that there is seismological activity in the period in question. In fact, this lines up quite well with the late Harold Hoehner’s chronology in Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (see pg. 95-114). However, given the caveat of the geological analysis proving to be accurate, this evidence still proves relatively nothing. I suspect scholars will line up along party lines with inerrantists claiming infallible evidence and the rest claiming allegorical etiological explanations (e.g. Arad, Ai/Et-Tell, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.)

Update 6/1/2012
Geologist Jeff Williams has sent me an email clarifying his team’s findings and subsequent interpretations. I have reproduced his clarifications and personal input with his permission below.

Based on his response which expresses a strong desire to maintain objectivity, it is my feeling that this is not a case that should be lumped into the growing sensationalistic pseudo-archaeological, pseudo-scientific “discoveries” related  to Jesus. You can also check out some more of there research here.

An early first century earthquake shows up in the Dead Sea sediments for which the historical record (that we know of) shows no plausible candidates. However, there is mention of this earthquake in the New Testament. In fact, we added no new information about the date of the crucifixion. We took previous work by other authors largely based on astronomical calculations pertaining to the Jewish Lunar Calendar which assigned a range of likely dates for the crucifixion and compared them with our geologic estimate of the age of the earthquake; which was dated to have occurred between 26 and 36 AD. We also performed a geomechanical analysis to examine all historically reported earthquakes within a 40 year time span around 30 AD to see if it was likely that any of them would have deformed the sediments. None appeared to be likely candidates. Then we made some conclusions which are listed in the abstract of our article. 

The abstract of our article is reproduced below :
 This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.

Finally, I think I should explain who I am and what I am about.
I am first and foremost a scientist. I am also agnostic. I assume the New Testament is a human document that contains errors. I am not trying to prove or disprove the Bible. I am treating the statement by Matthew that there was an earthquake on the day of the crucifixion as a hypothesis that needs to be tested. I will publish whatever I can coax out of the sediments; whether this supports or contradicts biblical accounts. I have much respect for people of faith but I personally do not rely on faith. I am naturally curious and don’t know what the end result will be of the research I am undertaking.


Politics and the City of David

An article this week at The Christian Century doesn’t break any new ground on the political dimensions of the excavations in the City of David, but for those looking for an introduction to the subject, this is an easy place to begin.

The Israelis have continued to dig all around Jerusalem, while the Palestinians have tried to stop digs that they see as infringements on their sacred territory. In the 1990s, Muslims undertook their own dig on the southeast corner of the Temple Mount as part of providing new access to the Marwani Mosque (also known as Solomon’s Stables). The dig was criticized by Israelis for taking place without the proper archaeological supervision, and some Israeli archaeologists charged that the Muslim excavators hid evidence of ancient Jewish presence at the site.
Recently, attention has been focused on a site known as the City of David, which lies just south of Jerusalem’s Old City. Archaeologists are exploring a site on and around the stream of Gihon, a site associated with the origins of the city. Jerusalem, like so many cities, was founded on or near a water source.

The article has a few basic mistakes, and each side will disagree with parts of the presentation, but as an introduction to the subject, it serves its purpose.

City of David and Mount of Olives from southwest, tb091306406
City of David (center) and Silwan (right) from south (source)

Excavations in Israel and Jordan 2012

There may be a record number of excavations this summer, and I’ve taken the list at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site and supplemented it with sites listed at Biblical Archaeology Society and a few others.

Particularly popular regions are the Shephelah with 7 digs (Gezer, Tel Burna, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel ‘Eton, Tell es-Safi/Gath, Socoh, and Azekah) and the Huleh Basin with 4 digs (Omrit, Abel Beth Maacah, Dan, and Hazor). If you prefer to work near the ocean, you have 5 options (Tel Achziv, Ashkelon, Jaffa, Tel Akko, Apollonia-Arsuf) and 4 more if you want to be close to the Sea of Galilee (Bethsaida, Tiberias, Tel Bet Yerah, and Hippos).

The excavations are listed in the chronological order from the starting date.

Already Concluded

Ein Gedi Jan 2-26

Caves of the Judean Desert April 29 – May 10

Currently In Progress

Hurvat Eres May 15 – June 25

Qumran May 16 – June 10

Omrit May 16 – June 22

Tel Achziv May 19 – June 15

Tell Jalul May 20 – June 8

Abel Beth Maacah May 22-24

Shikhin/Asochis May 22 – June 21

Tel Megiddo East May 24 – June 12

Beginning Later This Month

Khirbet el-Maqatir May 26 – June 9

Tel Gezer May 27 – June 15

Beginning in June

Ashkelon June 8 – July 21

Tel Burna June 10-29

Abila June 15 – Aug 1

Megiddo June 16 – Aug 2

Bethsaida June 17-30

Tel Dan June 21 – July 19

Tiberias June 24 – July 20

Khirbet Qeiyafa June 24 – July 21

Tel Hazor June 24 – Aug 3

Kfar HaHoresh June 24 – Aug 3

Tel ‘Eton June 24 – July 6

Tel Bet Yerah June 24 – July 26

Jaffa June 29 – Aug 3

Tel Akko June 30 – July 28

Beginning in July

Hippos (Sussita) July 1-26

Tell es-Safi/Gath July 1-27

Tel Akko July 1-28

Marj Rabba July 10 – Aug 17

Socoh July 15 – Aug 3

Azekah July 15 – Aug 24

Beginning in August or Later

Apollonia-Arsuf Aug 6-31

Khirbet Feinan Oct 1 – Nov 21

Tell el-Hammam Jan 10 – Feb 21

In addition, excavations are on-going at Magdala, Maresha/Bet Guvrin, Jerusalem, and other sites
with salvage digs under the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Tiberias excavations, tb052808502
Excavations in Tiberias (source)

Seal Impression from Bethlehem Discovered in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today the discovery of a seal impression with the name of Bethlehem.

The first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem, which is mentioned in the Bible, was recently discovered in Jerusalem.
A bulla measuring c. 1.5 cm was found during the sifting of soil removed from archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David. The sifting is underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation’ in a project being conducted in the Emek Tzurim National Park.
A bulla is a piece of clay that was used for sealing a document or object. The bulla was impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object, and its integrity was evidence the document or object was not opened by anyone unauthorized to do so.
Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla:
בשבעת Bishv’at  [in the seventh]
בת לחם Bat Lechem [Bethlehem]
[למל]ך [Lemel]ekh  [for the king]
According to Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (it is unclear if the king referred to here is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem. The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE. The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.
Shukron emphasizes, “this is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods”.

Too much can be made from this discovery, especially with the emphasis of the last sentence above.

The existence of Bethlehem in the period of the Old Testament is not disputed, and an inscription this late is not as helpful as one would be from the time of Ruth or David. Nonetheless, it is a nice discovery which adds another piece of data to our understanding of the Judean kingdom.

The closest biblical connection that one can make to this time period (late 8th or 7th century) is the prophet Micah, who derided the failed leadership of his day (chapter 3), predicted a restored Davidic kingdom (chapter 4), and expected that Bethlehem would produce the awaited king, one whose origins are from ancient times and who would “be their peace” (chapter 5).

The full press release is here and a high-resolution photo is here (also below). The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Reuters, the Associated Press, and many others.


Bethlehem bulla.
Photograph by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.