Artifact of the Month: Tel Dan Stela

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

This inscribed basalt stone contains the oldest reference to King David outside of the Bible.*  Being roughly a foot tall, it was written in Aramaic in the mid 9th century BC and is known as the Tel Dan Stela.  The text actually refers to the “House of David,” meaning his royal family. Found during excavations in the ancient city of Dan in 1993/94, it is now located in the Israel Museum.

The artifact is particularly significant in the discussions related to the historicity of the Biblical accounts of the kingdom of David. Prior to its discovery some critics had maintained that the Biblical figure of King David was mythological in nature. However, subsequent to this finding scholarly opinion is now summed up well by Eric Cline from The George Washington University: “At a single blow, the finding of this inscription brought an end to the debate and settled the question of whether David was an actual historical person.”

It is of course true that the Bible is an ancient source in itself that can be trusted outright; still, support such as this further strengthens the case for the Bible’s reliability on historical matters.

(Photo: Significant resource for further study: The Context of Scripture, Volume 2, pages 161-162.)

*Possible additional references to David which are contemporaneous, or older, than the Tel Dan Stela are found on the Moabite Stone (Mesha Stela) and at Karnak Temple in Egypt (10th century BC).


New Scrolls from the Dead Sea Area

In a presentation last week at the conference on “The History of the Caves of Qumran,” Yonatan Adler reported the discovery of a group of phylacteries (tefillin) containing nine small manuscripts.

These were discovered in Caves 4 and 5 in 1952 but only recently did Adler determine that they contained texts.

The discovery was reported in the Italian press (with a photo) and Joseph Lauer has provided a translation of the article:


LUGANO – The discovery of new Qumran manuscripts was announced during the International Research Seminar on “The History of the Caves of Qumran,” organized by the Institute of Culture and Archaeology of the Biblical Lands of the Faculty of Theology of Lugano (chaired by prof. Dr. George Paximadi).

Working on materials from the archaeological excavations of the ‘50s, archaeologist Yonatan Adler found some intact phylacteries (the boxes – used by religious Jews – which contain small manuscript rolls with a biblical text).

It was possible to detect the manuscripts in them thanks to special photographs (multispectral imaging) carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The phylacteries are from Qumran caves 4 and 5, excavated in 1952 by the archaeologist Roland de Vaux.

Among the material processed by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s laboratory for the conservation of the scrolls, were three packs containing nine small scrolls manuscripts.

“It does not happen every day to discover new manuscripts. It was really a great feeling,” said Yonatan Adler, Ariel University.

“I am very proud that in our laboratory, using the most advanced technologies, we can reconstruct the history of two thousand years ago,” said Pnina Shor, director of the laboratory for the conservation of the scrolls of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The seminar curated by Prof. Marcello Fidanzio, direttore del settore ambiente biblico dell’ISCAB, Facoltà di Teologia di Lugano, brought together 65 of the most important scholars of Qumran world, including Emanuel Tov (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Jodi Magness (University of North
Carolina), E. Puech (École Biblique et Archéologique Franҫaise, Jerusalem), Sidnie White Crawford (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), J. Taylor (King’s College London), Jurgen Zangenberg (Leiden University).


Lauer has located some related resources:
Drew Longacre’s notice of this and another discovery reported at the seminar.

Adler’s previous lecture on “The Tefillin of Qumran–Archaeology and Halacha.”

A photograph of a previously discovered phylactery.

Qumran caves 4 and 5, tb010810138-ppt-screenshot
Qumran Caves 4 and 5
Screenshot from Qumran Caves presentation in volume 4 of the
Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Oriental Institute 2014 Symposium

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Beginning at 9am on Friday, March 7, and running through 1:30pm on Saturday, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago will be hosting its annual symposium. This year’s topic is “The Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition in the Ancient Near East: Chronology, C14, and Climate Change.” The symposium is free and open to the public; no registration is required.

During the late third millennium BC one of the biggest transformations of the ancient Near East took place, affecting almost all regions from Egypt to Anatolia and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iranian plateau. This period not only saw the collapse of urbanization in the southern Levant at the end of the Early Bronze Age III and the following pastoral Intermediate Bronze, and the rise and decline of the Akkad empire in the Upper Euphrates region, but also the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom in the Nile valley. In recent years it has been argued that climatic reasons, especially rapid climate change in the late third millennium BC (the so-called 4.2 ka BP event) might have triggered this supra-regional collapse in western Asia and Egypt, linking it to a period of aridification and cooling.
This seminar brings together specialists working in different fields of the ancient Near East, including Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as scholars working on radiocarbon dating and climate data. Three major topics will be discussed: The radiocarbon evidence for the mid- to late third-millennium BC Near East, the chronological implications of new dates and how historical/archaeological chronologies should/could be adapted, and — based on this evidence — if and how climate change can be related to transitions in the late Early Bronze Age. Furthermore, written sources concerning late Early Bronze Age Near Eastern interrelations and/or transformation and collapse from Egypt to Syria/Mesopotamia will be taken into account.

Here is the list of presenters and topics. Several of them look very interesting. See the website for additional information. The schedule for sessions is located here.

Elisabetta Boaretto and Johanna Regev
“High Resolution Early Bronze Age C14 Chronology from the Southern Levant: Micro-archaeological Approach for Context Characterization and Archaeological Interpretation”
Aaron Burke
“Amorites and Climate Change: The Negotiation of Amorite Identity during the Transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Ages”
Michael W. Dee
“Comparing Climatic Signals from the Blue Nile Catchment with the Decline of Old Kingdom Egypt Using High-precision Radiocarbon Dating”
Aron Dornauer
“Bioclimatic and Agro-ecologic Properties of Crop Taxa: A Survey of the Cuneiform Evidence Concerning Climatic Change and the Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition”
Hermann Genz
“The Transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age on the Lebanese Coast”
Raphael Greenberg
“No Collapse: Reimagining the Demise of EBA Urbanism in the Southern Levant”
Roman Gundacker
“On the Significance of some Old Kingdom Toponyms and Ethnonyms”
Felix Höflmayer
“A New Chronology for the Late Early Bronze Age Levant and Its Implications for the Collapse of the First Urbanization”
Sturt Manning
“The Chronology and Complications of Climate-related Change ca. 2200 BC in the East Mediterranean/Southwest Asia”
Nadine Moeller
“The Early / Middle Bronze Age Transition in View of Evidence from Egypt during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period: A New Evaluation”
Peter Pfälzner
“The EBA to MBA Transition in the Syrian Jezireh: A Multi-tracked Passage?”
David Schloen
“Economic and Political Implications of Raising the Date for the Collapse of Urbanism in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant”
Thomas Schneider
“Walking on Shaky Ground: The History of the First Intermediate Period from an Epistemological Perspective”
Glenn Schwartz
“Western Syria and the Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition”
Harvey Weiss, Alexia Smith, Wilma Wetterstrom, R. Meadow, A. K. Patel, D. Reese
“‘Seventeen Kings Who Lived in Tents’: Shubat Enlil before Shamshi-Adad”
Bernhard Weninger
“Archaeological and Palaeoclimatological Data to Evaluate the Potential Impact of the 4.2 ka calBP event in the Aegean and Southeast Europe”

Video Footage in Palestine from 1896

This two-minute video filmed by the Lumière brothers shows footage of the Jerusalem railroad, Jaffa Gate, the Temple Mount, the Wailing Wall, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The film was recently recovered and published by Lobster Films.

HT: Ted Weis

Related resources:

The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt

Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee


Weekend Roundup

A jug containing silver earrings and ingots has been unearthed at Abel Beth Maacah. The find dates to about 1200 BC.

Some missing pieces of the Colossi of Memnon have been discovered.

A new discovery in Crete confirms the practice of human sacrifice in the Mycenean culture circa 1300 BC.

Israeli police have arrested two Muslim workers for illegal excavations on the Temple Mount.

The Vatican is allegedly pressuring Jerusalem officials into turning over control of the Mount Zion complex that houses the traditional Upper Room and the tomb of David.

Titus Kennedy discusses the domestication of camels on this week’s interview on The Book and the Spade (direct link here).

Gordon Franz explains how the Via Egnatia was part of the means that God enabled the spread of the gospel “in the fullness of time.”

The site of Beit Guvrin and Maresha is a candidate for the World Heritage List. The impressive bell caves and ruins of a Roman-period city are among the attractions at this site in the southern Shephelah of Judah.

A couple who spent three days hiking near the Dead Sea share their experiences in a Jerusalem Post travel article.

Aren Maeir links to the full-length version of the Orson Welles movie of David and Goliath.

HT: Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson

Bet Guvrin bell caves, tb100902216
The bell caves of Beit Guvrin
Photo from Judah and the Dead Sea

Picture of the Week: Ostia

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Why did Paul have to land in a harbor about 150 miles from Rome and then walk the rest of the way?
In last week’s post, we discussed the Italian city of Puteoli, which served as Rome’s harbor for many years even though it is a significant distance from the capital. The book of Acts tells us that Paul ended his long and fateful sea voyage in this city:

And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. (Acts 28:13b-14)

The reason Paul and his companions had to land at Puteoli was because it was the main harbor of Rome at that time. Although Rome sits on the Tiber River, the mouth of that river had become silted and shallow, so it was not a suitable harbor for the large ships transporting grain and other goods to the capital city. Nevertheless, the city of Ostia sat at the mouth of the Tiber River for many centuries before the time of Paul. The idea of dredging the mouth of the Tiber to make the harbor functional was first thought of at least as far back as the time of Julius Caesar in the mid-first century B.C. But the plan was not executed until much later, under the reign of Claudius in the mid-first century A.D., about the time Paul was traveling to Rome.

As you can see from the map above, the opening of a harbor near the city of Ostia greatly increased the efficiency of transporting goods to Rome by allowing the product to be delivered by boat only a short distance from Rome instead of having to be dragged 150 miles across a significant portion of the Italian peninsula. (Ostia is located in the upper left section of the image and Puteoli is located in the lower right section. Click on the image to enlarge it.) Naturally this was a boost for the city of Ostia, but eventually led to the demise of Puteoli.

The image above shows the square of the guilds in Ostia with the city’s theater in the background. As a major habor city, Ostia was home to several trade guilds. In this area there were 70 guild offices, many with a mosaic floor identifying which guild used the space. The customs officials also had their offices here. The Harper’s Bible Dictionary lists the following imports that flowed through Ostia: “grain, fruits, fish, meat, hides, oil, wine, minerals, jewelry, lumber, glass, paper, dyes, clothing, spices, ointment, and perfumes.”

The first century city also included a large government building, a temple to Augustus, a gymnasium, a bathhouse with impressive mosaic floors, a public latrine, and a synagogue … all of which are included in Volume 15 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. A Decumanus about 1,200 meters long (3,840 feet) cut through the city. About two thirds of the city has been excavated, and a visit to the site today can give you a good feel for what it was like to live in a Roman city.

Many scholars believe that Paul was eventually released from captivity in Rome and left the capital to continue his mission of planting churches across the western Roman empire. On his journey away from Rome, it is possible that Paul passed through Ostia, however Ostia is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. So although Ostia was a significant city in its heyday, many students of the Bible have never heard of it and it consequently finds itself on our list of “obscure sites in the PLBL.

This concludes our series on “obscure sites in the PLBL.” The last three volumes of the collection focus on trees, plants, and flowers of the Holy Land; cultural images of the Holy Land; and signs of the Holy Land. These are excellent collections and highly recommended, but unfortunately they don’t fit in a series that focuses on obscure places.

On a personal note, I will be taking a break from our “Picture of the Week” series to focus on some other projects for a while. It has been over a year and a half since I started this series. (For those who may be interested, the first post of the series can be found here.) Over that time, I hope I have done justice to the extraordinary qualities of the various collections that have been compiled and edited by Todd Bolen. In a series of blog posts, it is impossible to capture all the fascinating items that are included in the Pictorial Library and Historic Views collections, but hopefully I have given you a taste of what you can find in these works … and whet your appetite for more.

The photograph and map above are included in Volume 15 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which is available here for $24 (with free shipping).  The excerpt is taken from “Ostia,” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, Logos Edition (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985).  For other posts in our series on “obscure sites in the PLBL,” see here.


Hellenistic Village Discovered Near Burma Road

A Hellenistic village from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC was recently excavated in the Shephelah of Judah a few miles south of Latrun and about 15 miles (24 km) west of Jerusalem. A press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority gives details.

The remnants of a rural settlement that was occupied for approximately two centuries during the Second Temple Period were uncovered in August 2013 – January 2014 near the ‘Burma Road’ (not far from Mitzpe Harel). The find was made during an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological salvage excavation, before the start of work on a natural gas pipeline to Jerusalem as part of a national project directed by Israel Natural Gas Lines (INGL).
In June 2013, Israel Natural Gas Lines began construction of the 35km-long project, which runs from the coastal plain to the outskirts of Jerusalem. In light of the finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the INGL have agreed that engineering plans for the gas line are to be revised, bypassing the site and preserving it as an accessible archaeological site beside the Burma Road.
The excavations, which covered about 750 square meters, revealed a small rural settlement with a few stone houses and a network of narrow alleys. Each building, which probably housed a single nuclear family, consisted of several rooms and an open courtyard. According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “The rooms generally served as residential and storage rooms, while domestic tasks were carried out in the courtyards.”

The full press release is here. The story is also reported in the Jerusalem Post.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Excavations along route of natural gas line. Photo by Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Excavations from the air. Photo by Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Coin from the reign of King Antiochus III (222–187 BC). Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Annual Camels-Disprove-the-Bible Story

Yes, I have been ignoring all of the crazy media coverage on the camel story. For one thing, the popular angle here is hardly new—scholars have tried to deny the accuracy of the Bible using camels for a long time. For another, the story is wrong. The biblical account is trustworthy, and the evidence from the recent study does not support the claims being made from it. (We didn’t find any camels being used at two copper-mining sites in the early 10th century; therefore, no camels were domesticated anywhere in the ANE before that time.)

If you are interested in learning what all of those media reports do not tell you, I would recommend some articles on evidence for the domestication of camels in the third and second millennium. Here are a few that are easy to access:

Stephen Caesar, Patriarchal Wealth and Early Domestication of the Camel, Bible and Spade, 2000.

Stephen Caesar, The Wealth and Power of the Biblical Patriarchs, Bible and Spade, 2006.

T. M. Kennedy, The Domestication of the Camel in the Ancient Near East, Bible and Spade, 2010 [updated 2014].

Randall W. Younker, Bronze Age Petroglyphs in the Wadi Nasib, Sinai, Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 42, 1997.

These articles suggest other resources in their bibliographies.

Some other writers have posted on the subject this week. Gordon Govier considers “Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels” in a post at Christianity Today. Some of the quotes come from this week’s The Book and the Spade show in which he and I discuss the subject (direct link here). Michael Heiser shares an excerpt from the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch on his blog. Kyle Beshears suggests some additional points to consider. And yesterday I shared some observations from a journal article by Martin Heide.

Significant biblical references for the domestication of the camel are found all over the place, including Gen 12:16; 24:10; 32:7; 32:15; 37:25; Judg 6:5; 1 Sam 15:3; 30:17; 1 Kgs 10:2; 1 Chr 27:30; Job 1:3.

No camels and horses sign in Dahab, tb032606946
No Camels and Horses sign in Dahab, Sinai
Photo from Signs of the Holy Land

The Domestication of the Camel: Observations from Heide

Tomorrow I hope to post a brief response to the recent camel story with a number of links to helpful stories that provide a perspective not provided in the mainstream press. Today I want to summarize some interesting analysis from a less accessible article. (After I wrote this, I located it online at, but it is still less accessible to most readers by virtue of its length and sometimes-technical discussion.)

Written by Martin Heide of the Philipp University of Marburg, the article was published in 2011 in Ugarit-Forschungen. The title is “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible.”

The following observations include direct quotations as well as my summaries. In places I have added a comment of my own following the page reference.

Tell Halaf, limestone relief of rider on dromedary camel and inscription of Kapara, 10th-9th c BC, adr1311202709
Rider on dromedary camel, relief from Tell Halaf, 10th-9th c BC
Photo by A.D. Riddle; on display at Walters Art Museum

On the problem of negative evidence:

“Proving that something did not exist at some time and place in the past is every archaeologist’s nightmare because proof of its existence may, despite all claims to the contrary, be unearthed at some future date” (337). Many have said similar things, but I like his choice of words.

“The camel is never mentioned in any Egyptian text known today” and yet we have evidence for camels in ancient Egypt (342). The lack of evidence to support a theory must be used with caution.

We should not be surprised that there is limited archaeological and inscriptional evidence from urban areas when camels were primarily used outside of such (354).

We don’t know when or where the dromedary (one-humped) camel was domesticated (361).

Even in a later period in Mesopotamia when camels were in widespread use for trade and military purposes, there are very few references to it outside of campaign reports (369). The use of camels by the patriarchs would have been unrecorded even in a time when we have many references to their existence.

Camel caravan on Mt of Olives, mat14759
Camel caravan on Mount of Olives, ca. 1918
Photo from Traditional Life and Customs

On evidence for camels before 1000 BC:

The two-humped (Bactrian) camel was in use in southern Turkmenistan not long after 3000 BC. It was the standard for the region by the second half of the third millennium (344). Abraham lived after this time, and it is not difficult to imagine that other peoples recognized the value of camels and used them. The debate is partly between the positive evidence (attestation in the biblical record) and negative evidence (limited evidence in excavations and inscriptions).

A Sumerian love song from the Old Babylonian period (1800-1600 BC) mentions the milk of the camel and is best taken as referring to a domestic camel (356-57).

Evidence for Mesopotamian use of domesticated Bactrian camels includes two lexical lists from the
Old Babylonian period “and probably also by the Sumerian tablet mentioning the GÚ.URU×GU and the cylinder seal from the Walters Art Gallery” (358). A photo of the cylinder seal can be seen here.

“To sum up the early evidence, it is certain that based on archaeological evidence the domesticated two-humped camel appeared in Southern Turkmenistan not later than the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE. From there or from adjacent regions, the domesticated Bactrian camel must have reached Mesopotamia via the Zagros Mountains. In Mesopotamia, the earliest knowledge of the camel points to the middle of the 3rd millennium, where it seems to have been regarded as a very exotic animal. The horse and the Bactrian camel may have been engaged in sea-borne and overland global trading networks spanning much of the ancient world from the third millennium BCE onwards” (359).

Limestone camel vessel, 3200-3000 BC, adr070511434
Limestone camel vessel from ca. 3000 BC
Photo by A.D. Riddle; artifact on display in Berlin Egyptian Museum

On the biblical text:

We need not assume, as some do, that Abraham was given camels in Egypt (Gen 12:16). Rather it seems best in light of the evidence to conclude that he brought them from Mesopotamia (Gen 12:5) (364).

The author of Genesis includes some fascinating details about camels that one might not expect in the
Rebekah narrative (Gen 24), including observations that the camels bowed down (Gen 24:11), were unloaded (Gen 24:32), and were later ridden by the Rebecca and her servants (Gen 24:61). The author notes that Rebekah jumped down from the camel, suggesting that she did not know how to dismount (Gen 24:64; 364–65).

At least some of the references to camels in the patriarchal narratives should be taken as referring to the two-humped (Bactrian) camel which was well-known in Mesopotamia by the end of the 3rd millennium (367–68).

David had a camel herd which was tended by Obil the Ishmaelite (1 Chr 27:30). Obil is a Hebrew transliteration of an Arabic word that means camel. Apparently David hired an Arab specialist for this job (367).

Bibliographic reference:

Heide, Martin. 2011 “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible.” Ugarit-Forschungen 42: 331–84.

Black Obelisk, Side A, tribute from Musri, camels, tb112004818
Camels carrying tribute from Musri
Depicted on Black Obelisk (ca. 825 BC), now in British Museum

Weekend Roundup

Not all archaeologists agree with the recent claims made for the presence of Sea Peoples at Tell Abu al-Kharaz in the Jordan Valley.

Islamic fundamentalists are destroying antiquities in Syria because of their portrayal of human beings.

Wayne Stiles explains how to take a virtual tour of Jerusalem using Google Maps.

Ferrell Jenkins continues his series on Visualizing Isaiah, with recent posts on Isaiah 12, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 10, and Isaiah 9.

The Guardian is looking for photographs from the first excavations of Masada in the 1960s.

Tourism to Israel in January was up 19%, setting a new record.

The ASOR Weekly Roundup has archaeology news from around the world.

For those wondering, we’ll have a separate post on the camels story in the next few days.

HT: Joseph Lauer