Top 10 Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2018

To judge from the weekend roundups compiled here, there is always something interesting being discovered or announced. The difficulty can be that there is too much, and it becomes challenging to recall what is most important out of the constant barrage.

The list below comes from stories noted in the weekend roundups. Some of the artifacts were discovered in previous years, but only announced in 2018. For each item, I suggest a reason for its significance. I don’t deny a bias towards objects and sites more closely related to the Bible.

1. A copper alloy ring bearing the inscription “of Pilatus” may have belonged to an administrator who served Pontius Pilate. Though excavated at the Herodium many years ago, its significance was only recently discovered. Why is this in my top 10? Artifacts with names of biblical figures are relatively rare, and Pilate played a major role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

2. A seal impression that belonged to a man named Isaiah was discovered in Jerusalem. Why is this in my top 10? Though there’s good reason to doubt that this is the prophet by the same name, we still have the convergence of name (Isaiah), city (Jerusalem), and date (8th century BC).

3. A glazed ceramic head from Tel Abel Beth Maacah that dates to the 9th century BC may depict a royal official. Why is this in my top 10? I’m less convinced by the claim that this depicts an Israelite king than I am by the quality of this colorful work of art. That’s rare enough among the Israelites that you don’t need a royal connection to argue for its significance.

4. Excavations of Kiriath Jearim revealed a large platform that is 110 by 150 meters in size, with walls preserved 6 to 7 m high. Why is this in my top 10? You don’t have to believe the archaeologist’s wild theories to recognize that this is a major building project at a site we knew almost nothing about.

5. An undisturbed Canaanite tomb from the 17th century BC was discovered at Megiddo. Why is this in my top 10? I’m a sucker for undisturbed tombs, and it doesn’t hurt that this one was next to the royal palace.

6. The Galilean synagogue at Huqoq continues to produce beautiful, biblical mosaics, including a scene of the Israelite spies, a youth leading an animal, and a fragmentary Hebrew inscription reading “Amen selah.” Why is this in my top 10? I’m a big fan of ancient depictions of biblical scenes, as you might have guessed from my dream to create the Photo Companion to the Bible.

7. More than 1,000 Hellenistic-era seal impressions were discovered in excavations at Maresha. Why is this in my top 10? For a country that has so relatively few inscriptions preserved, this is an enormous trove that will bear fruitful study for many years to come.

8. An inscription at a site on Israel’s coast provides evidence for Babylonians living in Samaria after the fall of Jerusalem. Why is this in my top 10? This discovery helps to fill in details for an all-too-elusive period in the historical and archaeological record.

9. Excavations of Ein Hanya uncovered an Israelite royal capital (proto-Aeolic?), a 4th century Greek drachma, and a Byzantine pool system. Why is this in my top 10? Israelite royal capitals stir the imagination, and Ein Hanya has been off everyone’s radar until now.

10. Archaeologists discovered a 5th-Dynasty tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, that has never been looted. Why is this in my top 10? Top 10 lists need 10 items. Besides, the photos are impressive.

Honorable mention:

Others have created their own top ten lists, including Gordon Govier (Christianity Today), Bryan Windle, Christopher Eames, Ruth Schuster #1 and #2 (Haaretz), Amanda Borschel-Dan (Times of Israel), and J-P Mauro (Aleteia). The Epoch Times’s list covers the world.

Those we lost in 2018 include Philip Davies, Gary Knoppers, Jack P. Lewis, John McRay, Richard Rigsby, Ephraim Stern, James F. Strange, and Ada Yardeni.

New releases from BiblePlaces.com this year were Ruth, Psalm 23, and Persia. Get all three volumes at a discount.

You can revisit the top stories of previous years at the links below:

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Weekend Roundup

A 2,000-year-old bronze ring with a solitaire gemstone was uncovered in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem.

Ceramic jars and cooking pots suggest the Persian Empire used Tel Keisan, near the city of Akko in
Northern Israel, as a base camp in their effort to conquer Egypt (Haaretz premium).

Police caught antiquities thieves in the act of excavating Huqoq for ancient coins.

The petrified remains of a harnessed horse has been uncovered in Pompeii.

Emma Maayan-Fanar writes about her recent study at Shivta which revealed a painting of Jesus.

Longer, hotter summers and drier winters are a threat to the remaining cedar trees in Lebanon.

The NY Times reports on the only tourist boat operation on the Dead Sea.

”By analysing the architecture and historical documentation, it is possible to reconstruct a detailed history of the Karak Castle during the Crusader period.”

Several people are dead and a dozen injured after a bomb blast struck a tourist bus near the Egyptian pyramids in Giza.

“Finds Gone Astray” is a new exhibit opening on Monday at the Bible Lands Museum. The Times of Israel provides some of the background for these artifacts that have been recovered from thieves and smugglers in the West Bank since 1967.

Carl Rasmussen asks: Herod or Jesus: Which “King” Has Had the Most Lasting Influence?

What is the Samaritan Torah? David Moster has created a 10-minute video to answer that question.
National Geographic has produced a 4-minute animated video on The History of the Bible.

Gary Knoppers died last week.

HT: Ted Weis, Agade, Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle

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Weekend Roundup

The Ultra-Orthodox are upset that the French government won’t allow entrance into the Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem. The French claim that they have renovated the site and with the right assurances, they will open it to the public.

A long tunnel has been covertly dug underneath the “Tomb of David” on Mount Zion and now some people are mad.

The large number of tourists visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has led to the development of an app that will handle reservations.

“The inauguration ceremony of Egypt’s new Greco-Roman Museum [in Alexandria] will be held by the end of 2019.”

Three ancient cities in Crete are the focus of an exhibit at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece.

Harvey Mudd College is giving its Cypriot artifacts to the University of Cyprus.

Don McNeeley shares a report on the 2018 annual meeting of the Near East Archaeological Society.
You can join the society here.

The video is now online for the 2018 Plenary Address for the ASOR Annual Meeting: “Between Looters, Private Collectors, and Warlords: Does Archaeology Stand a Chance?” by Hélène Sader, Professor of Archaeology, American University of Beirut.

Tali Erickson-Gini is on The Book and the Spade talking about the Timna Park excavations and the opportunity for the public to volunteer.

Wayne Stiles compares Peter’s boast in the Upper Room to his failure in the Garden of Gethsemane to find application today.

That “ark of the covenant” in the church in Ethiopia—it’s a replica.

Rick Lanser believes he has evidence that supports the birth of Jesus on Nisan 1, 6 BC.

Ferrell Jenkins’s favorite photos this week include Hasankef, the Roman road near Saglikli, and Riblah.

Justin Taylor interviews the filmmaker who has created “The Chosen,” the first-ever multi-season drama about the life of Christ.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Ted Weis

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The Highway Over Tel Beth Shemesh

Archaeologists disagree on whether the highway running over Tel Beth Shemesh should be expanded or not. That was the plan when a salvage dig was initiated several years ago, but now one of the responsible archaeologists claims that the site must be preserved at all costs.

Not so, says Prof. Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University. “The extent [of the tell] is huge, but there is nothing special there or grandiose that would justify turning the site into a tourist attraction.”

Yesterday’s article in Haaretz magazine (premium) walks through the politics of the decision. From those interested in the archaeological results, the main discovery is that Judahites returned to living at the site soon after the Assyrian destruction in 701 BC. This contradicts the theory of some that there was a long occupation gap, possibly the result of an Assyrian policy forbidding resettlement. Whether or not such a finding justifies building a tunnel, overpass, or alternate route is the point of dispute.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Beth Shemesh new excavations aerial from southwest, ws062018211
Tel Beth Shemesh from the south, June 2018
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A Different Kind of Christmas Story (for Kids)

(Post by A.D. Riddle)


Several years ago, I checked out a book at the library to read to my kids. It turned out to be a delightful story of a young boy who helps his father harvest resin from trees in Arabia. The connection with Jesus’ birth is sort of a surprise twist at the end of the book, so if you read it to your kids, be sure not to give away that this is a Christmas story—they will get it by the time they reach the last page.

The book is entitled, The Third Gift, by Linda Sue Park (Boston: Clarion, 2011). The Third Gift was probably intended for ages 4-10 (best guess with input from my kids), but the beautiful illustrations (by Bagram Ibatoulline) and the Middle Eastern setting made it interesting for me as well, and it gives you a different perspective for thinking about a very familiar account from the book of Matthew. The “Author’s Note” on the last two pages summarizes the history of our modern perceptions about the biblical story, and re-connects the event with its original geographical and cultural setting. Recommended if you have young ones around for the holidays.

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Weekend Roundup, Part 2

Archaeologists have discovered a 5th-Dynasty tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, that has never been looted.

Excavations begin today. The photos are impressive.

A 4,500-year-old marble pillar that sat in the basement of the British Museum for 150 years has been revealed as the first recorded account of a conflict over a disputed border — and the earliest known instance of word play. The pillar is featured in an exhibit entitled, “No Man’s Land,” that runs through January.

The use of machine translation may open the door to deciphering more than half a million cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia.

The Syrian Director General of Museums and Antiquities claims that the US is looting ancient tombs in northern Syria.

The November issue of the Newsletter of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities features stories on the latest archaeological discoveries, the transfer of antiquities to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, and cultural events.

All past issues of the “Archaeology in Jordan” Newsletter are now available online. The 2018 issue is also available here.

The new issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes stories on the destruction of Azekah, an artificial tell in Arkansas, and excavation opportunities in 2019.

Students from all over the world, including Arab countries, have joined Aren Maeir’s MOOC on biblical archaeology.

The Institute of Biblical Culture will be offering two classes in January: Biblical Geography I and Early Biblical Interpreters I. They are also running a buy two, get one free special.

David Moster shares his experience at this year’s SBL conference with a 10-minute video.

The first in Ferrell’s Favorite Fotos series is of Babylon, taken in 1970.

HT: Agade, Ted Weis, Joseph Lauer, Chris McKinny, Keith Keyser

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Weekend Roundup, Part 1

Archaeologists believe that a public bath excavated in Sepphoris may have been used by Rabbi Judah the Prince.

Archaeologists excavating at the Negev town of Shivta have found a lamp wick dating to the Byzantine period.

Kiriath Jearim has a large platform which must have been cultic and could only have been built by the northern kingdom of Israel. Or so says Israel Finkelstein. (Haaretz premium)

A total of 1,500 landmines have been cleared since the spring near the Jordan River baptismal location of Qasr al-Yahud.

Migdal Aphek, the Crusader castle also known as Mirabel, will soon be open to the public following conservation works.

Dennis Mizzi asks, “What does Qumran have to do with the Mediterranean?”

The Annual Conference on the Excavations of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University will be held on Thursday.

Israel’s Good Name reports on a university field trip to the Hebron area.

Biblical Byways has a couple of tours to Israel coming up, including a Spanish tour in April.

Tim Frank’s latest book, Household Food Storage in Ancient Israel and Judah, is now available in paperback and as an e-book.

The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels was chosen as the Best Book in Biblical Studies in Christianity Today’s 2019 book awards. You can read an excerpt about the birthplace of
Jesus here.

HT: Agade, Ted Weis, Joseph Lauer

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Gift Ideas for 2018

Some valuable resources became available this year that I thought I might briefly summarize, either as a gift-buying guide or as additions to your own wish list.

Let me start with the Lexham Geographic Commentary to the imageGospels.
Originally released for Logos Bible Software, it is now available in print.
The volume is loaded with 48 essays written by people who have lived and breathed biblical geography and archaeology for many years, including Barry Beitzel (editor), Benjamin Foreman, Gordon Franz, J. Carl Laney, Chris McKinny, Elaine Phillips, A.D. Riddle, and Paul Wright. I wrote two of the essays—one on the disciples’ statement about the “magnificent stones and wonderful buildings” of the Temple and the other on the location of the swine dive in the Sea of Galilee. I think that this book should win an award for its unique contribution. It’s on sale now for $25, including free shipping, plus you get the ebook for free. Or Amazon has the print book alone for $27.

The ESV Archaeology Study Bible was released earlier this year after many years of research, writing, and production. This up-to-date resource is filled with excellent sidebars and commentary notes. You can see my earlier description here. It’s available now at Amazon for $42.Image result for esv archaeology study bible

Randall Price and Wayne House wrote the Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology. I’ve heard that it’s gone through several printings already. I hope to offer a longer review here on the blog in the next few months. My expectation is that it will be very useful to both Bible teachers and students alike.

The National Geographic Atlas of the Bible was released in June. I haven’t purchased it yet, but the listing tells me that it is 112 pages long and includes 17 maps. One Amazon reviewer says that the text is written from a minimalist perspective.

The Biblical Archaeology Society store has a sale now, including free shipping on orders of $50 or more. Two new books of most interest to me are A Walk to Caesarea: A Historical-Archaeological Perspective, by Joseph Patrich ($34), and Megiddo-Armageddon: The Story of the Canaanite and Israelite City, by David Ussishkin ($60)

Filament is a new resource that I saw at a recent conference that combines a print Bible with digital content on your phone or tablet. The printed book has the Bible text only, and the accompanying app provides study notes, photos, and videos.

Doug Greenwold at Preserving Bible Times has just released a new book on John 4 entitled Jesus Engages a Samaritan Woman. Shipping is free through the end of the year.ruth-dvd-frontback-500

Finally, I’d encourage you to consider for yourself or others the newest resources created this year by us at BiblePlaces.com.

We have a limited audience and every sale helps us to continue forward with the next project. This year we released Ruth and Psalm 23 in the Photo Companion series ($29 and $24, respectively, or $39 for both). We also created a beautiful photo book entitled Psalm 23: A Photo Commentary, available from Amazon for $20. The latest volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is Persia, available for two more days at the introductory price of $25.

If you shop on Amazon, use the code GIFTBOOK18 to get $5 off a $20 book order through 12/21.

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Weekend Roundup, Part 2

Peter Feinman summarizes some papers on the subject of the 10th century BC given at the recent ASOR conference.

Andrea Nicolotti looks for archaeological evidence for the scourging of Jesus.

“Italy’s highest court ruled that a 2000-year-old bronze statue, known as ‘Victorious Youth,’ should be returned to that country by the Getty Villa.”

A well-illustrated BBC feature explains how ISIS’s destruction of a mosque revealed an Assyrian palace.

I am very happy that Wipf and Stock has re-published David Dorsey’s The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel. For too long, you could only find used copies of this excellent resource for $200 and up.

Lois Tverberg’s excellent Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus is on sale with bigger discounts if you order 2-4 copies.

Everything at Eisenbrauns is 30% off with coupon EEOY18.

Bible Land Passages has now released 10 episodes that connect the biblical stories to the biblical world, using historical, geographical, and archaeological data. The episodes are available for free online as well as for purchase on DVD. The latest episode is entitled “Khirbet Qeiyafa: Witness to David’s Kingdom.” Episode 11, “The Power of Jesus in Galilee,” will be released next month.

HT: Agade, Ted Weis, Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer

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Weekend Roundup, Part 1

In Caesarea, a remarkable Crusader-era cache of 24 gold coins and an earring was found in a small bronze pot, hidden between two stones in the side of a well.

The NY Times has a summary of the Pilate ring discovery. Robert Cargill prefers the theory that the ring belonged to one of Pilate’s papyrus-pushing administrators. Ferrell Jenkins shares a number of related photos.

Archaeologists working at Timna Park opened their excavation to volunteers from the public for three days during Hanukkah.

The second in a series of 12 objects from the Temple Mount Sifting Project is an arrowhead from the 10th century BC.

Jim Davila tries to unravel the latest with the Qumran caves with potential Dead Sea Scroll material (with a follow-up here).

Matthew Adams gives an update on the Jezreel Valley Regional Project on The Book and the Spade.

Israel is on pace to hit a new annual record of 4 million tourists this year.

Episode 1 in Wayne Stiles’s excellent “The Promised That Changed the World” is now available. You can sign up to get free access to all three episodes.

HT: Agade, Ted Weis, Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer

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