Category Archives: Archaeology

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea is located on the north western coast.
Caesarea is located on the north western coast. (It can be found left of center in the above picture inside the rectangular box.

Caesarea Maritima, located about 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast, was one of Herod the Great’s most impressive building accomplishments. The name Caesarea Maritima is used to distinguish it from the well-known Caesarea Philippi, located northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Originally, Caesarea Maritima was the site of an old dilapidated town known as Strato’s Tower, but Herod transformed it between the years of 21 B.C. to 9 B.C. into a magnificent harbor city and renamed it in honor of Caesar Augustus. Before the creation of Caesarea, the area ruled by Herod had no harbour. The only natural harbour in the area was at Haifa, farther to the north and outside of his domain. It is difficult to overstate the enormity of Herod’s accomplishment. “Caesarea was the first artificial harbor constructed in the ancient world” (IVP Dictionary of New Testament Background, p. 176). The success of this man-made harbor depended on the new invention of hydraulic concrete, used for the first time at Caesarea.

Israel Aerial View
The man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate, Jews and Gentiles at Caesarea

This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate
This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate

Although Caesarea Maritima had a mixed population, it was created as a gentile city. This is most evident from the Temple to Augustus and Roma that was built “centrally located and adjacent to the inner harbour area” (IVP Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, 176). This means that as a ship sailed into the harbor, the first sight would have been of this imposing temple; no doubt a site that would have inspired a sense of awe in a gentile, while creating a sense of consternation and repulsion to a faithful Jew. This mixture of populations with very different viewpoints would cause constant problems in Caesarea.  Josephus relates one such incident, when after recently arriving as governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate marched his army into Jerusalem with the Roman standards proudly displayed and posted them in front of the Temple. The Roman standards were offensive to the Jews because of the animal imagery they contained. The Romans knew this and normally avoided such a display. Many Jews came to Caesarea and complained to Pilate that the standards be removed. On the sixth day, Pilate stationed his soldiers in the crowd with their weapons hidden. As he sat on the judgment seat and the Jews brought their complaint once again, Pilate had the soldiers draw their swords and threaten the Jews with death. The Jews bared their necks and said they would rather die than allow their law to be profaned. As a result, Pilate backed down (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.1). Considering this story involving Pilate, it is interesting that Caesarea has yielded the only physical evidence for his existence. During archaeological excavations an inscription was uncovered from the theatre dedicating the theatre to the emperor Tiberius, while also mentioning Pilate as the governor of Judea (see the photo at the right).

Later problems between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea would result in the slaughter of 20,000 Jews and lead to the outbreak of the Jewish War against Rome. This war, which began in 66 A.D., eventually resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

Caesarea: Capital of Roman Judea

Herod's swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea
Herod’s swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea

Caesarea became a source of wealth for Herod because it opened up the shipping trade, and thus became a major supply of revenue for his kingdom. Herod built a luxurious palace, including a swimming pool that jutted out into the ocean, the remnants of which can still be seen today. After Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed (6 A.D.), Judea became a Roman province ruled by a governor and the capital was located at Caesarea. Thus Herod’s palace became the residence of the Roman governor, who normally travelled to Jerusalem only during important occasions such as the Jewish feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, etc.) . The city contained many lavish buildings all in the Hellenistic (Greek) style. This included a bathhouse, theatre, various temples and governmental buildings. The city was laid out according to other major Roman cities and included paved streets and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.

Caesarea in the New Testament

Caesarea is frequently mentioned in the Book of Acts. Peter was sent by the Lord to share the gospel with a centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea (Acts 10). This event opened the door for the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). How interesting that a city known for ethnic struggles between Jews and Gentiles would be the place that God chose to send the Jewish apostle Peter to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius! According to the story, Peter had many reservations and had to be convinced by the Lord to go to the house of Cornelius. Could it be that some of the ethnic tension that Caesarea was known for contributed to his hesitation?

It is possible that Philip, known as “The Evangelist” planted the first church in Caesarea. After teaching and baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip is said to have preached in many of the cities along the coast, ending up in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). When Paul visited Caesarea later, on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed in Philip’s house where we are also told that Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9).

The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.

One of the most famous stories in Acts involving the city of Caesarea concerns the very popular monarch, at least among the Jews, Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great). Agrippa appeared in the theatre in radiant royal clothing and gave an oration to the crowd. Following his speech the multitudes shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Because he did not give the glory to God, Herod Agrippa I was struck immediately with a fatal illness (Acts 12:19-23). Josephus’s account corroborates the story in Acts by rendering a very similar version of events.

Looking at the area where Herod's palace was located.
Looking at the area where Herod’s palace was located.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.

Caesarea appears a final time in the Book of Acts as the city of Paul’s imprisonment. After being arrested on the Temple Mount due to false charges of having brought a Gentile with him, Paul was put in prison in Jerusalem (Acts 22:23-30). When a plot was uncovered that certain Jews had planned to kill Paul, he was sent with a Roman escort to Caesarea to appear before the Roman governor, Felix (Acts 23:20-35). Paul ended up staying in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. During that time, he not only appeared before Felix, but also before the new governor, Festus. Festus, who did not understand Jewish law, invited King Herod Agrippa II (son of Herod Agrippa I) to hear Paul’s case (Acts 25-26). Paul’s stay in Caesarea ended when he appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.

The Later History of Caesarea

Caesarea continued to grow and expand after the first century. In the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) a second aqueduct was built. A hippodrome was also built (see photo below). It was one of the larger hippodromes of the Roman empire and could seat over 30,000 people (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Supplementary Vol., p. 120). Christians continued to live in Caesarea and two of its more famous residents were the great theologian and Bible scholar Origen, and Eusebius who created the first history of the Church. Caesarea continued to thrive until 614 A.D. when it was captured by the Persians. Shortly afterward in 639 A.D. it was destroyed by the Arabs.

Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod's palace
Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod’s palace
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.

 

(All photos, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and may be used for educational purposes only).

The Jehoash Inscription

The Jehoash Inscription

The Jehoash Inscription
The Jehoash Inscription

Did you know that a number of prominent scholars believe that the Jehoash Inscription is authentic? Some of you might be saying, “Back up, I don’t even know what the Jehoash Inscription is!” Jehoash (also referred to as “Joash”) was king of Judah from 835-796 B.C. He is perhaps best known for being the king who initiated repairs on Solomon’s temple (2 Kgs. 12; 2 Chron. 24). The Jehoash Inscription (JI) is reputedly a royal inscription from the time of King Jehoash detailing the repairs that were carried out on the temple. It consists of 15 lines engraved on a black stone plaque. The inscription has similarities with the descriptions given in the biblical texts cited above, especially 2 Chronicles 24:8-14. A copy of the translation is given below.

Translation of the Jehoash Inscription
Translation of the Jehoash Inscription

For a clearer picture of this translation, go to the following site from Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and click on the photo to enlarge it. If this inscription is authentic, it would be a discovery of momentous proportions!

The Jehoash Inscription: No Stranger to Controversy

Unfortunately, the Jehoash Inscription is shrouded in controversy. Among other problems, it was not found “in situ.” That is, it was not found in an official archaeological excavation, but in the collection of an antiquities collector named Oded Golan. Because antiquities are “big money,” scholars are always suspicious of objects that come from the antiquities market. Are they forgeries, or are they authentic relics of the past? The problem has become more complicated as criminals become more adept at making a forgery look like the real thing. If an artifact is not found in its ancient archaeological context, then it is open to suspicion.

The James Ossuary which reads, "James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus."
The James Ossuary which reads, “James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.”

The Jehoash Inscription was only one of several objects included in Oded Golan’s collection accused of being modern forgeries. The most famous object of this collection was the James Ossuary which included the provocative inscription, “James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.” An ossuary is simply a “bone box” where the bones of the deceased were placed after the desiccation of the flesh. Such bone boxes were only used for a limited time in Israel’s history (1st century B.C. through the 1st century A.D.), which happens to correspond with the time of Jesus and the early church. As a result, this ossuary and its inscription caused quite a stir. Charges of forgery also began to circulate. All of this came to a head with the indictment of Oded Golan and 3 others on December 29, 2004, and the confiscation of the supposed forgeries. The long trial finally concluded on March 14, 2012 with Golan’s acquittal. An account of the court’s decision, as well as details on the supposed forgeries (which many were convinced were authentic) can be found at BAR’s website at this location. Even though Golen had not been convicted, the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) demanded that the contested objects be kept and not returned to Golan. However, this demand was overruled and all of the objects, including the Jehoash Inscription, were returned to Golan who plans to put them on public display. More information of the possible authenticity of these items and the decision to return them to Golan can be found at the following site: Return the Jehoash Inscription.

Is the Jehoash Inscription Authentic?

This is a question that I am not qualified to answer, but the response of many of those who are qualified seems to be leaning in the direction that the Jehoash Inscription is indeed authentic. Besides the BAR articles sited above, the interested reader may also consult the following articles: for a detailed account of authenticity see: Archaeometric evidence for the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription Tablet. Hershel Shanks, the editor of BAR has recently written another article supporting the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription. It can be found in the July/August issue of BAR, 2014. For a summary of Shanks article you can click on the following site: Generation Word Bible Teaching.

It is unfortunate that questions of authenticity surround the Jehoash Inscription and, perhaps, always will. If it is authentic then it is the only royal Israelite inscription ever discovered. Moreover, it would be further evidence for the temple of Solomon, and it would confirm the biblical accounts of this event. Although we may never be certain of its provenance, the Jehoash Inscription is reported to have been discovered near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in what is an old Muslim cemetery. This would certainly be the vicinity in which such an item would be expected to be found. If this is accurate there is a certain irony to the discovery of the Jehoash Inscription. It is said that in recent years the Muslim cemetery has been used for the burial of several Palestinians who were killed in suicide attacks on Israelis. It was during one such burial that the Jehoash Inscription was reported to have been discovered. Therefore, it appears that the burial of a Palestinian militant led to the discovery of an artifact that further testifies to Israel’s historic claim to the land. God certainly works in strange ways!

 

Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Jephthah sacrifices his daughter
Jephthah sacrifices his daughter

In a recent post on my series “Violence in the Old Testament” I refer to the story of Jephthah from Judges 11 (The Moral Failure of Biblical Characters Part 7). In this article I noted that the stories of moral failure are not written for us to emulate, but are written as warnings when we stray from God’s Word. Jephthah is famous for sacrificing his daughter due to a foolish vow that he made (Judg. 11:30-40). In the article I suggested that Jephthah imitates his enemy, the Ammonites, (and Moabites as well), by offering a human sacrifice. Confirmation of this view may come in the most recent issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review, vol 40, No. 5, 2014, pp. 6, 57), where editor Hershel Shanks speaks about what is believed by many to be the discovery of a temple of human sacrifice. This temple is situated in the city of Amman, Jordan near the airport. The city of Amman has retained the ancient name of the people that once occupied this area, the Ammonites.

This temple was first excavated in 1955 by Australian archaeologist John Basil Hennessy (a diagram of the temple, drawn by Hennessy, can be found in the BAR article mentioned above). He discovered an altar (stone pile), and most surprisingly, he discovered small bone fragments of which 90% were human! In 1976 Larry G. Herr carried out further excavation at the site and discovered many more human bone fragments. Herr concluded that the stone pile (altar) functioned as a pyre since the bones showed evidence of burning. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether this site was an ancient crematorium or a temple of human sacrifice. Archaeologist Ami Mazar says that it is difficult to accept the suggestion that it was a crematorium since no such buildings have ever been discovered in the ancient Near East. However it must also be admitted that no temple of human sacrifice has ever been discovered either.

Artist's depiction of offering a child to Molech
Artist’s depiction of offering a child to Molech

Interestingly, the temple dates to roughly the same time as Jephthah (13th century BC–most consider Jephthah to have lived in the 12th century BC). Considering both the biblical evidence (Lev. 18:21; 1 Kgs. 11:7; Jer. 32:35), as well as Phoenician evidence (IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, pp. 132-133), there is no doubt that child sacrifice to Milcom (or, Molech), the god of the Ammonites, was practiced. Therefore, in my opinion, if one includes this written evidence, the scale is tipped in favour of this being a temple of human sacrifice. If it is, it would add further weight to the argument that Jephthah was influenced by the Ammonites’ practice of child sacrifice.

The Philistines and Their Cities

The Philistines Early History

Invasion of the Sea Peoples. For further information see http://wysinger.homestead.com/seapeople.html
Invasion of the Sea Peoples. For further information see http://www.wysinger.homestead.com/seapeople.html

Did you know that there is a lot happening in the excavation of ancient Philistine sites? The Philistines were one of the famous foes of ancient Israel. They arrived in Canaan some time around 1200-1150 B.C. and are part of the migration of the so-called Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples consisted of various groups from the eastern Mediterranean (the Aegean region) who invaded Asia Minor (Turkey), Canaan, and Egypt during the 12th century B.C. (see map on the right). The Philistines are first mentioned in inscriptions by Ramasses III (c. 1184-1163 B.C.) who claims to have defeated them (and a coalition of Sea Peoples) after they had already overrun Canaan. The Philistines settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan establishing five capital cities (Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath–see 1 Sam. 5-6).

This map shows the coastal area controlled by the Philistines and some of the battles they engaged in with Israel. The map is taken from http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_philistine_cities_expansion.html
This map shows the coastal area controlled by the Philistines and some of the battles they engaged in with Israel. The map is taken from http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_philistine_cities_expansion.html

The Philistines were a major threat to Israel during the later period of the Judges and into the united monarchy period. 1 Samuel 13:19-22 reveals the Philistines’ had a monopoly on iron, giving them an edge (pun intended) in weapon superiority. They first appear as a foe during the time of Samson (Judg. 13:5). Rather than rejoice in Samson’s acts of deliverance, the men of Judah insist that the Philistines rule over them (Judg. 15:11), and see him as a threat to the status-quo. During the high priesthood of Eli (while Samuel was a young man), the Philistines inflicted a major defeat on Israel, taking the ark and destroying the sanctuary in Shiloh (1 Sam. 4; Jer. 7:12). Although Samuel experienced some military success against them (1 Sam. 7:13), the Philistines inflicted another major defeat on Israel during Saul’s reign, killing Saul and several of his sons (1 Sam. 31). These incursions into Israelite territory resulted in severing the northern area of Galilee from the rest of the nation. This put Israel’s survival as a nation in jeopardy. For a short period of time David lived among the Philistines while he was running from Saul. He was given the city of Ziklag (see map on the left) in exchange for his service to Achish, King of Gath (1 Sam. 27:5-6). Once David became king of Israel, he inflicted several severe defeats on the Philistines and, from that time on, they were never again a major threat to Israel (2 Sam. 5:17-25).

Philistine Cities

Tel-Qasile

In the summers of 2008 and 2009 I had the opportunity of visiting each of the sites of the major Philistine cities except for Gaza. Archaeologists have learned much about Philistine culture and have uncovered a vast amount of Philistine artifacts. The object of the rest of this article is to introduce others to these various Philistine cities by providing some basic facts and photos. My first visit to a Philistine site was actually one that I was unfamiliar with. It is known today as Tel-Qasile and is located to the north of modern Tel-Aviv (you can locate it on the map at the top just above Joppa). The ancient name of this city is not known, but many Philistine artifacts and buildings were discovered here, including a temple.

Buildings and streets at Tel-Qasile, an ancient Philistine city
Remains at Tel-Qasile, an ancient Philistine city
Temple at Tel-Qasile
Philistine Temple at Tel-Qasile

Ashkelon

Archaeological excavations have been taking place at Ashkelon ever since 1985. At its largest extent, Ashkelon covered an area of 150 acres, one of the largest in Israel! Ashkelon is the oldest and largest seaport known in Israel and it also boasts the oldest arched city gate in the world. This gate (pictured below) dates from the Canaanite era and is roughly contemporary with the gate from Tel-Dan shown in one of my previous articles. Archaeologists have learned much about the commercial activity of this thriving seaport city. For a brief description of Ashkelon’s economics click on the following link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/the-philistine-marketplace-at-ashkelon/ For a current look at what is happening at Tel-Ashkelon see the following site: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/digs-2014/excavating-ashkelon-in-2014/

Me at the Canaanite gate in Ashkelon, the oldest arched gate ever discovered.
Me at the Canaanite gate in Ashkelon, the oldest arched gate ever discovered.
More of the ruins at ancient Ashkelon
More of the ruins at ancient Ashkelon

Ashdod

Among the finds at Ashdod are a 6-chambered gate, similar to those found in Israel (e.g., Megiddo, see my article), and some mycenaean (ancestors of Greek culture) pottery, characteristic of the Philistines (see photo below under Ekron for some examples). One of the interesting features of Ashdod is the museum which houses many Philistine artifacts.

Models of ancient Philistines mixed with some modern Philistines found fooling around at the Ashdod museum!
Models of ancient Philistines mixed with some modern Philistines found fooling around at the Ashdod museum! The feathered headress was a characteristic feature of Philistine military dress.
Ancient figurines used in Philistine worship from the Ashdod museum
Ancient figurines used in Philistine worship from the Ashdod museum

Ekron (Tel-Miqne)

Ancient Ekron actually yielded an inscription identifying it by name. The inscription, which dates to the early 7th century, mentions the name of Ekron’s king at that time: “Achish son of Padi.” For those who know the story of David, it will be recalled that this was the name of the king of Gath that David served under during his fugitive days from Saul (1 Sam. 27–see comments above). For a picture of the inscription and its translation see the following link: http://cojs.org/cojswiki/index.php/Ekron_Inscription,_early_7th_century_BCE. At the ancient site of Ekron, I experienced a Philistine museum of a different type. This one was an outdoor museum.

IMG_4288
Outdoor museum at Ekron (Tel-Miqne). The object right of the center of the picture is an ancient Philistine loom, reminiscent of the Samson and Delilah story (Judg. 16:13-14).
Examples of classic Philistine pottery (mycenaean influence) at Tel-Miqne
Examples of classic Philistine pottery (mycenaean influence) at Tel-Miqne
This cart might be similar to the one used by the Philistines to transport the ark of the covenant back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:7-12).
This cart might be similar to the one used by the Philistines to transport the ark of the covenant back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:7-12).

Gath (Tel es-Safi)

Gath is also an extremely large site and has been undergoing excavation since 1996. In fact, one of my former students participated in an excavation there in the summer of 2009. A number of exciting discoveries have been made, including an ostracon with a name that is similar to “Goliath” (see the photo below). A large storage jar that includes the word “Rapha” (translated “giant” in 2 Sam. 21:16-22) has also been found, along with other interesting artifacts (e.g., a horned altar). For more information on the ongoing excavations at Gath click the following link: https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~maeira/

Hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath). The mound in the background is the Tel, of which only a part is visible.
Hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath). The mound in the background is the Tel, of which only a part is visible.
The goliath ostracon. Photo from: comment
The goliath ostracon. Photo from: http://gath.wordpress.com/2006/02/16/comment-on-the-news-item-in-bar-on-the-goliath-inscription/
Excavations at Tel es-Safi (Gath). This photo was taken the summer of 2008. Gath has seen 6 more seasons of excavation since then!
One area of excavations at Tel es-Safi (Gath). This photo was taken the summer of 2008. Gath has seen 6 more seasons of excavation since then!

The Philistine cities remain a rich resource for understanding their culture and biblical history. With excavations ongoing at some of these sites we will continue to increase our knowledge and understanding of one of Israel’s most dreaded foes in the ancient world. For more information on the Philistines see the websites included in this article, as well as any good Bible dictionary.

(All photos, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are to be used for educational purposes only.)

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel_arad_all
Aerial view of Tel-Arad

Did you know that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was not the only temple that existed in Judah during the divided monarchy period? In a discussion of top biblical sites, Tel-Arad is unlikely to make the list with most people. In fact, some of you may be saying, “Tel-what? I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” This is probably because it is not frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, and it is not connected with any particularly memorable story.  In spite of that, it is a mistake to sell Tel-Arad short as it has some of the most interesting archaeological finds in Israel, including another temple!

Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea
Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea

Tel-Arad is located in the southeastern area of Israel known as the Negev, 22 miles east-northeast of Beersheba and 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea. Although this area experiences little rainfall, Arad is situated in a strategic geographical location by ancient trade routes coming from the south and southeast. The Canaanites were the original settlers of this area and established a large city here between 3000-2300 B.C. Numbers 21:1-3 says that the King of Arad attacked Israel while they were making their way toward Canaan. The Israelites achieved an overwhelming victory and named the place “Hormah” which means “utter destruction.” Joshua 12:14 also mentions the defeat of a king of Arad. According to Joshua 19:1-8 this area was given to the tribe of Simeon (Arad appears in v. 4 as “Hormah”). Judges 1:16 tells us that the Kenites (the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law) also settled in this area, as did the infamous Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8-10).

The Fortress at Tel-Arad

The fortress at Tel-Arad
The fortress at Tel-Arad

Although there was a small settlement during the time of Solomon, it was during the divided monarchy period that a fortress was established at Tel-Arad. The fortress would have served to protect Judah’s southern border against its enemies, in particular, the Edomites. That this was a dangerous area is evidenced in the fact that the fortress was destroyed 6 times during the divided monarchy period! One of those destructions may have been the result of the great earthquake of 760 B.C. (see Amos 1:1 for a mention of this earthquake).  Three of the destructions of the fortress came during the eighth century B.C. According to the Bible, the Edomites were a constant problem during this time (2 Kgs. 15:7; 16:6). It is likely that one of the destructions of the fortress occurred during Hezekiah of Judah’s rebellion against the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C., who is said to have destroyed all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Kgs. 18:13). However, the fortress was rebuilt, but was finally destroyed as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. Inscriptions from Arad (which we will talk about below) indicate that the Edomites may have been responsible for the destruction, as it is well known that they assisted Babylon at this time (see the Book of Obadiah).

The Temple at Tel-Arad

The temple complex at Tel-Arad. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com
The temple complex at Tel-Arad. The altar of sacrifice appears in the center of the picture with the temple in the background on the left. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com/arad.htm

Although Bible students are aware of the temples erected in northern Israel by Jeroboam I (see my articles on Tel-Dan), and that Judah continued to have problems with the “high places” (e.g., 2 Kgs. 14:1-4), most, are not aware that Tel-Arad sported a complete temple that included all of the ingredients of Solomon’s temple. I had the opportunity to visit Arad in the summer of 2008 and walk through this temple complex. Since it is not possible to excavate the ruins of Solomon’s (or Herod’s) temple, it is fascinating to get a first hand view of what an ancient Israelite temple looked like. The altar of burnt offering in the courtyard is made of unhewn stones and follows the specifications laid down in Exodus 27:1. The temple itself consists of two rooms, as described in Scripture. The first, (the holy place) is a broad room resembling the same layout as Jeroboam’s temple in Tel-Dan. In contrast, the holy place in Solomon’s temple consisted of a long room. After entering the broad room one can then approach and enter a square room which would have been the holy of holies. It was fascinating to stand in this room and think about what would have taken place here. Who would have entered this room and when? Since there was no Ark of the Covenant here, what was done in this room? Was the Day of Atonement ritual practiced here? Did the high priest come down from Jerusalem, or did another appointed priest have access to the holy of holies in Arad? Many questions, but not many answers!

This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!
This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!

There are a couple of other fascinating things about entering the holy of holies at Tel-Arad. One is the altars of incense placed on either side of the entrance, and the other is the two “standing stones” (masseboth in Hebrew) inside. These stones (which I am crouching between in the photo below) supposedly represent Yahweh and his Asherah, or wife! This is an excellent example of the corruption of true Yahweh worship and why the Scripture insists that God was only to be worshipped at the place which He chose (Deut. 12:1-8). This sanctuary was covered over before Sennacherib’s destruction in 701 B.C. and never reused. It is thought that this is probably due to the reforms of King Hezekiah mentioned in 2 Kings 18:1-6. (For another recent discovery of a Judean Temple at Tel Motza, see my post Five Recent Archaeological Discoveries.)

Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah
Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah

The Tel-Arad Ostraca

One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad
One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad. Photo from Mnamon Ancient Writing Systems

Ostraca are pieces of broken pottery that were often used in ancient times as writing material. Archaeologists have discovered 88 Hebrew ostraca at Tel-Arad. This is an amazingly large quantity and, along with the temple complex, is evidence that Arad was a regional administrative and perhaps religious center. Among the 88 pieces, 15 are whole. The inscriptions date from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C., with the possibility of some being as old as the tenth century B.C. No other archaeological site has ever yielded ostraca that date from different periods in Israelite history. These ostraca not only provide insight into various stages of Judah’s history, but they help biblical scholars note the development and change of the ancient Hebrew language. A few of the ostraca mention the Edomites as enemies. It is this evidence that suggests the Edomites played an important part in the final destruction of Arad. Another ostracon (sg.) seems to be a “royal” inscription. It only exists in part, but it appears to be a letter from the king of Judah announcing his accession to the throne, with a reference to the “King of Egypt” as well. If this is correct, then this letter may be from Judah’s new king Jehoahaz who became king after the Pharaoh of Egypt (Necho II) killed his father Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kgs. 23:31). Another important ostracon mentions a priestly family (the family of Keros) who are referred to in Ezra 2:44 and Nehemiah 7:47. This same ostracon mentions “the house of Yahweh” which is the only nonbiblical reference to any preexilic temple to Yahweh (unless it is one day proven that the Jehoash inscription is authentic–for more info see the following link at bibleplaces.com). Tel-Arad is indeed a fascinating site with a lot to offer those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel. Ask your tour guide to add it to your itinerary the next time you go to Israel! For more information on ancient Arad, and examples of translations of some of the ostraca go to the following link: jewishvirtuallibrary.

All photos, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are only to be used for educational purposes.

Note: Some of the information from this article was taken from Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, eds. Bill T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), pp. 39-41, 372-373. You can order a copy of this dictionary at:

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