Category Archives: Biblical Sites

This feature includes photos of biblical sites and a brief overview of the significance of the site.

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubbaal Inscription Discovered!

Jerubaal shard
The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.
(photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

An inscription that dates to the time of the judges of Israel (1100 B.C.), has been discovered. The 3100 year old inscription was written in ink on a pottery vessel. Epigrapher Christopher Rollston of George Washington University has deciphered the letters as the name “Jerubbaal.” The piece of pottery was uncovered at Khirbet el-Ra’i, an archaeological site not far from the ancient cities of Gath and Lachish in the southern Judean foothills. The alphabet used was the ancient script that was current in Canaan at the time (see my articles, “Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered“, and “Oldest Hebrew Writing Discovered From Egypt?“).

Who Was Jerubbaal?

Gideon or Jerubaal
Gideon. also known as Jerubbaal, leads his men against the Midianites.

Jerubbaal is better known by his other name, Gideon. Gideon was the biblical judge who was famous for attacking a large army of Midianites that had invaded the land with only three hundred men carrying torches and pitchers (Judges 7). The name Jerubbaal comes from an incident where God commanded him to tear down the altar of Baal (Judges 6:25-32). Not only was this a risky venture that could have cost Gideon his life, but his father, Joash, was also a priest of Baal! The Bible notes, however, that Joash protected his son and told the towns people who wanted to punish Gideon that if Baal was a god he could contend for himself. Thus Gideon is given the name Jerubbaal, “let Baal contend.”

It should be pointed out that it is not possible to prove that the inscription found refers to the Jerubbaal of Scripture. There may well have been others with that name. However, the archaeologists that discovered the inscription (Yosef Garfinkel and Sa’al Ganor) are not ruling out the possibility that it could refer to the biblical Jerubbaal. It does come from the correct time period and Gideon was a powerful and well-known figure of that time according to the Book of Judges.

The Significance of the Inscription

Ganor and Garfinkel
Sa’al Ganor and Yosef Garfinkel (Credit: Yoli Schwartz Israel Antiquities Authority)

Whether this inscription refers to the actual Jerubbaal of Scripture, or not, the inscription is still very significant. Garfinkel and Ganor state, “As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David.” The fact that the name Jerubbaal is only found in Scripture during the period of the Judges and that this inscription dates to that period offers some corroborating evidence that the Bible has preserved reliable information. Garfinkel was also the archaeologist responsible for discovering the name Ishbaal on a pot in his excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa (see my post The Ishbaal Inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa). The name Ishbaal only occurs in Scripture during the reign of King David (2 Sam. 2-4). The remains at Khirbet Qeiyafa also date to the time of David. This leads these archaeologists to conclude: “The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

For more information see the following articles:

Jerusalem Post: 3,000 year old inscription bearing name of biblical judge found in Israel

Haaretz.com: Israeli archaeologists find biblical name ‘Jerubbaal’ inked on pot from Judges era

Times of Israel: Five-letter inscription inked 3,100 years ago may be name of biblical judge

Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered

Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered

Ostraca with alphabet's missing link
This inscribed potsherd, discovered at Tel Lachish, dates to the 15th century B.C. and is the earliest known alphabetic inscription from the ancient land of Canaan.

An ostracon (piece of broken pottery with writing) discovered at Tel Lachish, has been hailed as the alphabet’s missing link by Austrian Archaeologist Dr. Felix Höflmayer. The discovery is being referred to as the alphabet’s missing link because until now a chronological gap existed between the earliest evidence for the alphabet and its appearance in ancient Canaan. The earliest form of alphabetic writing known comes from the Sinai (Serabit el-Khadim) and Egypt (Wadi el-Hol) and dates to the 19th century B.C. (see my article Oldest Hebrew Writing Discovered From Egypt?). Previous to this discovery at Lachish the oldest alphabetic writing in the Levant (the area which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel) dated to the 13th century B.C. This discovery helps to close the chronological gap and demonstrates that writing existed in ancient Canaan earlier than previously thought.

This map shows the locations of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions. Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai and Wadi el-Hol in Egypt.

Alphabet’s Missing Link: What Does It Say?

The ostracon contains a total of nine letters. Two words of three letters each appear, along with 3 miscellaneous letters. Reading from right to left, the first word, written diagonally in the upper left, contains the letters ʿayin (ע), bet (ב), and dalet (ד) which spells the Hebrew word ‘ebed meaning “slave.” Höflmayer suggests this may be part of a name since names containing these components are common in all Semitic languages (e.g., Ebed-Melech–Jer. 38:7ff.). The second word, at the bottom, reading right to left contains the letters, nun (נ), pe (פ), tav (ת) which spells the word “honey” or “nectar.” The two letters in the upper righthand corner and the letter between the two words are all the letter nun (נ). The significance of these letters is not known, although it appears there was more to the inscription than what appears on this potsherd. It needs to be noted that the words “slave” and “honey” are conjectural. During this period when the alphabet was being developed there was no standard direction for writing letters, so the letters might be read from left to right or right to left (sometimes they were even written vertically!).

Why Is a Small Piece of Pottery With 9 Letters On It So Significant?

The area at Tel Lachish where the alphabet's missing link was discovered
This picture shows the area at Tel Lachish where the alphabet’s missing link was discovered. Area S, looking west. Early Late Bronze Age fortification, with the southern wall of building 100 (L1027) on the right side (figure by J. Dye & L. Webster, Austrian Academy of Sciences).

For Bible believers, the discovery is significant because it shows that writing was possible and more widespread than previously thought. Some have argued that Moses couldn’t have composed the writings contained in the Torah because an alphabet hadn’t been invented yet. The alphabetic writings from Egypt, Sinai, and now Lachish, demonstrate that the alphabet not only existed during the time of Moses but was being used throughout the region the Bible locates the Israelites in.

Map of Lachish where alphabet's missing link was discovered
The location of Lachish, ancient Judah’s second largest city.

The discovery is also significant because it can be precisely dated. Höflmayer writes, “The newly discovered inscription from Tel Lachish is currently the earliest securely dated example of early alphabetic writing in the Southern Levant.” Other examples of early writing exist, but either they were not found in a secure archaeological context, or it is disputed if the writing is alphabetic. One example of this, which also comes from Lachish, is the Lachish Dagger (photo can be found here). This dagger, discovered in 1934 at a tomb in Lachish contains what most scholars believe is four alphabetic symbols. This dagger dates to the late Middle Bronze Age (1650 B.C. – 1550 B.C.). Some, however, dispute that the symbols are alphabetic.

The discovery of this “missing link,” along with the dagger, and other writings, has some scholars believing that Lachish was an important center of writing. Höflmayer states, “Indeed, Lachish has yielded more examples of Late Bronze Age early alphabetic inscriptions than any other site.”

For more on the Biblical significance of this discovery see, Alphabet’s Missing Link Discovered in Canaan.

Höflmayer’s own account is available at Early alphabetic writing in the ancient Near East: the ‘missing link’ from Tel Lachish.

For more on the significance of Tel Lachish see my article Tel Lachish in the Toilet.

 

 

New Dead Sea Scroll Discovered

New Dead Sea Scroll Discovered

New Dead Sea Scroll
Sections of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll discovered in the Judean Desert expedition prior to their conservation. (photo credit: SHAI HALEVI / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced today (Tuesday March 16, 2021), the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scroll. The scroll is 2,000 years old and contains portions of the 12 minor prophets. It is not intact but consists of over two dozen fragments. and was written in Greek. Interestingly, the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.

New Dead Sea Scroll
One of the fragments after unraveling. Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

The scroll contains parts of Nahum and Zechariah and is thought to be a missing part of a Minor Prophets scroll discovered in 1952 which included parts of Micah. One of the fragments reads, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” These words from Zechariah 8:16-17 seem like a particularly appropriate admonition for our world today.

A New Intensive Search for Dead Sea Scrolls

Cave of Horror
The Cave of Horror where the most recent Dead Sea Scrolls were found can only be accessed by descending on ropes. The distance is 80 meters or over 262 feet!

This recent discovery is the result of a new intensive search for Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists have long believed there are other scrolls yet to be discovered. The number of caves in the Judean Wilderness is vast and many remain unexplored. The cave that yielded the recent finds was explored in 1960 by the famous Israeli archaeologist, Yigael Yadin. It was dubbed “the Cave of Horror” because of the remains of the skeletons of 40 men, women, and children discovered there. No scrolls were recovered at that time, however, a Greek copy of the Book of the Twelve (the Minor Prophets) was discovered later. This is why it is assumed that the recent discovery is part of this same scroll. To date, only about 50% of the caves have been investigated. There is a renewed urgency in examining these caves and finding any potential scrolls before antiquities thieves discover them and seek financial gain from their sale.

Antiquities Forgery is Big Business!

Museum of the Bible
Sadly, this past year (2020), it was announced that all 16 Dead Sea Scrolls in the Museum of the Bible in Washington D. C. were forgeries!

It is important that the scrolls, and any antiquities for that matter, be found in a legitimate archaeological context by professional archaeologists. When items appear on the antiquities market, there is always the danger of forgeries. The 16 Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D. C., all revealed to be forgeries this past year, is a painful reminder of this reality. (See my former article here when these scrolls were thought/hoped to be original.)

Other Recent Discoveries in the “Cave of Horror”

Bar Kokhba coins
Coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt were also discovered. Credit: Ofer Sion, Israel Antiquities Authority

The cave has also yielded other interesting finds, including the skeleton of a child, dated 6,000 years old and a weaved basket in excellent condition, carbon-dated to 10,000 years old (see below). Finally, some coins from the Bar-Kokhba revolt (132-135 A.D.) were also discovered (see photo above).

For more information on this recent find, including additional photos and a video see the following links: Jerusalem Post,  Haaretz, Verietyinfo,  Video link on recent discovery

This month the Historical Faith Society, a part of the Patterns of Evidence ministry, is highlighting the search for new Dead Sea Scrolls. Click on the first link for further information and a short video.

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

Beheading of John the Baptist
Salome presents the head of John the Baptist to her mother.

The beheading of John the Baptist is a well-known story. Even many who aren’t familiar with the New Testament have heard the story of the dance of Salome that cost John his head. Artists throughout the ages have dramatized the grizzly scene of John’s head being brought on a plate by the young girl (see above). Recently, Győző Vörös, director of the excavations at Machaerus, announced that he has pinpointed the area where Salome’s deadly dance took place.

Herod’s Palace Fortress at Machaerus

Aerial photograph of archaeological site of Machaerus.  [Credit: Gyozo Voros]
The death of John the Baptist is not only recorded in Scripture, it was also recorded by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In fact, it is Josephus’s account that locates John’s execution at Machaerus, one of Herod’s mountaintop fortresses. The fortress was originally built during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, one of the Hasmonean rulers (more popularly referred to as the Maccabees). Herod the Great refurbished and strengthened it. Machaerus was Herod’s most eastern fortress and is located in present-day Jordan. The map that follows shows the location of Machaerus and Herod’s other palaces/fortresses.

Map of Herod's palaces
Herod’s palaces. Credit:Biblical Archaeology Review

The Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s Death

In order to avoid any confusion, I would point out that, although Herod the Great had refurbished the palace, it was Herod’s son, known as Herod Antipas, who figures in the story of John’s beheading. The Gospels record that John accused Herod (Anitpas) of violating the Law of Moses by taking his brother’s wife. Herodias was previously married to Antipas’s brother Philip (Mark 6:17-20). Antipas arrests John and throws him in prison, not willing to kill him for fear of the people who regarded John as a prophet. However, when Salome, Herodias’s daughter, dances for Herod, he promises her anything, up to half his kingdom. Her request is for the head of John the Baptist, which Herod reluctantly grants.

Josephus’s Account of John the Baptist’s Death

Josephus
First century Roman bust thought to be Josephus.

As noted above, Josephus also provides an account of John the Baptist’s death. Josephus’s account differs in some particulars. His account compliments the Gospels by adding additional information. I have provided an abbreviated version of his account below:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing join in baptism. . . . When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus, the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod (Josephus Ant 18.5.2 §116–19).

Josephus’s mention of the destruction of Antipas’s army relates to the defeat he suffered in 36 AD at the hands of the Nabatean King Aretas IV. Anitpas had divorced his daughter in order to marry Herodias.

Where Did Salome’s Dance Take Place?

Throne niche at Machaerus
Vörös believes this niche once contained Herod’s throne. [Image: © Győző Vörös]
Within the ruins of the palace, a courtyard has been uncovered, along with a niche which Vörös believes to be the place where Antipas’s throne was located. The photo above shows the niche where the throne may have been. In an article for BAR (Sept/Oct 2012), Vörös writes,  “Herod’s palace also included a courtyard with a small royal garden, a Roman-style bath, a triclinium for fancy dining and a formal peristyle courtyard enclosed by porticoes on four sides. This final area was the most imposing area of the palace, and it was there that Salome must have danced for Herod Antipas. We even know where the king sat: A semi-circular apse marks the space for King Herod’s (and later his son Tetrarch Herod Antipas’s) throne in the axial center of the peristyle courtyard.”

An artistic representation by Vörös of what this courtyard may have looked like can be found in the following article by livescience entitled,  “Dance floor where John the Baptist was condemned to death discovered, archaeologist says” (Go to the bottom of the article). A short article in Bible History Daily also contains some artistic reconstructions of the palace. A short video about Machaerus by The Watchman program can be found here and a longer version can be found here.

As with any archaeological reconstruction, 100% certainty is not possible. Some archaeologists have agreed with Vörös’s conclusions, while others are not convinced. In any case, Salome’s dance certainly happened within this palace in a place where Herod would have entertained guests. This seems to be the most likely spot. The work at Machaerus continues and perhaps even greater clarity about where this biblical event took place will be forthcoming.

 

 

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Thermopolia at Pompeii
Excavating a snack bar at Pompeii yielded this vivid picture of a sea nymph astride a sea-horse.

We all enjoy and appreciate being able to get food on the run. Fast food restaurants are a mainstay of modern life. If you thought they were unique to the modern world, however, you would be wrong. Pompeii, the famous city buried by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius exploded, had up to 80 fast food establishments! One of these establishments, the Thermopolium (snack bar) of Regio V, has recently been excavated in its entirety. The excavation revealed vivid art work. Furthermore, examining residues in food containers revealed the kind of food sold at the snack bar. Other discoveries included storage vessels, the bones of two humans, and the bones of a dog.

Ordering at Regio V in Pompeii

Snack bar in Pompeii
The food bar at Regio V in Pompeii.

If you were hungry in ancient Pompeii and walked into Regio V for a snack, what would you find there? The photo of the snack bar above, offers a few ideas. Two mallard ducks hung by their feet (left panel), and a rooster (right panel), suggest some of the delicacies that a hungry client might choose from. In fact, examination of the containers, or dolium, lining the counter (see photo above), produced the following residues: goats, fish, swine, snails, and even a fragment of duck bone.

Menacing dog at Regio V in Pompeii
Was this menacing dog a warning or a menu item?

Was the menacing looking dog in the picture above, a warning to guests to beware of hassling the workers, or another item on the varied menu at Regio V? Another interesting feature of this picture is the graffiti in the black area above the dog’s head. If you blow up the picture, you can barely make out the words of an unsatisfied customer. I won’t quote here what the graffiti says. Suffice it to say, the customer had a real potty mouth (quite literally). For a translation of the graffiti, and additional information about the snack bar, see the article at pompeiisites.org. Speaking of dogs, archaeologists found the full skeleton of a small dog between the two doors of the Thermopolium. The dog was only eight to ten inches high, suggesting that the Romans were breeding pet dogs 2,000 years ago.

Human Remains

Human remains at Regio V
Some of the human remains found at Regio V in Pompeii.

Pompeii is famous for preserving the images of dying people caught in the ash and poisonous gases of the Vesuvius eruption. The bones of two victims were identified inside the snack bar. Unfortunately, treasure hunters from the 17th century moved the bones around. Excavator’s identified the remains of one man in his fifties, who appears to have died on his bed (the residue of wood and nails still laid underneath the bones). The bones of another man were found inside one of the doliums. The treasure hunters apparently put them there.

Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, states, “The possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.” For further information on this discovery consult the link above and also see Pompeii Fast Food Restaurant Uncovered. For interesting video footage click here and here (please be aware this video is in Italian but it gives a good overview of the shop). To read more about the Romans love of fish check out, Fish Sauces–The Food That Made Rome Great.