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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.)
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 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
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
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!
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.)
The Tel-Arad Ostraca
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:
A Week in the Life of Corinth is a charming story by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. Although it is fictional, it is based on Witherington’s knowledge of the New Testament world (not to mention his commentaries on Acts and 1&2 Corinthians) and includes real historical figures like the apostle Paul, the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), and Erastus the treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23). It is a book that not only “tells” us about the 1st century world, it “shows” us through the medium of story.
The story revolves around a fictional character named Nicanor, a former slave of Erastos (the Greek spelling used by Witherington), but now a freedman. By following Nicanor’s life for one eventful week, the reader is treated to many insightful details about life in the 1st century AD. For example, rather than being told about the relationship between a patron and client as a textbook would do, the reader experiences patronage first hand through the life of Nicanor. (For an example of understanding the importance of patronage, see my article: “Grace in 3D”.) We also learn the potential dangers involved in these kinds of relationships when Nicanor’s loyalty to Erastos clashes with the desires of the powerful Marcus Aurelius Aemilianus.
In order to educate the reader, the book is punctuated by information boxes entitled, “A Closer Look.” These boxes include a mountain of informative details including such topics as, Slaves and Manumission, The Roman Calendar, Gladiators and their Contests, Paul, a Visionary with an Eye Problem, Home Schooling Greco-Roman Style, Jews in Corinth, Roman Trials, and a host of other subjects. Besides these information boxes, Witherington also includes a number of photos and diagrams. Among the diagrams included are a layout of “First Century downtown Corinth,” and the layout of a Roman domus (house).
Photos include a number of pictures of the remains of ancient Corinth such as the diolkos (the shortcut used to drag small boats across the isthmus where Corinth is located rather than sail them all the way around Greece), or the Erastus inscription (see photo on right). Other helpful photos feature a gladiatorial school, an ancient Roman road, and a street in Pompeii. Although the photos are helpful, in order to keep this slender volume at a reasonable price, they are in black and white which affects their quality.
The book is suitable for the average reader seeking to learn more about life in the New Testament world in an entertaining way. However, there are a few shortcomings. Further character and plot development would certainly have created a greater emotional attachment to the story and its characters. The numerous Latin and Greek words used by Witherington are sometimes, but not always, explained. Although the use of these words adds to the atmosphere of the story, those who aren’t acquainted with these ancient languages may find it a little exasperating. More importantly, there appear to be some errors in the use of Greek and Latin words or names. For example, Tyche is definitely a feminine name, though Witherington uses it for a male doorman. In spite of these shortcomings, Witherington’s book is an enjoyable and educational read. I recommend A Week in the Life of Corinth to all who are interested in ancient Corinth or the world of the New Testament.
Buy “A Week in the Life of Corinth,” by clicking on one of the following links at Amazon: USA / UK
(Thanks to the publishers at IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.)
Did you know that the end of the story of the conquest of the city of Dan holds a very interesting surprise? In my previous article on Tel Dan, we looked at the fascinating archaeological discoveries that have been uncovered, while noting that only about 10% of the site has been excavated. This article will focus on the biblical history of the city of Dan and its sad legacy.
The conquest of the city of Dan (formerly known as Laish), as recorded in Judges 18:27-31, is an inglorious affair from its inception. The story is narrated in two parts: 1) The story of Micah, his house of false worship, and his Levite (Judg. 17); and 2) the story of the conquest of the city of Dan. In short, the Danites, who don’t have the faith to take the territory allotted to them (Judg. 1:34), steal the gods and priest of a fellow-Israelite named Micah and then attack a peaceful, unsuspecting people in the northern part of Canaan (Judg. 18:7-9). A real surprise is saved for the end of the story when the name and genealogy of the previously unnamed Levite is revealed. We are told his name is Jonathan and that he descended from none other than the great lawgiver himself, Moses! (Judg. 18:30).
A Levite, an Embarrassed Scribe, and the City of Dan
At this point you might be saying, “Wait a minute, my version reads ‘Manasseh,’ not ‘Moses'”. In Hebrew the only difference between the names Moses and Manasseh is the letter “n”.
At some point in the history of the Hebrew text, it appears that some well-meaning scribe was embarrassed by the fact that this unscrupulous Levite could be a descendant of Moses (which is one of the shocking points of the story). As a result, the Hebrew letter nun (pronounced “noon” and equivalent to an “n” in English) was halfway inserted into the name of Moses, turning it into the name Manasseh. Although the scribe was probably embarrassed that the text read “Moses,” his reverence for the text did not permit him to totally change it. Thus, he only inserted the nun part way into the name. This is why the NKJV and other versions read “Manasseh” instead of “Moses.”
It is possible that this Jonathan is a grandson of Moses because he is said to be “the son of Gershom, the son of Moses,” but the word “son” can mean “descendant” and so it is difficult to be certain. Either way, the city of Dan gets off to a very inauspicious start with its first priest being an idol-worshipping pay-for-hire descendant of Moses! The story of the founding of the city of Dan ends with the sad words, “So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image which he made all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judg. 18:31). In other words, from the very beginning the Danites set up a false house of worship to compete with the true worship of God. The story only gets worse as we move on to the time of King Jeroboam I.
The City of Dan Under Jeroboam I
Jeroboam was a young man on the rise in Solomon’s administration (1 Kgs. 11:28) when the prophet Ahijah told him that God would give him the ten northern tribes (1 Kgs. 11:29-31). This leads to a text that I find quite intriguing, not to mention surprising. God continues by telling Jeroboam that if he will be faithful, “then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and give Israel to you” (1 Kgs. 11:38). An enduring house like David’s? Wow! As king over the northern tribes, Jeroboam has the opportunity to end the idolatrous history of the city of Dan (as well as the rest of the northern tribes), and lead the people in following the Lord. Jeroboam does indeed become king, as Ahijah said he would (1Kgs. 12:15-19), but unfortunately, if you know your Bible history, he does not lead the people in following the Lord. Instead, Jeroboam reasons that if he allows the people to worship in Jerusalem “then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kgs. 12:27).
Even though he had seen the fulfillment of God’s word in making him king, he did not believe that God could fulfill the rest of His promise! Instead, Jeroboam inaugurates a new religion of sorts (Yahweh worship, but with a twist – golden calves!) and establishes temples at Bethel and Dan (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). This act was devastating to the house of Jeroboam, of whom it was said, “And this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to exterminate and destroy it from the face of the earth” (1 Kgs. 13:34). But sin never simply affects one person or household. The sin of Jeroboam was also devastating to the ten northern tribes. It became known as the “sin by which he had made Israel sin” (e.g., 1 Kgs. 15:34; 16:19; 22:52). When Israel is finally carried away into Assyrian captivity more than 200 years later, it is the sin of Jeroboam that is credited with leading them astray (2 Kgs. 17:21-23).
The Legacy of the City of Dan
In both of these stories involving the city of Dan, the word legacy comes to mind. In the first story it is the ruined legacy of Moses by a descendant who cares more about money, power, and prestige than honesty and truth. In the second story the legacy of Jeroboam I sadly continues generation after generation until Israel is destroyed. How ironic that the legacy of Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet and leader is quickly overturned, while the legacy of Jeroboam I continues unbroken eventually leading to the ruin of the nation. Sadly sin has corrupted humankind to the point where it is much easier to follow a bad leader than a good one. That is a truth well worth bearing in mind during these times in which we live.
These stories also prompt us to ask what sort of legacy do we want to leave to future generations? Meditating on the legacy of the city of Dan teaches us that whether we live for good or for ill, our lives not only affect us and those around us, but have a powerful impact on the future. This is a sobering truth and should cause us to pause and ask ourselves about the choices we are making. What kind of world do we want to leave to the next generation and beyond? Our choices today, and for the rest of our lives, will play a major role in molding the future that we bequeath to them.
Did you know that even though Tel Dan (the ancient city of Dan) has yielded some amazing archaeological discoveries, those currently excavating it (Drs. David Ilan, Ryan Byrne, & Nili Fox) claim that, “the artifacts of more than ninety percent of the mound still lie underground waiting to be discovered”? (http://www.teldan.wordpress.com).
The photo on the left gives an idea of the size of the mound. The dense area of trees shows how much of the tel remains untouched. In spite of the fact that Avraham Biran presided over excavations here for 33 years (1966-1999), and the current directors have been digging since 2005, the exciting news is that there is more to discover. Imagine all those years of digging (43 counting this summer) and archaeologists have barely scratched the surface of Tel Dan! This is an excellent example of what a mamoth task archaeologists confront and how careful we should be about accepting dogmatic answers (that lack proof) from them.
In this article we will look at some of the exciting discoveries already made. In a second article on Tel Dan I will talk about the significant biblical events that took place here. The biblical history of Dan is fascinating, but frustrating, as it is a prime example of Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness. Follow the sign for further discussion on Tel Dan!
Famous Discoveries at Tel Dan
In our last article on Khirbet Qeiyafa we talked about the significance of the “house of David stele” that was discovered at Tel Dan. This stele was made by the Syrian king Hazael. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Hazael captured Dan, it does state that he conquered and controlled alot of Israel and Judah (2 Kgs. 8:12; 10:32; 13:3, etc.). Since Dan was Israel’s northernmost city, it follows that Hazael would have to control it in order to penetrate further into Israel’s territory. The stele is proof that he did.
This stele was probably set up by Hazael around 841 BC after capturing the city. When Dan came back under Israel’s control (2 Kgs. 13:25), the stele was apparantly smashed and used as a building block in one of the city’s walls where it was discovered in 1993. The stele is important because it is the only extra biblical source that mentions the “house of David” and, therefore, supports the biblical claim that the kings of Judah were descended from a real historical person named David. Previous to this discovery, a lack of archaeological evidence mentioning David had caused some archaeologists to doubt his existence. Even now, some continue to insist that the kingdom of David and Solomon is mythical and that the archaeological evidence does not support it. Again, this is the problem that can develop when archaeologists draw conclusions because of a lack of evidence for something, when there is so much that remains to be discovered. Unfortunately, it is often these very archaeologists or scholars who are interviewed for documentaries about the Bible, leading to greater skepticism among the public who view these programs. One example of this is the History Channel’s “The Bible Unearthed (2009).” (To see comments on David and Solomon’s kingdom forward the video to the 30 minute mark). In spite of the skepticism of some, however, there are other archaeologists who put greater trust in the biblical account.
The Israelite Temple at Tel Dan
The discovery of the Temple complex is another exciting feature of Tel Dan. The Bible speaks of Dan being a place of Israelite idolatry as early as the period of the Judges (Judg. 18:30-31). However, it was Jeroboam I who built a permanent sanctuary to house one of the two golden calves he had made (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). 1 Kings 12:26-27 reveals that Jeroboam’s fear that the people of his newly established kingdom would continue to go to Jerusalem to worship, motivated him to build temples in Bethel (the southern border of his kingdom) and Dan (the northern border of his kingdom). Excavators have actually uncovered three phases of building activity here. The first is attributed to Jeroboam I about 930 BC. The second phase is attributed to the infamous idolator Ahab (9th century BC), and the final phase to Jeroboam II (early 8th century BC).
The first phase was destroyed by fire. This may have happened when Ben Hadad I of Syria (Aram) attacked Dan (1 Kgs. 15:20). When rebuilding occurred under Ahab in phase II, the temple platform was enlarged as was the altar platform. In phase III under Jeroboam II, a monumental staircase was added to the temple,
a new four-horned altar (9 feet high) was made with stairs ascending on two of its corners, and a new enclosure wall was added with entrances in the south and east (which can be seen in the photo above). Among the artifacts discovered were 2 small incense altars and 3 iron shovels used for sifting the incense. (photo on right)
One of the important significances of the discovery of this temple complex is that it is only one of two discovered in the land of Israel (the other is in Arad which I will examine in a future article). Because excavation is not allowed on the Temple Mount, the temples in Dan and Arad provide the only examples of what an Israelite (or Judahite) temple looked like.
The Israelite Gate at Tel Dan
When approaching the site of Tel Dan, you can’t help but be impressed by the massive stone walls and the gate complex. The gate is four-chambered and directly outside of it is “an impressive courtyard enclosed by the city wall and a single-entrance outer gate” (Dictionary of the OT Historical Books, “Dan,” IVP, 2005, p. 197).
Inside the courtyard is a stone bench, where the elders and notables of the city probably gathered (Gen. 19:1; Ruth 4:1-2). Left of the stone bench (as you are facing it) is the remnant of a canopy structure which may have been a throne platform for the king. King’s were known to sit in the gate (2 Sam. 18:24; 1 Kgs. 22:10).
Just outside of this 9th century gate complex is a chilling reminder of the idolatry of the northern kingdom. An altar made of stones represents what is called “the high place at the gates” (2 Kgs. 23:8 – the reference here is not to Dan but these high places were very common at the entrance of cities). One of the features of this altar are the “standing stones” (masseboth) which can be seen in the center of the altar. More of these standing stones can be found inside the gate in the outer courtyard. Scholars are not sure what these kind of stones represent. They could “represent the city god(s), divine icons, venerated ancestors, civic monuments or something entirely different” (quoted from teldan.wordpress.com).
The Canaanite Gate at Tel Dan
Another exciting discovery at Tel Dan is the (nearly) 4,000 year old Canaanite mudbrick gate, the oldest arched gate in the world. Although it’s popular to say that Abraham may have passed through this gate (see Gen. 14:14), if it is dated to the 18th century BC, as the excavators suggest, it would be slightly younger than Abraham. Nonetheless, it is still a very old structure.
Besides these significant discoveries, others have been made which I won’t take the time to detail here because they are not related directly to the Bible (like the Mycenaean tomb which has yielded many exciting artifacts). Tel Dan is clearly an important archaeological site and it will be interesting to see what is uncovered in the years to come. My next article on biblical sites will continue to focus on Tel Dan as we look at its spiritual significance according to Scripture.
(all photos the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken, except where noted, and should only be used for educational purposes.)
Did you know that 7 seasons of excavations (2007-2013) at Khirbet Qeiyafa have produced a number of exciting finds leading some archaeologists to the conclusion that the biblical description of David’s kingdom is accurate? If you are a Bible-believer, it may have never crossed your mind to doubt the existence of David or his kingdom. However, that hasn’t stopped skeptical archaeologists and biblical scholars from questioning it! In the 1980s the new “literary” approach to the Bible advocated that the biblical text was written centuries after the events they purport to describe (actually the old “higher criticism” of the 19th-20th centuries frequently advocated a similar understanding). The events and people were (are) often considered to be literary creations. The biblical authors merely fabricated a past history that didn’t actually exist.
The discovery of the stele (stone inscription) from Tel-Dan in 1993 which specifically mentions the “house of David” was the first nonbiblical source ever discovered to refer to the Davidic kingdom.
House of David
This discovery was helpful in putting an end to the theory that King David was only a literary creation. However, a number of scholars continue to believe that David’s kingdom was insignificant. One prominent Israeli archaeologist summed up David’s kingdom this way: “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.” (quoted from Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2013, 39, no. 6, in an article by Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell entitled “An Ending and A Beginning,” p. 44).
Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Elah Valley
The excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa takes an important step toward demonstrating that David did in fact rule over a significant kingdom. While not all scholars agree (when do they ever!), there is considerable evidence that this city, that overlooks the Elah Valley, was an important defensive outpost from David’s time (1010-970 BC). As the map below shows, Qeiyafa is located at the junction between southern Judah and Philistine territory (the Philistine city of Gath, not on the map, is only 8 miles away).
The Elah Valley is the famous location of David’s battle with Goliath and it is the valley which provides access from Philistine territory to Judean territory. Thus it is a significant area, and Qeiyafa’s location would have been vital in protecting Judah’s southern frontier.
The reason Khirbet Qeiyafa is so significant is because there is basically only one occupational layer. This means that, unlike many cities in Israel, the site was not built upon by later generations (there is some small evidence of other occupations of the site, e.g., a Byzantine structure that dates from about 400 AD, but nothing significant that interferes with the basic city itself). Radiocarbon dating of ancient olive pits found on the site date it to the period of 1020-980 BC (David’s time). The city is constructed like other cities in southern Judah of this period (e.g., Beersheba, BethShemesh), a style which was unique to Judah (i.e., different from Philistine, Canaanite, or even Israelite construction). The discovery of two gate complexes (a southern entrance and a western entrance) leading into the city is unusual and has led the excavators of Khirbet Qeiyafa to identify it with the biblical city Shaaraim (which means “two gates” in Hebrew) referred to in the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52).
Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon
One of the exciting discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa was made in 2008 when an ostracon ( a piece of ancient pottery) was discovered with what may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. The first photo above shows the area where the ostracon was found (see the yellow circle in the photo). Unfortunately, it has proven hard to translate because it is only a fragment of a larger inscription. However, scholars believe the words “judge” and “king” are among the words on the ostracon.
The reason this is such an exciting discovery is that it provides evidence of writing, and therefore, of administration at Khirbet Qeiyafa. For a kingdom to be as advanced as the Bible describes David’s kingdom, there would have to be written documentation and administrative activity. This ostracon provides for that possibility.
The Administrative Building at Khirbet Qeiyafa
Besides the two gate complexes, Khirbet Qeiyafa has a massive defensive (casemate) wall around it. In the final season of excavation (summer 2013), the excavators uncovered a monumental administrative building in the central and highest part of the site. Although the building had been partially destroyed by a later Byzantine structure (mentioned above and seen in the photo below), the archaeologists were able to determine that the original building from David’s era covered more than 10,000 square feet!
The point of all this is, to build a city of this size and sophistication so far from Jerusalem, on the border of Philistine territory would have required a well organized and equipped government. Summing up the significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, the archaeologists of this 7 year project state: “Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities. The inscription indicates that writing and literacy were present and that historical memories could have been documented and preserved for generations” (Biblical Archaeology Review, “An Ending and a Beginning,” p. 46, see the full citation above).
Khirbet Qeiyafa (like the discovery at Megiddo mentioned in the last ariticle) continues to demonstrate that there is much to be learned from archaeology in Israel and that we shouldn’t be disturbed by some who claim that archaeolgy is “disproving” the Bible. In fact, it is interesting how frequently the biblical record finds corroboration in the archaeological evidence. The archaeologists of Khirbet Qeiyafa (Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell) are moving to another important biblical site this summer: Tel-Lachish. Like Khirbet Qeiyafa it is located in the southern Judean foothills. Although this city has experienced the archaeologists’ spade on several other occassions, the Davidic time period (11th-10th centuries BC) has received relatively little attention. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this dig and see what else can be “dug up” that relates to, and will deepen our knowledge of, the time of David.
(if you would like more info on Khirbet Qeiyafa I recommend Luke Chandler’s site found at http://www.lukechandler.wordpress.com. Luke personally dug at Khirbet Qeiyafa for 5 seasons. Also, if you google Qeiyafa, you will find many other interesting photos and articles).
Did you know that recent excavations at Tel Megiddo have uncovered a massive Canaanite temple complex that dates to the 4th millenium BC (3500-3000)? This is an extraordinary find as archaeologists believed that Canaan during this period only consisted of small towns and villages with cities only apprearing in the early 3rd millenium. The details of this find and its interesting ramifications can be found at the Biblical Archaeology Society’s website (biblicalarchaeology.org). Unfortunately, you may need to have a membership to view the article, but you can also see a brief report by one of the excavators at the following site: Revelations from Megiddo.
The photo of the Canaanite altar below (the round stone structure in the middle of the picture) gives bible readers an idea of what a Canaanite altar looked like and the enormity of its size.
But some of you might say I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What is so important about Tel Megiddo anyway? Tel Megiddo is most popularly known by the name given in Revelation 16:16 – “Armageddon” (mountain of Megiddo), the place where the last battle is to be fought between the Lord and his enemies (But see my more recent article entitled: Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought? for a different solution!). Actually Tel Megiddo has experienced many battles over the centuries, and even though the city was destroyed in the 4th-5th century BC, battles have continued to be fought in its vicinity up to modern times (this includes Napolean, and General Allenby’s battle with the Turks in 1917 during WWI).
History at Tel-Megiddo
Tel Megiddo’s location at the head of the Jezreel Valley guarding the way of the Via Maris (way by the Sea), the ancient trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt, made it a key player in international politics in ancient times. Archaeologists have uncovered between 20-25 layers (depending who you read!) of civilization spanning 6 millenia.
Although Joshua initially defeated the king of Megiddo (Josh. 12:21), Megiddo did not fall under Israelite control until probably the time of David. The Bible tells us that Solomon fortified Megiddo and made it one of his royal cities (1 Kgs. 9:15). Although some dispute this, many scholars believe that the remains of the northern palace and the city gates can be dated to Solomon’s building activity.
Megiddo is also the place where two kings of Judah died. The ungodly Ahaziah died there after being wounded by King Jehu of Israel (2 Kgs. 9:27), while the godly King Josiah was killed in battle as he attempted to block Pharaoh Neco who was advancing to help the Assyrians against the Babylonians at Carchemish (Syria) in 609 BC (2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24).
The Ever-Changing Nature of Archaeology
There are a number of excellent websites that have more thorough articles on Megiddo such as the Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), or you can just google “Megiddo.” My purpose here is first, to introduce people to this interesting site, and most importantly, to show how new excavations continue to transform knowledge in the field of archaeology. Some archaeologists will assert that archaeological data frequently contradicts the biblical account. But archaeology is an ever-changing field as new discoveries are made. No one thought that ancient Canaan of the 4th millenium had any significant cities. This recent discovery changes a former archaeological dogma into what is now known to be an incorrect assumption. There are thousands of ancient mounds yet to be investigated with the archaeologist’s spade, not to mention the fact that even those sites that are being (have been) excavated are only partially uncovered. This research is incredibly exciting, as new information is constantly being uncovered about the world of the Bible, but with so much more to yet discover, we should also be cautious about accepting as solid fact, every theory that is offered by archaeologists.
Next time I will look at a site (Tel-Qayifa), and a discovery from another site (an inscription from Tel-Dan), that has challenged liberal archaeological theories concerning the nonexistence of David and a Davidic kingdom.
(All photos by Randy & Gloria McCracken. Permission is granted to use these photos free of charge for educational purposes only)