It was recently announced that a clay bulla of Hezekiah King of Judah (727-698 B.C.) was discovered during excavations in the Ophel area of Jerusalem. Although found in 2009, the discovery has only recently been made known to the public. While previous bullae (plural of “bulla”) of Hezekiah are known, this is the first one discovered in an archaeological context (others have appeared on the antiquites market and in the collections of antiquities dealers). A bulla is a small piece of clay, which has been impressed by the owner’s seal. Bullae were used to seal papyrus documents that were rolled and tied with a string (see picture below). In the middle of the bulla of Hezekiah is a picture of a two-winged sun disk. The wings of the sun disk point downward and it has six rays of light projecting from it (3 from the top and 3 from the bottom). On either side of the sun disk (the one on the right is most clearly visible) are ankh symbols from Egypt known as “the key of life.”
Given Israel’s aversion to symbols, especially by a King known for his sweeping religious reforms (2 Kgs. 18:1-6; 2 Chron. 29), it is somewhat surprising to find this iconography on King Hezekiah’s seal. The use of Egyptian symbols may also surprise many. As far as current knowledge tells us, Hezekiah seems to be the first king of Judah to use a royal emblem with an icon on it. It is also known from other bullae that Hezekiah adopted the use of the two-winged scarab (dung beetle), known in both Egypt and Phoenicia. Thus, we are now aware of two different images that were employed on the royal seals of Hezekiah. There are several passages which suggest a dependence on Egypt by Hezekiah, and this may be why the king’s seals show Egyptian influence. For example, when Sennacherib is laying siege to Jerusalem, the Rabshakeh (an Assyrian official) rebukes Hezekiah for trusting in Egypt (Isa. 36:4-6). Although Hezekiah is not specifically mentioned in Isaiah 30, this passage condemns Judah’s leadership for trusting in Egypt for military aid. As far as the imagery on the seal itself, given Hezekiah’s aversion to idolatry, Robert Deutsch’s conclusion seems correct. He states, “Although winged sun disks and scarabs had originated in foreign lands, by the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, when they appeared on Hebrew seals, they were already quite old and bereft of any religious significance. They were used solely for their decorative value and their connotation of power – and should be regarded as Israelite/Judahite. When Hezekiah adopted the two-winged scarab and the two-winged sun disk with six rays as royal emblems, he was simply appropriating generally accepted icons of royal power and not importing meaning from either Phoenicia or Egypt” (Lasting Impressions: New Bullae Reveal Egyptian-Style Emblems on Judah’s Royal Seals–the whole article is worth reading).
The Bulla of Hezekiah and the Ophel
As noted above, the bulla of Hezekiah was discovered during excavations of the Ophel in Jerusalem. The Ophel is the area between the Temple Mount and the City of David (see the picture on the right). The bulla was found in an ancient refuse dump near a royal building that dates back to Solomon’s time (mid-tenth century B.C.). I had the opportunity of exploring this area last Spring (2015). The bulla was discovered through a process known as wet-sifting. Wet-sifting is a process utilized by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira at the Temple Mount ever since the illegal dumping of tons of soil bull-dozed on the Temple Mount in 1999 by the Waqf. These archaeologists realized that “this discarded earth represented a treasure trove of information relating to the Temple Mount’s history” (see Temple Mount Sifting Project). Since Barkai and Dvira implemented this system of searching through the dug up soil, it has become a staple of archaeological excavations. Many smaller items, like this bulla of Hezekiah, would easily go undiscovered if this method were not employed.
Well known Israeli archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar was in charge of the excavations at the Ophel. You can watch a very interesting video here showing Dr. Mazar’s explanation of the discovery, and of the bulla of Hezekiah. The same video with an accompanying article can be found at phys.org. The bulla of Hezekiah is not only one of several bullae that exist of the Judean King, it is also one among a number of other bullae that have been discovered that refer to people mentioned in the Bible. Bullae of several of Hezekiah’s court officials have also been discovered (see the link to Deutsch’s article above). We also have a seal impression of King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, as well as several Judean officials from the time of Jeremiah. Whether archaeological discoveries in Israel are big or small, they continue to help us better understand the ancient world of the Bible.
Did the Exodus happen? Many leading archaeologists and Bible scholars today say, “No.” Others argue that there may have been a small group of slaves that escaped Egypt, but the historical events didn’t happen the way they are described in the Bible. Even among evangelical scholars who accept the biblical account as historical, there is a debate regarding the date of the Exodus (this article from Wikipedia is an example of the skepticism of most regarding the Exodus). All of this confusion surrounding the Exodus led filmmaker Timothy P. Mahoney to begin a 12-year quest to discover if the Exodus really happened as it is told in the Bible, or not. The result of his investigation is a book and film entitled Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. Mahoney explains that his original reason for going to Israel and Egypt was to do a documentary about the route of the Exodus and the location of the real Mount Sinai. However, when he arrived in the Middle East, he was asked why he would want to make a documentary about an event that never happened. You can see his interview with Fox News here where Mahoney explains how this question changed the direction of his project and eventually led to the making of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus.
Patterns of Evidence: The Initial Quest
Mahoney’s initial quest led to disappointment. He was introduced to the most popular theory regarding the date of the Exodus, which is the time of Ramesses II (13th century B.C.). As the film points out, one of the bases for this proposal is Exodus 1:11, which mentions that the Israelites built the city of Ramesses. The city has a narrow history of 200 years (1300-1100 B.C.). The problem is, there is no evidence for a settlement of Israelites, or an exodus from Egypt during this period. Mahoney began to wonder if there was a city that showed archaeological evidence for a group of ancient Israelites. He heard about the excavations going on at the ancient city of Avaris, which happens to lay underneath the southern sector of the later city of Ramesses in the Nile Delta. There he was told by the director of excavations, Manfred Bietak, that a large group of ancient Semitic people (25-30,000) had been discovered. According to Bietak, these people were originally a free people who enjoyed a special status and were shepherds. This sounded to Mahoney like the biblical account, but Bietak discouraged that interpretation because he holds to the Ramesses II date for the Exodus and this settlement was much to early to qualify as an early settlement of Israelites.
Searching for Patterns of Evidence
Although discouraged at first, Mahoney decided that his search should proceed along the scientific lines of searching for patterns of evidence, wherever that evidence might lead. Mahoney chose 6 important events in the biblical chronology: 1) Israelites descent into Egypt; 2) the multiplication of the population; 3) slavery; 4) a judgment on Egyptian society; 5) a massive and sudden exodus; and 6) the conquest of Canaan. Was there a time period in Egyptian history that corresponded to these 6 events? According to Mahoney, and other scholars he interviews, the answer is “Yes.” Mahoney, along with such scholars as David Rohl, Bryant Wood, and John J. Bimson, contend that the period of Ramesses II is the wrong period to look for the Israelite exodus from Egypt (thus it is no surprise that evidence is lacking for this time period). Some of these scholars would contend for an earlier date of around 1450 B.C., which is traditionally the date accepted by some evangelical scholars. This date is based on 1 Kings 6:1 which states that Solomon began building the Temple 480 years after Israel left Egypt. It’s generally agreed that Solomon’s reign began about 970 B.C. and the construction of the Temple began around 966 B.C. Adding 480 years to these dates takes one back to around 1450-1440 B.C. Mahoney introduces a massive amount of evidence to demonstrate that there was a time in Egyptian history that corresponds with the 6 major events mentioned in the biblical account (I’ll leave it to you to watch the video. It is a fascinating and informative investigation whether you agree with the conclusions or not). There is still a problem, however. The problem is that even the early date of 1450 B.C. does not appear to be early enough. The pattens of evidence that Mahoney discusses take one back into the period known in Egypt as the Middle Kingdom, and this is a full 200 years earlier than the 1450 B.C. date!
Is Egyptian Chronology Correct?
Patterns of Evidence points out that all chronologies of the ancient world are based on Egyptian chronology. Egyptian chronology has been considered established for a long time and many (including many noted evangelical scholars) refuse to consider that there could be major errors in it. However, there is a growing number of scholars looking into a “revised” Egyptian chronology (see the example above and the link for an explanation). The current chronology that is used, not only creates problems for the biblical account, but it also requires gaps of time to be inserted into the chronologies of other ancient nations in order to make them synchronize with Egyptian history. This suggests there may be a problem. David Rohl and John J. Bimson, among others, are convinced that Egypt’s chronology needs an overhaul. Others are convinced that an early date for the Exodus (i.e., 1450 B.C.) is still the best explanation (see Bryant Wood’s arguments against Rohl’s chronology here).
An Evaluation of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus
Mahoney is up front about coming from a Christian family and growing up believing in the historicity of the Bible. However, he admits that when he began his investigation into the evidence for the Exodus, it created some doubt and concern. But, as he says at the end of the film, he was determined to go wherever the evidence led. Although one could accuse Mahoney of entering this project with a biased point of view, as archaeologist Bryant Wood points out in his interview with Mahoney, “everybody in the field is biased.” Not only is it impossible for a human being to have no bias, but in my small exposure to the world of archaeology I have learned that conclusions are often heavily motivated by theological or political agendas. Therefore I find Wood’s next point even more important when he states, “I can not make up the evidence, I can not plant it in the ground,” and he encourages everyone to look at the evidence and make a decision based upon it. This is what Mahoney seeks to do in the film. The film interviews scholars, archaeologists, and Egyptologists of all persuasions. Some believe the biblical story is reliable and some do not. I find Mahoney’s treatment fair, although he is clearly coming from an evangelical perspective. In the end, he does not firmly endorse one view over another, but the film does indicate, as the title suggests, that there are some strong Patterns of Evidence for believing the biblical story of the Exodus.
What’s it like to participate in an archaeological dig? Exciting? Difficult? Do you have to be a certain age? These are just a few of the questions that Luke Chandler, volunteer archaeologist for the past 7 seasons, addresses in this post. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to go on an archareological dig, then continue reading.
Luke is a minister at North Terrace Church or Christ in Temple Terrace, Florida. He holds an MA in Ancient and Classical History and has participated in archaeological digs at Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel-Lachish. You can find his insightful posts about archaeology and other subjects, as well as information on tours that he leads at https://www.lukechandler.wordpress.com/
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions regarding your archaeological experiences Luke. What first kindled your interest in archaeology?
I grew up with the Bible and occasionally heard or read about artifacts from biblical times. My parents had a college friend who was involved in the excavations at Tel Lachish during the 70’s and 80’s. He visited once when I was 8 or 9 years old and let me hold an oil lamp from around the 10th century BC, the period of the early Israelite monarchy. This fascinated me and kindled an interest that eventually became my college major. When I decided to become a minister, archaeology became even more interesting, especially as it related to the Bible.
It must be said… Indiana Jones made archaeology look cool. Of course, he’s a terrible archaeologist. He does not record or preserve anything except the object of his obsession, and he destroys most ancient structures he enters. Still, he’s a lot of fun to watch and his character has introduced archaeology to new generations.
How many years have you been participating in digs in Israel and how has your “job description” evolved, if at all during those years?
This summer (2015) was my seventh year with a dig but the job hasn’t really changed. I still excavate soil and stones, sift dirt for small finds, identify and clean architecture, discover things that were last seen and touched thousands of years ago, and have a wonderful time doing it. The job also means getting to know like-minded people from around the world, which is as enjoyable as the dig itself.
Since I’m not staff (which requires additional time with the dig), I don’t manage the paperwork or take part in the off-season research and analysis. I’ve learned to do a couple of additional things in the field but it’s best to say that after several years I am a “more experienced” archaeological volunteer.
What advice would you give to someone who has never been on an archaeological dig and how can they best prepare themselves to join one?
If you’ve never been, don’t worry. It’s honest work but it’s not overbearing, and some jobs are fairly easy. In the end, the archaeologists know we are all volunteers and they want to make us happy.
How can you prepare for a dig? Some physical preparation certainly helps, even if it is light exercise a few times a week. It can be as simple as walking, some golf/tennis, jumping jacks, etc. – anything to get the muscles accustomed to activity. You can dig without this kind of preparation but being active makes it a little easier.
The best preparation is to learn something about your dig site before going. Find out its history, both biblical and extra-biblical. What took place there? Who lived there, and what happened to them? Have previous excavations found anything? This gives context to your experience. You know why you are digging as well as the potential impact of your work.
What is the most difficult part of an archaeological dig in your experience?
The schedule is probably the most difficult if not opting for a decent bedtime. We get up each morning around 4:15am, which comes quickly if you stay up late!
That being said, it’s not a bad schedule if managed properly. Work at the site begins before sunrise and concludes at 1pm sharp. The rest of the day is pretty easy with lunch, a restful siesta, pottery washing & reading (a good chance to sit and chat, and maybe discover something new about the day’s finds), followed by an archaeology lecture and dinner. Go to bed fairly soon after dinner and you’ll be fine. Stay up too late, too often, and the mornings get tougher. Not that this problem is without remedy – God has given us caffeine.
What is the most rewarding part of that experience?
This is hard to answer. I love the thrill of discovery, when you realize you have something no one has seen or touched since Bible times. On one occasion, a friend and I were the first people in nearly 3,000 years to pass through a city gate we had just unblocked. You can’t forget moments like that.
For me, the most rewarding part is what follows the dig. Simply put, the experience changes the way you read and study the Bible. I’ve used Bible commentaries and dictionaries, studied biblical languages, read Bible-based journals, subscribed to Biblical Archaeology Review, and even traveled to Israel on a tour, but none of these gave me the same insights and perspectives as a dig. A dig gives you an up-close, intimate view of the land and the people who lived there. You do not constantly move from place to place with only minutes to appreciate what you see. You get to soak in the Bible Lands and see more of what Bible people saw. It puts you inside their heads. This has deepened my own understanding beyond words.
What is the most exciting discovery that you, or the team you were with, ever found?
That is hard to narrow down. Finding my first sling stone stands out, as does a fertility goddess from this year, but my favorite discovery may be two jars full of burnt grain that I found in 2014. It was someone’s pantry some 3,200 years ago when Lachish was burned to the ground. Whoever the grain belonged to, they did not get to eat it before their home and city were destroyed. Were they killed in the process? Did they have to flee with no food? Those burned jars told a personal story. As a bonus, we were able to carbon date the burned grain and get an approximate date for the destruction of that city level. It is hard to select one favorite discovery, but this one is near the top.
There are some archaeologists, as well as Bible scholars, who believe that the kingdom of David and Solomon is largely fictional. If it existed, it certainly wasn’t as powerful and sophisticated as portrayed in the Bible. The discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa are thought by some to refute this viewpoint. What insights have you gained regarding this controversy, based on your experience of digging there?
Skeptics of the early Israelite kingdom have always based their conclusions on negative evidence. “We have no evidence that David was a king… No evidence of a central authority in that period… No evidence of literacy…” and so on. They rely primarily on what has not been found. The risk in this approach is that someone, someday, may find that missing something and collapse the paradigm. That seems to be exactly what has happened with my first dig site, Khirbet Qeiyafa.
At Khirbet Qeiyafa, we have uncovered a small planned city with massive fortifications. Tribal shepherds could never build something like that! It is on Judah’s border with the Philistines but from the material culture we know it was not a Philistine city. The builders were strong enough to hold off the Philistine army during the years of construction, which suggests a powerful military. The architecture and finds show strong links to other sites in ancient Judah and indications of central administration. We also found multiple inscriptions. It’s almost as if someone made a list of the “missing” evidences for an early monarchy and put all of them in one place. This site has changed the debate over the beginning of the Israelite and Judahite kingdoms.
I believe the Qeiyafa discoveries validate accounts of an early Israelite monarchy. They do not prove that David killed Goliath or that Solomon built the first temple, but are evidence of a central government in that region and in that time. This is a big deal, especially in light of what we had to work with just ten years ago. Only some of the excavation results have been formally published at this point. It will be a few more years before everything is known and available to other scholars.
As I understand it, the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa have inspired Dr. Yosef Garfinkel, who directed the excavation there, to move on to Lachish. Although Lachish has been excavated in the past with some exciting finds, the layer which contains 10th century BC remains (the time of David and Solomon) has not been excavated. Can you tell us what has been learned so far in the first couple of seasons (recognizing that there are things you may not be able to reveal until they are published)?
Previous excavations identified at least eight different habitation strata and it appears the fifth one is relevant to the early kings in Judah. The problem is that not enough has been found from Level V to provide a date for its habitation. Was it built in David’s time? In Rehoboam’s reign? We just don’t know at this point. The Bible says that Rehoboam fortified the city. Does this mean he actually built Level V or that he expanded an existing settlement? Our primary goal is to obtain enough physical evidence of Level V to date it. It would be especially useful to find something organic, such as olive pits, that can be carbon dated. C-14 dating is not accurate enough to pinpoint a year but it gives an approximate range. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to find an inscription that zeroes in the date.
What have we found at Lachish? Oddly enough, the top five levels (dating from the Persian period back to the Canaanite period) are missing entirely from portions of our current excavation area. On the first day of the first season, some people in my group uncovered Level VI just a couple of inches below the surface. We don’t know why this is. One possible explanation is that these layers were removed from our area in the 8th century BC to build stronger defenses elsewhere in the city during an attack. We may get a solid answer to this in the future. We may have found Level V in another area of the site, though we won’t know for sure until we resume digging next summer
We have been able to find wonderful things from the Canaanite civilizations that preceded the Judahites at Lachish. We have found a temple with multiple idols/figurines, imported pottery, an inscribed Egyptian scarab, and at least one inscription. We’ve also identified some new entrances to the city that are currently blocked. We plan to begin opening and dating them next year. It’s possible one of these gates is from the elusive Level V. The Bible does not tell us much about the early Divided Kingdoms, so our work over the next few years may impact on our understanding of that period. It is exciting stuff.
Is there anything else about an archaeological dig that you would like to add Luke?
Let me say one thing for anyone who has not yet experienced a dig… If you want a deeper understanding of the Bible and its world, find a way to get yourself on a dig, even if just for a couple of weeks. It will give you understanding and insights that no book can provide. You will benefit from it the rest of your life, along with others whom you teach or influence. I’ve excavated with people as young as 13, with others who are in their 70’s, and with every age in between. Most of the best digs are open for people just like you. The sooner you go, the longer – and greater – the benefit will be.
– – – – – – – – – – Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Luke and may God continue to bless the work that you are involved in. I am hoping to join you at Tel-Lachish in the season after next, Lord willing. For any who might be interested in learning more about joining an archaeological dig you can contact Luke at his website (regarding Lachish), or you can go to biblicalarchaeolgy.org and click on the “digs” menu.
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 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)