Category Archives: Archaeology

The Obbink Saga Continues

The ETC folk have the latest on this Museum of the Bible soap opera.

NEWSFLASH: “Professor Obbink and Missing EES Papyri” – MOTB returns 13 Papyri to EES!


Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

Of it Eric Cline writes

“Internationally renowned archaeologist Jodi Magness plunges the reader directly into the story of the fall of Masada, unpacking the dramatic tale as told by Josephus. She also recounts the fascinating adventures and misadventures of the region’s explorers, from the nineteenth century through the 1960s, and compellingly describes the excavations there, including her own, providing a welcome tour of the site.”—Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Jodi has graciously arranged a review copy, so more once I’ve read through it.

Jodi Magness Questions the Masada Suicide Myth

But to be fair, Joe Zias and others have doubted the legitimacy of the tale for decades.  Jodi is a bit late to the game on this one.  And I love her!

Magness, a professor of early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has just published a new book with Princeton University Press, “Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth.”

Today, Magness is mostly associated with her excavation of an outstandingly worked, colorful mosaic flooring at an early synagogue at Huqoq, north of Tiberias, where she has dug since 2011.

Now I have to read her book.  Read the essay.

Nina Burleigh’s Engaging Lecture titled ‘Unholy Business’

Give it a viewing here.

The ‘House of David’

J’ai répondu aux questions du Monde de la Bible sur la stèle de Mésha.

La journaliste scientifique Estelle Villeneuve évoque la fameuse mention de la “maison de David” qui a récemment été remise en question, cependant que ma propre étude (effectuée sans connaissance de l’article que mes collègues comptaient publier) confirme que cette mention reste la lecture la plus probable.

Je vous invite à lire le dernier numéro du Monde de la Bible (n° 230, septembre-novembre 2019, notamment p. 8) et, bien sûr, mon article scientifique à ce sujet.

Etc.  As always, Michael is the best.

Chris Rollston and Advanced Imaging

Here’s an interesting essay:

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences professor is using cutting-edge imaging technology to decipher the inscriptions on fragments of broken pottery excavated more than 50 years ago in Jordan. The fragments, long thought to be lost, were recently rediscovered.

The fragments, called ostraca, were discovered at the site of Machaerus, a well-known archaeological site connected with notable historical and religious figures of the first century including Herod the Great and John the Baptist. Chris Rollston, associate professor of northwest Semitic languages and literature, took possession of 20 ostraca in May and used multispectral imaging equipment at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences to examine the pieces and their faded ink writing more closely.

Multispectral images capture data from multiple wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum and provide details the eye cannot see. Dr. Rollston believes at least 19 of the 20 pieces he is studying contain writing.

“The ink is carbon-based and was made, in part, using ancient ash. Some of the ink is really clear, but some of it is faded,” he said. “Multispectral imaging is capable of enhancing the ink so that one can read it more readily. During the past five to 10 years, multispectral imaging has really been front and center in the decipherment of ancient writings made with ink.”

Etc.  Great stuff.

Jennie Ebeling on Women in Archaeology

Give it a read here.

Three Stones Make a Wall

Eric Cline’s book arrived for review some time back and I’m happy to say that it’s an excellent volume. My review appears here.

Nina Burleigh’s Unholy Lecture

Here!  Give it a watch.  It’s based on her excellent book, ‘Unholy Business’ about the antiquities fraud business.

Another Example of Why ANE Today is So Superior to BAR

Articles like this: Translating Job as Befits a Great Ancient Work.

No biblical text challenges the interpreter more than the Book of Job. It abounds in otherwise unknown words and expressions; its discourse and poetry are often dense; it draws on vocabulary, phrases, and grammatical phenomena from foreign languages; its text is frequently problematic; and the ancient translations, such as the fragmentary Aramaic targum from Qumran and the Old Greek, tend toward paraphrase and simplification—leading sometimes to bizarre interpretations. No wonder scholars medieval and modern have suggested that the book itself is of foreign provenance and is written in a language other than Hebrew.

Enjoy!  And subscribe to ANE Today.  It (unlike its chief competitor) is actually worth it.

They’ve Found A Bauble, in a Sifting, Not in situ

yahu_sealA minuscule 7th century BCE clay sealing reading “Belonging to Adoniyahu, the Royal Steward,” was recently discovered in the City of David’s sifting project.

In earth excavated from the foundations of the Western Wall under Robinson’s Arch in 2013, a national service volunteer some three weeks ago unearthed the one-centimeter inscribed letter sealer bearing the ancient Hebrew name of a character found several times in the Hebrew Bible, Adoniyahu, literally, “The Lord is my Master.”

According to archaeologist Eli Shukron, this inscription is unique and “of utmost importance.” The role of the Royal Steward (Asher al Habayit), he said, appears several times in the Bible and is used for the highest-level minister in the royal court. For example, the title of Royal Steward was used in the Book of Genesis for Joseph’s high-powered position in Egypt.  …

Holding the seal in his hand, Shukron said, “After 2,600 years, you come and hold this bulla, which was used to seal a letter, that was sent 2,600 years ago by the highest minister in the kingdom, it’s something amazing… It makes my heart skip a beat,” he added. …

The most famous Adoniyahu occurs some 300 years before this newly attested Adoniyahu, and is a son of King David and Haggit. He is called both Adoniya and Adoniyahu.

There are two other notable Adoniyahus recounted in the Bible. One, a Levite, appears during the reign of Jehoshaphat (circa 870–849 BCE), who is recounted in Chronicles. The other noteworthy Adoniyahu is found during the rule of Nehemiah, which occurs during the Persian era of the Second Temple period circa 465-424 BCE.

What do we learn from this bauble?  Nothing.  It wasn’t found in situ.  We don’t know when it was manufactured.  We don’t know which person it refers to.  We don’t know where it originated.  We don’t learn anything from it.

It’s a bauble.

Unholy Business Revisted

Next week’s brown-bag seminar, 11 Sept 12:15-13:00: Nina Burleigh, “Unholy Business Revisited”. The lecture will be livestreamed.

Abstract: “An update on the close ties between antiquities dealers and scholars in the high-end Biblical antiquities world, from the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription to new revelations regarding forged Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.”

Keep a check on the facebook page of the group responsible for the details of the livestream.

UPDATEHere’s the livestream link.  Watch live on September 11 from 12:15 till 1 PM (Norway Time).  Norway is 6 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard time.  If it’s noon there, it is 6 in the morning in the Eastern US.  Consequently, the lecture live stream will be from 6:15 a.m. till 7 a.m. on September 11.

More Forged Scrolls in a Major Collection

My colleague Torleif Elgvin and I just published a paper in which we discuss Dead Sea Scrolls forgeries in the Schøyen Collection.

In this paper, we offer a global assessment of all Dead Sea Scrolls in the Schøyen collection. Several fragments had already been excluded from the official volume, but we argue that there are more forgeries.

To find out, please read our paper, available on Peeter’s website or below.

Torleif Elgvin and Michael Langlois, “Looking Back: (More) Dead Sea Scrolls Forgeries in The Schøyen Collection,” Revue de Qumrân 113 (2019): 111–33.

Friends, if you aren’t skeptical of every ‘bible’ discovery, whether it be an artifact or a text, you’re not doing your job. These days artifacts are guilty until proven innocent.  Don’t allow the BAR-ification of biblical studies to deceive you.

The Aramaic Divination Texts From Maresha SC 169

Michael Langlois has it.

The final report of archaeological excavations conducted at Maresha SC 169 is out, and I am honored to be one of the contributors.

Ian Stern has been leading excavations at Maresha for many years. This great city is mentioned several times in the Bible and was the capital of Idumea more than two millennia ago. Subterranean Complex 169 has yielded countless artefacts that shed light on the culture, history and religion of this area and the biblical world.

Ian Stern notably entrusted Esther Eshel and myself mysterious Aramaic inscriptions, which we believe are, in fact, divination texts.

Et cetera.

From Our Friends at the Ecole Biblique

Tell Us More, Christopher: The Ataroth Inscription

Yes, tell us more.

A 2,800-year-old inscribed stone altar, found within a Moabite sanctuary in the ancient city of Ataroth in Jordan, may shed light on an ancient biblical war.

The altar bears two inscriptions. The words are in the Moabite language and script, while the numerals in the inscriptions are in Hieratic (an Egyptian writing system). The altar appears to date to a time after Mesha, king of Moab, successfully rebelled against the Kingdom of Israel and conquered Ataroth (sometimes spelled Atarot), a city that the Kingdom of Israel had controlled. By this time, Israel had broke in two with a northern kingdom that retained the name Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah.

The Hebrew Bible mentions the rebellion, saying that before Mesha rebelled, Moab had to give Israel a yearly tribute of thousands of lambs and a vast amount of ram wool. The rebellion is also described in the so-called Mesha stele discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, which claims that Mesha conquered Ataroth and killed many of the city’s inhabitants.

One of the two inscriptions written on the altar appears to describe bronze that was plundered after the capture of Ataroth. “One might speculate that quantities of bronze looted from the conquered city of [Ataroth] at some later date were presented as an offering at the shrine and recorded on this altar,” the researchers wrote in the journal article.

The second inscription on the altar is fragmentary and harder to understand. Part of it appears to say (in translation) that “4,000 foreign men were scattered and abandoned in great number,” while another part of the inscription mentions “the desolate city.”

“Much remains unclear about this inscription,” the researchers wrote, noting that this inscription may discuss events that occurred during Mesha’s rebellion against Israel and capture of Ataroth.

The inscribed altar provides confirmation that the Moabites succeeded in taking over Ataroth, said study co-author Christopher Rollston, a professor of northwest Semitic languages and literatures at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The altar also shows that, 2,800 years ago, the Moabites had skilled scribes who used their own script. The inscriptions on the altar “are the earliest evidence we have so far for a distinctive Moabite script,” Rollston told Live Science, noting that the inscription discovered in 1868 used the Hebrew script to write the Moabite language.

“We often talk about the sophistication of the scribal education of ancient Israel, and rightfully so, [but the inscriptions on the altar show] that ancient Moab had some gifted scribes as well,” Rollston said.

This merits further discussion.

Here’s the official essay title and abstract:

An inscribed altar from the Khirbat Ataruz Moabite sanctuary
Adam L. Bean, Christopher A. Rollston, P. Kyle McCarter and Stefan J. Wimmer

Abstract: A cylindrical stone incense altar inscribed with seven lines of text in two separate inscriptions was discovered in a cultic context during 2010 excavations at Khirbat Ataruz in Jordan. The two short inscriptions are written in Moabite language, using an Early Moabite script datable to the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. Both inscriptions also employ Hieratic numerals. Inscription A appears to tabulate small quantities of metal, possibly for some purpose relating to the cultic context of the inscription. The longer Inscription B appears to be potentially dedicatory and/or commemorative in focus, but remains largely enigmatic. These inscriptions provide a new important historical witness to the period after the Moabite conquest and occupation of Khirbat Ataruz/Atarot described in the Mesha Inscription.

New Essays By Avraham Faust

Faust, 2019, ‘The Inhabitants of Philistia’: On the identity of the Iron I settlers in the periphery of the Philistine Heartland, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 151: 105-133.

Faust, A., 2019, A Social Archaeology of the Kingdom of Judah, in A. Yasur-Landau, E. Cline and Y. Rowan (eds.), The Social Archaeology of the Levant: From Prehistory to the Present, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 337-353.

Faust, A., 2018, Social Stratification in the Iron Age Levant, in J.S. Greer, J.W. Hilber, and J.H. Walton (eds.), Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts of Ancient Israel, Baker Academic, pp. 482-491.

As always, well worth a read.

Joe Zias on Crucifixion

An excellent essay on the ASOR website you’ll want to read.

Crucifixion and the cross continue to fascinate religious believers and non-believers alike. But the history of both remains poorly understood.

Archaeologists, biblical scholars, and others have long pointed to the “crucified man from Giv‘at Ha-Mivtar” as the earliest, indeed only, evidence of crucifixion. But they have consistently failed to point out that what appears to be the only direct evidence of crucifixion in the ancient world is, in fact, a fragmentary and heavily restored calcaneum, or heel.


Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology- George Brooke

If you can attend, do.

Near Eastern Archaeology: Quality Archaeological Essays

If you’re interested in Archaeology, it behooves you to skip the pablum publications popular amongst the Fundamentalists and read a magazine that really does the most excellent job of communicating archaeological facts:  Near Eastern Archaeology.

Archaeological discoveries continually enrich our understanding of the people, culture, history, and literature of the Middle East. The heritage of its peoples – from urban civilization to the Bible – both inspires and fascinates. Near Eastern Archaeology brings to life the ancient world from Mesopotamia to the wider Mediterranean with vibrant images and authoritative analyses. NEA (ISSN 1094-2076) is published four times each year (quarterly): March, June, September, and December.

All manuscripts submitted to Near Eastern Archaeology are subject to a peer review by independent scholars. All articles are sent to two external specialists in the field who are asked to evaluate the manuscripts for their academic quality; these assessment include comments on the contribution and a recommendation to the editor (accept / minor revision required / major revision required / reject). The time assigned for the review is normally 30 days; the peer-review process and (if required) the resubmission of revised manuscripts is handled through NEA’s Editorial Management system. If revisions are required, the system mandates authors to state how the reviewers’ points of critique have been addressed. NEA’s Editorial Board assists the editor in the peer-review process, e.g., through the recommendation of external reviewers, acceptance decisions, and the revision of manuscripts.

Quality scholarhip for interested layfolk.  No magazine on the topic even comes close.