Biblical Archaeology News (Article)

Biblical Archaeology News   11/16/2008    
Nov 16, 2008 — Amidst the turmoil of the Middle East, teams of archaeologists quietly work and uncover things that make history come alive.  Some findings have to survive years of debate.  Among the following stories are hints that Bible skeptics are on the defensive.

  1. Teaser: will David sling the critics?  Near the traditional spot where David slew Goliath, a piece of pottery was found with writing on it.  It dates from the time of David and Solomon, making it one of the earliest inscriptions in Israel ever found in situ.  What will it reveal?  Nobody knows for sure, but one archaeologist has teased everyone by exclaiming, “This is going to be VERY EXCITING!!!!”
        News media caught wind of this in late October (see BBC News and National Geographic) and wondered if it will provide proof that King David really existed (see NG video).  David has been under attack – not by Goliath or Philistines, but my minimalists who have claimed the Bible stories about him are mere legends.  The site where the pottery shard was discovered was apparently a fortress overlooking the Valley of Elah.  Called by the modern name Khirbet Qeiyafa, it might have been the Ephis Dammim mentioned in II Samuel 17:1.  See Arutz Sheva for picture of the ostracon and the discovery site.
        Translation of the inscription is expected to take months.  In the meantime, the scholars are sworn to secrecy.  Todd Bolen on Bible Places has provided the most detail and best balanced reporting about the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription.  He blogged about it Sept 15, Oct 21, Oct 29, Oct 30 and Oct 31.  Bolen is a professor in Israel who has extensively photographed the country and knows the site and excavators.
  2. The King speaks:  Did King Jehoash of Judah speak to the world on a piece of pottery?  or was the inscription a clever forgery?  Controversy has surrounded the Jehoash inscription for over 5 years (06/19/2003, 04/21/2003) because it was found in the shop of an antiquities dealer.  Todd Bolen reported on Bible Places Blog for Nov. 14 that five scholars have now declared it authentic.  For details on the evidence behind their conclusion, see BibleInterp.com; the page has a translation of the message carved in Hebrew on the pottery shard that celebrates the offerings for repair of the Temple (see II Chronicles 24).  More information about the inscription controversy can be found at BibleInterp.com.
  3. James was here:  Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Society is crowing that the trial alleging the James Ossuary is a forgery is falling apart.  The ossuary inscribed with “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was found in 2002 (10/21/2002), but its authenticity has been on trial ever since.  The official position of the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority) has been that it is a forgery, but supporters feel the analysis has been incomplete and their views have been marginalized.  Shanks has not let go of the story for years in Biblical Archaeology Review and has repeatedly criticized the IAA for its refusal to heed the conclusions of scholars for the defense.  Now that the IAA’s forgery trial is collapsing, the supporters of the ossuary’s authenticity have been vindicated, Shanks said.  Read his report and decide.  Bible Interpretation also has the latest news.
  4. If I had a Hammer:  A segment of a wall in Jerusalem dating from the time of the Hasmoneans, descendents of Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus (of Hannukah fame), has been brought to the daylight after 20 centuries.  See Science Daily for picture and story.
  5. Hearing and earring:  Sometimes archaeology happens by accident.  A beautiful earring of gold, pearl and emerald that looks like it was picked up at a modern Jerusalem fashion store was found in a parking lot – but it’s at least 1600 years old.  National Geographic has a picture of it.  It once graced the ear of some wealthy Roman-era noblewoman.  Bible Places has links to other articles about the find.
  6. Post-Babel apostasy:  A burial site from a cave in Galilee, said to be that of an elderly female shaman from the Natufian period, was reported by several sources including Science News and National Geographic.  The articles date the Natufian culture from 15,000 to 11,000 years BCE, but dating becomes increasingly uncertain prior to the first written records.  If people were already opposing the true God at Babel after the Flood, it is conceivable that cults and shamans arose quickly as people dispersed into the regions described in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10).  Secularists who deny that interpretation must nevertheless face the fact that from earliest times humans show a propensity for spirituality.  As Craig Hazen of Biola quipped on the new DVD The Case for Faith, humans should not be labeled Homo sapiens, the wise man, but rather Homo religiosis – the religious man, because in every culture throughout history, people have shown a need for reconciliation with the gods or God, sensing a spiritual vacuum in the heart.

Biblical archaeology news must be approached cautiously, because the press sometimes hastens to inflate possible connections with Scripture.  Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, said that a water tunnel found in old City of David excavations is the route Joab used to conquer Jerusalem (II Samuel 5).  Todd Bolen tried to cool these jets with caution on Bible Places Blog on Nov. 4 by saying, “The solution is not to refuse to make connections to the Bible, nor to deny that the Biblical record is historically accurate, but instead to carefully study all of the evidence, avoiding unwarranted and premature sensationalistic headlines”  But that cuts both ways, he continued: “more often it is scholars on the other side who use a scrap of evidence as complete and compelling proof that the biblical story is false.  Abuses on one side do not justify abuses on the other.”

The Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery shard is bound to be significant already for three reasons: it dates from the time of David, it was found in situ, and it bears an inscription – a rare treasure in Biblical archaeology.  It would be inappropriate for CEH to speculate on the significance of the inscription for corroborating the historical David till it has been translated and published, but when that happens, we will be quick to measure it on the exciting-o-meter.
    Those who think all religions are the same should ponder the wealth of historical detail supporting the Bible.  The Bible is not just a book of aphorisms emanating from the imagination of a guru.  It is a work by 40 diverse authors covering a span of 15 centuries, yet it maintains one theology, one morality, and a unified story of redemption from creation to the final judgment and eternal blessing.  It contains a wealth of narrative history that can be cross-checked against independent sources.  The Bible contains hundreds of place-names from Iran to Spain, many described in detail that can be seen today: the Gibeon Pool, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the sacred precinct at Dan, the synagogue at Capernaum, Lachish, Megiddo, Hazor, Jezreel and Jericho to name a few.  Jerusalem itself is filled with historical sites described in the Bible from the time span of Abraham to Paul – almost 2200 years.
    Debates continue about interpretation of the evidence, but the fact that so much evidence exists, and that a good deal of it has outlived the skeptics, should factor into one’s evaluation of the Bible’s trustworthiness compared to other religious writings.  Josh McDowell in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, citing Sidney Collett’s book All About the Bible, quoted M. Montiero-Williams, a professor of Sanskrit, who said this about Eastern religious texts which he had studied for 42 years: “Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table, but place your own Holy Bible on the right side—all by itself, all alone—and with a wide gap between them.  For, … there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever … a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought.”
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