Saturday, December 30, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Pilate Inscription

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Pilate Inscription
(AD 26-37)
An excavation in Caesarea (1961), seat of the provincial Roman government in 1st century Judea, unearthed a dedicatory limestone plaque with a Latin inscription that translates:
To the Divine Augustis [this] Tiberieum
...Pontius Pilate ... prefect of Judea
...has dedicated [this]
The Pilate inscription, as it is called, attests to the Roman appointed governor in office during the mid-first century.

Pilate was the leading political figure at Jesus' trial before his crucifixion and had the final word in determining his sentence: "He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified" (Matt 27:26).

Pilate had other negative interactions with the Jewish community, like "the Galileans whose blood [he] had mixed with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). Josephus records that Pilate also forcibly dispersed a crowd that protested an unpopular public works project:
He, foreseeing the tumult, had interspersed among the crowd a troop of his soldiers, armed but disguised in civilian dress, with orders not to use their swords, but to beat any rioters with cudgels. He now from his tribunal gave the agreed signal. Large numbers of the Jews perished, some from the blows which they received, others trodden to death by their companions in the ensuing flight. Cowed by the fate of the victims, the multitude was reduced to silence. (War 2.176-177)
Although Pilate acceded to the crowd's demands for Jesus' execution, he did not agree with the Sanhedrin's accusation of treason and stated as much: "I find no basis for a charge against him" (John 19:4).
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Pilate Inscription confirms the historicity and position as prefect of this New Testament figure. It suggests that Pilate sought to curry favor with his superiors, as did his interactions with those Rome might regard a political threat to the empire, like a potential Jewish insurrectionist.
For a pdf go here.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Musical Instruments

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Dancer from Dan
(14th-13th century BC)

Musical Instruments of Israel and the Ancient Near East
Archaeologists are gradually recovering the physical remains of musical life in ancient Israel. At this point they have found more than three hundred examples, including actual instruments and representations of musical scenes.
The "Dancer from Dan" kicks up his heels while accompanying himself on the lute. The unique clay plaque, about four and a half inches tall, comes from a once sizable Canaanite settlement at Tel Dan (also called Laish in the Bible). The purpose of the plaque is a mystery. Avraham Biran, the archaeologist who discovered the piece speculates that it may depict a dance not unlike the one David performed before the Ark of the Covenant when he moved it to Jerusalem: "As the ark of the covenant of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal...saw King David dancing and celebrating" (1 Chr 15:29). The tile may have belonged to a guild of dancers or, more likely, was a simple household decoration.
The Bible mentions a variety of musical instruments, and archaeologists have unearthed many examples of them in the Holy Land: "David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets" (1 Chr 13:8). Some Hebrew terms for these instruments are onomatopoeic in that they approximate the sound a given instrument makes.
Harpists and their music have a long history in the Ancient Near East: "Jubal [son of Lamach] was the father of all who play the harp" (Gen 4:21).
The earliest known illustration of a stringed instrument is this engraving on a stone pavement from Meggido, dating 3500-3200 B.C. and depicting a man with a harp-like instrument. The harp was a favorite musical instrument of King David:
One of the servants answered, "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp." ...23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play.... David was playing the harp, as he usually did. (1 Sam 16:18, 23; 18:10)
An ivory carving, also from Meggido (c. 1450 B.C.) depicts a lyre similar to what David may have used:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: LMLK Seal

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

(c. 700 BC)
Lachish has been a rich source of archaeological discovery (see Lachish Latrine and Lachish Letters). Excavations on site by David Ussishkin in the 1970s unearthed over 400 clay pottery jar handles and shards with seals from the time of King Hezekiah.
Hundreds of similar jar impressions, albeit with different designs, appear elsewhere in Judah generating various theories about what they signify: military rations, government taxes, religious tithes, or simply private property. Indeed, each seal type may indicate something different. Those from Lachish, given their particular location, probably mark supplies for the garrison.
Given the placement of Lachish along a route from the coastal highway to Jerusalem, the setting is an ideal location for a military outpost to intercept an invading army marching toward the capital. Whether the threat was from the south (Egypt) or from the north (Assyria), Lachish was of strategic importance. The Hebrew letters that accompany the design on the seals at Lachish are lmlk which translates "for the king" and signifies property of the Judean administration. The purpose of such a seal was to discourage theft or improper use of the jar's contents by unauthorized personnel.
LMLK Jar from Hebron
People have used decorative seals, some more elaborate than others, for various reasons (e.g., security) throughout scripture. Often these seals were incorporated into jewelry, usually a ring:
There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes. (Exod 28:21)
They made the plate, the sacred emblem, out of pure gold and engraved on it, like an inscription on a seal: holy to the Lord. (Exod 39:30)
Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king's signet ring. (Esth 8:10)
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles. (Dan 6:17)
God's solid foundation [is] sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." (2 Tim 2:19)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The LMLK Seals mark the extent of King Hezekiah's authority throughout Judah. They also show one way individuals (including the king) designated their goods. God does not prohibit the accumulation of personal property, unless it jeopardizes one's devotion to Him:
You cannot serve both God and money. (Matt 6:24c)
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith.... (I Tim 6:10b)
For a pdf go here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Lachish Letters

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017
Lachish Letters
(6th century BC)
In 1935 James Starkey discovered at Lachish a series of 18 letters written in paleo-Hebrew script on clay pottery shards (ostraca). They were correspondence from Hoshaiah, a soldier stationed near Jerusalem, to Joash, his commander at Lachish, during the latter years of Zedekiah's reign. Lachish was a major fortified city in Judah of strategic importance because it protected the conduit from the coastal highway to the central hill country against foreign armies bound for Jerusalem.
  • It was so when Sennacherib, the Assyrian monarch, led his troops to besiege the capital of the Southern Kingdom in 701 B .C.
  • It was so when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian monarch, led his troops to besiege the capital of the Southern Kingdom in 586 B .C.
The Lachish Letters anticipated Nebuchadnezzar's invasion and eventual siege of Jerusalem.

The impending danger of unrest as foreign troops advance toward the capital is evident in the repeated wish for peace in the prayer of the letters:
May the LORD cause my lord to hear tidings of peace today. (#2)
May the LORD cause my lord to hear tidings of peace and tidings of good. (#3)
May the LORD cause my [bird to hear tidings of pea[ce]. . .this very daly! (#5)
May the LORD cause my lord to see peace at this time! (#6)
May the LORD cause my lord to hear ti[dings] of peace and of [good]. (#9)
The text of one letter (#4) expresses concern for another fortress on the way inland: "Be apprised that we are watching for the signal fire of Lachish...because we cannot see Azekah."
The army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out—Lachish and Azekah—were the only fortified cities left in Judah. (Jer 34:7)
Lachish eventually fell to Nebuchadnezzar's army as it did earlier to Sennacherib's army.
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Lachish Letters reveal the pressure Jerusalem residents felt as Babylonian forces advanced against the city and the populace faced seemingly inevitable deportation. They also express the hope, albeit formalized, that God will use His people to resolve the conflict ("May the LORD cause you").
For a pdf go here.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: A Latrine in Lachish

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017
Lachish Latrine
(8th century BC)
 When Ahab came to the throne of Judah, he led people into unprecedented apostasy away from the Lord:
Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. (1 Kgs 16:30-32)
By this time pagan worship at high places (elevated plateaus or groves of trees) was an entrenched practice in Judean society, having had the support of several kings since Solomon.
Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. (1 Kgs 11:7)
[Asa] did not remove the high places. (1 Kgs 15:14)
[Jehoshaphat did not remove] the high places...and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (1 Kgs 22:43)
[Joash did not remove] the high places...; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kgs 12:3)
[Amaziah did not remove] the high places...; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kgs 14:4)
[Jotham did not remove] the high places...; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kgs 15:35)
[Ahaz] offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree. (2 Kgs 16:4)
To reverse the wickedness Ahab instituted, his son Hezekiah initiated a series of reforms that entailed the destruction of pagan sites, as God had commanded before Israel entered the land, reforms Josiah advanced further:
Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. (Deut 12:2)
[Hezekiah] removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. (2 Kgs 18:4)
[Josiah] desecrated the high places.. .the ones Solomon king of Israel had built.... Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. (2 Kgs 23:13, 20)
In some cases it was simpler to defile an area than to destroy an altar, to ensure the place would not be reused later. Hezekiah's reforms included desecration of pagan shrines by executing the pagan priests who served there and burning their corpses on the altar they once attended: "Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them" (2 Kgs 23:20). Site desecration was also what placing a latrine at the shrine in Lachish accomplished. It rendered the area unclean (i.e., unfit for religious activity), just as placing a latrine outside the Israelite camp in the wilderness kept the tribes from defiling the tabernacle:
Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has...a discharge of any kind.... Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them. (Num 5:2-3)
Likewise, after destroying Baal's sanctuary in Samaria, people used that site for a public toilet:
[Officers of Jehu] demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day. (2 Kgs 10:27)
Because the facility at Lachish was near a pagan altar, it rendered that altar unclean, unsuited for religious activity.
Hezekiah's reforms were primarily religious but did not prevent the later invasion of Assyria nor what it cost the kingdom:
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: "I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me." The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace. (2 Kgs 18:13-15)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Lachish Latrine illustrates the reformation that preceded the Assyrian invasion and prepared Hezekiah for that event. The spiritual recovery ultimately strengthened Hezekiah's faith to rely on the Lord:
Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. And the LORD was with him. (2 Kgs 18:5-7)
The angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kgs 19:35-36)
For a pdf go here.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Kurkh Monolith

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Kurkh Monolith of Shalmaneser III
(863 BC)
A limestone stele documenting the reign of the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III recounts his victory at Qarqar (north-west of Damascus, south of Hamath, by the Orontes River) over a coalition of enemy forces, including some from the northern kingdom: "I burned with fire...2,000 chariots [and] 10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite."
(There is a companion Kurkh monolith recounting the exploits of Shalmaneser's son, Ashurnasirpal II, who does not appear in the biblical text.)
The Bible does not record the battle between Ahab and Shalmaneser. The only foreign individual Ahab meets in battle is the king of Syria, which does not begin well but does end well:
Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, "This is what Ben-Hadad says: 'Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine." The king of Israel answered, "Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours." ...For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day.... "I will return the cities my father took from your father," Ben-Hadad offered. "You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria. Ahab said, "On the basis of a treaty I will set you free." So he made a treaty with him, and let him go. (1 Kgs 20:1-4, 29, 34)
Even the summary of Ahab's reign includes no mention of intermediary contact with Assyria:
As for the other events of Ahab's reign, including all he did, the palace he built and adorned with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (1 Kgs 22:39)
Israel's sole encounter with Assyria was its last. From Shalmaneser's perspective it was the king's treachery; Hoshea's failure to pay tribute caused the deportation:
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser's vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for...he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year.... The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. (2 Kgs 17:3-6)
From God's perspective it was the people's apostasy; Israel's worship of pagan deities caused the deportation:
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God.... They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.... The LORD removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are; still there. (2 Kgs 17:7-8, 23)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Kurkh Monolith of Shalmaneser III confirms the historicity of Ahab king of Israel and recounts a battlefield encounter with the Assyrian monarch. It also pits Assyria's threat of conquest against God's promise of support:
This is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: "He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here...." That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kgs 19:32, 35)
For a pdf go here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Ekron Inscription

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Ekron Inscription
(Early 7th century BC)
The Ekron Inscription to dedicate the royal temple is a partial account in Phoenician script on a limestone block unearthed in situ that lists the line of rulers for the Philistine city-state:
The temple (which) he built, 'kys son of Padi, son of
Ysd, son of Ada, son of Ya'ir, ruler of Ek-
ron, for Pt[]yh his lady, may she bless him, and
prot[ec]t him, and prolong his days, and bless
his [l]and
The inscription mentions the goddess Pt[]yh to whom the temple is dedicated, but that name does not appear in any other extant literature.
Ekron had one of the main concentrations of Philistines who were originally part of the Sea Peoples migration to settlements inland from the Mediterranean Sea:
The five Philistine rulers in Gaza [were] Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. (Josh 13:3)
This is the first Philistine temple inscription archaeologists have uncovered, but each village may have had its own shrine. The Bible mentions two others, Gaza and Ashdod:
The Philistines seized [Samson], gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.... The rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, "Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands." (Judg 16:21a, 23)
After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! (1 Sam 5:1-3a)
Perhaps other Philistine enclaves will someday yield similar finds as the dedicatory plaque at Ekron.
A later battle between the forces of King Saul and the Philistines occurs on a mountain range overlooking the Jezreel Valley. It ends with Saul's death and the transfer of his body (head) to an unspecified temple of Dagon, the closest being at Ekron.
They...hung up [Saul's] head in the temple of Dagon. (1 Chr 10:10)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Ekron Inscription to dedicate the royal temple attests to a pagan religious presence in the land competing with worship of the true God. It illustrates the common practice of devoting space to a particular deity, as Solomon later did for the temple in Jerusalem. The difference is that Dagon, being represented by an idol, needed multiple locations; whereas the LORD, having no such representation, needed no location:
Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. (1 Kgs 8:27-28)
For a pdf go here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Dan Stele

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017
Dan Stele
(9th century BC)
An excavation at Tel Dan (1993-94) in northern Israel unearthed a broken limestone slab with an Aramaic inscription recounting a victory probably by King Hazael of Damascus over King Omri of Israel:
  1. [ ... ] and cut [ ... ]
  2. [ ... ] my father went up [against him when h]e fought at [...]
  3. and my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors (viz, became sick and died)]. And the king of I[s]
  4. rael entered previously in my father's land, [and] Hadad made me king,
  5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from the seven [ ... ]
  6. s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thousands of cha]
  7. riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jehoiram son of Ahab]
  8. king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]
  9. g of the House of David, and I set [their towns into ruins and turned]
  10. their land into [desolation]
  11. other [... and Jehuru-j
  12. led over Is[rael and I laid]
  13. siege upon [...a]
What is particularly interesting is the reference to the vanquished "house of David," despite separation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Southern Kingdom of Judah several years earlier. This is likely not an historical error but a common recording convention. The Aramaic scribe was retaining the designation of Aram's first contact with Israel, when the twelve tribes were still united under David.
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "We are your own flesh and blood." (2 Sam 5:1)
Omri...reigned twelve years, six of them in Samaria...twenty-two years. (1 Kgs 16:23,26)
Relations between Aram and Israel were peaceful immediately after the northern tribes split from southern tribes. Perhaps Damascus was in no position to exploit the political instability at that time among God's people:
"There was continual warfare between Rehoboam [in the south] and Jeroboam [in the north]" (1 Kgs 14:30).
"There was war between Abijah [in the south] and Jeroboam [in the north] throughout Abijah's lifetime" (1 Kgs 15:6).
"There was war between Asa [king of Judah] and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns" (1 Kgs 15:16).
Israel apparently had a non-aggression pact with Aram, until Judah paid the Arameans to break it, which soon led to war:
"Let there be a treaty between me and you.... See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me." Ben-Hadad agreed with King Asa and sent the commanders of his forces against the towns of Israel (1 Kgs 15:19-20)
Israel and Judah remained hostile toward each other through several successive administrations. The north, where different families sought the throne, was less stable than the south, where one family sought the throne, and the Bible recounts ongoing conflict between these two factions. There is no specific mention of the strife between (the Northern Kingdom of) Israel and Aram as this tablet records, which is not surprising since it is usually the victor who records the outcome of any engagement.
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Dan Stele records the tension that existed between Israel and a close neighbor. It also shows the damaging result of internecine warfare as one part of God's people fights against another, and both parts suffer some loss as a result.

For a pdf go here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Caiaphas Ossuary

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Caiaphas Ossuary
(1st century AD)
This ornate bone box, one of twelve from a burial cave at Jerusalem discovered in 1990, bears the inscription: "Joseph, son of Caiaphas." It is 14.5 inches high by 29.5 inches long, and held the remains of a 60-year old male. The box is now at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the bones having been reburied on the Mount of Olives.

According to Josephus, Joseph Caiaphas (i.e., Caiaphas, son of Joseph), who held the office A.D. 18-36, was the leading temple official in Jesus' day, and it was before him that Jesus appeared at trial: "Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest" (Matt 26:57).
As chief priest, Caiaphas had considerable sway over the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the primary legislative and judicial body in 1st century Jewish society. Representatives of that group met with him at his home to discuss Jesus' fate: "The chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas" (Matt 26:3). Caiaphas was also the main liaison with the Roman government, a political position that further enhanced his power and prestige. It was during his tenure that James, John, and Jesus were all executed, although the deaths of James and John were by the direction of Herod; Jesus' death was by the permission of Pilate:
[Herod] had John beheaded in the prison. (Matt 14:10)
[Herod] had James...put to death with the sword. (Acts 12:2)
[Pilate] handed [Jesus] over to be crucified. (Matt 27:26)
Caiaphas was in office at the time of all three men, his term being the longest as high priest (18 years), but there is no evidence he was involved in the deaths of John and James, yet the high-profile nature of their lives certainly did not go unnoticed by him. His part in Jesus' death, however, remanding the rabbi to the Romans, was decisive in sealing his execution: "Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish authorities that it would be good if one man died for the people" (John 18:14).
The high priest was dependent on support from the local gentile in charge to secure the death penalty and transferred custody of the alleged insurrectionist: "The Jewish authorities led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor" (John 18:28). It was a decision that confirmed his earlier prediction: "he prophesied Jesus would die for the Jewish nation" (John 11:51).
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Caiaphas Ossuary, if it did belong to the high priest, is further historical confirmation of a New Testament figure. It is also an illustration of burial customs in 1st century Judaism for the wealthy and famous.

For a pdf go here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Galilee Boat

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Galilee Boat
(1st century AD)
Remains of the Galilee Boat lay for centuries at the sea bottom until a drought in 1986 lowered the water level and exposed the ship on the western shore. It is 27 feet long and 7.5 feet wide, currently residing in The Yigal Allon Museum at Kibbutz Ginosar.
While there is no evidence this is one of the fishing vessels Jesus used during his ministry, it was probably very much like them:
He got into the boat and his disciples followed him. (Matt 8:23)
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. (Matt 9: 1)
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it. (Matt 13:2)
Jesus...withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matt 14:13) into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. (Matt 15:39)
The common means of catching fish was to use nets:
Simon...and...Andrew...were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. (Matt 4:18)
Cf. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that...caught all kinds of fish. (Matt 13:47)
They were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.... The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore (John 21:6,8)
This type of boat had a flat bottom, which allowed it to get close to the shore to unload cargo (fish) and people. The flat bottom also served as a platform for public speaking:
They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:11)
Such large crowds gathered around IJesusi that he got into a boat and sat in it. (Malt 13:2)
The antique boat had rigging for a sail, enabling it to take advantage of the wind for propulsion rather than depending solely on manpower to row toward its destination:
He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48)
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. (Luke 8:26)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Galilee Boat is physical evidence of the water craft common in Jesus' day. It shows a means of transportation as well as a source of occupation for those who lived in that northern region of Israel.

For a pdf go here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Ziggurat at Ur

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Ziggurat at Ur
(7th century BC)
The Old Testament states clearly that Abraham's original home was in lower Mesopotamia in the city of Ur. He eventually migrated from there to Haran in upper Mesopotamia and then moved south to Canaan:
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Gen 11:3!)
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you...." So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.... He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Gen 12: 1 , 4a, 5)
"The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you." (Gen 17:8)
Before his arrival in Canaan, the people of Abraham were polytheistic, as Joshua records:
"The God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods." (24:2)
They would have been familiar with and perhaps even used the ziggurat.
In 1854 J.E. Taylor conducted excavations at the location of the ancient city of Ur and discovered some cuneiform cylinders stating that the ziggurat of King Ur-Nammu had been restored by Nabonidus of Babylon (556-539 B.C.). Further study of the area by H.R. Hall (1918) and C.L. Woolley (1922-1934) determined that Ur was among the best-known ancient sites of southern Babylonia. At the time of Abraham's exodus, Ur was one of the largest and richest cities in Mesopotamia.
The ziggurat was originally the shrine of Nannar, the moon god. His temple occupied the highest portion of this man-made mountain. King Ur-Nammu constructed the bulk of the mound, and his name is stamped on every brick! The tower was a solid mass of unbaked brick two hundred feet long, one hundred fifty feet wide, and about seventy feet high. An eight-foot thick layer of baked brick set
in bitumen (pitch) mortar covered the structure. This artificial hill was called a "high place." Some believe the tower of Babel was an edifice similar to this one:
They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." (Gen 11:3-4)
The worshippers of Nannar called him "the exalted lord," "the crown of heaven and earth," and "the beautiful lord who shines in heaven." He was to them both god and king. His ziggurat was the central and tallest building in Ur (so the people could ascend it to reach him more easily). Much of the city's resources and most of its citizens supported the temple in some way.

The Ur ziggurat of Abraham's day was probably erected on top of a smaller structure from the First Dynasty (2800-2600 B.C.) by Ur-Nammu (2135-2025 B.C.) when the city was in its most glorious period. The upper part was added later by Nabonidus. This building is the best example of a Mesopotamian high place discovered thus far and has helped to expand our understanding of pagan religious life in the 2nd and 3rd millennia. It also enables us to appreciate the potential sacrifice Abraham made in leaving the prominence and prosperity of Ur for the relative obscurity of Canaan.

Significance for Biblical Studies: The Ziggurat at Ur may have been inspired by the Tower of Babel as a means of getting close to God. Like that earlier structure, it failed to bridge the gap and, in fact, did not need to do so because " not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).

For a pdf go here.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: A Silver Amulet

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Silver Amulet of Ketef Hinnom
(7th century BC)
Gabriel Barkay of the Tel Aviv University found this silver amulet in 1979 in the Hinnom Valley, near Jerusalem. The discovery was part of a hoard of treasures from the area.

In 1983 a team of experts, including Ada Yardeni, translated it. The amulet looked like a tiny role of silver about the size of half a cigarette when Barkley uncovered it. The text is an abbreviated version of the Aaronic Blessing, and the ancient Hebrew script dates the piece to the 7th century B.C., perhaps during the reign of Josiah (reigned 641/640 to 610/609 B.C.):
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years.... He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left. (2 Kgs 22: la, 2)
The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.... Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kgs 23:3, 25)
The University released information to the public about the entire collection, including the tiny scroll in 1986, seven years after Barley first made the discovery.
The Aaronic Blessing, which God instructed the priests to recite over the people, is probably the oldest formulaic prayer still in use:
The LORD bless you and keep you
The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26)
Jewish priests have used this prayer since the Tabernacle. Even today, men from the priestly line come forward at the close of the Sabbath service in the synagogue to recite it as God commanded. (Some Christian churches also use it as a closing benediction.)
Although the piece was damaged along the edges, the original team of experts translated the text, noting two instances of the tetragram (i.e., the ineffable name of God), but still did not recognize the biblical passage. Ada Yardeni, a local artist with knowledge of ancient Hebrew script, redrew the engraved inscription for the Israel Museum and, in doing so, found the third tetragram of the blessing itself and identified the text as the priestly pronouncement.
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Silver Amulet of Ketef Hinnom preserves the oldest biblical text ever discovered, four centuries earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls! Through transmission in oral liturgical recitation and preservation of the written text, even on a tiny amulet, God's word remains consistent and active in the lives of His people.

For a pdf go here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Siloam Inscription

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Siloam Inscription
(8th century BC)
In 1880, boys playing in the Pool of Siloam at Jerusalem discovered several lines of paleo-Hebrew on the wall of Hezekiah's famous tunnel.
During the Ottoman rule of Palestine, the Turks removed that section of the wall, then known as the Siloam Inscription, and sent it to the Istanbul Archeological Museum, where it currently resides.
This text could be called a "building inscription" because it reports the completion of a construction project. Other reports of this genre mention the monarch who commissioned the project and extol the deity to whom the king devoted it, such as Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple: "I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever." (1 Kgs 8:13). The Siloam project is part of a biblical summary of King Hezekiah's accomplishments: "[He] made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city" (2 Kgs 20:20).
The tunnel supervisor describes the construction as two crews working from opposite directions came together:
This was the account of the breakthrough: While the laborers were still working with their picks, each toward the other, because there was a crack in the rock to the south and to the north. At the moment of the breakthrough, the laborers struck each toward the other, pick to pick. Then the water flowed from the spring to the pool for 1200 cubits. And the height of the rock above the heads of the laborers was 100 cubits.
The author writes entirely in the third person, the only human reference being the laborers. The success of the project and its scale (the measurements) fascinated him. He was rightfully proud when he and those working with him completed this exceptional technical feat (an evaluation that remains to this day). There is no trace here of the public piety or political propaganda one might expect from the monarch who sponsored the undertaking.
The unusual nature of this text is also evident in two other features. First, the inscription was twenty feet inside the tunnel where few people would see it, suggesting that the engraver did not intend it for public display. Second, the inscription is anonymous. Most likely the head engineer ordered this inscription or, perhaps, carved it himself. He had the most at stake in the crews' meeting and would probably have been proudest of this achievement. His keeping the inscription from public view and omitting his name evinced tempered enthusiasm in recording these events for posterity. The Siloam Tunnel marks a significant engineering accomplishment and demonstrates how God's people applied their faith to prepare for the future (e.g., a return of the invading army):
Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. (2 Kings 18:5)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Siloam Inscription records an amazing engineering feat and shows the impressive degree of computational skill necessary to bring two tunneling teams together. It also shows the humility of one who deserved credit but did not demand it, one who deferred gratification and well-earned notoriety for hundreds of years: "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips" (Prov 27:2).
For a pdf go here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: The Shema Seal

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996
Shema Seal
(10th or 8th century BC)
Gotlieb Schumacher found this beautiful jasper seal at Megiddo in the early 1900s. A roaring muscular lion, symbolizing power and position, adorns the stamp. The inscription reads "(belonging) to Shema, servant of Jeroboam." Shema was probably a high-ranking official in the northern kingdom of Israel, either in the court of Jeroboam I (930-909 B.C.) or Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). The seal pictured here is a reproduction. In 1908 Schumacher gave the original piece to the Sultan of Turkey, in Constantinople; it subsequently disappeared, and its location today remains a mystery.

Historians have traced glyptic art (engraving or carving of seals or gems) in the Ancient Near East back as far as the 4th millennium B.C. When other sources are lacking, the medium of these seals reveals a great deal about the people of the past and provides invaluable insights into their developing thought: how they dressed, how they worshipped, and how their political system may have functioned.

Amulets were the earliest type of seals. Usually ornately carved, individuals wore them around the neck to repel evil spirits. When the wearer pressed the amulet into wet clay or hot wax, he believed the power of the amulet transferred to the impression left by the carving. The impression would deter anyone from breaking open the sealed object for fear of the evil that might overtake him. Later, an unbroken seal served to indicate that the protected article was undisturbed. When the Babylonian king cast Daniel into the lion's den, he sealed the den to prevent tampering:
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. (Dan 6:17)
Likewise, in the New Testament, when the Romans closed Jesus' tomb: "They went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Matt 27:66).

The use of seals eventually developed into more than just ritual protection. The earliest known legal method of distinguishing property was by applying a personal seal. The most common use of the seal was to authenticate written documents: letters, bills of sale, and receipts for goods or money. It was also common to wear the seal as a ring. When Pharaoh promoted Joseph to vizier, he gave Joseph "his signet ring" (Gen 41:42). With the ring, Joseph had the authority of Pharaoh and could govern in the king's absence. The seal, thus, became the signature of the owner.

A seal of authentication is still very much a part of many cultures today. In western society there is the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" that ensures the quality of some retail products. The seal of a "notary public" is necessary on many official documents. Even a birth certificate is invalid in some states if it lacks the original seal affixed by the hospital.

Significance for Biblical Studies: The Shema Seal was the signature of a servant in Jeroboam's court. Shema probably used it for official business as well as for personal correspondence. The seal is a window into the life of one man who worked for a biblical king and whose clerical practice was not unlike our own.

For a pdf go here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: A Phoenician Ivory

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Phoenician Ivory Panel
(8th century BC)
This face surfaced from the bottom of a well in Nimrud (biblical Calah). The artist carved the mask (approximately 6" x 4.5") from a single section of ivory tusk and used it to adorn a piece of furniture. The portrait may be a likeness of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar, whom the Phoenicians called Astarte. Alternatively, it could be a picture of the furniture's owner.
The prophet Amos disapproved of expensive ivory ornamentation, and he denounced its ostentatious display—"houses adorned with ivory" (Amos 3:15) and "beds inlaid with ivory" (Amos 6:4). At this time, ivory was as valuable as gold and, for the very rich, more popular. (The uncontrolled demand for ivory eventually drove the Syrian elephant into extinction.) Although there are several references to ivory in the Bible, there is no mention of elephant hunting or of ivory carving (i.e., as an Israelite craft). Apparently, ivory decorations were something rich Israelites bought from Syria or Phoenicia.
The largest collections of ivory found in Israel thus far are from the ancient cities of Megiddo and Samaria; both served as residences for the king.
At Megiddo, the palace treasury yielded over three hundred items dating from the beginning of the 12th century B.C. At Samaria, archaeologists discovered over five hundred pieces from the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. The Samarian hoard is from the time of Amos and illustrates a reason for the prophet's outrage beyond Israel's opulent lifestyle. The ivories reflect Egyptian influence, including reliefs of deities such as Horus, Ra, Heh, Isis, Nephthys, and Osiris. These symbols compounded the sin of God's people by violating His repeated prohibition against graven images:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything (Exod 20:4).
Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves (Lev 26:1).
Do not become corrupt [by] an idol, an image of any shape (Deut 4:16).
Israel's embracing of pagan culture, with the destructive effect it had on the social and political structure, eventually led to the fall of the Northern Kingdom:
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God.... They worshiped other gods.... They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, "Do not do as they do," and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do.... So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria.... (2 Kgs 17:7, 15, 23)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Phoenician Ivory Panel was typical of an ostentatious lifestyle among the wealthy in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. While God does not oppose wealth, using it at times to express His favor, He prefers a reserved way of life, one characterized by "modestly...decency, and propriety" (1 Tim 2:9).

For a pdf go here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: A Philistine Relief

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Philistine Relief from Temple at Medinat Habu
(12th century BC)
This portrait is a close-up of one of the many captured Philistines carved on the walls of the Medinat Habu temple at Thebes in Egypt (the mortuary temple of Ramesses III).
The battle on the mural took place in 1177 B .C. and pits the Sea Peoples against Egyptian forces. In the hieroglyphic text accompanying the reliefs, Ramesses III claims to have repelled the Sea Peoples, including the Philistines.
That victory (in 1177 B .C.) must have been a partial one, however, because in the 12th and 11th centuries there were Philistine colonies in the Nile delta, along Egypt's southern frontier with Nubia, and in Canaan.
The Bible first mentions the Philistines in the patriarchal narratives. Both Abraham and Isaac dealt with Abimelech of Gezer, king of the Philistines. At that time, the Philistines lived in and around Beersheba. They were generally peaceful—not yet the enemy of Israel.
Eventually, most of the Philistines settled in the southwestern part of Canaan and took possession of five major cities, subjugating or displacing the Canaanite population.
The territory of the five Philistine rulers [was] in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron.... (Josh 13:3)
Not content to remain on the coast, they expanded inland. The first mention of the Philistines as Israel's principle foe appears in the days of Samson, about the beginning of the 11th century when they already controlled much of Dan and Judah:
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. (Judg 13:1)
Though eventually beaten back, the Philistines continued to harass God's people through several administrations of the Judean monarchy until the Babylonian invasion when Nebuchadnezzar's forces finally destroyed them.
Significance for Biblical Studies: A Philistine relief from the temple at Medinat Habu depicts one of the Sea Peoples who battle the Egyptians for control of Canaan. The relief shows how the Philistines may have appeared and explains, in part, how they came to be in the land. This find adds color and definition to what the Bible says about the Philistines and their eventual contact with the Israelites.

For a pdf go here.