What are some exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology?
Question: "What are some exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology?"
Answer: Biblical archaeology is the science of investigating and recovering remains of past cultures that can validate, or at least shed new light on, the biblical narrative. Biblical archaeology involves the study of architecture, language, literature, art, tools, pottery and many other items that have survived the ravages of time. For almost two hundred years, those who study biblical archaeology have been working in the Middle East in their quest to recover the past. There have been thousands of archaeological finds that have advanced the study greatly, but some are more significant than others. Some of these finds have been the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Tel Dan Inscription, the Caiaphas Ossuary, the Crucified Man, the Ketef Hinnom Amulets, the House of God Ostracon, and the Pilate Inscription. Let’s briefly look at each one of these to see why they are significant.
Dead Sea Scrolls: One of the most important finds of in the field of biblical archaeology is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in the Qumran area on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. There are approximately 900 documents and fragments that comprise the find. The scrolls predate A.D. 100 and include a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The significance of the find is the age of the documents and the astonishing lack of variants to documents that have been most trustworthy such as the Masoretic Text, Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. The vast majority of the variants (about 99 percent) are punctuation or spelling errors. Incredibly, none of the variants changed the meaning of the text, nor did they contain any significant theological differences. This gives us the assurance that the text we have today in our Bible is the same as the early church had two thousand years ago. No other secular manuscripts can make the same claim.
Tel Dan Inscription: This stone tablet contains an inscription that is the first reference to the Davidic dynasty outside of the Bible. It was erected by Hazael, king of Aram, which is present-day Syria. The inscription makes reference to a military victory and corresponds to the biblical account in 2 Chronicles 22. This inscription dates to the 9th century B.C., thus giving us accurate dating to the Davidic dynasty as well verifying its existence. This is the only extra-biblical reference to the House of David that has been discovered to date.
Caiaphas Ossuary: An ossuary is a stone or pottery box in which the remains of a deceased person are buried (an ancient casket). The Caiaphas Ossuary bears the inscription “Yeosef bar Qafa” and is dated to the second temple period. Yeosef (Joseph) was the son of Caiaphas. This verifies that there was a high priest at the time of Jesus and his name was Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the priest that presided over the false trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:57-67).
Crucified Man: This is the remains of a full skeleton of a man crucified in the first century. The foot bone contains a bent crucifixion nail. There have been those that argued that the crucifixion of Christ was a hoax because that was not a form of capital punishment in Christ’s time. These remains verify that crucifixion was being done and that the crucifixion of Jesus was done exactly as outlined in the biblical narrative.
Ketef Hinnom Amulets: In 1979, two silver scrolls that were worn as amulets were found in a tomb at Ketef Hinnom, overlooking the Hinnom Valley, where they had been placed around the 7th century B.C. The delicate process of unrolling the scrolls while developing a method that would prevent them from disintegrating took three years. Brief as they are, the amulets rank as the oldest surviving texts from the Hebrew Bible. Upon unrolling the amulets, biblical archeologists found two inscriptions of significance. One is a temple priest blessing from the book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). The other is the tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of the Lord, from which we get the English Jehovah. The amulets predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 500 years and are the oldest known example of the Lord’s name in writing.
House of God Ostracon: Ostraca—writings on pottery—are common finds in archeological digs. The House of God Ostracon was found in Arad, a Canaanite city in the Negev. Over 100 pieces of ostraca were found and have been dated to the early part of the 6th Century BC. Of significance are the references to the temple in Jerusalem and to names of people that are recorded in Scripture. This not only helps to date the temple, but it verifies the existence of people listed in the biblical text.
Pilate Inscription: This stone tablet was found in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. The tablet was found in the theater of Caesarea and bears an inscription mentioning the name of Pontius Pilate the procurator of Judea, and the Tiberium, which was an edifice built in honor of the Emperor Tiberius by Pilate. There has been much written to discredit the biblical narrative in regard to the existence of Pilate; this tablet clearly says that it was from "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea" and verifies that he was a person that lived during the time of Jesus, exactly as written in the biblical narrative.
These finds are interesting from an educational point of view and do validate the historical accuracy of the Bible. But for the believer, finds like these should add nothing to our understanding of the importance or credibility of the Bible. The Bible is the written Word of God, inerrant and infallible and was God-breathed to human writers and is useful for edifying and teaching believers in the ways of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible needs no corroborative evidence to verify its truth, but it is interesting to note that no scientific or archeological find has ever disproven a single word of Scripture, and many, many findings have attested to its historical and scientific accuracy.
Recommended Resources: The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible by Geisler & Holden and Logos Bible Software.
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