For the movement associated with William F. Albright and also known as biblical archaeology, see Biblical archaeology school. For the interpretation of biblical archaeology in relation to biblical historicity, see The Bible and history.
This article presents technical information on major excavations and artifacts relating to biblical archaeology, defined as that archaeology which concerns itself with the biblical world.
Over the past thirty years, some archaeologists have led an effort to divorce archaeology in Israel from the biblical texts. Reflecting the change in biblical studies from historical reconstruction to textual criticism, the archaeology has become more sociological and processual and less a search for the realia of biblical life. The approach of the founders of the Biblical archaeology school, William F. Albright and G. Ernest Wright who faithfully accepted the biblical events as history have now been seriously questioned. According to Biblical archaeologist William G. Dever,
"From the beginnings of what we call biblical archeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archeological data to prove the Bible. And for a long time it was thought to work. William Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the "archeological revolution." Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought. The truth of the matter today is that archeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament than it provides answers, and that's very disturbing to some people. Archaeology certainly doesn't prove literal readings of the Bible...It calls them into question, and that's what bothers some people. Most people really think that archaeology is out there to prove the Bible. No archaeologist thinks so."
The debate is usually articulated between Biblical maximalists, the assumption that the Bible is historically correct, and Biblical minimalists, the assumption that the Bible is mostly myth. Despite an ongoing debate of the issue, the prevailing view still holds that the Bible is not wholly a work of fiction. Dever wrote:
Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The Biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the 'larger than life' portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence....I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed 'stories,' often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information...
The Israel Antiquities Authority, housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, has a broad mandate to enforce the 1978 Law of Antiquities by regulating excavation and conservation and promoting research in the territories under the control of the State of Israel.
The Biblical Archaeology Society, founded in 1974, publishes the Biblical Archaeology Review, which, although not a scholarly publication (i.e., its articles are not peer-reviewed), carries articles by respected scholars on current archaeological finds and topics.
In December 2004 Jerusalem antiquities dealer Oded Golan and several accomplices were indicted by the Israeli police for forging artifacts, frequently by adding spurious inscriptions to genuinely ancient pieces. The case underlined the importance of preserving the archaeological record from contamination through fraud, looting, and the commercial antiquities trade.
Periods in Biblical archaeolgy
The list of periods for Syro-Palestinian archaeology below is drawn from the definitions provided by the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p. 55.
- Bronze age: 3,200-1,200 BCE
- Early Bronze (EB) Age = 3200-2200 BCE
- Middle Bronze (MB) Age = 2200-1550 BCE
- MB I (formerly MB IIA) = 2200-2000
- MB II (formerly MB IIA) = 2,000-1,750
- MB III (formerly MB IIC) = 1750-1550
- Late Bronze (LB) Age = 1550-1200 BCE
- LB I = 1550-1400
- LB II = 1400-1200
- Iron Age: 1200-586 BCE
- Iron I = 1200-1000
- Iron IIA = 1000-930
- Iron IIB = 930-721
- Iron IIC = 721-586
- Babylonian period: 586-539 BCE
- Persian period: 539-332 BCE
- Hellenistic period = 332-63 BCE
- Early Hellenistic = 332-198
- Late Hellenistic = 198-63
- Roman period: 63 BCE-324 CE
Table I: Excavations and surveys
|Year||Site||Biblical name||Excavated by||Comment|
|1841||Survey||N/a||Edward Robinson||Robinson's Biblical Researches in Palestine, the Sinai, Petrae and Adjacent Regions, based on his survey of the Near East conducted over several years, proposed Biblical names for modern sites.|
|1871-77||Survey||N/a||Charles Warren||The Survey of Western Palestine, published by the Palestine Exploration Fund, reflected Warren's detailed field surveys in Palestine and especially the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Major discoveries included the foundation stones of Herod's Temple, the first Iron Age Hebrew inscriptions (jar handles with LMLK seals), and water shafts under the City of David.|
|1890||Tell el-Hesi||Eglon||Sir Flinders Petrie||The site was believed at the time to be the biblical Lachish, but is now commonly identified with Eglon. Petrie noticed strata exposed by waterflow adjacent to the site, and popularized details of pottery groups excavated therefrom. This marked the introduction of scientific stratigraphy to Palestinian archaeology.|
|1891-92||Tell el-Hesi||Eglon||Frederick J. Bliss||N/a|
|1898–1900||Tell es-Safi||Gath?||Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister||N/a|
|1898–1900||Tell Zakariya||Azekah?||Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister||N/a|
|1898–1900||Tell ej-Judeideh||Moresheth-Gath or Libnah?||Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister||N/a|
|1898–1900||Tell Sandahannah||Mareshah?||Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister||N/a|
|1902–3, 1907–9||Gezer||Gezer||R.A.S. Macalister||The Gezer calendar was discovered on the surface during this excavation.|
|1905–7||Galilee||Galilee||Herman Kohl, Ernest Sellin, and Carl Watzinger||A survey of ancient synagogues|
|1907–9||Shechem||Shechem||Ernest Sellin and Carl Watzinger||N/a|
|1908, 1910–1||Samaria||Samaria||David G. Lyon, Clarence S. Fisher, and George A. Reisner||N/a|
|1911–3||Beth Shemesh||Beth Shemesh||Duncan Mackenzie||N/a|
|1921–3, 1925–8, 1930–3 Clarence S. Fisher, Alan Rowe, and Gerald M. Fitzgerald||Beth Shean||Beth Shean||Clarence S. Fisher, Alan Rowe, and Gerald M. Fitzgerald||N/a|
|1922–3||Tell el-Ful||Gibeah?||William F. Albright||N/a|
|1925–39||Megiddo||Megiddo||Clarence S. Fisher, P.L.O. Guy, and Gordon Loud||N/a|
|1926, 1928, 1930, 1932||Tell Beit Mirsim||Eglon or Debir–Kirjath Sepher?||William F. Albright||N/a|
|1926–7, 1929, 1932, 1935 excavated||Mizpah||Mizpah||William F. Bade||N/a|
|1928–33||Beth Shemesh||Beth Shemesh||Elihu Grant||N/a|
|1930–6 excavated||Jericho||Jericho||John Garstang||N/a|
|1931–3, 1935 excavated||Samaria||Samaria||John W. Crowfoot||N/a|
|1932–38||Lachish||Lachish||James L. Starkey||The excavation was tragically terminated when Starkey was killed by armed Arabs near Hebron while on his way to the opening ceremonies of the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem|
|1936–40||Beit She'arim||Beit She'arim||Benjamin Mazar||N/a|
|1948–50, 1952–5 excavated||Jaffa||N/a||Jacob Kaplan||N/a|
|1954, 1959–62 excavated||Ramat Rahel||N/a||Yohanan Aharoni||N/a|
|1955–8, 1968||Hazor||Hazor||Yigael Yadin||N/a|
|1956–7, 1959–60, 1962 excavated||Gibeon||Gibeon||James B. Pritchard||N/a|
|1961–7 excavated )||Jerusalem (City of David)||N/a||Kathleen Kenyon||N/a|
|1962–7||Arad||Arad||Yohanan Aharoni and Ruth Amiran||N/a|
|1962–3, 1965–72||Ashdod||Ashdod||Moshe Dothan||N/a|
|1963–5 excavated||Masada||N/a||Yigael Yadin||N/a|
|1964–74||Gezer||Gezer||G. Ernest Wright, William G. Dever, and Joe Seger||N/a|
|1968–78||Jerusalem (southwest corner of the Temple Mount)||Temple Mount||Benjamin Mazar||N/a|
|1969–76||Beersheba||Beersheba||Yohanan Aharoni and Ze'ev Herzog||N/a|
|1969–82||Jerusalem (Jewish Quarter)||Jerusalem||Nahman Avigad||N/a|
|1975–82||Aroer||Aroer||Avraham Biran||Aroer is an Israelite town in the Negev Desert, not to be confused with the Moabite Aroer located in Jordan|
|1977–9, 1981–9||Timnah||Timnah||Amihai Mazar and George L. Kelm||N/a|
|1978–85||Jerusalem (City of David)||Jerusalem||Yigal Shiloh||N/a|
|1979–80||Ketef Hinnom||N/a||Gabriel Barkay||N/a|
|1979, 1981–2, 1984–7, 1990–1, 1993–2000||Khirbet Nisya||Ai (biblical place)?||David Livingston||N/a|
|1981–2, 1984–8, 1990, 1992–6||Ekron||Ekron||Trude Dothan and Seymour Gitin||N/a|
|1994–2008||Megiddo||Megiddo||Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin||N/a|
|1996–2002, 2004–2008||Tell es-Safi (identified as Biblical of the Philistines||Gath||Aren Maeir||N/a|
|1997–||Tel Rehov||Amihai Mazar||N/a|
|1999–2001, 2005||Tel Zayit||Zeitah||Ron Tappy||N/a|
|2005||Ramat Rahel||N/a||Oded Lipschits||N/a|
|2005||Nahal Tut||N/a||Amir Gorzalczany and Gerald Finkielsztejn excavated||N/a|
|2007||Khirbet Qeiyafa||N/a||Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor||N/a|
Table II: Artifacts
|Item||Date of artifact||Provenance||Description|
|Foundations stones of Herodian Temple||N/a||Identified during topographic surveys carried out by Charles Warren in the 1860s under the sponsorship of the Palestine Exploration Fund.||N/a|
|LMLK seals||8th century BC?||Found under controlled conditions at sites throughout Iron Age Palestine.||Seal-impressions bearing the letters LMLK on jar handles, associated with the reign of the biblical king Hezekiah of Judah.|
|Water shafts under the City of David||9th century BC?||Discovered during Charles Warren 's survey of Jerusalem in the 1860s.||N/a|
|Nag Hammadi library||N/a||Discovered by peasants near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt.||A collection of early Christian Gnostic texts also known as the "Gnostic Gospels".|
|Dead Sea Scrolls||c.350 BC - 68 AD||Discovered in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947-1956.||The Scrolls comprise some 800 documents in tens of thousands of fragments. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, they contain biblical and apocryphal works, prayers and legal texts and sectarian documents.|
|Ketef Hinnom scrolls||Immediately prior to 586 BC||Found under controlled conditions by Gabriel Barkay during the excavation of an ancient burial chamber.||Two small silver scrolls containing texts similar to, although not identical with, the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers and parallel verses of Exodus (20:6) and Deuteronomy (5:10 and 7:9). These are the oldest biblical fragments yet found.|
|Gibeon pool (at el-Jib)||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Hezekiah tunnel under Jerusalem||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Walls of Jericho||1550 BC (destruction of)||N/a||Excavated by John Garstang in the 1930s and dated to around 1400 BC; re-excavated by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s and redated to around 1550 BC. Bryant Wood's 1990 proposed reversion of Kenyon's dates to Garstang has not been supported by subsequent studies.|
|Siege ramp of Sennacherib at Lachish||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Pool of Siloam||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Western/Wailing wall||1st century BC||N/a||The wall was originally a retaining wall for the Herodian temple complex.|
|Shechem temple||Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age||N/a||Cf. the "House of (the god) Baalberith" in Judges 9.|
|19 tumuli located west of Jerusalem||Iron Age||N/a||The 19 tumuli dating to the Judean monarchy possibly represent sites of memorial ceremonies for the kings as mentioned in 2 Chronicles 16:14, 21:19, 32:33, and the book of Jeremiah 34:5|
|Boundary markers for Gezer walls and city gate.||N/a||N/a||1st century BC Hebrew inscriptions found engraved on rocks several hundred meters from the tel read "boundary of Gezer."|
|Arad ostraca||N/a||N/a||A collection of ostraca (inscribed pottery fragments) from Arad.|
|Signet bullae (rings engraved with the owner's name, or impressions left by these rings)||9th-4th centuries BC||Found in both controlled and non-controlled conditions||The bullae feature many names known from biblical texts.|
|Balaam texts||N/a||Found during controlled excavations at Deir Alla, Jordan.||The texts (painted in ink on a plastered wall and painstakingly reconstructed) describe the visions of seer named Balaam (cf. Numbers 22–24)|
|Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III||N/a||N/a||The obelisk depicts Jehu, son of Omri, king of Israel, and also mentions Hazael of Aram/Damascus/Syria (cf. 2 Kings 8–10)|
|Caiaphas (Qafa) family ossuaries||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Ebla tablets||4th millennium BC||N/a||The tablets are the archives of a small coastal kingdom or city-state in what is now Syria.|
|"Goliath" ostracon||N/a||Discovered under controlled conditions during excavations by A. Maeir at Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath)||The ostracon (pottery fragment) is incised with nine letters representing two names (אלות and ולת) etymologically related to Goliath (גלית).|
|Herod's tomb at Herodium||N/a||N/a||N/a|
|Tel Dan Stele||N/a||Discovered as a surface find during a controlled excavation at Dan, a city marking the northern boundary of the ancient kingdom of Israel.||The stele contains an inscription by an Aramean king describing his victory over two other kings, one of them the king of Israel, the other a king described as being of the "House of David". This represents the earliest known instance of this phrase from an archaeological context.|
|Izbet Sartah ostracon||1200-1000 BC||Found in the silo of an unfortified village (possibly biblical Eben-Ezer, 2 miles east of Philistine Aphek at Antipatris) occupied from 1200–1000 BC||5 incised lines of 80–83 letters (readings of epigraphers vary), the last line being an abecedary.|
|Jehoiachin's Rations Tablets||6th century BC||Excavated from Babylon during 1899–1917 by Robert Koldewey, stored in a barrel-vaulted underground building consisting of rows of rooms near the Ishtar Gate||The tablets describe the rations set aside for a royal captive identified with Jehoiachin, king of Judah (Cf. 2 Kings 24:12,15–6; 25:27–30; 2 Chronicles 36:9–10; Jeremiah 22:24–6; 29:2; 52:31–4; Ezekiel 17:12). The texts are:
|Lachish ostraca||Late 7th century BC||N/a||The ostraca (inscribed pottery fragments) describe conditions in Judah shortly before the first Babylonian invasion. Letter #3 mentions a warning from the prophet; letter #4 names Lachish and Azekah as among the last places being conquered (cf. Jeremiah 34:7); letter #6 describes a conspiracy reminiscent of Jeremiah 38:19 and 39:9 using phraseology nearly identical to Jeremiah 38:4.|
|Nabonidus cylinder||N/a||Found in the Temple of Shamash in Sippara||The cylinder names Belshazzar as the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon|
|Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet||N/a||Sippar||The tablet mentions a Babylonian official (Nebo-Sarsekim) who may be an identical with Sarsekim, an official mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3.|
|Pim weights||First specimen found by R.A.S. Macalister at Gezer; many others found since.||N/a||Inscribed with a previously unknown word that facilitated a better translation of 1Samuel 13:21|
|Lachish reliefs||N/a||Found during excavations of Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh||The reliefs depict the Assyrian conquest of Lachish.|
|Pontius Pilate inscription||1st century AD||Found in secondary use in a stairway of the Roman theater in Caesarea||The threeline inscription (eroded portion in brackets is speculative but undisputed) reads:
"The prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, erected the Tiberium (in honor of Tiberius Caesar)"
|Sargon II's Conquest of Samaria inscription (ANET 284)||N/a||Found at Khorsabad (modern Iran) in 1843 by P.E. Botta||The inscription reads: "I besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it. ... The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I myself had conquered." (Cf. 2 Kings 17:23–24).|
|Tiglath-Pileser III's inscriptions||N/a||Found at Nimrud by A.H. Layard||ANET 282: "I received the tribute of ... Jehoahaz of Judah" (incident not mentioned in the Bible); ANET 283: "As for Menahem I overwhelmed him ... I placed Hoshea as king over them." (Cf. 2 Kings 15:19 and 17:3)|
|Zayit Stone||10th century BC or earlier.||Discovered during controlled excavations at Tel Zayit by Ron Tappy||Limestone boulder incised with a abecedary and remnants of other inscriptions in a South Canaanite development of the basic Phoenician script common to the Palestinian Levant. The wall in which the boulder was found was sealed by a destruction layer dated to the 10th century BC, but the inscription pre-dates the destruction layer and may belong to the early-mid 11th century BC.|
|Elephantine papyri||N/a||Upper Egypt. The papyri are not from controlled excavations but their authenticity is undoubted.||The papyri are from a Jewish community living in Egypt during the Persian Empire. They record, among other matters, the relationship of this community with the Temple in Jerusalem.|
|Kurkh Monolith||N/a||Discovered by J.E. Taylor at Diyarbekir, Turkey, in 1861.||This monolith of Shalmaneser III mentions "2,000 chariots, 10,000 foot soldiers of Ahab the Israelite"|
|Merneptah Stele||c.1200 BC (commonly dated to 1207 BC)||Egypt||The stele (monumental stone inscription) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah contains the earliest reference to a people called Israel.|
|Mesha stele||N/a||Discovered at Dhiban, Jordan (ancient Moab), in 1868.||The stele, erected by the Moabite king Meshe, mentions the Israelite king Omri and records vessels of YHWH received as tribute.|
|Siloam inscription in the Hezekiah tunnel, Jerusalem.||N/a||The tunnel was documented by Robinson in 1838,but the inscription (near the centre of tunnel, where the two work-gangs met) was not discovered until 1880. It was removed from Jerusalem the same year, and is presently in the Archaeological Museum at Istanbul.||The inscription records the completion of the tunnel, intended to bring water into the city.|
- Archaeology of Israel
- Biblical maximalism
- Biblical minimalism
- The Bible and History
- History of ancient Israel and Judah
- List of Biblical figures identified in extra-Biblical sources
- List of artifacts significant to the Bible
- Palestinian archaeology
- Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures
- Biblical Archaeology Review
- The Bible's Buried Secrets - PBS documentary (2008)
- The Bible's Buried Secrets, PBS Nova, 2008
- Bible gets a reality check, MSNBC, Alan Boyle
- Dever, William G. (March/April 2006). "The Western Cultural Tradition Is at Risk". Biblical Archaeology Review 32 (2): 26 & 76.
- Dever, William G. (January 2003). "Contra Davies". The Bible and Interpretation. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Contra_Davies.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-12.
- Mills and Bullard, 1990, p. 55.
- UN Archives REPORT by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan for the year 1938
- Etgar Lefkovits, "Nehemiah's wall uncovered", The Jerusalem Post
- See Chapter 3 of In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language (Hoffman 2004) for the linguistic importance of the Hebrew. See plates in The Text of the Old Testament (Wurthwein 1995) for a facsimile of the ostracon.
- "Documents from Old Testament Times" by D. Winton Thomas, 1958 (1961 edition), Edinburgh and Longdon: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., p. 84.
- William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1940)
- John Bright, A History of Israel(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959).
- Chapman, and J.N. Tubb, Archaeology & The Bible (British Museum, 1990)
- Cornfeld, G.and D.N. Freedman, Archaeology Of The Bible Book By Book (1989)
- Davies, P.R., In Search of 'Ancient Israel': A Study in Biblical Origins, Sheffield (JSOT Press, 1992). A key resource in the maximalist/minimalist controversy by a leading minimalist scholar.
- Davis, Thomas, Shifting sands: the rise and fall of Biblical archaeology (2004)
- Dever, William G., "Archaeology and the Bible : Understanding their special relationship", in Biblical Archaeology Review 16:3, (May/June 1990)
- Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-2126-X.
- Dever, William G. (2003). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8.
- Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2001), The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0743223381, http://books.google.com/books?lr=&q=Finkelstein+Bible+Unearthed+Exodus+unoccupied&btnG=Search+Books .
- Frend, William Hugh Clifford, The Archaeology of Early Christianity. A History, Geoffrey Chapman, 1997. ISBN 0-225-66850-5
- Frerichs, Ernest S. and Leonard H. Lesko eds. Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997 ISBN 1-57506-025-6 Collection of six essays. Denver Seminary review
- Hallote, R. Bible, Map and Spade: The American Palestine Exploration Society, Frederick Jones Bliss and the Forgotten Story of Early American Biblical Archaeology, (Gorgias Press, 2006) Discusses American involvement in biblical archaeology before 1900.
- Herzog, Ze'ev (October 29, 1999), Deconstructing the walls of Jericho, Ha'aretz, http://mideastfacts.org/facts/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32&Itemid=34 .
- Keller, Werner, The Bible as History, 1955. A widely-read but very out dated popular account, approximately fifty years old.
- Kitchen, Kenneth A., On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)
- Kuntz, John Kenneth. The People of Ancient Israel: an introduction to Old Testament Literature, History, and Thought, Harper and Row, 1974. ISBN 0-06-043822-3
- Lance, H.D. The Old Testament and The Archaeologist. London, (1983)
- Mazar, A., Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (The Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1990)
- Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. (2004). Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. SBL Academia Biblica series, no. 12. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature.
- Negev, Avraham, and Gibson, Shimon, (eds.) (2003). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group.
- Ramsey, George W. The Quest For The Historical Israel. London (1982)
- Robinson, Edward (1856) Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1838–52, Boston, MA: Crocker and Brewster.
- Thiollet, J-P, Je m'appelle Byblos, Paris (2005).
- Thompson, J.A., The Bible And Archaeology, revised edition (1973)
- Winstone, H.V.F. The Life of Sir Leonard Woolley of Ur, London, 1990
- Wright, G. Ernest, Biblical Archaeology. Philadelphia: Westminster, (1962).
- Yamauchi, E. The Stones And The Scriptures. London: IVP, (1973).
- Biblical Archaeology Society