Top 10 Holy Land Archaeological Discoveries
Being the land of the bible (both Old Testament and the New Testament), since the 19th century many different archaeological discoveries have surfaced that relate to the scriptures. Below are our top 10 archaeological discoveries that yielded significant testimony to the holy scriptures.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Undoubtfully the most famous and significant discovery ever made that relates to the bible are the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Unearthed mostly in the 1950s, these hundreds of scrolls were originally part of a library of a Jewish Sect that dwelt in a site above the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea (Qumran). Hidden in 11 caves, these scrolls contain copies of almost all the books of the Old Testament and reflect a community that shared many values like those of the early Christians. Moreover, a compelling theory suggests that John the Baptists was a member of this group at a certain point. Today most of the scroll are kept at the Israel Museum, and samples of them are on display at the “Shrine of the Book“.
Uncovered in the 1970s, the priestly amulet was unearthed during an excavation of a tomb near Jerusalem’s old city, at Katef Hinnom. One of the tomb’s repositories that was not looted contained precious jewelry and imported glass. But the most significant discovery were two tiny silver amulets containing parts of the “Priestly Blessing” known from the book of Numbers. Dating to the 6th century BCE, it is the oldest copy of any biblical text ever found. The amulets are on display at the Israel Msueum’s archaeological wing, next to reconstruected tomb where they were found.
Found by chance by a Jewish boy in the late 19th century, the Siloam inscription is a rare find documenting the completion of an underground tunnel that drew the Gihon spring‘s water into the Pool of Siloam. This project ensured a water supply to the city during the Assyrian siege, and was undoubtfully one of the main reasons that the city lasted the attack. The bible gives minimal reference to this engineering project, and the inscription provides detail testimony to its completion. Unfortunately, the Ottomans confiscated the find, and took it later to Istanbul. Today, the inscription is on display at the national archaeological museum of Turkey. Nevertheless, copies of the inscriptions can be seen at the Israel Museum, and even at the tunnel, right next to where the original inscription was discovered.
Another discovery made in the 19th century, the Mesha Stele was a monumental inscription made by Mesha, king of Moab, and placed in Dibon, his capital, after a set of successful military campaigns against the Israelites. It is especially fascinating to compare his statements with the biblical account (II kings 3), and theories the original set of events that led to his victories. Unfortunately, the stele was bashed to pieces by Bedouins shortly after its discovery, but a precise imprint of the saved its contents. Today, a copy of the stele can be seen at the Israel Museum.
Tel Dan Inscription
Uncovered in 1993-4 near the main gate of Tel Dan, the Tel Dan inscription is a fragment of another stele made in the 9th century BCE, but by an Aramean King – Haza’el. Boasting on his victory against the Israelites, the stele also mentions the king of Judah, but as being from the “House of David”. To this day it is the only time King David is mentioned in any source outside the bible. The inscription is on permanent display at the Israel Museum.
In 1932 James Leslie Starkey began excavating at Tel Lachish with the intention of uncovering the whole site and gaining all the possible information of the site’s history. His ambitious plan was abruptly stopped when he was murdered by Arabs in 1938. Nevertheless, in his 7 years of research he uncovered a wealth of finds, from Canaanite and Israelite periods. Perhaps his most significant discovery, dating to the 6th century BCE were a set of pottery shards used for writing short messages (ostaracae). Known as the “Lachish Letters”, these messages reflect in a dramatic way the city’s increasing threat by the advancing Babylonian forces. Perhaps most famous is Lachish letter 4 in which a nearby post states that he can no longer sea the signals of Azeqah. Apparently was conquered shortly before
Kuntilat Ajrud Inscription
Found in a remote biblical site at the edge of the Sinai Peninsula, The Kuntilat Ajrud inscription includes a surprising benediction to the God of the Israelite, and “his Ashera”. The inscription suggests the god of the Jews was sometimes worshipped next to a chief female goddess, Ashera. The worship of the Ashera is repeatedly denounced by the biblical prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. This archaeological discovery enhances the understanding of just how rooted the worship of Asherah was at that time. Hundreds of clay pillared figurines are believed by many scholars to be physical representations of this female goddess.
Uncovered in 1897, 24 miles of Amman, the “Madaba Map” is a mosaic floor of an ancient church which provides an amazingly detailed cartographic account of the Holy Land in late antiquity. Dating to the 6th and 7th Centuries CE the “Madab Map” combines hundreds of sites and inscriptions, highlighting the Holy sites to the Christian world at the time. On display to this day at the site where it was discovered, Madaba and the Madaba Map is one of the most popular tour attractions in Jordan.
Often missed by visitors to the Israel museum, the Ekron inscription was found in the 1990s in the foundations of a Philistine temple at the site of Tel Miqneh. Honoring the goddess Petagaia, and the city’s king, Achish, the Ekron inscription is significant in many ways. It provided final proof for the location of biblical Ekron, it indicated the Philistine worshipped a chief goddess, and it indicated that by the 7th century BCE the Philistines converted to the Hebrew language. Lacking an independent historical source, little is known about the philistines outside the bible. The Ekron Inscription is a major contributor to the knowledge of Philistine’s history, religion, language, and more.
Found by chance while constructing a road south of Jerusalem’s old city, the Caiaphas bone box (ossuary) was the first time a burial of a Jewish high priest was ever discovered. Furthermore, Caiaphas is also known from the New Testament as the high priest who summoned the high Jewish council, the Sanhedrin and interrogated Jesus and his claims of being the Messiah. On permanent display in the archaeological wing of the Israel Museum, the Caiaphas ossuary is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries made relating to the historicity of Jesus from Nazareth.