Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2015


Archaeological discoveries made public in 2015 have given us new information about biblical events and people. Below are the top findings from the important excavations taking place in the lands of the Bible. (This list is subjective, and based on news reports rather than peer-reviewed articles in scientific publications.)

10. Beit Shemesh idol head

An Israeli boy enjoying a picnic with his family in mid-November at the ruins of the biblical city of Beit Shemesh found what appeared to be the small head of a statue and showed it to an Israeli tour guide. The guide encouraged the boy to take the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which he did. They determined it was the head of a fertility goddess, probably Asherah, dating to the 8th century B.C.

9. Horvat Kur Byzantine menorah mosaic

The 2015 excavation of a Byzantine synagogue at Horvat Kur, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, revealed a mosaic depicting a menorah with a unique oil lamp design. This project is one of several synagogues being excavated near the epicenter of Jesus’ ministry, providing new insights into worship communities in the centuries after Jesus.

8. The site of Herod’s palace

Early in 2015, archaeologists announced the excavations of a former Turkish prison near Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate would be open to the public via guided tours. The site is believed to have been the location of Herod’s palace 2,000 years ago, and possibly the site of the trial of Jesus before Pilate.

7. Iron Age gate at Gath

Excavators of Tell es-Safi (the Philistine city of Gath) have made many discoveries over 20 years of excavations, but in 2015 they found the monumental gate of Gath from the time of Goliath (its most famous resident). It is one of the largest city gates ever found in Israel, attesting to the importance of the city 3,000 years ago.

6. Rare 3,000-year-old seal from Jerusalem found in Temple Mount sifted dirt

Ten-year-old Matvei Tcepliaev, a tourist from Russia, participated in the Temple Mount Sifting Project during his family’s visit to Jerusalem. Amidst the dirt that is the focus of this project—illegally excavated from the Temple Mount in 1999—he discovered a seal dating to the time of King David and the Jebusites, 3,000 years ago. Archaeologists called it a rare find from that period of Jerusalem’s history.

5. Eshba’al name found at Khirbet Qeiyafa

This year, excavators announced their discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2012 of a 3,000-year-old jar inscribed with the name of Eshba’al. This is not the same Eshba’al who is referenced in 1 Chronicles 8:33, a son of King Saul, but that’s the only other mention of the name in ancient records, both from the identical era.

4. Canaanite ostracon from Lachish

Excavations at Lachish in 2014 turned up an ostracon (clay potsherd with writing) dating to around 1130 B.C. The meaning of the nine-letter Canaanite inscription is unclear, but the excavators say it provides significant informationabout the development of the Canaanite alphabet, and ultimately Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets.

3. Hezekiah seal impression

In 2009, excavations in the Ophel, an area adjacent to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, uncovered the clay impression of the seal of Hezekiah. “It is the first seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king ever exposed in situ in a scientific archaeological excavation,” Hebrew University reported. This was one of 34 bullae (seal impressions) turned up in this particular excavation. It took many additional months before it was accurately read, to state, “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah.”

2. The venerated home of Jesus from Nazareth

University of Reading (UK) professor Ken Dark analyzed the results of long-neglected archaeological work done in 1936 and earlier at the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. While it’s impossible to say that the remains of the home at the site belong to the home of Jesus during his childhood, Dark says it is clearly the place that Christians of the Byzantine era believed was the home of Jesus.

1. Carbonized scroll of Leviticus from Ein Gedi synagogue deciphered

In 1970, archaeologists discovered the charred remains of a parchment scroll in the ruins of a Byzantine synagogue at Ein Gedi, along the western shore of the Dead Sea. It was inconceivable, at the time, that this cigar-shaped charcoal briquette could reveal its contents.

But last summer, University of Kentucky professor Brent Seales used digital imaging software he developed to analyze the x-rays from a computer tomography scan of the scroll. Israeli archaeologists were amazed to see the first 8 verses of the book of Leviticus, making the 1,500-year-old Ein Gedi scroll the oldest known book of the Bible outside of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Seales’ ability to decode CT scans of ancient carbonized texts may open the door to recovering many more ancient documents, including an entire library of a Roman villa destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 73 A.D., as well as discarded papyrus documents used to create Egyptian mummy casings.

Gordon Govier is editor of ARTIFAX magazine and host of The Book & The Spade radio programChristianity Today

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