Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 15 (June 1963): 60-62.

This summer will see a quickening of the pace in Israel's archaeological activity. Numerous expeditions from at home and abroad will be delving into the ruins of antiquity. We can expect fresh light on all periods of Biblical history. To keep abreast of new developments, it may be well to review some representative excavations and finds of recent months.

New Testament Period

Numerous local discoveries, such as tombs from the Roman and Byzantine periods, are continually being reported. Further investigation and restoration of ancient monuments and buildings are being carried out in such places as the city of Avdat, the Roman theaters of Beth Shean and Caesarea, and the ancient mound of Joppa. The following centers have aroused special interest.

Caesarea. Excavations at this ancient Roman administrative center have brought to light many features of the great city that existed in the days of Jesus, Paul, and the early Church. Perhaps the most important find in 1962 was that of two marble fragments from a Hebrew inscription. One bears the name of Nazareth, which appears for the first time outside of the New Testament and later literary sources. Together with a third piece discovered some years ago on the surface of the ground, they bear witness to an ancient synagogue custom of designating each Sabbath by the name of the priestly course that would have been on duty in the temple (cf. 1 Chron. 25:7-18; Luke 1:5). After Jerusalem was destroyed and its sanctuary was no longer standing, the synagogues continued to keep track of the priesthood's "duty roster," arranged in order along with the home city of each course. By this time the 18th course, that of Hapizzez, lived at Nazareth. The complete list has been preserved in Jewish liturgical works from the sixth to the seventh centuries A. D. A reconstruction of the whole inscription, based on the ancient poem, has been published by Prof. M. Avi-Yonah of the Hebrew University (Israel Exploration journal, 12:137-9).

Cborazin. Last year the ruins of Chorazin were surveyed and excavations were carried out in the central quarter of the city near the ancient synagogue. The town was arranged into four quarters and covered about 15 acres. Public buildings were in the central quarter, residences in the west, and industrial installations, such as oil presses, in the south. Excavators discovered three subterranean chambers, one of which may have been used for Jewish ritual baths.

Tiberias. Since December 1961 the excavation and preservation of an important synagogue near Tiberias have been underway. It is located above the hot springs and baths, close to the south wall of the town. The best preserved of the three building strata dates from the fourth century A. D.; it has a lovely mosaic floor adorned with pictures of the Ark of the Covenant, the Zodiac, and such other symbols as the citron, the traditional palm branches, and the ram's horn.

Wilderness of Judab. Spectacular finds in the wilderness areas were made by Israeli expeditions during 1960 and 1961. Over forty manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek were discovered in caves that served as the last hiding places for Bar Kokhba's partisans in 135 A. D. Some of the papyri were part of his military correspondence; others were personal documents of the residents at nearby En Gedi.

Old Testament Period

En Gedi. Mention of the scrolls which belonged to citizens of En Gedi brings to mind investigations of the ancient mound called Tell el-Jurn located near the famous spring of En Gedi. No traces were found of the settlement from whence the manuscripts came, but very important evidence for other periods emerged. The mound was occupied during the Roman-Byzantine, Hellenistiq Persian, and Late Israelite periods. The March-April 1962 work was concentrated on the Israelite stratum. It revealed that En Gedi had been a center for the balsam industry. Its product was one of the most precious perfumes in the ancient world. The residents of En Gedi were evidently organized into "guilds." Besides implements and vessels especially useful for their craft a rich assortment of other utensils and pottery was discovered. One pot with a lamp for a cover contained a treasure of silver bars-the means of payment used before coinage.

Arad. The work done here in celebration of the newly settled town of Arad may be the most important archaeological investigations of this decade for our understanding of ancient Hebrew epigraphy and culture. For the Judean and later periods ten strata were clearly distinguished, each covered by a thick layer of loess. The pottery found at each level consisted of an unusual quantity of whole or nearly complete vessels, so Arad provides an excellent collection of Judean ceramics from clearly defined stratification. About 20 ostraca were also found. Since the chronological relationship of these inscriptions to one another is firmly established by Arad's beautiful stratification, it will now be possible to establish a chronological chart of Judean epigraphy with a higher degree of accuracy than ever before.

Asbdod. One of the most extensive excavations in the land of the Philistines is at Ashdod. Last summer digging was done in four areas. In area A, on top of the mound, excavators have gone down through the Roman-Byzantine to the Hellenistic level. Ashdod was then known as Azotus (Acts 8:40). Workers in area D distinguished four Iron Age strata which pertain to the age of Judean domination and Ashdod's independence. The city seems to have achieved its greatest expansion during the reign of Solomon or by the time of the Divided Kingdom. This great city was destroyed by Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:6). In the new settlement which followed some most unusual cult objects were found-zoomorphic images, mostly of domestic animals-of types rare in Palestine but similar to those of Syria and Cyprus. Area C produced a pit filled with characteristic Philistine pottery which promises rewarding future discoveries. Three important strata of Late Bronze Age settlement have been found in area B. The abundance of imported Mycenean and Cypriote pottery testify to strong ties with the Aegean world during that period.

Gath, where is it? Now it is generally agreed that the site known as "Tell Gath" does not represent the ancient Philistine town. In 1961 a trial trench clarified much of the stratigraphy on the upper tell. There were traces of a settlement in the Late Bronze Age, but the earliest fortification at that point dates from the 12th or 11th centuries B. C. The area of Iron Age settlement is far too small for such an important Philistine center (cf. 1 Sam. 27). The suggestion that Tell en-Najila might be Gath has also been eliminated by the results of excavation. A large building discerned on top of the tell has now been found to be a caravanserai from the Middle Ages. Below this building, within a thickness of three to five feet, were found four strata of Middle Bronze Age settlement. Below these are signs that the tell was very important during the Early Bronze period. Ceramic evidence from a few pits and graves testifies that the site did have some Iron Age settlement but was apparently some kind of rural community. Philistine pottery was never found during the extensive surveys made there.

Dr. Y. Aharoni, in his recent The Land of Israel in Bihlical Times, A Geographical History (Hebrew), has returned to the older suggestion that Gath be located at Tell es-Safi (called Libnah on some modem atlases). The site produced an abundance of Philistine pottery, and its location near Ekron (also a very recent identification) conforms with the Greek version of 1 Samuel 17:1 that, after Goliath's defeat, Israel pursued the Philistines as far as the entrance to Gath.

Inscription. Five miles east of Lachish a pre-exilic burial cave was discovered (No. 9) with inscriptions on the walls of its entry passage. In the most important of these, only 22 out of 32 letters could be read clearly. The text, based upon the restorations made by Mr. J. Naveh, may be translated: "The Lord (is) God of all the earth; the mountains of Judah (belong) to Him, to the God of Jerusalem." "The God of Jerusalem" appears only once in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 32:19); its context concerns the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. From the standpoint of paleography, these inscriptions may be contemporary with that event. Mr. Naveh suggests that the burial cave served as a refuge for Judean soldiers fleeing from the Assyrians, one of whom expressed his hope of deliverance in writing.Anson F. Rainey, Israel-American Institute of Biblical Studies, Jerusalem. (Dr. Rainey is grateful to Mrs. Inna Pommerantz of the Israel Department of Antiquities, who furnished him the latest editions of their new quarterly publication, Hadashot Arkiologiot,- some of the reports therein have now appeared in English in the Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 12, pp. 143-155.)