Biblical Archeology

New Thinking in the World of Archeology. Scholars at the recent meetings in New Orleans air some of their latest findings.

Lawrence T. Geraty is associate professor of archeology and the history of antiquity, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
New archeological light on such subjects as the Israelite conquest of Transjordan, Isaiah's reference to "the waters of Shiloah," and the syncretistic religious practices of the Judean kingdom, against which the prophets inveighed, was all on the program for those who attended the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Schools of Oriental Research in New Orleans last November.

William Shea, of Andrews University, reported that, though no evidence for a significant, "settled" occupation of the southern Transjordan in the time of Moses has yet been found from excavations or topographical surveys, Egyptian inscriptions from four different sources do provide conclusive evidence that this region was occupied in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. No longer do believers have to sit silent when some scholars suggest that the Biblical ac count is unhistorical or that it refers to a much later conquest. Rather, both the Egyptian and Biblical evidence call into question current concepts of the nature of the settlement of southern Transjordan, through which the Egyptian armies and the Israelites passed. The absence of remains of fortified cities does not prove that the area was uninhabited. The inhabitants could well have been seminomadic, and thus their settlements would not leave many traces for archeologists to find. Even so, some settlements from this period (Late Bronze Age) are being found as far south as central Moab, as reported by Maxwell Miller, of Emory University, after his 1978 survey of that region. Until recently, such remains were known only as far south as the Heshbon region, surveyed in the 1970's by Andrews University. Perhaps future work will indicate such settlement as far south as Edom, too.

Those who would date the Israelite conquest of Transjordan, not to the fifteenth century B.C., as is suggested by Biblical data, but to the end of the thirteenth century, because of a series of destructions at the end of the Late Bronze Age, were startled by a reevaluation of the end of this period in Palestine by Fredric Brandfon, of Central Michigan University. After a thorough study of the archeological evi dence, he has concluded that the end of the Late Bronze Age did not come until the mid-twelfth century.

Yigal Shiloh, of Hebrew University's Institute of Archeology, reported on the results of his first season of excavations south of Jerusalem's Temple area in what was known in Biblical times as Ophel, or "the city of David." Many are acquainted with the famous water tunnel of Hezekiah in this area, but few knew there was another underground aqueduct near the surface that contained "windows" along its course, through which water could be drawn. Shiloh's team excavated portions of this long waterway, which must have been the better known of the two in Biblical times, and thus quite possibly the one referred to in Isaiah 8:6, where it is contrasted with the great Euphrates. It seems appropriate that Shiloh should rediscover Isaiah's "waters of Shiloah." He discovered also a flute from the period of the second Temple—a bone with holes. It is the earliest such instrument known. Perhaps his most exciting find was a broken monumental Hebrew inscription from about the time of Hezekiah. He hopes to find more of it as he continues excavating for four more seasons.

The evidence for Judahite religious syncretism comes from a site called Kuntillet 'Ajrud, 50 kilometers south of Kadesh-barnea near a route leading to Elath and southern Sinai. The excavator, Zeev Meshel, of Tel Aviv University, reported that the site contains the re mains of one main structure measuring 25 meters by 15 meters. An entry way leads to a long room with benches along the walls, which are plastered all over with shiny, white plaster and decorated with frescoes and Hebrew inscriptions from about 800 B.C. The room contains two large pithoi with more figures and inscriptions, and stone bowls bearing the names of the donors. Most of these inscriptions are dedications, requests, prayers, or blessings, bearing the names of Yahweh, "his Asherah," Baal, and El. Did Israel's God have a consort? Perhaps some of His worshipers thought so. Meshel believes this religious center had some connection with the journeys of Judeans to Elath, the Red Sea, and perhaps even to Mount Sinai. Travelers could stop at the place to pray, each person to his own god, and ask for a divine blessing on their journey. Perhaps Elijah was not the only one who thought of making a trip to Horeb!

David Ussishkin, also of Tel Aviv University, reported on his continuing excavations at the important Biblical city of Lachish, a site previously worked by the British in the 1930's. He claims to have uncovered the remains of Sen nacherib's Assyrian destruction of the city in 701 B.C. Others feel that this particular evidence comes from a Babylonian destruction of the city more than one hundred years later. The dust still has not settled from the ongoing argument.

Though Andrews University's fieldwork at Heshbon in Jordan is completed, John Lawlor, a team member in 1974 and 1976, and now a graduate student at Drew University, received permission to continue the excavation Andrews University had begun of a Byzantine church on the north edge of the town. Lawlor reported on the successful completion of this project in 1978. The plan of the early Christian church turned out to be very well preserved, and a number of fine mosaics, some with Greek inscriptions, were uncovered. The nicest find was a small stone sarcophagus-shaped box with a cross-decorated lid. Inside was an oval silver reliquary containing a human kneecap, presumably of a saint known for his prayers.

Announcements were made at the New Orleans meeting of new digs that will be of special interest to Bible stu dents. This spring will see renewed work at Pella in northern Transjordan—the site to which early Christians fled before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This summer an American team will work at Numeirah near the southeastern edge of the Dead Sea, a site that an increasing number of scholars connect with Biblical Gomorrah. The same team has done considerable excavation at nearby Babedh-Dhra, thought by many to be Sodom. A new American project in Syria, after a regional survey, will begin excavation of a site in the vicinity of Qarqar, where Ahab fought the Assyrians in a famous battle.

All archeological discoveries now a days are not made in the field. The famous Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, of the University of Pennsylvania's University Museum, announced at the meeting that new Sumerian literary texts have been found in the British Museum! Biblical students will await their publication with interest because such texts from the early second millennium B.C. already constitute the oldest written literature of significant quantity and diversity as yet uncovered by archeology, and because the Sumerian myths, epic tales, hymns, laments, essays, disputations, proverbs, and precepts already known serve as primary source material for the individual interested in Biblical backgrounds and parallels.

Those interested in the antiquity of writing were especially impressed with the report of Denise Schmandt-Besserat, of the University of Texas at Austin, who argued that writing was not, as previously assumed, a sudden invention in the fourth millennium B.C., but the continuum of a recording system based on tokens that was indigenous to the Mesopotamian Valley but shared by many cultures of the ancient Near East. Thus, according to this concept, early man was very intelligent and readily developed a system of writing when the economic need for it arose.

Several eminent archeologists participated in a symposium entitled "Biblical/Palestinian Archeology Retrospects and Prospects." Lawrence Toombs, of Wilfrid Laurier University, touched on the dilemmas of present-day archeological work in Palestine speed and expense versus thorough data retrieval, and horizontal exposure (cultural interest) versus excavation in depth (chronological interest). David Ussishkin reported on the rapid progress of the discipline as practiced by Israeli archeologists, and James Sauer, of the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, summarized the encouraging prospects for archeology in the developing countries of Jordan and Syria. Darrell Lance, of Colgate Rochester Divinity School, claimed that the discipline of Biblical archeology is passing through a period of uncertainty caused by the loss of its two great spokesmen, W. F. Albright and G. E. Wright; the decline of the Biblical theology movement, with the reemergence of the problem of faith and history; and the explosive growth and increasing independence of those disciplines, such as Palestinian archeology, that contribute to Biblical archeology. In an impassioned defense of the latter against William Dever, of the University of Arizona, who claimed that there is no such discipline, Lance said, "To argue as some have done for the abandonment of the term Biblical archeology is futile; as long as people read the Bible from a historical point of view, they will ask questions about the world which produced it. And the attempts to answer these questions will willy-nilly constitute Biblical archeology." He did emphasize, however, that changed circumstances, especially the explosion of new information about the ancient Near East, mean that Biblical archeology must assume new forms if it is to perform properly its function of illuminating the Biblical text. One suggestion was that every dig needs a core staff member whose sole responsibility is to interpret archeological results for the Bible. Till that day comes, perhaps columns such as this one in MINISTRY will serve a useful purpose!

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Lawrence T. Geraty is associate professor of archeology and the history of antiquity, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

April 1979

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