By Gordon Govier
EACH year several dozen institutional archaeological excavations and multiple more salvage excavations take place in the lands of the Bible.
Some excavations draw attention because of the exciting dimensions of their discoveries. Many more compile important information from less dynamic discoveries that help us better understand the biblical world in its social context.
Following are some of the most exciting discoveries announced in the past year, taken from the news digests of ARTIFAX magazine, and reported on The Book & The Spade radio program.
#1) Huqoq Synagogue Mosaic The ancient village of Huqoq is located three miles west of the Sea of Galilee shore near the sites of Magdala and Capernaum. Excavated by archaeologist Jodi Magness, a Distinguished Professor of early Judaism at North Carolina University at Chapel Hill, the mosaic floor of this synagoue is of the highest quality. The mosaic depicts Samson tying the tails of foxes together and also shows two faces around an inscription. This synagogue dates several centuries after the time of Christ and is expected to provide new information about the development of synagogues in the Galilee.
#2) Cult Shrines from Khirbet Qeiyafa These shrines were actually discovered in 2011 excavations, but announced in the late spring of 2012 by archaeologist Yosel Garfinkel of Hebrew University. The shrines are evidence of worship that predates Solomon’s Temple by 30-40 years; shrines without cultic images that are different from Canaanite shrines and conform to the anaconic traditions of Judaism. Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooks the Elah Valley, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
#3) First Temple Period Reservoir This cistern is located near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, under Robinson’s Arch. With its 66,000 gallon capacity, this discovery provides new information about water consumption in the First Temple era of Jerusalem.
#4) Bethlehem Bullah A seal impression with three lines of script, this is the earliest mention of Bethlehem outside of the Bible. It was found during the sifting of material from City of David excavations. It is a fiscal bulla, related to taxing of shipments during the reign of a king around the time of Hezekiah, Manasseh, or Josiah.
#5) Jerusalem Seal An actual seal which says “Belonging to Matanyahu Ben Ho,” this seal was found near Robinson’s arch in the ruins of a building from the First Temple Period.