Just when it seems that Israeli archaeologists can’t produce even more spectacular finds, they do. Over the last three years, as much of the world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and other excavation projects have made some important discoveries that help us understand Ancient Israel.
The Ripper Casino sets out on a journey to discover some of the most fascinating archaeological finds of the last few years.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy who followed a stray sheep into a cave on a cliff above the Dead Sea. Over the next 9 years, approximately 950 manuscripts were recovered from 11 caves in the area including copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, apocryphal writings which had not been included in the Biblical canon and sectarian manuscripts such as religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, biblical commentaries and apocalyptic compositions. The scrolls are believed to have belonged to the Essenes, a Jewish sect that lived at Qumran.
Between 1956 and 2017, no new excavations of the caves took place but in 2017 the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to survey the caves to see if any scrolls had survived any of the scavenging and looting that authorities knew was taking place. While much of the world sheltered at home during the COVID lockdowns, the archaeologists and their volunteers rappelled into the caves and discovered some astonishing artifacts.
The findings were presented to the world in March 2021. In addition to a 6000-year-old child’s skeleton and a 10,000-year-old basket, the excavators found scroll fragments of the Books of Zacharia and Nahum. IAA Chief Scientist Dr. Gideon Avni told the Jerusalem Post, “its major finds have been not related to the Second Temple Period, but rather to much earlier times, the Neolithic and Chalcolithic.”
Until recently, archaeologists thought that the center of Jewish life during the period of the first Beit HaMikdash was in the area that we know today as the City of David. Even after the discovery of a citadel near Jerusalem’s southern edge near Ramat Rachel in the 1930s, experts believed that it was unique and not part of Jerusalem’s center in the 7th century BCE. Recently archaeologists found remains of a second prominent structure in Armon Hanatziv – a once-luxurious palace that had three decorated stone capitals. This shines new light on the Ramat Rachel structure because it’s now clear that the different structures represented the different centers of power of that era.
Yaakov Billig, of the Israel Antiquities Authority believes that the residence was built between the reigns of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, following the failed Assyrian siege on the city. That would have been the time when residents might have ventured outside the walled City of David to expand the city. “This find, alongside the palace that was found in the past at Ramat Rachel and the administrative center found on the slopes of Arnona attest to a revival of the city and leaving the walled areas of the First Temple era after the Assyrian siege,” which ended in 701 BCE, said Billig.
In the Book of Amos (1:1), the earthquake is used to date the year in which Amos began his nevuah. The Book of Zechariah (14:5) compares the devastation caused by the earthquake to what is prophesized will happen to the nations of the world when HaShem comes to Har HaZeitim.
Archaeologists excavating the City of David National park found a layer of destruction dating back to the 8th century – exactly the time when the Books of Amos and Zechariah told of an earthquake. The dates coincide with the excavations at Tel Agol, indicating that Jerusalem was also badly impacted by the earthquake.
This Chanukah the Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled a wooden box that was discovered near the Dead Sea and which contained 15 large silver coins that originated in ancient Greece and were minted between 176 and 170 BCE during the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor. The location of the find is the first indication that historians have that the Maccabees reached the Judean desert.
Researchers believe that a Maccabean fighter fled to the cave and buried the treasure there, intending to return. He was probably killed during a battle with the Seleucid Greeks. One of the coins is engraved with the name "Shalmai" in Aramaic script.
Director of excavations Amir Ganor said that excavations carried out over the past six years in the Judean Desert have uncovered thousands of archaeological finds. Dr. Eitan Klein, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority added, "This is a unique, unprecedented discovery. It is the first archaeological evidence that the caves of the Judean Desert were used as a refuge and rear base by Jewish rebels during the Maccabean revolt.”
Archaeologists excavating in Khirbet al-Ra’i in the Shephelah region found a 3,100-year-old inked pottery inscription with the name “Jerubbaal”, a name used by Gideon (Shoftim 7:1). Professor Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor believe that this is indeed the Jerubbaal of the Tanach because the pottery dates to the same time period as the era when Gideon acted as judge (end of 12th century BCE) and because, according to Tanach, people made pilgrimages to his hometown from throughout Israel.
Some scholars raise the issue of whether the inscription really relates to the Jerubbaal of the Tanach because it’s 120 kilometers from the famous battle in which Gideon faced Midian. But Khirbet al-Ra’I, where the pottery was discovered, is linked to Shoftim:6 which relates that Midianite oppressions extended to this exact territory on the Philistine border.
The name Jerubbaal is mentioned only in connection to Gideon in the Tanach and has been found only on this piece of pottery which dates to the same period which tantalizes scholars who see a strong possibility that Gideon the Judge and the Jerubbaal of the pottery inscription are one and the same person.