World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Biblical archaeology

For the movement associated with William F. Albright and also known as biblical archaeology, see Biblical archaeology school. For the interpretation of biblical archaeology in relation to biblical historicity, see Historicity of the Bible and List of artifacts in biblical archaeology.

Biblical archaeology involves the recovery and scientific investigation of the material remains of past cultures that can illuminate the periods and descriptions in the Bible, be they from the Old Testament (Tanakh) or from the New Testament, as well as the history and cosmogony of the Judeo-Christian religions. The principal location of interest for this branch of the archaeological sciences is what is known in the relevant religions as the Holy Land, which from a western perspective is also called the Middle East. Even though the main reference points of biblical archaeology are mainly theological and religious, the study of these references is a methodical science. The scientific techniques used are the same as those used in general archaeology, such as excavation and radiocarbon dating among others. In contrast, the archaeology of the ancient Middle East simply deals with the Ancient Near East, or Middle East, without giving any especial consideration to whether its discoveries have any relationship with the Bible.

Biblical archaeology is polemical as there are a number of points of view regarding the nature of its purpose and aims, and what these should be. A number of points of view from important archaeologists are included in the section on Expert Commentaries.


  • Archaeology 1
  • Location 2
  • Dates 3
  • Periods in biblical archaeology 4
  • History 5
    • Stages in the development of biblical archaeology 5.1
  • Schools of thought in biblical archaeology 6
  • Brief summary of important archaeological sites and findings 7
    • Selected discoveries 7.1
    • Objects with unknown or disproved biblical origins 7.2
  • Biblical archaeology and the Catholic Church 8
  • Expert commentaries 9
  • Excavations and surveys 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Mosaic from a Byzantine Church dating from the 5th century. Mosaics are one of the main elements studied by biblical archaeology.

In order to understand the significance of biblical archaeology it is first necessary to understand two basic concepts: archaeology as a

  • The Biblical Pseudo-Archeologists Pillaging the West Bank
  • Uncertainty in radiocarbon dating

External links

  • William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1940)
  • Anati E. Palestine Before the Hebrews: A History, From the Earliest Arrival of Man to the Conquest of Canaan, 1963
  • Chapman, and J.N. Tubb, Archaeology & The Bible (British Museum, 1990)
  • Cornfeld, G.and D.N. Freedman, Archaeology Of The Bible Book By Book (1989)
  • Davies, P.R., In Search of 'Ancient Israel': A Study in Biblical Origins, Sheffield (JSOT Press, 1992).
  • Davis, Thomas, Shifting sands: the rise and fall of Biblical archaeology (2004)
  • Dever, William G., "Archaeology and the Bible : Understanding their special relationship", in Biblical Archaeology Review 16:3, (May/June 1990)
  • Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.  
  • Dever, William G. (2003). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.  
  • .  
  • Frend, William Hugh Clifford, The Archaeology of Early Christianity. A History, Geoffrey Chapman, 1997. ISBN 0-225-66850-5
  • Frerichs, Ernest S. and Leonard H. Lesko eds. Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997 ISBN 1-57506-025-6 Denver Seminary review
  • Hallote, R. Bible, Map and Spade: The American Palestine Exploration Society, Frederick Jones Bliss and the Forgotten Story of Early American Biblical Archaeology, (Gorgias Press, 2006) Discusses American involvement in biblical archaeology before 1900.
  • .  
  • Keller, Werner, The Bible as History, 1955.
  • Lance, H.D. The Old Testament and The Archaeologist. London, (1983)
  • Mancini, Ignazio. Archaeological Discoveries Relative to the Judaeo-Christians: Historical Survey, trans. [from Italian] by G. Bushnell [as] updated by the author. In series, Publications of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum: Collectio minor, no. 10. Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1970. Without ISBN or SBN
  • Mazar, A., Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (The Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1990)
  • Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. (2004). Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. SBL Academia Biblica series, no. 12. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature.
  • Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. (2009),"Corrections and Updates to 'Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E.,' " Maarav 16/1, pp. 49–132.
  • Negev, Avraham, and Gibson, Shimon, (eds.) (2003). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group. 
  • Ramsey, George W. The Quest For The Historical Israel. London (1982)
  • Robinson, Edward (1856) Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1838–52, Boston, MA: Crocker and Brewster.
  • Schoville, Keith N. Biblical Archaeology in Focus. Baker Publishing Group, (1978).
  • Thompson, J.A., The Bible And Archaeology, revised edition (1973)
  • Wright, G. Ernest, Biblical Archaeology. Philadelphia: Westminster, (1962).
  • Yamauchi, E. The Stones And The Scriptures. London: IVP, (1973).

Further reading

  1. ^ a b Vilar, Vicente. Archeologia della Palestina. Enciclopedia della Biblia I, 672. ,(in Italian)
  2. ^ Kurt Benesch: Past to discover cited by J.M. Vernet in his "Curso Básico de Arqueología Bíblica", Teologado Salesiano Internacional de Ratisbonne, Jerusalén, 2001 (in Italian).
  3. ^ R. Bultmann, Nuovo Testamento e mitología, p. 203 (in Italian)
  4. ^ Cf. L. Randellini, voce Demitizzazione, in ER, vol. 2, coll. 623-635; Id., Bultmann’s hermeneutics condemn K. Barth and the existentialist interpretation that he applies to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (K. Barth, L'Epistola ai Romani): cfr. R. Marlé, o.c., pp. 36-41; J.M. Robinson, La Nuova Ermeneutica, pp. 34-35. 41-47 (In Italian)
  5. ^ Volkmar Fritz, Introduzione all'archeologia biblica (tr. en. Introduction to biblical archaeology), pp 13-19
  6. ^ Pietro Kaswalder, "L`archeologia biblica e le origini di Israele" (tr. en. Biblical archaeology and the origins of Israel), in Rivista Biblica 41, pp. 171-188, 1993.
  7. ^ El archaeologist Father Pietro Kaswalder, O.F.M. is professor of Old Testament exegesis and archaeology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.
  8. ^ J.M. Vernet, "Basic Course in Biblical Archaeology ", International Silesian Theologate of Ratisbonne, Jerusalem, 2001 (in Italian), p. 5
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Mills and Bullard, 1990, p. 55.
  11. ^ Not to be confused with Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, the Scottish physicist and Nobel Prize winner.
  12. ^ Bruins, Hendrik and van der Plicht, Johannes. "Tell-es-Sultan (Jericho): Radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age." Radiocarbon vol.37, no.2, 1995, p. 213-220.
  13. ^ Is Bryant Wood's chronology of Jericho valid?
  14. ^ Ebon Musings: Let the Stones Speak
  15. ^ Forgers "tried to rewrite biblical history", Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, Friday 31 December 2004,
  16. ^ Narkas website
  17. ^ NZ man’s hunt for Noah’s Ark hits a rocky patch, The New Zealand Herald, 10 November 2004
  18. ^
  19. ^ R.N Rogers, "Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin", Thermochimica Acta, Vol. 425, 2005, pp. 189–194, article; S. Benford, J. Marino, "Discrepancies in the radiocarbon dating area of the Turin shroud", Chemistry Today, vol 26 n 4 / July–August 2008, p. 4-12, article;Emmanuel Poulle, ″Les sources de l'histoire du linceul de Turin. Revue critique″, Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique, 2009/3-4, Abstract; G. Fanti, F. Crosilla, M. Riani, A.C. Atkinson, "A Robust statistical analysis of the 1988 Turin Shroud radiocarbon analysis", Proceedings of the IWSAI, ENEA, 2010.
  20. ^ Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible, by Ruth Gledhill, The Times, 5 October 2005,
  21. ^ The Gift of Scripture, Party Two, Section 14 The truth of Scripture, p17 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, 2005,
  22. ^ Pius XII (30 September 1943). "Divino Afflante Spiritu Encyclical Of Pope Pius Xi On Promoting Biblical Studies". Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  23. ^ Originally in Biblical Archaeology Review, May–June, 1995, p. 33 and quoted in web article Two Jigsaw Puzzles, Two Purposes, United Church of God Canada [5], viewed 6 February 2013.
  24. ^ Archaeology & the Patriarchs, Robert I Bradshaw, 1992, web article, Biblical [6].
  25. ^ The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Archaeology, W. Dever, p. 357
  26. ^ The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Archaeology, W. Dever, p. 358
  27. ^ Bible gets a reality check, MSNBC, Alan Boyle
  28. ^ The Bible's Buried Secrets, PBS Nova, 2008
  29. ^ Dever, William G. (March–April 2006). "The Western Cultural Tradition Is at Risk". Biblical Archaeology Review 32 (2): 26 & 76. 
  30. ^ Dever, William G. (January 2003). "Contra Davies". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  31. ^ The Nature of Home: A Lexicon of Essays, Lisa Knopp, p. 126
  32. ^ Deconstructing the walls of Jericho
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^ Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say, The New York Times, April 3, 2007
  35. ^ UN Archives REPORT by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan for the year 1938


See also

Year Site Biblical name Excavated by Comment
'rediscovered' Petra on August 22, 1812. Al Khazneh Al Khazneh Johann Ludwig Burckhardt Al Khazneh ("The Treasury"; Arabic: الخزنة‎) is one of the most elaborate buildings in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra.
1841 Survey N/a Edward Robinson Robinson's Biblical Researches in Palestine, the Sinai, Petrae and Adjacent Regions, based on his survey of the Near East conducted over several years, proposed biblical names for modern sites.
1871–77 Survey N/a Charles Warren The Survey of Western Palestine, published by the Palestine Exploration Fund, reflected Warren's detailed field surveys in Palestine and especially the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Major discoveries included the foundation stones of Herod's Temple, the first Iron Age Hebrew inscriptions (jar handles with LMLK seals), and water shafts under the City of David.
1890 Tell el-Hesi Eglon Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie The site was believed at the time to be the biblical Lachish, but is now commonly identified with Eglon. Petrie noticed strata exposed by waterflow adjacent to the site, and popularized details of pottery groups excavated therefrom. This marked the introduction of scientific stratigraphy to Palestinian archaeology.
1891–92 Tell el-Hesi Eglon Frederick J. Bliss N/a
1898–1900 Tell es-Safi Gath? Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister N/a
1898–1900 Az-Zakariyya Azekah? Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister N/a
1898–1900 Tell ej-Judeideh Moresheth-Gath or Libnah? Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister N/a
1898–1900 Tell Sandahannah Mareshah? Frederick J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister N/a
1902–3, 1907–9 Gezer Gezer R.A.S. Macalister The Gezer calendar was discovered on the surface during this excavation.
1902–4 Taanach Taanach Ernst Sellin N/a
1903–5 Megiddo Megiddo Gottlieb Schumacher N/a
1905–7 Galilee Galilee Herman Kohl, Ernst Sellin, and Carl Watzinger A survey of ancient synagogues
1907–9 Shechem Shechem Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger N/a
1908, 1910–1 Samaria Samaria George A. Reisner N/a
1911–3 Beth Shemesh Beth Shemesh Duncan Mackenzie N/a
1921–3, 1925–8, 1930–3 Clarence S. Fisher, Alan Rowe, and Gerald M. Fitzgerald Beth Shean Beth Shean Clarence S. Fisher, Alan Rowe, and Gerald M. Fitzgerald N/a
1922–3 Tell el-Ful Gibeah? William F. Albright N/a
1925–39 Megiddo Megiddo Clarence S. Fisher, P.L.O. Guy, and Gordon Loud N/a
1926, 1928, 1930, 1932 Tell Beit Mirsim Eglon or DebirKirjath Sepher? William F. Albright N/a
1926–7, 1929, 1932, 1935 excavated Tell en-Nasbeh Mizpah in Benjamin William Frederic Badè N/a
1928–33 Beth Shemesh Beth Shemesh Elihu Grant N/a
1930–6 excavated Jericho Jericho John Garstang N/a
1931–3, 1935 excavated Samaria Samaria John W. Crowfoot N/a
1932–38 Lachish Lachish James L. Starkey The excavation was terminated when Starkey was killed by armed Arabs[35] near Hebron while on his way to the opening ceremonies of the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem
1936–40 Beit She'arim Beit She'arim Benjamin Mazar N/a
1948–50, 1952–5 excavated Jaffa N/a Jacob Kaplan N/a
1954, 1959–62 excavated Ramat Rahel N/a Yohanan Aharoni N/a
1955–8, 1968 Hazor Hazor Yigael Yadin N/a
1956–7, 1959–60, 1962 excavated Gibeon Gibeon James B. Pritchard N/a
1961–7 excavated ) Jerusalem (City of David) N/a Kathleen Kenyon N/a
1962–7 Arad Arad Yohanan Aharoni and Ruth Amiran N/a
1962–3, 1965–72 Ashdod Ashdod Moshe Dothan N/a
1963–5 excavated Masada N/a Yigael Yadin N/a
1964–74 Gezer Gezer G. Ernest Wright, William G. Dever, and Joe D. Seger N/a
1968–78 Jerusalem (southwest corner of the Temple Mount) Temple Mount Benjamin Mazar N/a
1969–76 Beersheba Beersheba Yohanan Aharoni and Ze'ev Herzog N/a
1969–82 Jerusalem (Jewish Quarter) Jerusalem Nahman Avigad N/a
1973–94 Lachish Lachish David Ussishkin N/a
1975–82 Aroer Aroer Avraham Biran Aroer is an Israelite town in the Negev Desert, not to be confused with the Moabite Aroer located in Jordan
1977–9, 1981–9 Timnah Timnah George L. Kelm N/a
1978–85 Jerusalem (City of David) Jerusalem Yigal Shiloh N/a
1979–80 Ketef Hinnom N/a Gabriel Barkay N/a
1966–1972 Et-Tell Ai Joseph A. Callaway
1981–2, 1984–8, 1990, 1992–6 Ekron Ekron Trude Dothan and Seymour Gitin N/a
1989–96 Beit-Shean Beit-Shean Amihai Mazar N/a
1994–ongoing Megiddo Megiddo Israel Finkelstein and Eric H. Cline N/a
1996–2002, 2004–ongoing Tell es-Safi (identified as biblical Gath of the Philistines) Gath Aren Maeir N/a
1997– Tel Rehov Amihai Mazar N/a
1999–2001, 2005 Tel Zayit Libnah Ron Tappy N/a
2005 Ramat Rahel N/a Oded Lipschits N/a
2005 Nahal Tut N/a Amir Gorzalczany and Gerald Finkielsztejn excavated N/a
2007 Khirbet Qeiyafa N/a Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor N/a

The following is a summary of important excavations and surveys:

Excavations and surveys

“Really, it’s a myth,”... “This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them the truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.”[34]

Regarding the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said:

Professor [33]

This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.[31][32]

Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog wrote in the Haaretz newspaper:

Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the 'larger than life' portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence....[29] I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed 'stories,' often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information...[30]

Dever also wrote:

"Archaeology certainly doesn't prove literal readings of the Bible...It calls them into question, and that's what bothers some people. Most people really think that archaeology is out there to prove the Bible. No archaeologist thinks so."[27] From the beginnings of what we call biblical archaeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archaeological data to prove the Bible. And for a long time it was thought to work. William Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the "archaeological revolution." Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought. The truth of the matter today is that archaeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament than it provides answers, and that's very disturbing to some people.[28]

Dever has also written that:

Dever found that Syro-Palestinian archaeology had been treated in American institutions as a sub discipline of bible studies. Where it was expected that American archaeologists would try to "provide valid historical evidence of episodes from the biblical tradition". According to Dever "the most naïve [idea regarding Syro-Palestinian archaeology] is that the reason and purpose of "biblical archaeology" (and, by extrapolation, of Syro-Palestinian archaeology) is simply elucidate facts regarding the Bible and the Holy Land".[26]

One of the world's leading biblical archaeologists, William G. Dever contributed to the article on "Archaeology" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. In this article he reiterates his perceptions of the negative effects of the close relationship that has existed between Syro-Palestinian archaeology and biblical archaeology, which has caused the archaeologists working in this field, particularly the American archaeologists, to resist adoption of the new methods of "processual archaeology". In addition he considers that: "Underlying much scepticism in our own field [referring to the adaptation of the concepts and methods of a "new archaeology"], one suspects the assumption (although unexpressed or even unconscious) that ancient Palestine, especially Israel during the biblical period, was unique, in some "superhistorical" way that was not governed by the normal principles of cultural evolution".[25]

In a statement on biblical archaeology Robert I. Bradshaw has commented: "It is virtually universally agreed that the purpose of biblical archaeology is not to ‘prove’ the Bible. However ... in as much as archaeology sheds light on that history it is important to biblical studies."[24]

Bryant G. Wood notes the consensus of archaeologists on the following point: "The purpose of biblical archaeology is to enhance our comprehension of the Bible, and so its greatest achievement, in my view, has been the extraordinary illumination of the . . . time of the Israelite monarchy".[23]

[...]"the purpose of biblical archaeology is the clarification and illumination of the biblical text and content through archaeological investigation of the biblical world."
— written by J.K. Eakins in a 1977 essay published in Benchmarks in Time and Culture and quoted in his essay "Archaeology and the Bible, An Introduction", [4].

Expert commentaries

Since this time archaeology has been considered to provide valuable assistance and as an indispensable tool of the biblical sciences.

[...] the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. [...]Let those who cultivate biblical studies turn their attention with all due diligence towards this point and let them neglect none of those discoveries, whether in the domain of archaeology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers, as well as their manner and art of reasoning, narrating and writing.[...]
— Pius XII, Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, paragraphs 35 and 40

In 1943, Pope Pius XII recommended that interpretations of the Scripture take archaeological findings into account in order to discern the literary genres that the Scriptures used.[22]

Archaeological investigations carried out with scientific methods can offer useful data in fixing a chronology that helps to order the biblical stories. In certain cases these investigations can find the place where these narratives took place. In other cases they can confirm the veracity of the stories. However, in other matters they can question events that have been taken as historical fact, providing arguments that show that certain stories are not historical narratives but belong to a different narrative genre.

The majority of excavations and investigations carried out in the area where the biblical narratives are set mainly have the objective of casting light on the historical, cultural, economic and religious background to the texts, therefore their main objective is not usually proving the veracity of these stories. However, there are some groups that take a more fundamentalist approach and which organize archaeological campaigns with the intention of finding proof that the Bible is factual and that its narratives should be understood as historical events. This is not the position of the official Catholic Church.[20][21]

Biblical archaeology and the Catholic Church

  • The Ark of the Covenant:
  • Objects originating from the "antiques" dealer Oded Golan. As described above, the Israeli police accused Golan and his accomplices of falsifying the James Ossuary in 2004, they were also accused of falsifying a number of other objects:
    • The Jehoash Inscription, which describes repairs to the temple in Jerusalem. It is suspected that the inscription has been falsified onto authentic ancient stones.
    • Various ostracas mentioning the temple or biblical names.
    • A stone candelabra with seven arms, decorated with a menorah from the temple.
    • A stone seal with gold borders that was attributed to King Manasseh of Judah.
    • A quartz plate with an inscription in the ancient Egyptian language stating that King Shishak had captured the ancient city of Megiddo.
    • An ivory pomegranate with the inscription "property of the priests of the Temple" carved on an authentic piece of antique ivory.
    • Numerous bullas, including some that mention biblical figures such as the scribe Baruch ben Neriah and the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel.
  • Various groups have claimed to have found Noah’s Ark. Many scholars consider that these findings belong to pseudoarcheology.
    • An Italian creationist group called The Narkas is just one of the many groups that claim to know the exact location of the Ark’s remains on the summit of Mount Ararat, on the border between Turkey and Armenia. Photos of the site can be seen at the Narkas website.[16]
    • In 2004 an expedition investigated a ridge 19 km from the summit of Mount Ararat, which is believed to be an alternative landing site for the Ark. Samples were submitted to the Geological and Nuclear Sciences Crown Research Institute in Wellington, New Zealand for testing. However, geologists at the government institute concluded that the samples were volcanic rock and not petrified wood.[17]
  • Shroud of Turin:
    • Critics insist that the linen cloth contains a painting of Jesus made in the Middle Ages. Others maintain that the image was formed by an energetic process that darkened the fibres of the shroud at the moment of resurrection. Radiocarbon dating of some sample material taken from the shroud has been dated to the Middle Ages, but some researchers claim that the samples were taken from a patch that had been re-woven into the shroud's border area during that time period.[18][19]
  • Saint Veronica’s Veil:
    • A cloth with the face of a man, said to be Jesus by believers, imprinted on it. Believers think that it was the cloth used by Veronica to clean Jesus's face on the Via Dolorosa on the way to Calvary. There are at least six images in existence that bear a marked resemblance to each other and which all claim to be the original Veil.

The objects in the following list generally come from private collections and were often purchased in antique’s markets. Their authenticity is highly controversial and in some cases they have been proved to be fakes.

Biblical archaeology has also been the target of several celebrated forgeries, which have been perpetrated for a variety of reasons. One of the most celebrated is that of the James Ossuary, when information came to light in 2002 regarding the discovery of an ossuary, with an inscription that said "Jacob, son of Joseph and brother of Jesus". In reality the artifact had been discovered twenty years before, after which it had exchanged hands a number of times and the inscription had been added. This was discovered because it did not correspond to the pattern of the epoch from which it dated.[15]

Objects with unknown or disproved biblical origins

Detailed lists of objects can be found at the following pages:

A reconstruction of the Jerusalem of the 1st century AD, made possible thanks to the findings of Biblical Archaeology.

Selected discoveries

First depiction of Jehu on the Black Obelisk he is seen prostrating at the feet of King Shalmaneser III.

The Walls of Jericho: A stratum of burnt matter relating to the City-IV destruction has been dated to 1617–1530 BC at the end of the Middle Bronze Age. It contains remains of The Walls of Jericho, which were destroyed either by an earthquake or a siege. Opinions are divided as to whether this destruction corresponds to that described in the Bible. According to the biblical account the Israelites destroyed the city after its walls fell down in around 1407 BC. Excavations led by John Garstang in 1930 dated the destruction of Jericho to 1400 BC, which would confirm the biblical story. However, the site was re-excavated by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s and the destruction of the walls was redated to around 1550 BC. Bryant G. Wood later reviewed Kenyon’s field notes and made a number of criticisms of her work. Wood found a number of ambiguities in the investigations and he also pointed to results of carbon 14 tests on a burnt stratum that dated the layer to 1410 BC, with a margin of error of 40 years. Wood’s conclusions therefore confirmed Garstang’s original estimates. However, the carbon dating result was a consequence of an incorrect calibration. In 1995 Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht used a high precision radiocarbon dating test on 18 samples from Jericho, including six samples of carbonized cereal from the burnt stratum. The results of these tests gave the age of the strata as 1562 BC, with a margin of error of 38 years. These results therefore confirm Kenyon's estimate and cast doubt on the biblical story.[12][13][14]

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouins in the caves of Kiryit Qumran in 1947 and subsequent excavations were initially led by Roland de Vaux. The Scrolls comprise some 800 documents in tens of thousands of fragments. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, they contain biblical and apocryphal works, prayers and legal texts and sectarian documents. Another piece of papyrus that has proved polemical is the so-called 7Q5, which is a small piece of papyrus whose origin is difficult to identify. The Spanish papyrologist Josep O’Callaghan Martínez, backed by the German biblical exegesist Carsten Peter Thiede, has concluded that it was a portion of a New Testament text, although this opinion remains controversial.

  • Qumran: For many, this is the site of perhaps one of the most important finds of all time. It is composed of the Kiryit or ruins of a monastery pertaining to the Essenes, caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the monk’s cemetery and many other elements that have changed the history of biblical studies.

Archaeology in the Holy Lands has made a number of important findings. Perhaps the most important of these include:

A summary of the excavations carried out in this area is included at Table I at the end of this article.

The Caves at Qumran where biblical archaeology’s most important findings of all time were found, in the valley of the Dead Sea.

Brief summary of important archaeological sites and findings

Biblical archaeology is the subject of permanent debate. One of the sources of greatest dispute is the period when kings ruled Israel and more generally the historicity of the Bible. It is possible to define two loose schools of thought regarding these areas: biblical minimalism and maximalism, depending on whether the bible is considered to be a non-historical, religious document or not. The two schools are not separate units but form a spectrum, making it difficult to define different camps and limits. However, it is possible to define points of difference, although these differences seem to be decreasing over time.

Schools of thought in biblical archaeology

  • Ancient: Although archaeology can be considered to be a modern science it should be recognized that many historical authors have left valuable documents that even today are essential reading for students of biblical archaeology. The most important historical sources include Josephus, Origen, Eusebius and the Diary of Egeria. Egeria or Aetheria, was a Spanish woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 381 and 384. Her diary of the journey, which was a surprisingly adventurous journey for a woman of that time, is a source of study and research even today.
  • Before the British Mandate in Palestine: The first archaeological explorations started in the 19th century initially by Europeans. There were many renowned archaeologists working at this time but one of the best known was Edward Robinson who discovered a number of ancient cities. The Palestine Exploration Fund was created in 1865 with Queen Victoria as its patron. Large investigations were carried out around the Temple in Jerusalem in 1867 by Charles Warren and Charles William Wilson,[11] for whom Jerusalem’s "Wilson’s Arch" is named. The American Palestine Exploration Society was founded in 1870. In the same year a young French archaeologist, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, arrived in the Holy Land in order to study two notable inscriptions: the Mesha Stele in Jordan and inscriptions in the Temple of Jerusalem. Another personality entered the scene in 1890, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who has become known as the "father of Palestine archaeology". In Tell-el-Hesi, Petrie laid down the basis for methodical exploration by giving a great importance to the analysis of ceramics as archaeological markers. In effect, the recovered objects or fragments serve to fix the chronology with a degree of precision, as pottery was made in different ways and with specific characteristics during each epoch throughout history. In 1889 the Dominican Order opened the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, which would become world-renowned in its field. Such authorities as M-J. Lagrange and L. H. Vincent stand out among the early archaeologists at the school. In 1898, the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) was founded in Berlin, a number of its excavations were subsequently funded by Emperor William II of Germany. Many other similar organizations were founded at this time with the objective of furthering this nascent discipline, although the investigations of this epoch had the sole objective of proving the veracity of the biblical stories.
  • During the British Mandate in Palestine (1922-1948): The investigation and exploration of the Holy Land increased considerably during this time and was dominated by the genius of William Foxwell Albright, C. S. Fischer, the Jesuits, the Dominicans and many others. This era of great advances and activity closed with a flourish: the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1947 and its subsequent excavation, which would in large part be directed by the Frenchman Roland de Vaux.
  • After the British Mandate: 1948 marked the start of a new social and political era for the Holy Land with the foundation of the State of Israel and the entrance on the scene of the Israeli archaeologists. Initially their excavations were limited to the territory of the state, but after the Six-Day War they extended into the occupied territories of the West Bank. An important figure in the archaeology of this period was Kathleen Kenyon, who directed the excavations of Jericho and the Ophel of Jerusalem. Crystal Bennett led the excavations at Petra and Amman’s citadel, Jabal al-Qal'a. The archaeological museums of the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Jerusalem are particularly notable.

The development of biblical archaeology has been marked by different periods:

Stages in the development of biblical archaeology

The study of biblical archaeology started at the same time as general archaeology and obviously its development relates to the discovery of highly important ancient artifacts.


  • Neolithic period: ca. 8500–4300 BC
  • Chalcolithic period: 4300–3300 BC
  • Bronze age: 3300-1200 BC
    • Early Bronze (EB) Age = 3300-2300 BC
      • Early Bronze I (EB I) = 3300–3050
      • Early Bronze II–Early Bronze III (EB II–EB III) = 3050–2300/2000
    • Middle Bronze (MB) Age = 2300/2000–1550 BC
      • Early Bronze IV (EB IV)/Middle Bronze I (MB I) 2300–2000
      • Middle Bronze IIA (also called MB II) = 2000-1800/1750
      • Middle Bronze IIB-C III (also called MBII and III) = 1800/1750–1550
    • Late Bronze (LB) Age = 1550–1200 BC
      • Late Bronze I (LB I) = 1550–1400
      • Late Bronze IIA–B (LB IIA–B) = 1400–1200
  • Iron Age: 1200-586 BC
    • Iron IA = 1200–1150
    • Iron IB = 1150–1000
    • Iron IIA = 1000-925
    • Iron IIB = 925-720
    • Iron IIC = 720-586
  • Babylonian period: 586-539 BC
  • Persian period: 539-332 BC
  • Hellenistic period = 332-63 BC
    • Early Hellenistic = 332-198
    • Late Hellenistic = 198-63
  • Roman period: 63 BC-324 AD

The following list of periods for Syro-Palestinian archaeology is based on the table provided in Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, pp. 33-34[9] up to the end of the Iron Age, and from the definitions provided by the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p. 55, for later periods.[10]

Periods in biblical archaeology

  • The period is understood to run from the 9th millennium BC, which corresponds to the earliest dated Neolithic remains of Jericho, to 700 AD, which marks the first invasions by Muslim armies. This time period is considered by some authorities to be too wide and controversial.
  • A second narrower period has been described that is more closely defined by the biblical stories: from the middle Bronze Age, that is from 2000 BC, which according to Biblical chronology corresponds with the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) until the end of the 1st century AD, with the death of the last apostle John the Evangelist and the end of the so-called Apostolic Church. The term Apostolic Church is taken to mean the historical period when Jesus's apostles were alive, including Paul of Tarsus. This period ends with the death of John the Evangelist, the exact date of his death is not known, but it is presumed to be around 110 AD. However, some scholars consider that the authors of the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation may have been John’s disciples.

In the same way that the spatial criteria vary according to the various points of view of the different researchers, there are also a variety of dates that are of interest. Kaswalder comments that:


The geographical area that circumscribes the area of interest for biblical archaeology is obviously the biblical lands, also known as the "Holy Land". There are many points of view regarding the exact extent of this area, however, biblical archaeology specifically concentrates on the Land of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, the area called the southern Levant. Many researchers are also interested in other areas that are mentioned in the biblical tales and which have a great importance for their connecting thread: Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia which are of interest to scientists interested in the Tanakh. Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Rome have greater connections with the stories from the New Testament.

The territory known as the Middle East was without doubt the location of the events that inspired the writing of the biblical texts.


  • Biblical archaeology lends fundamental support to exegetical studies.
  • It allows us to provide some specific details reflected in the books of the bible for example the Siloam Tunnel, the Pool of Bethesda, Calvary and others that effectively relate to those described in the biblical stories.
  • Biblical archaeology can shed light on the knowledge that we have regarding certain historical data described in the biblical stories such as governments, people, battles and cities.

The raison d’etre of biblical archaeology derives from the fact that it allows an understanding of the peoples that inhabited the Holy Land. It allows an understanding of their history, culture, identity and movements. This makes it possible to know the exact location of the stories and compare them with fact. Regarding this, Kaswalder has noted that previously the American and Israeli school of biblical archaeology saw archaeology as proof of the veracity of the biblical stories,[6] as can be seen in the work of authors of the stature of William F. Albright, G. Ernest Wright and Yigael Yadin However, today archaeologists are not trying to prove that the stories in the Bible are true, they are trying to discover the historical world upon which the books of the bible drew and from which they derive their meaning. Using this approach, introduced by P. Kaswalder,[7] it is possible to shed light on the following, according to the classification presented by the Catalan papyrologist Joan Maria Vernet:[8]

Biblical archaeology is the discipline occupied with the scientific investigation and recovery of the material remains of past cultures that can illuminate the times and descriptions of the Bible. A broad swathe of time between 2000 BC and 100 AD.[5] Other authors prefer to talk about the "archaeology of Palestine" and to define the relevant territories as those to the east and west of the River Jordan. This indicates that "biblical archaeology" or that of Palestine is circumscribed by the territories that were the backdrop to the biblical stories.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, holds valuable resources for both scientific and biblical research and exploration.

It might be thought that archaeology would have to disregard the information contained within religions and many philosophical systems. However, apart from the great deal of factual material that they provide such as places of worship, holy objects and other scientifically observable things, there are other aspects that are equally important for scientific archaeological investigation such as religious texts, rites, customs and traditions. Myths are commonly used by archaeologists and historians as clues to events or places that have become hidden in the background, a process that Rudolf Bultmann calls "demythification" – the most notable example being Homer’s poems and the mythical city of Troy. This contemporary perception of the myth, mainly developed by Bultmann, has encouraged scientists such as archaeologists to examine the areas indicated by the biblical tales.[3][4]

[2] as a relatively recent modern science, and as Benesch has said, it is a science that is barely 200 years old but that has, however, completely changed our ideas about the past.[1]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.