To many professional archaeologists, “relic” is a dirty word. Biblical artifacts found to have a direct connection to a specific person or story in the Bible are sometimes denigrated as being without archaeological value. These Biblical artifacts are brushed aside in favor of more important archaeological discoveries that shed light on ancient social structures or the vast history of a people.
And yet, when it will help public relations, archaeologists often indulge in speculation about a Biblical connection to their latest finds.
One such example recently surfaced in Jerusalem. While excavating near the Temple Mount, where the ancient Jewish Temples once stood, archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron discovered a tiny golden bell about a half-inch in diameter with a small loop on top. In the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) press release announcing the find, Reich and Shukron suggest that the bell may have been “worn by a high official in Jerusalem,” no doubt referring to the priestly garments mentioned in Exodus 28:33-35. That passage describes Aaron’s high priestly garments as having bells of gold; the successive high priests in the Jerusalem Temple wore gold bells on the hems of their priestly garments as well.
The public became fascinated with the tiny gold bell and its ringing, even though it offers little other information about the history of Jerusalem. As Hershel Shanks wrote in his First Person column about the bell in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, “we all have a legitimate interest in relics … [they] give us an emotional relationship to a meaningful past.”
While other archaeological discoveries may contribute more to our understanding of history, relics and other Biblical artifacts are still of great value.
To continue reading about the gold bell that may be from ancient priestly garments, as well as the importance of other Biblical artifacts found in Israel and elsewhere, see Hershel Shanks, First Person: “Relics vs. ‘Real’ Archaeology,” in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.