Tel Rehov House Associated with the Biblical Prophet Elisha

Bible and archaeology news

For over a decade, excavations at Tel Rehov have revealed destruction layers from the ninth century B.C.E., the period in which the prophet Elisha lived, according to the Bible. Photo: John Camp.

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reported the discovery of a building that “might have been the house of Elisha the prophet” at Tel Rehov in Israel. The sixteen-year-long excavations at Tel Rehov, directed by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Amihai Mazar, investigate the largest Canaanite and Israelite sites in the Beth-Shean Valley, located in one of the largest tells in the nation. The team was able to reconstruct the name Elisha in a red ink inscription on a broken piece of pottery. According to the Bible, the prophet Elisha grew up in nearby Avel Mehola and would have prophesied in the second half of the ninth century B.C., the era of the stratum in which the sherd was found.
 


 
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
 

 

A storage jar from Building F at Tel Rehov bears the inscription nmsh, or Nimshi, the same name as the father or grandfather of the Biblical King Jehu, founder of the house that ousted the Omride dynasty in the ninth century B.C.E. Photo: Amihai Mazar and Nava Panitz-Cohen.

During the 2013 field season, the team investigated a unique two-wing house with clay figurines and incense altars, an artifact type well-known from earlier investigations at Tel Rehov.* In addition to finds at the house, references to the family of Nimshi have been uncovered at and near Tel Rehov. In the Bible, Elisha sends a disciple to anoint Jehu, a member of the family of Nimshi, as the king of Israel.

The CBN report associates a particular room in the house—where archaeologists uncovered the sherd naming Elisha, a table and bench—with that of the Biblical prophet Elisha. 2 Kings 4:8-9 includes the narrative:

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived,** who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, ‘Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

Amihai Mazar told CBN, “I cannot say for sure this particular Elisha that we found is the Biblical Elisha. You know it’s very difficult to say, but it is very tempting because it is exactly the period when Elisha acted – the second half of the ninth century B.C.” In the CBN article, archaeologist Stephen Pfann notes that Elisha was not a common name in ancient Israel, supporting his conviction that the Elisha named on the pottery fragment is the prophet Elisha.

While there are reasons to connect Tel Rehov with the prophet Elisha, the evidence is far from conclusive. On the BiblePlaces blog, Biblical studies professor Todd Bolen lists six important considerations related to the Tel Rehov discoveries, including the incomplete/reconstructed nature of the inscription, the association of commonplace finds with a specific Biblical character and the dissociation between Biblical prophets and incense altars, which have been found in the house in question and across the site of Tel Rehov.

Click here to read the CBN news report.

Click here to read Todd Bolen’s commentary on the report on the BiblePlaces blog.

 


 

Notes

* See Mazar, Amihai, Panitz-Cohen, Nava. “To What God?: Altars and a House Shrine from Tel Rehov Puzzle Archaeologists.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 2008, 40-47, 76.

** See Long, Burke O. “The Shunammite Woman.” Bible Review, Feb 1991, 12-19, 42.

 


 

More from Amihai Mazar in the BAS Library

Was King Saul Impaled on the Wall of Beth Shean?
BAR 38:02, Mar/Apr 2012
By Amihai Mazar

To What God?
BAR 34:04, Jul/Aug 2008
By Amihai Mazar and Nava Panitz-Cohen

Does Amihai Mazar Agree with Finkelstein’s “Low Chronology”?
BAR 29:02, Mar/Apr 2003
By Amihai Mazar

Will Tel Rehov Save the United Monarchy?
BAR 26:02, Mar/Apr 2000
By John Camp and Amihai Mazar

Excavating in Samson Country—Philistines and Israelites at Tel Batash
BAR 15:01, Jan/Feb 1989
By George L. Kelm and Amihai Mazar

The Mysterious Pot from Tel Batash
BAR 15:01, Jan/Feb 1989
By George L. Kelm and Amihai Mazar

Molds of Figurines Cast New Light on Art in Philistia
BAR 15:01, Jan/Feb 1989
By George L. Kelm and Amihai Mazar

On Cult Places and Early Israelites: A Response to Michael Coogan
BAR 14:04, Jul/Aug 1988
By Amihai Mazar

Bronze Bull Found in Israelite “High Place” from the Time of the Judges
BAR 9:05, Sep/Oct 1983
By Amihai Mazar

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Posted in Biblical Archaeology Sites, News, People in the Bible.

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  1. Pieter Gert says

    I doubt that this is the house of the prophet Elisha and as the name is rather common even in Judah and especially also in the neighboring Kingdom of Ammon, we must be very careful not to jump to our conclusions. The stratigraphy is very important and it is necessary to establish in which level and locus it was found, whether it was discovered in a primary context or in a dump or top-soil. For the ostracon can also be later, but palaeographically (i.e. by the type of the letters) hardly earlier. Indeed the 8th century BC Samaria ostraca seem a good reference point. Even the Kuntilet Ajrud material (which most scholars believe is of northern Israelite origin even if the site is located in northern Sinai) may be compared but its exact date is not fixed (it too could be first half of the 8th century BC). It is especially the oval type of ayin, the squat horizontal bars of yod and the tick on the lamed that seem to recall those letters on the Samaria ostraca. Also the form of shin (almost as if blown into a corner to the right) seems to support this. So I would say – indeed – preferably 8th rather than 9th century, perhaps towards the middle of the 8th, if we can be that precise. But again we need more details, including the stratigraphy.

  2. Pieter Gert says

    I wish to add that there is evidence of another letter to the left. Though it is broken off in the middle it can be the back of a yod, in which case the name is not Elisha but the longer version of the name, possibly Elishayau (i.e. with the northern rendering of the divine name). The name is very common and therefore really not indicative. To do justice to Ami Mazar’s team we need to await the full evidence. Other references to Nimshi (not necessarily the one found at Rehov) may be more indicative as the name is rare. Perhaps he was the father of King Jehu. But normally we need more information to be able to propose a legitimate identification, such as the name of the father (patronym), a title and the palaeography should point more clearly at an approximate date, which in this case does not seem to support a 9th century date.

  3. john says

    Complete nonsense, though doubtless good Israeli propaganda.

    I also hear that Petra is being marketed by tour guides now as “the place where John the Baptist was beheaded”.

    Well, John the Baptist and Elijah pay the bills, don’t they? Both for the tour guides’ *and* BAR’s!

    This “amazing discovery” will have no impact on the world of scholarship, of course, of which the tour guides are completely ignorant anyway. But it’s nice to know that BAR is creating jobs!

    Actually, in case anyone has missed my point, BAR’s penchant for sensational “discoveries” of biblical figures is *hateful*. What dishonesty! What pandering! What disinformation!

    Or, as someone once said to me, “Liars go to hell, you know.”

  4. David says

    Yeah, I have to admit this seems to be classic overreaching. The name Elisha is found in the room of a house…so it must be THE room of THE house that is mentioned in the Bible. While not impossible, it is EXTREMELY unlikely. Why not just say something that isn’t a huge stretch, like “hey, we found the name Elisha in a contemporaneous context.” That is probably a correct statement and doesn’t invite mocking.

  5. Thomas says

    Let me add my voice to those who see this article as a pluperfect example of the type of over-hyped, misleading, deceptive reporting about so-called Biblical archaeological discoveries so dear to the media, especially the religious-connected media. Just compare the headline, “Tel Rehov House Associated with the Biblical Prophet Elisha” with the concluding paragraph, “While there are reasons to connect Tel Rehov with the prophet Elisha, the evidence is far from conclusive.” Shameless deception. The CBN report, I can understand, but for BAS to pass it on is unforgivable and deals a sharp blow to BAS’ credibility.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Descoperiri arheologice: posibila casa a profetului Elisei | agnus dei - english + romanian blog linked to this post on October 31, 2014

    […] Inscriptie cu numele de Nimsi Photo http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org […]


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