BHD's year in review: from new Dead Sea Scrolls to early Canaanite writing
As the year winds down, we look back at some of 2021’s top ten stories in BHD. From newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls to striking new evidence for the development of the early alphabet, 2021 provided some incredible archaeological news, as well as an especially sad passing for the Biblical Archaeology Society. The articles below are not ranked or listed in any particular order.
New Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered: One of the most groundbreaking discoveries of 2021 was the discovery of several scrolls near the Dead Sea that were hidden at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–136 C.E.). The scrolls are the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered by archaeological excavation in more than 60 years. The scrolls, which contain Greek translations of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum, shed new light on the history of the Bible.
King David’s Judah Found?: Was King David real? While the question is still hotly debated, a new study from Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel suggests that there might be more archaeological evidence for the biblical story than previously thought. According to Garfinkel, the findings from an ongoing archaeological project in the Judean Hills shows evidence of a quickly expanding Judahite kingdom during the Iron Age IIA period (c. 1000–925 B.C.E.), around the time of the biblical King David.
Archaeological Evidence of Gideon the Judge?: It was announced this summer that a 3,100-year-old inscription was discovered in central Israel bearing the name of a biblical judge who possibly lived around the same time. The inscription from Khirbet al-Ra‘i (possibly biblical Ziklag), while likely not referring to the biblical figure, sheds new light on the development of the Canaanite and Hebrew script as well as the historicity of the biblical text.
In Memory of Hershel Shanks: Earlier this year, we mourned Hershel Shanks, who passed away on February 5 at the age of 90. Hershel was the founder and longtime editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. He was firmly committed to making the latest archaeological discoveries—and scholarly controversies—accessible to the broader public, through well-written, beautifully presented, and engaging content that brought the biblical world to life. BAS is honored to carry on the tremendous legacy left to us by our friend, colleague, and mentor.
Inscription, ‘Jesus, son of Mary,’ Found in Jezreel: In January, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery in northern Israel of a fifth-century inscription mentioning “Jesus, son of Mary.” The inscription, which included an appeal for prayer, originally formed part of the lintel of a Byzantine church.
The Shapira Fragments: Earlier this year, the long-standing argument about the authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls once again appeared in the headlines. Some scholars believe the Shapira Scrolls might be the oldest-known biblical manuscript, while others believe them to be a clever forgery. The rekindled debate gained popular attention in the New York Times in March and also appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Missing Wall of Biblical Jerusalem Discovered: In July, the IAA announced the groundbreaking discovery of a previously unknown section of Jerusalem’s Iron Age city wall, famously constructed by King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C.E. This new wall section conclusively proves that Jerusalem was strongly fortified during the time of the kings of Judah.
Early Alphabetic Writing Found at Lachish: This was a big year for the discovery of ancient Canaanite inscriptions. In April, the excavations at Tel Lachish announced the discovery of the oldest-known alphabetic inscription in all of the southern Levant. The inscription dates to the 15th century B.C.E. and appears to include a personal name and possibly the Canaanite word for nectar. It had previously been thought that alphabetic writing did not appear in the region until two centuries later.
First Temple Cheating Weight: Archaeologists excavating in the City of David Archaeological Park in Jerusalem discovered an interesting cheating weight from the First Temple period. Cheating weights would have been used to defraud customers, a practice frequently condemned in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 25:13: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small.”).
Funerary Temple Found in Saqqara: One of the most widely publicized archaeological finds of 2021 was the excavation of the funerary crypt and temple at Saqqara in Egypt. The site, which contained structures from the Old Kingdom (c. 2575–2150 B.C.E.) to the New Kingdom period (c. 1550–1070 B.C.E.), contained more than 50 sarcophagi and many other funerary items.
Bonus—Rare Evidence for Roman Crucifixion Found in Second-Century Britain: Earlier this year, a team in Britain announced the discovery of the remains of a man from the second century C.E. who appears to have been the victim of Roman crucifixion. Although this execution method is well attested in historical documents, this is only the fourth time an archaeological find has provided direct evidence of the practice.
So what archaeological news do you think was the most impactful in 2021? Leave a comment to let us know, and if you are looking for your own chance to excavate history, be sure to check out our Find a Dig page to learn how you can get involved.
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