Sift through the storied history of ancient Israel
Israel. The very name means different things to different people. It is a geographic place: the ancient land of the Israelites as well as a modern Mediterranean nation. It is a people: practitioners of Judaism who see themselves as descended from Biblical Jacob. It is a hot-button political topic, a homeland, a vacation destination and, perhaps most significantly, it is the place where three of the world’s major religions converge, creating a palimpsest of history that is one of the richest and most complex in the world.
This free eBook examines key archaeological sites from Hebrew Bible and New Testament eras in Israel. Archaeological discoveries shed light on places of sorrow and joy, from Roman prisons to seaside entertainment districts. Explore the religion and history of ancient Israel from the Babylonian destruction through the New Testament era in this free eBook.
In “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” Harvard professor Lawrence Stager guides readers through the excavations at Ashkelon, painting a portrait of the city whose vicious destruction by the Babylonian army was so vividly described by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 47:4–5). Stager sets the site against the backdrop of the larger political and historical context of Egypt and Babylon in the seventh century B.C., and offers a detailed picture of the city and the life of its inhabitants on the eve of its destruction, as gleaned from a meticulous examination of the archaeological record.
In an unprecedented breakthrough, paleographer Ada Yardeni recently identified the handwriting of a single scribe on more than 50 Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran caves. Remarkably, Yardeni identified the same scribal hand in a manuscript of the Joshua Apocryphon discovered in the Masada desert fortress, 30 miles south of Qumran. In “Scribe Links Qumran and Masada,” Sidnie White Crawford explains what this identification can tell us about the scribal community at Qumran.
Although Judea was already a Roman province when Jesus lived, there has long been debate about the cultural influences that may have shaped his life and teachings. In their article “How Jewish was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?” scholars Mark Chancey and Eric Meyers examine the Galilean city of Sepphoris as it was in the early first century A.D. Since the city is just 4 miles from Nazareth and has yielded more archaeological data than the nearby village, scholars have traditionally viewed Sepphoris as a cultural barometer of life where Jesus grew up. How Jewish was Sepphoris? Chancey and Meyers argue that, despite the influence of the omniscient Romans, a strong Jewish cultural identity existed in the community during Jesus’ formative years. Through a careful examination of the archaeological record at Sepphoris, Chancey and Meyers make a case for the Jewish culture that they maintain was the backdrop of Jesus’ life.
The people of Judea strove to maintain their identity despite the presence of the occupying Romans. There is no stronger symbol of this struggle for Jewish identity and independence than Masada, the palace-fortress built by Herod the Great that was the site of the last, desperate stand of a group of Jewish Zealots against the Roman army during the First Jewish Revolt. The traditional interpretation of events at Masada is that this struggle ended in the dramatic suicide of the almost 1,000 Zealots in 73 A.D. Both archaeologists and historians have long studied the site and the existing primary source for more clues regarding the rebels’ last hours. In his article “Where Masada’s Defenders Fell,” sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda takes a close look at the traditional interpretations of the first-century accounts of Flavius Josephus. In a re-examination of the text, Ben-Yehuda offers a different theory regarding the final resting place of Masada’s defenders.
The writings of Flavius Josephus are not just relied upon for interpreting events at Masada. Indeed, his works are frequently used as the launching point for many archaeological investigations in the history of ancient Israel. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer relies in part on Josephus to reconstruct Herod’s Antonia fortress. In “A New Reconstruction of Paul’s Prison: Herod’s Antonia Fortress,” Netzer puts forth his archaeological interpretation of the structure that guarded the Temple Mount and may have been where Paul was imprisoned by the Roman authorities.
Through archaeology, we get a better understanding of the history of ancient Israel and the ancient cultures and events that have shaped modern society and religion. This free eBook provides a close look at life and religion at the heart of the Holy Land. We are delighted to offer this journey into archaeology, Israel and the Biblical world for free.
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