Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries

Archaeological discoveries are the puzzle pieces of the past.

Archaeologists use every piece of evidencefrom the tiniest fragment of pottery to monumental ruins of ancient fortification wallsto gain insight into the civilizations that made up the ancient world. Specialists who excavate in the lands of the Bible often unearth Biblical archaeology finds that deepen our understanding of the ancient Biblical world.

While many key Biblical archaeology findings are the result of years of systematic and painstaking excavation, sometimes important Biblical archaeology finds are a complete accident!


1. The Nag Hammadi Library

Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945, the Gnostic view of early Christianity had largely been forgotten. But when two peasants discovered a 13-volume library of Coptic texts hidden beneath a large boulder near the town of Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt, the world was reintroduced to this long-forgotten and much-maligned branch of early Christian thought. Scholar James Brashler tells the story behind the discovery and eventual publication of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, which has all the ingredients of a spy thriller.


2. Ain Dara Temple

Scholar John Monson unveils one of the closest known parallels to Solomons Temple: the recently discovered temple of Ain Dara in northern Syria. The temple at Ain Dara has far more in common with the Jerusalem Temple described in the Book of Kings than almost any other known building. The plan, size, date and architectural details fit squarely into the tradition of sacred architecture from north Syria (and probably Phoenicia) from the tenth to eighth centuries B.C.


3. Tel Dan (David) Stela

Few Biblical archaeology discoveries have attracted as much attention as the Tel Dan Stelathe ninth-century B.C. inscription that furnished the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible. This in-depth chapter describes the historical moment when an excavation assistant stumbled upon the stela bearing the inscription in a newly excavated wall.


4. Mona Lisa of the Galilee

More than 16 centuries after an earthquake destroyed the Roman city of Sepphoris, a richly colored mosaic portrait of an unnamed woman was discovered among the ruins. This chapter examines the enchanting tilt of her head and near-smile that earned her the nickname Mona Lisa of the Galilee.


5. Yahweh and His Asherah

A handful of painted sherds discovered in the eastern Sinai desert forever changed our perception of early Israelite religion. Upon the shattered fragments of a large eighth-century B.C. storage jar is an inscription that referred to Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah. Scholar Zeev Meshel explains how these painted pottery fragments provide a fresh perspective on the religious life of ancient Israel as well as archaeological evidence that Israelite religionfar from being the single monolithic Yahwistic faith depicted in the Biblewas practiced and understood in a variety of ways.


6. St. Peters House

More than 25 years ago, archaeologists discovered a simple first-century A.D. home in Capernaum that may have been inhabited by Jesus during his Galilean ministry. According to the excavated material remains, the function of the house appears to have changed dramatically, becoming a place for communal gatherings, possibly even Christian gatherings. Scholar James F. Strangeand Biblical Archaeology Review editor Hershel Shanks present layer upon layer of circumstantial evidence to support the houses importance in earliest Christianity and its association with Jesus and his foremost disciple, Peter.


7. The Siloam Pool in Jesus Time

In 2004, during construction work to repair a large water pipe south of Jerusalems Temple Mount, on the ridge known as the City of David, archaeologists excavated part of a monumental pool where Jesus performed the miracle of restoring sight to a blind man in the Gospel of John. Biblical Archaeology Review editor Hershel Shanks discusses the validity of this claim as well as the original purpose of this pool. Bathing? Drinking? Swimming?


8. Ashkelons Arched Gate

Scholar Lawrence E. Stager describes the discovery of the oldest known monumental arch, found in southern Israel in 1992, originally built during the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1850 B.C. An ancient roadside sanctuary discovered during the same dig revealed something even more remarkable: an exquisitely crafted statuette of a silver calf.


9. Stepped Stone Structure

Jerusalems unique 12-story-high foundational structurethe largest Iron Age construction in Israelappears to have been vital to the organization and defense of the City of David. Perhaps more than any other find from the City of David, the massive Stepped Stone Structure stands as a momentous reminder of just how grand David and Solomons Jerusalem might have been. Although at first glance it appears to be little more than a towering mass of twisted stone and rubble, it likely supported a major fortress or administrative building. Scholar Jane Cahill West explores this monumental structure.


10. Babylonian Siege Tower and Arrowheads

Uncovered during excavations in Jerusalems Jewish Quarter during the 1970s, this 22-foot tower, with walls 12 feet thick, helped defend Jerusalem against the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C. Around the base of the tower, a thick layer of charred wood, ashes and soot bore witness to the raging fire that accompanied the Babylonian destruction. Among the charred rubble, excavators found five arrowheads: four of iron, and one of bronze. The bronze arrowhead was of the Scytho-Iranian type used by the Babylonian army. The iron arrowheads were typical of those used by the Israelites. Lying in the ashes, these five small artifacts gave poignant testimony to the furious clash that preceded the fall of Jerusalem.