What Are the Biggest Old Testament Archeological Evidences of the Decade? Dead Sea Scrolls, Hezikiah's Clay Seal, and More

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Many readers today follow the Bible’s archeological evidence as it is uncovered. Excavations in The City of David in Jerusalem, the Ophal site, and underground reveal Old Testament secrets. In this post, I want to discuss breaking news that we have found throughout the year.

Before we begin, I enjoyed the perspective from a post by Tim Challies this spring, where he shared this perspective:

Biblical archaeology is a wide field offering modern readers fascinating insights into the everyday lives of people mentioned in the Bible. While archaeological findings don’t prove the truth of Scripture, they do have the potential to enrich our understanding and draw us into the world of the biblical writers—giving us a glimpse of the ancient world behind the living Word.

1.Dead Sea Scrolls

What Are the Biggest Old Testament Archeological Evidences of the Decade?
New Dead Sea Scroll caves were one of the five most significant Old Testament archeological evidence of the last decade

Seventy years after the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found, in 2017, according to CNN, excavations in the “Judean cliffside revealed a new cave full of storage jars and other antiquities.

“‘Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea Scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave,’ said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, one of the project’s lead archaeologists.

“Pottery shards, broken scroll storage jars and their lids—even neolithic flint tools and arrowheads—littered the cave’s entrance.” Sadly the cave had been looted, and only one pot had a scrap of rolled papyrus, which seemed to be prepared for a future use that never came.

In December 2016, another team returned the “Cave of Skulls” and found several new scroll fragments. These pieces were small and the writing was very faded, but these are the first new finds in 60 years.

For the Search Isaiah team, of course, The Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls, was the motherload of the last century’s archeological discoveries. It was the largest and most well preserved. Arranged in 56 columns and 24 feet long,  it contains all 66 chapters of our current Book of Isaiah. This makes it the oldest Old Testament source by 1000 years and the winner of the top five finds.

What Are the Biggest Old Testament Archeological Evidences of the Decade?
Seals or bullae of King Hezekiah (left) and of Isaiah (right). Photo: Courtesy Dr. Eilat Mazar.

2. Hezikiah’s Clay Seal / Isaiah’s Clay Seal

Early this year, Eilat Mazar, a renowned Jerusalem archeologist, revealed a clay seal with the name Isaiah on it. While the name Isaiah may have been frequent in the days of the Prophet Isaiah, the fact that this seal was found only feet from her previous discovery of Hezikiah’s Seal in 2015, may link the two bullae (seals).

It is consequential that these ancient bullae date to the appropriate times of Hezekiah and Isaiah and bear each of their names.  In Biblical Archaeology, Mazar wrote, “[If] this bulla is indeed that of the prophet Isaiah, then it should not come as a surprise to discover this bulla next to one bearing King Hezekiah’s name given the symbiotic relationship of the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah described in the Bible.”  Isaiah served as an advisor to King Hezekiah’s court and may himself been of royal lineage. In the Bible (see 2 Kings 19-20 and Isaiah 37-39), of the 29 times that the prophet Isaiah is named, 14 times it is in connection with King Hezekiah.

These two seals were among 34 found at the Ophel site. Each is small, measuring just 0.4 inches in diameter which makes them a remarkable find. But this site has offered a trove of other treasurers as the City of David is revealed.

3. The City of David

The Ophel excavation site at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Andrew Shiva.

In Biblical times Jerusalem, or the City of David, stretched across two hills after it was conquered by David. But 250 years later the city was much built up as recorded in 2 Chronicles 27:3 King Jotham “built the high gate of the house of the Lord, and on the wall of Ophel he built much.” This was likely a strategic fortification going back to King Soloman’s time.

Discovered only in the early 20th century, following chance finds, this biblical acropolis of First Temple Period in Jerusalem offers up new treasures every year. These include an inscription containing Jerusalem’s earliest known alphabet, a palace complex, other structures, a city gate, royal treasures (2015), towers, a royal ‘bakery’ and the seals of both King Hezekiah (2015) and this possible seal of Isaiah (2018), as described above.

Eilat Mazar, who has worked at the site for more than 30 years said, “politics” keeps archeologists from doing serious research on the Temple Mount which contains the richest relics from both the First and Second Temple periods. When asked what else she hopes to uncover, Mazar said that “the most important finds are written materials, because if you can get the archives of royalty from King David and Solomon until the destruction of the Temples, you learn the true history.”

4. The Pool of Shilom Found 

This pool had been misidentified for generations as a narrow, shallow ending to Hezekiah’s Tunnel and indeed not the grand bathing place described in the bible. Over the last two decades as archeologists have uncovered what was first just two steps, it now reveals an area 225 feet long on one side of the pool and the corners of another side.

Hezekiah’s is a sophisticated engineering feat that zigzags 1770 feet through limestone rock, bringing the waters of Gihon spring inside the walls of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam.

To tell the story behind the Pool of Siloam, one must go back to the times of King Hezekiah, the Prophet Isaiah, and the Assyrian King Sennacherib. This Assyrian King had conquered the Kingdom of Israel, then Judah, and finally readied an attack on Jerusalem itself. In preparation for this siege, King Hezekiah employed two teams of men to tunnel 1770 feet between the Ghion Spring, which was outside the city walls, to what would become the Pool of Shilom. They did not dig in a straight line but instead followed a serpentine route that gradually sloped into the pool inside the city walls.

In recent years and especially as the steps to this pool have been uncovered, scholars found their notion of the location correct. Until these recent excavations, archeologists had not understood its size, date of construction or other essential details.

BiblePlaces.com makes a wild prediction that  “this will be the archaeological discovery of the decade for biblical studies. At least there is no chance of it being declared a forgery.”

5. Lachish Gate Shrine

At the Tel Lachish National Park, the ruin of a shrine was unearthed adjacent to the city gate. After Jerusalem, Lachish was the second most important city in Judah. In 2016, archaeologists uncovered remains of a disfigured altar with horns cut from each of its four corners. They also found an unused stone latrine located in the holy of holies, both to desecrate the site which had likely been used for false worship. Both discoveries point to the religious reforms instituted by King Hezekiah, in 2 Kings 18:4

He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cutdown the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it

The dig’s director Sa’ar Ganor said this gate is the largest found in Israel from the First Temple period. Parts of this gate were uncovered decades ago but the current excavation was designed to completely expose the remainder of the ancient structure.

He reported: “An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies. To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls, and stands in this room. It is most interesting that the horns on the altar were intentionally truncated!

“That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah, whereby religious worship was centralized in Jerusalem, and the cultic high places that were built outside the capital were destroyed.”

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I am a retiree from Scouting. There I blogged for VoiceOfScouting.org, a site with more than 250,000 readers. During 42 years in the workplace, I've had many years senior level management with the BSA, professional associations, and high tech user groups. My background includes capital fundraising; outdoor adventure program development; property and construction management; event/conference planning; risk management and safety; lobbying federal, state and local government agencies; public relations; strategic planning; member advocacy and staff/volunteer training. Along the way, I have also taught Gospel Doctrine Classes and been both the ward and stake Sunday School President. In these settings, I have seen teachers and class members minimize Isaiah, a book Christ has commanded us to "search diligently." (3 Ne 23:1) With that in mind, I will do my best to explore and post my discoveries about the book of Isaiah. I am not a Bible scholar; like you, I read Isaiah in the Old Testament cycle of study in LDS Gospel Doctrine Classes and again in the Book of Mormon Cycle, so this is a whole new scripture adventure for me.

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