News of important archaeological discoveries in Israel is hardly rare. This land, a bridge connecting Europe and Asia in the north with Africa in the south, lies in the cradle of the earliest civilisation. Its relatively tiny territory is saturated with layer upon layer of human history.
Since way back in time, when it was known as the Land of Canaan, people have travelled through, and many have settled here, leaving evidence of their presence to be found when they no longer were. As every contractor knows, no sooner do the bulldozers begin work on a new building project than something ancient, and often invaluable – an aqueduct, human remains, ruined walls, treasure – is unearthed. (The work must then stop, until Israel’s Antiquities Authority assesses the find and grants permission for construction to go ahead – or not.)
From Dan to Beersheba, then, over the past 150 years or so, relics from the past have been painstakingly uncovered, first by Christian Biblical archaeologists like Conrad Schick (1822-1901), Charles Warren (1840-1927) and William Albright (1891-1971) and then, with intensifying fervour and in ever increasing numbers, by Jewish scholars of the science who “take pleasure in her stones, and show favor to her dust.” (Psalm 102:14)
Some call many of these discoveries God’s fingerprints, others His footsteps. I see them, as it were, as a divine sprinkling and burying of evidences and clues; verification left by God’s sovereign design as reminders, encouragers and proclamations for those who would see that He is, and that Israel is His. They also provide incontrovertible proof that the Jews, and not the Arabs, are the indigenous people – or First Nation – of this Land.
Topping the list of famous finds are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which included the entire book of Isaiah who, in his final chapter, foretells a nation being born in a day. This scroll was “God-incidentally” unearthed in 1947, the year the United Nations’ vote to partition Palestine had Jews dancing in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in anticipation of their national home’s rebirth.
Recent months have seen some exciting new discoveries publicised. Last August, for example, there were reports of evidence that a strong earthquake devastated Jerusalem somewhere around 800 BC – lining up with the Hebrew Bible’s accounts in Zechariah and Amos of a major temblor hitting the city.
On November 23, 2021, the Antiquities Authority announced that an 11-year-old had found a rare silver coin dated from the 1st Century AD. According to The Jerusalem Post the coin “was likely minted by a priest who joined the Jewish rebels against the Romans, which would make it one of the very few remains coming directly from the [Second] Temple.”
It was sifted from debris excavated in the clearing of The Pilgrimage Road – a recently discovered main thoroughfare believed constructed under Pontius Pilate – used by worshipping Jews to ascend to the Temple after ritually immersing themselves in the Pool of Siloam. And, concerning Siloam, a kerfuffle erupted a few weeks ago when news broke – but was then quashed – that the “Siloam Inscription,” taken from Jerusalem’s Hezekiah’s Tunnel and stored in an Istanbul museum in the 1890s, was to be returned to Israel.
Earlier, in April 2021, the Smithsonian Magazine reported the unearthing of part of a jug with the name “Jerubbaal” inscribed on it. In the Biblical book of Judges, the name Jerubbaal is used as a kind of nickname for the judge Gideon, and the pottery discovery is believed to have been the first time the name was discovered recorded outside of the text.
And speaking of names. It was, for some, nothing short of extraordinary when news reports in March this year addressed the discovery of two of the oldest inscriptions of God’s names ever found in the Land of Israel – one “Jewish,” the other “Christian.”
The first report was of the discovery of a “curse tablet” on Mount Ebal, the Mount of Cursing (Deuteronomy 11:29). In a peer review soon to be published, scholars say the tablet is inscribed in early Biblical Hebrew, and bears the name of God known as the Tetragrammaton: יהוה or, as we spell it, YHWH. (This is the name sometimes pronounced as Yahweh, sometimes as Jehovah, and written in capital letters as LORD in English-language versions of the Bible.)
“Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW. You will die cursed. Cursed you will surely die. Cursed by YWH – cursed, cursed, cursed” reads the lettering. We could find some interesting applications of that text to the modern-day effort to steal Ebal (and the rest of Samaria and Judea) from the Jews, but space restricts us here.
The second report was of a decision being made to move an entire prison in the Jezreel Valley – near the site of Megiddo – in order to enable visitor access to the oldest known inscription ever found in Israel that refers to Jesus as God. (see photo at top of article)
Uncovered during excavations in 2004, the mosaic letters read: “To the memory of the Lord, Jesus Christos.” The Jerusalem Post says this is the first mention in Israel of Jesus as God. Archaeologists assert that the mosaic is part of the floor of “the oldest Christian prayer house in the world.”
Which brings us to the conflict
As if there are not enough forms of war being waged in the Middle East – from military violence to the construction of architectural “facts on the ground” to economic assaults through boycotts and sanctions – an ongoing battle also rages in the realm of archaeology.
On two battlegrounds, in fact. One is a kind of religious battle over the Bible; whether its contents are factually and historically accurate, or misleadingly mythological. Between the archaeologists themselves we see these two schools or streams in the discipline: On the one side, those who seek to substantiate the veracity of the Bible with their discoveries; on the other, those out to disprove and discredit the Book with what they find. Many of these scientists would doubtless protest such a distinction which suggests that their motives are something less than highly professional and objective. And yet, almost invariably when I read news reports quoting new discoveries in the Land of Israel, there are those archaeologists who will hail them as being “proof of the Bible” and those who reject them as nothing of the kind.
The other battleground is the one over the rightful national ownership of the Land itself; which people have a longstanding history in the land, and which do not? Put crudely: Whose Land is this – the Jews’ or the Arabs’?
In any forum, when the Jews make their case for possessing the Land, they can upend onto the floor a mountain of millennia-old written and archaeological evidence to reinforce their claim.
When the Palestinian Arabs and their champions make presentation for their ownership of “Palestine” which, say they, has been theirs “from time immemorial,” the floor remains squeaky clean. There is not a single piece of physical evidence predating the 1960s to support their national claim.
It’s hardly the first time it’s being said, but it is a simple, irrefutable fact of history that there has never been a nation state called Palestine and there has never been a nation called the Palestinians. The Arabs who today call themselves by that name are out to construct themselves as a nation state on territory known for tens of centuries (again, indisputably) as Samaria and Judea, and considered by Jews everywhere, for millennia, to be their homeland. Which makes the international community’s “Two State Solution” nothing less than brazen land theft.
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