During the last five years there have been several significant discoveries in Biblical archaeology, all of which have one thing in common - a name; a name of a place or of a person, a name which can transport our minds back, like a time-machine, to a particular individual or place that we've read about in the Bible record. This amazing list includes:
a pottery shard bearing the name of "Goliath", which was found in the Philistine city of Gath;
a large building in Jerusalem, which was possibly the palace of king David (reviewed in our most recent article - see "Archives");
an impressive seal which some people believe might have belonged to the infamous Jewish Queen Jezebel;
the seal of "Jehucal son of Shelamiah", a Jewish noble who is mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 37 (also reviewed in our most recent article);
a small inscribed tablet which includes the name of a senior Babylonian official who is referred to in Jeremiah 39;
a section of wall in Jerusalem, which possibly dates from the period of Nehemiah's rebuilding of the city's defences following the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile;
the tomb of king Herod the Great, one of the worst tyrants and undoubtedly the greatest builder in Jewish history;
the Pool of Siloam, in which the blind man washed after Jesus had restored his sight.
During the next few months we hope to look more closely at some of the items on this list and consider their relevence to the Gospel message. And we might also discuss one or two more questionable recent "discoveries".
But let's begin the series with two names.
The Philistines were a part of the wave of "sea-peoples" mentioned in the Egyptian records who invaded the coast of Palestine around 1150BCE. The Bible states that the Philistines eventually settled in five cities, ruled by "Lords", and which have all now been identified by archaeologists. According to the Old Testament there was intermittent warfare between the Philistines and the neighbouring Israelite tribes for several centuries.
The book of I Samuel, chapter 17, records the famous battle between an enormous heavily-armed Philistine champion named Goliath, from the city of Gath, who stood approximately 9 feet tall, and his opponent, a young Israelite shepherd named David, who was armed with only a sling, five smooth stones and an unshakeable faith in the Hebrew God. The outcome was the death and beheading of the Philistine by David, the subsequent rout of the Philistine armies and the end of Philistine domination of the Israelites (though not an end to the warfare between the two peoples, which continued for several centuries).
Although the name of David (or more specifically reference to the "House of David") was discovered on two inscriptions several years ago* no use of the name "Goliath" had been found outside of the Bible until 2005, when a fragment (shard) of pottery was discovered during an archaeological excavation at Tel es-Safi, the site of the Philistine city of Gath. The triangular-shaped shard is inscribed with two names, written in an early non-Semitic script, both of which are believed by linguistic experts to be directly related to the name "Goliath"!
The inscription dates to a period fifty to one hundred years after the date that the Biblical Goliath is thought to have lived (approximately 1,000BCE) and therefore it is not a reference to the slain Philistine champion himself. However the find confirms that names very similar to "Goliath", were in use by the Philistines in the city of Gath just as 1 Samuel records.
In addition the archaeological excavations of the Philistine cities have produced a remarkably similar picture of Philistine life and culture to the details given in the Bible.
David's victory over Goliath was a dramatic turning point in Jewish history. David himself went on to become the most famous and loved of Israel's kings. He was the author of many beautiful Psalms and a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ and his faith became an inspiration to subsequent generations of Jews and Christians. Furthermore, according to Ezekiel 37, David is destined to reign again over the Jewish nation at the time, in the not too distant future, when Christ will establish God's rule throughout the entire world and defeat all those nations and peoples who oppose his authority and justice. (Acts 13 v 22 - 23; Ezekiel 37 v 24 - 25; Zechariah 14; Revelation 11 v 15)
[*The Tel Dan stela and the stela of King Mesha of Moab]
Archaeological evidence of one small detail of the seige of Jerusalem by the armies of the Babylonians in 587 BCE came recently in the form of a small clay writing tablet. The inscription, written in cuneiform script, records how the "Chief of courtiers" sent a gift of a large quantity of gold to a temple at Esaggil in Babylon in the "tenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon" (i.e. in 595 BCE). And the name of this high official, "Nabu-sharrussu-ukin" is a variant form of Nabo-Sarsekim who is described in Jeremiah 39 v 2 as a "chief officer" (NIV) of the king of Babylon who came with other members of the king's court and sat in Jerusalem's Middle Gate after the walls of the city had been breached by Nebuchadnezzar's army.
There appears to be little doubt that the official mentioned in the inscription and the man who appears in Jeremiah's record are one and the same, thereby supporting the accuracy of Jeremiah's account of the episode.
This extraordinary discovery was made in 2007 by an Assyriologist, Professor Michael Jursa, during a visit to the British Museum's huge collection of cuneiform tablets and it adds to the considerable list of archaeological finds which are associated with Jeremiah, including clay bullae stamped with impressions of the personal seals of several people named in the book**.
As in the case of David's duel with Goliath the assault by Nebuchadnezzar's forces was a significant episode in the history of the Jewish people. But on this occasion, instead of celebrating a great victory the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the southern Kingdom of Judah were resoundingly defeated by the Babylonians, who tore down the walls of the city, set fire to its houses and palace and forced the survivors into exile in Babylon.
Stela of a Babylonian king (Nabonidas)
Despite the magnitude of this disaster however, which Jeremiah had predicted would be the consequence of the people's continual turning away from their God (Jeremiah 34 - 35), many of the Jewish people returned to their ravaged country after only fifty years had passed. They returned with a newfound strength and a renewed faith in God and the nation which they re-established survived for over four hundred years until the period of Roman occupation and the destruction of the city again in AD 70.
The 60th anniversary celebrations this year of the re-establishment of Israel in our present time and the nation's continuing confrontations with its hostile neighbours is a dramatic reminder that, despite Israel's refusal to recognise Jesus as their Messiah, God will never give up on his people until he makes Jerusalem the capital of his worldwide Kingdom, with Christ as its head. And our Heavenly Father calls on all of us, both Jews and non-Jews, to respond to the evidence of His presence and His grace with repentance, faith and love. (Micah 4 v 1 - 7; 1 John 5 v 1 - 5)
[**The seals include those of Gemariah son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 36 v 10 - 12, 25), Jehucal, son of Shelemiah (Jeremiah 37 v 3; 38 v 1) and Gedaliah the son of Immer the priest, possibly a brother of Pashur the son of Immer (Jeremiah 20 v 1).
Reference: Yitzhak Sapir, April 2006, "Jerusalem Conference and Temple Mount Immer Bulla". (blog article)]
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