Searching for Essenes at Ein Gedi, Not Qumran

Most Dead Sea Scroll scholars agree that Qumran, the settlement near the caves where the scrolls were found, was inhabited by Essenes, an anti-Temple Jewish sect in the years before the Roman destruction of 70 C.E. A stalwart minority of scholars maintains, though, that the evidence is insufficient—that in fact Qumran was not an […]

Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus
Earliest archaeological evidence of Jesus found in Jerusalem By André Lemaire

Amazing as it may sound, a limestone bone box (called an “ossuary”) has surfaced in Israel that may once have contained the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. We know this because an extraordinary inscription incised on one side of the ossuary reads in clear Aramaic letters: “James, son of Joseph, brother of […]

Dig Now 2002

Archaeology is not a spectator sport. It is slow and precise work, requiring long hours of dirty toil in punishing heat. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks are not served; no cheerleaders or marching bands entertain. Spectacular finds, the archaeological equivalent of home runs and touchdowns, occur, but irregularly. The team has no stars to clinch […]

Herod’s Roman Temple

For King Solomon’s Temple, the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre, supplied not only construction materials and masons (1 Kings 5:1–12) but apparently the architectural plan as well. The structure, as it is described in the Bible, is clearly a Syro-Phoenician building, for which archaeology has found several parallels in that cultural sphere.a Solomon made […]

Scrolls, Scripts and Stelae
A Norwegian collector shows BAR his rare inscriptions By Hershel Shanks

If you have a Dead Sea Scroll for sale, you should get in touch with Martin Schøyen (pronounced Skoo-yen) in Oslo. He is a prime prospect. He already owns several Dead Sea Scroll fragments—making him one of the few individuals in the world (I can think of only one other) who owns Dead Sea […]


Perhaps the greatest disaster to befall ancient Israel was the conquest, at the end of the sixth century B.C.E. and start of the fifth, by the Babylonian empire. The fall of Judah to this new regional superpower occurred in two stages: Major strongholds like the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Ekron fell to the […]

Herod’s Horrid Death

Physicians have long debated what caused King Herod’s death, but there is no doubt (or disagreement) that his demise was a horrid one. Many would say it was also well-deserved. We know the king’s symptoms in some detail from the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus actually wrote two accounts, the first in his […]

Israelites and Canaanites
You can tell them apart By Volkmar Fritz

Scholars have spilled much ink trying to understand the relationship that existed between the Canaanites and the Israelites before the establishment of the monarchy. Can the two groups—the Canaanites and Israelites—actually be distinguished in the archaeological record of Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C., the Biblical period of the Judges)? I should say at the […]

There Was No Gap

More than half a century ago, the dean of Biblical archaeologists, William Foxwell Albright, pronounced final judgment on the archaeological record for the territory of Judah between the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon’s king Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible] in 586 B.C.E. and the subsequent fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 B.C.E. […]

Ideology in Stone
Understanding the four-room house By Shlomo Bunimovitz, Avraham Faust

During the late 1920s, an expedition by the Pacific School of Religion discovered three houses of strikingly similar design at Tell en-Nasbeh, Biblical Mizpah. When the first of these was unearthed in 1927, excavators thought it was a temple, and Professor William F. Badè, the excavation director, held a church service in its ruins.1 […]

Yes There Was

Let me begin with several basic facts—more historical than archaeological—on which Joseph Blenkinsopp and I can agree.

Lasting Impressions
New bullae reveal Egyptian-style emblems on Judah’s royal seals By Robert Deutsch

I remember it vividly. It was September, 1991. I was a new, although not exactly a young, scholar, still working toward my master’s degree at Tel Aviv University. Professor Benjamin Mazar, the doyen of Israeli archaeology and former president of Hebrew University, invited me to a salon he regularly held in his apartment. […]

Philistine Kin Found in Early Israel

Almost from the beginning, the site of el-Ahwat was different—or, shall we say, strange. We first discovered it in 1992 during our archaeological survey of the hill country of Manasseh in north-central Israel. Seven dig seasons later we would come to identify it not only by excavating the site, but by delving into […]

Rare Incense Altar Raises Burning Questions

Khalil Iskander Shahin, whom everyone called “Kando” even then, slowly pushed the little bronze incense altar across the glass case in his Bethlehem antiquities shop. The year was 1953. He had not yet moved to Jerusalem, where to this day his sons continue to run his antiquities business near the École Biblique et Archéologique […]

Dancing in Denver
From one scholarly meeting to another By Hershel Shanks

I didn’t realize how big Denver is. I learned when trying to cover three (or four) meetings at the same time last November in two locations in downtown Denver and nearby Boulder. Together the meetings included about 8,000 people—Bible teachers, religion teachers, archaeologists and interested laypersons who came to hear some world-class scholarship. […]

Triple Play
The many lives of Jerusalem’s building blocks By Ronny Reich, Ya‘akov Billig

This is an article for people who like puzzles. Not crossword puzzles, but stone puzzles: The challenge is to figure out what the stones were used for—not once, but at three different times, for three different purposes. In solving this puzzle, you will discover a theater, 042a latrine and a palace—all in Jerusalem. […]

A Watermelon Named Abimelech

Then Abimelech went to Thebez … Within the city was a strong tower and all the people of the city fled to it, all the men and women, and shut themselves in; and they went to the roof of the tower. And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and drew […]

The Puzzling Channels in Ancient Latrines

In the previous article Ronny Reich and Ya‘akov Billig told us that the strange-looking grooves in the stones amount to nothing more that a flushing channel. But how does this channel work? It is, after all, the most important evidence that the stones had been used in a latrine. I admit my first thought […]

Chief Scroll Editor Opens Up—An Interview with Emanuel Tov

For more than a decade, Hebrew University professor Emanuel Tov has been in charge of the scholarly team that is publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls. It hasn’t always been easy; but now, with the 37th volume of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series rolling off the presses, the project is finally nearing completion. […]

Of Fathers, Kings and the Deity
The nested households of ancient Israel By Philip J. King, Lawrence E. Stager

043 Ancient Israelite society was structured in a way that few of us in modern times experience. Its focus was on family and kin groups organized around agrarian activities. Family and kin groups, in turn, generated the symbols by which the higher levels of the social structure—the political and the divine—were understood and […]

The Short List: The New Testament Figures Known to History

The relatively plain ossuary (bone box) described in the preceding article by André Lemaire is doubly important to the study of early Christianity. It is the earliest archaeological artifact ever found that refers to Jesus; in fact, it is the only nearly contemporaneous artifact that mentions Jesus. This gives it a breathtaking significance in […]

Biblical Detective Work Identifies the Eunuch

In the preceding article Phil King and Larry Stager explain that the Hebrew term ‘ebed, literally “servant,” can designate anything from a slave or household servant to a high royal official, a servant of the king. The same is true in English of terms like “secretary,” which can mean anything from someone who assists […]

Moab Comes to Life

We unexpectedly found a Moabite temple, the first of its kind ever discovered, during an excavation in 1999.

Return to Aphek

“You can count the centuries as we go down the stairs. We’re going from the 16th century A.D. to the 13th century B.C.,” says excavator Moshe Kochavi as he leads me to some steps inside the remains of ancient Aphek, about 9 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. Today a 16th-century Turkish fort, nearly […]

A “Centrist” at the Center of Controversy
BAR interviews Israel Finkelstein By Hershel Shanks

A debate rages among Biblical archaeologists: Was there a United Monarchy under David and Solomon? Should impressive ancient structures throughout Israel be attributed to Solomon or were they built a century later? How old is the text of the Bible? A key figure in this debate is Israel Finkelstein, codirector of the Megiddo […]

After Excavation
What happens when the archaeologists leave? By Hershel Shanks

You’re an archaeologist. You’ve carefully excavated a site and written an exemplary final report. Your obligation to history has been met. But what about the site? What happens after you leave? The answer seems obvious: It should be preserved. Of course, when it comes to Israel, the government takes care of its big […]

Bible Study Software
What’s right for you? By David Alan Rech

Despite claims that the World Wide Web will make it as obsolete as vinyl records and 8-track tapes, CD-ROM technology still has a long and useful life ahead of it. This is especially true of CD-ROM programs for Bible study. These programs enable you to study various Bible translations, perform word searches (some in […]

They Are Ritual Baths
Immerse yourself in the ongoing Sepphoris mikveh debate By Ronny Reich

050 Scholars have been arguing for some time about the purpose of several plaster-clad stepped pools in the ancient Galilean settlement of Sepphoris, just 4 miles northwest of Nazareth. Not long ago, BAR published the opposing views of two prominent scholars. Duke University professor Eric Meyers, who has extensively excavated at Sepphoris, insisted […]

Return to Lachish

“It feels good to be back,” says David Ussishkin as we approach the impressive mound of Lachish, a major military outpost of the Judahite kingdom that fell to a massive Assyrian onslaught in 701 B.C. The Assyrian king Sennacherib celebrated his capture of Lachish with a series of reliefs in his palace at Nineveh, […]

Return to Aroer
A trip through the ages with the ageless Avraham Biran By Steven Feldman

051 “Do you see those pottery sherds?” asks 92-year-old Avraham Biran as he points with his cane to the sun-baked earth of Aroer, an ancient site in the northern Negev. Not until I crouch close to the ground can I distinguish the reddish brown sherds from the stones and pebbles that cover the […]

Gorgon Excavated at Dor

It was a fitting climax. We had been excavating at Tel Dor—an 80-acre tell, or mound, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel—for 20 exciting years. This was to be our last season. It was near the end of the dig when we found evidence of a Greek temple—the first ever discovered in ancient Palestine […]

First Person: Carrying On Despite the Violence
The excitement of archaeology has not been diminished By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Publishing Every Last Fragment
The Dead Sea Scrolls editors don’t want us to miss a word By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Temple Mount Wall in Danger
Bulge appears near area of Muslim construction By Hershel Shanks
First Person: Is the Bible a Bunch of Historical Hooey?
Harper’s Magazine would have us believe so By Steven Feldman
First Person: The Anonymous Archaeologist
It’s time to link the finder with the find By Hershel Shanks
First Person: The Big Debate
The battle over the Bible raises more questions than it answers—but you’ll learn a lot if you listen in. By Hershel Shanks
Tafas, Syria
Nessana, Israel
Hawara, Egypt
Amaravati, India
Desborough, Northamptonshire, England
Eastern Mediterranean