The Best is Yet to Come!

We made it. After 34 years, 199 issues and many months of anticipation and preparation, we are happy to present this special section in celebration of BAR’s 200th issue. To mark this milestone, we decided to take a look back at what has made BAR the magazine it is, from the photos, fights and […]

This Place Is for the Birds
New Testament tower? By Boaz Zissu

Surely one of the most exciting moments in the life of a Biblical archaeologist is finding something that seems to illuminate the Biblical text. The recent discovery of the Siloam Pool where, according to John 9:1–7, Jesus cured a man who had been blind from birth, is certainly one prime example. Cheek-by-jowl to the […]

The Wall That Nehemiah Built

Even before Nehemiah came from Babylonia to Jerusalem in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., he knew that he wanted to rebuild the broken-down walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3). When he arrived, he promptly made his famous night journey around the city, surveying the dilapidated city wall (Nehemiah 2:11–15). On the eastern slope, […]

“Secret Mark”: Introduction

In 973, when Morton Smith presented to the world the Clement letter and an unknown “secret” gospel of Mark, was he revealing an amazing Biblical manuscript discovery or attempting a risky scholarly stunt? With the help of the experts, our four-part treatment sets the scene of the find at Mar Saba monastery in the […]

Digs Go Digital

If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer on an archaeological dig, our annual guide to excavations has all the info you need to find a dig that’s right for you. And when it comes time to pack for your trip, don’t forget your hat, sunscreen, work gloves—and your laptop. With all of the amazing scientific […]

How BAR Was Born
A reason to return to Jerusalem By Hershel Shanks

In 972 Hershel Shanks took a sabbatical from his legal practice in Washington, D.C. He and his family went to Jerusalem for a year. Once there, the Shanks family became part of a network of friends and colleagues who comprised some of the archaeological luminaries in the Holy Land at the time. That year […]

How Lot’s Wife Became a Pillar of Salt

Abraham famously argued with God about his decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” the patriarch asks the Master of the Universe. “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous […]

“Secret Mark”: An Amazing Discovery

Southwest Missouri State University professor Charles Hedrick opens the discussion by setting the stage for us, as we asked him to do, without revealing his own belief in the authenticity of Secret Mark. In 1958 Morton Smith, a 43-year-old Columbia University history professor, spent the summer looking for ancient manuscripts and handwritten entries in […]

Letters We Loved
Memorable missives from readers

Where would we be without our loyal readers? No sooner had the first issue been mailed out than we began receiving letters back with compliments, criticisms and questions. Two hundred issues later, our readers are as engaged and outraged as ever. We love reading every single letter that comes in—and we hope you do, too. So, from “snail mail” to e-mail and Web Talkbacks, we present some of our most unforgettable Queries and Comments.

Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King
How an antiquities market find solved a 42-year-old excavation puzzle By Robert Deutsch

In Isaiah 22 the prophet rails in God’s name against the excesses of the officials in King Hezekiah’s palace. Among those he singles out is Shebna, the steward who is “in charge of the house [palace]” (Isaiah 22:15): What have you here and whom have you here, That you have hewn out a tomb […]

“Secret Mark”: Morton Smith—Forger

In true BAR fashion, we wanted to present the case for a forgery, a position numerous scholars hold. After being turned down by three major scholars who embrace this position, editor Hershel Shanks undertook to summarize the evidence himself. An increasing number of scholars are concluding that the Clement letter containing excerpts from Secret […]

Double Identity
Orpheus as David. Orpheus as Christ? By Jas’ Elsner

A splendid mosaic now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is said to portray Christ as Orpheus playing his lyre. A similar figure in a synagogue mosaic discovered in Gaza in the 1960s—resembling the traditional form of Orpheus but labeled “David”—may be thought to support this interpretation of Orpheus as Christ. But on closer […]

Megiddo, Israel
Armageddon: Even better the second time around!

I had wished for this summer to come ever since the last day of the 2006 season at Tel Megiddo, when I fell in love with archaeology and decided that I had found a path for my future. Everything about my experience two years ago—the expert training, the enthusiastic team, the fantastic location and […]

“Secret Mark”: Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Complete Fool?

Harvard professor Helmut Koester presents a fascinating textual analysis of Secret Mark. Koester includes an account of his relationship with Columbia professor Morton Smith who discovered Secret Mark (or forged it) and why he believes it is authentic. Secret Mark makes a significant contribution to a better understanding of the transmission and history of […]

Good as His Word
Jacob manipulates justice By Raymond Westbrook

A legal obligation is not the same as a moral obligation. There is a formality in the law, especially the law of contracts, that sets it apart from the dictates of justice. The patriarchal narratives in Genesis derive much of their dramatic force—not to mention instructive power—from this tension between legal and moral […]

Biblical Archaeology in Focus
A tribute to photographer David Harris

There is no denying that a stunning site shot or an artistic artifact photo can make the past come alive in ways that writing alone cannot. We’ve worked with the world’s foremost photographers, museums and stock houses to illustrate BAR with the best possible photos, but we focus here on one man whose camera […]

Tel Dor, Israel
Making an archaeologist out of me

“Get tough or die,” as Dor veteran Merrill likes to say, is the best way to describe my first day working in Area D5 at the new Tel Dor expedition. At the start of the dig, we all naively thought we were going to be able to stay clean. What were we thinking? The […]

How the New Testament Gospels Developed

Finds of ancient manuscripts, often fragmentary, and quotations by the Church Fathers have shown that during the first and second centuries, at least ten gospels were circulating.1 The New Testament had not yet been canonized. That the Gospels were joined together in a collection of four and became part of what we know now […]

A Groundbreaking Call for Excavators
The dirt on the Dig Issue

After a first, modest appearance under the title “Opportunities for Volunteers” in the 1976 issue, a second call for participants was issued in an equally unassuming piece titled “Able-Bodied Diggers Sought” in the spring of 1977. By 1979, BAR had grown into the bi-monthly publication schedule familiar to our readers today, and the annual […]

Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time
Answers—and questions—at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Yossi Garfinkel has gone Biblical. After years of laboring in the pleasant orchards of prehistory, Yossi decided he needed a new and different site. The voluptuous (not to say zaftig) middle-aged goddesses of Sha’ar ha-Golan (a site about a mile south of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan Valley) had long since lost […]

Rare Magic Inscription on Human Skull

Not long ago, the well-known collector Shlomo Moussaieff acquired two earthenware bowls, the open ends of which were adjoined to form a kind of case—inside the case was an ancient human skull. A magic incantation, written in Aramaic, was inscribed on the skull. BAR readers already know about the more than two thousand magic […]

Early References to a Marcan Source

Our oldest extant manuscript of the Gospel of Mark dates from c. 250 C.E., that is, almost two centuries after its original composition. It is, of course, well established that the Gospel of Mark was written in the first century, because it was then used by Matthew and Luke at that time. Early in the second century, Bishop Papias of Hierapolis reports the existence of Mark’s gospel, but he does not quote any of its text.

Where Is It in the Bible?

Professor Nadav Na’aman has suggested that Khirbet Qeiyafa should be identified with the Biblical site of Gov, which was the location of two battles between the Philistines and the Israelites (2 Samuel 21:18–19), but following Anson Rainey’s suggestion, Garfinkel believes that it is Sha’arayim (1 Samuel 17:52), which means “gates” in Hebrew. As we […]

A New Reconstruction of Paul’s Prison
Herod’s Antonia fortress

The Antonia, the palace/fortress lavishly described by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus at the northwest corner of the Herodian Temple Mount, is not mentioned by name in the New Testament. For a long time, however, it was thought to be the “praetorium” where Pilate questioned Jesus and found him innocent. The praetorium is […]

A Tiny Piece of the Puzzle
Six-Letter Inscription Suggests Monumental Building of Hezekiah By Hershel Shanks

Ancient Jerusalem sometimes reveals itself in little bits. In this case, it is a tiny inscription with only six letters preserved. So little remains of ancient Israel in the City of David (the 12-acre ridge where the oldest inhabited part of Jerusalem is located) because later inhabitants continually destroyed evidence of earlier occupation. Over […]

“Secret Mark”: Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation

Hershel Shanks reveals his own conclusion about Secret Mark as a result of his study of the opposing arguments.

Ten Top Discoveries
Favorite finds throughout the years

Of course, we think every archaeological discovery reported in BAR is important—from the smallest seal or ostracon to the largest imposing fortress. But there’s no denying that some finds do stand out. The following ten examples are by no means exclusive; others would make different selections for their top ten. But that’s not to […]

A Look Inside the Antonia

The Antonia was almost a square building, approximately 86 meters (280 ft) on a side, with four towers, one on each corner. In my proposed reconstruction, the towers project slightly beyond the basic square. Three of the towers are 19 meters (62 ft) square and the fourth, the southeastern one is 22 meters (72 […]

New Studies of “Secret Mark” to Come—Please Help

Strangely enough, despite the dozens of books and articles written on whether Morton Smith forged the Clement letter, no one has turned to handwriting experts—until now.

BAR’s Crusades
You win some, you lose some

Despite what some may think, we do not court controversy. On the other hand, we do not shrink from it either. Nor do we hesitate to take up a worthy cause and fight for it—even if that means ruffling a few feathers. Some might think of them as “BAR fights,” but we prefer to […]

The Trowel vs. the Text
How the Amarna letters challenge archaeology By Nadav Naʼaman

“What would we ever do without the Amarna tablets?” asks the text scholar. “Oh, yeah?” replies the field archaeologist. “What would we ever do without the corrective of our excavated sites?” “Corrective?” says the text scholar. “Who needs the corrective, you or me?” And that, as they say, is the question. The Amarna tablets […]

Raising the BAR on Design
The changing face of BAR By Robert Sugar

Making piles of rocks and broken pottery look appealing can be difficult. But we have been fortunate in our long-time partnership with designer Robert Sugar and his studio, AURAS Design. Every other month they take our raw materials and turn them into an attractive and accessible magazine. On this occasion we let Rob share […]

Treasure in the Trash
The “Adonis of Dor”

Most people, when they first see this hauntingly beautiful mosaic discovered at Tel Dor, think it shows a woman, as did BAR editor Hershel Shanks when he visited the site in the summer of 2008. He compared it favorably with the Sepphoris mosaic that has been dubbed the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee,” suggesting […]

Twins: A Dangerous Pregnancy

To the woman he said, “I will make most severe Your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children.”

Past Perfect: Flora and Fauna of Mt. Sedom

Henry Baker Tristram (1822–1906) was an English clergyman, Biblical scholar, world traveler and ornithologist.

Where in the Wide World?

In 994, we started running a new department on the very last page of the magazine. WorldWide—as the name suggests—has been a place for us to look beyond our usual borders to explore the beautiful, mysterious and sometimes amusing artifacts that were produced by ancient cultures throughout the world during the Biblical period. For […]

How Did Israel Become a People?
The genesis of Israelite identity By Avraham Faust

It used to be easy to identify the earliest Israelites. They are referred to in a well-known hieroglyphic stele known as the Merneptah Stele or, sometimes, the Israel Stele. The Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II, proclaims in this stele dated to the end of the 13th century B.C.E. that “Israel is […]

The Riches of Ketef Hinnom
Jerusalem tomb yields Biblical text four centuries older than Dead Sea Scrolls By Gabriel Barkay

I’ve lived in Jerusalem for more than 59 years. I sometimes feel I can put myself in the shoes (or minds) of ancient Jerusalemites. I think I can tell better than most where these ancient Jerusalemites would have located different facilities.

Past Perfect: Itching to Sojourn in Tiberias

Alexander William Kinglake (1809–1891) was born in Somerset, England. He practiced law and served 11 years in the House of Commons, but his wealth and position in society led to a desire to travel abroad. He toured the Levant in 1844. Kinglake’s account of that journey, Eothen (“Towards the East,” 1849), changed the way […]

Past Perfect: A Knight in Bethlehem?

The prologue of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville begins in old-fashioned English, “I, John Mandeville, Knight, albeit I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the town of St. Albans, and passed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesu[s] Christ, 1322, in the day of St. Michael.” Although it […]

Tillya Tepe, Afghanistan
Eastern Desert, Jordan