TOP 10 Biblical Archaeological Discoveries of 2021

The work of archaeologists takes years, sometimes decades. The painstaking work of excavation and screening gives way to long periods of waiting, analysis and interpretation of the results obtained. Over the 12 months of 2021, we have witnessed regular news about archaeological finds and discoveries – some of which were quite expected, while others were quite unexpected – deepening and expanding our understanding of the world of the Bible.

Here are 10 top stories from the world of biblical archeology for 2021:

10. Green garden of Herod the Great

King Herod, known in Scripture for ordering the killing of infants who might have been the same age as Jesus, turns out to have a passion for gardening. Recently, soil samples from excavations of his palace in Jericho, taken nearly 50 years ago, were analyzed, and pollen particles have revealed sophisticated gardening.

Miniature pines, cypresses, cedars and olive trees grew in clay pots. Many tree species did not usually grow in the desert near Jericho, making the garden a showcase of Herod’s greatness, a horticultural feat to amaze guests and subjects.

9. Herod’s seaside entertainment complex

In his day, Herod was known for the dramatic layout of his palaces and fortresses, and this Roman-style building, a public building for public events, was no exception. The huge building, larger than a football field, was first excavated over a century ago, but now it continues to be excavated and developed to attract visitors to Tel Ashkelon National Park. The final renovation will include a small antique theater, marble pillars and capitals, and huge marble statues of pagan deities.

8. Border monument of the biblical pharaoh Hophra 

Found in a farm field in northeastern Egypt, this memorial stone bears the name of one of the few pharaohs named in the Old Testament. Bethrius led an Egyptian military campaign to Judea to help King Zedekiah resist the invasion of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. This campaign was only temporarily successful, and according to the prophecy at Jeremiah 44:30, Pharaoh was killed by his enemies after a disastrous raid on Libya. The stele contains 15 lines of hieroglyphs (not yet translated).

Mostafa Vaziri, general secretary of the Egyptian High Council of Antiquities, described it as a border stele that “the king erected during his military campaigns to the east.”

7. Unknown Egyptian city

On the western bank of the Nile, not far from Luxor, a previously unknown city was discovered. Believed to be one of the largest cities ever found in Egypt, it dates back to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. This pharaoh was the grandfather of Tutankhamun, but more importantly, the grandson of Amenhotep II, whom many evangelical scholars consider the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

The city looks like it was suddenly abandoned. The residents may have been driven from their homes when Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, rallied workers to build a new capital in central Egypt. What remains today may reveal many details of daily life in Egypt during the time of Moses.

6. Crucifixion of the foot

The Roman practice of crucifixion is well known from ancient sources, including the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. But until December 2021, the only archaeological evidence of a crucifixion was cave burials found in Israel in 1986.

Earlier this month, it was announced that a skeleton had been excavated from a grave in Fenstenton, Cambridgeshire, England, with a nail driven into the back of its right leg. The burial dates back to around 400 AD, during the Roman occupation of England.

5. Even more discoveries of the Dead Sea

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the results of a four-year excavation project in hard-to-reach caves along the Dead Sea coast. The finds included arrowheads, coins, combs, the mummified remains of a girl, and dozens of biblical passages. Scroll fragments containing passages from Zechariah and Nahum are not related to texts produced by the Qumran community known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, they shed light on the long work of translating and deciphering the Holy Scriptures.

For archaeologists, the most surprising discovery was the basket, whose age is about 10 thousand years. The find, with its intact lid, dates from the pre-pottery Neolithic period, making it the oldest basket ever found. It recalls the basket in which the baby Moses was hidden, or the basket in which the remnants of food were carried when Christ fed the crowd in the Gospel, or the one that helped the Apostle Paul escape persecution when he was lowered from the wall of Damascus.

4. In Yavne

The modern city of Yavne, located between Tel Aviv and Ashdod, has borne a lot of fruit in the form of archaeological discoveries in the past year. During the preparation of sites for the construction of new housing, archaeologists discover amazing artifacts.

About 1,500 years ago, Yavne was an industrial center for wine production, producing about half a million gallons of the drink a year. Archaeologists have discovered five huge wine press production areas, as well as four huge warehouses and kilns for burning wine storage vessels. They also found old wine vessels from the Persian period, dating from around 300 BC. e.

Decades after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, Yavne became a spiritual center, home to many rabbis and the Sanhedrin. A building from this period has been excavated and a beautiful large 1600-year-old mosaic is being restored.

Perhaps the rarest find in Yavne was a 1,000-year-old intact hen’s egg.

3. Temple Mount Banquet Hall

A luxurious public building located next to the Temple Mount has been excavated and opened to the public. Part of the structure was first discovered by British archaeologist Charles Warren in 1867 and partially excavated in 1966. Now that the excavations are complete, archaeologists date the construction to the 20th year of our era – that is, the time of the life of Jesus.

The building had two identical rooms, separated by an elaborate fountain. The opulent nature of the structure and its proximity to the Temple Mount indicate that it was likely used by elite members of the first century Jewish community, families of high priests, and other leading religious figures.

Archaeologists note that it was damaged by an earthquake in 33 AD then rebuilt and transformed into three vaulted halls. The date of the destruction suggests possible evidence of an earthquake recorded in the Gospels at the crucifixion of Jesus.

2. Jug of Gideon

 Jerub-Baal, the nickname given to Gideon in Judges 6: 31–32 after he destroyed Baal’s altar, means “Let Baal fight with him.”  Jerub-Baal was inscribed on a fragment of an earthen jug excavated at Khirbat al-Rai, a site near Tel Lachish in southern Israel.

It is unlikely that the jug belonged to Gideon himself. Khirbat er Rai is located about 100 miles south of the Jezreel Valley, where Scripture says Gideon took a small army and defeated a large force of the Midianites.

Archaeologists excavating at Khirbat al-Rai have dated the layer in which the pottery was found to 1100 BC as the period of the judges, but it was probably created about a century after the days of Gideon’s life if be based on biblical chronology. However, there is little archaeological evidence for this period, so the discovery linking the biblical name to this era is quite remarkable.

1. Second synagogue in Magdala

The University of Haifa in late December announced the opening of another first-century synagogue in Magdala. The first synagogue of Magdala, opened 12 years ago, is notable for being in use before the destruction of Jerusalem, when worship was still centered on the Temple.

Only a few synagogues from the first century have been excavated in Israel. Of these, these were most likely visited by Jesus during his ministry (Matt. 4:23), because of their location next to the road from Nazareth to Capernaum and their connection with the hometown of Mary Magdalene.

A second synagogue, less than 200 yards from the first, was discovered in preparation for a road widening project. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, this “changes our understanding of Jewish life during this period.”

Many scholars believed that synagogues flourished and acquired their religious function only after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. This new evidence seems to indicate that more religious activities were carried out in these synagogues, which at one time were more like community centers than previously thought.

Bonus: Philistine bananas

We know that King Solomon fed his guests with beef, lamb, venison and poultry, as well as bread, cakes, dates and other delicacies. But … Bananas?

The amount of water needed to grow bananas makes them an unlikely fruit in ancient Israel, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that some unexpected remains were scraped off the teeth of the Canaanites and Philistines who died during the reign of Solomon. Teeth don’t lie: they ate bananas. This points to “a dynamic and complex trade network connecting the Mediterranean region with South Asia.” Christina Wariner, an anthropologist at Harvard and one of the leading researchers, said the imported fruit could have been dried like today’s banana chips.

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