From  the  book  by  the  same  name

Kings and Prophets  --  Sacred Signatures in Stone

Due to intensive archaeological research, Iron Age Judah is one of the best-known segments of the archaeology of Palestine.1

—Amihai Mazar

The late seventh century B.C.E. was a prosperous but tragic era. Biblical studies and archaeology together are revealing so much about this period as to make it one of the best known in ancient history.... Intensive archaeological field work, including both excavations and surveys, is responsible for making the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.CE. so well known.2

—Philip J. King

One of the most cherished of modern Christian allegories is known as "Footprints in the Sand." The story reminds us that at the most difficult times of life, when it seems that we walk alone and we see only one set of footprints in the sand, God has not been absent, but in fact has been carrying us!

There was also a time in Israel's history that it seemed that God had left the chosen people to survive on their own. The Israelites had chosen to be ruled by kings rather than the King, and so set their path in the course of all those nations that had gone before them. As a result, difficult times came. But in this time of national testing, God did not let His people walk alone. To guide them back to the proper path He sent prophets and priests, some of whom left their own "footprints," and as we shall see, even fingerprints, in the stones. Their "footprints" have left a firmer imprint than other events and people before this period of time-—-Iron Age II (1000-586 B.C.)—because the unearthed archaeological evidence improves vastly as we move forward from the end of Solomon's reign through Israel's Monarchy.

This evidence has improved our understanding of both the domestic and foreign context in which the people of Israel worked out their faith. One site that has greatly contributed to our knowledge of the foreign context is Tel Miqne, the site of biblical Ekron, which served as one of the main cities of the Philistines and the center of an important industry of the time. Recently a new and sensational discovery at the site has helped archaeologists to learn more about the Philistine presence.

Finding the Philistines

Identifying the Philistine People

In the Bible, one of the more prominent enemies of Israel was the Philistines. They emerged from a group of invading sea peoples from the Aegean during the twelfth century B.C. and became Israel's most formidable foe during the time of the Judges. They occupied a large place in the early history of Israel, crossing paths with such figures as Samson, Samuel, Saul, and David. And who does not know the Philistine names of the temptress Delilah or the giant Goliath?

The area inhabited by the Philistines was the Mediterranean coastal plain, and their access to this region, except during the brief reign of Solomon, prevented Israel from developing seafaring trade. It may have also prevented something else. One of the main trade and military routes, first called the "Way of Horns" and later the "Via Maris" ("Way of the Sea"), passed through their territory. Israel was called to be a witness of the true God to the nations—the very nations that regularly used this route. The Israelites' failure to possess this territory meant that this function of God's people was compromised during most of the Monarchy. Even though King David managed to bring the Philistine territory under Israelite control as a tributary (2 Samuel 8:11-12; 1 Kings 4:24), and Philistia was apparently forced to pay tribute as in the days of David's descendant Jehoshaphat, 873-848 B.C. (2 Chronicles 17:11), border conflicts still continued between the Philistines and Israel, as in the time of Ahaz, 731-715 B.C. (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Uncovering a Philistine City

One of these border towns, part of a pentapolis of Philistine cities mentioned both in Scripture and the Assyrian annals, was the town of Ekron. It was the earliest of the Philistine cities, built in the time of the Judges and totally destroyed—-most likely during the wars of David-—around 1000 B.C. This made it an important archaeological site for learning about the Philistines. Between 1983 and 1997 Israeli archaeologist Trude Dothan and American archaeologist Seymour Gittin worked to uncover the buried history of Tel Miqne, which they were certain was biblical Ekron. Summarizing Ekron's now-revealed history, Gittin says:

Around 1000 B.C.E., we also know that the Philistines ran into lots of problems: the inland people, the Judeans of the United Monarchy, overran the coastal plain for about 250 years, as reflected in the gap at Tel Mikne-Ekron. During this time the Philistines were of relatively minor importance, their cities had diminished in political and economic power. But around 700 B.C.E., with the coming of the Neo-Assyrian empire, everything changed. Ekron suddenly became re-urbanized, and a great olive oil industrial center was established. During this period of peace (the Paxis Syriaca), which lasted for about 100 years or well into the seventh century, Ekron prospered and became one of the great commercial centers in antiquity.3

At first the archaeologists could only play upon their hunches that this was the biblical site. The geographical situation at the junction of the coastal plain and the hill country of Judah was correct. The archaeological artifacts emerging from the tel appeared distinctively Philistine. Even so, after 14 years of excavation, nothing was unearthed that could definitively confirm this site as Ekron. Then at the close of the 1996 season, the last planned for the excavation, something unexpected happened. Seymour Gittin recounts the events of that day:

We had been looking for years for inscribed and written material at Ekron. Now when we began to excavate in the seventh century [strata] these huge monumental buildings, we were extra careful when we came across a stone that was shaped like a stele that would have had an inscription. Year after year, we carefully turned over these stones but we never found anything. But last summer the person in charge of Field 4, Steve Ortiz from the University of Arizona, approached me and said we have another candidate for a stele... please come and examine it, I think there is something scratched on this stone. I took a quick look and said, "No, it's just like the rest." After so many years of being disappointed, I thought this was another disappointment. Then, about 5 minutes later, he called me back and they had brushed away very carefully part of the upper segment of this stone and sure enough... there it was, wonderful incised lines—a foreign inscription. Although the stone was upside down and covered by a lot of debris, one could make out letters that clearly looked like old Hebrew or old Phoenician.4

What the searchers had found was a stone inscription that finally confirmed they were digging at the biblical city of Ekron. Remarkably, the stone identified not only the name of the city, but also the names of two of its kings. Never before had such an inscription been found in Israel in a historically identifiable context. Gittin describes this monumental find and its significance for biblical studies:

[This discovery is] one of the most exciting finds we have ever come across and no doubt will enter the annals of the archaeology of ancient Israel as one of the most significant epigraphic finds at least in this century. With the finding of this stone, we actually have the proof that this was indeed the ancient biblical site, the Philistine city of Ekron. Now the contents of the inscription, which is complete, contains 5 lines of 71 letters. This stone marked the dedication of a sanctuary in a huge temple complex. The king at the time, probably around 690 B.C.E., was Achish, the son of Padi, as the inscription tells us. He was the king of Ekron and built this sanctuary to his goddess. The information from this text, once it is published, will be extremely important for our understanding of this particular part of the biblical period. Of course this structure itself can be dated in terms of its last phase because we know that the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 603 B.C.E. came to Philistia and destroyed Ekron... and with this destruction comes the end of Philistine material culture. What [this text] says among other things is that these kings that we knew about from the Assyrian annals were actually the kings of Ekron. This is another reason why this inscription is unique, because for the first time we have a monumental inscription with the name of a biblical site and its rulers in situ [in the place where it belonged] and in a destruction level that can be dated. Put all that together and one word comes to mind: unique! This is quite an unusual find.5

Another unusual find, which dates from the final Philistine phase of Ekron (ending 603 B.C.), was a golden cobra (known as a ureaus), which formed part of a statuette's headdress. The statuette was of an Egyptian deity (or royal figure) that was associated with its Neo-Assyrian-type palace. Such foreign religious influences were one of the factors that adversely affected the Israelites and made the Philistines such a threat to the Israelites in their land.

With the completion of the excavations at Tel Miqne-Ekron, we are now able to trace the influence of the Philistines from their beginning in Israel through their demise at the end of the Monarchy period.

The Most "Dangerous" Site in the Country

After the death of Solomon in 922 B.C., the United Kingdom over which he reigned was divided, and Jeroboam I assumed kingship over ten of the tribes of Israel, which became known as the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 11:29-37). This weakening of the centralized government invited foreign attacks on both the Northern Kingdom and Judah, or the Southern Kingdom. One of the attacks on Judah that took place shortly after Solomon's death was by the Egyptian pharaoh Shishak, who plundered the Temple treasuries in Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:25-26). In 1994, an inscribed stele bearing his name was unearthed at Megiddo.6

After the division of the Kingdom, Jeroboam I of the north was afraid that the people of Israel would return to the House of David in the south (Jerusalem) because the Temple was there. So that his people could worship without making the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jeroboam I established two rival cult centers in the northern cities of Dan and Bethel, located at the northern and southern extremities of his kingdom (1 Kings 12:26-29). His rival symbol for the two cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem were two golden calves or bulls. This cultic object had historically preceded the Ark at the time of the Exodus, and Jeroboam made much of this precedence when he called Israel to worship at these locations (1 Kings 12:28). Professor Amihai Mazar explains:

We think that the cherubim in the Temple in Jerusalem were a kind of pedestal for the unseen God, so perhaps the bull was the parallel of the cherubim in the northern shrine. Of course they didn't have the Holy Ark itself, but perhaps it was kind of a religious symbol of an unseen god which perhaps was standing on, or carried by, these bulls [which] symbolized strength, power, fertility and so on.7

For God's prophets, these sites became the most dangerous in the country because they allowed for idolatrous enticements that would ultimately bring Israel to disaster. Hosea proclaimed God's indictment against the Northern Kingdom for this very reason:

Through Ba'al [worship] he [Ephraim = Northern Kingdom] did wrong and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves molten images, idols skillfully made from their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. They say of them, "Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!" Therefore they will be like the morning cloud, and like dew which soon disappears (Hosea 13:1-3).

Archaeology has now made Hosea's words come alive by revealing some of the defiling influences that were described by the prophet.

The Evidences of Idolatry

Ancient Altars in High Places

Dan, the northernmost of Jeroboam's cultic sites, is situated at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights and has been excavated over the past 31 years. Avraham Biran, who has directed these excavations, says, "We found the sanctuary which I am convinced is the sanctuary that Jeroboam built"8 This identification was confirmed by Biran's discovery in 1976 of an

50. Author with incense altar and shovel for removing ashes— discovered at Tel Dan.

inscription at the site, which read, "To the god who is in Dan." This high place (in Hebrew, called a bamah) mentioned in 1 Kings 12:31, was a square platform (60 - 62 feet) unearthed on the northwest side of the site. Mounted atop a flight of five ashlar steps, it was upon this platform that the golden calves were placed. In front of the platform was a large horned altar for burnt offerings. Evidently, this high place was completely destroyed in a violent conflagration (possibly under Ben-hadad), but some cult ritual objects were found, such as three large pithoi decorated with writhing snakes in relief, a clay bathtub and plastered installation that was probably used for libation ceremonies, a smaller horned altar, incense stands, an Astarte figurine, and several incense shovels.9

Cultic Calves

What about the golden calves? Biran conjectures: "The calves made of gold may have seen times of war. With all,that happened in that part of the country those hundreds of years, they may have disappeared."10 While the golden calves of Dan might never be discovered, archaeologists have found similar sacred bull figurines in other parts of the country. For example, in 1990 Lawrence Stager found a small bronze calf-idol (once burnished to resemble gold, along with parts of silver) in the remains of a Canaanite temple in Ashkelon, which was destroyed about 1550 B.C. Another bull-idol was discovered at a high place in Samaria, the ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom. Amihai Mazar, who recovered this figurine, recalls its discovery:

I found it on a shelf in a small collection room in a Mb-butz in northern Israel. A soldier, a member of this kibbutz, found it by chance during military training on a hill in the northern Samaria hills. When I saw it, I realized this was an important find. It is a bronze statue, quite heavy, about 9 inches long showing a young bull. This soldier took me to this hill and we excavated there for 2 days... and we found on this hill a large circle of stones, and a few pottery shards (twelfth century B.C.) this was probably part of a [ritual] system [of which] more than 250 sites of this type are known, but very few excavated. This particular place probably was a kind of ritual place which the Bible calls a bamah, a high place on top of a hill surrounded by a standing stone, known as a matsebah. I interpreted this place as one of the earliest examples of such an open cult place which can be related to Israelites from the biblical period. The Israelites imagined their unseen god standing on such a bull. So the golden calf in the temples of Dan and Bethel perhaps played this role and the fact that we find such a beautiful bull in a site which is perhaps related to the religious practice of Israelites in this early period is of great significance to the history of this religious symbol in Israel.11

The prophets record that the cult's contamination in the north was complete. All of its kings were corrupt and their social sins eventually brought the nation to condemnation. The last king to reign in the Northern Kingdom was Hoshea (732-722 B.C.). As if providing a last glimpse at the foreign influences that condemned the empire, archaeology has revealed the royal signet seal of the king. Inscribed in Hebrew with the words "belonging to Abdi, servant of Hoshea," the seal depicts an Egyptian figure standing above a solar disk (a symbol of the god Ra).12 The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 701 B.C. (ACTUALLY  718  B.C. - Keith Hunt) by the Assyrians, who deported the population and replaced them with foreigners who would continue the religious conflict with Israel. Eventually the people in the Southern Kingdom would emulate the sins of their neighbors to the north, but because Judah had an irregular succession of godly kings, the people were spared from judgment for more than another century.

The Eradication of Idolatry

The last of the godly Judean kings was Josiah. He attempted to reverse the terrible apostasy brought by his ungodly grandfather Manasseh. He repaired the Temple, rid the sacred precincts of idols, reinstalled the Levites to service, and returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 35:1-3). His reforms extended to all of Judah with the imperative to remove all traces of idolatry from the kingdom (2 Chronicles 34:33). Evidence of this reformation was recently unearthed at Ein Hatzeva, which is identified with the biblical site of Tamar (Ezekiel 47:19).13 At this site on a hilltop near the southern bank of the Hatzeva spring in the desert region known as the Arabah (about 32 miles south of the Dead Sea), an Edomite shrine was discovered dating from the late First Temple period (time of Josiah). Set near the great trade circuit known as the "Spice Route," it had apparently served as a roadside cultic high place at which travelers could appeal to their gods for a safe journey.

The evidence of reform was seen in the more than 70 deliberately smashed pottery and stone cult objects lying beneath the piles of rocks that were used to destroy them. Some of these smashed relics included altars, statues, incense burners, libation vessels, chalices, and human-shaped incense stands. The intentional destruction of a shrine so far south shows the extent of Josiah's religious "clean up" operation. Such far-reaching action reminds us in our age of apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-7) that if we are to see a revival in our day it must come without compromise, leaving no realm of business, trade, or entertainment untouched in our pursuit for purity (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).

Evidence of Jerusalem's Demise

The Babylonian Chronicles

Josiah's last-minute reforms were not enough to rescue the Southern Kingdom from the intoxication of idolatry. One of the surprising revelations from the extensive excavations in Jerusalem is that more idols have been discovered in this sacred city than anywhere else in the whole country. Many of these were fertility figurines, betraying the awful influence of a still-pervasive Canaanite culture. It's no wonder, then, that when the prophets pictured the ideal sanctity of a future restored Jerusalem, they described it as a day when "there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord" (Zechariah 14:21). This fact underscores the magnitude of Judah's abominable acts, which the prophets predicted would lead to Jerusalem's fall to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army.

We have an archaeological testimony to some of the events surrounding this downfall in two tablets of a group known as the Babylonian Chronicles. These cuneiform tablets were bought by the British Museum late in the nineteenth century, but were not translated until 1956. Unlike other propagandist inscriptions designed only to bolster the reputation of a conqueror, these tablets present a factual historical record written in a simple and straightforward manner. One entry in this chronicle records Nebuchadnezzar's first advance against Jerusalem:

The seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Babylonia mustered his forces and marched to Syria [Syria-Palestine]. He camped against the city of Judah [Jerusalem] and on the second day of the month of Adar he took the city and captured the king. He appointed a king of his own choice there, took its heavy tribute and brought them to Babylon.

Based on our knowledge of calendar systems from other archaeological finds, the dates indicated in this report can be translated precisely. The date Nebuchadnezzar gathered his troops was December 598 B.C., and the date of his invasion of Jerusalem was March 16, 597 B.C. The biblical text identifies the Judean king as Jehoiakin (Jehoiachin), and Nebuchadnezzar's appointed replacement as Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:10-17). This tablet ends with an entry in the year 594 B.C., which implies that the next tablet in the series would record the crucial years 587-586 B.C, the dates of the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Unfortunately, the next surviving tablet begins with events that took place in 556 B.C. Perhaps the lost tablet that lies in between will one day be found, but we do have other discoveries that record some of the events of those fateful days.

The Lachish Letters

One archaeological record that bears a grim testimony to the actual siege and conquest of the city are some ostraca known as the Lachish Letters (586 B.C.). These ostraca, recovered from a room near the gate of the city of Lachish (Tel edh-Duweir), a Judean city only 25 miles from Jerusalem, offer something of the drama of those final hours. Even the emotional pathos of the moment has been preserved for us. One ostracon depicts Lachish's military commander Ya'osh's last-minute cry for help as the lights were seen to go out at the nearby outpost of Azekah in the wake of the dreaded Babylonian army. Though written in the customary language of polite formality, we can still feel his desperation when he writes, "May Yahweh cause my lord to hear news of peace, even now, even now!" News of peace, however, did not come, and the Babylonians marched right over Lachish and into Jerusalem, setting fire to the city when they captured it (2 Kings 25:8-10; Jeremiah 39:8).

The Israelite Tower

51. Israeli archaeologist Hillel Geva, excavator of Broad Wall and Israelite Tower—shown standing next to a portion of the Israelite Tower.

The terrible fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians is still recorded in the stones of the city. In a deep pit (now housed within a school basement in the Old Jewish Quarter), often overlooked by tourists, are the remains of a structure that saw the invasion of those last days. Located just north of the Broad Wall, the Israelite Tower, excavated by Israeli archaeologists Nach-man Avigad and Hillel Geva, is a remnant of the ancient city's defenses. Dramatic remains at this site show a thick deposit of burnt earth (a conflagration layer) and numerous fallen iron arrowheads, all evidence of the fierce battle that took place here at the northern perimeter as Babylonian battering rams broke through at this point and torched Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Bullae, Bullae!

Two Significant Finds

Ironically, the very fire that destroyed the First Temple also uniquely preserved a part of her heritage. In 1982 in the Babylonian destruction level at David's City (Area G), on the lower terrace just east of the remains of an Israelite four-room house known as the House of Ahi'el, a cache of 51 small clay "buttons" were discovered.14 Baked hard by the fire, these "buttons" were in fact ancient clay seals inscribed with the names of their owners. Although the fire destroyed the papyrus documents on which the seals had been placed, the fire had helped to preserve the seals against time. The technical name for such seals is "bullae," and so the place where they were found is called "The Bullae House." Seldom does archaeology reveal artifacts bearing the names of people mentioned in the Bible, but among these bullae was found the bulla of "Gemaryahu [Gemariah] the son of Shaphan." This name, which appears a few times in the book of Jeremiah, was the name of a scribe who served in the court of King Jehoiakim (see Jeremiah 36:10-12,25-26). He was one of those who advised Jehoiakim not to burn the scroll of Jeremiah, which contained Jeremiah's prophecies from 627-605 B.C. (see Jeremiah 36:25).

In addition, a hoard of over 250 inscribed bullae surfaced in 1975 through an Arab East Jerusalem antiquities dealer.15 They, too, must have come from David's City, and most likely were removed in illegal digging and sold on the black market. Found among this collection was a seal bearing the name of Ishmael, who assassinated Gedaliah,16 the inter-exilic governor of Judah appointed by the Babylonians after Jerusalem's destruction. Another seal had the name "Berekhyahu [Baruch] son of Ner-iyahu [Neriah] the scribe."17 This Baruch was none other than the confidant and personal scribe of the prophet Jeremiah himself! He was a strategic part of the drama during the last days of the First Temple, and was once "hidden by the Lord" with Jeremiah when King Jehoiakim sought to arrest them (Jeremiah

52. The site of a four-room house in David's City. The Bullae House, with its 51 seals, was discovered at a lower level in front of this structure.

53. Four clay bullae seals as they would appear on a papyrus document. Pictured from left to right are the seals of Gemaryahu ben Shaffan (Jeremiah 36:9-12), Berachyahu ben Neryahu the Scribe (Jeremiah 36:4), Azaryahu ben Hilkyahu (ancestor of Ezra), and Shefatyahu ben Tzqfan.

36:26). But an even more exciting revelation concerning this scribe was yet to come!

Bulla with a Fingerprint

Recently it was revealed that another bulla with the name of Baruch existed in a private collection in London.18 This seal, however, has an incredible difference. Preserved in the now-hardened clay is the imprint of a finger. Since this bulla belonged to Baruch, he is the one who would have last touched it when sealing the papyrus scroll it secured. Therefore this is most likely the actual fingerprint of Baruch himself!19 Who knows what might have been written on the scroll sealed by this bulla? Could it have been a copy of the sealed deed of purchase mentioned in Jeremiah 32:14, or perhaps even a copy of Jeremiah's prophecies? Whatever it was, with this fingerprint we now may have an image of the very hand that helped pen a book of the Bible!

An Ancient Tomb with Treasure

Inscribed bullae are a kind of treasure from the past. Yet real treasure has also been found from the period of the Monarchy. Because Jerusalem has been repeatedly plundered (about 30 times), and for centuries had been combed by grave-robbers and Bedouin who sought antiquities for foreign buyers, no one expected to find any buried treasure left in the city. But in 1975, First-Temple burial caves were discovered underneath the rocky escarpment upon which St. Andrew's Church of Scotland presently stands. In 1979, excavations at this site (called Ketef-Hinnom and located across the Hinnom Valley from the western walls of the Old City) uncovered one of the richest finds ever discovered in Jerusalem. Among the treasures removed from a tomb at this site, known as repository chamber 25, were a vast assortment of jewelry and other items. Gabriel Barkay, who directed this excavation, reports:

Inside this one chamber of the repository we discovered more than 1,000 objects, among them more than

54. Bulla ofBaruch, Jeremiah's scribe (fingerprint is at upper left portion of the seal). 

360 intact pottery vessels, around 120 objects made of silver and several beautiful pieces of jewelry, earrings, finger rings, pendants, and around 150 beads of different colors and materials made mostly of semi-precious stones.... an inscribed seal used by one of Jerusalem's bureaucracy, probably a man in the service of one of the Judean kings [We also found] 40 arrowheads made of iron, some with the tip bent— which meant that they must have been shot at extremely stiff-necked Jerusalemites!20

Changing the History Books

Barkay's humor aside, the excavation held more surprises for both his team and for biblical historians throughout the world:

Inside this cave we also had some surprises. Inside the repository we had pottery finds which prove that the cave was still in use after the destruction of Solomon's Temple during the Babylonian's rule in Jerusalem. More than this, we also found a coin made of silver minted on the island of Kos in the Aegean in the sixth century B.C. This was shortly after the beginning of coinage and shows that the Jerusalemites had commercial contacts with the Aegean sea and the knowledge of this new means of exchange. This changes what is written in all history books about Jerusalem; these books have a gap following the destruction. In Jeremiah 40:41, we find a hint that people came from Samaria and the northern provinces to Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple to offer incense and offerings, at the site of the destroyed Temple. So cultic activity continued in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, and [Jewish] people probably lived there. Here in this place we have the continuous use of a burial cave with pottery which dates to the sixth century B.C., the time of the Exilic period. This is a clue to the continuous existence of Jerusalem in a period in which we didn't think that Jerusalem existed.21

Another surprise that made a significant contribution to biblical understanding was a discovery made in another burial cave (Cave 20). Barkay explains:

Cave 20 is a multi-chambered burial cave with a central hall with openings to burial chambers on all sides. The interesting thing about this cave is the fact that we have part of the original ceiling preserved. If we go to the biblical connections, we find this is a very important contribution because at the meeting point between the ceiling and the walls, there is an angular cornice. The

[55. Lamps and juglets in situ from Cave 25 at Ketef-Hinnom, the richest treasure trove ever discovered in Jerusalem.]

angular cornice measures exactly two palms in height and projects from the wall exactly one palm, or four fingers. Now in 1 Kings 7:9-11 it mentions that Solomon built his buildings in Jerusalem of ashlar blocks of well-hewn stones which were sawn, and he built the walls of his structures of these stones "from foundations to the coping." The Hebrew original has "from the foundations unto the hand-breadths." The hand-breadth is four fingers and is [equivalent to] 1/7 of a cubit. So they measured these cornices with hand-breadths and mathematically it fits exactly together with many other parallels in burial caves which preserve this element.22

This discovery provides us with a measurable example of the building practices that were employed in Solomonic building projects and probably those that followed during the Monarchy. It also gives us the accurate dimensions of a biblical cubit (which in this case followed the royal cubit of about 20 inches). (BUT  THE  CUBIT  AT  DIFFERENT  TIMES  WAS  A  DIFFERENT  MEASURE;  SO  NO  "ONE  CUBIT"  FOR  ALL  CAN  BE  DOGMATICALLY  CLAIMED  THROUGHOUT  THE  BIBLE  -  Keith Hunt). But the greatest surprise of all was to come from Cave 25, as Barkay reveals:

Cave 25 was subdivided into smaller areas under the supervision of Gordon Franz from New Jersey. Inside also was a student of mine, Judith Hadley of Toledo, Ohio (today a teacher at Villanova University in Pennsylvania). She called me over and showed me an object still in the ground which looked like a cigarette butt. It was purplish grayish in color.... It was made of silver foil, 99 percent pure—something which has biblical connections because it mentions being purified seven times as silver [Psalm 12:6]. It was a silver plaque rolled up in order to form an amulet. During the sifting of dirt from inside the repository after the excavations inside, we found another object of the same nature-—-rolled up to form a small cylinder. When these two objects were unrolled with enormous difficulties, over three years' [time], we found out that they were covered with delicately scratched characters in the ancient Hebrew script. The surprise was that the first word to be identified and deciphered was the name of the Lord, the tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable name which is sometimes Anglicized as "Jehovah." Now we discovered that on both amulets we have a text which is almost similar to the book of Numbers 6:24-26, known as the priestly benediction which is used in Jewish prayers and in Christian liturgy until this very day.... These are the earliest biblical verses that we own, and they predate the famous Dead Sea Scrolls by several centuries. And these are the only biblical verses we have that date back to the time of the Davidic dynasty, the time of the Judean monarchy, the time of the First Temple period. It's a sensation because we did not anticipate ever finding any written text which correlated with the biblical text from such an early period.23

Archaeology by Accident

The discovery of this most extraordinary unrobbed tomb is quite interesting. Barkay had not expected to find such treasure because when they first excavated the site it had almost been destroyed by quarrying. Most of the upper chamber of this tomb had been quarried away, and the roof and walls were missing. As they looked at the bare rock floor it appeared that everything that had once been contained in the room had been removed long ago. However, there was a local boy who hung around their excavation and kept bothering Barkay. So Barkay decided to put him to work at a dead-end job that would keep him out of the way—-sweeping the bare rock floor of Cave 25! The boy, eager to please, did his job too well. He swept so hard that he swept right through the floor! And no one noticed until he started bringing out artifacts! It was then that the group realized the "floor" was not a floor at all, but the collapsed ceiling of the cave, which had long ago buried everything and hidden the fact from every grave robber till that day! So this bothersome boy instead became the biggest blessing in the history of the excavation!

What About the Message of the Prophets?

Archaeology has revealed the stage on which the kings and prophets of Israel acted out their roles in the divine drama. It has revealed their footprints and even fingerprints in the stones as physical evidence of their spiritual message. But is their message—especially the message of the prophets—-trustworthy? Archaeology has revealed that the prophets did speak and that their message accurately fits the historical context. However, many modern scholars question the concept of predictive prophecy within the prophets' messages because it requires that a person believe in the supernatural. In the next chapter we will examine the issue of predictive prophecy and compare some of the prophets' messages with the archaeological record to see if there is corroboration or contradiction.