Bible Archaeology


New Testament

(Remember  this  book  is  full  of  photos  and  pictures.  This  website  is  strictly  text;  hence  I  can  put  a  great  deal  on  here  that  makes  it  possible  to  publish  all  the  studies  and  books  for  your  education  -  Keith Hunt)




The Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of ancient documents dating from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D., were found in eleven caves near the Qumran settlement on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Cave One was discovered in the spring of 1947 by two bedouin children from the Taamireh tribe near Bethlehem. This cave contained a number of important scrolls of the Bible and other literature of the community that produced them. Most scholars have identified this community of Jewish monastic-type religious devotees with the Essenes, the third largest sect of Jews in ancient Israel, according to Josephus (War 2.119-161). This identification, however, is not accepted by everyone. In an intensive investigation of the area around the settlement by both bedouin and archaeologists, a few more scrolls and thousands of fragments were subsequently discovered in ten other caves.

Besides the Manual of Discipline, some of the more important scrolls include the two scrolls of the Book of Isaiah, the Commentary on Habakkuk, the scroll of the War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, the Thanksgiving Hymns, and the Temple Scroll.

The Qumran community

The settlement at Qumran was excavated in the mid-1950s by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, and the Palestine Archaeological Museum.

Excavations confirmed that a Jewish community lived here that was engaged in the production of manuscripts of the Bible as well as other religious literature. They were zealous for Jewish tradition but refused to take part in the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, feeling that it had been profaned by Roman influence. Several large mikvaoth (baptistries) were found in the settlement, connected to each other by aqueducts that fed them from the nearby Judean hills. These were used for ritual purification. The self-described purpose of the settlement, according to chapter eight of the Manual of Discipline (or Community Rule) found among the scrolls, was to prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. They were thus attempting to avoid the defilements associated with Hellenistic society by isolating themselves here in the desert of Judea.

The importance of the scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been of enormous value in the reassessment of Jewish sectarianism in the Second Temple period (which includes  the time  of the New

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in Jerusalem's "Shrine of the Book."

Testament). They have also provided texts of some of the books of the Bible that are a thousand years older than the authoritative Hebrew texts of the ninth century A.D.

In addition the scrolls provide interesting background material for the study of the ministry of John the Baptist, who may at one time have been associated with this group.


Thus far, however, there is no evidence from Qumran that bears directly on either Jesus of Nazareth or the New Testament. The many outlandish claims of Christianity's dependence on Qumran published by early sensationalists have, upon more mature investigation of the scrolls, been shown to be without foundation.


On-going research

A half century has passed since the discovery of the scrolls, during which time they have been controlled by a very few scholars and unavailable to the scholarly world in general. However, pressure by the editor of the Biblical Archaeology Society and others has resulted in their publication and universal accessibility. This has made unlimited study available but is also producing a vast array of opinions and much scholarly debate and criticism. The Dead Sea Scrolls, far from being dead, continue to live and generate front page news. Many established news publications around the world have carried articles about the scrolls. Religious and scientific journals are constantly filled with the latest developments about these esoteric documents.

There appear to be more than 800 manuscripts of these scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic, compiled between the second century B.C. and A.D. 68, when the Roman army overran Palestine. All of the complete scrolls have been published, but there are thousands of fragments that are now available for study. These fragments are generating excitement and published opinions both from those who are qualified and those who are unqualified.

Release of the documents to the public in 1992, after unbearable pressure was applied to the unproductive publication committee, has predictably unleashed a torrent of speculation, argumentation, exaggeration, and downright fantasy about the nature, date, and value of these scrolls. As might be expected, there is widespread disagreement on almost every question relating to their discovery and interpretation as well as the history and identity of the Qumran community. Those who look back over a half century of familiarity with the scrolls have a sense of deja vu. It is as if they have returned to life; again we see them generating the same kinds of unrestrained and often irresponsible speculation that we saw originally.

The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Star at the birthplace under the apse of the Bethlehem church. Beneath a cross in the apse at the east end of the Nativity Church, this cave has a silver star laid on a marble pavement marking the spot venerated for centuries as the birthplace of Jesus. The cave is large, about 40 feet (12 meters) long east to west, 16 feet (4.8 meters) wide north to south, and 10 feet (3 meters) high. It actually consists of about ten sections, in the westernmost of which Jerome translated portions of the Latin Vulgate. He lived in Bethlehem from A.D. 386 until his death in 420.



Church of the Nativity

Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote by inspiration: "But you, 0 Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2). Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilled that prophecy, being born in the little village of Bethlehem, about seven miles south of Jerusalem.

The traditional place of the birth of Jesus is marked by the Church of the Nativity, constructed by the emperor Justinian (A.D. 527-565) over the remains of an earlier church built by Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, who reigned froM 306 until his death in 337. During her visit to the eastern provinces of the empire in 326, Helena had her scholars study the traditions and literature available to them while they were in the Holy Land, and they concluded that this cave was the place where Jesus was born. She then had Constantine authorize the construction of a small church there, the remains of which can still be seen inside the present building. She also had another church constructed at the place of Christ's ascension on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, wrote:

Thus did Helena Augustus, the pious mother of a pious emperor, erect over the two mystic caverns these two noble and beautiful monuments of devotion, worthy of everlasting remembrance, to the honor of God her Savior, and as proofs of her holy zeal, receiving from her son the aid of his imperial power. The Life of Constantine 3.43

Shortly after returning from her journey in late 327 or early 328, Helena died in Rome at the age of eighty. The church was finished before 333, when it is mentioned by the Bordeaux Pilgrim who, speaking of Bethlehem, wrote: "There a basilica has been built by order of Constantine."

Due to the scarcity of wood and the expense of constructing stables, it was customary in the Holy Land to build houses above caves, which could be used as stables for housing animals. Both Justin Martyr, in the second century, and Origen, in the third century, wrote about a cave beneath the church as the place where Jesus was born.


In 1875, the population of Bethlehem was about 3,000 and was almost entirely Christian. Bethlehem today is a town of about 30,000 inhabitants, about one-third of whom are Christians. This Christian population is rapidly decreasing as a result of emigration because of the Arab/Israeli conflict. If Bethlehem continues to be divided by the concrete wall built by Israel through the heart of the city, its economic structure, which is almost entirely based on pilgrims and tourists, may not survive.



The annunciation

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was living in Nazareth in the southern hills of Galilee when her miraculous conception of Jesus was announced by an angel of God: "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27).

Archaeological excavations, which were conducted in Nazareth by Bellarmino Bagatti in 1955 when the new Church of the Annunciation was erected, have revealed evidence of a Byzantine period church beneath this one. The first church built here seems to have been constructed by Joseph of Tiberias, an eminent Jew who converted to Christianity; upon request he was granted the privilege of building churches in Galilee by Constantine.

Excavations beneath the floor of the Byzantine church have shown that it was preceded by a religious site. On the basis of architectural features still in existence, including style and structure, it is suggested that the building dates to the third or fourth century and is a Jewish/Christian synagogue. A Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) that may have belonged to a still earlier synagogue was discovered beneath the mosaic floor. It is possible that the synagogue referred to in Luke 4:16, which Jesus attended, may have stood here prior to the fourth-century synagogue. It was customary for Jews to build new synagogues on the site of previous ones.

The Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Excavations conducted in Nazareth have revealed an agricultural settlement of the time of Jesus with numerous winepresses, olive presses, caves for storing grain, and cisterns for water and wine. Some of these stand below the Annunciation Church and the Church of St. Joseph to the north. Christian tradition connects portions of these with the dwelling places of Joseph and Mary. In Nazareth today, there is still in use a well called "The Well of Mary," which has traditionally been held to be one that Mary used. Across the street from this well, beneath the floor of the Cactus Cafe, a bath complex from the time of Jesus has very recently been discovered, which may affect current assumptions about the rural nature of the first-century village in which Jesus lived and worked for thirty years.


Top: Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The traditional spot of the annunciation is marked by the erection of the modern Church of the Annunciation, situated in the heart of the modern city, which was only a small village in the time of Jesus. Inside the church, the walls are covered with mosaics and paintings of the virgin Mary sent from countries all over the world.

Right: Excavations beneath the Annunciation Church.

Below right: Well of Mary by the Cactus Cafe, Nazareth.


Whereas today there are only four small ports on the Sea of Galilee, twenty-five years of research and exploration of the sea have resulted in the discovery of sixteen harbors that lined its shores in antiquity. This exploration has been made possible by years of record-breaking minimal rainfall and subsequent lowering of the depth of the sea, revealing piers, promenades, and breakwaters, along with ships' anchors, weights that were fastened to fishing nets, and mooring stones to which the ships were tied.

Capernaum: the village where Jesus lived with Peter

One of the sixteen harbors discovered is in Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where, or near where, the apostle Matthew lived and had his toll station collecting taxes (Mark 2:1, 13-14; Matthew 9:1, 9; 10:3). The harbor and the nearby roads made Capernaum an important location for collecting taxes.

The Synagogue in Capernaum

Excavations have been ongoing in Capernaum for many years and have recently revealed that the synagogue standing there is from the Byzantine period. Ten thousand coins excavated beneath the limestone floors have shown that the prayer hall dates to the fourth century and the adjoining room on the east to the fifth century. Further recent excavations beneath the structure have revealed walls of basalt stone 4 feet (1.2 meters) thick that belonged to an earlier synagogue. Archaeologists were able to date this earlier synagogue to the first century on the basis of the pottery found beneath the basalt cobblestone floor. Both the first and fourth-century synagogues were about 60 feet (182 meters) long, 80 feet (24.3 meters) wide and divided into three areas—a large nave and two narrow aisles, one on the east and the other on the west. Since Capernaum was a small village and likely had only one synagogue, this earlier synagogue is probably the one in which Jesus taught (Luke 4:33, 38).

After Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, he went to Capernaum (Luke 4:16, 29-31) the home of Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:29) and probably stayed with Simon Peter (Matthew 8:14-16). Capernaum is called his "home" in Mark 2:1 and 3:20. Almost 100 feet (30.4 meters) south of the synagogue in Capernaum, excavations revealed a smaller

In 1990, the Roman Catholic Church built a huge hexagonal chapel over the earlier fifth century octagonal room, which stood over the room where Jesus is thought to have lived. It is a popular place of pilgrimage for tourists.

The remains of the house of Peter before the Franciscan chapel was constructed above it.

octagonal building constructed over the remains of the stone walls of a first-century house. Excavators working from 1968 to 1998 suggest that this house is probably the house of Simon Peter. This is because, first, the walls are too narrow to support a masonry roof or a second floor, and the roof may thus have been made of wooden branches covered with mud such as the one that was "dug out" to lower the paralytic down to Jesus (Mark 2:4). Secondly, pottery found in the center room of the house shows that by the mid-first century it ceased being used for normal residential living. Thirdly, more than 150 fragments of plastered walls were found containing inscriptions from the mid-third century until the early fifth century. These inscriptions had been scratched on the walls in several languages, predominantly Greek, but also Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Latin, indicating that the room was a place of public attraction. The presence of Hebrew graffiti may indicate that at this time the building was being used as a house-church by Jewish-Christians. The inscriptions refer to Jesus as the Lord, Christ, the Most High, and God. One inscription says: "Lord Jesus Christ help thy servant." Another reads: "Christ have mercy." Various symbols, such as crosses in various forms and a boat, were also etched on the walls. In the fifth century, an octagonal structure was built over the room.

The total evidence available at the present time, therefore, seems to suggest that this chapel was built over a first-century house, that was set apart in the middle of that century as a public area. It had then been made into a church and venerated since as the house of Peter.

Excavations adjacent to and east of the synagogue and house have revealed remains of a Roman bath-house, constructed in the first century B.C. A number of buildings oriented in the same direction as the bathhouse, and dating to the first century A.D.

The Galilean Boat

The newly-exposed seashore on Galilee, as a result of lower rainfall, has revealed the remains of a rather well-preserved wooden boat. An interesting example of what this boat might have looked like has been provided by a recent discovery in Galilee. In January 1986 a boat was found buried in mud on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just west of the Kibbutz Ginnosar. Carbon 14 tests dated it between the first century B.C. and the end of the first century A.D., thus in the time of Jesus. It was excavated in February 1986 and found to be 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high (8 meters by 2.3 meters by 1.3 meters). It is the first work-boat found at an inland lake in the entire Mediterranean area. It was determined that the boat had a mast for sailing and two oars on each side. It would have

The preserved boat at Yigal Allon Museum, Ginossar.

accommodated about fifteen males the size of those who lived in Galilee in the time of Christ— the average male being about 5 feet and 5 inches tall (1.65 meters), and weighing 140

A reconstructed, Galilee sailboat on the east shore of the lake.

pounds (63 kilograms). Jesus and his disciples could easily have fitted into such a boat, the use of which is mentioned several times in the Gospels. Jesus was probably sleeping in the stern of a boat like this when a storm arose and began filling the boat with water. When he was awakened by his disciples, he commanded the storm to subside and "there was a great calm" (Mark 4:37-41). The excavators reinforced the fragile vessel by constructing fiberglass and polyester resin frames wrapped in thin plastic sheeting and sprayed with polyurethane liquid, which hardened into a protective shell. It was then transported 550 yards (500 meters) by sea, from its place of discovery to the Yigal Allon Museum at Ginnosar for proper treatment to insure preservation. A similar boat was found depicted in a first-century mosaic from the city of Migdal (Magdala), only a mile west.

It is a matter of special interest that this town became the object of Jesus' criticism. He pronounced a curse upon Capernaum as well as Chorazin and Bethesda (Matthew 11:20-24) because they did not repent in spite of the fact that he performed "most of his mighty works" in these villages (Matthew 11:20). These villages are still in ruins today, while Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Tiberias, Jericho, and others mentioned in the Gospels continue to thrive.

Chorazin: a town cursed by Jesus

Although the site of Chorazin is identified by excavated remains of basalt houses and a third-century synagogue, nothing from the time of Jesus is extant. It is identified with Khirbet Kerazeh, a site in the hills 2.5 miles northwest of Capernaum.

Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee

The city of Tiberias is mentioned only once in the New Testament. The Gospel of John records that after the feeding of the five thousand, which took place on the eastern side of the sea, Jesus perceived that the people were about to take him by force to make him king (John 6:15), so he told his disciples to go by boat across the sea towards the area of Capernaum and Bethsaida while he dismissed the crowds (Mark 6:45). John writes that the next day boats came from Tiberias to the place where Jesus had fed the five thousand, looking for him (John 6:23). So there is no clear evidence that Jesus was ever in the city of Tiberias.

Herod Antipas built Tiberias to replace Sepphoris as his capital. It was probably completed in A.D. 23. Excavations in the southern part of the city have revealed portions of a stone paved road and city gate with two circular stone towers south of the gate, each 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter,  all of which were a part of Synagogue at Chorazin.

Excavations at the stadium in Tiberias built by Herod Antipas.

Antipas' construction. Recent excavations east of the Jordan River Hotel have also uncovered a stadium, built by Herod Antipas.


Gergesa: where Jesus exorcized demons

Less than ten miles southeast of Capernaum on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a sixth-century Byzantine church was excavated that was probably built to mark the site of ancient Gergesa, where Jesus cast the demons out of a man and put them into a herd of swine, which immediately ran over "a steep bank" into the sea and drowned (Matthew 8:32; Mark 5:13; Luke 8:33).

The identification of the city has been problematical because three villages with names that are very much alike existed on the east side of the sea, and all three names appear in the accounts of the story in various manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. These names are Gerasa, Gadara, and Gergesa. Since manuscripts in ancient times were copied by hand, either from other manuscripts or from listening to the text, it was easy to misunderstand a pronunciation or misread a written name that looks or sounds like that of another well-known village. This is obviously what happened in the transmission of the Gospel texts, and thus we have diverse readings in all the manuscripts.

Since the miracle could only have occurred in one place, the question confronting textual critics of the Greek Ne Testament is which one of the names represents the actual geographic site of the story. The methodology of textual criticism requires that each of the three Gospel tex containing the term be evaluated in the light of the most probable reasons for scribal errors. The conclusion reached by textual critics is that the best Greek texts have Gadara in Matthew but Gerasa in Mark and Luke. Some of our oldest manuscripts, however, have the word Gergesa in one or more of these verses.


Since it was customary in the Byzantine period to build churches on sites where miracles were performed by Jesus, we are not surprised that in the fifth or sixth century a church was constructed on the site of El Kursi. Eusebius had identified this place in the fourth century with these words: "Gergesa where the Lord healed the demons. A village is even now situated on the mountain beside the sea of Tiberias into which also the swine were cast headlong."

The remains of a Byzantine church were unearthed in 1970, during the construction of a new road about 300 yards (275 meters) from El Kursi in the small bay nearby, there are remains of a well-constructed harbor. Excavations were begun here the next year, revealing the basilica type church, which had a narthex, an atrium, a nave, an apse, aisles, a baptistery, chapels, domestic rooms and a beautiful mosaic pavement with geometrical patterns, and representations of birds, fish, fruits, flowers, and plants. A mosaic in the baptistery has a dedicatory inscription in Greek that dates the mosaic to 585. Above the village, a number of caves and tombs have been found, matching the Gospel narrative, which says that the man who possessed the demons was living among the tombs (Mark 5:5).

Since textual criticism has thus not been able to provide a uniform answer to the question of where exactly this miracle took place, other factors have to be considered as well. On the basis of geography alone, neither Gerasa nor Gadara could be the site, because they do not fit the environmental demands of the texts. Gerasa, modern Jerash in the country of Jordan, is 37 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Gadara, modern Umm Qeis in Jordan, is 5 miles southeast of the sea. Neither site satisfies the text's statement that the pigs ran off a "steep bank" into the sea and drowned. Gergesa, modern El Kursi, is the only site of the three that is located on the Sea of Galilee (on the north end, about 9 miles east of Capernaum) and the only spot on the entire eastern side where the cliff comes out to the sea.

Bethsaida: the feeding of the five thousand

Excavations in the past decade on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee have uncovered remains of a village that archaeologists have identified as the Bethsaida where Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish (Luke 9:10). Fifteen years of excavation have shown that of the various candidates for the site, only et Tel, which was founded in the tenth century B.C., was occupied around the time of Jesus. The village, mentioned as often as Capernaum in the Gospels, is the birthplace of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44). The first century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus states that Philip, son of Herod the Great, gave Bethsaida the status of a city in A.D. 30, renaming it Julius in honor of Julia-Livia, the wife of the Roman emperor Augustus. Archaeologists have also discovered a temple, built on a typical Roman temple plan, that may have been erected as a part of the renaming ceremony. Although the site lies 1.5 miles north of the present shore of the Sea of Galilee, the sea extended farther north in the time of Jesus.


Excavations conducted in Sepphoris since 1983 have uncovered remains of the city, including a theater that was probably built by Antipas. Though only 4 miles from Nazareth, Sepphoris is not mentioned in the New Testament. However since Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, was a carpenter, it has been suggested that he and Jesus may have been employed in the construction of the city. Some excavators of Sepphoris argue that it may have been the popularity of the theater at Sepphoris that led Jesus to use the word "hypocrite" in his teaching. "Hypocrite," the classical Greek word for "stage actor," meant a person who practices deceit. It occurs seventeen times in the New Testament, all in the sayings of Jesus in the first three Gospels, and is used of people who only pretend to be pious and sincere.

Built on a mound, ancient Sepphoris guarded the western end of the Beit Netofa Valley. This ancient city, which Josephus, in the first century, called "the ornament of all Galilee" became an important capital of one of the five districts into which the country was divided after the Roman general Pompey conquered it in 63 B.C. In the winter of 39/38 B.C., at the beginning of his reign, Herod the Great took the city during a blinding snowstorm. But after Herod's death a rebellion in the city caused the Roman general, Varus, to burn it and sell its inhabitants into slavery. When Herod's kingdom was partitioned at his death, Sepphoris, with all of Galilee, was given to his son Herod Antipas who immediately rebuilt it, intending it to be subordinate to the city of Tiberias, which he eventually built on the Sea of Galilee and named for the emperor Tiberius. The city was almost entirely Jewish at this time, according to Josephus, who wrote that later under Agrippa I, "Sepphoris by submission to Rome, became the capital of Galilee and the seat of the royal bank and the archives." Sepphoris, a partially inhabited mound today, has been extensively excavated and turned into a national park with building; constructed over significant portions of the ancient remains. Among them are impressive mosaic floor depictions such as the beautiful female portrait dubbed "the Mona Lisa of Galilee." It is a mosaic panel which was part of the floor of a late third or early fourth-century public building. The panel comprises about 54 square feet (4.8 square meters)—9 by 6 feet, 2.7 by 1.8 meters—and is 75 percent complete. Mosaics are usually badly damaged due to earthquakes or rebuilding activity after military conquests. This stunning portrait depicts a woman of enchanting beauty, not unlike one found by the present writer in Caesarea Maritima dating to the same period. The opposite end of the panel contained another such portrait, but it was substantially damaged. The panel, containing fifteen separate scenes probably depicting the life of Dionysus, the Graeco-Roman god of wine and debauchery, may have adorned the floor of a banqueting hall.


Only 5 miles northeast of Nazareth, is another village visited by Jesus; in all four of its references in the New Testament it is called, "Cana in Galilee" (John 2:1, 11; 4:46; 21:2). This was the hometown of Nathanael, one of the disciples (John 21:2).

It was in this village that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a marriage (John 2:1-11). A Roman Catholic church and a Greek Orthodox church in the modern village of Kefr Cana (Arabic for village of Cana) have long preserved the memory of that miracle, housing jars reminiscent of the six Jesus filled with wine, and this site has long been regarded as the Cana mentioned in John's Gospel.

There is, however, no archaeological or historical evidence in support of that claim, and in recent years excavators at Khirbet Kana (Ruins of Cana), 9 miles north of Nazareth, are building a case for the identity of that site with the Cana of Jesus' miracle.


On one occasion, Jesus "came into the district of Caesarea Philippi" (Matthew 16:13) with his apostles and there told Peter "upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). The city lay in the extreme northeast section of modern Israel, in the forested area near the foot of Mount Hermon. According to Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, Caesarea Philippi was given to Herod the Great by Augustus Caesar (Antiquities 15.360). Philip, the son of Herod, received the territory and the city from his father and renovated it (Antiquities 18.28).

Above: Distant view of the northern sector of Caesarea Philippi. Remains of a magnificent palace have been excavated here; it has been identified by the white marble still attached to some of the walls as having been built by Herod Agrippa (the great-grandson of Herod the Great). An inscription discovered in Beirut records Herod Agrippa's practice of building with marble. This is the Agrippa before whom Paul appeared in Acts 26, and who made Caesarea Philippi his capital from A.D. 53-93. Excavated remains include portions of a reception hall, a public bathhouse and large circular towers that fortified the north-south colonnaded street that ran through the center of the city.

Right: The author in the palace of Agrippa I at Caesarea Philippi. Josephus says that Herod built a beautiful temple of white marble "in the region of Paneas" (modern Baniyas). This is probably the temple depicted on a coin found in the excavations there. The view on the coin is of the front of a four-columned temple. Excavations at Omrit in this region, less than 2 miles south of Banyas (Caesarea Philippi) began in 1999 and uncovered a temple like the one mentioned by Josephus. The discovery was first reported in 2003 in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Caesarea Maritima

Center of Roman Rule

One of the most extensively excavated sites in Israel is also named Caesarea, but since it is on the Mediterranean coast it is differentiated from Caesarea Philippi by being given its maritime designation, Caesarea Maritima. This Caesarea, completely built anew from the ground up by Herod the Great, stands on the coast, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa and in Herod's time covered about 154 acres (67 hectares).

Some of the street system of Herodian Caesarea has come to light, providing an idea of the layout of the city. The cardo maximus, the major north-south street, was about 13 feet (four meters) wide and was paved with stone in a herringbone pattern. It had mosaic sidewalks 18 feet (5.5 meters) wide, also paved with mosaics. The total width of the street was more than 52 feet (16 meters) and was lined with about 700 columns, many of which now lie in the harbor where they were placed as a breakwater in the Crusader/Arab wars.

Herod's temple, palace, and theater

Foundations of a temple that Herod built in honor of Roma, the goddess of Rome, and Augustus the emperor were found standing on a terrace above and east of the harbor. Josephus wrote of this temple: 

"On an eminence facing the harbor-mouth stood Caesar's temple, remarkable for its beauty and grand proportions; it contained a colossal statue of the emperor... and another of Rome." He also wrote that Herod named the city Caesarea in honor of Caesar (Augustus). This is one of the three temples in Israel that Josephus said were built by Herod to Augustus; the other two were in Caesarea Philippi and Samaria.

Recent excavations in Caesarea Maritima have uncovered the Promontory Palace of Herod with an adjacent pool about 1,000 feet (300 meters) south of the harbor. Very recently an Amphitheater built by Herod was uncovered adjacent to the north side of the palace. It was 985 feet (300 meters) long and 165 feet (50 meters) wide and may have had as many as 15,000 seats.

About 330 feet (about 100 meters) south of these structures, a later Roman theater still stands over the theater Herod built here; the earlier Herodian remains include the foundation of the spectators' seats and the drainage system.

The reconstructed seating area of the theater reveals that it would have seated approximately 4,000 people. Luke records that "on an apppointed day" Herod Agrippa I put on his royal robes, took his seat on his throne, and gave an oration to the people (Acts 12:21-23). Josephus places this event in the theater (Antiquities, 19.344) and writes, as does Luke in Acts 12:23, that when Herod accepted their acclamation of him as a god, he was immediately stricken with a severely painful ailment, had to be taken from the theater, and died within five days (Antiquities, 19.350). This took place in A.D. 44.

Roman Aqueduct at Caesarea

A considerable portion of the huge aqueduct Herod built to supply the city with water is still standing on beautifully constructed Roman arches. It brought water from a source about fifteen miles northeast of Caesarea and is one of the best known landmarks along the entire coast of Israel—a continuing monument to the work of Herod the Great.

The influence of Paul

Two fifth-century mosaic inscriptions of Romans 13:3 in Greek, were found in the floor of a large building (perhaps an imperial revenue office) across the street from the southern Crusader wall near the sea. They bear testimony to the influence of Paul in Caesarea in the earlier Byzantine period. The statement by Paul exhorts Christians in Rome to obey the authorities.

Further evidence of Paul's connection with Caesarea was found in 1997. It is also an inscription in a mosaic floor, which, according to the excavator, belonged to the official Roman bureau for internal security where Paul appeared before Festus (Acts 24:27; 25:1-6). The inscription reads: "I came to this office - I shall be secure."

The building complex where it was found is 161,000 square feet (15,000 square meters) in size and includes a large palace, administrative offices, a bathhouse, and courtyard. It has been described as a governmental complex, the only seat of Roman government unearthed in Israel, and one of the few ever excavated in the ancient Roman world. Since Roman rule over Palestine was centered in Caesarea, the Praetorium complex there functioned as the seat of Roman government from the beginning until the middle of the third century.

Mosaic of Romans 13:3 found at Caesarea. [in the book by the author - Keith Hunt]

Pilate Inscription found at Caesarea

In 1962 a stone was found that was originally part of a nearby temple honoring the emperor Tiberius, but had been reused in a step of the Roman theater. The stone contains a dedicatory Latin inscription stating that "Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius." This is the first and only reference to Pilate found in archaeological excavations. He was the prefect of Judea (a.d. 26-36) under whom Jesus was crucified. Tiberius was emperor from A.D. 14 to 37. The original location of the stone and the temple to which it refers are not known.

The Harbor

At Caesarea Maritima Herod the Great constructed the first artificial harbor in the ancient world. The Herodian harbor was much larger than the later Crusader one now standing. Part of its breakwater walls can still be seen beneath the surface, and excavations on the shore have uncovered portions of the dock and many warehouses. Josephus wrote: "Abutting on the harbor were houses, also of white stone, and upon it converged the streets of the town, laid at equal distances apart."

Josephus' description

Underwater excavations have shown that Josephus' description of the design and size of the harbor is substantially accurate. He wrote: "[Herod] constructed a harbor larger than the Piraeus [the harbor of Athens] ... the solidity of his masonry defied the sea, while its beauty was such as if no obstacle had existed … he had blocks of stone let down into 20 fathoms of water, most of them measuring 50 feet in length by 9 in depth and 10 in breadth [15.2 meters by 2.7 meters by 3 meters], some being even larger. Upon the submarine foundation thus laid he constructed above the surface a mole 200 feet [61 meters] broad; of which 100 were built out to break the surge, whence this portion was called the breakwater, while the remainder supported a stone wall encircling the harbor. From this wall arose, at intervals, massive towers ... numerous inlets provided landing places for mariners putting in to harbor, while the whole circular terrace fronting these channels served as a broad promenade for disembarking passengers. The entrance to the port faced northwards because in these latitudes the north wind is the most favorable of all. At the harbor-mouth stood colossal statues, three on either side, resting on columns."


Jacob's Well

On one occasion Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee, passing through Samaria where he paused with his disciples to rest at Jacob's Well. This well was near the village of Sychar (John 4:1-6), which was located slightly northeast of modern-day Nablus (ancient Shechem). That Jacob's Well was nearby is clear from the fact that a woman from the village, after speaking to Jesus, "went away into the city" (John 4:28).

A frequently visited well is still in existence near Nablus, but there is no literary evidence confirming the identity of the well before the church historian Eusebius referred to it in the fourth century.

The well is described in the Gospel of John as being "deep" (John 4:11). Arculf, a Frankish bishop and pilgrim, who visited the modern site about A.D. 670, saw a cruciform crypt built over the well, which was probably all that was left when the upper church was destined, and said it was 240 feet (73 meters) deep. In 1875, Lieutenant C. R. Conder found the depth to be 70 feet (21.5 meters). It is evident that across the centuries debris had accumulated in the bottom of the well.

The water level also fluctuated. In 1687, Henry Maundrell found 15 feet (4.5 meters) of water in it; Edward Robinson found 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.5 meters) of water in it in 1839, but in May of 1881 it was dry. It is evidently fed by underground rainwater and the level fluctuates.

During annual visits over the past thirty years, I have always found cold, refreshing water in the well. Archaeologically, it is of interest because of its geographic characteristics and location and the possibility that it could be the actual well where Jesus talked to the woman of Samaria about Jewish and Samaritan worship.

Excavations at Samaritan temple site on Mount Gerizim. The temple complex covered a hundred acres, including living quarters for about 1,500 people. 

The Samaritan temple

During their conversation, the Samaritan woman said to Jesus that her ancestors "worshiped on this mountain." She was referring to Mount Gerizim, standing on the south side of the village of Shechem. Her use of the past tense "worshiped" rather than the present tense "worship" (John 4:20), was necessitated by the fact that the Samaritan temple which had once stood on this mountain was no longer there. The temple had been built by the Samaritans around the time of Nehemiah (mid-fifth century B.C.) as a rival to the one in Jerusalem and, according to Josephus, was an exact replica. It was destroyed by the Hasmonean Jewish ruler John Hyrcanus II in 113 B.C., more than a century before the time of Jesus.

Excavations on the top of Mount Gerizim began in 1983, but only recently have the foundations of this temple been found; they measure 400 feet (122 meters) by 560 feet (171 meters). Temple walls 6 feet (1.8 meters) thick have been found, along with gates, altars, and inscriptions written in ancient Hebrew which the excavator says "indicates the Samaritans practiced Jewish customs, including prayers and sacrificial rites."



The little village of Bethany, identified with the modern village of el-Azariyeh, is the place where Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha lived. It lies about 2 miles east of Jerusalem (John 11:18), on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. Jesus visited Lazarus' family in their home here during the last week of his life. It was in this village that he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:1).

In the fourth century Eusebius described Bethany as "a village at the second milestone from Aelia [Jerusalem], in a steep bank of the Mount of Olives, where Christ raised Lazarus. The place of Lazarus is being shown even until now. This "place" is a tomb that tradition assigns to the story of Lazarus.

The original entrance to the tomb was on the east; the present entrance on the north was cut centuries later during the Muslim period. The tomb is small with a vestibule opening to the north through a narrow passage 5 feet (1.5 meters) long into the burial chamber, which is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) square. A church was built at the tomb in the fourth century but was destroyed, probably by earthquake. It was rebuilt with, subsequent modifications in the following centuries. The modern church, dedicated in 1954, stands over the ruins of previous constructions. There is no way conclusively to identify the tomb as that of Lazarus.


Pliny the Elder spoke of Jerusalem as "the most famous city of the East, and not of Judea only," and the Babylonian Talmud exclaimed: "Whoever has not seen Jerusalem in its splendor has never seen a fine city." Jerusalem is the most important city in the history of Israel because the Temple was built there by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C. After its destruction in 586 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, it was rebuilt and rededicated under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 516 B.C.

In the New Testament era the Jewish king, Herod the Great, renovated (actually rebuilt) and greatly expanded the Temple complex. An inscription of a donor to the construction of a pavement near the Temple has been recently found below the Double Gate in the southern wall of the Temple Mount. This discovery supports Josephus' earliest date of 23/22 B.C. for the beginning of Herod's work on the Temple.

For followers of Jesus Christ, Jerusalem is Israel's most important city because Jesus was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead there (John 19-21). Information on the appearance and composition of Jerusalem at the time of Christ has increased greatly in the past thirty years as a result of increased archaeological excavation.

The  City  Today

The city of Jerusalem today is about 4.25 miles (7 kilometers) square consisting of two distinct sections—the western, predominantly Jewish, section, which is about 4.2 miles (7 kilometers) north to south by 3 miles (5 kilometers) east to west; and the eastern, predominantly Arab, section, which is about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) north to south by 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) east to west. These boundaries, however, are incessantly disputed on the basis of whether one is speaking politically, historically, ethnically or purely emotionally What is now called "the Old City" is the roughly 0.6 square mile (1 square kilometer) area that stretches from the Kidron Valley on the east to the Jaffa Gate on the west and from the Damascus Gate on the north to the Dung Gate on the south. This was the area known as Jerusalem in the New Testament period. It was about 250 acres (102 hectares) and was surrounded by a stone wall that was built partly in the first century, was largely destroyed in later conquests, and then completely rebuilt in the sixteenth century by the Muslim ruler Suleiman the Magnificent.

The city wall today has seven active gates in it. The New Gate, Damascus Gate, and Herod Gate are in the north wall; the Stephen Gate is in the east wall; the Dung Gate and the Zion Gate are in the south wall; and the Jaffa Gate is in the west wall. An eighth gate, called the Golden Gate, once opened into the Temple Mount area through the east wall, but it has been blocked since the ninth century when the Arabs feared that one day a conqueror would enter the city through it.

In the northern wall of the old city of Jerusalem there is a gate located below ground level on the east side of the modem Damascus Gate. The lower portions of the wall here are built with the typical Herodlan-style stones used by Herod the Great, but they were probably later reused by Herod Agrippa in his construction of the northern wall. No evidence of Herod the Greats northern wall has yet been found. The rebuilt and over the gate has been dated to the time of Hadrian in the second century.