biblical archaeology

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biblical archaeology,

term applied to the archaeologyarchaeology
[Gr.,=study of beginnings], a branch of anthropology that seeks to document and explain continuity and change and similarities and differences among human cultures.
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 of the biblical lands, especially those of the ancient Middle East. While the thousands of written texts found in the languages of the ancient Middle East illuminate the Bible itself, the artifacts uncovered by archaeologists help re-create the cultural setting of its time.

Biblical archaeology developed in earnest in the early part of the 19th cent. when the British biblical scholar Edward Robinson traveled across Palestine and opened the way for study of the area. The founding (1865) of the Palestine Exploration Fund in Great Britain further encouraged research; by 1900 biblical archaeological societies had been formed in Germany, France, and the United States. The system developed by Flinders PetriePetrie, Sir William Matthew Flinders
, 1853–1942, English archaeologist, a noted Egyptologist. He excavated ancient remains in Britain (1875–80), Egypt (1880–1924), and Palestine (1927–38) and was (1892–1933) professor of Egyptology at University
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 at Tel-el-Hesy (see EglonEglon
, in the Bible. 1 King of Moab. He was murdered by Ehud, who became judge of Israel. 2 City, ancient Palestine, near Lachish. It was one of the cities allied against Joshua, who destroyed it after the battle of Ajalon. It was excavated in 1890 by W. M. F.
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 (2)) to date pottery is of the greatest importance for the archaeology of Palestine, where spectacular monuments and written material are rarely found. Other important excavations in Palestine were undertaken at JerichoJericho
[Heb.,=fragrant, or city of the moon god], Arab. Ariha, town (2003 est. pop. 19,000), West Bank, in the Jordan valley N of the Dead Sea; nearby is the site of the ancient city of Jericho.
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 by John GarstangGarstang, John,
1876–1956, English archaeologist. He served as W. M. Flinders Petrie's field assistant in Egypt in 1899 and was professor of archaeology at the Univ. of Liverpool from 1907 to 1941, when he became professor emeritus.
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 and others, as well as at MegiddoMegiddo
, city, ancient Palestine, by the Kishon River on the southern edge of the plain of Esdraelon, N of Samaria, located at present-day Tel Megiddo, SE of Haifa, Israel, near modern Megiddo. It was inhabited from the 7th millennium B.C. to c.450 B.C.
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, SamariaSamaria
, city, ancient Palestine, on a hill NW of modern-day Nablus (Shechem). The site is now occupied by a village, Sabastiyah (West Bank). Samaria (named for Shemer, who owned the land) was built by King Omri as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel in the early 9th
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, GibeahGibeah
[Heb.,=hill]. 1 In the Bible, home town and capital of Saul; the present-day Tell el-Ful, the West Bank, 3 mi (4.8 km) N of Jerusalem. A fortress that may have been Saul's residence was excavated there. Bibliography

See L. A.
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 (1,) Beth-shanBeth-shan
or Beth-shean
, ancient town, at the meeting of the Vale of Jezreel with the Jordan valley. It was the most strategic point of E ancient Palestine, with the crossing of four roads. References to it in the Bible are numerous.
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, LachishLachish
, city, S ancient Palestine, SW of Jerusalem, in present-day Israel. It is mentioned in the Tell el Amarna letters and was one of the Amorite cities allied against the Gibeonites and destroyed by Joshua. Rehoboam fortified it, and Amaziah was murdered there.
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, Ezion-geberEzion-geber
or Ezion-gaber
[both: Heb.,=giant's backbone], ancient port, on the Gulf of Aqaba. The site, near Aqaba, is now some distance from the shore, which is advancing.
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, and HazorHazor
1 Fortified city of N Galilee, 5 mi (8 km) SW of Lake Hula, in present-day Israel. Strategically located in ancient Palestine on the road leading from Egypt to Syria and Asia Minor, it was occupied from the early Bronze Age to Hellenistic times.
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 (1.) Outside Palestine the important archaeological discoveries in the old lands of EgyptEgypt
, Arab. Misr, biblical Mizraim, officially Arab Republic of Egypt, republic (2005 est. pop. 77,506,000), 386,659 sq mi (1,001,449 sq km), NE Africa and SW Asia.
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, SumerSumer
and Sumerian civilization
. The term Sumer is used today to designate the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. From the earliest date of which there is any record, S Mesopotamia was occupied by a people, known as Sumerians, speaking a non-Semitic language.
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 (see also UrUr
, ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia. The city is also known as Ur of the Chaldees. It was an important center of Sumerian culture (see Sumer) and is identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham. The site was discovered in the 19th cent.
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), BabyloniaBabylonia
, ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C.
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 (see also GilgameshGilgamesh
, in Babylonian legend, king of Uruk. He is the hero of the Gilgamesh epic, a work of some 3,000 lines, written on 12 tablets c.2000 B.C. and discovered among the ruins at Nineveh.
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 and HammurabiHammurabi
, fl. 1792–1750 B.C., king of Babylonia. He founded an empire that was eventually destroyed by raids from Asia Minor. Hammurabi may have begun building the tower of Babel (Gen. 11.4), which can now be identified with the temple-tower in Babylon called Etemenanki.
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), AssyriaAssyria
, ancient empire of W Asia. It developed around the city of Ashur, or Assur, on the upper Tigris River and south of the later capital, Nineveh. Assyria's Rise

The nucleus of a Semitic state was forming by the beginning of the 3d millennium B.C.
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, ByblosByblos
, ancient city, Phoenicia, a port 17 mi (27 km) NNE of modern Beirut, Lebanon. The principal city of Phoenicia during the 2d millennium B.C., it long retained importance as an active port under the Persians. Byblos was the chief center of the worship of Adonis.
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, Nuzi, UgaritUgarit
, ancient city, capital of the Ugarit kingdom, W Syria, on the Mediterranean coast N of modern Latakia. Although the name of this city was known from Egyptian and Hittite sources, its location and history were a mystery until the accidental discovery (1928) of an ancient
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, and JordanJordan,
officially Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, kingdom (2005 est. pop. 5,760,000), 35,637 sq mi (92,300 sq km), SW Asia. It borders on Israel and the West Bank in the west, on Syria in the north, on Iraq in the northeast, and on Saudi Arabia in the east and south.
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 (see also Moabite stoneMoabite stone
, ancient slab of stone erected in 850 B.C. by King Mesha of Moab; it contains a long inscription commemorating a victory in his revolt against Israel. It was discovered at Dibon, Jordan (1868), by F. A. Klein, a German clergyman.
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) did much to increase knowledge of the Bible.

The Palestine Dept. of Antiquities, founded 1918, encouraged research until the turbulent years preceding the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; since that time some of the most important archaeological work in Palestine has been conducted by Israeli archaeologists, e.g., the excavation of the ancient tel (an artificial mound formed by the debris of settlements of ancient cities) of Joppa in 1948 and 1955 and the work at Arad from 1962 to 1967. Herod the Great's impressive building projects at Caesarea are being extensively investigated. Outside the borders of Israel, a large cache of clay tablets came to light in 1975 at Ebla (Tell Mardikh in Syria)—the center of a large Caananite empire that flourished c.26th–23th cent. B.C.

After two centuries of biblical archaeology, it is possible to read the Bible in a new light. It has become clear that ancient Palestine was an integral part of the whole cultural area of the ancient Middle East. Archaeology confirms the existence of fertility cults in Canaan and supports the theory that there was not a sudden era of conquest by Hebrew tribes in the premonarchical period. Excavations have also failed to find evidence that would support many of the biblical descriptions of the monarchial period.

Archaeology cannot confirm theological truths or articles of faith. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea ScrollsDead Sea Scrolls,
ancient leather and papyrus scrolls first discovered in 1947 in caves on the NW shore of the Dead Sea. Most of the documents were written or copied between the 1st cent. B.C. and the first half of the 1st cent. A.D.
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 in 1947 and in the subsequent decade and the finds at sites in the vicinity of QumranQumran
, ancient village on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is famous for its caves, in some of which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Archaeological work at Qumran has yielded a profile of its history.
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 have revolutionized the understanding of Judaism in the New Testament era. The discovery of several manuscripts of the Greek New Testament of the 2d and 3d cent. A.D., the finding of the Nag HammadiNag Hammadi
, a town in Egypt near the ancient town of Chenoboskion, where, in 1945, a large cache of gnostic texts in the Coptic language was discovered. The Nag Hammadi manuscripts, dating from the 4th cent. A.D.
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 corpus of Gnostic scriptures in 1946, and the steady publication of Egyptian papyri in the 20th cent. have enlarged perceptions respectively of the accuracy of the New Testament text, the diversity and vibrancy of early Christianity, and the kind of Greek in which the New Testament was written.

Bibliography

See A. Negev, ed., Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (1972); H. D. Lance, The Old Testament and the Archaeologist (1981); P. Matthiae, Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered (1981); W. G. Dever, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (1990); A. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000–586 B.C.E. (1990); F. M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran (1995).