Archaeologists working in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David have uncovered part of a wall they believe was rebuilt in the time of Nehemiah (‘Elusive biblical Jerusalem wall finally found, Israeli archaeologist says,’ International Herald Tribune, November 29, 2007 Israel-Jerusalem-Dig.php).

Excavation leader Eilat Mazar, head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalembased research and educational institute, said the discovery came as a result of a rescue attempt on a tower which was in danger of collapse. She said that artefacts including pottery shards and arrowheads found under the tower suggested that both the tower and the nearby wall are from the fifth century BC, the time of Nehemiah. Scholars previously thought the wall dated to the Hasmonean period (142–37 BC).

Ephraim Stern, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Hebrew University and chairman of the State of Israel archaeological council, supported Mazar ’s claim. “The ma t e r i a l she showed me is from the Persian period,” the period of Nehemiah, he said. “I can sign on the date of the material she found.”

Not all scholars, however, agree with Mazar’s dating of the wall. Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the discovery “an interesting find”, but disputed the dating of the discovery. He said the pottery and other remains do not necessarily indicate that the wall was built in the time of Nehemiah. The wall could have been built later, he maintained, because the remains were not connected to a floor or other structural part of the wall.

Mazar has revised her interpretation of one of the discoveries associated with the excavation. In January she announced that her team working in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David had uncovered an inscribed seal that dated to the time of Nehemiah.. Reading the name on the seal as “Temech” (tav, mem and het), Mazar suggested that it referred to the family of that name mentioned in the Nehemiah 7:55 (translated “Tamah” in the kjv). Other scholars, however, suggested that Mazar had incorrectly read the inscription by not allowing for the fact that a seal creates a mirror image when it is used to inscribe a piece of clay. It was suggested that the seal actually bears four letters (shin, lamed, mem and tav) and that the correct reading is “Shlomit,” a name possibly identified with “Shelomith” in Ezra 8:10. Mazar has accepted this interpretation of the inscription (‘Seal controversy: from Temech to Shlomit’ Mazar/bswbMazarIntro.asp).

These discoveries come at a time when the Jews have returned to their land, and there is an interesting parallel between the return under Nehemiah and the State of Israel’s circumstances today. Modern Israel struggles to rebuild its state in the face of fierce opposition from the local inhabitants as did Nehemiah (2:19; 6:1,16). Nehemiah had the support of Persia, the great power of his day, as Israel has enjoyed the support of modern great powers like Britain and the United States in establishing its country. In the end, however, it will be the God of heaven Who will prosper Israel’s restoration (Neh 2:20), when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to reign as king and to take away the shame of his people (Zeph 3:16–20).

Although care needs to be exercised in hastily drawing conclusions from new archaeological discoveries, open and free scholarly discussion ensures that the evidence is rigorously analysed over time. Without doubt, the many discoveries of the past 200 years and continuing advances in archaeology confirm that our confidence in the biblical record is not misplaced.

Death of past editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls

John Strugnell, former editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scroll project and Emeritus Professor of Christian Origins at Harvard Divinity School, died on 30 November, 2007 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 77.

Strugnell joined the team of international scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s and was appointed editor-in-chief of the Scroll project in 1984.

Discovered in caves west of the Dead Sea in 1947, the Scrolls include Hebrew Old Testament texts dated as early as 200 BC. The ancient Hebrew texts discovered have reduced by as much as one thousand years the gap separating the time of writing from the earliest surviving copies, and have confirmed the integrity of the Old Testament Scriptures. All books of the Old Testament except for Esther are represented among the finds, which include the complete text of Isaiah. (Further reading: The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, vol1, p372–374).