Situated to the east of the Jordan River and to the north of Israel, the kingdom of Geshur was in the region of Mount Herman, Maachah and Bashan (Josh 12:5). Although the territory was designated as a possession of Manasseh, when Israel entered the land under Joshua the Geshurites were not expelled, but continued to dwell amongst the Israelites (Josh 13:7,13). Many years later, it appears David formed an alliance with the kingdom, as he married a daughter of Talmai, ruler of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3; 13:37).

Archaeologists have identified Bethsaida as the capital city of Geshur, and discovered a massive four-chambered city gate complex with equally massive defensive walls.1 These fortifications indicate that the kingdom had been much more powerful than scholars previously assumed. Numerous monumental towers have also been uncovered, which guard the road to Bethsaida.

The city gate complex is the most significant dis­covery, as it is quite large and well-preserved. It appears that three of the gate’s inner chambers had been used to store grain, such as barley, as archaeologists found large quantities of seeds embedded in the floors.

The massive walls suggest that Geshur was a highly advanced and well-regulated society with the resources to build on a large scale, as well as being able to mount a significant military defence. The fortifications, however, were little help against the Assyrian invasion in 732 BC led by King Tiglath-pileser III. Excavations have uncovered evidence of the Assyrian conquest and the fierce fighting that took place at Bethsaida.

Located on a basalt outcrop descending from the Golan Heights, the ruins of Bethsaida are about a kilo­metre north of the Sea of Galilee. The excavation site was identified as possibly that of Bethsaida in 1987 by the University of Nebraska’s Dr Rami Arav, who has been Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project for over 20 years.

Other discoveries at Bethsaida relate to the time of Christ.2 Among the remains discovered is a paved road of the Roman period that was probably used by Christ and his disciples. By the first century, Bethsaida (which means “house of fishing”) had be­come a fishing village and was the home of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44), and perhaps also James and John.

The ruins also include evidence of a Roman temple. The temple was probably constructed by the Tetrarch Philip, who rebuilt the town giving it the name Julias in honour of Julia, the daughter of the Emperor Augustus.3 A well-preserved incense shovel used in connection with temple rituals, a wine cellar and nu­merous pottery shards and fishing implements of the Roman period have also been discovered at the site.

Ancient Leviticus Scroll Virtually Unwrapped

The contents of a scroll discovered at a Byzantine-period synagogue in En-Gedi in 1970 has been deciphered using a micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) scan.4 When found, the scroll had been burned by fire and reduced to a charred lump so deli­cate that it was in danger of disintegrating if touched. Using digital technology researchers have been able to “virtually unwrap” the scroll to decipher its contents.

The micro-CT scan was able to pick up traces of metal in the ink which revealed the original text of the scroll. The scroll, which dates to the third or fourth century BC, or possibly earlier, was found to contain the text of the Book of Leviticus. As such, the scroll is the oldest book from the Old Testament so far discovered.5 While the Hebrew text contains only consonants, the researchers were impressed that the En-Gedi Leviticus scroll corresponded to the Masoretic text, the authori­tative Jewish text of the Bible.

Dr Michael Segal, head of the School of Philosophy and Religions at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said they were amazed at the quality of the images, most of which were as legible as many well preserved Dead Sea Scrolls. Researchers hope that the technique can also be used on the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which are in a delicate state and unable to be handled for study.

Scholars consider the En-Gedi Leviticus scroll to be the most significant biblical text found since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Once again, modern discoveries by archaeologists continue to confirm the reliability of the text of the Bible. We can, therefore, have full confidence in the book we believe to be the Word of God.

Footnotes

  1. Philippe Bohstrom, “Mighty fortifications found by archaeologists show Kingdom of Geshur more powerful than thought”, Haaretz July 22, 2016 [Online] http://www.haaretz. com/jewish/archaeology/1.732284
  2. Popular Archaeology, v. 8 (September 2012) [Online] http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/ september-2012/article/road-from-time-of-ear- liest-christian-apostles-uncovered-at-bethsaida
  3. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980, pt 1, p190
  4. En-Gedi: Ancient scrolls ‘virtually’ deciphered to reveal earliest Old Testament scripture / AFP [Online] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-22/en-gedi-scrolls- ’virtually-unwrapped’-old-testament-scripture/7866948
  5. Robin Ngo , “Book of Leviticus verses recovered from burnt Hebrew Bible scroll”, Bible History Daily, 23 September 2016 [Online] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical- topics/hebrew-bible/book-of-leviticus-verses-recovered- from-burnt-hebrew-bible-scroll/?mqsc=E3850875&utm_ source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20 Newsletter&utm_campaign=E6B926#