Southwestern students find ancient inscription in Tel Gezer, Israel
JERUSALEM (SWBTS) – An archaeological survey led by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas, discovered a bilingual inscription the week of May 25 at the ancient site of Tel Gezer, Israel. Gezer, a biblical city, was situated on the border between the Philistine and Israelite territories guarding the route to Jerusalem. The city was given as a dowry to the daughter of Pharaoh, who married king Solomon. Gezer is well known in the later Maccabean period for its boundary stones with inscriptions in both Hebrew and Greek. In addition to finding the new inscription, the Southwestern Seminary survey team rediscovered an inscription that had been lost to the archaeological community for more than a century.
The boundary inscriptions date to the period of conflict between the Seleucids and Maccabees. They show that the city had agricultural land around it and that the Jewish occupants were concerned over keeping their fields according to Jewish law. These discoveries are significant since the boundary stones have been frequently sought but with long time frames between new discoveries. According to the scholarship of Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Zvi Greenhut of the Israel Antiquities Authority, there are 12 known and published Gezer boundary stones dating to the Maccabean period. These bilingual inscriptions in limestone bedrock ring the ancient city of Gezer on the South, East and Northeast. Many of these are two-line inscriptions reading “Region of Gezer” on one line in Hebrew and “Belonging to Alkios” on the second line in Greek.
The new boundary stone inscription located by the Gezer survey team this season is the first to be found in over a decade, increasing the total number of known Gezer boundary inscriptions to 13. The new inscription is very weathered and is a bilingual inscription like many of the others, with some minor differences. It is a three line inscription, rather than the typical two, with the Greek name Alkiou on the first line (literally “belonging to Alkios”), remnants of the Hebrew word for “region of” on the second line and small remnants of the letters spelling “Gezer” on the third line. The Greek letters are larger than in other Gezer boundary inscriptions and both the Greek and Hebrew lines face the same direction. The survey directors will seek to publish the inscription as soon as possible in an academic publication.
The second inscription discovered this season has not been seen by scholars in more than 100 years. Although it was originally discovered by 19th-century French explorer Charles Claremont-Ganneau, later excavator R.A.S. Macalister admitted to having spent considerable time during his 1902 through 1909 expeditions searching for this particular boundary stone. Unable to find the inscription, he concluded that it must have been defaced to unintelligibility in the years subsequent to its discovery. Based on a published field sketch of the stone, this boundary inscription and the 19th century discovery are one and the same.
The Tel Gezer Regional Survey, including 11 master’s and doctoral students in the archaeology program at Southwestern Seminary, is just finishing its sixth season in the Aijalon Valley west of Jerusalem. Southwestern has sponsored the Tel Gezer Regional Survey since 2007, under the direction of Eric Mitchell, associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at Southwestern, and Jason Zan, a Master of Arts student in archaeology and biblical studies at Southwestern. Mitchell and Zan, along with Southwestern Ph.D. students Adam Dodd and Cameron Coyle have co-authored a soon-to-be-published Hadashot Arkheologiyot article on the results of the first five seasons of the survey.
This discovery at Tel Gezer precedes Southwestern Seminary’s Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition, which will be open to the public in Fort Worth, Texas, from July 2, 2012 – Jan. 13, 2013. The exhibition will feature numerous ancient Dead Sea Scroll fragments, including seven fragments that have never been seen publicly, as well as many other artifacts from the Bible Lands. To learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition, visit www.seethescrolls.com.
To learn more about the Gezer Research Project and Southwestern Seminary’s involvement in archaeology, visit www.tandyinstitute.org.