Biblical Archeology



Understanding Archaeology.

The Discovery of the Hittites.

Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Exodus Evidence: The Chariot Wheels.

The Walls of Jericho.

House of David.

Evidence of Caiaphas's tomb.

The Pilate inscription.


Understanding Archaeology.

Christianity is a historical faith based on actual events recorded in the Bible. Archaeology has therefore played a key role in biblical studies and Christian apologetics in several ways.

First, archaeology has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible. It has verified many ancient sites, civilizations, and biblical characters whose existence was questioned by the academic world and often dismissed as myths. Biblical archaeology has silenced many critics as new discoveries supported the facts of the Bible.

Second, archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. Although we do not have the original writings of the authors, thousands of ancient manuscripts affirm that we have an accurate transmission of the original texts. Archaeology can also help us to understand more accurately the nuances and uses of biblical words as they were used in their day.

Third, archaeology helps illustrate and explain Bible passages. The events of the Bible occurred at a certain time, in a particular culture, influenced by a particular social and political structure. Archaeology gives us insights into these areas. Archaeology also helps to supplement topics not covered in the Bible. Much of what we know of the pagan religions and the intertestamental period comes from archaeological research.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of available archaeological sites have been surveyed, and only a fraction of surveyed sites have been excavated. In fact, it is estimated that less than two percent of surveyed sites have been worked on. Once work begins, only a fraction of an excavation site is actually examined, and only a small part of what is examined is published. For example, the photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls were withheld from the public for forty years after their discovery.

It is important to understand that the Scriptures remain the primary source of authority. We must not elevate archaeology to the point that it becomes the judge for the validity of Scripture. Randall Price states, "There are indeed instances where the information needed to resolve a historical or chronological question is lacking from both archaeology and the Bible, but it is unwarranted to assume the material evidence taken from the more limited content of archaeological excavations can be used to dispute the literary evidence from the more complete content of the canonical scriptures." The Bible has proven to be an accurate and trustworthy source of history.

Noted archaeologist Nelson Glueck writes, "As a matter of fact, however, it may be clearly stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible."

The Discovery of the Hittites.

The Hittites played a prominent role in Old Testament history. They interacted with biblical figures as early as Abraham and as late as Solomon. They are mentioned in Genesis 15:20 as people who inhabited the land of Canaan. 1 Kings 10:29 records that they purchased chariots and horses from King Solomon. The most prominent Hittite is Uriah the husband of Bathsheba. The Hittites were a powerful force in the Middle East from 1750 B.C. until 1200 B.C. Prior to the late 19th century, nothing was known of the Hittites outside the Bible, and many critics alleged that they were an invention of the biblical authors.

In 1876 a dramatic discovery changed this perception. A British scholar named A. H. Sayce found inscriptions carved on rocks in Turkey. He suspected that they might be evidence of the Hittite nation. Ten years later, more clay tablets were found in Turkey at a place called Boghaz-koy. German cuneiform expert Hugo Winckler investigated the tablets and began his own expedition at the site in 1906.

Winckler's excavations uncovered five temples, a fortified citadel and several massive sculptures. In one storeroom he found over ten thousand clay tablets. One of the documents proved to be a record of a treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite king. Other tablets showed that Boghaz-koy was the capital of the Hittite kingdom. Its original name was Hattusha and the city covered an area of 300 acres. The Hittite nation had been discovered!

Less than a decade after Winckler's find, Czech scholar Bedrich Hronzny proved the Hittite language is an early relative of the Indo-European languages of Greek, Latin, French, German, and English. The Hittite language now has a central place in the study of the history of the Indo-European languages.

The discovery also confirmed other biblical facts. Five temples were found containing many tablets with details of the rites and ceremonies that priests performed. These ceremonies described rites for purification from sin and purification of a new temple. The instructions proved to be very elaborate and lengthy. Critics once criticized the laws and instructions found in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy as too complicated for the time they were written (1400 B.C.). The Boghaz-koy texts, along with others from Egyptian sites and from a site along the Euphrates called Emar, have proven that the ceremonies described in the Jewish Pentateuch are consistent with the ceremonies of the cultures of this time period.

The Hittite Empire made treaties with civilizations they conquered. Two dozen of these have been translated and provide a better understanding of treaties in the Old Testament. The discovery of the Hittite Empire at Boghaz-koy has significantly advanced our understanding of the patriarchal period. Dr. Fred Wright summarizes the importance of this find in regard to biblical historicity.

Now the Bible picture of this people fits in perfectly with what we know of the Hittite nation from the monuments. As an empire they never conquered the land of Canaan itself, although the Hittite local tribes did settle there at an early date. Nothing discovered by the excavators has in any way discredited the Biblical account. Scripture accuracy has once more been proved by the archaeologist.

The discovery of the Hittites has proven to be one of the great archaeological finds of all time. It has helped to confirm the biblical narrative and had a great impact on Middle East archaeological study. Because of it, we have come to a greater understanding of the history of our language, as well as the religious, social, and political practices of the ancient Middle East.

Sodom and Gomorrah.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has long been viewed as a legend. Critics assume that it was created to communicate moral principles. However, throughout the Bible this story is treated as a historical event. The Old Testament prophets refer to the destruction of Sodom on several occasions (Deut. 29:23, Isa. 13:19, Jer. 49:18), and these cities play a key role in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles (Matt. 10:15, 2 Pet. 2:6 and Jude 1:7). What has archaeology found to establish the existence of these cities?

Archaeologists have searched the Dead Sea region for many years in search of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 14:3 gives their location as the Valley of Siddim known as the Salt Sea, another name for the Dead Sea. On the east side six wadies, or river valleys, flow into the Dead Sea. Along five of these wadies, ancient cities were discovered. The northernmost is named Bab edh-Drha. In 1924, renowned archaeologist Dr. William Albright excavated at this site, searching for Sodom and Gomorrah, and discovered a heavily fortified city. Although he connected this city with one of the biblical "Cities of the Plains," he could not find conclusive evidence to justify this assumption.

More digging was done in 1965, 1967, and 1973. The archaeologists discovered a 23-inch thick wall around the city, along with numerous houses and a large temple. Outside the city were huge grave sites where thousands of skeletons were unearthed. This revealed that the city had been well populated during the early Bronze Age, about the time Abraham would have lived.

Most intriguing was evidence that a massive fire had destroyed the city. It lay buried under a coating of ash several feet thick. A cemetery one kilometer outside the city contained charred remains of roofs, posts, and bricks turned red from heat.

Dr. Bryant Wood, in describing these charnel houses, stated that a fire began on the roofs of these buildings. Eventually the burning roof collapsed into the interior and spread inside the building. This was the case in every house they excavated. Such a massive fiery destruction would match the biblical account that the city was destroyed by fire that rained down from heaven. Wood states, "The evidence would suggest that this site of Bab edh-Drha is the biblical city of Sodom"{5}.

Five cities of the plain are mentioned in Genesis 14: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zoar, and Zeboiim. Remnants of these other four cities are also found along the Dead Sea. Following a southward path from Bab edh-Drha there is the city called Numeria. Continuing south is the city called es-Safi. Further south are the ancient cities of Feifa and Khanazir. Studies of these cities revealed that they had been abandoned at the same time, about 2450—2350 B.C. Many archaeologists believe that if Bab ed-Drha is Sodom, Numeria is Gomorrah, and es-Safi is Zoar.

What fascinated the archaeologists is that these cities were covered in the same ash as Bab ed-Drha. Numeria, believed to be Gomorrah, had seven feet of ash in some places. In every one of the destroyed cities ash deposits made the soil a spongy charcoal, making it impossible to rebuild. According to the Bible, four of the five cities were destroyed, leaving Lot to flee to Zoar. Zoar was not destroyed by fire, but was abandoned during this period.

Although archaeologists are still disputing these findings, this is one discovery we will be hearing more about in years to come.

The Exodus Evidence: The Chariot Wheels.



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Here we will examine the evidences which suggests the approximate date the Exodus occurred.

In 1978 a team of explorers found numerous chariot remains in the Gulf of Aqaba. These were not in perfect condition and required careful examination to see exactly what they were. They were covered in coral, which made it difficult to see them clearly, but the coral helped to preserve them. Some of the wheels were still on their axles, and some were off.

The beach on the Gulf of Aqaba could easily have held the multitude, their flocks, and also pharaoh's army — separating the two groups by several miles. But there's another interesting fact about this site. The historian Josephus Flavius gives an additional bit of information in his "Antiquities of the Jews" Book II, Chapter XV. Speaking of pharaoh's army pursuing the multitude, he states:

"They also seized upon the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might fly, shutting them up between the inaccessible precipices and the sea; for there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea, which was impassable by reason of their roughness, and obstructed their flight; wherefore they there pressed upon the Hebrews with their army, where [the ridges of] the mountains were closed with the sea..."

In the book Exodus we read: " the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily..." (Exodus 14:24-25).

So far, these findings coincided with the Biblical account. There were found several 6-spoked wheels, as well as an 8-spoked wheel. And finally, in 1988, 4-spoked gold chariot wheel was found, which looked almost perfect. The reason this one was so well preserved is that coral does not grow on gold.

The significance of these wheels is of extreme importance to the dating of the Exodus and determining which dynasty was involved. Back in the late 70’s, an archeologist retrieved a hub of a wheel which had the remains of 8 spokes radiating outward from it. This was taken to Cairo, to the office of Nassif Mohammed Hassan, the director of Antiquities. Mr. Hassan examined it and immediately pronounced it to be of the 18th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

When he was asked how he knew this so readily, Mr. Hassan explained that the 8-spoked wheel was only used during the 18th Dynasty. This certainly narrowed the date. Soon it was discovered that the the 4, 6 and 8 spoked wheels places the Exodus in the 18th Dynasty according to numerous sources, such as the following: "Egyptian literary references to chariots occur as early as the reigns of Kamose, the 17th Dynasty king who took the first steps in freeing Egypt from the Hyksos, and Ahmose, the founder of the 18th Dynasty. Pictorial representations, however, do not appear until slightly later in the 18th Dynasty...." (From "Observations on the Evolving Chariot Wheel in the 18th Dynasty" by James K. Hoffmeier, JARCE #13, 1976).

It was only at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty that the chariot comes into use in the Egyptian army. The Bible mentions that in the time of Joseph, chariots were in use, but apparently they weren’t developed sturdily enough for use in war until much later.

The author goes on to explain how it was only during the 18th Dynasty, about 1446 BC, that the 4, 6 and 8 spoked wheels were used — and that monuments can actually be dated by the number of spokes in the wheel: "Professor Yigael Yadin maintains that during the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptian chariot was ‘exactly like the Canaanite chariot:’ both were constructed of light flexible wood, with leather straps wrapped around the wood to strengthen it, and both utilized wheels with four spokes.

In Yadin’s eyes, the four-spoked wheel is diagnostic for dating purposes; it is restricted to the early part of the 18th Dynasty. It remained in vogue, he says, until the reign of Thutmoses IV, when ‘the Egyptian chariot begins to shake off its Canaanite influence and undergo considerable change.’

Yadin believes that the eight-spoked wheel, which is seen on the body of Thutmoses IV’s chariot, was an experiment by the Egyptian wheelwrights, who, when it proved unsuccessful, settled thereafter for the six-spoked wheel. So widespread and meticulous is the delineation of the number of wheel spokes on chariots depicted on Egyptian monuments that they can be used as a criterion for determining whether the monument is earlier or later than 1400 BC." (Quoted from the same article as above).

For more information on the chariots of the Egyptian army, let’s go to the Biblical account, when Pharaoh and his army go after the multitude: "And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them" (Exodus 14:6-7). This verse makes it clear that the Pharaoh took every chariot in Egypt — his own, his generals (or "Captains") and a group called his "chosen" chariots, which seem to be in addition to his regular army ("all the chariots of Egypt"). Who might these "600 chosen chariots" have been?

This group seems too small to have been a division of the army. We do not know the exact number in a "squadron," but we do have information that a pharoah, one of his names being Rameses II, had an army of 20,000 troops, which was divided into 4 divisions. This would imply that each division consisted of 5,000 troops. But the army took more than just soldiers. To get a little insight, we need to understand a bit about the Egyptian government and economy.

"The priests and military men held the highest position in the country after the family of the king, and from them were chosen his ministers and confidential advisers, ‘the wise counsellors of Pharaoh,’ and all the principal officers of state" (From "The Ancient Egyptians, Their Life and Customs" by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson, 1854, vol.1, p.316).

The priesthood and the military were closely associated — the Egyptian government was a combination "church and state." Their system of "gods" was quite elaborate. The ultimate "god" was the one represented as the "sun." This god was known throughout the various times as Amon, Aten and Re or Ra, among other names. And it was this "ultimate god" that the pharaoh was considered the "earthly embodiment."

The divisions of the army were named after the gods, ie. "the first army, that of Amon, the army of Re, the army of Ptah and the army of Sutech." When the army set out to war, elaborate ceremonies were performed at the various temples, asking the various gods to give them victory over their foes. Then, booty that was gained as a result of victories was dedicated to the priesthoods and temples of the deities. All military victories were directly attributed to the favor of the gods.

Sometimes, the priests would accompany the army to the battlefield in hopes that the "god(s)" would show special favor in their endeavors. And the evidence at hand shows that when Pharaoh and his army set out after Moses and the great multitude, he took with him the all priesthood of all the gods of Egypt.

All of this is leading up to a discussion of the gold-veneered, 4-spoked chariot wheel tha was found in 1988. Since it was found on the Egyptian side of the Gulf of Aqaba, that indicates that whoever was driving that particular chariot was at the rear of the army. It makes sense to us that a priest, who is not trained in battle, would be in this position at the rear of the army. Also, a gold chariot would not be practical for battle — these chariots were just "ceremonial."

It is known that the priesthood were given gold chariots, which were booty of various foreign defeats. There is an inscription of Thutmoses III (18th Dynasty) which relates: "He went forth, none like him, slaying the barbarians, smiting Retenu, bringing their princes as living captives, their chariots wrought with gold, bound to their horses."

In fact, there are many inscriptions of the kings of the 18th Dynasty receiving gold-plated foreign chariots, either as spoils of war or as tribute received from conquered peoples. There are, as well, inscriptions telling that these gilded chariots were many times dedicated to various temples and gods, which meant that the priests would receive these chariots.

It is also known from inscriptions that the king did go to war in a "glittering chariot of electrum" as stated in one of Thutmoses III’s inscriptions. Dr. Bill Shea of the Biblical Research Institute believes that the pharaoh was also at the rear of the army.

There is evidence from ancient tombs that the Egyptians constructed wheels of this design, and also the Retenu (Syrian) chariot wheels were of this same design and size.

These drawings are from "The Ancient Egyptians" by Sir J. Gardiner Wilkinson, and are taken from 18th dynasty tombs and monuments. They show a depiction of a Retenu (Syrian) chariot and also Egyptians constructing chariots — both of these wheel designs are consistent with the found 4-spoked gold veneered wheel.

"My Husband has died and I have no son!"

After the Egyptian army with the Pharaoh drowned in the Red sea, the royal widow took the only step she knew to take to secure strong leadership for the country and provide protection and security for Egypt. She wrote a letter to the Hittite king. We can learn about this in an inscription left behind by the Hittite king, Suppiluliumas' son:

"...When the people of Misra [Egypt] learned of the destruction of Amqa, they were afraid, for to make matters worse their master, Bibhuria had just died and the widowed queen of Egypt sent an ambassador to my father and wrote to him in these terms: `My husband is dead and I have no son. People say that you have many sons. If you send me one of your sons he will become my husband for it is repugnant to me to take one of my servants to husband.' When my father learned this, he called together the council of the great: `Since the most ancient times such a thing has never happened before.' He decided to send Hattu-Zittish, the chamberlain, `Go, bring me information worthy of belief; they may try to deceive me; and as to the possibility that they may have a prince, bring me back information worthy of my belief.' While Hattu-Zittish was absent on the soil of Egypt, my father vanquished the city of Karchemish... The ambassador of Egypt, the lord Hanis, came to him. Because my father had instructed Hattu-Zittish when he went to the country of Egypt as follows: `Perhaps they have a prince, they may be trying to deceive me and do not really want one of my sons to reign over them.'; the Egyptian queen answered my father in a letter in these words; `Why do you say `they are trying to deceive me?'If I had a son, should I write to a foreign country in a manner humiliating to me and to my country? You do not believe me and you even say so to me! He who was my husband is dead and I have no son. Should I then perhaps take one of my servants and make of him my husband? I have written no other country, I have written to you..."

Suppiluliumas believed her and sent a son. However, that son never made it to Egypt. No one knows what happened to him, but we do know what happened next.

The most convincing evidence of all is the fact that the queen who wrote the Hittite king makes it quite clear that all who remain in Egypt are her "servants"! Is this not a perfect description of the situation that would have resulted after all the royal ministers, priests and army had drowned in the Red Sea? The scholars assign the name of the dead pharaoh "Bibhuria" as being that of "Tutankhamen," for one of his names was "Neb-kheper-ru-re," which should be transliterated "Neb-maat-Re." This was one of the names of Amenhotep 3. Either way, the evidence is equally strong. Either the royal wife or the royal daughter (who was symbolically "married" to Tutankhamen) of the dead pharaoh would have retained the royal right to do this. So it really doesn't matter which wife wrote the letter as far as the evidence goes.

The Walls of Jericho.

According to the Bible, the conquest of Jericho occurred in approximately 1440 B.C. The miraculous nature of the conquest has caused some scholars to dismiss the story as folklore. Does archaeology support the biblical account? Over the past century four prominent archaeologists have excavated the site: Carl Watzinger in 1907-1909, John Garstang in the 1930's, Kathleen Kenyon in 1952-1958, and currently Bryant Wood. The result of their work has been remarkable.

First, they discovered that Jericho had an impressive system of fortifications. Surrounding the city was a retaining wall fifteen feet high. At its top was an eight-foot brick wall strengthened from behind by an earthen rampart. Domestic structures were found behind this first wall. Another brick wall enclosed the rest of the city. The domestic structures found between the two walls is consistent with Joshua's description of Rahab's quarters (Josh. 2:15). Archeologists also found that in one part of the city, large piles of bricks were found at the base of both the inner and outer walls, indicating a sudden collapse of the fortifications. Scholars feel that an earthquake, which may also explain the damming of the Jordan in the biblical account, caused this collapse. The collapsed bricks formed a ramp by which an invader might easily enter the city (Josh. 6:20).

Of this amazing discovery Garstang states, "As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely, the attackers would be able to clamber up and over the ruins of the city." This is remarkable because when attacked, city walls fall inward, not outward.

A thick layer of soot indicates that the city was destroyed by fire as described in Joshua 6:24. Kenyon describes it this way. "The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire and every room was filled with fallen bricks." Archaeologists also discovered large amounts of grain at the site. This is again consistent with the biblical account that the city was captured quickly. If it had fallen as a result of a siege, the grain would have been used up. According to Joshua 6:17, the Israelites were forbidden to plunder the city, but had to destroy it totally.

Although the archaeologists agreed Jericho was violently destroyed, they disagreed on the date of the conquest. Garstang held to the biblical date of 1400 B.C. while Watzinger and Kenyon believed the destruction occurred in 1550 B.C. In other words, if the later date is accurate, Joshua arrived at a previously destroyed Jericho. This earlier date would pose a serious challenge to the historicity of the Old Testament.

Dr. Bryant Wood, who is currently excavating the site, found that Kenyon's early date was based on faulty assumptions about pottery found at the site. His later date is also based on the discovery of Egyptian amulets in the tombs northwest of Jericho. Inscribed under these amulets were the names of Egyptian Pharaohs dating from 1500-1386 B.C., showing that the cemetery was in use up to the end of the late Bronze Age (1550-1400 B.C.). Finally, a piece of charcoal found in the debris was carbon-14 dated to be 1410 B.C. The evidence leads Wood to this conclusion. "The pottery, stratigraphic considerations, scarab data and a carbon-14 date all point to a destruction of the city around the end of the Late Bronze Age, about 1400 BCE."{8}

Thus, current archeological evidence supports the Bible's account of when and how Jericho fell.

House of David.

One of the most beloved characters in the Bible is King David. Scripture says that he was a man after God's own heart. He is revered as the greatest of all Israelite kings and the messianic covenant is established through his lineage. Despite his key role in Israel's history, until recently no evidence outside the Bible attested to his existence. For this reason critics questioned the existence of a King David.

In the summer of 1993, an archaeologist made what has been labeled as a phenomenal and stunning discovery. Dr. Avraham Biran and his team were excavating a site labeled Tell Dan, located in northern Galilee at the foot of Mt. Hermon. Evidence indicates that this is the site of the Old Testament land of Dan.

The team had discovered an impressive royal plaza. As they were clearing the debris, they discovered in the ruins the remains of a black basalt stele, or stone slab, containing Aramaic inscriptions. The stele contained thirteen lines of writing but none of the sentences were complete. Some of the lines contained only three letters while the widest contained fourteen. The letters that remained were clearly engraved and easy to read. Two of the lines included the phrases "The King of Israel" and "House of David."

This is the first reference to King David found outside of the Bible. This discovery has caused many critics to reconsider their view of the historicity of the Davidic kingdom. Pottery found in the vicinity, along with the construction and style of writing, led Dr. Biran to argue that the stele was erected in the first quarter of the ninth century B.C., about a century after the death of King David.

The translation team discovered that the inscription told of warfare between the Israelites and the Arameans, which the Bible refers to during this period. In this find, a ruler of the Arameans, probably Hazael, is victorious over Israel and Judah. The stele was erected to celebrate the defeat of the two kings. In 1994 two more pieces were found with inscriptions which refer to Jehoram, the son of Ahab, ruler over Israel, and Ahaziah, who was the ruler over the "House of David" or Judah. These names and facts correspond to the account given in chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Kings. Dr. Hershel Shanks of Biblical Archaeological Review states, "The stele brings to life the biblical text in a very dramatic way. It also gives us more confidence in the historical reality of the biblical text."

The find has confirmed a number of facts. First, the use of the term "House of David" implies that there was a Davidic dynasty that ruled Israel. We can conclude, then, that a historic King David existed. Second, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were prominent political entities as the Bible describes. Critics long viewed the two nations as simply insignificant states.

Dr. Bryant Wood summarizes the importance of this find this way. "In our day, most scholars, archaeologists and biblical scholars would take a very critical view of the historical accuracy of many of the accounts in the Bible. . . . Many scholars have said there never was a David or a Solomon, and now we have a stele that actually mentions David."

Evidence of Caiaphas's tomb.

The tomb of this priest was discovered in 1990. Israeli archaeologist Zvi Greenhut, who confirmed the finding, describes the event: "It was a cold day at the end of November when I received word at the Antiquities Authority that an old cave had been discovered . . . When I arrived I observed that the roof of the cave had collapsed. But even while standing outside, I could see four ossuaries, or bone boxes, in the central chamber of the cave. To an archaeologist, this was a clear indication that this was a Jewish burial cave . . . So it was that we discovered the final resting place of the Caiaphas family, one of whose priestly members presided at the trial of Jesus" ("Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family," Biblical Archaeological Review, September-October 1992, pp. 29-30).

Two of the 12 stone boxes found had the name Caiaphas written on the side, and one contained the entire name "Joseph, son of Caiaphas." Inside this box were the remains of a 60-year-old man, along with the bones of a woman and four younger people, probably those of his own family.

Archaeologist Ronny Reich provides further details of the find: "The most elaborately decorated ossuary found in this cave contains two inscriptions relating to Caiaphas . . . The elderly man buried in the highly decorated ossuary was apparently Joseph. It was probably a forefather who had acquired this nickname [Caiaphas was apparently a nickname that meant "basket," probably from "basketmaker."]

"A person named Joseph with the nickname Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem between 18 and 36 A.D. The New Testament provides only his nickname in the Greek form: Caiaphas (see Matthew 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13-14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6). Josephus [the first-century Jewish historian] gives his proper name as well: Joseph Caiaphas, or elsewhere, 'Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.' In short, we are explicitly told by Josephus that Caiaphas was indeed a nickname" ("Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes," Biblical Archaeological Review, September-October 1992, p. 41).

Archaeologists have thus confirmed the existence of this important New Testament figure. They have also proven the existence of another leading character instrumental in the events surrounding Jesus' arrest, trial and execution.

The Pilate inscription.

Once Jesus was arrested, on Caiaphas's orders, He was tried before Caiaphas and later sent to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The New Testament portrayal of Pilate agrees with other historical accounts. "Philo and Josephus unite in attributing dire and evil practices to Pilate, so that a dark character is ascribed to him" (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1989, Vol. 3, p. 813).

Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher (20 B.C.-A.D. 50), described Pilate as "a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate." He says Pilate's rule was characterized by "corruption, . . . insolence, . . . cruelty, . . . continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity" (The Works of Philo, translated by C.D. Yonge, "On the Embassy to Gaius," pp. 301-302).

Years after Christ's crucifixion, Pilate was sent to Rome to undergo a humiliating trial after ordering the massacre of some Samaritan pilgrims. Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, notes that Pilate was found guilty and exiled. In his shame he later committed suicide. Such was the end of this proud and corrupt governor.

For centuries Pilate was known only from scant historical records and the Gospels. No direct physical evidence had been found. Then, in 1961, a stone plaque engraved with Pilate's name and title was discovered in Caesarea, the Roman port and capital of Judea in Christ's day. "The two-foot by three-foot slab, now known as the Pilate Inscription, was . . . apparently written to commemorate Pilate's erection and dedication of a Tiberium, a temple for the worship of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Pilate's term over Judea.

"The Latin inscription of four lines gives his title as 'Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea,' a title very similar to that used of him in the Gospels (see Luke 3:1). This was the first archaeological find to mention Pilate, and again testified to the accuracy of the Gospel writers. Their understanding of such official terms indicates they lived during the time of their use and not a century or two thereafter, when such terms would have been forgotten" (Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, 1997, pp. 307-308).