The relationship between archaeology and ancient history has been long, and often fraught with controversy. This is especially true of Biblical history.
Since the European Enlightenment, and well into the late nineteenth-century, scholars in Europe and America have been skeptical of the historical value of the Bible (in both Old & New Testaments). However, beginning in the early 20th century archaeology began to bring to light remarkable material evidence that the Biblical record is historically reliable. Moreover, many of these discoveries were not made by those seeking to “prove the Bible,” rather they were discovered “by accident.”
Below is a list of 10 significant archaeological discoveries which affirm some of the key people, places and events recorded in the pages of the New Testament. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but is only a sample of some of the remarkable artifacts which illustrate the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament.
The core truth of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and that event is recorded on the pages of the New Testament. The life and ministry of Jesus happened at a particular time, at a particular place in a particular culture. These artifacts are a reminder of the reality of the person and work of Jesus Christ. History has never been the same since He walked the earth. Even time itself as well as our calendar is marked by His life.
(1) The Caiaphas Ossuary – The ornate limestone box or ossuary, containing the name and bones of Caiaphas the High Priest in Jerusalem who presided over the trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:57-67). It was discovered in Jerusalem in 1990, in an area of the city which contains many first-century (Second Temple Period), tombs. Apart from the New Testament, Caiaphas was also mentioned by the First Century Roman/Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews 18:63 who calls him “Joseph ben Caiaphas” (Joseph son of Caiaphas), the exact name on the ossuary.(2) Pontius Pilate Inscription – In 1961 an inscription containing the name of ‘Pontius Pilate’ was discovered by Italian archaeologists working at Caesarea Maritima (Israel) while excavating a Roman amphitheater. Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea in the first century, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified and who presented Jesus to the Jews and declared, “Ecce homo!” – “Behold, the man!” The ancient city of Caesarea Maritima (‘City of Caesar by the Sea’), served as the Roman administration center of Judea in the first century. The city was formerly an ancient Phoenician settlement called, Strato’s Tower and served as an ancient seaport on the Mediterranean. After the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., when Octavius (Caesar) defeated Mark Anthony and his Egyptian ally, Cleopatra, Herod I made a trip to the seaport where the navy of Octavius was based. Herod swore allegiance to Octavius and Caesar in turn “gifted” the city to Herod, who then in turn gave it back to Caesar, and named it in his honor, naming it Caesarea Maritima (‘Caesar’s City by the Sea’). The city was the seat of the Roman government and was the location of the Praetorium. The Pilate inscription fits very well with what is known about this ancient city as well as the New Testament. The translation from Latin to English for the inscription reads:
To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum
…prefect of Judea
…has dedicated [this]
(3) The Pool of Siloam – Siloam dates back the time of the OT (Isa 8:6 & 22:9-11), and is also the location of the well known NT story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind mentioned in John 9:1-12. It was discovered in 2004 in Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist, Eli Shukron, when workers were installing a nearby sewer line.
(4) Robinson’s Arch – Remains of an archway which connected a monumental staircase going into the Jerusalem’s Temple platform during the Second Temple period. It was a major entry point to the Temple mount platform, and would have very likely been used by Jesus and His followers. The arch was first identified in 1838 by Edward Robinson. Robinson was an American who taught at Andover Theological Seminary and is considered to be the father of Biblical geography which laid the foundation for Biblical archaeology in Europe and America.
(5) Herodian Ashlars at the Base of the Western Wall – Very large carved limestone blocks from the Jewish Temple platform of the Second Temple Period, lie scattered at the base of the Western Temple wall in Jerusalem. Jesus predicted the end of the Jerusalem Temple and stated that “…not one stone will be left upon another. All will be cast down” (Matt. 24:1-2). The Romans destroyed the temple and dismantled it, and cast all of the building stones down in A.D. 70. Discovered in the 20th Cent. The event was commemorated in the Arch of Titus & Vespasian in Rome where there is an image of the 10th Roman Legion carrying off the gold menorah which was used in the Jewish Temple. Interestingly, the gold recovered from the Jewish temple was used by the Romans to fund the building of the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum) in Rome.
(6) Synagogue at Capernaum – Remains of the First Century Jewish synagogue where Jesus spoke and performed a miracle has been excavated. The synagogue also marks the beginning of His public ministry. The site was first identified by Sir Charles Warren in the 19th Century. Further research has confirmed it’s identity.
(7) Nazareth Inscription (Nazareth Decree) – The Nazareth Inscription is a marble tablet inscribed in Greek with an edict from Caesar Augustus ordering capital punishment for anyone caught robbing or destroying tombs. The epigraphy (style of writing) dates it to the first half of the First Century. It is a non-provenanced artifact, which means that it’s original archaeological context is unknown. However, a French scholar did acquire the stone from Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. Although the inscription does not mention Jesus by name, it is understood by some to indicate that the decree was written in response to the widespread belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, and to prevent other “so-called” rumors from spreading. The artifact is now on display in the Louvre in Paris.
(8) Second Temple Platform Floor Tiles – Floor tiles which adorned the the courtyard of the Jewish Temple during the time of Jesus, and its surrounding buildings have recently been restored and revealed by scholars in Jerusalem. The tiles came from the Temple Mount Sifting Project which focuses on artifacts recovered from under the Temple mount, starting in 2004. The type of flooring is called “opus sectile” which means cut work, and was more expensive and considered even more ornate than mosaic tile work. According to the Jewish Talmud, “Whoever has not seen Herod’s building (i.e. Temple), has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
(9) Stone Jar (Cave) Factory – A chalkstone cave located in Galilee was discovered in 2016. The cave contained an ancient workshop that manufactured stone jars and vessels used to transport wine and other things. Jesus’ first miracle of turning the water into wine took place at Cana. John 2:6 states, “And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, each containing twenty or thirty gallons a piece.” The modern town of Kafr Kanna, is located just a mile north of the cave and has been identified as the biblical Cana mentioned in the NT. It is highly likely that the stone jars the servants poured the water, which Jesus later turned to wine, were made at this workshop.
(10) Tomb of Christ (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) – The tomb of Christ – the actual limestone cut tomb located just beneath the Edicule (covering) was recently unsealed after 70 years for repairs. Historical and archaeological sources point to this location as the authentic tomb of Christ. In AD 132-135 after the Roman Emperor, Hadrian had defeated the Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt, he banished Jews from Jerusalem. In addition, he also attempted to erase both Judaism and Christianity by building temples over significant locations holy to both faiths. Over the location of the tomb of Christ, he built a temple to the Roman goddess Venus, and over the Jewish Temple, he built a temple to Jupiter. In the fourth century, the church historian Eusebius tells us that Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, located the place of Christ’s death and crucifixion from Christians and locals who knew the geography and location and built a church over the spot. This has been known and identified since the 4th Century, and before.
The Shroud of Turin? – A Non-provenanced (original context uncertain) linen cloth containing a photographic quality negative of a man in his early 30’s, who died from wounds of crucifixion in keeping with Roman practices in the first century, as well as severe loss of blood and blunt trauma. The image of the body contains wounds from scourging and multiple stab wounds around the crown of the scalp. Current research indicates that the image was created by ultra high radiation emanating from the body. The image has features that are very similar to a modern X-Ray. Modern science has ruled out that it is a painting, or a work of art. Currently there are no definitive answers on exactly how the image was made. Perhaps additional research will provide more clues to this fascinating and mysterious artifact.