MACU prof: Dig findings back up the Bible
By Paul Nielsen
Friday, November 8, 2019
Area residents got a sneak peek of what an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of the Albemarle will look like during the museum’s History for Lunch program Wednesday.
Dr. Kevin Larsen, vice president of academic affairs and professor of New Testament at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, gave a presentation on his three years of archaeological work in Shiloh, Israel.
The museum has scheduled an exhibit called “Khirbet El-Maqatir: A Journey Through the Bible” that is scheduled to go on display between March 2021 and November 2021. The traveling exhibit is based on the archaeological excavations thought to be from the Biblical city of Ai.
Larsen has been part of an archaeological dig at Shiloh, an ancient city in Samaria mentioned in the Old Testament, with members of Associates for Biblical Research. Larsen is planning to go back to the site, which is 28 miles north of Jerusalem, for a fourth four-week dig this coming summer. The current excavation site, which is a mile off an ancient road, is about 600 square meters (less than an acre) and Larsen has two 5x5-meter squares where he does his work.
Shiloh, which is around five acres in size, is the place where Joshua set up the Tabernacle, which was the center point for the Israelites to worship throughout the period of the Judges. The Tabernacle, where the Israelites would come once a year to worship God, functioned for more than 300 years.
“The city is in a strategic location because it is in the center of Israel and it allowed those tribes to have fairly easy access to worship,” Larsen said. “The Ark of the Covenant was located here at one time. Shiloh has a prominent space in the Biblical story.’’
There were two previous major digs at Shiloh — one by the Danes in the 1920s and another by the Israelis in the 1980s. Larsen said the current dig is important because it will prove the site was occupied at the time the Bible says it was.
“There are people who approach the Biblical text very skeptically and they challenge the text,” Larsen said. “They say that the Bible is just made-up stories. There is an Israeli archaeologist — he is a big name in archaeology — and he has called into question (the Israelites’) occupation at Shiloh during the time of 700-800 B.C. So, we are interested. Is there evidence of Israel occupying the site?”
So far, the Associates for Biblical Research has found several items at the site, including an oil lamp at Larsen’s dig in 2018 that dates from the Iron Age II and fits the time-period mentioned in the Bible.
“It’s an unbroken oil lamp and it is pretty rare,” Larsen said. “We are finding quite a bit of Iron Age II pottery. People who are good at pottery can look at a piece of pottery and say, ‘Oh, that is Iron Age. Or that is Middle-Bronze pottery,’ based on the way it was made.’’
Animal bones found and analyzed from the site date back to the Israelites occupying the site during 700-800 B.C. The archaeologists have unearthed evidence of worship by the Israelites, including parts of horn-shaped alters Larsen found.
“There shouldn’t be very much pig bone during the time of the Israelites and so far the evidence is suggestive of that,” Larsen said. “The Israelites were not allowed to eat pork. Bones are a good indicator of life. There is evidence that the Biblical story is true. There is certain occupation (by the Israelites) when the Bible said there was.”
The search for the site of the Tabernacle will continue this summer when archaeologists look for where a tent could have been set up.
“There are three main proposals that have been given,” Larsen said. “We don’t know (if any of them are the site). There is still work to be done.’’
Interest in Larsen’s topic was so large that his presentation had to be moved from a conference room to the museum’s auditorium. After speaking, Larsen invited residents to volunteer to make the trip with him to Shiloh this summer. Volunteers have to pay for their travel to and from Israel and $1,000 per week in dig fees. That cost includes lodging, meals and local transportation.
“You can do one week, two weeks, three weeks or four weeks,” Larsen said. “We would love to have you come and help us. There is no age limit. Two summers ago, we had a married couple that were both in their 80s.’’
Larsen said the exhibit scheduled for 2021 will display the Associates for Biblical Research’s work at Khirbet El-Maqatir. The group spent nearly 20 years investigating the site for evidence of the biblical city of Ai.
“The exhibit will feature some of the archaeological finds from the site and will tell the story of the site from Joshua and Judges and then in the first century A.D.,” Larsen said. “Occupation of the site abruptly came to an end in AD 68-69 when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt that destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”