The Christian Studies Blog


Blank Parchment Found in Clay Jar -- Bible Scholars Elated

Posted by Dr. Jeff Peterson on February 28, 2017 at 3:30 AM

Okay, none of the stories that recently appeared on the web about a recent discovery in the Judean desert bore quite the headline above, but it’s not too far off from the tone of some of the reports. As posted on the National Geographic website among other places, archaeologists have found a twelfth cave in addition to the eleven previously excavated near the famous ruins in the vicinity of the Wadi (i.e., “dry stream-bed”) Qumran, a stone’s throw from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.

Inside the cave these excavators found the remains of ancient clay jars, the pickaxes used to smash them in the mid-twentieth century by previous (and less scrupulous) explorers, and scraps of the material originally stored in the jars, including no actual scrolls but only the linen in which they would have been wrapped, plus some blank parchment. Biblical scholars, and scholars in general, are stereotypically sober and cautious types, not easily excited. What, then, would lead one scholar who knows the Qumran site well to characterize such a seemingly mundane find as “hard to believe,” “truly exciting,” and “truly significant”?

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Topics: Archaeology, About Austin Grad

Learn about Ancient Roman Bath Houses

Posted by Dr. Mark Shipp on July 12, 2016 at 9:30 AM

An important and interesting event during the March 9-20, 2016 Israel archaeological study tour was restoration work on the third century A. D. Roman bath house at Tamar. Tamar is an ancient site, 40 km. southwest of the Dead Sea, on the edge of the Arabah Valley in the Negev Desert of Israel. A large fortress was located there in Roman times, part of the Roman limes, border fortresses on the edge of Arabia and the limit of Roman control in the eastern part of the empire.

An interesting, and ubiquitous, aspect of Roman culture was the construction of bath houses wherever in the empire Romans lived and congregated. The one at Tamar is relatively small, as Roman bath houses go, but had all of the architecture, layout, and amenities larger bath houses possessed. In addition, attached to the side of the bath house is a large Roman taverna, probably military quarters. This building was divided into many small rooms (Latin tabernae, meaning rude dwelling, hut, or shop), probably used as living quarters, including also a public area and a bathroom, with toilets and, in the past, flowing water. A 40 X 40 meter fortress dominated the mound less than 50 meters from the taberna and bath house.

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Topics: Teaching Moment, Old Testament, Archaeology, How To, Personal

"He Was Covered with Every Precious Gemstone" (Ezekiel 28:13)

Posted by Dr. Mark Shipp on June 9, 2016 at 9:30 AM

There have been three previous blog posts dealing with the first three courses of stones of the high priestly breastplate in Exodus 28. We will now look at the fourth, and final, row of stones (plus you can watch two video presentations of me recapping all gemstones).

These are the taršîš, the šōham, and the yašpeh stones. I will try to demonstrate how the use of ancient languages can help us identify these gemstones with their modern counterpart.


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Topics: Teaching Moment, Scripture Passage, Old Testament, Archaeology

Raiders of the Lost Ark or History Channel?

Posted by Dr. Mark Shipp on May 26, 2016 at 9:30 AM

For the first time, “Biblical Archaeology” was taught as a full-term, credit class at Austin Grad in the spring of 2016 (previously, the class had been taught as a directed study). Another first was the archaeological study tour of Israel in the middle of the semester in conjunction with the class. Students learned the history, methods, and controversies surrounding archaeological excavations in Israel, then those who went on the tour got to see the archaeological sites ”up close and personal.”

One of the misconceptions about archaeology is that it is a romantic adventure in the Middle East, filled with intrigue and amazing discoveries. Students in the class learned that the history of archaeology in Israel has been characterized by missteps, incorrect interpretations, brilliant deductions, an occasional spectacular find, a great deal of hard work, and always political controversy. For those trained in how to read things “on the ground,” however, even the dustiest broken potsherd can illuminate the history and culture of a particular site in Israel. Students in the course got a close look at both the spectacular mistakes, as well as the methodical, and often boring, incremental advances in knowledge, advanced by the careful practice of archaeological methods.

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Topics: About Austin Grad, On-Topic Today, Teaching Moment, Old Testament, Archaeology

Spring Break in Jerusalem: Austin Grad's '16 Archaeological Study Tour

Posted by Dr. Mark Shipp on March 31, 2016 at 9:30 AM


The 2016 archaeological study tour of Israel is over, and to hear from the students, church members, and family members who went, it was a resounding success!

I have taken groups to Israel since 2004. This one was extremely memorable, in that it was the first time my wife Sheree went with me. It was very brief (only 10 days), but packed with many sites and activities, and we engaged in archaeological work in southern Israel of a type I had never done before: restoration of a Roman bath house and excavation of a Byzantine era synagogue! More of this below, but perhaps a few words about the history of this work are in order first.

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Topics: About Austin Grad, On-Topic Today, Old Testament, Archaeology

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