Iremember the first time I walked into the cave of Indiana Jones. It wasn’t really Indiana Jones, and it wasn’t really a cave. But it felt that way.
I was in Jerusalem and was being introduced to a well-known, licensed, and widely respected antiquities dealer. His name was Lenny. Lenny’s “cave” is actually the lower level of his house which is tucked away in an obscure neighborhood. The “cave” serves as his office. You enter it from the outside, going down a small flight of stone stairs. Ivy covers the surrounding walls. I stepped into Lenny’s workplace and my eyes widened. All around the room were display cases filled with ancient vases, oil lamps, and jewelry. Large earthenware pots, sitting on metal stands, lined the walls. Bronze and silver coins, thousands of years old, filled containers sitting on desks, the floor, and various shelves. It was a virtual cornucopia of relics and remains from centuries long gone. Each artifact was a testimonial of Jewish life and presence in the land of Israel long before there was anyone to dispute it.
Erasing Jewish History
And dispute it they do. Today, Israel’s enemies relentlessly challenge Israel’s right to the land. They accuse Israel of being “occupiers,” a negative-sounding term implying illegality. Israel’s foes claim Israel has no historical ties to the land. Even the United Nations has gotten in on the act.
Today, Israel’s enemies relentlessly challenge Israel’s right to the land.
For example, on October 18, 2016, the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution entitled “Occupied Palestine.” The “Occupied Palestine” resolution referred to Israel 15 times as “the occupying Power.” It used only Arabic names to refer to Jewish holy sites, such as the Temple Mount. And it called on Israel to stop its archaeological digs in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.
UNESCO’s “Occupied Palestine” resolution essentially disavowed 3,000 years of Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem and its holy sites, thus denying any right of Israel to Jerusalem or the land at large. Hamas, a terrorist organization and enemy of Israel, considered the “Occupied Palestine” resolution “a victory to the Palestinian cause and a destruction of the Israeli narrative regarding Al-Aqsa’ [i.e., the Temple Mount area]”.1
Proof of Jewish Ties to the Land
Putting UNESCO’s name-calling aside, it’s curious that they would demand Israel stop its archaeological digs around Jerusalem. What could be the reason? Could it be that they’re afraid of what Israel might find, something that might serve as evidence of Israel’s ancient presence, thus validating Israel’s claim of historical ties and possession of the land?
If so, their fears are justified. Archaeology in Israel has confirmed over and over again that the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have dwelt, bought, fought, worshiped, suffered, and survived in the Holy Land for millennia. Ironically, on October 26, 2016, the very day UNESCO passed a similar resolution as before called “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” the Israel Antiquities Authority put on display a 7th century BC (1st Temple era) papyrus fragment written in ancient Hebrew that contains the word Jerusalem. It’s “the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.”
Archaeology in Israel has confirmed over and over again that the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have dwelt, bought, fought, worshiped, suffered, and survived in the Holy Land for millennia.
Of course, that’s not the only evidence that archaeologists in Israel have uncovered. In fact, there are so many ancient and biblical sites in Israel, the Antiquities Authority has set up 320 free, open-air archaeological gardens and exhibits around the country. Additionally, the archaeological wing of the Israel Museum contains thousands of historical objects tying the Jewish people to their ancestral home, many of them with ancient Hebrew inscriptions.
Here is just a sampling of ancient witnesses that speak to us today:
• Tel Dan Stele (9th cent. BC). In 1992 a stone slab was found at the Tel Dan National Park in Israel. The Aramaic inscription recorded the victory of the Aramean king Hazael over “Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, king of the house of David.” This is the only reference ever found outside of the Bible to the person of King David, thus validating his historicity.
• King Hezekiah Seal Impression (8th cent. BC). King Hezekiah, a descendant of King David, used, like most kings and people in positions of authority, their own stamps (often set in signet rings) to seal and authorize official documents or letters. They would press the stamp into a small bit of soft clay, leaving their official seal. In 2015, a clay seal impression was found just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Hebrew writing said, “Belonging to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah.”
• The Siloam Inscription (8th cent. BC). One day in 1880 a 16-year-old Jewish boy named Jacob, who loved archaeology, was wading through the water of an underground conduit in Jerusalem known today as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. When his candle blew out, Jacob continued in complete darkness by feeling the ancient chisel marks left in the stone walls. The builders of the tunnel had come from opposite directions and had met somewhere near the middle. So when the direction of the chisel marks on the wall reversed, Jacob knew he was at the spot where the tunnel workers united. He also felt something else chiseled into the stone. He was convinced it was an inscription. Excited, he exited the tunnel and told his schoolmaster what he had discovered. Word spread. The inscription was found and translated. Eventually, the inscription and surrounding stone were put in a museum in Turkey (since Israel at that time was under the Ottoman Empire). There is little doubt that this inscription, which records in ancient Hebrew how the two teams of rock hewers joined together, commemorates the completion of the tunnel that Hezekiah built to bring water into the city in preparation for an Assyrian siege (2 Chronicles 32:2–4; 2 Kings 20:20).
By the way, young Jacob was a believer in Jesus and was later formally adopted by the head of the American Colony in Jerusalem – Horatio G. Spafford, the man who penned the great Christian hymn It is Well with My Soul.2
• The Dead Sea Scrolls (3rd cent. BC–1st cent. AD). Considered by some to be the greatest archaeological find in Israel, the Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish religious manuscripts. They were mostly written in Hebrew on parchment or papyri by a Jewish sect living on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. The manuscripts were hidden or stored in 11 caves where they remained for centuries until they were discovered between 1947 and 1956. Copies of all the books of the Hebrew Bible were found there, except for Nehemiah and Esther. Amazingly, an entire copy of the book of Isaiah was found intact. These are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible ever found.
In a court of law, witnesses are vital to making a case. The more witnesses, the better the case. The above examples are just a few of the ancient witnesses substantiating the claim that Israel’s history and roots are intricately connected to their Promised Land.
But if those examples are not enough, even more will be brought forward in the second part of this blog to bolster Israel’s case further.
1 “UNESCO adopts controversial Jerusalem resolution,” The Washington Post, October 18, 2016.
2 Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City 1881–1949 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1950], pp 90-92.