For over two centuries liberal skeptics of an inerrant Bible have challenged the Bible’s historical accounts. Archaeological digs in Israel over the past hundred years, however, have been silencing these critics, artifact discovery by artifact discovery, making an ever stronger case for the complete reliability and inerrancy of the Bible’s historical narratives and geographical descriptions.
In the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports three archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef, Dafna Langgut, and Lidar Sapir-Hen, announced their findings from excavations they performed in one of the most inhospitable regions in southern Israel.1 They excavated a gatehouse and livestock pens in Timna, Israel. The red dot in the figure below marks the location of Timna, approximately 19 miles north of the northernmost point of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is in one of the most arid and desolate parts of the Negev Desert.
Figure: Location of Timna in Southern Israel
Map credit: NASA
The excavated gatehouse and livestock pens were part of one of the largest copper smelting camps in the Timna Valley. The dating of several recovered artifacts established that the camp supported a community of copper metalworkers in the tenth century BC.
This dating resolved a major historical controversy. While there is abundant historical evidence that the rich copper ore in the region had been mined since the fifth century BC, historians expressed considerable skepticism about whether the mines and smelters were active during the reign of Israel’s King Solomon. The new dating measurements remove that skepticism. The mines and smelting camps in the Timna Valley indeed are the fabled King Solomon’s mines.
Because of the extreme aridity of the camp region, organic materials were extraordinarily preserved. Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen were able to recover animal bones and seeds and pollen in donkey dung piles. Analysis of the dung revealed that the donkeys were fed grape pomace and hay rather than straw.
The grape pomace and hay diet shows that the donkeys were well cared for. This care would have been critically important for the donkeys to be effective draft animals for the hauling of copper from the camp to central and northern Israel and for the transport of supplies to the camp. Analysis of the animal bones and seeds shows that the metalworkers ate a rich diet that would have enabled them to engage in highly productive labor.
Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen also noted that donkey dung was piled against the inner face of walled structures. This piling indicates that the dung was used as a fuel for the initial heating of the smelting furnaces. The three archaeologists also discovered artifacts demonstrating that the metalworkers engaged in secondary metallurgy. That is, they not only smelted copper ore, but also further refined it and manufactured ingots.
The gatehouse and walls evidently were for defense. They show that the Israelites of Solomon’s time invested heavily in military deterrence. The three archaeologists commented that their excavation revealed the camp’s “complexity and centralized organization, as well as its involvement in inter-regional trade.”2
The Bible devotes twenty-one chapters to describing the history of King Solomon’s reign and the extent, wealth, power, and organization of Solomon’s empire. Many scholars presumed that these descriptions were just as exaggerated and embellished as are the annals of famous kings in the nations bordering Israel during the BC era. What Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen discovered in Timna is that these biblical descriptions are not exaggerated. They are entirely consistent with everything the Bible describes about the reign of King Solomon.
Featured image: This formation in Israel’s Timna Valley is known as King Solomon’s Pillars.
- Erez Ben-Yosef, Dafna Langgut, and Lidar Sapir-Hen, “Beyond Smelting: New Insights on Iron Age (10th C. BCE) Metalworkers Community from Excavations at a Gatehouse and Associated Livestock Pens in Timna, Israel,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 11 (February 2017): 411–26, doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.12.010.
- Ibid., 411.