4. Definitive proof of the reality of Pontius Pilate
Up until 1961, there was not a single reliable proof of the historical existence of Pontius Pilate, or any conclusive evidence that a man with this name held the position of Prefect in the Roman province of Judea. Several ancient historians (e.g. Flavius Josephus, Tacit, or Philo of Alexandria) referred to Pontius Pilate in their writings, but most modern historians were sceptical of their accounts. All doubts were dispelled when a team of Italian archaeologists found in Caesarea, Palestine a plate with fragments of the Latin inscription that said …S TIBERIÉVM …PON]TIVSPILATVS …ECTVSIVDAE…» that confirmed with reasonable plausibility that Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea during the rule of Emperor Tiberius when Jesus died on the Cross.
However, almost a year before, in 1960, archaeologists discovered outside the ancient site of King Herod’s castle a ring from a copper alloy that bore an unknown text. The artefact was so badly defaced by rust that the text could not be read for almost six decades. It was not until 2019 that methods became available for the archaeologists to do the task. They found that the inscription on the ring contained the name «ΠΙΛΑΤΟ» in Greek. Most scholars agree that the ring did not belong to Pilate (its material was too cheap to be used by an official of his rank or any of his close circle), but it was most probably utilised by an aide or a member of his court. Whatever the case, the finding became yet another archaeological proof of the existence of the Roman Prefect who sent Christ, however reluctantly, to His death.
5. Discovering a fragment of a Canaan idol that matches its description in the Bible
In 2020, the Israeli archaeologist Joseph Garfinkel announced the finding in an excavation near Lakish of a bronze rod dating back to the 13th century whose shape was fully identical to the rod in the edifices of the Pagan Canaan god El. Professor Garfinkel suggested that the finding was a part of the destroyed statue of El in natural height. He also presumed that El was not the only God of the Canaan pantheon whose gigantic statues were widespread across the land, and the tradition of building such status was also common among its people.
This finding and its possible implications fit in well with the narratives in biblical texts. The text on the capture by the Philistines of Noah’s Arc (that carried the great relics of the Israeli people, the tablets with God’s commandments, a vessel with manna from heaven and Aaron’s Rod) mentions the discovery by the Philistinians who came to ravage the Arc of the idol of their God Dagon lying face down and of the same idol on the next day with its extremities cut off (1 Kings 5: 1 – 4). This description matches that of a full-sized idol provided found by Joseph Garfinkel near Lakish.
Conclusion: what is the significance of these findings?
However unexpected, the main conclusion is that the main significance of biblical archaeology for Christian teachings is not in providing material ‘proof” of the reality of the events described in the bible. The tradition of teaching the faith in Christian schools has remained constant throughout the centuries. Its main emphasis is on the role of biblical history in the reconstruction of the cultural and historical background, traditions and social practices in biblical times of the Jews and other peoples living around the Kingdom of Israel. It is not on proving the historical truth of the biblical narrative, as genuine faith does not need any such proof. Furthermore, a more appropriate title for the subject of biblical archaeology would be the archaeology of the Middle East. Its use of scientific methods and reliance on facts from related disciplines in the examination of the historical artefacts extends its uses beyond the teaching of the faith as such. Therefore, the findings of the archaeologists in Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt and other areas described in the Bible put biblical history in the broader contexts of the history of the Middle East and world history more generally.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds