Gabriel Barkay, leading Israeli archaeologist, to lecture at Southwestern

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will host Gabriel Barkay, one of today’s foremost biblical archaeologists, when he visits North Texas Feb. 5-8 as part of a national speaking tour. Barkay will make his first stop at Southwestern Seminary in the Williamsburg Room of the Naylor Student Center Feb. 5 at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public and media.

Barkay will present a lecture on the oldest fragments of the Bible ever found, which he uncovered during an excavation in Jerusalem in 1979.

Barkay’s visit to Southwestern Seminary will kickoff the seminary’s recently revitalized archaeology program. Due to Barkay’s high profile in the field of archaeology, having him and scholars like him to visit is part of an effort to foster a “serious program in biblical archaeological research,” said Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Seminary.

“We want our students to be exposed to one of the top scholars in the field of biblical archaeology,” Ortiz said. “Barkay will lecture about the oldest fragment of biblical text ever discovered. As Southern Baptist students who are studying the Bible, what better way than to be actually exposed to this phenomenal discovery.”

Ortiz said Barkay’s visit shows Southwestern Seminary’s commitment to make prominent archaeological scholarship available to the broader academic community, seminary students and churches.

Born in Hungary, Barkay moved to Jerusalem early in life, where he later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then earned his doctoral degree in archaeology at Tel Aviv University. It was while doing research for his dissertation that Barkay made a find that has brought him recognition among Biblical archaeologists: He discovered the oldest engravings of Old Testament scripture yet to be found in the Near East.

Barkay made this groundbreaking discovery at Ketef Hinnom, an excavation just outside the old city of Jerusalem, in 1979. He was helped by a 12-year-old boy who accidentally broke through the floor of an Israelite tomb with a large hammer, revealing a storeroom below. In it lay hundreds of pieces of pottery, jewelry and other artifacts that had been undisturbed for about 2,600 years.

Along these artifacts, Barkay found two tiny, silver scrolls. After a long process of unrolling the scrolls, he saw written on them not only the earliest known appearance of the Hebrew name for God, but also the priestly benediction found in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Barkay was able to place a date for the scrolls to the sixth or seventh centuries B.C., four centuries before the Dead Sea Scrolls were transcribed.

Barkay told the story of this find from Ketef Hinnom at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in early 2004. A year later, he returned to the New Orleans seminary and reported attempts to recover archaeological data that was being threatened at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

According to Baptist Press, Barkay said that “Islamic authorities carried out a huge excavation of [the part of the Temple Mount known as Solomon’s Stable]” in November 1999. The large-scale excavation lacked archaeological supervision and resulted in the destruction of many ancient structures and artifacts.

In late 2004, Barkay began the process of systematically excavating the soil that had been removed from the Temple Mount and dumped into the Kidron Valley. Barkay noted that the work had already revealed many coins from the second century B.C. to the 19th century A.D.

Barkay is currently professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. Throughout his career, he has been involved with excavations at Lachish, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Tel Zayit, and Susa in modern-day Iran. He has directed excavations at Ramat Rachel, Ketef Hinnom and other sites. Barkay has published many articles in the Israel Exploration Journal, Biblical Archaeology Review and other scholarly periodicals. He is a recipient of the prestigious Jerusalem Prize in Archaeology.

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