By Madalyn Rhyne
Christianity Today named assistant professor of Old Testament Brian Peterson’s most recent archaeological finding as “the most important archeological discovery in 2013.” This past summer Peterson discovered an Egyptian scarab, a pendant popular in ancient Egypt meant to show devotion to the dung beetle and sun god, while excavating Israeli ruins in Khirbet el-Maqatir.
This scarab, according to Peterson, helps prove that this excavation site could be the location of the Biblical city of Ai, a Canaanite royal city. Previously, pottery had been discovered at the site of Khirbet el-Maqatir that seemed to validate the proposition of Ai, but now the scarab provides stronger factual evidence.
“This scarab allows us to date it within a generation. So now we can narrow it down so we know, somewhere between the mid to late 15th century, what we have here is a settlement,” Peterson said.
It was actually archaeology student Destry Jackson that pulled the scarab from the ground. At first, Peterson explained, they did not know what they had found and simply set it aside. Later, after closer examination, they realized the significance of their discovery.
Bill Simmons, professor of New Testament and Greek, was also on the trip. Simmons had never been on an archaeological dig before.
“As a professor of New Testament studies, the dig integrated the history, culture and geography of Israel more than any other experience to date,” Simmons told Christianity Today. “Literally unearthing the world of the first century, handling the artifacts of a bygone era, and listening to lectures by seasoned archaeologists reveals the multifaceted nature of the program.”
Peterson supports conservative Christians getting involved in archaeology in order to use archaeology as a way to prove the Bible historically.
“We interpret the data from the fact that the Bible is inspired, and that it is history. The Bible can be validated based upon archaeology,” Peterson said.
The scarab found is dated from the late Bronze Age. The location of the scarab aligns with Biblical accounts and historical records from this era.
Amenhotep II was ruling Egypt at this time period, and according to Peterson, one of his vassals presiding over the area of Khirbet el-Maqatir most likely possessed this scarab.
The site of Khirbet el-Maqatir has been excavated since the 1990s. It can sometimes take a lifetime to research at one site. Peterson said that archaeologists will continue to dig at this site for 8-10 more years.
The current goal is to continue finding artifacts that further prove this location as the Biblical city of Ai. The discovery of the scarab has forced some skeptics to reevaluate their doubts about Khirbet el-Maqatir. The findings of the pottery coupled with the new scarab further validate the possibility of Ai’s location being here.
Next summer, Peterson will be taking 12 students with him to dig in Israel. This will be his fifth digging season at this location. One of the students travelling with Peterson is sophomore Vincent Williams.
“I am hoping the trip makes me feel a greater sense of awe that the places in the Bible are actually real places,” Williams said. “Doing archaeology in Israel is going to be exciting because we are digging up the cities that the ancient Israelites actually lived in.”
Digging in Israel during the summer is hard work, though. The day begins early with a 4:30 a.m. breakfast, and digging usually commences at 6:00 a.m., Peterson said. The temperatures can reach as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, so the excavation stops around 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.
The upcoming archaeology trip in May is the first Peterson has taken with a group of Lee students. He hopes to make it a consistent Global Perspectives trip that will attract students yearly.
Along with the experience, students can receive 20 service hours on the trip. They volunteer for the Association of Biblical Research, the organization Peterson is affiliated with, by participating as archaeologists, and they get the opportunity to minister to the local workers in the area.
The scarab was placed on display at the Houston Baptist Seminary. It will be on display for the next year.
For now, the work continues for archaeologists, and Peterson said he is excited to share his love for the field with new students this summer.
All photos from this story contributed from Brian Peterson