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ISRAEL: Seminary Archaeology
Team Makes Key Find

BY GARY D. MYERS                                                                                                                  ©2012 Baptist Press

An archaeological discovery by a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary team June 12 will never be on display in a museum, but it is as significant as many from the Holy Land that fill the finest antiquity halls around the world. And it is much, much larger.

The team, under the direction of the NOBTS Center for Archaeological Research, located a large open section in the cave at the eastern end of the ancient water system at Tel Gezer in Israel.

The discovery marks a major milestone in the seminary's three-year exploration at Gezer and sets the stage for future research. The breakthrough is valuable in understanding the cultural context in which the Bible was written.

The team still plans to locate the water source for the system and explore the entire cave, seeking a possible rear exit and pottery evidence to help date its construction in future digs.

The dig leaders believe the rock-hewn water tunnel was cut by the Canaanite occupants of Gezer between 2000 and 1800 B.C. -- around the time of Abraham. Other scholars date the system to the time of the Divided Kingdom after Solomon.

The site is mentioned numerous times in the Bible including in 1 Kings 9 when the city was given to Solomon by the Egyptian pharaoh. Solomon rebuilt and fortified the city with a massive wall and unique gate system.

The latest discovery could help archeologists date the Tel Gezer water system and understand how it works, which would offer valuable information to students of the Bible.

 "Opening the cave is something we have been working toward for three summers wondering if it even existed," said Dan Warner, associate professor of archaeology and Old Testament at NOBTS and director of the Gezer Water System Expedition.
"It gave me a rush. Once inside it gave us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but we are not done by a long shot," Warner said.

A small dig team broke into the cavern at about 8 a.m. on June 12. What they found was a large, wedge shaped open area of the cave measuring 26 feet wide by 30 feet long and reaching a height of nearly seven feet at its highest point down to only a few inches at its lowest.

The surface inside is covered with a thin layer of cracked mud similar to what one would find in a dry pond or lake bed. The chamber also contains large boulders of chalk that have broken free from the cave roof. The roof, which slopes up at a 45-degree angle, seems relatively sound.

Though the cave was briefly opened by Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister in 1908, he was unable to take a photograph due to condensation on his camera lens and poor lighting. The NOBTS team also encountered condensation on the camera lens at first, but after ventilating the area with a large fan the team was able to obtain the first photographs and videos of the cave's interior.

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