Mario Tobia, a student from Jerusalem, poses with the artifact.
Mario Tobia, a student from Jerusalem, poses with the artifact.

Ancient Sculpture of Biblical King Discovered in Israel Draws Global Interest

by University Relations

The latest artifact unearthed from Azusa Pacific University’s archeological excavation site with Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Tel Abel Beth Maacah has triggered a flood of news stories capturing the imagination of more than half a billion people around the globe, with the number of articles and interested parties continuing to grow. The identity of a 3,000-year-old miniature sculpted head of a king intrigues scholars and the public alike. Currently on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the head rotates slowly on a motorized base, enabling visitors to view its details and ponder its mysterious origin.

According to Robert Mullins, Ph.D., lead archeologist at Abel Beth Maacah and chair and professor in Azusa Pacific’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, the head measures 2.2 x 2 inches and has carefully executed features, including glossy black tresses combed back from a headband painted in yellow and black and a manicured beard. The figure’s almond-shaped eyes and pupils are lined in black and the pursed lips give him a look that is part pensive, part stern. The glazed surface is tinted light green due to the addition of copper to the quartz paste. Its elegant style indicates that the man was a distinguished person, likely a king. By all appearances, the head seems to have broken off from the body of a figurine that stood 8-10 inches high.

“Despite the head’s small and innocuous appearance, it provides us with a unique opportunity to gaze into the eyes of a famous person from the past, a past enshrined in the Book of Ages,” said Mullins. “Given the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts the likes of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. The head represents a royal enigma.”

Back in July 2017, high up on the summit of Abel Beth Maacah, Mullins and his team were excavating the remains of what could be an ancient citadel from the time of the Israelite kings. One room contained evidence of metallurgical activity. Another yielded an elaborately decorated Phoenician storage vessel. In the easternmost room, Mario Tobia, an engineering student from Jerusalem, picked up a small two-inch square “dirt clod” that encased this mysterious head.

The Israel Museum held a special ceremony in May featuring a presentation on the head and its discovery by Naama Yahalom-Mack, Ph.D., of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A more detailed article about the head and the current excavations at Abel Beth Maacah will appear in the June issue of the professional journal, Near Eastern Archaeology.

The ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah, mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, has yielded other exciting discoveries from the 13 th century BC, including a silver hoard that contained silver earrings and ignots, and a stone seal depicting a ritual dance.

The 2018 summer dig season at Abel Beth Maacah begins June 24. The excavation site is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This joint excavation is now in its sixth year.

Related links:

Read the Live Science article.

Read the Associated Press article.

Watch the film featuring Robert Mullins, Ph.D., and the Abel Beth Maacah Excavation Project.