Has the House of Elisha Been Found?

It’s rather unlikely, but neither is it impossible.

Archaeologists digging at Tel Rehov (under the direction of Amihai Mazar) in Israel have come upon an unusually structured house, in which they found an ostracon with the name ‘Elisha’ written in ink on it. Mazar suggests the ostracon dates to the 9th century BC, which would fit the timeframe for the prophet Elisha, successor to the prophet Elijah.

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) news service has reported on the find. Here are some quotes from their article:

Outside the backroom were incense altars that may have been used to make an offering to God before entering the house to hear the prophet’s message…

“We found an ink inscription written in red ink on pottery, but it is broken unfortunately,” Mazar said. “But we reconstructed the name as Elisha.”

The prophet Elisha was born about seven miles from Tel Rehov in Avel Mehola and went throughout the kingdom of Israel, from Jericho to Samaria to Shunam.

“You know I cannot say for sure this particular Elisha that we found is the biblical Elisha,” Mazar said. “You know it’s very difficult to say, but it is very tempting because it is exactly the period when Elisha acted — the second half of the 9th century BC.”

There are strings of ‘maybes’ in all of this. And with each ‘maybe’, we effectively halve the chances of a ‘probably’. So there are quite a few things that have to align for this discovery to actually be the house of Elisha. Personally, on first glance, I’d say the writing on the ostracon looks more 8th century BC than 9th century BC. The report doesn’t give us much info on the stratigraphy where the ostracon was found, unfortunately. So, I’m inclined to say that it’s probably wishful thinking to say that we’ve found the house of Elisha. Despite that, it’s always exciting to be digging up someone’s ancient home and learning more about the ancient Israelites who lived in it—even if they were just plebs rather than prophets.

The CBN article includes a short video clip about the alleged discovery.

http://www.cbn.com/tv/2561962157001

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8 thoughts on “Has the House of Elisha Been Found?

  1. When I was in Capernaum, I was shown what the tour guide insisted was the very house of the disciple Peter and his mother. And in Jerusalem the very tomb of Jesus and in Nazareth the very home of Joseph the carpenter.

    Elisha could not have been such a unique or uncommon name that we would not expect others to bear it, would we? Granted it is in the general geographical area, I’m going to need a lot more confirmation.

    Archaeologists need money, they need justification. And the media needs advertisers. Hence the “possible” identification. High probability, not. 😉

    • I agree with your estimation, Kirk. I need a lot more than this to say that it’s Elisha house. However, the evidence for the house in Capernaum being Peter’s house is actually quite compelling. We can’t be certain, but unlike Nazareth or Tel Rehov, the evidence at Capernaum is very good.

  2. That is absolutely terrific, all in one week, a second palace for David (at a place on Judah’s border, namely at Qeijafa) and now we have the very home of the prophet Elisha. Although I do not doubt that the discovery of either one or both is ultimately possible (as I believe both persons to have been historical personalities), I cannot understand how scholars make up such theories based on such flimsy evidence other than that it helps them find the finances for their digs and that it is good for the media. While I like the Elisha discovery better than the one on the so-called Davidic palace, as we have at least a name (which we don’t at Qeijafa), a single name (even a broken one!) is simply not good enough to propose an identification, as my colleague Lawrence Mykytiuk has well argued in his 2003 SBL book and as I have also stressed in my own PhD thesis. In this case several things must be shown to work. Ideally we should have either the patronym (which we haven’t) or a professional title (which we also do not have). Also the palaeographic date should clearly suggest a date within the 9th century BC which it doesn’t (George I fully agree with you that it appears to be 8th century script not 9th!). In fact the paleography resembles closely that of the Samaria ostraca which do not likely predate the reign of Jeroboam II. Now of course the ostracon may prove that Elisha continued in office that late, but again that is speculation. Be this as it may, the ostracon is nice and certainly, not more than that I am afraid, shows that the name was in use at about the same time and in the same region where the prophet was active.
    Best wishes Peter van der Veen Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. I fully concur. Yes, the writing instantly reminded me of the Samaria Ostraca, so 8th century BC seems likely. It would be nice to know a bit more of the stratigraphy surrounding the ostracon, too. But I very much doubt this is the house of the prophet Elisha.

  3. Hi George, Indeed I doubt it too that this is the house of the prophet and the name is rather common as I know from later seals and bullae even within Judah and especially also in the neighboring Kingdom of Ammon. Yes the stratigraphy is important and it is necessary to establish that it was found in a primary context and not in a dump or in the top-soil. For the ostracon can also be later, but palaeographically hardly earlier. Indeed the Samaria ostraca seem a good reference point but to be fair we have very little material to compare it with. Even the date of the Kuntilet Ajrud material (which most scholars believe is of northern Israelite origin even if the site is located in northern Sinai) is not fixed and not safe to compare. It is especially the oval type of ayin, the squat horizontal bars of yod and the tick on the lamed that seem to recall those letters on the Samaria ostraca. Also the form of shin (almost as if blown into a corner to the right) seems to support this. So I would say – indeed – preferably 8th rather than 9th century, perhaps towards the middle of the 8th, if we can be that precise. But again we need more details, including the stratigraphy. Best Peter

    • Antonio,
      Such do occur also in Judah, e.g. at Jerusalem (several from the 7th cent. BC Cave 1 excavated by Kenyon, these were incised both before and after firing), Lachish (also written in ink, published by Lemaire in Vol. 4 of the Renewed Excavations by D. Ussishkin) etc. So yes these occur.

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