Top Ten New Testament Archaeological Finds of the Past 150 Years
During the 20th century, and accelerating after World War 2, there have been a plethora of important finds for understanding the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. For example, we now have 5,000 manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the New Testament. Many, indeed most, of these have been discovered in the last hundred or so years. The earliest piece of the New Testament we have is a small portion of John 18 copied on a piece of papyrus and dating to about A.D. 125. Of course we know that the New Testament books were written in the first century A.D. But we don't have any of the original manuscripts. What we do have is copies of copies of copies. It can be said, however, that today, as a result of careful critical textual study and lots of hard work, we are closer to the original form of the Greek text of the New Testament than at any time since at least the third or fourth century A.D.
If we are talking about artifacts other than texts the following is important. The now famous House of Peter in Capernaum, which was found in 1906, but was only properly excavated between 1968 and 1998, has provided us certainly with very early evidence of a house church in which Christians met after the time of Christ, and it is not impossible it was a house where one of the original Twelve may have lived, at least for a time.
Of course mention must be made of the Qumran scrolls that began to come to light in 1946-47, but despite some occasional exaggerated claims, these scrolls do not contain any portions of the New Testament, or any Christian documents. They provide evidence of how a particular sect of early Jews lived near the Dead Sea, and what they kept in their library (mostly books from the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament). Indirectly, these scrolls shed light on the time of Jesus, on some early Jewish beliefs, and on their messianic hopes, but we find no direct evidence of Jesus or his family or his movement here (despite the eccentric and widely rejected claims of one scholar that the Teacher of Righteousness might in fact have been James, the brother of Jesus).
Of more direct relevance is the finding of the Pontus Pilate inscription at Caesarea Maritima in 1962. This provided inscriptional confirmation of the existence of Pilate and the role he played in Judea for over a decade (he is called a prefect in the inscription). Here we can actually talk about confirmation of one or more biblical claims about a historical figure. Of a more grisly nature was the find in 1968 of the ossified foot complete with spike of a crucified Jewish man, called Yehohanan. This provided some confirmation about the process of crucifixion, though interestingly the Gospels do not directly mention the nailing of Jesus to the cross in the crucifixion accounts (only afterward is this suggested in John 20:25).
The various excavations at Herodian sites (Masada, the Herodium, the Temple Mount) have certainly confirmed the image of Herod as a builder with dreams of grandeur, and have helped us reconstruct what the Temple and Temple Mount must have looked like in Jesus' day. It gives us a feel for a Temple-centered religion, and helps us to imagine what Jesus saw and what he must have found objectionable. It only confirms the megalomaniac Herod is depicted to be in the New Testament and in Josephus' writings.