Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts?

When trying to establish the reliability of eyewitnesses in cold case investigations, I use a template that I learned from criminal trials (I’ve written about this at length in my book). One of the four areas I examine is whether or not an eyewitness account can be verified in some way by outside evidence that corroborates the claims of the witness. Detectives are usually able to locate DNA, fingerprint, or other forensic evidence that validates and affirms the statement offered by a witness (sometimes an additional witness is even used to verify a statement). But what about historic eyewitness accounts that were recorded so long ago that forensic evidence is no longer available? Well, here’s where I think archeology can step into the gap to help us substantiate the claims of ancient eyewitnesses.

I’ve written online about some of the archeological evidence that supports the claims made by Luke in the Book of Acts (I’ve written more on this in Cold Case Christianity), but it’s clear from any authority on Biblical archeology that we don’t have support for every detail of the gospels. Critics often cite this reality as a challenge for those of us who claim the gospels are accurate. But let’s take a minute to compare the state of Biblical archeological support with the state of Mormon archeological support. Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon make claims about the ancient past that can be verified with archeological discoveries. But while the Biblical narrative has been robustly (although incompletely) confirmed with archeology, the Book of Mormon narrative has not been corroborated by a single archeological discovery. Not a single Mormon city has been discovered. Not a single Mormon artifact. Not a single inscription bearing a name from the Mormon narrative. Christianity does not suffer from such a complete absence of archeological confirmation.

But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:

Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.

Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.

Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.

Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.

Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!

See the problem? In spite of these limits, we still have a robust collection of archaeological evidences confirming the narratives of the New Testament (both in the gospel accounts and in the Book of Acts). We shouldn’t hesitate to use what we do know archaeologically in combination with other lines of evidence. Archaeology may not be able to tell us everything, but it can help us fill in the circumstantial case as we corroborate the gospel record.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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A Review of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus

On Monday evening I went to see the much anticipated documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus by filmmaker Tim Mahoney and Thinking Man Films.

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Overall, I very much liked the film and my impression is that it was very well produced and thought out. In short, it was a very high quality production and has great potential to be effective for those on the fence about the historical account of the Exodus in the Bible.

I offer the following thoughts to those who watched it on the night of its release, and for those who plan to watch it in the future, perhaps on the History Channel or on DVD.

First I would like to state what I liked about the film and offer some positive comments. Secondly, I will point out where I think Mahoney missed a couple of valuable opportunities apologetically, historically and archaeologically.

Yesterday I posted an article titled Navigating “Patterns of Evidence for the Biblical Exodus which essentially outlined where the film would focus most of its attention. That focus was on the dating of the Exodus or the chronology (or when it happened), and that was correct. More on this in a moment, but first some positive observations of the film.

THE GOOD

Production Quality

One of the first things that impressed me about the film was its very high production quality. It had the feel of a National Geographic special. Throughout the film there was extensive use of computer graphics and 3D animation which was very helpful. In addition, Mahoney traveled to some amazing places in Egypt (Luxor), Israel and Europe to shoot the interviews. The shots were well crafted and well edited. The cinematography was top rate.

Soundtrack

The next thing might seem like a rather silly thing to comment on, but I think that it is also an important part of any film – was the music. The film score was epic, adventurous, mysterious (in places), and just well done. The music was performed by the Budapest Film Orchestra, and the Budapest Film Choir.

The Question of the Historical Exodus: Back on the Table

The film does an excellent job of putting the question of the historical exodus back on the table and in the thoughts among those in the general public, and perhaps even some scholars who are open minded. Most liberal leaning scholars and archaeologists are highly dismissive of a historical exodus (including scholars such as William Dever, Israel Finkelstein, et. al.).

Evangelical Scholars Front & Center

It was very good to see such conservative Christian scholars, such as James K. Hoffmeier, Charles Ailing, Bryant Wood & John Bimson given some air time to make the case for a historical exodus. Rarely does the general public hear a conservative give a scholarly response on a historical documentary, and some of the evidence they presented was formidable and compelling.

Historical/Archaeological Evidence for the Biblical Exodus

There was some great archeological evidence that WAS presented. Much of it was amazing!

  • The Ipuwer Papyrus
  • The Berlin Fragment
  • The Joseph Statue & Tomb
  • The Semitic Ruler’s Palace with Twelve Pillars in Avaris
  • The Walls of Jericho & the Burnt Grain of Jericho
  • The Merneptah Stele
  • The Amarna Letters

THE NOT SO GOOD (or, the not so clear)

The Argument: Which date/time? Which Pharaoh?

I’ve seen and heard some of my fellow apologists lament the fact that Mahoney didn’t cover questions like the route of the Exodus or how many Hebrew slaves came out of Egypt. I’m not saying that these are not important questions, they certainly are, but they really don’t help us pinpoint the Exodus in the historical record. Perhaps he may explore these questions in a future documentary.

As I stated in my earlier blog on the film, the focus of attention was on the dating of the Exodus. This is where things got a little fuzzy for me, and I suspect the viewers as well.

Essentially three main dating options were presented in the film. The reasoning and the evidence for each dating option, however, was not clearly explained. In my view, that was really the crux of the matter. That is what people came to see and wanted to know.

It’s one thing to state that the historical exodus might have around two hundred years earlier (say, around 1450 B.C.), but it is quite another thing to give the reasoning as to why this was the case. This wasn’t made clear, and it certainly could have been.

Mahoney presented three dating options for consideration:

  • The late date (1230 B.C.) – Israel Finkelstein, James K. Hoffmeier
  • The early date (1446 B.C.) – Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing
  • The New Revised Egyptian Chronology – David Rohl

The documentary did a good job of explaining the different views and opinions that scholars have on the biblical Exodus. But, as I’ve pointed out earlier it was unclear if any clear and defninitive answer was arrived at for when the Exodus actually occurred.

Near the end of the film, Mahoney made a statement along the lines of “Scholars disagree about the dating and the evidence for the biblical Exodus, but we do have evidence for it.”

The problem is that the evidence that was presented as supporting the Exodus was conflicting. My concern is that Christians may walk away from the film being even more agnostic about the Exodus than certain that it happened.

But perhaps that was Mahoney’s point. We do have evidence for the historical Exodus, but there is not a consensus among conservative scholars on the exact nature of that evidence and which evidence is most reliable for defending a historical Exodus. Christians should consider the evidence for themselves and decide.

I did not, however, like the fact that Rohl and his revised Egyptian chronology, seemed to play a central role in Mahoney’s film, which is unfortunate. The reason why that is unfortunate, is that there are better arguments for the Exodus which Mahoney did not give proper credit to.

I’ve known about, and been intrigued by the work of David Rohl for quite some time. I first heard about Rohl’s work when I read a review of his book, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (originally published in the UK as A Test of Time: The Bible from Myth to History) some years ago. I now have the book and have read Rohl’s arguments for revising Egyptian chronology.

In the film Rohl states that the Egyptian chronology and history is in need of major revision (shifted two centuries!). Rohl’s main argument centers on the uncertainty surrounding Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (called a “dark age” in the film).

The ancient Egyptians kept a pretty good records of their kings. In addition to temple ruins and palace walls in Egypt, we also historical sources for Egyptian history. The work (Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”) by an Egyptian priest named Manetho who served under Ptolemy Philadelphius 285-246 B.C., survives in fragments in (Jewish Antiquities) Flavius Josephus (First Cent. A.D.), Africanus (A.D. c. 221), and G. Syncellus (A.D. c.800). Manetho gives a fairly accurate account of Egyptian history, although there are some obvious gaps in it.

In ancient Egyptian history, are three “Intermediate Periods” in which foreign rulers (i.e. or non-Egyptians) would rule over Egypt. The third intermediate period begins in 1070 B.C. and ends in 664 B.C. with the expulsion of the Nubian dynasty under Psamtik I – a time span covering approximately 406 years!

To complicate things – much of the history of other nations in the Ancient Near East (Phoenicia, Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine, Canaan etc..) is LINKED to Egyptian history. So, if the dates assigned to Egyptian history and chronology are off, then consequently, so are the dates of these other nations.

Rohl is certainly correct to point out that Egyptian history is in need of revision. But the question at hand is, HOW MUCH is it off? And what reasons does he give for adjusting the Egyptian chronology 200 years? In the film we don’t get a clear answer, but Rohl’s book provides one.

In Chapter Six of the book titled “Towards a New Chronology” Rohl gives his main argument, which stems from a genealogy of Egypt’s Royal Architects discovered in Wadi Hammamat.

In a summary of the argument Rohl states:

The Genealogy of the Royal Architects, discovered in the Wadi Hammamat, confirms that the era known as the TIP (Third Intermediate Period) has been overstretched. Furthermore, all three key genealogies linking back to the New Kingdom indicate that over a century must be removed from the chronology of the transition period between the late 19th Dynasty and the Third Intermediate Period.[1]

There are numerous problems with Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology. Among the several problems, archaeologist, Bryant Wood points out that,

A revised Egyptian chronology would directly affect the dating of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Palestine since the dating of those periods is dependent upon synchronisms with Egyptian history. Biblical chronology, on the other hand, remains unchanged since it is derived from synchronisms with Assyria in the Divided Kingdom period and then calculated backwards using the internal chronological data of the Bible.[2]

For further information and a more in-depth critique of Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology see Wood’s entire article here.

As I’ve admitted in my previous article, I believe that the evidence and arguments put forth for the early date (1446 B.C.), as articulated by Dr. Bryant Wood make the most sense and solve the most problems for reconciling the biblical Exodus and the archaeological and historical record.

For those interested here are three articles which may be of interest.

The Case for the 1446 B.C. date for Exodus and Conquest – T. Wright

Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh – D. Petrovich

The Conquest of Jericho – B. Wood

I only wish that Mahoney had allowed Dr. Bryant Wood & Dr. Ailing more time to lay out the case for the early Exodus-Conquest model which is based on good archaeology and good scholarship.

THE BOTTOM LINE

My complaints, notwithstanding, I think the film was excellent and worth seeing again. I would even use it in my seminary class on Biblical Archaeology to show the different views which one might have on the Exodus.

I would encourage others, who were not able to see the film on the release date, to watch it and purchase the DVD when it comes out.

Perhaps on a future episode Mahoney will explore these questions further. I commend Tim on an excellent film which explores a subject and story that is very near and dear to my heart. The Christian community owes Mahoney a huge thanks for bringing such a vitally important event in biblical history in the spotlight, and he did it with excellence!

When you get a chance – go see it!

 

[1] David Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995, pg. 143.

[2]http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/05/23/David-Rohls-Revised-Egyptian-Chronology-A-View-From-Palestine.aspx#Article

Navigating the “Patterns of Evidence” for the Biblical Exodus

patterns-of-evidence-the-exodus

Today in select theaters, the fascinating documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus will be showing across the country. The film will explore the question of the historical Exodus. Is it just the stuff of myth and legend? Or, did it really happen?

The public at large has always been fascinated, even intrigued by the stories in the Bible. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible has had a profound effect on American politics and culture, not to mention all of Western Civilization itself!

It seems that even Hollywood has rediscovered the epic stories found in the Bible, even if they don ‘t portray them exactly as they are recorded in the biblical text. The latest installment was Daniel Arnofsky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses.

This most recent film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, however, is unlike other movies about the Bible because it actually explores the question of whether or not the Exodus actually happened, and what archaeological and historical evidence, if any, exists for it.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, follows the journey of filmmaker Tim Mahoney as a “crisis of faith” leads him to explore whether the events in the Bible (specifically the Exodus) are myth, and whether they were historical events that really happened.

Mahoney states,“I didn’t go with a preconceived conclusion, but I was willing to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as we searched for the truth,” He said. “I went to the top people in the world and said, ‘Tell me what you know about this story and what does the archaeology tell you.’ I talked with both sides – people who can’t see any evidence for Exodus and people who see the evidence. It became a balanced approach.”[1]

So, instead of assuming the truth of the Exodus story, Mahoney traveled around the world interviewing scholars from various theological and philosophical backgrounds to compare and contrast what is said about the evidence for the Exodus, pro and con.

As can be seen from the trailer, the film explores the evidence and arguments for and against the historical Exodus, by some of the best spokesmen for each view. Unlike most documentaries, such as those the History Channel and Discovery Channel, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus presents each view in a fair and balanced way, and allows scholars to present their case. Ultimately, it lets the viewer decide which view has the best evidence.

The list of interviewees includes archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) whose view of the historical Exodus is highly skeptical, based on his understanding of the archaeological record.

There are a host of other scholars and archaeologists who appear on the film besides Finkelstein, including James K. Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Egyptologist Manfred Bietak (University of Vienna), John Bimson (Trinity College, Bristol), David Rohl (Egyptologist, Author), Kent Weeks (Egyptologist, Theban Mapping Project), Rabbi David Wolpe (Rabbi at Sinai Temple, Author), and Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research), just to name a few!

How does one navigate the various views which are presented in the film? It has been said that if there are three archaeologists in a room together, there are at least five or six opinions between them!

The Bottom Line: DATING!

(Spoiler alert: I’m about to state the main point of contention in the film! In reality, it won’t spoil it for you, but hopefully help clarify the main idea better!)

First, I’d like to make a blanket statement, regardless of where one stands on the biblical Exodus:

The Exodus and Conquest stand or fall together. The two are inextricably linked. If there was an historical Exodus, then there should also be an Israelite conquest into Canaan approximately four decades after the Exodus. This is important because if either can be established on historical and archaeological grounds, then the patterns of evidence will begin to emerge for both.

In previous blogs on CrossExamined.org I have stated this in other contexts and articles, but most, if not all debates within Old Testament archaeology are over dating. Even agnostic archaeologist, Willam Dever’s book What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, attests to the importance of dating.

Where there is a biblical event in which it is difficult, if not impossible to establish a date – this is called an anachronism. The word stems from the Greek, meaning ἀνά ana, “against” and χρόνος khronos, “time” – (or a chronological inconsistency).

Many years ago, a brilliant scholar named Edwin R. Thiele wrote a truly groundbreaking book on reconciling the dates and reigns of the Hebrew kings in the Old Testament with the dates & reigns of other Ancient Near Eastern Kings, such as those of Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. His book was titled, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1951).

In chapter 1 Thiele correctly observed that,

Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation [i.e. Israel] must be grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of the neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world. [2]

In this film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, much of the discussion surrounds chronology and dating – and in reality – it is the KEY to seeing to understanding and seeing the patterns of evidence for the Exodus.

I’ve written several articles which explore the patterns of evidence talked about in the film in much more detail. Click on the links below to learn more about where we think the best evidence lies.

I’ll be “up front” here and state, that based on historical and archaeological evidence, that I believe Dr. Bryant Wood’s view on the Exodus is most consistent with the biblical record as well as with the archaeological and historical patterns. Both Wood and John Bimson argue for a revised biblical chronology based on archaeological evidence. Others in the film, argue against chronological revisionism (James K. Hoffmeier and Israel Finkelstein), however, if the chronology is not revised, then essentially there is no evidence for the Exodus and Conquest.

Of course, you’ll need to watch the film, listen to the arguments and decide for yourself.

As an associate and archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research, I can also state that I also have firsthand knowledge of excavating at the biblical site of Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel, which is the site of the biblical, Canaanite city of Ai which was destroyed by Joshua (recorded in Joshua 7-8) – additional evidence for the historical reliability of the Biblical record.

The following is a list of articles that I have written in the past which dig a little deeper into these questions (complete with footnotes & sources).

Articles Which Dig Deeper into “Patterns of Evidence” for the Exodus

  1. The Challenge to the Old Testament & Responding to the Challenge 
  1. The Biblical Patriarchs: Myth or Legend?
  1. The Date of the Exodus and the Archaeological Evidence
  1. Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
  1. The Conquest of Ai

One final word about the importance and significance of the Exodus.

If we think of the New Testament and the Gospels as the top of a tree with branches and leaves and fruit, then the bottom of the tree (the Old Testament) is anchored to the ground with roots that go deep and bring the tree life-giving water. Without the roots, the leaves and the branches would have no life and no truth to them.

Jesus died on Passover for a reason. The phrase “Jesus came to set the captives free” is not just symbolism, it is grounded in a real event in history.

The Exodus is vitally important to the religion of both Jews and Christians alike. It should rightfully be defended as being grounded in truth and reality.

 

 

[1]http://www.wnd.com/2015/01/statue-of-bibles-joseph-discovered/

[2] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, New Revised Edition (Grand Rapid: Kregel Publications, 1983), p. 33.

Palace Where Jesus Stood Trial Discovered by Archaeologists?

Palace Discovered in Jerusalem Reveals the Reliability of the New Testament

The palace of Herod Antipas (son of Herod I who succeeded him), may have been discovered in the old city of Jerusalem. This would have been the same palace where Jesus stood trial before Herod, over 2000 years ago!

According to Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist from UNC Charlotte, quoted in the Washington Post, “there is little doubt that the trial occurred somewhere within Herod’s palace compound. In the Gospel of John, the trial is described as taking place near a gate and on a bumpy stone pavement — details that fit with previous archaeological findings near the prison.”[1]

For years there has been some debate among archaeologists, historians and biblical scholars as to the exact location of Jesus’ trial before Herod Antipas in Luke 23:6-12.

The Washington Post article says, “Questions about the location stem from various interpretations of the Gospels, which describe how Jesus of Nazareth was brought before Pilate in the “praetorium,” a Latin term for a general’s tent within a Roman encampment. Some say Pilate’s praetorium would have been in the military barracks, others say the Roman general would probably have been a guest in the palace built by Herod.”

Harold Hoehner’s landmark work, Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Cambridge, 1972), states that, “After Pilate’s hearing that Jesus was from Galilee, Luke switches the scene to Jesus being tried by Herod [Antipas]. He was no doubt escorted by some guards as well as by some of the Sanhedrin from Pilate’s residence to the Hasmonaean palace, which was Antipas’ Jerusalem residence located west of the temple.”[2]

“Today, historians and archaeologists are certain that Herod’s palace was on the city’s western side, where the Tower of David Museum and the Ottoman-era prison stand,” according to the article.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem   - believed to be the location where Jesus stood trial before Herod (Antipas)

The Tower of David in Jerusalem – believed to be the location where Jesus stood trial before Herod (Antipas)

Well over a decade ago, as archaeologists began to dig back through the various layers of history and empires, including the British, Ottoman, and eventually back to the Roman period – a rocky pavement was discovered which may be connected to Jesus’ trial before Antipas & Pilate (see, John 19:13 Gabbatha, Hebrew for“knoll”).

To those who question the historical accuracy and reliability of the New Testament, this latest discovery reveals the fact that the events surrounding life of Jesus Christ are grounded in reality.

Archaeology certainly can’t prove the Bible in a mathematical/deductive sense, but it can certainly affirm people, places, and events which can give us a very high degree of certainty that what the Bible records actually happened, beyond a reasonable doubt!

In the words of Yisca Harani, ““For those Christians who care about accuracy in regards to historical facts, this is very forceful.”[3]

 

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/archaeologists-find-possible-site-of-jesuss-trial-in-jerusalem/2015/01/04/6d0ce098-7f9a-45de-9639-b7922855bfdb_story.html (accessed, Jan. 5, 2015).

[2] Harold Hoehner, Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 239.

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/archaeologists-find-possible-site-of-jesuss-trial-in-jerusalem/2015/01/04/6d0ce098-7f9a-45de-9639-b7922855bfdb_story.html

A Tale of Two Kings – Part 2 King Jesus

The Legacy of Herod & the Impact of Jesus in History

Part 2

King Jesus

In my previous article “A Take of Two Kings: Part 1 – King Herod,” I presented an overview of the life and legacy of Herod I, (also known as Herod the Great.) Herod was declared King of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 B.C. He left behind a legacy of violence, bloodshed, great political ambition, as well as the archaeological ruins of some truly remarkable buildings still visible today.

When one thinks of Herod, he is usually remembered as a king, even if he was a very bad king, yet Jesus of Nazareth was also a king. When most people think of Jesus today, however, they usually don’t think of Him as a king. Not only was Jesus of Nazareth a king, He was THE King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

As in the previous article on Herod, we will explore some very important questions about one of the most influential lives to ever walk the earth – the life and impact of Jesus since His birth, death and resurrection.

What exactly was the lineage of Jesus, and why does it matter? If Jesus was a king, then where did He get His authority? Did the Bible predict His coming thousands of years before He was born? How did Jesus impact history, and why does His life continue to affect millions around the world to this day? Does the Bible predict that Jesus will return to earth to reign as King over the nations?

Background of Jesus’ Early Life and Times

Herod the Great is remembered today as an accomplished builder. Jesus was also a builder – a carpenter. Having been reared by Joseph as an apprentice carpenter, it is very likely that Jesus could have even been a stone mason. A couple of reasons why this was so, was because of the abundance of limestone which was used as a primary building material in the first-century, and the fact that just outside of Nazareth archaeologists have uncovered the fascinating city of Sepphoris.

In 3 B.C., Herod Antipas (Herod’s son) made Sepphoris the site of his new capital of the Galilee region. At its height, Sepphoris reached a population of thirty thousand people! Jesus, along with Mary & Joseph, grew up right near this thriving city. It is very likely then, that Joseph & Jesus would have worked as stone-cutters or builders for the many construction projects that were certainly happening in Sepphoris.[1]

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

The discovery of Sepphoris by archaeologists has given scholars an interesting insight into the boyhood, youth and profession of Jesus.

In addition, New Testament scholar, Craig Evans writes:

The proximity of this city to the village of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and the presence of a number of highways, cautions against the assumption that Jesus and His fellow Galileans were placebound and unacquaninted with the larger world.[2]

Even though archaeologists have not excavated any physical buildings or structures that Jesus built, they have discovered many of the places, people and structures that Jesus visited and conducted His ministry. One of the most interesting of these is the small village of Capernaum located on the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was just a small fishing village in Jesus’ day, yet it served as the base of His ministry in the Galilee region (Matthew 4:12-17 & Mark 2:1). In Matthew 9:1 He even called it His, “own city.”

At the site today are the remains of two archaeologically and historically significant structures. One is the floor of a first-century Jewish synagogue in which Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles (see Mark 1:21ff).

The ruins of the first-century synagogue today are covered by the ruins of a 4th Century synagogue built on top of the floor of the earlier one (see image below)

Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

The other structure at Capernaum is a group of edifices that cover something called the Insula Sacra (a Latin phrase which refers to a group of homes around a central courtyard).

Based on archaeological and historical evidence, including pottery, coins and inscriptions found on site, Franciscan archaeologists believe they have found the home of Simon Peter, the fisherman who became a disciple of Christ and one of the main leaders of the early church along with James, Jesus’ half-brother.[3]

Over the ruins of Peter’s house is an octagonal shaped structure – a basilica which dates to the middle of the fifth century A.D.

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum - built over the house of St. Peter

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum – built over the house of St. Peter

According to archaeologist, Jack Finegan:

There is little doubt that it is the church of which the Anonymous of Piacenza reported in A.D. 570: ‘We came to Capernaum into the house of St. Peter, which is a basilica.’[4]

These remains, as well as many others, illuminate the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and provide independent confirmation, apart from the Gospels themselves of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the New Testament.[5]

Jesus’ Authority & Lineage as Israel’s King

Herod’s rise to political power ultimately came from imperial Rome. But unlike Herod’s lineage as rightful king of Judah, Jesus’ lineage and authority, can be traced back before the foundations of time and history itself.

The Micah 5:2 passage, which is oft quoted during the Christmas season, gives insight into this.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet our of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting

In the garden of Eden, Eve was promised by God, “[a Son] who would crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15b). This is the very first mention of the Gospel (evangelion – good news) in the Bible. Theologians often call this the proto-evangelion (or first Gospel). The reason why it was good news is because of the episode with the serpent in Genesis 3 which brought sin and death to the world. God told Adam and Eve that essentially He would not leave them in that state of affairs (i.e. in a fallen state), but would restore them and destroy the works of the serpent through someone (Jesus) who would come from body the woman.

For thousands of years, the history of Old Testament Israel was filled with prophecies, foreshadowings, images, and metaphors of Israel’s coming king, and anointed One (Messiah). During those intervening years before Jesus came, two pictures emerged of Messiah from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings: one was a Suffering Servant, and the other, a conquering King. When Jesus came the people of Israel paid attention only to the Old Testament passages which referred to their coming King as a great conquerer and warrior – like King David. They paid little or no attention to the passages which speak of their King coming to suffer and bear the sins of the world.

The Son of David

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17). Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and embodies all of Israel’s hopes, ideals and future (Genesis 12; 15; 22). Without the connection to Abraham,  Jesus would have been an imposter. Abraham is foundational.

Jesus’ lineage is also traced back to the Old Testament king David. Why David? Because nearly 1000 years before Jesus was born a promise (a covenant) was given to David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and that the Kingdom would never come to an end (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

To David God said:

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …and your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you, Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

Since that original promise to David in about 1000 B.C., the promise has echoed down through the Old Testament prophets and saints pointing to a future ruler and king who would one day be born. These prophecies would contain detailed information on what the king would do, and what he would be like. In the 8th Century B.C. (700’s) the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of a son who would have the characteristics that only God has:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be on His shoulder, and His named will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Perhaps one of the most remarkable passages in the Old Testament which was written 700 years before Christ was born was Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 speaks of a certain person who would be stricken down and endure great suffering. The reason for the suffering? Verse 5 gives the reason:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.

The passage goes on to describe that this suffering servant of God would be buried in a rich man’s grave.

And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth (v. 9)

When Jesus was crucified and buried these verses as well as many other prophecies were literally fulfilled – including the Micah 5:2 prophecy predicting where Israel’s promised King would be born – in Bethlehem.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry He directly and indirectly made the claim that He indeed was the One true King, who was promised and predicted in the Old Testament. Early in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus asking,

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’ (Matthew 11:3-6).

When he heard these words, John the Baptist would have immediately understood that Jesus was indeed the promised One, because all of the things Jesus mentioned were predicted by the Old Testament centuries earlier.

Throughout His life Jesus’ words and works were a strong testimony to who He claimed to be – namely God, yet the one thing that provided the stamp of authenticity on His identity was His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ Legacy

According to Acts 1:9-11 Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His disciples as well as many others.

Before He departed, He told His disciples:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)

One of the most lasting and enduring legacies of Jesus Christ – apart from securing eternal salvation from sin – was and still is His people – the Church.

To the church was given Christ’s message of good-news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

That message was preached and lived by the early Christians in such a way that in about three centuries nearly the entire Roman world had access to the Gospel.

It would be difficult to measure the full impact of Christ’s life since He walked the earth. Perhaps that impact can somewhat be measured by the devotion of His followers to be salt and light in the world as they were commanded by Christ Himself (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul Copan has documented some of the achievements of Christ’s followers in the two millennia since He lived:

  • The Eradication of Slavery (from the Roman period until now)
  • Opposition of Infanticide (common in Greece & Rome)
  • The Elimination of gladiatorial games (outlawed in the 4th Cent.)
  • The Building of Hospitals and Hospices
  • The Elevation of Women’s Rights & Status
  • Founded Europe & North America’s great universities
  • The Writing of Extraordinary works of literature (Dante, Milton, etc…)
  • Creation of beautiful artistic masterpieces (Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Gothic cathedrals, etc..)
  • Established modern science (from the notion that the world was created by a rational, orderly God)
  • Composition of brilliant musical works (Bach, Handel, Hayden, etc…)
  • Advocating human rights (concern for the poor, human dignity rooted in the truth that people are made in God’s image)[6]

Indeed as Copan summarizes here:

It’s difficult to exaggerate the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had on history and the countless lives impacted by this one man’s life and teaching – indeed, the transforming power of the cross and resurrection. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan remarked that by changing the calendar (to BC and AD according to the “Year of our Lord”) and other ways, “everyone is compelled to acknowledge that because of Jesus of Nazareth history will never be the same.[7]

 

[1] For more on this, see Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pp. 13-37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] for detailed information on this see, Jack Finegan’s, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Life of Jesus and the Beginnings of the Early Church (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 107-11.

[4] See Finegan, pp. 110-11.

[5] For additional information see John McRay’s, Archaeology & the New Testament

 

[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), pp. 218-19.

[7] Ibid., 219.

 

A Tale of Two Kings – Part 1 King Herod

The Legacy of Herod & the Impact of Jesus in History

Part 1

King Herod

Herod I as portrayed in the movie "The Nativity"

Herod I as portrayed in the movie “The Nativity”

Herod’s Authority & Lineage as Israel’s King

When Jesus was born two-thousand years ago Israel was a nation occupied by Imperial Rome. Although Rome ultimately controlled the eastern Mediterranean at that time, Israel did have a king – and he was even called, King of the Jews. That man was Herod I, (also known as Herod the Great). Herod figures very largely in the history leading up to the time of Jesus and his birth. In fact, Judaism as it was practiced in Jesus’ day cannot be fully and truly understood apart from Herod’s influence.

Archaeology and history have given us a pretty clear picture of this infamous king – consistent with how he is presented on the pages of the New Testament.

Herod was given the title “King of Judea” by the Roman senate in 40 B.C. on the advice of Mark Antony. Antony considered Herod the most capable man to pry Judea from the hands of the Hasmonean prince, Antigonus as well a nation called the Parthians.[1] These two groups stood in the way of complete Roman control in the region, as well as Herod’s personal political ambitions.

With the help of Rome, Herod did finally succeed in establishing his own power. According to Israeli archaeologist, Ehud Netzer, “Antigonus was captured and executed by the Romans. Herod’s kingship was [then] soon [re]affirmed, both by Anthony and by Octavian, at their meeting in Tarentum, in southern Italy.”[2] Herod ruled Judea for around 33 years.

According to L.I. Levine, “Herod was born in the late 70s B.C. into an aristocratic Idumean family that had converted to Judaism a half a century earlier, in the reign of John Hyrcanus I.”[3]

Idumea and the Idumeans have deep historical connections to the ancient Edomites. Genesis 25:25 presents Esau (who sold his birthright in Gen. 25:29-34) as the founder of Edom and the Edomites. Edom stretched from the southern portion of the Judean hill country to the northern part of the Negeb (Negev). “The population of Idumea consisted of Edomites/Arabs, Jews, Sidonians, Nabateans, and others. …Idumea, the homeland of Herod the Great, formed a vital starting point for and buttress of his power.”[4]

Drawing on Josephus as a primary source, Netzer tells us that, “Herod’s father [was], the scion of a wealthy and prominent Idumean family”… and that, “…Little is known about his mother Cyprus, other than the information provided by Josephus that she came from a distinguished Arabian (apparently Nabatean) family. Neither is the time of Herod’s birth known with certainty, since Josehphus’ data pertaining to Herod’s age contradict one another. Modern scholarship is inclined to regard 73 B.C. as the year of his birth.”[5]

Christians know Herod primarily through the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 2. In Matthew’s account, Herod learns of the birth of Jesus through the wise men (magi) [likely from Persia]. The magi witnessed some astronomical event in the east and somehow connected it to the birth of Israel’s promised Messiah/King (Matt. 2:1-4).

It is a known fact that Herod was a tyrannical, murderous monarch, willing to kill even his own family members if he thought that they threatened his reign or rule. Bruce Scott writes:

Herod had no qualms about killing. He killed 2,000 survivors of five cities that had rebelled against him. He had his brother in law drowned. He executed his uncle, his wife’s grandfather, his wife, his mother in law, and three of his sons. He murdered faithful followers, servants, friends, soldiers, pious men, relatives – often on flimsy evidence of rumors or coerced confessions.

In the last days of his life, Herod arranger for all of the prominent Jewish leaders of the country to be rounded up, placed in a hippodrome and executed upon the word that he had died. He wanted to ensure that there would be mourning throughout the land after he died. Fortunately the orders were never carried out.

One of Herod’s most barbaric acts is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 2:16. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod had all males two years old and under in and around Bethlehem slaughtered. He was endeavoring to exterminate the promised Messiah.[6]

Some skeptics have pointed out that since Josephus didn’t mention the massacre of the innocents of Bethelehem by Herod, it likely didn’t happen. But, this is an argument from silence. There are several plausible reasons why it might not have been mentioned. Historian Paul Maier points out two possibilities for the omission:

(1) Josephus may have heard about it and not used this fact. Bethlehem and the region is a little village of 1,500 or so at the time, and you wouldn’t have more than about 24 babies two years old and under, boys would have numbered only about 12–15. And the infant mortality in the ancient world was so huge anyway. And I think if Josephus is choosing between the two stories about how Herod right before his death, I think I would take the one where he is going to slaughter hundreds of Jewish leaders.

(2) Josephus may not have even heard about it. Again, simply because again little Bethlehem doesn’t amount to much of a story, but he may have never heard it in the first place.[7]

Maier then concludes that “history does not militate against Matthew’s version by any means.”[8]

Herod’s Death

Josephus records (Antiquities of the Jews, 17.199) that Herod died in 4 B.C., and he also notes that Herod was buried in Herodium, one of the several desert fortresses that he had built in fear of a Jewish insurrection against his rule.

When he was alive Herod had no shortage of political, religious, personal, and even familial enemies. Even Herod himself knew that he was despised by much of the populace of Judea and Israel.

It is no surprise then, that Herod had devised a plan to ensure that there would be mourning at his funeral by having prominent Jewish rulers and leaders rounded up and killed in the hippodrome in Jericho (as noted above).

Matthew’s account simply informs his readers that once Herod had died, Mary & Joseph were safe to return to the land of Israel from Egypt.

But when Herod died, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead (Matt. 2:19-20).

Herodium: Herod’s Tomb

In a touch of irony, Herod’s final resting place is located just southeast of Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) on the edge of the Judean desert. The place where he was buried is called Herodium – named in honor of himself.

Herodium (Wikipedia)

Herodium (Wikipedia)

Herodium was a place that held great significance in Herod’s personal history and rise to power. He built the citadel on a natural promontory and modified it as an enormous man-made hill-fortress. As recently as a few months ago, archaeologists have excavated a large monumental entryway in which Herod and his royal entourage would enter the palace complex. In 4 B.C. when he died, his body surely traveled through that same passage, as he was buried in the site in a large red-colored, limestone sarcophagus.

In 2007, professor Ehud Netzer, mentioned above, and his team, reported that they had discovered the remaining fragments of Herod’s royal sarcophagus which had been smashed to pieces, presumably by one of Herod’s many enemies.

Archaeologist, Ehud Netzer with the fragments of Herod's sarcophagus

Archaeologist, Ehud Netzer with the fragments of Herod’s sarcophagus

Herod left behind a legacy of intrigue, turmoil and bloodshed. His victims included the murdered male children of Bethlehem, as well as many other political enemies, a wife, a son and many, many others. Perhaps what he is remembered for today are his monumental buildings and the remains of grand architectural structures such as Masada, Herodium, the amazing port of Caesarea by the Sea, as well as many others.

Ted in Herod's northern "hanging palace" at Masada near the Dead Sea, where he entertained guests

Ted in the northern “hanging palace” at Masada near the Dead Sea, where Herod entertained guests

Herod’s most significant legacy to the Jews of the first century was the enlargement of the temple platform as well as the temple itself and precincts, which figure prominently in the background of the Gospels. It was that same building that Jesus predicted would be destroyed and not one stone remain in Matthew 24:2. Jesus said, Assuredly I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

In A.D. 70 those words were fulfilled when the Roman legions sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple.[9] Some of the remains of this destruction have been uncovered along the Western Wall in Jerusalem which are visible to this very day!

Remains from the Temple platform, destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans

Remains from the Temple platform, destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans

 

The fallen stones of the once grand and glorious temple platform in Jerusalem are a fitting epitaph of Herod’s brutal and bloody ambitions. They are a vivid reminder of the futility and pride of man’s ambitions apart from God. In thinking of Herod’s legacy one is reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelly’s poem from 1818 titled “Ozymandias.”

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'”

Archaeology as well as history have been invaluable aids in helping to clarify, illuminate and affirm the existence one of the most notorious characters in the New Testament. In the next article, we’ll use the same tools and take a look at the lineage and legacy of Jesus, a builder of another sort, as a contrast to the man who was called King of the Jews, when Jesus was born.

 

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.382-387

[2] Ehud Netzer, The Architecture of Herod the Great Builder (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p.8.

[3] “Herod the Great,” in David Noel Freedan, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 3 (New York, London: Doubleday, 1992), p.161.

[4] Ulrich Hubner, “Idumea,” ABD, Vol. 3, p.382.

[5] Netzer, pp. 3-4.

[6] Bruce Scott, Israel My Glory, Nov/Dec, 2006, p. 20.

[7] http://tonyreinke.com/2014/12/14/the-christmas-massacre-of-the-innocents-history-or-myth/ (accessed, Dec. 24, 2014)

[8] Ibid.

[9] recorded by Flavius Josephus in Jewish Wars, Book VI

Was There Really A Census During the Time of Caesar Augustus?

Archaeology Illuminates & Affirms a Key Fact in the Christmas Story

 By all counts, Luke’s gospel is a wealth of historical information.

He opens it this way:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Luke 1:1;3-4)

Luke’s primary concern is order and accuracy, so that the recipient of the document (a certain Theophilus), “might know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed (v. 4).”

Not only is Luke’s account orderly, it is an excellent record of what truly happened that no-so-silent night, two thousand years ago.

The great classical archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, said that Luke was a “first rate historian…”

One who writes “…historical works of the highest order, in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge, either through personal acquaintance or through access to original authorities, and brings to the treatment of his subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and the movement of events. Such an author seizes the critical events, concentrates the reader’s attention on them by giving them fuller treatment…”[1]

One such event to which Luke draws attention is a government census which took place during the reign of Augustus, before Christ was born. This event is a pivotal event in the Christmas story and is often looked at with skepticism by some.

At the very beginning of Luke’s Christmas narrative in Luke 2:1-5 we are told that a census took place in the entire Roman world. The words are very familiar during Christmas as they are read aloud in so many sermons, plays, musicals and Christmas celebrations.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Qurinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered, to Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child (Luke 2:1-5).

For many years, historians and scholars have pointed to the passage above mentioning the decree by Quirinius, as problematic if not completely inaccurate. Did a census really take place in the entire Roman world during that time, and did Mary & Joseph actually go up to Bethlehem to be registered, as Luke Gospel says?

New Testament scholar Dr. Harold W. Hoehner has summarized some of the top challenges faced by those who hold to the historical accuracy of Luke’s account.

He writes:

“[Emil] Schurer states that Luke cannot be historically accurate because: (1) nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would hat have had to register at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Palestine during Herod’s reign; (4) Josephus records nothing of a Roman census in Palestine in the time of Herod – rather the census of A.D. 6-7 was something new among the Jews; and (5) a census held under Qurinius could not have occurred during Herod’s reign for Quirinius was not governor until after Herod’s death.”[2]

At first glance, these objections to the Roman census during the reigns of emperor [imperator] Caesar Augustus (Octavius) and governor [legatus] Quirinus may seem insurmountable and quite difficult to answer, but an honest appraisal of the historical and archaeological evidence suggests that they are not.

The objections we will answer here are 1 and 2 – (1) the claim that nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus, and (2) that in a Roman census Mary & Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem to register.

Was There Census During the Reign of Augustus in the Roman World?

Roman denarius

Roman denarius

It is a commonly held assumption that the decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed, was a single census [a single event] in the entire Roman empire. The question is, is this how Luke understood it, or intended it to be understood? Very likely, not.

According to Hoehner, “What is meant is that censuses were taken at different times in different provinces – Augustus being the first one in history to order a census or tax assessment of the whole provincial empire. This is further substantiated by the fact that Luke uses the present tense indicating that Augustus ordered censuses to be taken regularly, rather than only one time.”[3]

New Testament historian Jack Finegan says, “As to the taking of such an enrollment in general, it is known from discoveries among the Egyptian papyri that a Roman census was taken in Egypt, and therefore perhaps also throughout the empire regularly, every fourteen years. Many actual census returns have been found, and they use the very same word (ἀπογράφω) which Luke 2:2 uses for the “enrollment.”[4]

The specific census which Luke mentions (Lk. 2:2), is that it “first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.”

Apart from Luke we have two other historical sources concerning Quirinius – the Roman historian, Tacitus (Annals 3.48) and the Jewish/Roman historian, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2).

According to Tacitus (Annals 3.48), P. Sulpicius Quirinius died in A.D. 21.

Josephus’s reference to Quirinius in Antiquities of the Jews (18,I,1.) poses somewhat of a problem, because he informs us that the “taxings conducted by Quirinius while governing Syria were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over [Marc] Anthony at Actium in 31 B.C.. This would place the census in about A.D. 6/7, a date which is too late to be brought into alignment with the birth of Christ which was likely in the winter 5/4 B.C.[5]

In Luke’s account in Luke 2:2, he speaks of a census which “first” took place when Quirinius was governing Syria, so it is not out of the question that the census to which Josephus is referring was the second one, while Luke mentions the “first” one [i.e the earlier one].

Gleason Archer also notes that Luke, “was therefore well aware of the second census, taken by Quirinius in A.D. 7, which Josephus alludes to… We know this because Luke (who lived much closer to the time that Josephus did) also quotes Gamaliel as alluding to the insurrection of Judas of Galilee “in the days of census taking” (Acts 5:37).[6]

Additional evidence also seems to suggest that Quirinius served as governor twice which would then put him in an official position over Syria to enact the census of Luke 2:2. In 1784, a Latin inscription was discovered near Tivoli, located about twenty miles east of Rome. It is known as the Lapis Tiburtinus inscription, and according to Jack Finegan it, “…contains the statement of a high Roman official that when he became governor of Syria he entered the office for the second time (Latin, iterum). It has even been thought that this personage might have been Quirinius…”[7]

Whatever the identity is of the Roman official mentioned in the inscription, at minimum shows that it was not uncommon for Roman procurators to have served twice, and maximally it may eventually reveal that it was Quirinius himself, through further research.

Is it Plausible that Mary & Joseph Traveled to Bethlehem for the Census?

Luke 2:4-5 states: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Objection 2 listed above states, that in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would not have had to register at all.

It was generally understood that Roman law instructed property owners to register for taxation in the district where they owned land. However, “…a papyrus dated to A.D. 104, records an Egyptian prefect who ordered Egyptians to return to their ancestral homes so that a census could be taken. In first century Rome, since the Jews’ property was linked to their fathers (i.e. patriarchal), the Romans would certainly have allowed them the custom of laying claim to their family estate for taxation.”[8]

Since every person needed to appear in his ancestral homeland and since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and pregnant with child, the two traveled to Bethlehem together. Surely Mary & Joseph would have understood the Scriptures, and the prophecies concerning Israel’s Messiah – that He must be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It must have been truly amazing from their perspective, to see pieces of the Messianic puzzle fall in place – even if the pieces were official decrees from the Roman empire!

Once again, when Scripture is placed under the scrutiny of historical and archaeological research, it stands the test in amazing ways.

This is but one small example of where archaeology and history corroborate the Scripture to the finest detail. Luke’s gospel is just the first part of a two-volume set in which Acts is the second. Colin Hemer’s massive study, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History details at least 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by either historical or archeological research.

Truly Luke is indeed a remarkable historian. Like Theophilus, we can know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Jesus Came In the Fullness of Time

In Galatians 4:4 the Apostle Paul wrote: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

When Jesus the Messiah arrived, His timing was perfect! From the appearing of the star to the wise men, to the taking of the census by Rome, it was not too soon, and not too late. His first coming was not only perfect chronologically and historically, it was perfect in God’s providential time.

If Christ’s first coming is any indication of what the Second coming will be like – we can rest assured that the timing of His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-21) will be right on God’s perfect divine time, once again.

 

[1] William Ramsay, Saint Paul: The Traveler and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001 reprint), 16.

[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15

[4] Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past: The Archaeological Background of the Hebrew-Christian Religion, Volume II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 258.

[5] See Finegan, Ibid., 259, See also Hoehner’s work on this date which goes into much more detail in the original sources; Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), especially Chapter 1, ‘The Date of Christ’s Birth,’ pp. 29-44.

 

[6] Gleason L. Archer, Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982),

[7] See, Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, Revised Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p. 304. A view also held by William Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 4th Ed., London, 1920, pp. 275-300.

[8] See, Harold Hoehner, p.15

Discovery of the Lost Temple

Thutmoses III and the Biblical Exodus

 A friend of mine who studies Ancient Near Eastern languages at Yale University (Matthew Glassman), alerted me to an interesting article about an amazing discovery recently made in Cairo, under someone’s house no-less!

According to the article, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, Mamdouh al-Damaty stated that, “a group of men discovered a 3,400 year old pharaonic temple from the reign of the warrior king Thutmoses III.”[1]

Around the Mediterranean (especially in Middle Eastern countries), antiquities looting has become a big problem in some areas. Apparently the men were digging for items to sell illegally on the antiquities market. The seven men who were digging hit “historic” pay-dirt – they discovered an entire pharonic temple!

The site is located in Al-Badrashin which is located approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the capital of Cairo. The men were briefly detained, then released because they were not digging at an “official” Egyptian heritage site. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry has now taken over, and will be beginning an excavation at the site in the days ahead, according to gulfnews.net.

What has been discovered so far, are seven tablets, several column bases made of pink granite as well as a pink granite statue in the temple. This is certainly a remarkable discovery, and one that I am keenly interested in following in the days ahead.

How Does Thutmose III Fit Into the Exodus Story? A Little Background

Thutmose III was the sixth pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. His name means “Thoth is born.”

From chronological considerations found in the Bible,[2] and an understanding of the cultural, historical and archaeological background of the 18th Dynasty, it is very likely that Amenhotep I, was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews.[3]

As we look closer into this time of Egyptian history, we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut is well known from historical and archaeological sources, and she has a very interesting story herself! She’s even found a place in the Bible (although not by name, but as pharaoh’s daughter)!

In order to secure royal inheritance rights, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut then assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew, (& stepson) Thutmose III.

As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.”[4] During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. This recent temple discovered in Egypt was very possibly built during that time.

One of the most well known structures from that period, which still survives today is the Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings. It is a remarkable building even to this day!

Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple (Deir el-Bahari) in the Valley of the Kings

Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple (Deir el-Bahari) in the Valley of the Kings

It was Hatshepsut who very likely drew baby Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5)! Her father, Amenhotep I, after all, was the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill all of the Hebrew first-born male slaves.

According to the chronological considerations, and for other reasons that would be difficult to summarize briefly here, Thutmose III then, was the younger “brother” that Moses would have possibly grown up with pharaoh’s household in Egypt. Thutmose III would have also been the same pharaoh who would have sought to kill Moses when he discovered that Moses had killed an Egyptian.

According to OT scholar Dr. Eugene H. Merrill:

…it is important to note that the biblical narrative requires a rule of almost forty years for the pharaoh who sought Moses’ life, since the king who died at the end of Moses sojourn in Midian was clearly the same one who had threatened him nearly forty years earlier. Of all the rulers of Dynasty 18 only Thutmose III reigned long enough to qualify. In fact, he was the only pharaoh at any period during which the exodus could have occurred who reigned that long except Ramses II (1304-1236).[5]

The Three Functions of Archaeology: Affirm, Clarify & Illuminate

Since I have been teaching the Old Testament for over ten years, as well as classes on archaeology, I have taught that archaeology can function in at least three ways:

(1) Archaeology can affirm the historical basis of the text. Did this person exist? Did this place exist? Etc…

(2) Archaeology can clarify certain passages in the text and,

(3) Archaeology can illuminate the various cultures in which the text was written.

This latest “accidental” discovery in Egypt of a temple from the time of Thutmose III, certainly affirms this pharaoh’s existence, power and influence – the pharaoh who very likely sought Moses’ life.[6]

Future research will surely also clarify and illuminate this fascinating person and period in biblical history!

 

[1] http://gulfnews.com/news/region/egypt/king-thutmosis-iii-s-temple-found-by-accident-1.1405869 (cited, Nov. 5, 2014).

[2] Such as the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 and Ex. 7:7 which states that Moses was 80 years old when he led the people from Egypt (assuming an approximate exodus date of 1446 B.C.)

[3] See also Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), pp. 58-64.

[4] William J. Murnane, “New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)” in David Noel Freedman, Editor in Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348-53.

[5] Merrill, pg. 62-3.

[6] Not that this is the only evidence for Thutmose III. It is just another piece which affirms his reign and influence. We actually have his mummified remains!

Was There Only One God in the Beginning?

The Case for Original Monotheism from Wilhelm Schmidt

Where did the idea of one supreme God originate? There are really only two options: either monotheism (mono– “one” theos – “god”) was original to humans from the very beginning, or it was an invention or development of religion in early human cultures.

Anthropologists and historians of religion, at least since the European Enlightenment, and certainly by the end of nineteenth century, have taught that the idea of “one supreme God” was not original to mankind, but rather was a late development in the history of religion stemming from animism and/or polytheism. Today Muslims, Christians and Jews comprise the three great monotheistic faiths of the world. The adherents to these three faiths reach well into the billions.

According to the Bible, God directly created mankind from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:5-9). In the Genesis account, the first man and woman (Adam & Eve), enjoyed direct fellowship and communication with God. The fellowship was broken when the first humans acted independently of God by an act of direct disobedience to His command (Gen. 3). The results of that act of disobedience was broken fellowship with God and banishment from His presence.

If we track with the Bible’s account of history, then as the population of the earth increased, mankind moved further and further away from God, where eventually an understanding of who He was, was either lost or replaced with polytheism, the deification of the forces of nature, or some combination of both.

In his excellent new book, In the Beginning God, Winfried Courduan states that,

The Bible does not give us an account to how idolatry and polytheism arose historically. We know that Abraham came from a line of people who worshipped a moon god, but we don’t know where that chain was broken. …there is good reason to believe that there were other monotheists around besides Melchizedek. Further, there were multiple opportunities to learn about the one God, not to mention the probability of there having been a live memory carried all along in Moses family.[1]

Nevertheless, in Genesis 12 we learn that God did not allow mankind to be unaware of who He was, but appeared to a man in ancient Mesopotamia named Abram. Historian F.E. Peters summarizes:

…at a given moment in historical time, he [God] addressed himself to one Abram, the sheikh of an extended family of Near Eastern sheep nomads who were camping in what is today called the Negev. Worship me, the god said, and I will make you and yours a great people. It was not a unique or a solitary voice; we know from plentiful evidence that there were other, many other, gods on that landscape and in the minds of Abram’s contemporaries. Abram, however, limited his worship to this one deity, and the god in turn granted his favor to Abram, or Abraham, as he was henceforward called.[2]

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

Later in biblical history, God would appear once again, but this time to Moses who grew up in Egypt, another nation of many gods. In the famous scene of the burning bush (Ex. 3), when Moses asks God His name, God tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:15). Finally, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) the first three commandments all deal with the nature of the one true God and what it means to properly worship Him and Him only (Ex. 20:3-7).

That was the working narrative for at least nineteen centuries until the rise of naturalistic & skeptical theories concerning the Bible and the rise of monotheism.

In the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Benedict Spinoza published the Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670 (also posthumously in 1677). In it he argued (among other things), that all revealed religion had to be analyzed on the basis of reason; not blind faith. Theology & philosophy must be kept separate. He categorically denied prophecy, miracles & the supernatural. He also denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and stated that it was probably a cobbled-together text which was likely composed of multiple authors.

In the following years, scholars such as Thomas Hobbs, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Julius Welhausen and many others followed Spinoza in their distrust of the biblical record of history.

By the end of the nineteenth century many scholars had developed serious doubts about the Bible’s account of reality, especially the dawn of history’s monotheistic origins in Eden.

Wilhelm Schmidt to the Rescue!

Enter Wilhelm Schmidt, a German scholar who lived in the early twentieth century and argued on scholarly grounds, that the original religion of human beings was monotheism. According to Corduan, “In 1906 Schmidt created a journal called Anthropos, [which was] intended to provide missionaries with greater awareness of new developments in the field of cultural anthropology.”[3] From this humble beginning and focus on religion, Schmidt’s thesis eventually developed into a massive 12-volume work, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee [The Origin of the Idea of God] (Munster: Aschendorff, 1912-55).

Schmidt’s thesis of original monotheism derives from what he called the “culture-historical method.”[4]

[to read Schmidt’s main thesis for yourself, it is now available this excellent new reprint version The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories originally published in 1931]

Schmidt’s Main Thesis & Ideas

In his massive 12 volume work, “Ursprung” or The Origin of the Idea of God, Schmidt analyzed the major theories of comparative religion up to his day, as well the theories of the development of religion in ethnology from cultures around the world (ethnology is a branch of anthropology that compares global nations and cultures and how they identify themselves).

Essentially Schmidt’s case for original monotheism “is grounded in the culture-historical method by which we can discern which among present cultures appear to be the ones that most closely resemble the earliest human cultures. Ethnologically, those are the ones that show the least amount of growth in their material culture. And it is precisely those that display forms of monotheism” (W. Corduan). When all of the data are sifted and analyzed, Schmidt argues that one can discern the core belief of the earliest human cultures was monotheism, or a belief in “the Primitive High God” [one God].[5]

He writes:

…the goal of all work on the lines of the historical method is not to set up theories or hypotheses but to arrive at scientific certainty. Here we mean by ‘scientific certainty’ the facts which make up our picture of primitive religion, not indeed as atoms, but as an organic and mutually interdependent whole. …If we apply that criterion to the abundant mass of data which we can now produce regarding the primitive Supreme Being, the first thing to notice is that the total sum of facts is of a nature to satisfy the total sum of human needs…[6]

Schmidt’s thesis is well grounded in his extensive research and analysis in historical, linguistic, and anthropological studies. Yet, his theory also fits perfectly with what the Bible teaches about original monotheism (in Genesis).

That being said, Corduan warns us of absolute certainty beyond all objections in Schmidt’s “original monotheism” theory.

Have we (that is to say Wilhelm Schmidt and those of us who support his cause) really shown that original monotheism is true beyond all conceivable objections? Of course, we have not. It would be impossible for any human to do so. …There is no scientific enterprise where eliminating all “conceivable” objections is the point[7]

The point is that there are good and sold reasons (aside from, but also in support of the Bible) that are grounded in thorough research and data in the field, that mankind worshipped one God from the very beginnings of the human race.

Theistic Arguments Are Grounded in Both Reality and Scripture

Although this is not the main point of my post here, the second way in which one could argue for original monotheism is via theistic arguments. If theistic arguments (such as the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments) can succeed in establishing theism, then theism (properly defined) would be the default position in the history of humanity, and atheism only a recent development.

In a touch of irony then, the so-called “primitive” monotheists of the Ancient Near East [i.e. Abraham & Moses] were more up-to-date, and in touch with reality than today’s modern sophisticated and “educated” atheist elites.

The Unique Message of Christianity: The Broken Relationship Between God and Man Is Restored in Christ

Finally a brief word about the uniqueness of the Christian claim that is relevant to the question about original monotheism. Christianity has its roots deeply embedded in the Old Testament and as such Jesus claimed to be the one promised and predicted from the writings of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 4:14-21). Not only this, but He also made the audacious claim that He was God in human flesh (John 8:21-58), even stating that He was the visible manifestation of the great “I Am” (Creator & Covenant making God) of Exodus 3 when Moses spoke with God face to face from the burning bush. In John 8 the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus about His true identity.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”…(Jesus said), Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:53-8).

When the Apostle Paul was waiting for his traveling companions in Athens he even made an appeal to the Athenian philosophers, to their belief in an “unknown God” in Acts 17.

For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription TO THE UNNKOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; ‘God who made the world and everything in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made from one blood, every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has appointed their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “ (Acts 17:23-28).

Paul then continued to proclaim Christ and His resurrection to which some of them mocked, some believed and yet others were curious to hear more (Acts 17:32-34).

Christ came for one reason only and that is to perfectly reveal the God whose fellowship was broken with mankind in the garden. He restored the knowledge of God and even more by His death, burial and resurrection, showing the world what God is truly like.

He is the image of the invisible God the first-born over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on the earth, visible and invisible…For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness [of deity] should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:15-16, 19-20).

 

[1] Winfried Courduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), location 5409 in the Kindle Edition

[2] F.E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Vol. 1 The Peoples of God (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press), xix.

[3] Forward in Wilhelm Schmidt’s, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing, 2014), v.

[4] Ibid.,pp 219ff.

[5] W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing), p. 283.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Win Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), loc 5809 in the Kindle Ed.

Why Indiana Jones is a Cool Archaeologist, but a Horrible Philosopher

In the third installment of the Indiana Jones movie series, The Last Crusade, “Indy” goes to the chalkboard in his tweed jacket and writes down the word “FACT” and underlines it. Then he says to his eager listening students:

Archaeology is the search for fact not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”

"Indy" in the classroom.

“Indy” in the classroom.

Unbeknownst to most people, “Indy” was summarizing a philosophical outlook, not an archaeological one! That outlook, reaches all the way back to the 18th Century and the European Enlightenment from a German philosopher named, Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant

Kant was responsible for the radical separation of facts from truth (or values).[1] The question is, is “Indy” right? Was Kant right? Should ‘facts’ be divorced from truth? Are the two mutually exclusive? Is truth merely from someone’s perspective? How should truth be defined? Furthermore, why does this even matter? It matters because ideas have consequences! Truth by its very nature is absolute and unbreakable. Truth is that which corresponds to reality.

If Bible believing Christians adopt the philosophical viewpoint of Kant and “Indy,” it would have devastating consequences on their faith. It is, however, is the viewpoint of Israeli archaeologist Amon Ben Tor. Ben Tor is representative of most archaeologists working in Israel and the Levant, and articulates a view of facts and values that is in directly line with Immanuel Kant [& Dr. Jones].

 This intense urge to prove the Bible cannot affect the pious believer. For such a person, the scriptures contain their own truth and need not be criticized or proven. This need is prevalent, in what must be construed as an irrational manner, among large sections of the secular public, which find it important that the archaeologists prove that all the events in the Bible did indeed occur and that all the figures mentioned and the episodes described are entirely consistent with reality. There is in this demand a violation of archaeological integrity and an attempt to impose upon archaeology unattainable objectives that is the proof of faith.[2]

Ben Tor states that the Scriptures “contain their own truth,” as if there were a separation between what the Bible says, and the facts of reality. When Ben-Tor, and other scholars make statements of skepticism towards the Bible, it is not a conclusion from archaeology, rather it is an outworking of an underlying philosophy and world-view to which they adhere.

Not every statement by an archaeologist or historian is a statement of archaeology or history.

The judgments by Ben Tor are philosophical in nature. The particular philosophical viewpoint he articulates actually has a name, and it is called fideism. Fideism is the belief that faith, by itself apart from any evidence, is what is most important for the Christian.

Sadly, many Christians today have adopted this definition of faith which is actually not Biblical at all. All too often when young people have questions about their faith or the Bible, they are told by their parents, “Just believe!” or “Just have faith!” When these same young people get to college and they are challenged by their atheistic professors, they have no answers. What are they to place their faith in? What are the reasons for their faith? The writer of Hebrews states: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[3] Faith is not blind, it has an object, and faith is only as good as its object.

F.F. Bruce strongly reinforces this point in his great little book, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

For the Christian gospel is not primarily a code of ethics or a metaphysical system; it is first and foremost good news, and as such it was proclaimed by its earliest preachers. True, they called Christianity ‘The Way’ and ‘The Life’; but Christianity as a way of life depends upon the acceptance of Christianity as good news. And this good news is intimately bound up with the historical order, for it tells how for the world’s redemption God entered into history, the eternal came into time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm of earth, the great events of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.[4]

The object of our faith is the real, historical person of Jesus Christ, and the historical reality [the truth] of His resurrection, mitigated to us through a historical document called the Bible.

Indiana Jones may have separated facts from truth, but the Bible does not. If there was not a historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead then our preaching is useless and our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).

 

[1] See Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillian, 1929). The terms that Kant used were the ‘phenomena’ and the ‘noumena.’ He believed that the only true knowledge that we have access to, is the ‘noumena’ or what he called the ‘noumenal world’ which exists only in our minds. The phenomena (or things as they are) are separated in our minds by a great “gulf,” hence the “fact-value dichotomy.”

[2] Amon Ben-Tor, Editor, The Archaeology of Ancient Israel (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992)[Introduction], 9 [emphasis mine].

[3] Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) [emphasis mine].

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1997, Fifth Revised Edition), pp.7-8 [emphasis mine].

The Jewish Temple that may Prevent World War III

Israel is the most contested piece of real estate in the world. And the most contested piece of real estate within Israel is the temple mount in the old city of Jerusalem. Nearly every Jew believes that the Muslim Dome of the Rock, which dominates that thirty-six acre site, sits on the spot of all previous Jewish Temples, including the last one destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Some Jews and Christians believe that the temple must be and will be rebuilt on that spot. Therein lies the problem. Can you think of a faster way to start World War III?

Thankfully, new evidence is just coming to light that might reveal a more peaceful solution. The Jewish Temple may not have been on the Temple Mount but just outside the current walls of the old city. I had the privilege of seeing this evidence several days ago along with a few others participating on our CrossExamined.org trip to Israel. Our guide was the man who uncovered the new evidence: Israeli archaeologist Eli Shukron.

Eli Shukron and Frank Turek outside the Western Wall at the Temple Mount, about 1,000 feet north of the City of David site.

Eli Shukron and Frank Turek outside the Western Wall at the Temple Mount, about 1,000 feet north of the City of David site.

Since 1995, Shukron has been digging up the twelve-acre area called the City of David that juts out from the southern wall of the old city of Jerusalem. He and his team have removed thousands of tones of dirt to discover, among other things, the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed a blind person (John 9:7), and the once impenetrable fortress of the Jebusites that David and his men captured by sneaking up an underground water shaft (2 Sam 5:7-8).

Near that water shaft, about 1,000 feet south of the Temple Mount, Shukron discovered the remains of an ancient temple just a few feet from the Gihon Spring. Shukron led us about forty feet underground into the well-secured area. As the lead archaeologist, only he has the key. The excavated area is down to bedrock, which means there was no civilization below it.

The site has grooves cut into that bedrock for an olive press and sacrifice tables, and loops cut into the walls presumably to secure animals. Slightly uphill and to the left of the olive press is a long channel cut into the floor most likely designed to drain off blood. Behind it Shukron unlocked a steel box he had built to protect something on the floor. As he swung the doors open, we saw an ancient upright stone (called a “stele”) surrounded by a foundation of smaller stones.

Close up of the only Jewish stele found in Jerusalem (for biblical references to steles see Gen. 28:18, 31:45, 35:14, Josh. 24:26, 1 Sam. 8:12).

Close up of the only Jewish stele found in Jerusalem (for biblical references to steles see Gen. 28:18, 31:45, 35:14, Josh. 24:26, 1 Sam. 8:12).

“The Bible says Jacob took a stone and put small stones around it, and then put olive oil on top of that stone.” Shukron told me, referring to the stele Jacob erected in the town of Bethel (Genesis 28:18). “It is a connection between Jacob and God—the relationship between them.” Indeed, Jacob called the place he made, “God’s house.”

The Jews were known to set up stele to commemorate interactions with God (Gen. 28:18, 31:45, 35:14, Josh. 24:26, 1 Sam. 8:12). But according to Shukron, the stele he discovered is the only one ever found in Jerusalem. Could it mark the actual site of the real Jewish temple—God’s house?

“It certainly was a temple from the first temple period (circa 970-586 B.C.),” Shukron said. “But Solomon’s temple was on the Temple Mount.”

When I asked him what archeological evidence exists for the Temple Mount site, he offered very little in response. Perhaps the paucity of evidence is due to the political realities that prevent much digging there. On the other hand, quite a compelling case can be made for Solomon’s Temple being at Shukron’s site.

My co-host on the trip, Bob Cornuke, makes that case in a fascinating new book called Temple: Amazing New Discoveries that Change Everything About the Location of Solomon’s Temple. Cornuke picks up on the research of the late archaeologist, Ernest L. Martin, who in 1997 suggested that the biblical text and eyewitness evidence from the first century all point to the City of David as the actual temple location. Now there appears to be quite specific archaeological evidence as well. Cornuke and Shukron have been discussing this evidence for the better part of the last year. There are even a couple of pictures in Cornuke’s book from Shukron’s site. You can see those pictures and some of my own here.

Eli Shukron (right) reviews details of a temple he discovered 40 feet under the City of David with Bob Cornuke, author of the new book, "Temple."

Eli Shukron (right) reviews details of a temple he discovered 40 feet under the City of David with Bob Cornuke, author of the new book, “Temple.”

So why isn’t Shukron suggesting his site is where the temple was? If true, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time! I had dinner with Eli, Bob and a couple of others to discuss that question.

First, there is the weight of the consensus site. If the true site is actually in the City of David, just how did the Temple Mount become the dominant site in the first place? Cornuke provides some plausible historical answers in his book. He also shows the text of the Bible and other historical witnesses seem to point to the City of David. Nevertheless, maybe the general consensus in favor of the Temple Mount is correct.

Second, as a noted Israeli archaeologist, Shukron would need to evaluate more of the evidence and the opinions of his colleagues before he would ever entertain making a shift on such a monumental question. The Temple Mount is so entrenched in tradition, politics, and Jewish identity—the Western Wall being the holiest Jewish site for prayer—that any shift in opinion would be met with great resistance. It’s not a shift one should make overnight.

However, Shukron is open to the possibility. He told us that the location of the Temple is certainly a topic worthy of debate. That debate could be ratcheted up when he presents his findings to a group of archaeologists at a conference in Jerusalem at the end of July.

If it’s not Solomon’s Temple, then whose Temple did Shukron discover? When I asked him that question, he just said, “we’ll see.” Is it possible his site could be the game-changing discovery that prevents World War III (at least until Armageddon)? We’ll see indeed.

In the meantime, I highly recommend you get Cornuke’s book to start your research into this politically explosive and fascinating question. He’s also available for questions at Bob@BaseInstitute.org. If you’d like to see the archaeological remains of the City of David and any other area of Israel, Eli Shukron provides an outstanding tour. Contact him at EliShu29@gmail.com.

Five Archaeology Books Every Christian Should Read

The Bible is not just one book, but sixty-six books composed over a period of around fifteen hundred years. The stories recorded in the Bible are not myth, but real events recorded by real people who lived in real places in history. This means two things: First, as a science, archaeology can often provide a correlation of those stories with material evidence: that they either happened as the Bible records, or that there is no evidence that an event happened as the Bible states. Secondly, since the stories in the Bible are a record of real events in the past, the twin sciences of archaeology and geography become indispensible tools to help us understand the Biblical world and even provide additional evidence that the Bible is a reliable source of valuable historical & geographical information.

Archaeology in the “scientific sense,” has been around since at least the mid-nineteenth century, and there has been much that we have learned about the ancient world since that time.[1] Since it’s been well over a century since archaeologists have been digging in the lands of the Bible, the task of knowing what’s been discovered so far and how archaeology and geography correlates with the Bible can be a bit daunting. The following is a list of five books (with links) that will hopefully provide help to the average person in understanding the value of archaeology in illuminating and affirming the Biblical record.

Read more

Has Joshua’s Ai Been Discovered?

Last year Christianity Today named their top ten archaeological discoveries of 2013. On the top of the list was an object that looks like a small insignificant amulet carved from stone. As it turns out, the object was a scarab from the 18th Dynasty of Egypt – very likely from the reign of Thutmose III or Amenhotep II based on parallels. The significance for those who believe in the Biblical accounts of the Conquest of Canaan as outlined in the Old Testament book of Joshua is great! The scarab is a key piece of evidence excavated last year at an archaeological site situated approximately 9 miles north of Jerusalem. That site is called Khirbet el-Maqatir and the evidence points to it as the city of Ai which the Old Testament (in Joshua 8) states was destroyed by Joshua in around 1406 B.C..

Read more

What Really Happened at Jesus’ Tomb?

A Look at “The Creed” Through History & Archaeology

800px-In_Front_of_the_Garden_Tomb

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as one born out of due time (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

One of the earliest records of the events surrounding the first Easter was recorded in an early saying or “creed” which the Apostle Paul mentions in his epistle (or letter) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. It has been called the first Christian “creed” or Credo [Latin for ‘I believe’]. Although Paul refers to it, it is not original to him; it is Pre-Pauline. It very likely dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus – His first Disciples – those who waked with Him, lived with Him, those who watched the drama of His life unfold before their eyes…those who watched Him die…those who ate with Him and spoke with Him and saw Him after He reportedly arose from the dead.

Part of how we know whether or not something happened in the past or not is through eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses can be reliable or not. One way (certainly not the only way) we can test whether an eyewitness is speaking the truth is through internal and external evidence that is consistent with other verifiable facts in a particular time period. Unlike mathematics or deductive logic, history allows us to make inferences based on the evidence that we have at hand as we study it carefully and determined if it is reliable.

From this early creed – I would like to consider three facts[1] that it is indeed genuine and bears the key marks of an authentic record of a monumental historical event – namely that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

Read more

Getting Over a Hump: Does the Lack of Camel Bones Disprove the Historicity of the Biblical Patriarchs?

In a recent article published in the journal Tel Aviv, Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, believe that they have pin pointed the date of the domestication of camels in Israel.

Their research is based primarily from data that they have collected from the Aravah (or Arabah) valley located in the southern Levant. The Arabah which is now desert, was a once verdant valley in antiquity. The Arabah is located just south of the Dead Sea and runs roughly north and south bordering Israel & Jordan (see image below)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The conclusion of their research indicates that camels were domesticated between the 9th – 12th century B.C.. An article which summarized the finding stated:

“In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”[1]

The researchers seemed overly eager to point out the discrepancy with the Bible.

“Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.[2]

But, is it really the case that the biblical narratives which mention the patriarchs, were written after the events they describe? Or, could there be another explanation?

Camels and the Biblical Patriarchs

As far back as the book of Genesis, camels are can be linked with such Old Testament patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob, Laban and Moses. Camels are also mentioned periodically on various other occasions throughout later Old Testament history.

Francisco Hayez - 1844 (Wikicommons)

Jacob meets Esau by Francisco Hayez – 1844 (Wikicommons)

In Genesis 12:16 & 24:10-67 camels were used for a trip to Syria; they were also included as a bride price, and when Abraham was in Egypt camels were a small part of larger herds of other animals.

In Genesis 30:43; 31:34; 32:15 Jacob’s flocks along with Laban included camels as herd animals for Esau in the Seir area. In the Joseph narrative (Gen. 37:25) camels were used by Midianite-Ishmaelite traders caravanning to Egypt. In Exodus 9:3 camels were among the animals which were plagued during Moses’ day in Egypt.

Resolving the Camel Anachronism

For those of us who hold that the Old Testament patriarchal narratives are historical in nature, how does one solve the dilemma that this new research seems to reveal? Does the lack of camel bones in southern Israel (in the Arabah) during the Patriarchal period reveal the biblical narrative to be the work of late writers?

There are four good reasons why I do not believe this recent “discovery” is fatal to the historicity of the Old Testament patriarchs.

First of all, one of the many things that the history of archaeology in the Levant has shown over the past several decades is that one report is certainly not the last word on any given subject on ancient or biblical history. New research continues to overthrow long-held assumptions and biases against the Bible.[3]

Secondly, the archaeologists primary research area was conducted (according to their own report) in copper mining sites in the southern Arabah. According to the Bible, the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, et. al.), were pastoralists and semi-nomads whose travel itinerary would not have left them in any one place for any length of time. It is not surprising why little camel remains are discovered in the southern Levant.

Third, as Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, camels don’t actually figure that large in the lives of the patriarchs in any significant sense anyway. He writes:

“A common claim is that mentions of camels are anachronistic before circa 1100. What are the facts? In biblical terms, between roughly 2000 and 1200 their role is minimal.”[4]

In other words – yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives.

But even so, other research suggests that camels have been present on the Arabian peninsula since at least 6,000 B.C.. From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport.[5]

Camels were definitely present in the geographical area, as well as during the time of the patriarchs, so merely because we don’t find their remains in one specific location or archaeological period, certainly doesn’t mean that there are none at all.

This leads me to the fourth and final reason – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – a phrase often attributed to the great American Biblical archaeologist, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. In chaper IV of Dr. Yamauchi’s great book, The Stones and the Scriptures (written 42 years ago) he rightly asks:

“How much of the evidence has survived the ravages of time? How many ancient sites have archaeologists been able to excavate? When does the lack of evidence for a biblical statement prove that an error is involved? Does archaeology offset the negative appraisal of the Bible developed by higher criticism? …Historians of antiquity in using the archaeological evidence have very often failed to realize how slight is the evidence at our disposal. It would not be exaggerating to point out that what we have is but a fraction of the possible evidence.”[6]

For more information on the historicity of the Old Testament Patriarchs see my previous articles here


            [1]http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 11, 14)

            [2]Ibid.

            [3] For example: the discovery of the “Tel-Dan inscription” in 1993-4 by Avraham Biram in Northern Israel, containing the extra-biblical name of David (in the Tel-Dan Stele)

            [4] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, U.K.; 2003), 338-9.

            [5] See, Juris Zarins, “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6.

            [6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Stones and Scriptures (Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1972), 146-62.

Was the God of the Bible Copied from Ancient Myths?

Did the Old Testament God (Yahweh) evolve from Canaanite gods & myths such as Baal, El, etc.?

This is a common claim by liberal OT scholars which is based on several faulty assumptions & presuppositions about the Torah (Pentateuch) and the stories that are contained in it.

The biggest (faulty) assumption is: that the first five books of the Bible were essentially “invented,” compiled (cobbled together) by Jews during Babylonian Exile (ca. 586 B.C.) who borrowed material from Mesopotamian & other indigenous (i.e. Canaanite) sources.[1]

But, it’s no surprise that there would be some similarities, simply because Hebrew is a Western Semitic language and before Moses, the OT patriarchs would not have worshiped God by his covenant name YHWH (Ex. 3:13-15).

The generic Canaanite word/name for “god” was originally  il um, which later became el. So this generic Canaanite word (name) El” was used by biblical writers, yet the usage was quite different.

For instance the Old Testament patriarchs worshipped God under various (modified) names such as: El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3; Gen. 17:1; 43:14; etc.); El ‘Elyon (Gen.14:18-24); El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13; cf. Yahweh Yir’eh, Gen. 22:14); El Bethel (Gen. 31:13; 35:7). [2]

Admittedly, the name of the God of the biblical patriarchs (El), was at times similar & identical to their pagan neighbors, but there was a marked difference in HOW they worshipped El.

OT scholar John Bright interestingly points out that,“All of the patriarchal narratives were written from the point of view of Yahwistic theology, by men who were worshippers of Yahweh; whether they used the name or not, they had no doubt that the God of the patriarchs was actually Yahweh, God of Israel, whom the patriarchs, whether consciously or unconsciously, worshipped. Yet, there is also internal evidence in the text that the Patriarchs also knew God as Yahweh before Moses (or at least Yah”) but did not fully understand the full extent and meaning of the name until that time. [3]

One of the main (but certainly not the only) differences between God (OT – Yahweh) and Ba al, El is that, whereas the Canaanite “gods” have theogony’s (myths of their origins) such as the Baal Epic of Ugarit & others; the God of the OT has no origin. His name means “I AM.” There is no theogony for Yahweh because He has no beginning. He IS. Genesis begins with Him alone.. “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1). Throughout the OT He is presented as standing above and apart from all other so-called “gods” & idols of the surrounding nations (see Jeremiah 10).

Another difference is that when God (Yahweh) creates, He speaks creation into existence, rather than having to fight a dragon or monster, or some other “god” in a cosmic battle for power. The Canaanite & other pagan “gods” all have to fight or go to war[4] to create, whereas God (Yahweh) merely speaks all things into existence by the power of His word (Gen. 1).

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic "Enuma Elish"

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic “Enuma Elish”

The last thing I would point out is that recent discoveries in archaeology (Egyptology) now show that the Pentateuch (the Exodus & Joshua in particular) is a record of historical events (exactly as they were recorded in the text). These discoveries and other internal literary factors, undermine the hypothesis/theory that the Torah was mythologized & invented during the Babylonian Exile. These discoveries will certainly frustrate those who have built their careers on the belief that Moses did not write the Torah.

Yahweh had no origin. He was and is from everlasting to everlasting. Certainly monotheism did not begin with Moses (anyone can know that there is one God from Creation – Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-23), but the (monotheistic) God recorded in the early chapters of Genesis was known by His connection to certain men who had a personal and intimate relationship to Him by faith (Gen. 12; Heb. 11).

That same God still calls men to know Him & follow Him today. Two-thousand years ago, He revealed Himself perfectly in the form of a man (Jesus Christ) so that we could know Him as much as we possibly could (Hebrews 1).

Other Sources for further study:

John Walton’s book, Ancient Israelite Literature In It’s Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts is a great source to look at the major differences between the OT account of God and the surrounding pagan (Canaanite) accounts of God (Baal, El). There are too many to list here.

One more excellent source (although his section on the Exodus/Conquest is now out of date) is William F. Albright’s book, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1968). The first three chapters are especially helpful in revealing the historical context of the religion of early Israel. Chapter 3 is “Archaeology and the Religion of the Canaanites.”

 

[1] This idea came to “full bloom” in the “Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch” of Julius Welhausen in his works, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), and Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1885). These works were preceded & anticipated in the previous century by the writings of  Eichorn, de Wette, Graf & others.

            [2] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 96.

            [3] Ibid. See also, Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarchs Know the Name of the Lord?,” in David M. Howard Jr., & Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 323-39.

            [4] for instance the epic battle between Marduk & Tiamat in the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, where Tiamat is killed by Marduk, the storm god who divides her body which then becomes the heavens and the earth.

Archaeology, the Bible & the Great Dating Debate

An article posted by the Biblical Archaeology Society cites a recent report published in BASOR (the Bulletin for the American Schools of Oriental Research) which calls into question the dating of the Siloam Tunnel which was supposedly excavated during the reign of the biblical king, Hezekiah. According to references in the Old Testament (specifically 2 Kings 20:20 & 2 Chronicles 32:30), the water tunnel was dug by Hezekiah in preparation of a siege to Jerusalem which was led by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the late eighth century B.C..

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

The significance of this new study by Israeli geologists, Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberge, is the re-dating of the tunnel to the time of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. According to these scholars, there simply wasn’t enough time for Hezekiah’s workers to have excavated such a long tunnel. The three geologists from the Geological Survey of Israel maintain that it would have taken about 4 years to dig the 533 meter (approx. 1748 ft.) tunnel. But as archaeologists, Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick rightfully point out:

“In marshaling evidence to support their model, however, the authors entirely ignore the only contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous textual sources that shed light on Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (and that specifically mention aspects of the city’s water system)—namely the narrative passages in Isaiah 7–8 and the historical allusions in Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18. The only reference to Biblical material in the article is the authors’ after-the-fact quotation of the single verse in 2 Chronicles 32:30, which recalls that Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon and brought it down to the west side of the City of David.”[1]

In addition to this oversight, another glaring omission of the geologists is information gleaned from Assyrian inscriptional sources.[2] According to a reconstruction of this period based on Assyrian records, Judah’s revolt against Assyria began at about 705 B.C., exactly four years before Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem – exactly the amount of time that the geologists said that Hezekiah’s workers needed to complete the tunnel!

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

There are two observations I would like to make about this:

  1. As I have stated in my previous posts on archaeology – one of the major areas of debate in Old Testament archaeology is dating and not a lack of material evidence. We have seen this sort of thing crop up in other debates in the Old Testament such as the dating of the Exodus and the Conquest – specifically the debate over Tel es-Sultan (or ancient Jericho) between John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon and the recent work of Dr. Bryant Wood.

Skeptics of the Bible and theological liberals complain that the stories in the Bible are mostly fabrications but when we do find archaeological corroboration then they move the goal-post back by re-dating the discovery to an earlier or later date.

  1. The second observation is that this episode highlights the prevalence of an extreme bias against the historical trustworthiness of the Biblical text in professional scholarly and archaeological circles (specifically ASOR – the American Schools of Oriental Research and their peer-reviewed publication BASOR – the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research).

If the article was “peer-reviewed” before it was published, then how could they have missed such an oversight of basic historical knowledge?

I suspect that there will be more dating debates in the days ahead, as ongoing research and excavations in Bible lands reveal even more corroboration and affirmation that the Biblical text is indeed trustworthy when it records events that happened in the past.

As the late novelist Michael Crichton once wrote, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”

All of the “leaves” of the New Testament are connected to branches which reach down to the trunk and roots of the Old Testament. As Jesus taught, “…if they would not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).


[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/regarding-recent-suggestions-redating-the-siloam-tunnel/?mqsc=E3610342&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDailyNewsletter&utm_campaign=E3B827, (accessed August 30, 2013).

[2] See, A. Kirk Grayson and Jamie Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC), Part 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

Was There an Exodus & Conquest?

Jericho

Frank Turek stands at a small section of the northern wall of Jericho that did not collapse during the conquest. Most sections of the wall fell outward as the Bible says allowing the Israelites to walk up and into the city.

In this last of my posts on archaeology and early Israel, I will focus attention on what is perhaps one of the biggest hang-ups that critics have with the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament – the Exodus & Conquest. In the biblical record the two events stand or fall together. If there was an exodus as the Bible states, then there was also a military conquest which followed it. Both of these events (if they happened), should be discernible from the historical and archaeological record. If we follow the Pentateuch’s exact account, then we know that there was a 40 year interval between the exodus and conquest.

Because of the nature of the subject matter, it has been very difficult to condense the massive amounts of research about this into a blog format. Even now it’s probably too long for a blog (I tried to be as brief as I could!). Many Christians and skeptics, however, consistently ask me about this, so I felt it necessary to try to summarize, as best as possible, an affirmative view of the historical events recorded in the Pentateuch and historical book of Joshua.

Of course, the origins of ancient Israel, the Exodus and Conquest, is an ongoing debate among NE archaeologists and scholars and I am sure it will be until Christ comes again! What I hope to show below are the main supporting pillars of the case that the Bible’s account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and subsequent military excursion into Canaan happened exactly as the Bible states.

First, let’s review what we have established so far (in the previous blog articles)

Back to Chronology (What Time Frame Did it Happen?)

As we have stated before, the precise dating of the events in the Bible is the KEY to discovering them in the archaeological record! Another word for this, is chronology. To review, Eugene Merrill summarizes about the likely year in which the Exodus took place:

According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].[1]

This dating scheme has been called the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest Model” and if it is the correct time frame of the Exodus & Conquest, then this would place the supposed Conquest between the archaeological eras known as the Late Bronze I (1550-1400 B.C.) and the Late Bronze II (1400-1200 B.C.).[2]

The Identification of the Pharaoh – Amenhotep II

From this date (circa, 1446 B.C.), and knowledge of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt (which we discussed in a previous post), it was Amenhotep II who was the Pharaoh of the Israelite exodus and not Rameses II as many people currently believe. When we explore further into the life of Amenhotep II, a picture emerges which is quite consistent with what the Bible states concerning this king and some of the momentous events which happened during his reign. From what we know of Egypt’s pharaohs, inscribed on tombs, walls, and monuments, they didn’t record military losses, only victories. So it is highly unlikely that some future archaeologist is going to find an inscription where Amenhotep II touts that a foreign “god” [i.e. Yahweh of the Jews] made a mockery of the Egyptian gods (including the Pharaoh who was himself considered a god), defeated his armies in the desert, and safely delivered an enslaved people to freedom. What we do see in Amenhotep II, however, is a radical change in his foreign policy (which was very much unlike him), a re-alignment of his Naval forces which he used to launch military forays into Asia, and a religious “crisis” which led to the defacement of many Egyptian “gods” in the 9th year of his reign.  Hmmm… I wonder what that crisis could have been?

The Abandonment of Avaris During the Reign of Amenhotep II

Archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich at the University of Toronto has written a fascinating article[3] which explores the precise timing of the abandonment of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. In the article, Petrovich explores the various theories about the exact timing of the abandonment of the city of Avaris which seems to coincide with Amenhotep II. The significance of this and its possible relevance to the exodus, is that it is indirect evidence of a major crisis event which happened in the 9th year of Amenhotep’s rule. That event could very well be the Israelite exodus. This is not exactly what Petrovich is stating in the article, but it could be what he is implying. The timing is exactly in line with the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest” model.

At the end of the article Petrovich makes some starling observations in his conclusions:

More inscriptional evidence may attest directly to the Year-9 crisis is Amenhotep II’s commissioning of a decree for his couriers to destroy all the images of the gods, singling out Amun-Re in particular. Given that Thutmose III and Amenhotep II expressly ascribed praise to Amun-Re for military victories on their Asiatic campaigns, and that Amenhotep II originated and/or perpetuated the desecration of Hatshepsut’s images throughout Egypt, there is plenty of reason to hypothesize that the religious crisis—and subsequent decree to destroy all the “bodies” of Egyptian deities throughout the land—may be intricately bound to the military and political turmoil of his Year-9. Moreover, a potential interruption in the high priesthood of Amun during this time may also attest to this “perfect storm” of events. Therefore, a religious crisis focused on Amun-Re at this time may have been initiated by Amenhotep II as a result of a devastating loss in battle which coincided with the abandonment of their principle naval base from which military operations into Asia were launched, and led to an unavoidable shift in foreign policy.[4]

Why would Amenhotep II order the destruction of the images of Egyptian gods? Why was there major turmoil & upheaval in Egypt’s religious practices? Why was there a complete change of foreign policy with regard Egypt’s nearest neighbors in Asia [in the Levant] in the later part of Amenhotep II’s reign? This evidence alone does not prove the exodus, but it is certainly consistent with the behavior of an autocratic & military ruler such as Amenhotep II, if such an event such as the biblical exodus took place. The exodus was an event in which Egypt’s gods were rendered impotent and pharaoh’s military forces were drastically reduced. I submit that the exodus, as it is exactly described in the Bible, is the most reasonable explanation for this turn of event’s Amenhotep II’s rule.

Jericho & the Conquest

According to the Bible, immediately following the exodus, the Jews wandered in the wilderness for four decades (40 years). Because of time & space, I’m not going to wade into the debate (in this blog) about the location/identification of the Red Sea? or Reed Sea? crossing or the identification of Mount Sinai. I’m not ignoring it, but shelving it for another post some day. That is a very interesting story in it’s own right. For now let’s look at evidence of a “Conquest” which, according to the Bible, took place approximately 40 years after the exodus. This would place the conquest at or around 1401-1406 B.C. (assuming the exodus was in 1446 B.C.).

In the 1920’s and 30’s it was assumed by most archaeologists working in Israel and the Near East that there was a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt and a military campaign by the Israelites in the Levant [the land that comprises modern day Israel today] as the Bible states. In the 1930’s archaeologist John Garstang working at Tell es-Sultan (or the ancient city of Jericho)[5] found a destruction and wall breach at city IV. He dated the layer to approximately the Middle Bronze III period, the time frame in which the purported conquest of Israel took place. Years later in the 1950’s British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, excavating at Jericho adjusted Garstang’s dating of city IV to around 150-200 years earlier. In essence, this re-dating by Kenyon took away the conquest as described in the Bible.

Since the time of Kathleen Kenyon’s re-dating of John Garstang’s city IV at Tel-Jericho archaeologists, have placed the date of the exodus at around 1290 B.C.. This date in turn, affects the dating of the conquest and its precise location in the archaeological record. Like a row of dominoes, the re-dating of city IV at Jericho by Kenyon had a ripple effect on all subsequent discussion of an Israelite presence on Canaan. If the purported exodus took place in the 1200’s B.C. then this would in turn affect how we look at both events historically. Consequently, since that time, there have been a number of theories about Israelite origins and identity in Canaan [the Levant]. Who exactly were these people? Why did they begin to identify themselves as Israelites? Here are three of the main theories today about the origins of Israel.

The Peaceful-Infiltration Model (also called The Traditio-Historical Model)

This theory was proposed by Albrecht Alt in his article “The Settlement of the Israelites in Palestine,” which appeared in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) According to Rasmussen, “What Alt  proposed was that instead of a ‘conquest; as described in Joshua 1-11, that there was a gradual, but growing influx of nomads (or seminomads) with their flocks from the eastern deserts into the central hill country. These incursions were initially temporary, as the infiltrators searched for pasturage, but eventually settled the sparsely populated gaps between urban centers – thus the ‘Peaceful-Infiltration Model.’”[6]

The Peasant-Revolt Model

The Peasant-Revolt model was put forth by George Mendenhall in the 60’s which suggested that the origin of Israel (ca. 1250-1100 B.C.) was not the result of a military conquest but rather the idea that the self-identified “Israelites” grew out of the indigenous shepherds, peasants and farmers against their Canaanite rulers.

The Agricultural-Resettlement Model

This model arises from the results of archaeological surveys done in the central hill country of Israel and the material & architectural remains which were discovered in those surveys. The research seems to indicate that at around 1200 B.C. there was no conquest or peaceful infiltration at all. One of the main proponents of this theory today is Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein.[7] To understand this view Rasmussen provides a succinct statement by Finkelstein himself: “Finkelstein writes that ‘the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan—they emerged from within it.’”[8] Finkelstein’s conclusions are based on sweeping, unproven assumptions and a radically skeptical view of the biblical record.

POTTERY & THE REDATING JERICHO

All of the theories listed above assume an exodus date of around 1290 B.C. and none of them correspond to a military conquest like the one described in Joshua 1-11. Why then, do archaeologists and scholars not accept the biblical account of events and opt for more skeptical theories concerning the text? The short answer is that archaeologists are not as objective with the evidence as one might presume. The archaeological evidence must be interpreted and archaeologists have skeptical presuppositions and philosophical assumptions just like other scientists. A case in point is the dating of Jericho.

When John Garstang excavated in Jericho in the 1930’s and he dated city IV to the Late Bronze age, he was using pottery to date the site. As most people are generally aware, archaeologists have been using pottery to accurately date tells for decades. The science of dating archaeological sites by pottery is called “ceramic typology.”[9] Ceramic typology, or pottery dating, was established by such notables as William Foxwell Albright, G.E. Wright and Nelson Glueck.

In the early 90’s an archaeologist named Dr. Bryant Wood (PhD, University of Toronto), began to question Kenyon’s interpretation of the pottery and dating of Jericho.[10]

In short, Wood maintains that Garstang’s original dating of Jericho was correct and that Kenyon was wrong. Wood based his conclusions not on his opinion or his ideas about the Bible, but on the evidence of the pottery itself! If the dating of archaeological sites should be based on pottery and other historical considerations (such as the chronology of Egypt’s pharaohs), then all of the evidence from Tell Jericho argues for its destruction and burning around 1401-1406 B.C. All of the evidence from Jericho at this time (ca. 1401-6 B.C.) fits the biblical record in an amazing way, from the details about the city being burned along with everything in it [offered to God as a burnt offering] (see Joshua 6), to the walls having dwelling places [houses] where Rahab helped the Jewish spies enter the city to spy its defenses (Joshua 2).

Continuing research at Jericho and now new research at Tel-el Maqatir (biblical Ai?) is yielding results that confirm the biblical record of Joshua’s conquest in amazing ways. Most critical scholars place Ai at et-Tell but there is no archaeological evidence of a destruction there which fits the biblical description. However, just one kilometer west is another site (Tel el-Maqatir)which very well could be the biblical site of Ai. This conclusion is based, once again, not on opinion but on hard evidence.[11]

This is an exciting time to be alive if you are a person who trusts the biblical account of the past! Every day as archaeologists continue to explore and research the annals of time, the biblical account of history is confirmed again and again. With nearly every turn of the spade, critics of the Bible are proved wrong.

We have much to learn from the past, especially the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. But like the disciples we are slow to learn and slow to believe in all that has been written.

On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and their skepticism towards the Torah (the Bible).

’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all of the Scriptures [the OT] the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

After all – is not Jesus the true Yeshua (Joshua)?

 

**for those interested here is a link to Dr. Wood’s article on Ai

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58. (emphasis mine)

[2] Carl G. Rasmussen, ‘Conquest, Infiltration, Revolt, or Resettlement? What Really Happened During the Exodus-Judges Period?’ in David M. Howard Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 2003), pg. 142.

[3] Douglas Petrovich, ‘Toward Pinpointing the Timing of the Abandonment of Avaris During the Middle of the 18th Dynasty,’ in Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Vol. 5:2, 2013, 9-28.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Also called “The city of Palms,” the ancient ruins of Jericho are some of the oldest in the world with strata which date back to the PPN (Pre-Pottery Neolithic).

[6] Rasmussen, 146.

[7] See his article, ‘Searching for Israelite Origins,’ in Biblical Archaeology Review 14/5: 34-45, 58, 1988.

[8] Rasmussen, 150.

[9] A standard text which outlines the proper handling of ceramics (pottery) at archaeological sites is William G. Dever and H. Darrell Lance, Editors, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, 1978). See especially Joe D. Seger’s chapter, ‘The Pottery Recording System,’ 107-128.

[10] You can see a full summary of his main research on Jericho here http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

[11] see, Bryant Wood’s, ‘The Search for Joshua’s Ai,’ in Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul K. Ray Jr., Editors, Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 205-40.

Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

First off, I apologize for the long delay in getting this post up.

As promised, let us now consider what is perhaps THE greatest salvation event in the entire Old Testament – the Exodus. The Exodus is not just an old Hollywood movie in which Charlton Heston played Moses, it was an event grounded in history and is a record of the redemption of an entire nation based on God’s promises to Abraham centuries earlier (see Gen. 12; 18; & 22).

10Command56

As many Christians are aware, the entire Old Testament predicts and anticipates Christ in type and in prophecy.[1]  The biblical Exodus and Passover, both point to Christ as the symbolic and true Passover lamb whose blood was shed to atone for the sins of the nation and redeem all those who believe – not just for Jews but anyone who will believe. The 64 million dollar question, however, is how do we know the exodus actually happened like the Bible says it did?  Most Christians take the biblical account at face value and believe that it happened as the Bible says, yet few can point to evidence outside of the Bible that it actually took place. Understandably, many skeptics are quick to point out that there is not a shred of historical evidence for any Israelite exodus from Egypt.

Let me state here that a blog article is certainly NOT the place to learn everything there is to know about all of the complex historical dimensions of the Exodus, but hopefully it will answer some of your questions and provide an answer to those who would question the biblical record.

As I have stated in my previous post, chronology is the key to unlocking the history of ancient Israel and to our understanding of how events recorded in the Bible parallel the histories of other nations in the Ancient Near East. If we assume an incorrect chronological date for a biblical event, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to locate that event in the past. Such is the case, not only with locating the biblical patriarchs, but also in discovering the exodus, the conquest, or Israelite kingdom under the rule of David and Solomon in the archaeological record. In truth, this is where much (but certainly not all) of the battle lies when it comes to debates in biblical archaeology [a term now abandoned by most scholars][2]

The Date of the Exodus

In his book on the Old Testament historical period, professor Eugene Merrill states,

“The date of the exodus, the most important event in Israel’s past, is so crucial to the rest of the story that it is mandatory to give some consideration to the problem of ascertaining that date and as many other important dates as possible. Obviously, there is no reckoning of time in the Old Testament with reference to B.C. or A.D. or any other point fixed and known to the Old Testament authors, so the matter is more complicated than it might ordinarily seem.”[3]

Most critical scholars and archaeologists today date the writing of the book of Exodus from around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.), and usually hold that the Exodus is an etiological story created by Jewish scribes during Babylonian captivity to lend credibility and a sense of purpose to their plight. It certainly has no basis in history or fact. But if one uses the Bible’s own internal references concerning the Exodus then the date should be evident. Elsewhere Merrill explains:

“According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].”[4]

IF this is the correct date of the exodus then, in theory, we should be able to locate archaeological remains of that event in ancient Egypt. But not so fast. Just because we might have the right date doesn’t mean that Egyptian evidence will be evident. More questions need to be asked. Before we look at some of those questions, let’s begin with what is probable: the identity of the pharaoh of the Exodus. Who was he? Furthermore, what do we know about him? This might seem like a simple question, but it is a bit more complex than one might imagine.

Who Was The Pharaoh of the Exodus? 

I find it rather interesting that the Exodus account in the Old Testament doesn’t mention the name of the pharaoh. Since Moses was the author, he certainly could have named him. So why didn’t he?  In short, I believe that pharaoh’s name is not mentioned on purpose. Throughout the Exodus narrative, the pharaoh either implies or asks “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). The irony, perhaps intentional, is that we don’t know pharaoh’s name, but we do know the Lord’s name (Yahweh – “I AM”).  The book of Exodus, was not written to exalt the Egyptian pharaoh (who was considered  “the divine god-king”), but rather the God of Israel.

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Yul Brynner as Ramesses I in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic movie, “The Ten Commandments”

An additional problem in ascertaining the exact pharaoh of the Exodus has to do with a debate within Egyptology itself. The debate concerns assigning correct dates to the reigns of Pharaohs. The dating of Egypt’s pharaohs comes primarily (although not exclusively) from the 3rd century B.C. Egyptian priest & historian Manetho who ordered the reigns of the pharaohs into thirty dynasties or families, in his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt).[5] The ancient Egyptians themselves kept record of time according to an astronomical cycle called the Sothic cycle. One of the reasons why many scholars today argue for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt is the question of whether or not the Sothic cycle is a reliable method for dating.[6] To make a very long and complex story short, I’ll state here that I hold to the revised chronology which makes minor adjustments on dates and therefore affects the identity of the pharaoh.

According to the standard chronology, most critical scholars believe that Rameses II (ca. 1304-1236 B.C.) was the pharaoh of the exodus. There are, however, many problems with identifying Rameses II as the pharaoh of the exodus, one of which is  that he was one of the longest reigning kings in ancient Egypt. As Merrill points out, “If Rameses’ death had brought Moses back to Egypt, the exodus would have taken place after 1236, a date too late to satisfy anybody.”[7] But perhaps, more importantly, there is no archaeological or inscriptional evidence in Egypt or ancient Canaan which fit the biblical descriptions.

But, don’t despair! With a little detective work; a starting point of around 1446 B.C.; and a knowledge of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, it is possible to ascertain the probable identity of the pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, there are about three pharaohs whose lives parallel and interact with the OT Exodus narrative: (1) the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill the firstborns; (2) the pharaoh of the oppression of Israel and (3) the pharaoh of the actual exodus event itself. Because of space, we’ll look at the first and last one.

The Pharaoh Who Decreed to Kill the Firstborn Jewish Children

From chronological considerations found in the biblical text[8], it is very possible that Amenhotep I was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews. As we look closer at this time frame in Egyptian history we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is fairly well known from historical and archaeological sources and has a very interesting story herself. In order to secure royal inheritance rights for herself, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew (& stepson) Thutmose III. As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.”[9] During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. One of the most well known structures which survives today is the queen’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings.

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Deir el-Bahari or Hatshepsut’s temple located near Luxor, Egypt (Wikipedia)

It is very possible that when she was younger, it was this bold young queen who drew Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5-10). In another touch of irony, Hatshepsut is said to be one of the first women in ancient history of whom we are well informed.[10] If she is the daughter of pharaoh who rescued Moses from the Nile against the decree of her grandfather Amenhotep I, then it seems appropriate that she is remembered in both Egyptian and biblical history.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

Finally, we consider the identity of the famous pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Following the conclusions of the above discussion, and if the revised chronology of Egyptian history is correct, then Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) must be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Merrill elaborates:

Our identification of Amenhotep II as the pharaoh of the exodus is supported by two other considerations. First, although most of the kings of Dynasty 18 made their principle residence at Thebes, far to the south of the Israelites in the Delta, Amenhotep was at home in Memphis and apparently reigned from there most of the time. This placed him in close proximity to the land of Goshen and made him readily accessible to Moses and Aaron. Second, the best understanding suggests that Amenhotep’s power did not pass to his eldest son, but rather to Thutmose IV, a younger son. This is at least implied in the so-called dream stela found at the base of the Great Sphinx near Memphis.[11]

Other inscriptional evidence outside of the biblical record gives us a picture of what Amenhotep was like. According to Alfred J. Hoerth,

Amenhotep II was a famous sportsman in his youth and he left several stories of his physical abilities (ANET 243-45). For example, it was recorded that no one else was strong enough to draw his bow. One day he tested two hundred stiff bows and then began riding his chariot around a series of copper targets, each about three inches thick. According to the story, every shot hit the mark, and the arrows fell through the back of the targets.[12]

In addition to these and other traits of bravado and military prowess, it is understandable why Moses was reluctant to confront the pharaoh as God had commanded him. Yet, as the story unfolded in Exodus and the Lord God sent the ten plagues to Amenhotep II, we read that the he “hardened his heart” against God and against setting the Jews free. This seemingly benign statement – “the hardening of pharaoh’s heart” – is also an argument for the authenticity of the biblical account. If (or since) Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and he had first-hand knowledge of Egyptian culture and religion, then he certainly would have understood that the “hardening of the heart” was not a good thing. This is according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani). This document was a religious text which describes what happened in the afterlife according to Egyptian religion. After death, the pharaoh’s heart was weighed in a scale balance by Anubis (the god of the underworld) against the feather of ma’at or truth.[13] To have a heavy heart or a hardened heart (i.e. a stubborn/proud heart) would have condemned the pharaoh in the afterlife. Interestingly, most ancient Egyptian mummies (especially pharaohs) have been found buried with sacred trinkets and scarabs (dung beetles)[14] made from gold or other materials, and would have been placed over the heart to protect it in the afterlife. These scarabs were inscribed with spells from the Book of the Dead.[15]

There is so much more that I could mention here, but as you can see from the above discussion, this is just the tip of the iceberg (as they say) of evidence for the biblical exodus. There is actually much more internal textual and literary evidence that the Exodus account is genuine, but space and time will not allow us to review it here. For more detailed information I would recommend two of the best sources I know of which are accessible to most people: (1) Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by John D. Currid, and (2) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier.

I think it’s probably safe to say that many biblical skeptics demand spectacular evidence and spectacular evidence may be forthcoming. Research is continuing in this fascinating field and new discoveries are being made every year. One thing I can say confidently, is that so far, the Egyptian evidence, when properly understood is consistent with the biblical record. Even our adherence to the new chronology is within the pale of academic respectability and orthodoxy.

In my final blog on this subject (which hopefully will not be this long!), we’ll examine other evidences of the Exodus as well as evidence for the military conquest of Canaan under Joshua.


[1] See, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1995) & Sam Nadler’s, Messiah in the Feasts of Israel (Charlotte, NC: Word of Messiah Ministries, 2006).

[2] See Ziony Zevit, “The Biblical Archaeology versus Syro-Palestinian Archaeology Debate in Its American Institutional and Intellectual Contexts,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, Eds, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions (Grand Rapids, London: Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 2004), 3-19.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, An Historical Survey of the Old Testament, Second Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 97.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58.

[5] See, William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1971), 210-213.

[6] For more on this, see David M. Rohl’s book, Pharaoh’s and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995). In this book Rohl argues for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt based on refinements in archaeology and inscriptional evidence.

[7] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 62.

[8] Such as the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 and Ex. 7:7 which states that Moses was 80 years old when he led the people from Egypt (assuming an approximate exodus date of 1446 B.C.)

[9] William J. Murnane, “New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)” in David Noel Freedman, Editor in Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348-53.

[10] Attributed to Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted – not sure of the original source.

[11] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 63.

[12] Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 161.

[13] For very rich and enlightening discussion on this topic see, John D. Currid’s excellent book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), especially his discussion ‘The Hardening of the Pharaoh’s Heart’ pp. 96-103

[14] Considered sacred in ancient Egypt. Thousands of these have been discovered in the Ancient Near East.

[15] See, The Book of the Dead (The Papyrus of Ani) Egyptian Text Transliteration and Translation by E.A. Wallis Budge (New York: Dover Publication, 1967). This work contains many fascinating details on Egyptian culture, religion and beliefs about the afterlife.

Ancient Israel: Myth or History? Part 3b

Part 3b

Archaeological Evidence for the Historicity of the Old Testament: The Patriarchs

THE OLD TESTAMENT PERIOD IS AN AREA OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH WHICH IS BEGINNING TO YIELD SUPRISING RESULTS

Contrary to the biblical minimalists and others, there is good historical evidence for the Old Testament as a historical narrative. The problem today is that theories and interpretations which defend the historical and archaeological contexts of the Patriarchal period are for the most part, not accepted in the current politically-correct climate of main-line universities. Funding, grants and tenure are at stake for many professors. The situation is really very similar to what is happening to scientists who would dare endorse and or accept Intelligent Design (ID). To most archaeologists working in the field today and ancient Near Eastern historians, the question of whether or not the biblical patriarchs ever existed (much less a Supernatural God’s dealings with them and promises to them) is just a meta-question. It’s a non-sense issue because the questions that drive biblical research today are not questions of biblical inerrancy or integrity. To many liberal scholars the text is nothing more than entertaining stories; the Patriarchal stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no more true than the epic myths of Hesiod, Ovid and Homer which tell of Zeus and Apollo. But, as Dr. Eugene Merrill points out, “…if the Bible is in no sense revelatory but merely the religious reflections of an ancient Semitic tribal people, it hardly deserves serious theological inquiry. Like the great religious texts of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hittites, it may be of interest to students of comparative religion; but it can hardly qualify as authoritative for faith and life.”[1] In other words, if we can’t trust the Bible with earthly things, then how can we trust it with eternal things? Sounds familiar.

CHONOLOGY IS THE BACKBONE OF HISTORY

In the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy and his sidekick Sallah have located where they believe the famous Ark of the Covenant is buried. The Nazis are also looking for the Ark, but Sallah lowers Indy into the “Well of Souls” and they discover that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place.

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Something very similar is happening with the Bible. Many Bible scholars are looking for historical evidence of the Bible in the wrong TIME period. Of course they won’t find it because it isn’t there! But what if they look in the right time period? These questions highlight the vital topic known as biblical chronology. Chronology is vitally important in aligning purported events to their corresponding calendar date, and this is no easy task for any ancient historian! One of the difficulties in reconstructing an accurate chronology of events is that cultures of the past had different ways of reckoning time. Or to put it different way, when an archaeologist digs up a pottery fragment there is no date stamped on it.

Dr. Edwin R. Thiele was one of the first scholars in the twentieth-century to realize the importance of chronology in the Old Testament. In 1951 he published his ground-breaking book, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings where he set out to accurately reconcile the reigns of the Hebrew kings mentioned in the Old Testament to neighboring Near Eastern cultures. It was in the Ancient Near East that all of the major events recorded in the Old Testament took place and the two accounts must correlate. In chapter one Dr. Thiele’s opening words are worth reading again and again. He writes:

Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation must be correctly grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world.[2]

Because of the huge influence of the Documentary Hypothesis by the German scholar Julius Welhausen in the 19th Century, most Old Testament scholars now date the Pentateuch to around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.). But, if this is how the Pentateuch is dated, then all of the events recorded in it vanish or become mere metaphors or allegories. It was in this climate that the discipline of Biblical Archaeology was born. Biblical archaeology was and is by its very nature, unapologetically apologetic.

One of the earliest defenders of the historical trustworthiness of the Bible was Edward Robinson.

Robinson was a professor of Old Testament at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts; later called Union Theological Seminary in New York. In 1837 he and Eli Smith a Protestant missionary in Beirut, set out to explore the Holy Land. Robinson and Smith hoped to find evidence supporting the Bible’s historicity. From Cairo (in Egypt) they followed the presumed route of the Exodus through the Sinai to Palestine. When he arrived in Jerusalem Robinson noticed some oddly projecting stones in the lower portion of the retaining wall around the Haram esh-Sherif, the Moslem sanctuary on the site of the ancient Israelite temple. He recognized these as the base of an arch that supported a monumental entrance to the temple built by King Herod the Great in the First Century A.D.. These remains are now known today as “Robinson’s Arch.”

More importantly, however, were the discoveries made by Robinson and Smith as they criss-crossed the countryside on their way to Beirut. On his journey with Smith, Robinson was able to recognize the locations and Arabic names of small towns or abandoned mounds of the original places described in the Bible.

For example: ‘Bir es-Seba’ was Beersheba; ‘Beitin’ was Bethel; ‘El-Jib’ was biblical Gibeon; and so forth. By looking at the Arabic names Robinson was able to identify many biblical sites located throughout the Holy Land.

In addition, Robinson along with Sir Charles Warren and Charles Wilson conducted research in and around Jerusalem identifying Hezekiah’s tunnel which was hewn under the city 2700 years ago during the reign of the Biblical king Hezekiah. In the 8th Cent. B.C. Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians.[3]

Robinson’s identifications of sites, and cities became the starting point for all later work in biblical geography and archaeology.[4]

The mid-twentieth century saw the high watermark of biblical archaeology in the work of the American archaeologist William Foxwell Albright. Albright, along with his colleague George Ernest Wright and others attempted to synthesize the general picture of the Old Testament narrative with linguistics and the archaeological & cultural background of the Ancient Near East.

The importance of these men for archaeology and the Bible is that they re-discovered real places, actual cities, and sites that were mentioned in the Bible but had been lost to history for millennia. The Bible was proving to be a solid primary source for ancient history in a small corridor of the Near East.

But what about the biblical Patriarchs mentioned in Genesis and the Pentateuch? What time period do we locate them?

The “Problem” of Locating the Time of the Patriarchs

Conservative Old Testament scholars seem to place the biblical patriarchs in the [Middle Bronze age] MBI –II or both.[5] Although there is not total agreement, this is the general agreed upon “time-frame” of the biblical Patriarchs. British Old Testament scholar, John Bimson has explored extensively the dating of the patriarchal period in “Essays in the Patriarchal Narratives,” edited by A. Millard and D. J. Wiseman (1980).[6]  Essentially Bimson believes that the Patriarch’s straddle the MBI and II – so around 2000 to 1800/1750 B.C.. This is partly based on occupational levels of the cities at this time relative to how the biblical text refers to them (i.e. as occupied, thriving cities, well-outposts. etc…).

Cities Mentioned and/or Occupied during the Patriarchal Period

In the archaeological record there are many cities known to have existed and to have been occupied during the times of the Biblical Patriarchs.  Some of these include the cities of Shechem, Bethel, Ai, Zoar/bela, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, Ashtaroth-karnaim, Ham, Salem, Oaks of Mamre, Kadesh, Shur, Beer lahai roi, Gerar, Beersheba, as well as many others. The ancient city of Beersheba is by far the largest city of the Negev. Tel Beer-sheba, the site of the ancient city, is located on a hill overlooking the Wadi-Beer-sheba about two and one half miles east of the modern city of Beer-sheba. The mound itself covers only two and one half acres.

As reflected in the patriarchal narratives, Beer-sheba is the most important center in the Negev during this period. Abraham dwelt in Beer-sheba (Gen. 22:19). Abraham and Abimelech entered into a covenant at Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:32). Abraham planted a tamerisk tree at Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:33). The Lord spoke to both Isaac and Jacob at Beer-sheba (Gen. 26:23; 46:1). Beer-sheba is also the site of some famous wells. Abraham’s well at Beer-sheba was seized by Abimelech’s men (Gen. 21:25). Isaac’s servants dug a well at Beer-sheba also (Gen. 26:25).

Beer-sheba was excavated during eight seasons (1969-1976) by a team from Tel-Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of the late professor Yohanon Aharoni.[7] Some objections have been raised in relation to Tel es Saba as the biblical Beer-sheba – because the biblical Beer-sheba might have been just a well – or a watering hole in a barren region. But according to Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog, the Patriarchal Beer-sheba is found in the 13th or 12th Century B.C. (from Stratum IX and VIII).  “In other words, the patriarchal stories concerning Beer-sheba should be regarded as originating at the end of the second millennium B.C. during the so-called settlement period.”[8] In addition, Herzog also believes that he may have found Abraham’s “Well of the Oath” where Abraham and Abimelech made their covenant (Gen. 21:32).[9]

The Nuzi Tablets & The Patriarchs

In addition to these remarkable cities, there is a site southwest of Nineveh near modern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that was excavated between 1925-1941 by Edward Chiera, Robert Pfeiffer, and Richard Starr under the auspices of the Iraqi Museum and the Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research and later the Harvard University.  That site is the location of the famous tablets called the “Nuzi” tablets.

The over 5000 tablets discovered there provide numerous and amazing illustrations of the customs and culture which existed in the Patriarchal period thus providing conformation, clarification and illumination on this time period.

The tablets, although not directly mentioning the patriarchs, still constituted such valuable testimony about their life-styles that the late Professor William F. Albright (the then-acknowledged “dean” of Palestinian archaeologists) concluded that “the narratives of Genesis dealing with Abram may now be integrated into the life and history of the time [the second millennium B.C.] in such surprisingly consistent ways that there can be little doubt about their substantial historicity”[10]. Professor Albright’s conclusion was based on the following evidence from the Mari and Nuzi tablets:

  1. Names like Abraham and Jacob were in common use among the Amorites in northern Mesopotamia about 2000 B.C. and later.
  2. Mari was the center of a vast network of trade routes ranging from Crete to Elam, from Cappadocia to Megiddo. Merchants constantly traveled these routes from one end to the other. Seen in this context, Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran, then to Canaan and Egypt, is not as improbable as the critics once thought.
  3. Abraham’s relationship with Hagar (Genesis 16) and Jacob’s with Bilhah (Genesis 30) can be better understood by a comparison with a marriage contract from Nuzi, in which the wife was required, if she proved to be barren, to provide a substitute for her husband.
  4. Abraham’s reluctance to drive out Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16:6) is understandable in the light of Nuzi customs governing such relationships.
  5. Another Nuzi tablet revealed the adoption by a childless couple of a servant born in their house. He became the heir if he cared for them in their old age (see Genesis 15:2-3).
  6. Jacob’s relationship with Laban (Gen 29-31) becomes more understandable when compared to other tablets from Nuzi (adoption customs) as well as Abraham and Eliazar his slave (Gen. 15:4)
  7. Rachel’s theft of Laban’s teraphim (household gods/idols) (Gen. 31:34) is better understood now in light of the Nuzi tablets

All of these observations provide astonishing evidence of the general historical background of the Patriarchal narratives. Each point could be a study in and of itself. Concerning the last observation about the teraphim, in the previous list given above, the late Old Testament scholar, Dr. Merrill Unger of Dallas Seminary observed:

Evidently the possession of these household gods implied leadership of the family and in the case of a married daughter assured her husband the right to the property of her father. Since Laban evidently had sons of his own when Jacob left for Canaan, they alone had the rights to their father’s gods, and theft of these household idols by Rachel was a serious offense (Gen. 31:19,30,35), aimed at preserving for her husband the chief title of Laban’s estate.  …the fact that the patriarchal narratives correctly reflect customs that would long since have become obsolete in the age when the critics contend these documents were…[written].[11]

The Mari Tablets & Abraham

At the site of the ancient city of Mari twenty-thousand clay tablets were excavated beginning in 1933 by the French archaeologist Andre Parrot. These clay tablets were archives from the royal palace at Mari. In addition, Parrot also excavated a temple of Ishtar and a ziggurat. Mari was a flourishing city in Mesopotamia during the early days of Terah (Abraham’s father) who might have passed through on his way to Haran.

A large number of the Mari tablets represent diplomatic correspondence between Zimri-Lim, the last king of Mari and his ambassadors as well as Hammurabi king of Babylon writer of the famous law code that bears his name.

The biblical city of Nahor (Gen 24:10) is mentioned frequently in the Mari letters.

The occurrence of the word – Habiru “Hebrew?” (‘Ibri, Gen 14:13) in the Mari letters (‘Apiru from Egyptian sources) attests to its ancient linguistic lineage. Interestingly, Abraham is the first person mentioned in the Bible to bear the name “Hebrew.”

The wide occurrence of the world Habiru shows that the term: “…is not an ethnic designation, for the Habiru of these various texts are of mixed racial origin, including both Semitic and non-Semitic elements, but its fundamental meaning seems to be “wanderers,” “those who pass from place to place.”[12]

In addition to the Nuzi tablets, the tablets discovered at Mari also provide additional support and backing to the general historical foundation of the Biblical Patriarchs.

The Discovery of Sodom & Gomorrah

Pertinent to a debate in own culture is the story of the great sin and subsequent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 18-19. Did these cities ever exist, and furthermore, were they destroyed in the manner the Bible describes? What does archaeological research reveal? Without getting into the fine detail, in the 1970’s researchers in Jordan were led “to an Early Bronze Age graveyard on the southeastern side of the Dead Sea that was in the midst of being plundered. Along five “wadis” (dry riverbeds) flowing westward into the southern Dead Sea, an archaeological survey identified five ruined cities that appear to be the cities of the plain mentioned in Genesis 14:8. The most prominent and northerly one was in ancient times called Bab edh-Dhra, which seems to be the Arabic rendering of Sodom. Next in line was Numeira (Gomorrah), then the modern city of Safi (Zoar or Bela, to which Lot fled and which was not destroyed), then Admah and Zeboiim. The key was finding Zoar.”[13]

One of the major sources for help identifying the identity of the five cities was the Bible! According to archaeologist Dr. Bryant Wood:

Sodom and Gomorrah were two of five cities referred to in Scripture as the Cities of the Plain. From references to the “plain of the Jordan” (Gn 13:10), “the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea)” (Gn 14:3) and Abraham looking down to see the Cities of the Plain from the area of Hebron (Gn 19:28), it is clear that the cities were located in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. Since the mountains come close to the shore on both the east and west, the cities must have been located either north or south of the Dead Sea. Various commentators over the centuries have suggested locations both north and south (Mulder 1992: 101 102). The reference to “bitumen pits” in Genesis 14:10, however, tips the scale in favor of a southern location (Howard 1984). Bitumen (a natural petroleum product similar to asphalt) was commonly found in the shallow southern basin of the Dead Sea in antiquity. (Bilkadi 1984; 1994; Clapp 1936a: 901–902; 1936b: 341–342).[14]

In 1974-75 Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae uncovered one of the largest archives of clay tablets ever discovered at an ancient site. The tablets now known as the Ebla archives, (from the ancient city of Ebla) and they date from 2400-2350 B.C.. One of the tablets contains a geographical atlas containing 289 place names which include the cities of the plain mentioned in the Genesis along with the biblical city of Sodom.

In addition, further research strongly suggests that the ancient cities of Bab Edh-Dhra and Numeira, located southeast of the Dead Sea, were destroyed in a manner and in the general time frame that is described in the Bible. The cities were crushed and burned it seems, from a linear fault located near the Dead Sea rift – a geological feature which can suddenly erupt in violence and destruction. [For a more detailed archaeological summary of Bab Edh Dhra (“Sodom”) see, W.E. Rast, ‘Bab edh-Dhrain’ in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, ed. D.N. Freedman, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 559-61.

From this brief survey we can see that there is more to the Patriarchal narratives than meets the eye. Contrary to current scholarship there are good historical and archaeological reasons to believe the Bible’s account of the past.  It provides eyewitness detail that could only be known by someone who was there.

In my next post I will review the historical and archaeological evidence for the Exodus and Conquest as well as the existence of the Davidic kingdom.


[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 24-5.

[2] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1983), 33.

[3] The Biblical account maintains that Hezekiah anticipated the Assyrian invasion and made at least two major preparations to resist conquest: construction of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel, and construction of the Broad Wall. The tunnel is 533 meters long and was dug in order to provide Jerusalem underground access to the waters of the Spring of Gihon/The Siloam Pool, which lay outside the city. This work is described in the Siloam Inscription, which has been dated to his reign on the basis of its script. At the same time a wall was built around the Pool of Siloam, into which the waters from the spring flowed (Isaiah 22:11) which was where all the spring waters were channeled. The wall surrounded the entire city, which bored up to Mount Zion. An impressive vestige of this structure is the broad wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. “When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city … for otherwise, they thought, the King of Assyria would come and find water in abundance (2 Chronicles 32:2-4)”

 

[4] see, William H. Steibing, Jr., Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993), 87-89.

[5] See, John Bright, A History of Israel, Second Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 67-85; & Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 56-123; & Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 21-55.

[6] John Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs,” in Essays in the Patriarchal Narratives, Edited by A.R. Millard and D.J. Wiseman (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 59-93.

[7] Ze’ev Herzog, “Beer-Sheba of the Patriarchs,” in Archaeology and the Bible, Volume 1 Early Israel, Hershel Shanks and Dan P. Cole, Editors (Washington D.C.: The Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992), 2-18.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] Ibid., 18

[10] Biblical Archaeologist, July 1973, p.10.

[11] Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954),123.

[12] Ibid., 125.

[13] John D. Morrs, “Have Sodom and Gomorrah Been Discovered?” http://www.icr.org/article/7312/ (accessed, June 17 2013)

[14] Bryant Wood, “The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah” Originally published in Bible & Spade (Summer 1999). For more on this including images from the sites see, http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/16/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx#Article

Ancient Israel: Myth or History? Part 3a

Part 3a

Responding to Biblical Minimalism

A Summary Apologetic for Old Testament Historical Reliability

In the previous two posts I tried to the emphasize importance of whether or not the general historical outlook found in the Old Testament narrative can be trusted, and secondly I laid out two of the main challenges to the historical integrity of the Old Testament. In this post I will attempt to provide a brief response to the first of the two challenges. Initially I thought that I could give a succinct response, but as I continued to write it became obvious that the article was much too long for one post. What I have decided to do is part 3a dealing with the challenge of biblical minimalism and part 3b the archaeological challenge to the Old Testament. One of the downsides of electronic media over books is that one has to summarize vast amounts of information and research. So because of space I will be limited in my response and I will be sure to cite sources for further study in the footnotes.

In Blog post 2 “Ancient Israel: Myth or History” – Part 2 The Challenge, I mentioned that the two main challenges to the reliability of the Old Testament comes from philosophy/hermeneutics and archaeological research. In the real world the two intermingle and inform one another. First we will take a look at “Biblical Minimalism.” Essentially “biblical minimalism” is a school of biblical exegesis which treats the biblical text as a purely mythical literature rather than as history. It is a categorical denial that the biblical text can shed light on actual history

Responding to Biblical Minimalism & the Cöpenhagen School

There have been a number of responses to this school of biblical minimalism. Dr. William Dever, for instance, from the University of Arizona responded with his book, What Did the Biblical Writers Knew and When Did they Know It? (1999).

Egyptologist at the University of Liverpool, Dr. Kenneth Kitchen, has provided an illuminating and accurate observation about Dever’s book. He writes that Dever’s response gave: “a robust and valuable reply to the minimalists, ruthlessly exposing their suspect agendas and sham “scholarship,” following on from his refutations of Finklestein’s archaeological revisionism. It [Dever’s book] should be read and appreciated (for the period 1200 B.C. onward) for its firsthand contribution on the archaeological aspects….there is much solid rock here….To one’s sorrow [however] there is also sinking sand…”[1]

What Kitchen is referring to is that while Dever responds to the minimalists critique of the historical value of the biblical text, he (Dever) himself will defend its historicity only up to a certain point (cf. 1200 B.C. onward).  Certainly, as much as we must give due respect to professor Dever for all of his work in the area of archaeology and Biblical studies, yet he does not speak for conservative biblical scholars nor does he answer fully the critiques of biblical minimalism. To apply the moniker “biblical maximalist” to Dr. Dever is, in my opinion a major misnomer.

In his excellent book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Professor Kitchen summarizes the biblical desconstructionists “method” of approaching the text with the following six principles:

1.The author’s intention is an illusion created by readers

2.The text is an interpretable entity independent of its author

3.Language is infinitely unstable, and meaning always deferrable

4.One must approach the text with a hostile suspicion, against the grain,  denying  integrity where possible in favor or dissonance and a search for inner contradiction [i.e. the hermeneutics of suspicion]

5.All texts are incomplete, as language is unbounded.

6.Structure is more important than context[2]

Simply put: if the same principles were applied to the writings of Thompson and Lemche then we would have no reason to believe anything they wrote. Their methodology for doing biblical scholarship is simply based on a poor hermeneutic at best!

In 1996 the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle wrote an excellent and incisive book about postmodern historiography (history writing) titled, The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past. In this book, professor Windschuttle dissects and exposes the flawed philosophies and methods of many historians writing today and turns them back on themselves.

If we were to use that same hermeneutical approach to which Thompson, Lemche & others employ when they write books about the so-called “myth” of ancient Israel, then is their intention for writing books and communicating information about the Old Testament nothing but an “illusion” created by us [the reader]? Would critical scholars allow their readers to “read” any meaning into the text independent of their thoughts and intentions? Hardly. Do they want readers to approach their texts with “hostile suspicion?” If one applied the same methodology and principles to the works of skeptical biblical scholars then we would have no reason to take them seriously or believe anything they wrote. But, of course, they believe that what they are writing is true and should be believed. Why else would they have written it?

At its root, biblical minimalism is a philosophical shift (a paradigm shift?) away from a general theistic approach and to an outlook which is essentially atheistic & naturalistic (which actually began in the eighteenth century: since the time of Spinoza, T. Hobbes, D. Hume and others). Since that time, scholars in the fields of the humanities and social sciences have become more and more committed to methodological naturalism as their undergirding philosophy, and today more and more biblical scholars and archaeologists are embracing deconstructionism as well as other serious philosophical errors.

Scholars such as Thomson and Lemche, who were influenced by French postmodern philosophers like Derrida, Michel Foucault as well as the German, Hans Georg Gadmer (Truth and Method), are not philosophically neutral when they approach the biblical text. Biblical scholarship, nor is archaeology practiced in a philosophical vacuum.

Taking his cue from book V of Plato’s Republic, Dr. Normal Geisler (then president of ETS) correctly warned:

Unless either philosophers become biblical exegetes in our schools or those who we now call biblical exegetes take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, biblical exegesis and philosophical intelligence, there can be no cessation of theological troubles for our schools, nor I fancy for the Christian church either.”[3]

Sadly many evangelical scholars working today in the fields of exegesis, biblical studies, & theology are still unaware or unconcerned about the prevalent philosophical errors which have crept into the “Christian academy” [if there even is such a thing].

In my next post I will deal directly with the archaeological challenges to the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament.


[1] K. A. Kitchen, On the Historical Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 468 [emphasis mine].

[2] Ibid, 469-72.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, “Beware Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars,” in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 42/1 (March 1999), 3-19.