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

The Eclipse of Christmas

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned – Isaiah 9:2

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 On March 19th 2007 the earth experienced one of the most fantastic and amazing events in the heavens – a total eclipse of the sun! Solar eclipses have been recorded since the dawn of human history. In ages past, humans saw eclipses as full of great significance and meaning. Eclipses are certainly strange and wonderful events, even in modern times. While they are now explained by science, eclipses are still full of mystery and awe.

What exactly is a solar eclipse?  Essentially an eclipse is when the light-giving body of the sun is blocked by the moon thereby causing a temporary shadow across the surface of the Earth. The shadow of the moon on the earth is called the umbra – similar to our word umbrella – the penumbra is the larger shadow.

When a full solar eclipse happens, strange things occur on earth. The temperature can drop as much as 20 degrees! Chickens begin to roost, animals bed down, and in the shadow of the moon the world is bathed in total darkness. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse which occurred during a war between the Medians and the Lydians on May 28, 585 B.C. Soldiers on both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse.[1]

Our world today is currently under another kind of eclipse – a spiritual one in which darkness is rampant.

It is an overshadowing not only of the Christmas holiday – but the PERSON which Christmas is all about – Christ, the true light of the world!

This Christmas season you may have noticed the flagrant bias against Christmas and its true meaning by the entertainment industry (Hollywood), by the retail world (businesses), and by our own State and Federal Government. Today the ACLU and other organizations are suing communities around the country for expressing their belief in the true Christmas story demanding that the “Separation of Church and State” has been violated.

For Christians, however, this should not come as a surprise. The attempted darkening of God’s light and truth has been going on for millennia. Consider this passage from John’s Gospel (considered to be John’s Nativity passage):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. …Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:1,3-5)

A few years ago, the American Atheists paid for a huge a billboard (see below) on a turnpike in New Jersey. According to David Silverman, spokesmen for the American Atheists, the purpose of the billboard was not intended to make new converts to atheism, rather it was to encourage existing atheists who are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas, to stop. Atheists should be celebrating reason, not Jesus! (not even indirectly by giving gifts and having traditional Christmas celebrations)

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Whatever the case, the billboard was just one more way of eclipsing the true Light of Christmas – the advent of the Christ-child.

Just a few days ago in the Chicago area, the heads of Mary & Joseph in a church nativity scene were vandalized and decapitated.

What other ways is the light of Christ’s truth being eclipsed today?

Sadly, there are many credible reports coming out of the Middle East of Christian children being murdered simply because of their faith in Christ! This is unbelievable! The small little light of a child is so bright that those who love the darkness must extinguish it!

There was a song I learned in Sunday School many years ago, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…”

When I think of the words to that children’s song I think of the little children in the Middle East who are murdered because of Christ.

Sadly, these precious little lights were eclipsed and extinguished by those who hate the truth and love darkness.

The attempt to eclipse Christmas reaches all the way back even to the very first Christmas itself. In the first century when Christ was born, a heinous crime was committed against innocent children in order to prevent the light from shining before it even dawned. The crime was committed by none other than Herod I (builder of some of the greatest structures in the ancient world – but also murderer of little children).

Bruce Scott summarizes some of Herod’s crimes here:

He was the classic paranoid tyrant. His fortresses reflected his mentality. He lived with constant fear and suspicion. He had spies everywhere, looking for seditious activity. Herod would occasionally disguise himself as a commoner and mingle among the people at night, listening for conspiracies. Suspects were captured and tortured. Anyone who did not swear allegiance to Herod was persecuted and/or killed. To be sure, 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.[2]

Herod failed.

No man can extinguish the glory of God or the light of the world, not even today.

Not only did Herod not succeed, but those who attempt to eclipse Christmas today fall short as well. God’s glory, His light and Truth fills the earth and the heavens (Psalm 19). The light of His Truth is shining even in countries where spiritual darkness is rampant. Even the blood of Christian martyrs will be used by God to bring light to those in darkness.

Sir Winston Churchill once said:

The Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it. Ignorance may deride it. But in the end there it is.

Christmas is all about LIGHT – light as a metaphor, light as a reality, and light as a symbol of Truth. The truth that there is Truth; that there is a Creator; who made all things, and that God took on human form (in Jesus) that we might know Him and reflect His glory. Christmas is when God took on human form in the incarnation. It is marvelous and mysterious at the same time!

The primary reason why God did this is so that Christ (who was innocent and sinless) could take the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross.

Why would God do such a thing? Simply because He loves the world that He made (John 3:16). Without His act of selfless love, there would be no hope and no escape from the darkness – spiritual or otherwise.

An Attempted Eclipse at the Second Advent

In the Old Testament Psalm 2 is a Psalm about Christ. Theologians refer to it as a “Messianic Psalm.” Anything in the Old Testament that refers to Christ (the Greek word for Messiah), literally means “anointed one,” is considered to teach some truth about Israel’s Savior and King.

Psalm 2 is particularly interesting because it refers to a future time when the rulers and the nations of the earth will rise up and stand against Messiah, attempting once again, to eclipse God’s Light and Truth.

The Psalmist begins:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together…(verse 1)

And exactly what are these world-rulers meeting about? He continues:

…against the Lord and against His Anointed (Messiah), saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’ (verses 2-3).

But God’s response to them is mockery.

(Yet)…He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘As for Me (GOD), I have set My King (Messiah) on Zion, my holy hill’ (verses 4-5).

And God’s further response is that complete dominion of the entire earth will be given to His “Anointed” (Christ Jesus)

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel’ (verses 7-9).

Finally a word of warning to rulers who attempt to eclipse, darken or oppose the Anointed One.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are those who take refuge in Him (verses 10-12).

Conclusion

To those think that Christmas as well as Christianity, is a huge sham: have you stopped to truly  consider the evidence presented on this website and by this ministry? The central claim of Christianity (the Resurrection) is supported by an amazing amount of evidence.

For Christians who feel the encroaching spiritual darkness, Christmas is a reminder to all of us that the Light of the world HAS indeed come! Until He comes again, we are commissioned by our Lord Himself (the Light of the World), to continue to shine His light in the darkness so that a total eclipse of Christmas never happens.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-17)

[1] http://www.iep.utm.edu/thales/#SH8a (accessed, 12 Dec. 2014)

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

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].

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.

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Israel Tour: Day 2

Day Two of our tour started out at Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus. We took pictures at the precipice cliff overlooking the Jezreel Valley towards Megiddo. Many believe that this is the cliff mentioned in Luke 4:29 where the people of the Nazareth synagogue wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff. Even if this is not that specific cliff, it is very likely that Jesus came here many times as a youth and gazed upon the Gilboa Mountains.

Our group at the precipice at Nazareth.

Our group at the precipice at Nazareth.

Next we traveled through the Jezreel valley to Megiddo. Megiddo is an interesting archaeological site for there are 26 layers of civilization built upon one another dating all the way back to 7000 BC. Megiddo was conquered by Joshua as one of the 31 kingdoms defeated after the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Joshua 12:7, 21). Also Deborah and Barak defeated Sisera by Megiddo (Judges 1:27) and King Solomon fortified Megiddo as a strategic military post (1 Kings 9:15, 10:26).

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A tunnel connecting the bottom of King Ahab’s shaft in Megiddo to the spring outside of the city walls. Before its construction, women had to leave the city walls in order to get water from the spring.

Maybe the most well-known detail about Megiddo is that this is the place where Revelation 16:13-16 says that the war of Armageddon will take place before the final return of Christ. Armageddon comes from the Hebrew, Har Megiddo, meaning “Hills of Megiddo.”

As we looked down into the Jezreel Valley from Megiddo we could see the precipice at Nazareth where we had just been and where Jesus must have stood as a youth. It’s humbling to think that Jesus most likely stared back across the valley to the very spot where I was standing, knowing exactly what would happen before his second coming.

Our next stop was the famous Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah stood opposed by the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Jeremiah, Solomon, and Isaiah all commented on the height and beauty of Mount Carmel. It was indeed a beautiful and flourishing site.

We stopped by Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee next. Most of Jesus’ recorded ministry took place here. It was at Capernaum that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Levi (who later took the name Matthew). The fishermen stopped what they were doing, left their nets, and just followed him. Their boats were abandoned right here on this shore. Peter’s mother-in-law’s house is also here. Today it is covered by a Catholic Church with glass floors so that visitors can view the house from above. One thing that is clear about Jesus from visiting this city is that He must love great views. It was absolutely beautiful at Capernaum. See the video below for a snippet.

We ended the full day at the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5 -7. We gathered in a picturesque nook overlooking the Sea of Galilee and read the Word of God.

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Dr. Frank Turek speaking about the Sermon on the Mount at it’s actual location on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

It is striking to see these biblical sites with my own eyes because it solidifies the biblical accounts both archaeologically and geographically. You can walk in the synagogue of Capernaum where Jesus taught so many lessons contained in the Bible. It’s located near another discovery that dates back to the 1st century AD uncovered beneath an octagonal Byzantine martyrdom church. The discovery was a house converted into a church, which is now believed to be Peter’s house or the House of his Mother-in-law. (For more go HERE). While there are many fun points and important conjectures that we could make with regard to this subject, maybe none are as important as the obvious one–this stuff is REAL!

Synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus spent much of his time.

Synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus spent much of his time.

It seems incredibly unlikely that so many details could line up so perfectly across multiple testimonies especially considering the other varying details that are in the texts. We will see in tomorrow’s adventure how even the most minor details interlock and unintentionally corroborate the biblical narrative.

Footsteps of Jesus: Our First Day

At this very moment I am sitting at a small wooden desk. To my left is a window that looks out onto a body of water. It’s no ordinary body of water. Mountains surround it on almost all sides. As the sun goes down my eyes soak in the beauty of the gray surface of the water against the backdrop of the mountains extending just beyond its edge. By this time the setting sun has engulfed the range in a fiery, amber light.

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Sea of Galilee

 

The beauty alone is compelling enough to move my heart to lift a prayer and a praise to God. But knowing that this water is the famous Sea of Galilee is overwhelming. Knowing that the soil my feet are treading upon is the very soil where Jesus did the majority of his ministry is more than my mind can digest all at once. This is a special moment.

Many of you know that CrossExamined.org and Living Passages have been planning a Footsteps of Jesus Tour in Israel for the summer. The plan was for thirty-five of us to meet yesterday in Tel-Aviv to begin a long and epic list of biblically significant destinations. We have just concluded our first day of our tour. I’ll be posting updates so that you can also take part in the trip.

Here goes a fly-by-summary of our first day.

We started out in Shiloh. In the Old Testament after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to occupy the Promise Land, Shiloh is the place where the Tabernacle of God had it’s first permanent resting place. The Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant definitely crossed over these grounds. This is also where Hannah prayed for a son before she became pregnant with Samuel as well as where Eli trained Samuel for a large portion of his childhood.

Next we toured through the West Bank. We saw cites built by Herod the Great and a church that is thought to have been the final resting place of John the Baptist’s body. We walked up Mount Gerizim and looked across the valley to Mount Ebal. Here Moses commanded the Israelites to stand, six tribes on Mt. Gerizim and the other six tribes on Mt. Ebal. They were to shout out the blessings and curses that awaited them depending on whether they acted towards God with obedience or rebellion. Reading Deuteronomy 27:12-13 now is a completely different experience.

Something else special about Gerizim is that just below us in the valley between Gerizim and Ebal is Jacob’s well. Remember in John 4 when Jesus approached the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well for water? In verse 20 she refers to Mount Gerizim by saying that her ancestors worshiped on “this” mountain. We were standing on that very Mountain. The woman at the well probably would never have been able to fathom that more than 2000 years later, this mountain is still the place where the few surviving Samaritan descendants continue to worship to this day.

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Standing on Mt. Gerizim looking at Mt. Ebal

Finally we made our way down the mountain to Jacob’s Well. Today an orthodox church has been built around the well. We entered the church quietly and then proceeded down another staircase below the floor to the well. The well is about 130 ft. deep.We drank the cool and pure water thinking about how Jesus’ physical thirst was quenched by the water of this very well. He sat on this very ledge.

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Dr. Frank Turek drinking from Jacob’s Well

I look forward to sharing our adventures with you again tomorrow.