New Testament Bible Class

Archaeology & the Bible – Issues 16 through 25

Archaeology & the Bible #15

 Is the Old Testament an oral tradition that was put into writing many years later?

 Writing was in use by the 2000s B.C. (about the time of Abraham) so it is unnecessary to assume that a long period of oral transmission existed between most of the Old Testament events and their documentation in written records. 

People of the late 2000s B.C. and early 1000s B.C. maintained written records and did not depend on memory for matters they considered to be important. 

The Biblical names Serug, Hanor, Terah, Abram appear in other documents of the first half of the 1000s so those names were not creations of a later writer.  

The patriarch’s travel (Abraham “moved” from what is now southern Iraq to southeastern Turkey, to Syria, to Israel and even traveled as far as Egypt) is not to be regarded as improbable.  Texts from Ebla and Cappadocia indicate that travel, commerce and trade regularly occurred throughout the ancient Near East. 

The patriarchal stories faithfully reflect customs that were not practiced and institutions that did not exist during later periods, some of which were even prohibited under the religious norms of later Israel.  For example marriage to a half sister (Lev. 18:9) or to two sisters simultaneously (Lev. 18:18) was permissible during patriarchal times but forbidden in later Israelite society.  This fact argues against the idea claimed by some critics that these stories were invented later.  How could supposed later writers use customs and practices unknown to them?  Why would they intentionally create “facts” about their ancestors that would be repugnant to their readers? 

If you were making up stores about your ancestors of many hundreds of years ago, could you accidentally include accurate descriptions of social norms of which you had not knowledge.  And, would you intentionally include fabricated repugnant details about your ancestors actions and motivations?

No, Scripture is an accurate, albeit sometimes disappointing, description of real people in a really age who were all part of the story of salvation through Jesus Christ.

(Archaeological Study Bible)


Archaeology & the Bible #16

What follows is summarized and edited from http://www.johnankerberg.org/Articles/editors-choice/EC1205W3C.htm with some details verified using other sources.  John Ankerberg is a Christian author of many books primarily published by Harvest House.

For those who believe that the Gospels are accurate historical records of Jesus’ life, one of the most difficult problems in the New Testament is the census mentioned in Luke 2:1-2 which was decreed by Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Everyone was to go to his own city to be counted.

 1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. (ESV) 

Critics say there are five reasons why Luke’s account is historically incorrect.

1. There is no known evidence of an Empire-wide census in the reign of Augustus. If it occurred, wouldn’t it be mentioned by one or another of the ancient historians who recorded this period?

2. The historian Josephus records a lot about Herod but does not mention a Roman census in Palestine.

3. Quirinius was not appointed governor of Syria and Judea until A.D. 6, many years after Jesus was born.

4. In a Roman census, Joseph would not have been required to travel to Bethlehem.

5. A Roman census could not have been carried out in Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.  (Herod’s kingdom was not directly controlled by Rome.  Instead, Rome ruled through Herod, a “vassal” king who kept the crown only with the good will of Caesar.)

Luke was a careful, thorough historian.  It is unlikely that he would make a careless error.  If the error was not accidental then it must have been intentional.  Why would Luke include information about which he was not certain?  Why intentionally falsify the date of his Savior’s birth?  After all, people then and now do not deny that Jesus lived (and so must have been born).  The disagreement is with who Jesus was (God/Man?  God?  Man?) so what benefit would Luke gain by taking a chance on a questionable date or by lying about Jesus’ birth date?  He could have just skipped the detail about a census.  (NOTE:  Is a fact incorrect because it is mentioned in Scripture and not in other sources?   So many details of Luke’s writing (Gospel According to Luke, and Acts of the Apostles) are verified again and again and again by other sources.  Does that not make Luke a highly reliable source?  Should not OTHER sources be help up to Luke’s writing for verification?!  I am of the opinion that Luke would be universally hailed as one of history’s finest historians – if he had not written for the Lord by the blessing of the Holy Spirit with his books included in the New Testament.) 

In answer to some of these objections.

First, when Luke states that a decree from Caesar Augustus went out that all the world should be taxed, was he talking about just one empire-wide census?

No, according to Roman historian A. N. Sherwin White (1911-1993). The censuses were taken in different provinces over a period of time. But Caesar Augustus was the first one in history to order a census or tax assessment of the whole provincial empire. Luke uses the present tense to indicate that Augustus ordered censuses to be taken regularly throughout the empire rather than only one time.

Second, papyri collected in Egypt, have shown that the Romans undertook periodic censuses throughout their empire. In Roman Egypt, for example, from A.D. 33 until 257 A.D., 258 different censuses were taken at 14-year intervals.

Third, there are other reasons to believe a census was taken by Caesar Augustus in 4 or 5 B.C. Augustus knew of Herod’s paranoia. Herod frequently changed his will and then would kill the family member he had put in charge if he were to die. Each time he changed his will and the one who would succeed him, he had to get permission from the Roman emperor to do so.   So, Emperor Augustus knew what was happening in Palestine. It is reasonable to assume that Augustus, anticipating the problems that would come about when Herod died, would want to take a census of Herod’s territory.

But what about Luke’s reference, “this was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria?” Luke’s statement has a plausible foundation in history:

When Luke says this was the “first” census that took place under Quirinius, the Greek word prote, usually translated “first,” according to some Greek scholars can also be translated “prior.” If that is Luke’s meaning, then, he would be referring to a census taken prior to the one taken when Quirinius was governor in 6 A.D. Some Bibles, including the new Lutheran Study Bible published by Concordia Publishing House, include a footnote for the word “when” of Luke 2:2 which provides the alternative translation “This was the registration before…”

Is it possible that a prior census was taken, or even taken by Quirinius himself?  Historians know that Quirinius had a government assignment in Syria between 12 B.C. to 2 B.C. He was responsible for reducing the number of rebellious mountaineers in the highlands of Pisidia. As such, he was a highly placed military figure in the Near East and highly trusted by Emperor Caesar Augustus. Augustus, knowing of the turmoil in Herod the Great’s territory, may well have put his trusted friend Quirinius in charge of a census enrollment in the region of Syria just before the end of Herod’s life.

The time period from 7 to 6 B.C. also coincides with the transition period between the rule of the two legates of Syria: Saturninus from 9 to 6 B.C. and Varus from 7 to 4 B.C. The transition of power between these two men took place between 7 to 6 B.C., and Augustus again may have appointed his friend Quirinius to step in and conduct a census taxation when he could not trust anyone else.

Next, what about the criticism that in a Roman census Joseph would not have been required to travel to Bethlehem?

In A.D. 104, Governor of Egypt Vivius Maximus issued an edict that states, “It is essential for all people to return to their homes for the census... so that the household may contain the customary complement of persons for the registry and so that such persons may identify themselves with the farmlands addressed to them.” (By the way, he allows those who simply cannot leave their work, like some farmers, to provide the reason and be excused from traveling.) This indicates it was plausible for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem as Luke indicates. In fact, it is just one of the many reasons scholars have found why Mary would have needed to go with Joseph on his trip to Bethlehem.

Next, what can be said to those who say a Roman census could not have been carried out in Herod’s kingdom while Herod was alive?

The emperor did take censuses in vassal kingdoms like Herod’s. In fact, when Herod died, his domain was divided among his three sons, and Augustus ordered that taxes be reduced in the territory of one of his sons. It proves the Roman emperor was not afraid to intervene in one of his vassal kingdoms.  Further, it is now known that in 8-7 B.C., Herod came into disfavor with Augustus and was thereafter treated as a subject rather than a friend. It resulted in Herod’s autonomy being taken away from him.  Third, historians have also discovered that the people of Herod’s domain took an oath of allegiance not just to Herod, but to both Augustus and Herod, which proves there was a greater involvement of Augustus in Herod’s realm.

Finally, Luke’s account points to a census taken before Herod the Great’s death and the division of his kingdom. It would have been highly implausible to think that after Herod’s kingdom had been divided between his three sons in 4 B.C. that people in Nazareth under Herod Antipas would have traveled to Bethlehem, the territory belonging to Archelaus for purposes of taxation. It makes more sense that such traveling would have been done when all the territories were under Herod’s rule himself and Augustus called for an overall census.

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #17

The Egyptian priests really could have turned snakes into “rods”!  (Exodus 7)

There is evidence that the Egyptians regularly practiced a method of snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until awakened.  This trick is still practiced in Egypt (and by hypnotists around the world) today

Catalepsy is a nervous condition characterized by muscular rigidity and fixity of posture regardless of external stimuli, as well as decreased sensitivity to painCatalepsy is also a term used by hypnotists to refer to the state of making a hypnotized subject’s arm, leg or back rigid.  Symptoms include: rigid body, rigid limbs, limbs staying in same position when moved (waxy flexibility), no response, loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing. (wikipedia.com)

In Exodus 7, Aaron’s rod became a snake, the Egyptian priests’ rob became a snake, and Aaron’s snake ate the Egyptian snake.  In this way, Israel’s God defeated one of Egypt’s national symbols – the serpent – an animal considered sacred in Lower Egypt where Moses’ confrontation with the pharaoh took place. 

(Archaeological Study Bible)

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #18

I like this.  Hopefully it is meaningful to you as well.

The evidence of archaeological discovery helps give us:

1. Confidence that the places and people mentioned in the Bible are accurate, even though those places and people existed thousands of years in the past.

2. Confidence that the details of the Biblical accounts have not changed over the centuries since it was written as we have a “fixed fact” in history.

3. Confidence that everything that the Lord speaks will be fulfilled in its time.

Isa 46:8-10 “Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’  

Written by Rusty Russell (Bible History Online)

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #19

 Handmaidens Confirmed

Until the discovery of the Nuzi tablets, scholars had assumed that a later editor had added the notes to the Bible that Laban gave named maidservants to his daughters when they married (Genesis 29:22-24, 28029).  But researches have discovered Nuzi marriage contracts stipulating that the bride was to be given a handmaiden, whose name was duly recorded in the contract. 

The ancient city of Nuzi located a few miles southwest of Kirkuk in Iraq, has provided archaeologists with a wealth of material.  The most significant discovery to date has been extensive archives dating to approximately 1500 to 1350 B.C.  Most of the 3,500 Nuzi tablets in these archives originated from private homes and document the lives of the city’s ruling families as well as providing information regarding the political structure and social conditions of this region and time. 

(Archaeological Study Bible)

Imagine someone reading your personal files and financial records in the year 5500 A.D.! 

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #20

 Haran existed. 

Jacob fled from his broth Esau to their mother’s brother Laban who lived in Haran.  (Genesis 27:43)  The ancient city of Haran is located in modern-day Turkey about 10 miles north of the Syrian border.  It was occupied from the mid-2000s B.C. until 700 A.D.  Mari texts (explained below) attest that Haran was thriving during the Middle Bronze Age (first half of the 2000s).  En route to Canaan, Abram and his family lived there for a time.  (Genesis 11:31)  Just to confuse things, one of Abram’s relatives was named Haran as well.

(Archaeological Study Bible)

The ancient city of Mari, located in northern Syria, was a thriving metropolis about 2800-1760 BC. From about 2000 BC until its demise in 1760 BC, Mari was the capital of the Amorites. Amorites were spread far and wide throughout the ancient Near East, including the hill country of Canaan vanquished by the Israelites (Numbers 13:29; Joshua 10:6). The French have been excavating Mari almost continuously since 1933. The major discovery was an enormous palace covering 6 acres, with nearly 300 rooms on the ground level and an equal number on a second floor. It was in use from ca. 2300 BC until its destruction by Hammurabi (king of Babylonia) in 1760 BC. An archive of about 15,000 texts from the final years of the palace provides a detailed insight into the common social, economic and legal practices of that time. Contained in the archive are administrative and legal documents, letters, treaties, and literary and religious texts.  (www.biblearcheology.org)

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #21

Could the foreigner Joseph be honored in Egypt? 

The Khu-Sebek inscription in Egypt dates to the reign of Senwosret III of the mid-1900s B.C. during the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history.  It describes how someone whose outstanding service caught the pharaoh’s eye could be elevated to a high rank within the Egyptian government or military. 

Some people have considered the story of Joseph in Genesis to be a fable in part because he, a slave, was elevated by Pharaoh to his second-in-command of the entire country.  The Khu-Sebek inscription lends support to Genesis hopefully turning some views of it from fable to fact.

Need more?  The most conclusive verification that an individual had earned the pharaoh’s favor was a distinguished burial or a memorial erected in his honor.  Just that is described in Genesis 50 where the elaborate funeral of Joseph’s father, Jacob/Israel, and Joseph’s embalming are mentioned.

(Archaeological Study Bible)

You can read the entire inscription at http://www.archive.org/stream/stelaofsebekkhue00peet/stelaofsebekkhue00peet_djvu.txt.

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #22

Egyptian royalty lived near Rameses.

The Bible suggests that the Egyptian royalty lived near Rameses where the Israelites worked as slaves (Genesis 47:11, Exodus 1:11, 12:37, Numbers 33:3,5).  For example:

  • Pharaoh’s daughter bathed in the Nile River where she found Moses in a basket.
  • As an Egyptian adult, Moses wandered to the area where the Israelites worked.
  • Israelite foremen met face-to-face with Pharaoh.
  • Moses held audience with the pharaoh during the plagues and there is no indication that travel was necessary.

Critics of the Bible once believed that the royal residence was located in Memphis, the administrative capital of Egypt, about 75 miles from Rameses. 

At the likely location of Rameses, an enormous royal compound was discovered on the bank of the Nile River consisting of a fortress and palace (that included bathrooms).  This discovery places Egyptian royalty in the same area as their Israelite slaves. 

The Biblical account is confirmed once again!

(Archaeological Study Bible)

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #23

Some people claim that Solomon’s Temple was a fictional creation.  But, two reports of Solomon’s Temple have been found outside the Bible.

One of those reports is a 4-inch-wide, 3.5-inch-tall ostracon, or inscribed potsherd (fragment of broken pottery) which is the oldest complete extra-Biblical (other than the Bible) mention of the House (or Temple) of Yahweh (LBYT YHWH) ever found.   Dated to 1000 to 800 B.C., this ostracon is at least a century older than an ostracon from Arad that bears the only other complete extra-Biblical mention of King Solomon’s Temple. (Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov./Dec. 1997)

An ostracon is a piece of pottery (or stone), usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel. In archaeology, ostraca may contain scratched-in words or other forms of writing which may give clues as to the time when the piece was in use.

In Athens, the voting public would write or scratch the name of a person in the shard of pottery. When the decision at hand was to banish or exile a certain member of society, citizen peers would cast their vote by writing the name of the person on the piece of pottery; the vote was counted and if unfavorable the person was exiled for a period of ten years from the city, thus giving rise to the term ostracism.

Think of an ostracon as “ancient scrap paper”.

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #24

As with most of the Bible, some people are much quicker to reject than accept its statements as legend or a myth than as fact – even though Scripture is proven again and again by archaeology, geography, etc. 

An example:  many archaeologists believe that IF King Solomon existed then he certainly could not have ruled over a wealthy, strong kingdom.  Instead, Israel would have been small, weak, and poor.

This week, archaeologists report the finding of a fortification wall in Jerusalem that has been dated to the 900s BC, about 3,000 years ago, which is during the reign of Solomon.  The finding includes a gatehouse and 77 yards of wall right next to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Pottery shards (fancy way of writing “pieces of broken pottery”) found with the wall helped archaeologists date the wall to Solomon’s time.

 “Big deal.  They found a big wall.”  you might be thinking.  It’s not the wall that matters so much as what the wall tells us about Israel at the time of Solomon.  To build such a wall a community would need a strong central government, a large treasury (yes, even kings had to pay their bills), and lots of manpower.  A small, weak, poor “kingdom” wouldn’t need such as wall and, if it wanted a protective wall, would have had to settle for something much smaller.  So big wall = big government.  Big government supports the biblical account of Solomon’s reign.

Let’s remember that archaeology is not an exact science.  These findings must be examined and verified by other archaeologists.  Of course, we accept the Bible as God’s holy book by faith and not by sight (even an archaeologist’s findings).  

You can read more at “Article about Solomon’s Wall” and more with a photo at “Short Article & Photo about Solomon’s Wall” (the Temple Mount is in the background).

Paul

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Archaeology & the Bible #25

Issue #24 covered the most ancient mention of Solomon’s Temple which is dated 1000 B.C, to 800 B.C.  The second most ancient report of Solomon’s Temple outside the Bible was discovered at Arad, in the land of Israel, in the Negev.  Among the finds were several letters addressed to Eliashib son of Eshiyah, one of which specifically makes mention of: The House of Yahweh. 

Over 100 ostraca (inscribed potsherds) inscribed in biblical Hebrew were found in the citadel of Arad. This is the largest and richest collection of inscriptions from the biblical period ever discovered in Israel. The letters are from all periods of the citadel’s existence, but most date to the last decades of the kingdom of Judah (before its capture and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia). Dates and several names of places in the Negev are mentioned, including Be’er Sheva.

Among the personal names are those of the priestly families Pashur and Meremoth, both are also mentioned in the Bible. (Jeremiah 20:1; Ezra 8:33)  Some of the letters were addressed to the commander of the citadel of Arad, whose name was Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu, and deal with the distribution of bread (flour), wine and oil to the soldiers serving in the fortresses of the Negev. Seals bearing the inscription “Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu” were also found.

Some of the commander’s letters (probably “file” copies, hand written of course!) were addressed to his superior and deal with the deteriorating security situation in the Negev. In one of them, he gives warning of an emergency and requests reinforcements to be sent to another citadel in the region to repulse an Edomite invasion. Also, in one of the letters, the “house of YHWH” is mentioned.   (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org) 

Paul

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