the role of archaeology in biblical history (edición español)

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson lectures

The Chilean La Tercera recently published an article entitled “Historias bíblicas: lo que la ciencia ya decifró y las preguntas pendientes,” or, “Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and the remaining questions).” La Tercera offers a link to a digital paper copy here.

The Mexican Jewish website Enlace Judio also ran the story, as did Terrae Antiqvae (complete with pictures).

The article discusses the role of archaeology as a science in relation to the Bible and biblical history. The article surveys many of the recent claims and recounts various archaeologists’ interpretations of these discoveries.

Below is an English translation of the story by Marcelo Cordova and Jennifer Abate.


Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and questions pending)

In recent years, a string of findings has been an unprecedented boost to archeology studying characters and events depicted in sacred texts, from the existence of King David to the tomb of Herod the Great.

by MARCELO CORDOVA / JENNIFER ABATE

After a backbreaking day of work under the Israel sun, the team of archaeologists from Union College in Jerusalem was preparing for a break amongst the ruins of Tel Dan, an ancient northern city. But before resting, Gila Cook, one of those in charge of the team, noticed an unusual shadow on a wall that had been exposed after digging what had been the main entrance.

It was July 21, 1993 and, as the explorer relates the story, approaching the spot, she discovered a piece of basalt protruding from the floor and on it was a text written in ancient Aramaic. Excited, she called loudly to Avraham Biran, chief researcher of the group. His surprise was immediate: it was an inscription about a military victory of the king of Damascus from the ninth century BC which mentioned the “King of Israel” and “house of David.”

This news was a historic and scientific success. It was the first time that a non-biblical reference was found that proved the existence of the monarch, the central figure of the Christian scriptures and recognized not only for his great artistic and warrior skills, but also for being an ancestor of Jesus. After centuries of exploration and speculation, which even talked about David having been invented by Hebrew scribes, a text was discovered that had been written by an enemy of the monarch.

That was the starting point for a string of discoveries which in recent years has launched an unprecedented boost to biblical archeology. A discipline that emerged after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), when scientists stopped considering religious texts as a history that could only be demystified, and started using the Bible as a written compass to guide their excavations.

Recent efforts to search the sacred texts have paid off, achieving the illustration of episodes like the battle of David and Goliath and events related to the life of Jesus, which have been enriched with details that remained lost in time (see graphic). However, in the process scientists have also unearthed and brought to light relics that pose questions to some biblical passages, such as the Gospel of Judas, which seems to show how Jesus asked his apostle to turn him into the authorities. The role of testing and proving and, sometimes of rebuttal, is one of the major challenges of biblical archeology, Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University California, told La Tercera.

“Archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. In the same way that a site visit helps to understand its historical legacy. Sometimes it provides evidence that contradicts it. For example, there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt or of the Flood. But there are many findings in Jerusalem and other places that do support these texts,” says Cargill. He adds: “The idea is not to completely discard the Bible altogether just because some passages can not be verified. This book is an ancient piece of literature that should be examined for what it is: an ancient collection of documents that do not necessarily give us information about what happened then, but about the beliefs of the people from that ancient world.”

Verifying the Scriptures

If one asks the experts what are the most salient findings of recent years, the names of some places and characters tend to be repeated. One of them is one that stunned the world in 2007 when the explorers, led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, announced the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great, in the Herodium, south of Jerusalem. The monarch, who was appointed by the Romans to govern Judea from 37 BC and 4 BC, is described in the Bible as the instigator of the “slaughter of the innocents” (at the knowledge of the birth of Jesus, he ordered the deaths of children under two years old in Bethlehem).

But apart from this notoriously sad reputation, he was known for his grand architectural vision; he ordered the construction of the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and the almost mythical fortress of Masada, the last bastion of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 73 AD.  Most archaeologists assumed that he had been buried at the Herodium, but it was the finding of some monumental steps 6.5 m wide, which were built for Herod’s funeral procession, described in detail by the historian Josephus, which eventually led Netzer to a large broken sarcophagus 2.5 meters long. While inside it no human remains were found, the detailed ornamentation and the surrounding buildings of that place causes the experts to claim that the body of the monarch did lie there.

Netzer explained in 2007 that this discovery put an end to 30 years of research and gave support to the legendary ambition of Herod. Herodium is the only site that carries his name and was chosen by the king to immortalize himself, integrating a huge palace located in the desert hilltop. “This finding is significant because it puts into perspective Herod, a key figure in Christianity,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrating how a king produced a majestic tomb helps – Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the U. Tel Aviv, told La Tercera – the specialists to delve into the economic, social, political and demographic contexts that marked this era in which these texts were written. A view shared by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (USA), who told La Tercera: “If we take the example of an opera, the Bible is the script and archeology is the setting in which it takes place.”

While in recent years there have discoveries made in various parts of Israel – including a synagogue in the town of Migdal where Jesus would have prayed regularly, and 2,000 year-old houses in Nazareth that reveal a village of just 50 homes of humble lifestyle. The vast majority is concentrated in Jerusalem. Remains of pottery and other objects show that the city was inhabited from 4000 BC, although it was King David who established it as the capital of the united kingdom in 1000 BC.

And it was his son who built the first temple of the city. The Book of Kings recounts how Solomon brought his Egyptian wife to the city of David, where he built his home and a large wall. In 2010, archaeologists found a big wall in Jerusalem from the tenth century BC providing support to the existence of a royal palace and a fortified capital under the control of a king. In addition to an outdoor structure, which is 10 m high and 70 m long, a monumental tower and a large entrance were found.

“This is the first time we’ve run into a structure that conforms to the descriptions of the works of Solomon. This fits into the biblical story and it enhances our ability to establish a link with the wall of Jerusalem. It is very probable that the Bible, as the stories of many dynasties, preserves a core of truth,” said archaeologist Eilat Mazar to Haaretz news group.

The Chapter on Jesus

The evidence found that is tied to the most recent Scripture passages – especially to that of the life of Jesus, his family and apostles – is also coming to light in the form of objects and texts. In 1968 explorers found the remains of a man in his twenties in a cave northeast of Jerusalem. The find was considered unique because although the Romans were known to have crucified thousands of rebels, thieves, and deserters, a victim of this technique had never been found. And his remains corroborated the biblical description of such execution: the man’s left ankle had a nail that went through 11 cm and a small wooden box between the bone and the nail head to prevent release of the cross leg.

This evidence not only corresponds to a similar period as that of the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, but, according to experts, it verifies the description of his funeral. For decades it was believed that the Romans were limited to throwing the corpses into mass graves to be devoured by animals and thus impose fear.  But, this body showed that, on occasion, funeral proceedings were permitted similar to those mentioned in the Scriptures.

Recent explorations in and around Jerusalem have uncovered not only references linked to the death of Christ, but also to the image that his miracles propagated and to the characters that surrounded him, such as John the Baptist.  Seven years ago, works in the neighborhood of Silwan gave the location of a pool where, according to the Bible, Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in 2008; while underwater archaeologists recovered from the Bay of Alexandria (Egypt) a vessel of the late 1st century AD that says Dia chrstou o goistais (“Christ the magician”).

According to Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, it would be the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible. The words in this inscription further illustrate how Christianity and paganism were intertwined during the first years after the crucifixion. The investigator told Discovery News that it is very likely that some magician had inscribed “Christ” in the bowl to legitimize his own powers by invoking his name: “It is very probable that in Alexandria, where one also found one of Cleopatra’s palaces, the existence of Jesus and his legendary miracles were known.”

In 2004, archaeologists found a clue to the legacy of John the Baptist, when they located a cave in Jerusalem that may have been used by him for some of his ceremonies. The site, 21 meters long, was excavated between 800 and 500 BC and includes a series of carvings from the 5th century A.D. depicting the image of a man with a staff. There is no direct evidence of the link between this place and John, but the British archaeologist Shimon Gibson told Fox News that the carvings, combined with a stone used for foot washing and the proximity to the place where John lived, suggests that the cave was used by him.

“Apparently, this site was adopted by John the Baptist, who wanted a place to bring people to perform his rituals and propagate his ideas about baptism,” added Gibson. Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told La Tercera that despite the lack of confirmation of the link, such findings illustrate the customs and rituals of that time: “Now we can reconstruct how people lived, how they viewed their settlements and what their economic and social structures were.”

Subject for Dispute

It is clear that these findings have not been without controversy, and they are almost always preceded by sensationalistic media. One of the most iconic episodes in this regard came last year when it was announced that Noah’s Ark had been discovered atop Mount Ararat (Turkey). After a series of criticisms for its inconsistencies in terms of dating, this finding was branded false.

Something similar could be taking place with the announcement a few days ago of the alleged discovery of two nails used to crucify Jesus. The documentary, guided by Simcha Jacobovici (who years ago said he had found the tomb of Jesus), mixed evidence with a series of assumptions to announce the discovery of these objects in a tomb explored in 1990 and which, for some unknown reason, ended up at an anthropologist’s laboratory in Tel Aviv, where they remained forgotten.

The main argument of the filmmaker is that an ossuary was also found in the tomb that has scientific backing and a connection with the death of Jesus: an receptacle with human remains and the inscription “Caiaphas,” the name of the High Priest who organized the capture of Jesus. Robert Cargill, who is part of a committee of U.S. archaeologists that refutes baseless claims, tells La Tercera: “These type of assumptions are made by amateurs, not professional archaeologists. Usually, they are scams to earn money or convince people of a certain faith claim.”

The subject about which scientists have not yet achieved consensus is the Gospel of Judas. The full text, which is 1,700 years old and written in Egyptian Coptic Christian, continues to cause controversy, not because they doubt its authenticity, but for its meaning. While the Bible portrays Judas as a traitor, the initial translation shows the apostle as the closest friend and disciple of Christ, who sacrifices his teacher at his request; this involves a reinterpretation of biblical texts. Another analysis, however, postulates that the text does not say this, but rather that Judas was a “demon” and that he, in fact, betrayed Jesus.

Researchers are divided in their analysis of what remains to be discovered. Some speak of cities or more details of King Solomon, but the same Robert Cargill says the key requirement, such as it has been until now, is discovering more about the daily life of the society in which the writings were produced: “A dream find would be something like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that opens a new window to understanding how these people thought and interacted thousands of years ago. I’d love to find something written in a new language and decipher it, or find a palace or a temple, because no serious explorer ever says he has found the Ark of the Covenant, the cross of Christ, or the Holy Grail.”

a critique of simcha jacobovici’s ‘secrets of christianity: nails of the cross’ by dr. robert r. cargill

No.

Simcha Jacobovici recently claimed to have discovered the nails used to crucify Jesus. I have written a critique of Simcha’s documentary entitled, “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross” for Bible and Interpretation.

Here’s a snippet:

Simcha makes two bold claims to say the least: the first is that the lost nails of Jesus’ crucifixion have been recovered, and the second is an implicit assertion that the IAA covered it up. Unfortunately for Simcha, his theory has a problem, and its name is Legion, for they are many. Any one of these problems renders Simcha’s theory impossible, and their aggregate renders the theory preposterous.

Read more and comment.

a new bedtime book for adults

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (Author) and Ricardo Cortes (Illustrator)

"Go the F**k to Sleep" by Adam Mansbach (Author) and Ricardo Cortes (Illustrator)

A colleague forwarded me a link to a new bedtime book that will be released just before the birth of my son, MacLaren.

Go the F**k to Sleep is a children’s bedtime book for adults by Adam Mansbach (Author) and Ricardo Cortes (Illustrator).

I guarantee that I’ll get a copy because I love biting humor, and because every honest parent will admit that he or she has thought this expression in his/her mind (if not muttered it under their breath) at some point during child rearing.

HT: RN

society of biblical literature awarded 300k neh grant for interactive website

Society of Biblical LiteratureCongratulations to the Society of Biblical Literature for being awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the development of a new interactive website that will connect biblical scholars to one another and to the public.

This is valuable because it will allow scholars “to speak directly to new audiences and to gain a stronger voice in the public square when questions arise about the Bible and its contexts.” In short, the website will connect scholars and their research to one another, and will provide an avenue for credible scholars to disseminate scholarly research and commentary directly to the public.

Congratulations to both the SBL and the NEH for their vision and hard work!

Read the announcement below:

ATLANTA — We are pleased to announce that the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to build an interactive website that invites general audiences to engage with
biblical scholarship.

This is a rare opportunity for the SBL to speak to the continued importance of the Bible in modern culture and to communicate the value that biblical scholars bring to the study of the Bible and to the humanities.

The NEH review process includes peer review along with deliberation by the National Council on the Humanities. The award announcement described the grant recipients as highlighting the breadth of high-caliber humanities projects and research supported by the Endowment. “These projects represent some of the most innovative work happening in the humanities today,” said Jim Leach, Chairman of the NEH.

The site will begin production immediately, with a planned launch in 2013. Once completed, the site will become a powerful public platform for SBL members to speak directly to new audiences and to gain a stronger voice in the public square when questions arise about the Bible and its contexts.

“This is a huge opportunity for SBL to showcase the work of biblical scholars, educate and engage the public, and foster biblical scholarship,” said John Kutsko, executive director of SBL. “It also goes without saying that this award comes at a time of increasing pressure on the public support of the humanities at the state and federal levels. Thus, the award commitment is all the more significant in this context, and we are all the more grateful that the NEH has made us stewards of their support of scholarship, education, and the humanities.”

A strong team of SBL staff and members, led by Kent Richards, executive director emeritus, advised the project to its current status, and S2N Media developed the prototype site. For further information contact: Moira Bucciarelli, mbucciarelli@sblsite.org.

* * *

The Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest non-sectarian international scholarly membership organization in the field of biblical studies. Founded in 1880, SBL’s membership includes scholars, teachers, students, and individuals from all walks of life who share a mutual interest in the critical, academic study of the Bible. SBL’s mission is to foster biblical scholarship.

really rick?? children with 2 parents are better economically than children with 1 parent, unless the parents are gay??

Former United States Senator Rick Santorum recently argued in Iowa City that economically speaking, children that are raised by 2-parent families have more economic opportunities than children raised by a single parent, unless the 2-parents are gay.

Santorum achieved the rare double-double of parenting politics by offending both single parents and gay parents in one speech. He apparently took the same statistics class as U.S. Senator from Arizona Jon Kyl.

Does Santorum really think that same-sex couples aren’t as economically viable as heterosexual couples? Economically? Being gay makes a difference economically??? If men are still statistically paid more than women for the same work, wouldn’t this statistically be an advantage for a child of a same-sex male couple?

Read the article here.

fan on field FAIL. (security tackle WIN!)


I remember watching this game yesterday and noting they stopped for a second. TV crews no longer show fans running around on the field so as not to encourage more of the bad behavior.

Watch the security guard on this video. made my day!

(if only the Red Sox could hit like that this year…)

(HT: JW on FB)

happy 40th birthday npr and ‘all things considered’

Happy Birthday NPR and All Things ConsideredPlease help me in wishing a very happy 40th birthday to NPR and All Things Considered. Thanx for all you do for me during my 101-405 commute. Thank you Robert Siegel, Michele Norris, Melissa Block, and Guy Raz, and to everyone who makes the production so outstanding.

(HT: JW via FB)

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