“Then the LORD replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.’” –Habakkuk 2:2
We’ve all seen the Indiana Jones movies. In two of the most popular installations, Indy and he team race to uncover two of the holiest artifacts know to the Jewish and Christian faiths from the Nazis. When it comes to archaeological finds, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are undoubtedly two of the most famous. They are probably the two most sacred artifacts coveted to modern archaeologists as well. Anyone digging in the sand in the Middle East as you read wants to find them. The search for those continues, either directly or indirectly, no doubt. While those two remain elusive, there have been other significant, albeit less dramatic, archaeological finds that shed a lot of light on our Christian faith.
So, then, besides the Bible, what hard evidence do we have about our faith? Some of the greatest forms of evidence we have are inscriptions. They are just want the term implies. The Biblical Archaeological Society, defines them as: “Inscriptions, whether inscribed or chiseled on a hard substance like stone or written on papyrus or another more delicate surface, record the thoughts of ancient people in writing. Inscriptions express awe before God and monarchs and preserve everyday transactions and fundamental documents” (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/category/daily/biblical-artifacts/inscriptions/). Inscriptions can enlighten our understanding of the Bible. The great thing about them is that they paint a great picture of scriptural accounts. So, grab your mental brush let’s paint!
“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. “Why should the kings[a] of Assyria come and find plenty of water?” they said.” –2 Chronicles 32:1-4
“It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David.” –2 Chronicles 32:30
The Old Testament account of the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s threat of a siege on Jerusalem isn’t one we usually learn by heart in childhood Sunday school. However, it led to one of the greatest ancient engineering feats and archaeological finds ever. The threat of a military battle with one of the powerful ancient kings led Hezekiah to construct a tunnel under the city to insure water, mainly from the Gihon spring, for the citizens. As an added bonus, Sennacherib’s great army would have no water source.
The Siloam Inscription describes the completion of the tunnel where two crews burrowing from each end met. A stone was chiseled in Hebrew and includes a Royal Israelite inscription. The best English translation of it reads: “. . . this is the story of how these two tunnels were joined together. The two teams working in opposite directions were digging toward one another with picks. The workers began shouting to each other when they realized they were four and one-half feet apart. Then, the teams turned toward one another following the sounds of their picks until they cut through the remaining rock and joined the tunnels. Thus, the water was able to flow through this tunnel one-hundred fifty feet underground for some eighteen hundred feet from the Gihon spring outside the city wall to the Siloam reservoir.”
The adventurous type can still visit the tunnel in Jerusalem today and even walk through it, if you don’t mind the possibility of getting wet!
“While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, ‘If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’ So he drove them off. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.” –Acts 18:12-17.
Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in 51-52 A.D. Being a Roman proconsul gave Gallio as much power in Corinth as the Herodian rulers had in Galilee. So, in essence, the “trial” Paul went through in Acts 18 was eerily similar to the trial of Jesus before Pilate and Herod Antipas, only Paul was freed. Gallio was appointed directly by Emperor Claudius, who ruled 41-54 A.D., and the timeframe Gallio governed is accurately known because of an inscription discovered at Delphi, Greece. According to John McRay in his book, Archaeology and the New Testament, the inscription is translated: “Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, of tribunician authority for the twelfth time, imperator the twenty-sixth time…Lucius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the proconsul of Achaia…”
It’s an important inscription because it dates Paul’s trip to Corinth, the capital of Achaia. The inscription doesn’t really prove the validity of the account stated in Acts 18 but it’s important in understanding the timeline of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. Acts 18:11 states that Paul had been living in Corinth for 18 months prior to being brought up on the charges mentioned later in the chapter. Undoubtedly, he was preaching the gospel because it was arousing the traditional Jews in the city, much like Jesus aroused the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem. According to McRay, pronouncing judgment over Paul’s case was probably one of the first acts of Gallio’s term as proconsul of Achaia.
“(Paul) sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.” –Acts 19:22
“Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.” –Romans 16:23
“Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” 2 Timothy 4:20
Erastus was a resident of Corinth and likely was a convert to The Way (Christianity) during Paul’s 18-month ministry there. It’s also likely that Erastus was one of those influential locals referred to in a previous post that Paul would have relied upon for a residence to meet and worship with believers. The office of “director of public works” served primarily as the city treasurer. His official Roman title was “aedile.” While the inscription indicates he was elected, it’s important to note that no one served in official governmental position without permission from Rome. According to McRay, this is likely the same Erastus Paul mentions because the name was uncommon in the time period of the inscription.
The short inscription in the stone pavement near the theatre in Corinth is translated as follows: “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” It is believed this stone pavement was laid before or around 50 A.D. Its location put it in a high-traffic area and residents of Corinth would have frequently seen the name of Erastus coming and going to the theatre. Because he held an important office, he was likely well known. And, being well-known, Corinthians probably knew he was a convert of Paul’s to first-century Christianity. A previous post described how Paul went to urban cities and found influential residents in which to minister. Erastus was one of those influential people.
These are three examples of inscriptions that provide some useful illustrations of Old and New Testament life. It’s interesting to note that these inscriptions help us gain an understanding into the lives of two of the most holy men of the Bible, Hezekiah and Paul. There are also other Herodian inscriptions and archaeological papyrus finds that provide valuable insights. They are all special because this archaeological evidence was the written documentation of the day and inscriptions were written in stone!
How long is the Hezekiah Tunnel?
Did you ever think about who made up the church at Corinth?
Did you know that Jesus and Paul experienced similar “trials”?