“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm…” –2 Timothy 2:19
The topic of the last post was all about three ancient inscriptions that had Biblical implications. While those inscriptions can be interpreted in different ways, they can undoubtedly lend perspective to the culture of the Bible we study. However, archaeology doesn’t always help us get the story verbatim.
Not unlike some scientific beliefs of our modern society itself, archaeological “finds” can appear to intensely contradict Biblical accounts and cause a lot of debate. So much so that Biblical history is often referred to as “myths”. As a history lover, I view archaeology mostly as a branch of history (right or wrong). The Bible depicts a lot of supernatural events that archaeology and science are unwilling to consider and that’s understandable since the quest of archaeology and science is to seek absolutes.
Yair Zakovitch, professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and also the university’s dean of humanities, summed up the debate best when he stated that the Bible was not written entirely to be a historical library (although some of it clearly was). Instead, and most importantly, it was written in order to be a teaching document for the servants of God as 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
Being a Christian is entirely about faith, it’s not a religion. Hebrews 11:1 points reads, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As Zakovitch indicated, the Bible does not answer every secular archaeological, geographic, historical and scientific question. If God gave us all the answers written in stone or printed in black and white, there would be no need for faith. After all, he put 10 commandments in stone and we can’t even effectively follow those. We worship a supernatural God who can part seas, make donkeys talk, save men from fiery furnaces, heal the sick and raise the dead. Science and archeology do not take any of that into account but the Christian faith does.
What makes archaeology interesting is putting your imagination with the find. Archaeological finds can be interpreted in different ways but one thing is for certain, they are physical evidence that tie us to ancient cultures and societies. While the Gallio and Erastus Inscriptions are simply words in stone that don’t have direct Biblical significance, they have still survived thousands of years. Imagine the setting in which they were written! The Siloam Inscription signified a Biblical engineering feat that helped preserve a city. Just imagine the atmosphere in that dimly lit and damp tunnel when workers from both sides finally met to complete the tunnel. Thankfully, for posterity, they thought to mark the occasion in stone.
So, below are some more interesting archeological finds with very little commentary other than a little back ground of how or where each one was found. Go ahead and put your imagination with the find and picture yourself in the environment of which it was produced. Put these finds with a Bible story.
1. Even though Herod the Great wasn’t a Roman by blood lines, he was obviously devoted to the Roman Empire. An Edomite, he actually practiced Judaism and considered himself a Jew but he was obviously not considered a Jew by observant Judean Jews. According to John McRay in his book, Archaeology and the New Testament, two inscriptions at the Athenian Acropolis (where the ruins of the famous Parthenon are located) note that King Herod was referred to as a “Lover of Romans” and “Devout and a Lover of Caesar”. Imagine how great his reputation must have been throughout the Roman Empire that he was recognized all the way to a major city in Greece.
2. Herod the Great was famous for his extravagant building in Palestine. Among his accomplishments in Jerusalem was a 41-foot-wide main street built along the western wall of the temple mount. According to archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, during the days of Herod this area had important role as a center of public life in Jerusalem. It was a focal point for the masses of residents and pilgrims before the gates of the temple. Sections of it have been found intact.
3. Various dated papyrus census forms suggest that a census was taken every 14 years in the Roman Empire, according to McRay. Working backwards from a form now housed in a British museum and dated by George Milligan and Adolf Deissmann to 104 A.D., it would make Jesus’s birth around 9 B.C. instead of the widely-accepted date of 4 B.C. I bet you thought he was born at “zero”! Despite a few scholarly detractors, Bethlehem as Jesus’s birthplace is widely accepted.
4. Galilee may have been a bi-lingual region. Two of the languages spoken there may have been both Greek and Aramaic. A pottery shard found at Cana included an inscription of the second, third and fourth letters of the Aramaic alphabet. The shard likely dates back to the first century or early second century. While Greek is likely because most of Galilee had been Hellenized long before Jesus’s birth, Jesus may have grown up around Aramaic-speaking Galileans as well.
5. The fragmented Tel Dan “House of David” inscription stele (a stone slab) was found in 1993 by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran in northern Israel. The Aramaic characters date back to the eighth-century B.C. The inscription commemorates the victory of an Armenean King, believed to be Hazael of Damascus, over two neighboring kings of the “House of David” from countries to the south, believed to be Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah. The inscription was the first non-biblical reference to and first historical evidence of King David, according to the Biblical Archaeological Society (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/artifacts-and-the-bible/the-tel-dan-inscription-the-first-historical-evidence-of-the-king-david-bible-story/).
6. Churches were often built over the top of sites considered holy, such as the Church of the Nativity, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the octagonal church over Peter’s suspected home site. Most of them in the Holy Land were built by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
7. Wealthy Romans were not much different from the wealthy of today’s society. They built the community’s best homes in the best areas of towns. Even in an area as unforgiving as the Middle East, opulent home sites have been excavated. There is clear evidence of class differentiation in the villages and towns Galilee, not just the cities under Roman rule. For example, the elite classes of homes had painted frescos. The wealthy residents would have had the means to paint their walls and floors, unlike commoners who may have had dirt floors. A survey in Banias (likely the modern-day Caesarea Phillipi) showed that in the fourth century some residences had plastered walls, patterned mosaic floors, covered conduits and clay pipes for carrying water and sewage.
When we study history, we often see pictures of the great archeological finds and the famous ancient structures such as the Roman Colosseum. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to picture life in such awe-inspiring structures. However, it’s a lot easier to imagine city streets where people congregated or fancy home decorations. Sometimes we don’t consider that a simple pot can lead to great cultural understanding or we don’t think about the lasting impact Jesus had on influential builders hundreds of years later.
You know, the remainder of the 2 Timothy 2:19 verse reads, “…sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” That’s an inscription that will stand the test of time, whether archaeology finds it or not!
How powerful did you picture King Herod?
What was your impression of wealthy homes in the New Testament world?
When did you Jesus was born?