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Over at Biblical Remains, Larry Largent provides a good review of the movie “Patterns of Evidence,” showing tonight only. My hope is that those who trust the Bible will ignore the film completely, but if you’re tempted to go, read Larry’s review first.

Here’s a portion:

This is the problem with the documentary format. It is not the best format to put forth and test supposed “new” ideas and solutions no matter how much they are qualified by “perhaps’s” and “could’s.” Time constraints mean that creditable opposition is never addressed. In “Patterns,”  all scholarship becomes flattened in a “them” vs the revised chronology paradigm. The film lumps together traditional biblical maximilists and secular minimalists in a gang of “archaeological giants” that the revised chronology will take down with nothing but a sling and a prayer.
Apparently, arguing that secular scholars might be right in the date of the exodus but wrong in the details is simply not as provocative as claiming that scholars have everything under the sun about the exodus wrong. This is the problem with the medium Mahoney is using to argue for the historicity of the exodus. When it comes to the box office, the more provocative solution is always the best one, but when it comes to doing good historical, archaeological and biblical research,  a theory’s glitz bears little on its accuracy. Real historical research is pounded out in the dialogue of hundreds of articles and papers, and refined in the open response to accusations of error in hundreds of pages – a 2 hour time limit and audience fatigue is not a problem.
In six hundred theaters tonight, viewers will come away from the film with no idea that they have just picked up a broken arrow. They won’t know that the revised Egyptian chronology is not a new theory and has been shown to create as many problems for biblical chronology as it solves.

Yes and yes. There may be a better way to understand the Bible’s relationship to archaeology, but this movie is not it.

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Gordon Govier has selected the top ten discoveries for Christianity Today, putting at the head of the list: (1) Herod’s Gate at Herodium; (2) Khirbet Summeily bullae; (3) Sheshonq’s scarab.
Robin Ngo has compiled an unranked list of the top ten for the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Looking the lists over, I would conclude that if you’re into spectacular discoveries, this wasn’t your year. If you include the broader world of archaeology, you fare better with the excavation of the Amphipolis tomb.

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Every now and again a sensational story related to biblical archaeology hits the headlines. (This week it was this one.) It’s not long before I receive emails asking about the authenticity of the alleged discovery. To help my readers better discern whether they are dealing with a potentially legitimate discovery or not, I suggest that the following questions be asked as you read the report.

  • Does this discovery sound too good to be true? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • It is reported by a news source you’ve never heard of? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does it cite archaeologists that you’ve never heard of before and don’t appear on a Google search? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the report avoid getting input from known experts in the field? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the alleged discovery require a radical reinterpretation of the Bible? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the article use language such as, “This definitively proves…” or, “This is irrefutable evidence that shows…”? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does it relate to newly discovered physical remains related to the crucifixion of Jesus? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the article mention Ron Wyatt, Robert Cornuke, or Indiana Jones? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Is it first announced in a TV special about the time of Easter/Passover? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the discovery relate to Noah’s Ark or the Ark of the Covenant? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Is it reported on a website with links to stories about Bigfoot, UFOs, and conspiracy theories? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Does the website name begin with www.world….? If so, it’s probably bogus.
  • Did I ignore it on this blog? If so, it’s probably bogus.

Did I miss some important questions? Feel free to suggest additional ones in the comments below.

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I recently came across some quotations I had marked from a past reading of Eric H. Cline, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, and thought some of them worth sharing. I’ve commented briefly on each quote following the citation. The book’s table of contents indicates the topics covered:

Chapter 1: The Garden of Eden

Chapter 2: Noah’s Ark

Chapter 3: Sodom and Gomorrah

Chapter 4: Moses and the Exodus

Chapter 5: Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

Chapter 6: The Ark of the Covenant

Chapter 7: The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel

“The biblical stories become real when people adopt them as their own, regardless of their historical accuracy” (Cline 2007: xiii). So what is not real becomes real when we make it real. In our day and age, it really is all about us.

“The truth of the matter is that any such searches for Noah’s ark are unlikely ever to be successful.

Even if the ark did exist, it would be tremendously old by now and its wooden parts would have been long ago reduced to dust, leaving few traces behind. The most we could hope for would be discovering something like the Sutton Hoo ship in England from the seventh century A.D.; the disintegrated wood and corroded nails from this vessel left a perfect imprint on the damp soil. Only if the ark had come to rest in the sands of Egypt, which contain perfectly preserved pharaonic boats by the Pyramids, or at the bottom of an ocean or a sea where there is little oxygen and organic material is perfectly preserved—such as in the Black Sea, where Bob Ballard’s expeditions have found ships sunk up to their gunwales and perfectly preserved in anoxygenic mud—would we even be able to hope that Noah’s ark, or portions of it, have been preserved” (Cline 2007: 36). But as long as there is fame to be had and money to be made, there will be searches for Noah’s Ark.

“Modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing even the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world” (Cline 2007: 85). Perhaps, but entire centuries are missing from the archaeological record in some places.
“Of the various alternatives, following the biblical chronology and placing the Exodus in the 15th century B.C. seems the most unlikely, but some will want to do that anyway, based upon faith rather than reason” (Cline 2007: 90). Those I’ve read who advocate a 15th-century exodus always appeal to evidence and arguments, never to faith.

“Finkelstein said, ‘I am a great believer in a total separation between tradition and research. I myself have a warm spot in my heart for the Bible and its splendid stories. During our Pesach seder, my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn’t hear a word about the fact that there was no Exodus from Egypt.

When they are 25, we will tell them a different story. Belief, tradition and research are three parallel lines that can exist simultaneously. I don’t see that as a gross contradiction’” (Cline 2007: 91). For thousands of years before our post-modern advances, we would call this lying.

“The team also cited both its own studies and those of other researchers who believe the story of the damming of the Jordan River can be traced back to a 1931 book published by John Garstang. The book is, as the article stated, ‘the only source reporting about the Jordan’s damming at Damiya.’ The team of earthquake experts strongly suggests that Garstang’s testimony is unreliable, especially since he was not even in the country at the time and since no other sources, including official police reports or press releases, mention a damming of the Jordan River. They speculate that Garstang’s desire to prove that Damiya is the biblical ‘city of Adam’ and his desire to show that the Jordan could have stopped flowing as a result of an earthquake affected his reporting” (Cline 2007: 105). Unless you know of other evidence, you should not cite the dubious testimony of Garstang.

“In a candid article, Younker said that the ‘Andrews Way’ of doing archaeology, as he phrased it, is as follows: 1. Be forthright with findings. Do not minimize problems or stretch interpretations of data to explain things away. 2. Do not make claims beyond what the data can support. 3. Be quick and complete in publishing results. 4. Engage and work within mainstream scholarship. 5. Include a diversity of people and specialists. 6. Take the history of the Bible seriously, but do not place upon archaeology the burden of ‘proving’ the Bible” (Cline 2007: 187). This helpful approach is given in Randall W. Younker, ‘Integrating Faith, the Bible, and Archaeology: A Review of the ‘Andrews University Way’ of Doing Archaeology,’ in The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, eds. James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 43-52.

Cline’s newest book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, came out earlier this year.

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How do recent archaeological discoveries relate to the Bible? Michael Grisanti addresses this issue in a detailed article published last year in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and now available online. He begins with a statement from a critical scholar and then explains his own approach.

The archaeological evidence cited below and in any similar study never provides certifiable proof that a given individual lived or that a certain event took place. Our confidence in the accuracy and historicity of the people and events referred to in God’s Word draws on other evidence, primarily theological statements the Bible makes about itself. Regardless, one should recognize that the archaeological evidence does not rule out the people or events described in the Bible. As a matter of fact, archaeology provides a “picture” that points to the feasibility or plausibility that the people and events described in the Bible lived and occurred just as they are described.
[…]
Out of all the areas that could have received attention, I have narrowed my focus on two chronological periods: the Conquest of Canaan and the United Monarchy. For both I summarize the consensus of critical scholars and then consider the evidence that has been found. With regard to the Conquest of Canaan, the paper considers the recent discussion of an Egyptian pedestal with three name rings on it as well as the destruction of Jericho and the location and destruction of Ai. After surveying the heated debated concerning the United Monarchy with a focus on David and Solomon, the paper considers key archaeological discoveries found at Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa and the copper mines in southern Jordan. With each example I argue that the discoveries made at least allow for the historicity and accuracy of the biblical narratives describing those people and events.

Read it all here.

Jericho, Tell es-Sultan from west panorama, tb05110685p
Jericho from the west
Photo from Samaria and the Center
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A new AP story promotes the claim by Eli Shukrun that he discovered King David’s citadel. For someone familiar with these excavations, the AP account is anything but straightforward. Here’s a simple explanation: Shukrun is identifying the fortifications around the Gihon Spring with the Jebusite fortress of Zion.


What is the Jebusite fortress of Zion? It’s not very clear from the biblical account. Either it is the city as a whole or the king’s palace. Here is the relevant passage from 2 Samuel 5:6-9:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. 8 On that day, David said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft [tsinnor] to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.” 9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward.

Didn’t Shukrun and Reich excavate this beginning about 15 years ago and concluding about 2 years ago? Yes.


What makes this news? While these fortifications have always been ascribed to the Canaanite inhabitants of Jerusalem from 1800 BC, Shukrun is now making a direct claim that these were protecting the city when David arrived in 1004 BC.


What fortifications did they find? They excavated a massive tower protecting the Gihon Spring, another tower built next to a pool (see photo in the story), and a parallel set of walls leading up the hill.


Is this the same thing as Warren’s Shaft? Not quite. It’s the same idea—David’s men entered the city through a subterranean tunnel—but they believe that the vertical portion of Warren’s Shaft was not known until after the time of David. Instead, Shukrun believes that David’s men came via another section of the multi-part water system.


What does Shukrun’s partner Ronny Reich think? He is more hesitant to apply the biblical name, in part because of the lack of tenth-century pottery found in the excavations. But the walls didn’t disappear for a few centuries and then re-appear, so he suspects that the tenth-century pottery was removed by later inhabitants.


Do you agree? Yes and no. First, I find it quite reasonable that the water system and defensive towers were in use when David arrived. It seems likely that the tsinnor that Joab entered the city through is part of this complex. Second, the water system should not be equated with David’s palace. It’s not clear to me that this is what the article is saying, but the lack of clarity creates confusion. Shukrun is not saying that he found David’s home; he is claiming that he discovered a portion of the city that David conquered. That’s not news and it’s only controversial for those who don’t believe the biblical account of David’s conquest is accurate.


What is behind this recent announcement? The article claims that the visitor center only opened last month. I’m not sure what that means, since the site has been open continuously for the last 15 years, but it may explain why the news reporter chose to do the story. Shukrun is now working as a lecturer and tour guide and free publicity is always good. (If your group is looking for an extra special thing to do in Jerusalem, I would certainly recommend hiring Shukrun to guide you around the City of David.)


What’s the best book to read on the subject? Ronny Reich’s Excavating the City of David is excellent.

City of David Pool Tower with reconstruction, tb031614835
Pool Tower excavations with superimposed reconstruction
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