|Volume 2, Issue 10||May 30, 2012|
From archaeological evidence of Noah's Flood to ark evidence of Jesus' resurrection
Why biblical archaeology should expand its scope, and why a wider and more open community is needed for peer review
Left above: burial box inscribed with 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus'
Left below: burial box with image, possibly Jonah exiting fish's mouth (right)
The stone boxes in the two pictures at left above are called ossuaries, a Latin term referring to the storage of bones. Those who buried the bones of their relatives inside these chests expecting their future resurrection would have called them some Aramaic equivalent of our Old English ark (meaning a chest or box). The bones had to be collected and placed in these short chests after the corpses, laid out in the same rock cut tombs where the stone arks would rest, had decayed. According to the Law of Moses, touching a corpse makes one unclean. Wrapping the corpses head-to-toe in cloth meant that the bones did not have to be directly touched when they were placed in the stone arks. This explains why Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, had been wrapped in strips of cloth. It also explains why Jesus' body was wrapped in a shroud and why the women who attended his crucifixion were concerned to return to the tomb to anoint his body with spices to cover the odor when someone returned the following year to place his bones inside a stone ark. This use of stone boxes for the dead was limited to Jews living in the land of the Bible from about forty years before to forty years after the earthly days of Jesus. The practice ceased when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. Thus, any original markings on these bone boxes can hardly date much later than Jesus' apostles.
The bone arks pictured above are significant because one or both may have claim to being the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity. The exterior of the stone box in the top left picture is inscribed 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.' The inclusion of a brother in this inscription makes sense only if the brother is well known. The likely reference to James the brother of Jesus was first recognized by the eminent epigrapher André Lemaire and brought to the world's attention in 2002 by Hershel Shanks, publisher of the popular Biblical Archaeological Review. This ossuary is believed to have been found near the site of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, confirming the historical record of the place of James' burial.
The bone box in the picture at lower left still lies buried beneath an apartment complex in the Talpiot neighborhood in the southern part of present day Jerusalem. It was most recently brought to light by documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and UNC-Charlotte Professor James Tabor, authors of a new book, The Jesus Discovery. Their team developed a special robotic arm to explore this tomb via a camera inserted through a pipe extending from inside one of the apartments so as not to disturb the bones and incur the displeasure of Israel's Orthodox Jews. This new technique has been lauded by archaeologists, but of greater significance is what may be engraved on the ossuary's side (picture at right), perhaps intending to depict the prophet Jonah, head wrapped in seaweed (Jonah 2:5) and exiting the mouth of a large fish. This bone ark also contains an inscription, a portion of which has an uncontested reading referring to "raise up." Depictions of Jonah being expelled from the mouth of a fish is an early Christian symbol of faith in Jesus' resurrection, the most common artwork found in the catacombs of Rome. Because there is no record of anyone before Jesus referring to Jonah as a sign of death and resurrection, whoever used this symbol were probably Christians.
As happened to the prophet Jonah, these bone arks have stirred a storm of controversy. Though perhaps no better founded than the fabrication charges made against NAMI's discovery, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) charged the owner of the James Ossuary with archaeological forgery. CBS News' 60 Minutes covered these charges, presuming the guilt of those charged. After a trial lasting almost ten years, all charges of forgery against the defendant were dismissed. No other inscription has ever withstood such a test for authenticity, boding well for the inscription's link to NT history.
The tempest stirred up by the bone arks investigated by Jacobovici and Tabor did not come from charges of forgery but from the investigators' interpretation. The controversy began with their previous announcement of a nearby rock-cut grave at Talpiot, which they interpret as possibly belonging to the natural family of Jesus. That prompted a special conference in Jerusalem in which scholars from all spectrums of belief challenged their crucial identifications. Their shocking speculation that those buried there may have included Jesus, son of Joseph, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their son Judas are painfully offensive to those of us who believe. I have since discovered that neither of these authors intend to offend believers. As in the case of all scholars, even those who claim not to be religious, they are compelled to follow the logic of their religious convictions and scientific beliefs. I wish that my brother Christian scholars would be half as interested in exploring the history surrounding the New Testament account of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity and half as bold in studying this in the full light of the Scriptures.
Happily Jacobovici and Tabor's new discovery of what might be the earliest archaeological evidence of Jesus' resurrection puts an entirely new light on their earlier claims. This is because Jesus' use of Jonah in the belly of the whale as a type of his death and resurrection points specifically to his body not just entering but also leaving the grave. Whoever carved this symbol would not have believed that Jonah's body decayed in the belly of the fish as his spirit went forth to preach to Nineveh of the Gentiles, another type foretold in the Scriptures concerning Israel's Messiah (Isaiah 49:6). As I explain in the article at left below, if these authors have not found what they have exactly supposed, this Jonah inscription at least points to this burial site as belonging to Jesus' spiritual family, perhaps the last central gathering place for the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15, 21) which history records as having been led by the descendents of Jesus' natural family into the second century.
In truth, just being in the hill country of Judea is reason enough to suppose that some relatives of Jesus' natural family may have also been buried there. The families of both Joseph and Mary had lived there for centuries. We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus' family and disciples as being from Galilee. But they descended from Jews who settled in Judea after their return from exile in Babylon. Poverty in rural Judea meant that many Jews had to move to the more prosperous region of Galilee where existed populations of both Gentiles and Jews. For the strictly religious, being a Galilean was a bit of a reproach as is reflected in the New Testament. But not only did Jesus want to return to Jerusalem and Judea to launch his ministry, he instructed his disciples to do the same. Permanently relocating to Judea would likely mean a life of farming as the historical record declares of Jesus' natural family.
Thinking about the presence of Jesus' natural family who farmed these Judean hills got me to thinking about the account of Jesus' birth in these same hills as given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which critics have seen as contradictory and suspect. As I explain in the article at right below, by bringing attention to the historically known roots of Jesus' family in these hills, Jacobovici and Tabor also succeed in bringing neglected archaeological and historical light on the historicity of Jesus' virgin birth. Searching for a supposed child of Mary Magdalene of a supposed lineage of David, they instead shed light on the birth and lineage of history's most famous child, the one belonging to Mary the mother of Jesus.
What I explain in the articles below is not so much to contend for the particular details, which can only be intelligently surmised, as to get archaeologists and scholars to rethink these neglected parts of New Testament background. I should first explain why I discuss these bone arks in a newsletter that has seemed devoted to the archaeological evidence of Noah's Flood and that more famous Ark that saved one family. Those who have read my book know that it addresses the spectrum of major challenges to the historicity of the Bible including those pertaining to the New Testament. My focus on Noah's Flood is due to the fact that denial of its historicity became the linchpin for the launching the historical "criticism" (skepticism) of the entire Bible.
As regarding the bone arks and Noah's Ark, there are many parallels. One concerns the salvation of the family of Noah; the other, the family of Jesus. Were there never a Flood that destroyed all but one human family, neither can there be salvation by what we have trusted as the infallible words of Jesus who spoke with authority about the days of Noah. Likewise, if Jacobovici and Tabor have correctly identified the remains of the ark boxes, neither is Jesus' family saved. But I have discovered plentiful archaeological evidence of the Flood that corresponds to the account in the Bible, while the author's of The Jesus Discovery
have found archaeological evidence of Jesus' resurrection, a sign graciously given to those who do not believe. By assuming Jesus' earthly origin, they bring light on the Heavenly origin of this Son of Man.
The second parallel, mentioned in the subtitle of this newsletter, is that the discoveries pertaining to the Noah's Ark as well as to these bone arks concern parts of the Bible that are outside the current scope of biblical archaeology. Biblical archaeology has far too long been conducted to accord with minimalist boundaries of historical criticism, allowing the skeptics to dictate a too narrow scope for biblical scholarship and archaeology, distorting the history that is clearly revealed by the light of the Bible. Biblical minimalism has previously been discussed in terms of the Old Testament, denying that there is much there history to investigate. But even so-called maximalist scholars refuse to consider evidence for Noah's Flood and the early chapters of Genesis, while Old Testament minimalists are just skeptics pursuing political agenda. But we should also recognize biblical minimalism and its implicit skepticism for narrowing the boundaries by which scholars are willing to use the light of the New Testament.
As with the beginnings of Noah's family and also of ancient Israel, the archaeological evidence for the very beginnings of Christianity are small though nonetheless available. While believing scholars have neglected to pursue archaeological evidence for the very beginnings of Christianity in Judea, Simcha Jacobovici and Professor Tabor have done so. Still, their interpretation is made in the light of the narrow boundaries of New Testament minimalism: the post-70AD dating of all NT documents but some of the letters of the Apostle Paul and the gospel of Mark; the denial of the historicity of the accounts of the virgin birth and Luke's account of the beginnings of Christianity in the book of Acts; the supposed dependence of the synoptic gospels on Q, a supposed list of Jesus sayings; and the "shorter" ending of Mark that leaves off at Mark 16:8. I know the roots of New Testament criticism. This list was specifically designed to deny the New Testament miracles including the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, evidence of his divinity.
Before I can argue against these authors' interpretation, I am compelled to begin with my brother evangelical scholars who make concessions to this list of principles of New Testament composition that lend credence to the interpretation given in The Jesus Discovery.
The priority of Mark is favored by many evangelical scholars today though it was conceived to argue against the virgin birth. The shorter ending of Mark is even more highly favored by evangelicals though its sparse account of the resurrection together with the supposed priority of Mark makes an even stronger argument against Jesus' resurrection, allowing Professor Tabor to attribute Jesus' divinity to the visions of the Apostle Paul. Evangelical scholars do so based on what they have supposed as manuscript evidence. In doing so they ignore the historical evidence in favor of the priority of Matthew's gospel and the historical evidence that not only attests to the longer ending of Mark but perfectly explains the shorter ending, which they love to point out is attested in the oldest and "best" manuscripts.
What difference does it make whether the manuscripts are oldest if the longer ending is found in writings of the earliest church fathers that are far older than these manuscripts? It is also found in the majority of manuscripts from West to East, reflecting the readings that had to be inherited from the earliest days of Christianity. As to manuscript evidence, doesn't the first principle of text criticism prefer the most difficult reading? Unless present in the beginning, who would have added and how ever would verses be accepted that have Jesus declaring these signs that will follow those who believe: they shall cast out devils, speak in tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, place their hands on the sick and they shall recover, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not harm them? Even Bart Erhman* must concede these passages as being in the original.
Evangelical scholars would do well to learn some of the principles of historical criticism as pioneered by the great humanist, Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457). In doing so, they should consider the influence of the great third century manuscript scholar Origen who was much concerned with the second century skeptic Celsus' criticism of Jesus first appearance to unstable women. The shorter ending of Mark's gospel leaves off precisely at Mark 16:9 ¶ When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven devils. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. How can I convince Professor Tabor that there has not been a bias against Mary Magdalene when in fact there has been? But only in the shorter ending of Mark that is crucial to Professor Tabor's interpretation.
Biblical minimalism has presumed that anything in the Bible should be rejected that has not been attested by extra-biblical evidence, but that is based on the unreasonable assumption that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Even so, biblical minimalism rejects every evidence of the miraculous, the very thing that not only attest to the divine character of the Scriptures but is also necessary for even understanding the Scriptures. Minimalism does so even when the straightforward occurrence of the miracles recorded in the Bible is the simplest explanation of the evidence, as in the case of Jesus' resurrection. So much for the pompous claims of biblical criticism being guided by the evidence!
While evangelical scholars claim to believe these miracles, our scholarship remains constrained by the minimalist boundaries. The exception to ignoring miracles has been the work of the Intelligent Design movement in challenging evolution in favor of special creation and the work of believing scholars pertaining to the evidence of Jesus' resurrection. But these efforts are handicapped by a piece mill approach to the miracles of the Bible. The most academically esteemed leaders of the Intelligent Design movement cannot accept the historicity of the worldwide Flood of Noah. Likewise, for some of those who argue for the resurrection of Jesus. But what does it mean to proclaim the resurrection of a Jesus who compared his coming to the days of Noah if the latter is not history? If we do not preach the Jesus of the Scriptures, what rule do we use for challenging the Jesus proclaimed by Simcha Jacobovici? If Noah's Flood is a spiritual lesson of God's judgment, how do we challenge Professor Tabor's claim that the resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual event first proclaimed by the Apostle Paul?
A third parallel is that both discoveries occurred as the result of documentary filming of biblical topics and in each case the filmmakers have been accused of exploiting their discoveries for money. Having acquaintance with those making both films, I happen to know that all these filmmakers were motivated by their passion for the Bible and Jesus. In one case, those doing the filming have made great personal sacrifices for their faith. In the other case, they risked their reputations and investments. While many do profit from bogus archaeological claims pertaining to the Bible, none of those claims receive much attention from either scholars or the mainstream media. I would argue that not only should these particular claims be taken seriously, but believers, archaeologists, and scholars of the Bible profit alike by seeing the attention of a too busy world turned to Jesus and the Bible.
The fourth parallel is that both discoveries were beset by charges of fraud. The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) who brought the charges against the owner of the James Ossuary have valid concerns pertaining to archaeological forgery and theft of their nation's archaeological treasures. It is unfortunate that they chose to prosecute a responsible private collector, already well known for his proactive cooperation with scholars. Rather than being guided by facts, the authorities appear to have been motivated by rumor, as has also beset NAMI's discovery. Instead of protecting their nation's archaeological treasures for scholarly study, their excess zeal may have damaged these artifacts and compromised their value for scientific study. Similarly, by discouraging support and the involvement of the archaeological establishment, the charges of fraud against NAMI's discovery by those who claim to be protecting the integrity of archaeology in fact threaten the security of the world's most valuable artifact.
The fifth parallel, the second point in the subtitle, is that the explorers of both kinds of arks were accused of preferring the media to the scholarly community in presenting the evidence of their claims. Announcements of these discoveries before the media led then ASOR President Eric Myers to convene a special conference at Duke University on archaeology, politics, and the media. This conference did not invite a viewpoint from those whose process they judged, reminding me of evangelical forums who also prefer to preach to the choir. I summit that it is the narrowness of the scope of biblical archaeology and these scholars desire that claims outside their narrow expertise not be given the dignity of careful examination that causes discoveries pertaining to things like Noah's Ark and Jesus' resurrection to be brought to the media. It is the attitude of established scholars, not those making these particular claims, that contribute to the circus atmosphere surrounding these discoveries that so confuse and discourage the public from giving serious attention to biblical archaeology.
Everyone should recognize the difference between those willing to submit the evidence of their claims before the public so as to obtain scientific and scholarly review and those making their claims before a narrow circle of gullible believers and when asked, avoid or refuse to provide evidence for what they have claimed. It is rather evidence both for their claims and for their integrity that those responsible for these claims are willing to do so. Those involved in fraud will not invite such scrutiny. Moreover, claims that survive such scrutiny will be a thousand times more solid than scholarship built upon foundations that are never questioned.
Scholarship that narrows itself to specialists writing for other specialists is eerily similar to religious movements having their own argot and jargon and content to establish their authority among the already converted. Both suppose themselves owning the highest and best if not the exclusive authority on matters pertaining to the interpretation and truth of the Bible, but if they can't make their case in a way that answers sincere questions from the public, they do not sufficiently understand their own narrow field. The greatest scholars and scientists as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein have been able to communicate their contributions in a way that interested the public. I know from experience that scientists unable to do this may be skilled technicians, but they are insufficiently equipped to judge their subject's significance. What is better suited than the major media to call for the widest review?
The last parallel that I mention is more personal. It concerns the fact that each of each discoveries is chiefly defended by a big-picture historian instead of some specialized scholar or archaeologist. In my last newsletter, I mentioned the disappearance of big-picture historians like Arnold Toynbee who actually think about history rather than just compile the work of historical specialists. I attributed this to the difficulty in comprehending the work of so many scientific and historical specialties and to the opposition one faces from the specialists when someone outside their field weighs in with a novel interpretation. In mentioning their disappearance, I overlooked my friend Professor Tabor who knows what it is like to give an independent opinion on the conclusions of a host of specialists. I respect him because I know how much study and care that requires and how much heat one incurs in doing so.
Professor Tabor has developed a big-picture view of biblical history based on Rabbinic Judaism. His view is most compatible with modern scholarship that even before the Enlightenment began assuming Rabbinic apologetics in wholesale in its so-called secular reading of biblical history, passing it to later generations as erudite learning. That can be contrasted with my big-picture view of world history based on the Bible in the light of the Christ of the New Testament. This is not to say that Professor Tabor is not also a man without piety concerning the Bible and affection for Jesus. However differently we see Jesus and the Scriptures, seeking to know more about each of them is a passion that we share. As the articles below make clear, Professor Tabor's speculations have stimulated my own thinking about the New Testament Scriptures.
*Backslidden Fundamentalist and author of Misquoting Jesus
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|Testimony from the skeptics
Searching the ebookstores for the appearance of my book, I came upon a page from the newly published Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology explaining what and how evidence of Noah's Flood should appear were there to be such evidence: "One would certainly expect there to be archaeological evidence of this kind of devastation. The archaeological evidence of 5,000 years ago would be replete with Pompeii style ruins - the ruins of thousands of towns, villages, and cities, all wiped out by the flood waters, all simultaneously..."
Controversy makes for strange bedfellows
Causing skeptical evangelicals and atheists to quote one another as authorities, but also uniting a diverse group open to new evidence for the Bible
An indicator of the potential impact of a new discovery is the extent to which it unites those who are ordinarily opposed. NAMI's discovery achieved high status in this regard when its chief accuser, formerly known for bringing archaeology to bear on endtime prophecy, quoted the logic of David Hume, history's most famous skeptic of the Bible. Atheist detractors return the favor by discovering a new authority, this same endtime theologian! More recently, prominent Creationist leader Dr. Carl Wieland has extolled the virtues of an unbelieving detractor who accuses NAMI of doing just what they confess to be doing: hoping the discovery of Noah's Ark will lead people to believe the Bible. Could Dr. Wieland's admiration be due to the fact that the atheist detractor referenced his own skepticism about this discovery?
Any discovery relating to things in the Bible can unite opponents, regardless of whether they confirm or challenge traditional beliefs. The claims of documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobivici and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Professor James Tabor also succeeded in uniting the opposition of scholars from across the spectrum of religion who ordinarily disagree on scholarship pertaining to Jesus' family. These opponents are joined by skeptics who deny that the Bible can shed any light on archaeology. The opposition of the latter skeptics may be because Jacobovici and Tabor's discovery points to the historicity of key persons in the New Testament, even the natural family of Jesus. That might seem to threaten the beliefs of those who suppose that Jesus never existed or those who believe that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. We can guess this from the fact that the most vocal opponents of Jacobovici and Tabor also attack either the authenticity or the significance of the James Ossuary.
Skepticism may spring from fear of being deceived about evidence in favor of the Bible. Dr. Wieland, now the most vocal opponent of NAMI's discovery, and the Israeli anthropologist Joe Zias, the most vocal opponent of the authenticity of the James Ossuary as well as the claims of Jacobovici and Tabor have each written to me about their past experience with bogus claims. Getting fooled ought to make one cautious, but that also points to careless judgment. Though we sympathize with their painful experiences, having once been fooled can also close one's mind to any new claims, regardless the evidence. Both men attack these new discoveries on the principle that unfounded claims give a bad name either to archaeology or the Bible. This indicates that their problem is not so much these particular claims but fear of any new archaeological claim in favor of the Bible. The better way to prevent getting fooled by claims is to carefully investigate before judging. Unfortunately, neither man shows interest in evidence that favors the discoveries they attack.
Responding to Dr. Wieland's recent report, Reuben Dedmondt asked him what he thought of the video of the NAMI team in and around the great wood structures. Dr. Wieland responds that these videos appear to have been mainly showing Parasut's team, noting that NAMI acknowledges not having entered all the rooms in the structure. In Dr. Wieland's view, that negates the need to consider the great wood beams upon which breathless Fiona is shown climbing and knocking. Dr. Wieland's ability to ignore the powerful evidence that not even he disputes leaves Reuben breathless.
Skepticism protects fearful hearts from disappointment, but believers must have circumcised hearts. As Luther wrote to Erasmus, "A believer cannot be a skeptic." That was about a matter of disputable theology, but these discoveries concern the historical foundations of our faith, the very truth of the Scriptures. Why should a believer suppose it improbable that someone might find evidence for some great miracle of the Bible? None of us want to see archaeology pertaining to the Bible brought into disrepute by irresponsible claims. But the way to avoid that is to carefully investigate rather than either accept or dismiss claims without careful investigation.
Just as these discoveries unite opponents from a wide spectrum of beliefs, they also find support from many schools of belief that do not ordinarily interact. NAMI's discovery has interested simple believers, long-time students of the searches for Noah's Ark, old and young earth Creationists, as well as professional archaeologists who are intrigued by the evidence and impressed that NAMI works with Turkish archaeologists and authorities. Likewise, what might be historical evidence of Jesus' brother has interested Jews like Hershel Shanks, while Simcha Jacobovici and Professor Tabor's discovery of what might be the earliest archaeological evidence of Jesus' resurrection interests evangelical scholars, even a radical biblical literalist like this writer.
Regardless of the religion or schools from which they hail, what unites most of those impressed by the evidence of these discoveries is an inward delight in seeing the truth of the Bible vindicated by discoveries. I know that is what motivates Simcha Jacobovici. He has previously produced a documentary on the Exodus, however rationalist his explanation. I owe the writing of my book to his interest in scientific evidence for Noah's Flood. Simcha speaks truth when he tells us that his explorations and speculations about the Talpiot caves are not going to disturb anyone who has no doubt about Jesus' physical resurrection or his divine origin. Indeed, one of Jesus' apostles was once a skeptic, while the apostle Paul began as a pious Jewish opponent of Jesus.
As in the case of these formerly skeptical apostles, Jacobovici and Tabor have discovered evidence of Jesus' resurrection. They remain constrained by their religious and scientific beliefs, but far from being rigidly doctrinaire, they are also impacted by the evidence they discover. Demonstrating their interest in the truth, they want folks to honestly criticize their discoveries and to give other opinions, as I have done in this newsletter.
We do not need to try to change opinions of those who understand differently, a job for the Holy Spirit, but we must demonstrate that we have listened to hearts. Had someone sympathetically listened to my questions, I don't think that I would have ever lost my childhood faith. Happily, I recovered my faith by pondering the words of someone who did hear the questions in my heart. This explains why I begin my book making the case against the historicity of Noah's Flood and the consequence this has for faith. I want unbelievers to know that I truly understand why they do not believe in a worldwide Flood. Knowing so much about this subject, I probably make the case against the historicity of the Flood better than they are able to do. My reason for setting the bar of proof for evidence of Noah's Flood so high is to eliminate any accusation that I have not fully considered the case against Noah's Flood and the remarkable evidence that should be found were Noah's Flood in fact historical. Some of the evidence that should be found were Noah's Flood historical is mentioned by a skeptical archaeologist in the column just above entitled Testimony from the skeptics.
In pointing out what has been dire consequences for faith of the inadequate defenses of the worldwide of Noah, I aimed to show believers why we cannot ignore the elephant in the room: Jesus' reference to Noah's Flood and his use of that to explain his Second Coming. I have learned that while my first chapter connects with unbelievers as I had hoped, the strong case against the Flood given there and its consequences for faith also angers some of my brothers. If believers can bear with my frank exposure of the problem, their faith will be amply rewarded by seeing the battle against the Bible turn from defense to an offensive against unbelief. The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood is not in fact an apology for the faith, but an attack on the intellectual foundations of unbelief. Skeptics are accustomed to attacking the Bible, but are ill prepared to address attacks on the foundations of modern unbelief.
I am also discovering that many presumed believers do not seem to care whether the Bible actually concerns history, which makes the Bible of slight importance. They see all this extra-biblical evidence and reference to history in the light of the Bible as unnecessary, even impious. Why, they ask, do we not just accept the Scriptures? Some who ask that seem unaware of the challenges to the Scriptures and perhaps do not want to know about such things. But we need to become aware of attacks on our faith because even if they do not affect us, they may affect our children or someone we love. If we really love God, will we not also love his words and want to know ever more about the things mentioned in the Scriptures?
As Ted Wright declares in the trailer for NAMI's documentary, there are some who harden their heart because they just do not want to believe.There is no point in searching the truth and writing for those, which explains why I refuse to debate. In truth, I do not write for unbelievers but for those who want to believe but have been prevented from doing so due to the deceptiveness of what we have been taught as science and learned scholarship. I love dialogue with everyone who has sincere criticisms and questions, regardless their beliefs. Long ago, I discovered that however great the Lord, he will listen to our hearts when we truly humble ourselves to him.
|Going outside the camp, bearing his reproach
The Talpiot site beautifully suits the later meeting place of the church of the Apostles
Talpiot tombs (2 red dots) below Jerusalem's old city (solid red) and walls of ancient city (outlined in red)*
According to what Simcha Jacobovici and Professor Tabor relate in their new book, the area of Talpiot in the hills just south of Jerusalem was at the time of Jesus rural farmland. Having planned infrastructure for the rural poor in developing nations, I am inclined to study the physical structures needed for the small populations that are supportable by farming. My attention was drawn to the size and number of rock-cut tombs at Talpiot. The authors had formerly investigated another tomb at Talpiot, but their most recent discovery was made at a second tomb at this site. Still, a third rock-cut tomb was destroyed in building the modern apartments above the tombs. Ordinary servants were unlikely to have been buried in expensive ossuaries and rock cut tombs, thus all those buried there are probably members of the same family. The problem is that Talpiot has too many burials and tombs for an ordinary rural homestead.
What this suggests is that the family buried at Talpiot was no ordinary family but more likely a communal family, whether living in a large house or cluster of small houses. In Judea of this era, both Essenes and Christians are known for communal living, many Christians continuing to live this way for centuries. The presence of the Jonah inscription points to a Christian buried there. But if one Christian is buried at Talpiot, likely everyone on this farm are Christians. How does one explain a large Christian community so close to Jerusalem prior to AD 70 when the city was destroyed?
From the book of Acts it appears that the believers in Jerusalem were from the beginning living as a single family. That doesn't mean that they all lived at a one location, but they were selling their separate land and houses to join the household of the Apostles. [Acts 2:45] Many believe that the chief meeting place of the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to be the same as the Upper Room site of the Last Supper, traditionally believed to be on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. A place called the Cenacle connected to the Church of the Dormition just south of the Zion Gate of the Old City is generally recognized as the site of the Last Supper.
But that site is likely to have been confiscated at the persecution following the stoning of Stephen when the disciples were being imprisoned. [Acts 8:3] Why I suppose this the case is that the letter of Hebrews, written specifically to Jewish Christians, tells of confiscation of property in the early days [Heb 10:34] and of the believers having to 'go outside the camp' [Heb 13:13]. Acts 8:1 tells us that the Apostles were not driven from Jerusalem at the persecution of Stephen, but this doesn't mean they would have continued living at a site where their increasing numbers would have become a constant thorn in the side of the religious authorities. To be sure, the religious authorities were wary of arresting the Apostles, their supernatural escape having already become an embarrassment. Likely, the Jewish authorities would have been happy to see those believing in Jesus moving outside the city walls.
I have never understood how the famous meeting of the Apostles, elders, and entire church to decide the rules for Gentile believers as recorded in Acts Chapter 15 could have taken place without Luke mentioning any incident of opposition had that meeting taken place inside the walls of Jerusalem. As in the case of Jesus, the Apostles would have enjoyed protection among the populace in the countryside. The site of Talpiot would have been perfect for this famous meeting.
Likewise, for the Apostle Paul's meeting with James when the latter mentioned how many thousands of Jews had already believed, many of them zealous for the Law. [Acts 21:20] Those zealous for the Law would have kept going to the Temple, putting pressure on all Jewish believers to do the same. James even implores Paul to go to the Temple to show the Jews that he was not teaching against the Law of Moses, in fact the case. The book of Hebrews makes the most sense were it a joint composition of the Apostles Peter and Paul imprisoned at Rome writing to the church at Jerusalem then meeting at this location just south of the city walls. Those meeting just outside the city were denied the temporal glory of the Temple whose magnificence was pointed out to Jesus by his own disciples. By the time they wrote this letter to the Hebrews, it seems that many Jewish believers were neglecting their own place of meeting. [Heb 10:25] This book of Hebrews has bitter-sweet pungency were it intended for the church in Jerusalem meeting at the location presently known as Talpiot, having to 'go outside the camp, bearing his reproach.' [Heb 13:13]
Still another factor favoring a community just outside the walls of Jerusalem as being the church of the Apostles is the fact that historical preserved accounts of early church history tell of the church in Jerusalem being led by the natural family of Jesus well into the second century. But the family of Jesus were also farmers. The letters of Jesus' brothers James and Jude make numerous reference to farming and to the weather, of particular importance to farmers. Justin Martyr relates that Jesus himself was known for making plows and yokes, as he applied his carpentry skills to the needs of farmers. Jesus' parables are also full of references to farming. When the Emperor Domitian arrested the family of Jesus, he found their hands callused, proof of their being poor farmers, owning about 80 acres between the two of them. One does not farm inside the city wall though these members of Jesus natural family are also leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
* Map via BiblePlaces.com as marked by Professor Tabor
|The Archaeological Evidence|
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|Joseph of Bethlehem and Mary of Nazareth of families from Judea
Explaining the families in the hill country of Judea to whom was born Jesus of Nazareth
Bethlehem, of the hill country of Judea*
Recent scholarship has focused on what it sees as the urban character of Second Temple Judaism, Jews living inside cities of the Roman Empire. The ministry of the Apostle Paul and the account of his ministry in the book of Acts, a major source for that history, did focus on Jews and Christians living in cities. The gospels came to Gentile cities before it got to the pagans, as country dwellers were then known. But Christianity began among rural Jews. According to Josephus, the Jews of the Second Temple era lived away from seaports and avoided the occupation of merchants. Living chiefly in the hinterland, they were mostly a nation of farmers, but still keen to educate their offspring. This would have been particularly true of those living in Judea.
The joint occupation of farming and leading the church at Jerusalem got me thinking about the roots of Jesus' family in the hills of Judea. Though these descendents of David desired to remain on their ancestral land, Judea was then a land of rural poverty, causing many from this area to head to Galilee and northern Israel in search of greater income. The village of Nazareth just south of the bustling city of Sepphoris attracted farmers and tradesmen who could sell their produce and services in the adjacent city. As with any magnet town, Nazareth would also attract those of poor reputation who sought opportunity in the anonymity of a town far from their previous residence. Thus Nazareth was in need of rabbis and a synagogue, as spiritual teachers and missions were then known. That Mary was herself Godly and one of her parents a sibling of a Temple priest and the father of John the Baptist is a sign that her father was capable of teaching the Law of Moses to those in Nazareth.
Whatever caused particular families to move from Judea to Nazareth, the growing village meant that those moving there needed houses and barns as well as a synagogue. That in turn meant work for carpenters, as builders were then known. Families moving from Judea would have preferred a young builder whose family and reputation were known back home. Word of the young builder may have come through the relatives of Mary, who also lived in the hill country of Judea. Whatever the link, a resident of Bethlehem by the name of Joseph came to dwell in Nazareth. Even more than most journeymen, due to his family's heritage in their ancestral land, it is likely that Joseph expected to remain there only for the duration of his job.
Even if work opportunities together with his espousal to Mary might have tempted Joseph to remain in Nazareth, higher powers intervened. Following his marriage, there came a decree from Rome that parts of the world previously seen as too poor to bother with taxes would now be subject to them. (Likely, the order was issued c. 8BC, but the census is not the subject here.) Joseph would not have wanted to register in Nazareth, thereby permanently tying his residence away from his ancestral home in Bethlehem. Thus, he resolved to return to Bethlehem to register with his bride and her soon to be born child. Likely other members of Joseph's family, also of the lineage of Joseph, were facing the same dilemma, crowding the home of his parents and requiring the new couple to take shelter in the section of the house normally used for animals.
I doubt that the place of Joseph's registration mattered to the tax authorities, who would have preferred taxing the higher income of the residents of Nazareth. Herod does not seem to have preferred genealogies for taxation since he burned the records kept in the Temple. He did have better reason to be suspicious of the lineage of David than Emperor Domitian, though he was apparently unaware of the importance of Bethlehem
before the birth of Jesus. Due to Herod having been informed of that, Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, returning only at the death of Herod. Discovering that the Romans had appointed Herod's son to rule Judea, Joseph decided instead to raise his family in Nazareth.
Aside from needing any lame excuse to dismiss them, why should anyone see a problem with the nativity of Jesus being discussed in only two of the gospels or why the accounts should cover different matters? Nothing in either account contradicts the other, and everything recorded perfectly suits time and place. Had that been otherwise, the church would have rejected them from the beginning. A testimony to the early writing of these accounts is that in order to learn these details in perfect accord with their time and place, one needed to get them from Jesus' natural family. It seems that Luke obtained his account from Mary, prominently featured in Luke's account. We may guess that Matthew obtained his account from the brothers of Jesus. Their parent's flight to Egypt with their older brother and the killing of the children in the vicinity of Bethlehem by King Herod would especially impress the brothers who were themselves of the lineage of David. They would have learned these things over the course of their growing up. They are certainly things to remember.What caused me to consider these connections was the fact that relatives of Jesus are farming sufficiently close to Jerusalem to be leading the church there.
Their eighty acres belonged to some farm near to the city of Jerusalem. The ancestors of those living in this small area having lived continuously in the land for over 500 years and marrying residents from the same area, it is scarcely possible that whoever once owned the farm at Talpiot was not related to the family of David. The grandfather of Joseph is Matthias, a name on one of the ossuaries at Talpiot, a large farm in the hill country of Judea between Bethlehem and
Mary's cousin' Elisabeth.
* line drawing by Roberts, David (1796-1864)
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