Lecture 10: Archaeology and the Apostle Paul
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
So we want some evidence that is more solid, people say. You know, evidence of the stones, like Archaeology. There are whole books on Jesus and archaeology that support any portion of the Bible. But some of the most exciting discoveries in the last century, for example are the two pools that are
mentioned in the pages of John’s Gospel, the pools of Bethesda and Siloam at different levels, even though there is no water in them. You can walk through the tunnel of Hezekiah, also, but you would need to have boots on as there is water in that. This was only the entrance to a much larger pool, which was only discovered in the last five years. It hasn’t even been excavated yet.
Archaeology is a living science in the Middle East and we keep finding things. In the early 1960s, we found the first-ever known Latin inscription at Caesarea on the Mediterranean shore that refers to Pilate as the prefect of Judea during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. This is fairly conclusive. In 1968 people dug up a small ossuary, a bone box where ancient Jews would take the bones of a body and store them. The ossuary was a 1st century Jew by the name of Johannian who had been crucified and there was still an ankle bone affixed to a piece of wood with a nail. This was the first time there was actual proof that not just hands but also the feet were nailed during a Roman crucifixion. In 1986 record level drought came about where the level of the Sea of Galilee was lower than it had been in over a hundred years. People started to see ancient wood pieces coming to the surface in the mud. It revealed a good portion of a 1st-century fishing boat. If you go to Nof Ginosar on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee to this day, there is a museum that was created to highlight one item, this boat. You can count for yourself and estimate, it is the largest evidence of a fishing boat of that era and you can just imagine thirteen men fitting into it. Nobody knows whose boat it was, but they have called it the Jesus boat for the sake of the tourist.
At the beginning of 2000, there was a flurry of interest in a bone box in an ossuary that referred to James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. And then there were charges and counter-charges, an editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks, who is also a Jewish Archaeologist was caught up in the middle of it. There were all kinds of doubt cast on the authenticity with legal charges and a trial. The Israelis seem to outdo the Americans in prolonging trials, eventuating with all charges being thrown out. So this could well be the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. We can’t prove it as James, Joseph and Joshua were extremely common Jewish names at that time. Yet, it is 1st century. As recently as 2009, right before Christmas, archaeologists at Nazareth found the foundations of a 1st century home. We knew that there was a small settlement there some three hundred years before. There are entire sites throughout Israel and the rest of the Biblical world that has never been excavated because it costs lots of money. The entire city of Colossae has never been excavated. You can go walk on the hill where it was, but nobody has funded the excavation of it. There are other more exciting places and then there are always problems with authorities.
12. Testimony of Other Early Christian Writers (Before the Gospels Were Written)
With the testimony of other early Christian writers; I don’t mean writers after the Bible were finished. I mean writers who were Christians before the Gospels were written. Remember our dates; the Gospels were written in the early ’60s, perhaps Mark right before that. Most of the letters of Paul were written in the ’50s. James may have been written around 48 or 49. So when we find quotations or references to the teachings of Jesus in these letters, it is not because they are quoting the Gospels as they had not been written yet. It would have been the oral tradition that was passing along accurately, this information. Paul alone refers to the words Jesus spoke in the Last Supper in 1st Corinthians 11. This was quoted in detail. He talks about paying taxes, loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you, right out of the sermon on the plain in Romans 12 & 13. 1st Corinthians 7, Paul distinguishes between from what he had learned from the Lord about divorce and remarriage and then in a new situation that didn’t happen in Israel, he says this is I not the Lord. Yet, Paul is every bit inspired even in saying this. There are all kinds of places where he talks about Jesus’ teaching, about his return and end times events. James quotes Jesus from the Sermon on the Mound, let your yes be yes and your no be no and has numerous references to Jesus’ teaching before there were any written Gospel records. But perhaps the more dramatic example of all is 1st Corinthians 15:1-5; the famous resurrection chapter. ‘Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me; for I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.’
When writers of ancient Hebrew or Greek spoke in the context of somebody’s teaching about receiving and passing on, they were often using the language of oral tradition. Here is something I learned, I wasn’t an eyewitness, but this was faithfully transmitted to me and passed on by me as a first importance or it could be translated as passed on to you at the first. I suspect it actually means both, as more importance is what you tell somebody first, when you were sharing the Gospel in the ancient world. But this isn’t just what Paul told the Corinthians as a first importance, it is what he received in verse 1 in the same kind of transmission as he is now passing on what he received; meaning that it was probably what Saul of Tarnish was first taught when he became a Christian in Acts 9 on the Damascus Road. Looking at the numbers throughout the New Testament to see what we can date; we see that Saul’s conversion was two to three years after the death of Jesus. Jesus died in AD 30 or there about, it would have been AD 32 or 33. Now, Gerd Ludemann, a German historian and an atheist wrote a book called, ‘What Really Happened at the Resurrection.’ What is fascinating about the book is that Ludemann says, irrespective of any religious belief or lack of belief, the one model that cannot explain the rise of resurrection faith is that this was a slowly evolving myth or legend, late in time, long after the truth about Jesus, a simple rabbi from Nazareth. Paul’s testimony in 1 st Corinthians 15 makes it highly likely that when he was initialed by Ananias and baptized at the home of Jesus Justice in Acts 9, he was taught this information about Jesus’ death according to the Scriptures, his burial, his resurrection and the list of eyewitnesses within one or two years at the latest after Jesus’ death. People as far from Jerusalem as Damascus were absolutely convinced of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This is what Gerd Ludemann is saying and he is an atheist. So was this mass hallucination in regards to Jesus’ resurrection or subjective visionary experience shared by over five hundred people in different places and times. There have been mass hallucinations in the history of the world. There have been repeated sightings, real or fraudulent related to statues and paintings of that of the Virgin Mary from different parts of the world. But those who have studied mass hallucinations have never anywhere in the history of the world found evidence of large numbers of people believing that they have seen something in bodily or personal that appears to be miraculous apart from an actual object, a statue, a painting or icon that seems to trigger that response; nothing like that is reported in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. Or might there be a supernatural dimension in the world that science can’t explain,
Craig Keener, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky has written a two-volume work in 2011 called ‘Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.’ Over five hundred pages are carefully documented accounts complete with endnotes with times, places, dates, and eyewitnesses of
over four hundred of the most documented physical healings, exorcisms, resurrections from the dead worldwide in the last fifty years. He estimated that one out of every thirty-five people in the world have some acquaintance, if not personally themselves, who has had some experience in response to
concerted public Christian prayer of an unexplained event happening instantaneously and never revoked. I’m one of the ones out of thirty-five; I’ve seen it in my family. Isn’t this also evidence that has to be taken into account somehow?
There are three ways to believe: there is the leap of faith despite the evidence. That is what skeptics would say we are doing. There is a second way where you might think that historical evidence is irrelevant, religion is in a watertight compartment that has nothing to do with history; just believe as the historical evidence doesn’t give you any momentum, and it doesn’t take anything away. I think the best analogy is what athletes do, they run down the track and get a lot of momentum and take a leap but the momentum is built up enough so when they jump, they at least get into the sand, whether they win the competition or not. Evidence cannot compel belief, it cannot prove the inerrancy of Scripture, it cannot prove the historical reliability of every detail of Scripture and most of all ancient historical evidence is lost. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, but Scripture can be tested; yes there are a few puzzles, but the overwhelming majority of time, Scripture comes out being collaborated so that at some point, it is only fair to give it the benefit of the doubt where it can’t be tested. You do have to take a leapt of faith, but it is a leapt where it is the rational thing to do when you are running fast down the track and hit the line. It is the most logical thing to allow yourself to be propelled in the direction that you are going.