August 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Biblical History News

Little by little, the archaeologist’s spade helps shed light on Biblical history – that is, when not hindered by wars and conflicts.  Biblical Archaeology Society published some interesting news on its website and in the Sept-Oct issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

  • Royal portrait:  The magazine contains a report by renowned Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay of archaeological finds at Ramat Rahel (pp. 34-44).  This site, on a hilltop halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, excavated by rival archaeologists Yohanan Aharoni (1960s) and Yigael Yadin (1970s) yielded remains of a village and palace dating from the First Temple Period (the time of Judah’s kings).  Barkay argues that artifacts date from the time of Hezekiah, though a new excavation under Hebrew University auspices is underway to reassess the evidence.  Its location on a hill with a great view northward to the City of David and Temple Mount would have been desirable for the king.  The town was destroyed by Sennacherib during the Assyrian siege, but apparently rebuilt after the war either by Hezekiah or his son Manasseh.
        Excavations at Ramat Rahel have revealed a complex water system (see Reuters story on MSNBC), a citadel, numerous jug handles inscribed with “Belonging to the king” (a style attributed to Hezekiah’s monarchy), pre-Ionic column capitals and balustrades, and a palace wall with mortarless stones so finely shaped that even today a knife blade cannot fit between them.  Most tantalizing is an image found by early excavators sketched on a piece of pottery, showing a side view of a king seated on a throne.  If Barkay is correct, this may be may be the only picture of a Judahite king ever found: a portrait of King Hezekiah himself.1
  • Wash and see:  Further excavations of the newly-discovered Pool of Siloam (see 08/09/2005, bullet 2) at the south end of the old City of David have revealed the end of an elaborate street and plaza, reports Bib-Arch.  The report includes new photos of the columned street that may have led all the way north to the Temple Mount.  This is the pool where Jesus sent a man born blind to wash and be healed.  It was apparently a much more elaborate project than historians realized.
  • Jordan photojournal:  Herschel Shanks provided an informative photo-journal of his 3-day tour of Jordan this summer on the Bib-Arch website.  His adventures included stops at Jerasa (NT Gerasa), Amman (OT Rabbath-ammon), Machaerus (where John the Baptist was imprisoned) and Edom, where remains of extensive copper mining have recently come to light (02/18/2005).
  • Collateral damage:  The Bib-Arch website has a status report on the effect of the Lebanese-Israeli war on archaeological digs in progress, and damage to some.  Sites listed include Megiddo, Tel Dan, Hippos, Ramat Rahel and others.  Mark Hequet provided a first-hand report of what it was like to be digging under fire.
  • Dig this blog:  Archaeology is one of the sciences where lay people can make a significant contribution.  Bib-Arch advertises expeditions people can join, and maintains a blog by two enthusiastic young archaeologists about what’s happening at various sites.  The pictures show this to be an invigorating pastime for college students.
  • Apathetic outrage:  On a tragic note, destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount by illegal Muslim building projects continues (see 11/11/2005, bullet 4).  The Bib-Arch report says that since the Palestinian police took over the mount in 1990, “systematic destruction of any vestige of Jewish presence on the Mount was begun.”  Two portions of the old city wall have suffered unsightly damage due to Muslim activity, and new Arab graves encroach aside holy places outside the wall, desecrating them for further Israeli investigation.
        Despite 35 violations of Israeli antiquities law by Muslims on the Temple Mount, including the construction of a new underground mosque that has damaged the wall and sent truckloads of artifact-laden debris over the wall, the Israeli government has done nothing to stop it.  “The IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) is powerless to interfere because it has been so ordered by the highest levels of government,” the report says.  One can only imagine what would happen if this highly asymmetric political situation were reversed, and Israelis damaged Arab holy sites.  “This is the most important site in Israel, and yet we don’t see the authorities there,” complained archaeologist Eilat Mazar, whose digs on the City of David may have uncovered the palace of Judah’s kings (see 08/09/2005, bullet 3).  “We have to wake up and realize that if we don’t take care of it, the vandalism and illegal construction will continue.”
  • Bible and spade:  Another publication by another organization – Bible and Spade by Associates for Biblical Research – has articles this month about the Magi, Herod the Great, the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor, and extra-biblical evidence for the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua.  Founder and archaeologist Bryant Wood is a world expert in pottery identification.  The ABR current weekly article seems off-topic, but not really: how hybridization and polyploidy might explain the diversity of plants since the original creation.
  • What is this thing about snakes?  On a different note, from a different source, Marvin Olasky in World Magazine (Aug 19, pp 30-31) bounced off the latest movie thriller Snakes on a Plane to ask why so many cultures have “Snakes on the brain.”  Peoples as geographically separated as the Sumerians, Canaanites, Greeks, Norse, Mayans, Persians, west Africans, National Geographic editors, Burmese, Lombards, Indians and Chinese have held snakes as central idioms of their religious traditions, sometimes worshiping them as gods and givers of wisdom.  Many of their traditions employ symbols strikingly similar to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, with a tree, forbidden fruit, a man and a woman, and a serpent.  Consider this example from Africa:

    What should we make of the Bassari people of west Africa speaking of a great god, Unumbotte, who made Man and made Snake; when Snake proposed the eating of fruit, “Man and his wife took some of the fruit and ate it.  Unumbotte came down from the sky and asked, ‘Who ate the fruit?’  The first couple admitted eating the fruit and said Snake had told them to do so.”

    Olasky rejects the interpretation of the late Joseph Campbell that the serpent icon is merely a Jungian archetype: “…what if the stories all over the world, whether similar to the biblical account or turned upside down into praise of the serpent, suggest that stories about the real Garden of Eden, passed down through the generations and distorted in the process, lingered for millennia?” he asks.

1An engraved picture of Israelite king Jehu is well known from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, now in the British Museum.

Now that the cosmologists have acquiesced that the physical evidence of the universe leaves a multiverse fantasyland as their only escape from the conclusion of intelligent design (see 08/11/2006), we can no longer grant the naturalistic scientists the presumptive authority to interpret the universe.  A Designer intelligent enough to choose the constants of physics is more than a force.  It is a Person with all power, all wisdom and all authority in heaven and earth, who intended for our existence.  How could anyone exclude the reasonable corollary that such a Designer would exhibit one of the most fundamental characteristics of personality: the desire to communicate?  And that is what He did: He created a universe to be inhabited (Isaiah 45) and He communicated his nature and salvation to us, in many portions and in many ways (Hebrews 1).
    For those raised on the false hope of Enlightenment rationalism that science could explain the true cause and history of the world, we have come full circle.  It’s time to dust off the age-old claims of the Bible and take them seriously once again.  Consider just the last bullet point above about the worldwide traditions of a serpent and temptation.  How could those evolve from an ape-like ancestry?  Clearly, if these traditions, so closely resembling the Garden of Eden account, are linked in cultural memories to a real event, it was not millions of years ago.
    The pieces of archaeological evidence fit together in a coherent way to support the historicity of the Garden of Eden, Hezekiah, Jesus, Paul and the entire Greatest Story Ever Told.  When occasional findings are interpreted in ways that seem to contradict the Biblical record, wait long enough, and the skeptic’s claims usually evaporate under further analysis (e.g., see 04/12/2003, 02/18/2005).  It’s not only archaeological sites that need careful digging.  Historical records, one’s own conscience, and especially the Bible itself yield treasures when unencumbered by the bankrupt theories of rationalist skepticism.

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