A burned 1,500-year-old Hebrew scroll found on the shore of the Dead Sea was recently deciphered, 45 years after archaeologists discovered it, researchers in Israel have announced.
“The deciphering of the scroll, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” Sefi Porath, the archaeologist who discovered the scroll in 1970 in Ein Gedi, Israel, said in a statement from The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The Ein Gedi parchment scroll is the oldest scroll discovered from the Hebrew Bible since the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to the end of the Second Temple period, about 2,000 years ago.
The parchment scroll was so charred that it was illegible to the naked eye. Only with advanced technology did the scroll reveal the opening verses of the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Hebrew Bible.
So, this is the second oldest fragment of the Old Testament, with the Dead Sea Scrolls being earlier, and containing far more material than this fragment. The deciphering was done using micro-CT scanners.
And what’s the text on it?
On the newly deciphered scroll, the text (from the beginning of the book of Leviticus), translated from the original Hebrew, reads as follows:
“The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar.” (Leviticus 1:1-8).
The biblical text marks the first time a Torah scroll was found inside a synagogue in any archaeological excavation, according to the IAA.
The Live Science story notes that other fragments are still being analyzed, so we may get more stories like this sooner, rather than later.
I was discussing a recent debate that a friend attended between an atheist musician named Dan Barker and a Christian with a doctorate in New Testament Studies named Justin Bass.
According to my friend’s report, the atheist questioned the existence of Nazareth, and then went on from there to assert that everything we know about Jesus is legendary.
This is what the atheist’s argument sounds like:
If the New Testament contains reliable history about Jesus, then Nazareth must exist.
Nazareth does not exist.
Therefore, the New Testaments does not contain reliable history about Jesus. (M.T. 1,2)
I was able to find a web site where an atheist was making the claim that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus. So this is not completely outside the realm of mainstream atheism. I doubled checked with two more people who attended the debate that Barker indeed made an argument like the one above.
Two things to say about this 3-step argument. First off, when speaking to atheists, Christians only care about making a case for the resurrection. This is for two reasons. One, our goal is to disprove atheism, and the historical argument for the resurrection is the most evidenced miracle claim in the New Testament. Nazareth is not part of that core of minimal facts about the resurrection of Jesus. Second, it’s possible to be a Christian by accepting a core of Christian dogma (e.g. – the Apostle’s Creed), while remaining agnostic or even skeptical of other things in the Bible. Nazareth is not part of that core of minimal facts that must be affirmed in order to become a Christian.
The problem I have with atheists is that they pick and choose from the Bible according to their own agenda. Every Christian has read basic books on the resurrection by people like Lee Strobel, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, J. Warner Wallace and so on. This is like table stakes for living a Christian life. We all know how to make a case based off of minimal facts for the resurrection. When Christians get into debates about Jesus, we want to make a case for the core of historical knowledge about him, minimal facts that almost no one disagrees with. But many atheists aren’t like that. They want to pick and choose a few verses out of the Old Testament and the New Testament that they personally find distasteful to them, and then deny the minimal facts about Jesus on that basis. I don’t think that it makes sense to deny evidence for widely-accepted facts by bringing up minor problems that are irrelevant to the well-attested core facts.
But it’s worse than that – we actually DO know that Nazareth existed, and we know it not from some fundamentalist preacher, but from atheist Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman writes in his book:
One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels commonly discussed by mythicists is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth did not exist but is itself a myth. The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, appears to be that if Christians made up Jesus’ hometown, they probably made him up as well. I could dispose of this argument fairly easily by pointing out that it is irrelevant. If Jesus existed, as the evidence suggests, but Nazareth did not, as this assertion claims, then he merely came from somewhere else. Whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S. or not (for what it is worth, he was) is irrelevant to the question of whether he was born.
Since, however, this argument is so widely favored among mythicists, I want to give it a further look and deeper exploration. The most recent critic to dispute the existence of Nazareth is René Salm, who has devoted an entire book to the question, called The Myth of Nazareth. Salm sees this issue as highly significant and relevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus: “Upon that determination [i.e., the existence of Nazareth] depends a great deal, perhaps even the entire edifice of Christendom.”
So that seems like a fair representation of the argument I outlined above.
Bart’s response is long, but here’s part of it:
There are numerous compelling pieces of archaeological evidence that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day, and that like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built. For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus. Salm disputes the finding of the archaeologists who did the excavation (it needs to be remembered, he himself is not an archaeologist but is simply basing his views on what the real archaeologists – all of whom disagree with him — have to say). For one thing, when archaeologist Yardena Alexandre indicated that 165 coins were found in this excavation, she specified in the report that some of them were late, from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. This suits Salm’s purposes just fine. But as it turns out, there were among the coins some that date to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus. Salm objected that this was not in Alexandre’s report, but Alexandre has verbally confirmed (to me personally) that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising.
Aalm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery. Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following: “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.” They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth.’”
I did a quick double check on the archaeologist Ehrman mentioned, and found an Associated Press story about another archaelogical discovery made by archaeologists in Nazareth. This time, it’s not the coins, but pottery fragments. The date range on the pottery is 100 before Jesus’ birth to 100 years after Jesus’ birth.
Even though Ehrman is an atheist, I think that he understands how to do history. You can’t be a credentialed historian and throw out the early proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection because of doubts about Old Testament violence. You can’t be a credentialed historian and throw out the conversions of Paul and James because you don’t know whether there was one angel or two angels at the empty tomb. Denying the core facts about Jesus by bringing up concerns about peripheral issues is not a responsible way to investigate the historical Jesus.
One final point. This happens when discussing scientific evidence with atheists, too. I was discussing the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the cosmic fine-tuning with an atheist – mentioning names, dates and places related to the discoveries – and she cut me off with “Am I going to Hell?”
Dr. Ehrman, is a graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-one books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
Dr. Evans received his B.A. degree in History and Philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, his M.Div. degree from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in southern California. Author and editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles and reviews, Professor Evans has given lectures at Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Yale, and other universities, colleges, seminaries, and museums, such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.
Note: This is a very snarky summary, and I am just paraphrasing things to be silly and funny. Reader discretion is advised.
Snarky things I made up are in italics.
Question 1: are the gospels historically reliable?
Bart Ehrman opening speech:
I used to be an ignorant fundamentalist like you!
but then I went to Princeton, and now I know better
to Craig: are there errors in the Bible
the gospels have some reliable and some unreliable info
only careless readers don’t see contradictions in the gospels
contradictions in the genealogies
contradictions in timing of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah
contradiction about when Jesus died
contradiction about when the stone was rolled away
contradiction about who was at the empty tomb
contradiction about when the disciples went to Galilee
contradictions in minor details means the gospels are unreliable
Craig Evans opening speech:
the question is “do the gospels tell us enough about Jesus for faith?”
the gospels don’t tell us everything, but they tell enough for faith
the extremely early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-7 has an outline of the gospel
it contains the burial, the appearances to eyewitnesses
and it agrees with the early sermons of Peter in Acts 2
the gospels agree with these extremely early summaries
the gospels are based on earlier sources
the gospels are corroborated by the Jewish historian Josephus
Question 2: Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ?
are there any discrepancies in the gospels?
the gospels have things Jesus said, and things he didn’t say
if the Bible is inaccurate in some minor details, then it’s all unreliable
in the latest gospel, John, Jesus calls himself God and sees himself as divine
but these high-Christology statements are not in the synoptics
therefore, Jesus really didn’t say these things
why didn’t the synoptics record these claims to divinity
the author of John changed the words of Jesus and John the Baptist?
E.P. Sanders (a non-Christian scholar) says we can know what Jesus taught
cites E.P.’s list of Jesus’ core teachings that are agreed on by most scholars
Jesus’ focus was talking about the Kingdom of God – the rule of God
Jesus’ followers were expected to record and understand the words of Jesus
It is permissible for the followers of Jesus to have some editorial license
Question 3: Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ?
E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are discrepancies in the gospels
E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are mistakes in the gospels
If Jesus’ followers changed his words a little, then we can’t know anything he said
If the author changes the story a little, then the story was changed a lot
If there not 100% accurate, then they’re not accurate at all
contradiction of the ordering of Jesus’ temptations
contradiction of the number of animals Jesus rode into Jerusalem
contradiction of whether Jesus spoke or didn’t speak in some instance
contradiction of what Jesus said on the cross
contradiction of the number of robbers who speak to Jesus
Jesus can only say ONE THING when he’s on the cross
the gospel writers have to be in complete agreement
E.P. Sanders (non-Christian) lists 7 virtually indisputable facts about Jesus
just because there are discrepancies, doesn’t mean there are no minimal facts
in additional to E.P. Sanders, there are other facts that are widely-accepted
many assertions in the gospels are embarrassing to the author
many liberal scholars think that Jesus was a healer and an exorcist
all scholars agree on the crucifixion
most scholars accept the “King of the Jews” placard placed over the cross
this means that Jesus was viewed by his followers as the Messiah
Question 4: Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition?
I used to be an ignorant uninformed fundie, like you all
but then I started to study seriously, not like Craig Evans
I changed my mind based on intense research, not peer pressure
My apostasy has nothing to do with the problem of evil and suffering!
I use my brain, and Craig Evans and you fundies don’t use your brains
the gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses
the titles of the gospels were added later
the gospels don’t claim to be written by the authors attributed to them
the gospels were written anonymously
the gospels only had names attached in 120-140 AD
even if gospels were written by eyewitnesses, they are not always accurate
written 40-60 years after Jesus died
written in Greek, not Aramaic
written in different countries
based on stories that were told and retold and changed over time
Richard Bauckham says the gospels are largely based on eyewitness accounts
the gospels were written while there were still eyewitnesses alive
the people who met Jesus were there to correct the written accounts
there were many disputes about things in the early church, so if the early church invented sayings, then why not invent sayings of Jesus to resolve the disputes?
there is no evidence of things being invented wholesale by the early church
Pappias says that he talked to Christians who knew the eyewitnesses to Jesus
Question 5: Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources?
archaeologists do not use the gospels, they just dig things up
historians do use gospels
Jesus is not mentioned by any Greek or Roman non-Christian source for 80 years after Jesus’ death
The earliest Jewish source is Josephus, writing 60 years after Jesus’ death
Paul is the earliest source, but says nothing about Jesus’ words and deeds
the earliest sources for words and deeds are the discrepancy-filled gospels
the gospels are based on telling and re-telling of the stories
James Charlesworth has a 700-book about archaeology and the Bible
the book contains hundreds of references to the four gospels
the four gospels and Acts are viewed as the best sources for archaeologists
they provide accurate information about the way things were
the gospels and Acts helps archaeologists to know where to dig for things
the Biblical sources are early and based on eyewitnesses
the gospels and Acts fit well in the first century culture
the gospels and Acts talk about real events and real places and real customs
the gospels and Acts talk about real buildings and real public figures and real groups
the language of the gospels traces back nicely to Aramaic
the gospels talk about geography and climate
archaeologists discover many things discussed in the gospels
Question 6: Have the gospels been accurately preserved done through the centuries
if God inspired the Bible without error, he should have preserved it without error
but the originals have NOT been preserved without error
so I no longer accept the inerrancy of the autographs (the originals)
we don’t have the originals
we only have copies of copies… of copies… of copies… of copies
and the copiers all made mistakes
the first manuscripts are decades later
and the manuscripts we have are different from one another
the earliest copies have the most mistakes
even if we have many copies, they are late, so we don’t know what the original said
we don’t have early manuscripts
we know where the discrepancies in the manuscripts are
the discrepancies are marked in your Bible
the discrepancies affect peripheral issues
some discrepancies are supported by other verses
Mark doesn’t have the appearances, but 1 Cor 15 does, and it’s earlier
the errors are things like spelling and grammar errors, typos, etc.
we have fragments that are earlier than the full manuscripts
some early manuscripts have errors, but other early manuscripts are correct
Question 7: Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching?
the woman caught in adultery is a late addition
the ending of Mark is a late addition
can we handle snakes or can’t we?
did Jesus sweat blood or didn’t he?
some manuscripts have errors – that should not be allowed by God
some scribes are careless – that should not be allowed by God
we have to have perfect copies of the originals, or I won’t believe!
if God really inspired it, it all has to be perfect! Perfect! I was lied to!!!!
if the snake-handling verse isn’t there, then the whole Bible is lies! Lies!
no variants impact any teaching of Jesus or significant Christian teaching
the vast majority of the manuscripts agree on 98-99% of the text
often, the theology gives rise to a variant, which is introduced later
variants aren’t central enough to affect any theological doctrines
And then there are concluding speeches by each speaker.
I made this summary based on the video, which is here on Apologetics 315.
People often ask the question, “why must I believe in Jesus and only Jesus in order to be rightly related to God?”
Indeed. Why should we care about the teachings of Jesus more than any other religious leader. Well, we know from scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and hence a Creator. We know from the fine-tuning argument that there is a Designer of the cosmos, as well. So the question becomes, has there ever been a human being who could give us accurate information about who the Creator and Designer is?
It turns that there is such a person, and we know it because we have evidence that this person rose from the dead – a feat only possible if the Creator and Designer wanted to draw attention to this person, and to his teachings. The account of this is recorded in a collection of ancient writings called the New Testament, which can be investigated using the ordinary rules of ancient historiography. Although much of what is written in the New Testament cannot be proven historical, a few facts that are reported there pass the mainstream historical tests. From those facts, we can infer that God was putting his stamp of approval on the teachings of a very important person.
The man who returned from the dead
Dr. Craig’s famous minimal facts case for the resurrection has been posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He presents 4 facts admitted by the majority of New Testament historians, and then he supplies multiple pieces of evidence for each fact.
Here are the four facts:
FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.
FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
He shows how each fact is supported reasons which pass the standard historical rules used by ancient historians.
Here’s the detail on fact #3, the post-mortem appearances.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:
1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.
2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.
3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?
Even Gert Ludemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3
Yes, Gerd Ludemann is actually an atheist new Testament historian, and he has even debated Dr. Craig on the resurrection – not once, but twice. That’s the kind of evidence Dr. Craig uses in his case.
So, if you are undertaking an investigation to see if the God who creates and designs the universe has anything to say to you, a good place to start is seeing what this guy Jesus had to say to you. No faith required.
Israeli archeologists have uncovered an impressive entrance to Herod’s palace at Herodium. Located only three miles southeast of Bethlehem, Herodium played an important part in the events surrounding the early life of Christ.
The December announcement by Hebrew University archeologists Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy dovetails well with the seasonal interest in the nativity accounts of Luke and Matthew in the New Testament.
While both Luke and Matthew wrote that King Herod governed Judea during the era of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem (Luke 1:5, Matthew 2:1), they included nothing concerning Herod’s massive palace/fortress complex at nearby Herodium.
Herodium, like Herod’s other isolated palace/fortress complexes at Masada and Machaerus, was built on a mountain. To enhance its impressive scale, Herod artificially extended the height of the hill to make it the tallest mountain in the Judean desert.
While the site included the usual Herodian luxuries such as a palace, bathhouse, theatre and garden, Herodium was essentially a fortress, a place where Herod could find refuge if his people revolted.
Herod’s fear of a Jewish revolt led him to establish many fortresses in both urban centers (he maintained two in Jerusalem itself) and in isolated rural areas away from the urban centers.
A small community close to the fortress housed the construction teams and, later, the garrison soldiers and palace servants. The servants who waited on the king indeed worked in an impressive palace.
The newly uncovered entranceway apparently was still being constructed near the time of the monarch’s death.
As shown in one of the photographs, the entryway included three levels of arches in a 65-foot corridor that was 19 feet across and 65 feet in height leading to the palace’s courtyard. Curiously enough, the nearly completed entrance was abruptly stopped and backfilled around the time of Herod’s death. The archeologists speculated that the now-aging Herod instead sought to convert the entire palace into a memorial mound for his upcoming burial at the site.
Indeed, Herod’s plans for Herodium unfolded as Jesus was born and as He spent His early life in nearby Bethlehem. When the magi arrived in Jerusalem and announced they had come to worship the “king of the Jews,” Herod sent them to Bethlehem after learning the location of the Messiah’s birthplace from the chief priests and learned scholars. The monarch hoped to ascertain from the magi which of the town’s small children was the designated royal candidate. Then Herod hoped to execute the child (Matthew 2:1-8, 2:16).
When the magi failed to return with this information, Herod ordered his soldiers into Bethlehem to murder all children age 2 and under. Warned to flee to Egypt, the holy family escaped Herod’s plans, but an undisclosed number of children were killed by Herod’s soldiers. Although never stated in the biblical account, the soldiers who carried out the old king’s infamous order were either stationed in Jerusalem (seven miles from Bethlehem) or in the closer post at Herodium. In fact, Herodium overlooked Bethlehem and could have functioned as a convenient headquarters for Herod’s deadly operation.
While the holy family resided in Egypt, another Herodium connection to the early life of Christ took place. After a long and terribly painful illness, Herod died. His surviving eldest son (Herod had murdered his three oldest sons), Archelaus, then buried him in Herodium at a pre-selected tomb and gave his father an elaborate funeral at the site and spared no expense, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish War, 1,673).
Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer claimed to have found Herod’s tomb and damaged sarcophagus (stone coffin) in 2007 at Herodium, but in 2013 and 2014 other archeologists have raised doubts about the tomb and the sarcophagus. Israeli archeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas largely based their doubts on the modest tomb site and the unimpressive sarcophagus. They believe that the mega-maniacal Herod would have commissioned a larger tomb and a more elaborate sarcophagus.
With Herod now buried in Herodium and with Archelaus eventually ruling over much of his father’s former kingdom as an “ethnarch” (“ruler of the people”), the New Testament noted the change in political leadership (Matthew 2:19-22). The change prompted Joseph to consider a move back to Judea (perhaps back to Bethlehem itself where the family had lived for about two years), but his misgivings about a Judea under the rule of an already unpopular Archelaus and a warning in a dream led him to reconsider. The decision was a wise one. A return to Bethlehem in the “shadow of Herodium” and the nearby royal city of Jerusalem placed the holy family at potential risk.
Instead, Joseph took his family back to Nazareth in Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23). Galilee was governed by Herod Antipas, the younger brother of Archelaus. At the time, this Herodian ruler, with the title of “tetrarch” (“ruler over a fourth”), was regarded as a milder alternative to the volatile Archelaus. Located far away from the recent unpleasant associations connected to Herodium and the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary would raise Jesus in the peaceful surroundings of Nazareth.
The recent archeological find in Herodium and the continuing dispute concerning Herod’s tomb and sarcophagus calls attention to the background story of the early life of Christ as detailed in the Gospel of Matthew. Perhaps some further archeological discoveries at Herodium will uncover additional information about the familiar nativity narrative.
I liked this article on Baptist Press so much, I pasted it here in full – because of the links between history and the Bible. It’s also reported in secular news sources like NBC News and the UK Telegraph.
When I read stories like this, it really makes me question people who think that the New Testament books were not intended to be history. I think the default view has to be that the authors intended to write history, and then we do the work to see which parts pass historical tests – i.e. – how early, how many sources, how many eyewitnesses, etc. And, do we have archaeological evidence to corroborate the narrative.