Tag Archives: Archaeology

New discovery: ancient Old Testament fragment is identical to copy 2,000 years later

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

A new discovery of an ancient text fragment was reported in the CTV News, of all places.

Excerpt:

The charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll sat in an Israeli archaeologist’s storeroom for decades, too brittle to open. Now, new imaging technology has revealed what was written inside: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardized form.

The passages from the Book of Leviticus, scholars say, offer the first physical evidence of what has long been believed: that the version of the Hebrew Bible used today goes back 2,000 years.

The discovery, announced in a Science Advances journal article by researchers in Kentucky and Jerusalem on Wednesday, was made using “virtual unwrapping,” a 3D digital analysis of an X-ray scan. Researchers say it is the first time they have been able to read the text of an ancient scroll without having to physically open it.

“You can’t imagine the joy in the lab,” said Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who participated in the study.

[…]Scholars have believed the Hebrew Bible in its standard form first came about some 2,000 years ago, but never had physical proof, until now, according to the study. Previously the oldest known fragments of the modern biblical text dated back to the 8th century.

The text discovered in the charred Ein Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.

“This is quite amazing for us,” he said. “In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”

The article mentioned the Dead Scrolls, which were earlier copies of some of the Old Testament books that we have today. In this case, there was a long gap between these early Dead Sea Scrolls documents, and the earliest copy that we had prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls. How much had changed in the period in between?

This article from Probe Ministries explains:

The Dead Sea Scrolls play a crucial role in assessing the accurate preservation of the Old Testament. With its hundreds of manuscripts from every book except Esther, detailed comparisons can be made with more recent texts.

The Old Testament that we use today is translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the Old Testament the form that we use today. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex which dates to A.D. 935.{5}

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by about one thousand years. Scholars were anxious to see how the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. If a significant amount of differences were found, we could conclude that our Old Testament Text had not been well preserved. Critics, along with religious groups such as Muslims and Mormons, often make the claim that the present day Old Testament has been corrupted and is not well preserved. According to these religious groups, this would explain the contradictions between the Old Testament and their religious teachings.

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text. Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.’”{6}

A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.

One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”{7}

Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

Now, if you listen to skeptics, agnostics and atheists, you would think that nothing in the Bible is reliable, because the stories were supposedly changed over time, and sometimes intentionally. That’s the message that popularizers like Bart Ehrman sell to a public audience that is hungry to dismiss the Bible. He likes to talk about the supposed distortions that have crept in, because all we have are “copies of copies of copies of copies”. But if you take a look at the hard evidence, rather than Bart’s rhetoric, then you get a very different picture of what really happened.

I think this is an exciting opportunity for people who dismissed the Bible as hopelessly unreliable to think a second time about whether there might be a message in there that tells us who God is, how he has interacted with people in the past, and what he expects from us today. For those who are open to the demands of a two-way relationship with the Creator, the Bible is the place to start.

New discovery: 25 new Dead Sea scrolls

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

What’s in them? That’s what my friend Dina would ask, because she loves packages, and can’t resist opening them.

Live Science reports on the discovery:

More than 25 previously unpublished “Dead Sea Scroll” fragments, dating back 2,000 years and holding text from the Hebrew Bible, have been brought to light, their contents detailed in two new books.

The various scroll fragments record parts of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah. The Qumran caves ― where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered ― had yet to yield any fragments from the Book of Nehemiah; if this newly revealed fragment is authenticated it would be the first.

Scholars have expressed concerns that some of the fragments are forgeries.

These 25 newly published fragments are just the tip of the iceberg. A scholar told Live Science that around 70 newly discovered fragments have appeared on the antiquities market since 2002.

The Dead Scrolls were early copies of some of the Old Testament books that we have today. In this case, there was a long gap between these early Dead Sea Scrolls documents, and the earliest copy that we had prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls. How much had changed in the period in between?

This article from Probe Ministries explains:

The Dead Sea Scrolls play a crucial role in assessing the accurate preservation of the Old Testament. With its hundreds of manuscripts from every book except Esther, detailed comparisons can be made with more recent texts.

The Old Testament that we use today is translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the Old Testament the form that we use today. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex which dates to A.D. 935.{5}

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by about one thousand years. Scholars were anxious to see how the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. If a significant amount of differences were found, we could conclude that our Old Testament Text had not been well preserved. Critics, along with religious groups such as Muslims and Mormons, often make the claim that the present day Old Testament has been corrupted and is not well preserved. According to these religious groups, this would explain the contradictions between the Old Testament and their religious teachings.

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text.

For example, the Isaiah scroll:

A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.

One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”{7}

Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

And new discoveries continue to confirm the reliability of ancient Judeo-Christian texts. Here is a recent discovery reported by Associated Press, of all places.

Excerpt:

The charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll sat in an Israeli archaeologist’s storeroom for decades, too brittle to open. Now, new imaging technology has revealed what was written inside: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardized form.

The passages from the Book of Leviticus, scholars say, offer the first physical evidence of what has long been believed: that the version of the Hebrew Bible used today goes back 2,000 years.

[…]Scholars have believed the Hebrew Bible in its standard form first came about some 2,000 years ago, but never had physical proof, until now, according to the study. Previously the oldest known fragments of the modern biblical text dated back to the 8th century.

The text discovered in the charred Ein Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.

“This is quite amazing for us,” he said. “In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”

Now, if you listen to skeptics, agnostics and atheists, you would think that nothing in the Bible is reliable, because the stories were supposedly changed over time, and sometimes intentionally. That’s the message that popularizers like Bart Ehrman sell to a public audience that is hungry to dismiss the Bible. He likes to talk about the supposed distortions that have crept in, because all we have are “copies of copies of copies of copies”. But if you take a look at the hard evidence, rather than Bart’s rhetoric, then you get a very different picture of what really happened.

Archaeologists make first-time discovery of Philistine cemetary

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Reported by radically leftist CNN, of all places.

Excerpt:

Archaeologists have unearthed the first Philistine cemetery ever discovered, shedding light on an ancient civilization that was home to one of the Bible’s most famous villains.

Historians have long hoped to learn more about the Philistines, and the burial ground offers insight into this ancient and historic population.

The Philistines are best known for Goliath, the giant who challenged a young David to battle near the Valley of Elah; the pair’s story is recounted in the biblical books of Samuel.

The 3,000-year-old site was found at Ashkelon, in southern Israel; its discovery marks the culmination of more than 30 years of exploration at the site.

[…]Archaeologists unearthed skeletons, individually buried with their own jugs, storage jars, and bowls. The small jugs are assumed to have been filled with perfumed oil.Some skeletons were even found wearing bracelets and earrings, while others had weapons.

The cemetery also had evidence of cremations, pit internments, and multi-chambered tombs.

“Ninety-nine percent of the chapters and articles written about Philistine burial customs should be revised or ignored now that we have the first and only Philistine cemetery found just outside the city walls of Tel Ashkelon,” said Lawrence Stager, a professor of archaeology at Harvard University and a co-director of the expedition.

Bone samples taken from the site will undergo three different types of testing – DNA, radiocarbon and biological distance studies – to help determine the origin of the Philistines. Biblical passages suggest the community came by sea from ancient Crete.

Here is a previous discovery from August last year reported by Live Science:

A massive gate unearthed in Israel may have marked the entrance to a biblical city that, at its heyday, was the biggest metropolis in the region.

The town, called Gath, was occupied until the ninth century B.C. In biblical accounts, the Philistines — the mortal enemies of the Israelites — ruled the city. The Old Testament also describes Gath as the home of Goliath, the giant warrior whom the Israelite King David felled with a slingshot.

The new findings reveal just how impressive the ancient Philistine city once was, said lead archaeologist of the current excavation, Aren Maeir, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“We knew that Philistine Gath in the 10th to ninth century [B.C.] was a large city, perhaps the largest in the land at that time,” Maeir told Live Science in an email. “These monumental fortifications stress how large and mighty this city was.”

[…]Both the impressive settlement size and mentions in biblical accounts suggest to scholars that the site is the historic city of Gath, which was ruled by the Philistines, who lived next to the Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Most scholars think that Gath was besieged and laid to waste by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus, in 830 B.C., Maeir said.

[…]The team also found ironworks and a Philistine temple near the monumental gate, with some pottery and other finds typically associated with Philistine culture. Though the pottery represents a distinctive Philistine style, it also shows elements of Israelite technique, suggesting the cultures did influence each other in ways unrelated to war.

The story of David and Goliath is found in 1 Samuel 17. Why don’t you give it a read? It’s a great story.

Did the city of Nazareth exist at the time of the birth of Jesus?

Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexandre inspects Roman 1st-century pottery found from the city of Nazareth.
Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexandre inspects Roman 1st-century pottery found from the city of Nazareth.

A while back, 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:

  1. If the New Testament contains reliable history about Jesus, then Nazareth must exist.
  2. Nazareth does not exist.
  3. 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.’”

Read Bart’s whole excerpt from his book in his post.

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.

Does archaeological evidence confirm names, dates and places in the Bible?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

I spotted this post on Be Thinking by UK apologist Peter S. Williams. (H/T Eric Chabot at Think Apologetics)

So let me pick the ones I liked most for this post.

Here’s a good one:

Jerusalem and The Pool of Bethesda

John 5:1-15 describes a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, called Bethesda, surrounded by five covered colonnades. Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John for the existence of this pool and John’s unusual description “caused bible scholars to doubt the reliability of John’s account, but the pool was duly uncovered in the 1930s – with four colonnades around its edges and one across its middle.”[38] Ian Wilson reports: “Exhaustive excavations by Israeli archaeologist Professor Joachim Jeremias have brought to light precisely such a building, still including two huge, deep-cut cisterns, in the environs of Jerusalem’s Crusader Church of St Anne.”[39]

And this one:

Jerusalem and The Pool of Siloam

In the 400s AD, a church was built above a pool attached to Hezekiah’s water tunnel to commemorate the healing of a blind man reported in John 9:1-7. Until recently, this was considered to be the Pool of Siloam from the time of Christ. However, during sewerage works in June 2004 engineers stumbled upon a 1stcentury ritual pool when they uncovered some ancient steps during pipe maintenance near the mouth of Hezekiah’s tunnel. By the summer of 2005, archaeologists had revealed what was “without doubt the missing pool of Siloam.”[40] Mark D. Roberts reports that: “In the plaster of this pool were found coins that establish the date of the pool to the years before and after Jesus. There is little question that this is in fact the pool of Siloam, to which Jesus sent the blind man in John 9.”[41]

I just read this one because I am working my way through John. In case you haven’t read John, you really should it’s my favorite gospel.

Here’s another one:

Herod the Great

We have a bronze coin minted by Herod the Great. On the obverse side (i.e. the bottom) is a tripod and ceremonial bowl with the inscription ‘Herod king’ and the year the coin was struck, ‘year 3’ (of Herod’s reign), or 37 BC.

In 1996 Israeli Professor of Archaeology Ehud Netzer discovered in Masada a piece of broken pottery with an inscription, called an ostracon. This piece had Herod’s name on it and was part of an amphora used for transportation (probably wine), dated to c. 19 BC. The inscription is in Latin and reads, “Herod the Great King of the Jews (or Judea)”, the first such that mentions the full title of King Herod.

Herodium is a man-made mountain in the Judean wilderness rising over 2,475 feet above sea level. In 23 BC Herod the Great built a palace fortress here on top of a natural hill. Seven stories of living rooms, storage areas, cisterns, a bathhouse, and a courtyard filled with bushes and flowering plants were constructed. The whole complex was surrounded and partly buried by a sloping fill of earth and gravel. Herod’s tomb and sarcophagus were discovered at the base of Herodium by archaeologist Ehud Netzer in 2007.

And one more:

The ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus’ Ossuary

James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred in AD 62. A mid-1st century AD chalk ossuary discovered in 2002 bears the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” ( ‘Ya’akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua’). Historian Paul L. Maier states thatthere is strong (though not absolutely conclusive) evidence that, yes, the ossuary and its inscription are not only authentic, but that the inscribed names are the New Testament personalities.[68] New Testament scholar Ben Witherington states that:“If, as seems probable, the ossuary found in the vicinity of Jerusalem and dated to about AD 63 is indeed the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus, this inscription is the most important extra-biblical evidence of its kind.”[69] According to Hershel Shanks, editor in chief of the Biblical Archaeological Review: “this box is [more] likely the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, than not. In my opinion … it is likely that this inscription does mention the James and Joseph and Jesus of the New Testament.”

And finally one short one:

Tiberius Caesar

The Denarius coin, 14-37 AD, is commonly referred to as the ‘Tribute Penny’ from the Bible. The coin shows a portrait of Tiberius Caesar. Craig L. Blomberg comments: “Jesus’ famous saying about giving to Caesar what was his and to God what his (Mark 12:17 and parallels) makes even more sense when one discovers that most of the Roman coins in use at the time had images of Caesar on them.”[48]

This is a good article to bookmark in case you are ever looking for a quick, searchable reference on archaeology and the Bible. There are many more examples in that post.

Now some people might be wondering why archaeology doesn’t confirm every detail in the New Testament. And here’s what J. Warner Wallace has to say about that:

But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:

Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.

Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.

Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.

Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.

Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!

See the problem? In spite of these limits, we still have a robust collection of archaeological evidences confirming the narratives of the New Testament (both in the gospel accounts and in the Book of Acts). We shouldn’t hesitate to use what we do know archaeologically in combination with other lines of evidence. Archaeology may not be able to tell us everything, but it can help us fill in the circumstantial case as we corroborate the gospel record.

I think you can form an opinion about the whole New Testament based on the record of confirmations. The verdict is in: the New Testament should be presumed trustworthy.