Ancient Tablets Discovered From Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon

One of the clay tablets on display in the Bible Lands Museum exhibit. / Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

One of the clay tablets on display in the Bible Lands Museum exhibit.  Photo by Olivier Fitoussi from Ha’Aretz.com.

Fascinating find that’s been in the news in the last week or so!  Check out the details here and here.

Archaeology once again illuminates the biblical text, adding dimension to what we read about in the exilic and post-exilic prophets of the Old Testament.

Particularly noteworthy was this quote: “Prof. Wayne Horowitz, one of the archaeologists who studied the tablets, says this is the most important ancient Jewish archive since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Wow.

An Older Copy of The Gospel of Mark?

PHOTO: Rylands Library Papyrus P52, online at http://www.christiantoday.com/article/researchers.claim.to.have.found.ancient.gospel.of.mark.fragment.in.mummys.mask/46387.htm

Check this out.

From the article: “The discovery of a small papyrus fragment containing words from the Book of Mark could end up being the earliest copy of a Christian gospel on record, according to experts.

The biblical text, which came from Egypt, was reportedly placed on a sheet of papyrus before the document was recycled and used to create a mummy mask.”

What an amazing discovery (if it indeed proves to be Mark).  And how amazing that this could be discovered from the layers used to create the mummy mask – wow.

“We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries,” New Testament professor Craig Evans told LiveScience. “Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters.”

I can’t wait to get a look at this once it’s published (later this year, according to the article).  What a fascinating peek this could provide into daily life in the early centuries of the Christian era.  I believe that’s the great benefit of archaeology to biblical studies – illuminating the context of the text itself.

Why Does Archaeology Matter?

IMG_0321I ran across this article yesterday from a self-described “archaeologist in training,” and I thought he did a good job explaining why archaeology matters.

For too long, Christ-followers have distanced themselves from academic disciplines like archaeology, believing that science and faith are at odds.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength.  Notice – love God with our minds.  That means we don’t check our brains at the door when we choose to follow Jesus.  And anyone who argues that we follow by blind faith doesn’t fully understand the teaching of Scripture.  I don’t see blind faith requested anywhere, but faith based on God’s past actions and His unchanging character.  That’s not blind faith – that’s faith with a foundation.

Archaeology matters.  As the writer of this article states, it “creates a framework for more informed, thoughtful study of the Bible.”  That’s a good thing!   Archaeology “exposes ancient ruins and provides clues to the way people lived so we can better understand the cultures and people mentioned in the text.”  It helps us realize that the people mentioned in Scripture were real people, living real lives, in real places, just like us.  When we get that, what we read truly begins to come alive, and we can empathize with and learn from the biblical books in fresh ways.

If you’re interested on how the disciplines of archaeology and Biblical studies interact and why it’s an important field of study for followers of Jesus to engage in, check the article out.  And if you’re REALLY interested in getting your hands dirty (pun intended), join me next year as I return to the dig at Tall el-Hammam in Jordan (believed to be the site of the biblical city of Sodom).  In January/February, I’m taking a team from the church I serve, Southview Community Church, and I’d love to have you join us as we go, dig, and learn together.  You can get more details and register for the dig here.

Have you ever been on an archaeological dig?  How have you seen faith and science intersect in positive and illuminating ways?

Write It Down!

I was reading this article the other day about some 4th century B.C. business transactions inscribed in Aramaic on sherds (broken pieces of pottery, often used the way we use post it notes) that have been excavated in Idumea (about 40 miles southwest of Jerusalem). That’s almost 2,500 years ago.  And the inscriptions are still, for the most part, preserved and legible.

It made me think.  How many times have I had an idea, for a sermon, a blog post, a book – and lost it?  Later I tried to remember it, but too late – it’s gone.

These merchants from the ancient world knew a piece of wisdom that I often forget – write it down.  Then you don’t have to keep it in your brain’s active memory – it’s stored in a trustworthy place.  I learned that (and much more) from David Allen’s classic book Getting Things Done.  If you haven’t read that, go grab a copy now and read it.  Seriously.  It’s worth it.

Write it down.  A simple piece of wisdom that I’ve shared often with others – and it’s so critical.

The (not so) minor prophet Habakkuk received an answer to one of his prayers from God, and God told him, “Write down this message! Record it legibly on tablets.” (Habakkuk 2:2 NET)

You know why I think God told him to write it down?  Because despite our confidence that we won’t forget important things, too often time weathers the details of our memory.  Pastor Mark Batterson says it well – the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.

Write it down.  Whether it’s your vision, your new strategy, your goals, your grocery list, or your to do list for today, write it down.  Don’t expect that you’ll remember it – you might not.

And who knows – somebody 2,500 years from now might find it.

9 Unopened Dead Sea Scrolls Found

DSSJarCheck out the news story here:

Once unopened, the scrolls are expected to shed new light on the religious practices of the Jewish people during the Second Temple Period between the years of 530 BC and 70, an era named for a holy place of worship for the Jewish people that was constructed by the builder of ancient Jerusalem King Herod.”

I wrote my master’s thesis on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QpHab, and when I visited Israel for the first time, I was able to see that particular scroll in the Israeli Museum.  Earlier this year, I had the privilege of seeing several of the scrolls that are housed in Amman, Jordan in the new Jordan Museum, including the copper scroll.  Since I first began studying them, the scrolls have fascinated me, and to know that nine more unopened scrolls were just found in a store room where they’ve been since being unearthed at Qumran over half a century ago – wow.

I believe that archaeological finds such as this can illuminate the Bible for us and help us to understand the text, life in antiquity, and culture/customs of the biblical era better. I’m looking forward to learning more about what these new scrolls will bring to our understanding!

The Church and the Academy

books-13I am a pastor.  I also teach as an adjunct faculty member.

I’m a student of the Bible. I’m also a student of leadership.  And I’m pursuing a Ph.D. in archaeology and Old Testament.

I live with a foot in two worlds.  And because I do, I have a perspective that I think is a little unique.

For many, many years, the church led out in academic pursuits.  Much of scholarship was written by leaders in the church over the centuries following Jesus.  But in the 19th century, with the rise of theories such as evolution and the documentary hypothesis, the church began to disengage from academic pursuits, with the result being that the academic community was no longer influenced by and impacted by followers of Jesus.  And the results were predictable.

I believe it’s time for that to change.

One day, Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?”  Out of 613 laws that made up the Mosaic law, which was the greatest?

Jesus response informs today’s topic.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I believe that loving God with all our mind means that we have to grow intellectually, to stretch and be challenged and learn consistently.   For me, that’s a formal program of learning ending with a degree.  It’s a consistent diet of reading (and not always people I agree with!).  And it’s going and listening to people speak and lecture on a variety of topics (again, not always people I agree with!).

I want to love God with all my mind.  And I believe that as followers of Jesus, we are all called to do that.

I believe that it’s time for us to return to active involvement in the academic community.  I’m not saying all of us should be teachers or educational professionals, but I believe that all of us can contribute to the work of followers of Jesus in the academy as we are each gifted.

I’m still working out what that looks like.  I don’t have all of the answers.  But I do believe that we can no longer ignore this issue.  The next generation is watching and listening to those who teach, and if followers of Jesus don’t get involved and engage in this area, we cannot be surprised when this generation walks away from the faith.  Currently, 85% of those who grow up in church are disengaged by their 25th birthday.  I’m not ok with that.  And I believe we can do something about it.

Do you believe this is important work for the church to be involved in?  What do you see as a way the church can get involved?  How can you engage in this?