The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Archaeology Update

If you're a long-time reader of this blog -- a member of a very select group -- you'll know that I have an interest in things archaeological. 

My interest in archaeology first arose from a book I read in 1962 while I was enjoying myself as a freshman at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. I was in the office of a Jesuit, my New Testament professor, and spotted the book on his desk. In an effort to kiss up a bit and show that I was really interested in theology, I asked if it were an interesting book. He handed it to me and said, "Here, you can borrow it. Come back next week and let me know what you think." An oral book report wasn't the outcome I had planned, and I suspect the good Jesuit knew this. 

Anyway, he and the book he lent me had an impact. The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity was written by William F. Albright in 1940 and then revised in 1960 to reflect the impact of later archaeological discoveries. It was this later edition that was forced on me that day. 

William Albright, an American evangelical and the son of Methodist missionaries, probably did more to advance the science of biblical archaeology than any other 20th-century archaeologist. During the latter part of his life (he died in 1971) and since his death, Albright has been strongly criticized by historical-critical scholars and others who believe his methods and conclusions were overly influenced by his Christian faith. Can you imagine? Actually approaching Sacred Scripture with faith...
For example, Albright believed that the Book of Genesis, in its depiction of such figures as Abraham, was "as a whole...historical, and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the biographical details." As you might imagine, many modern scholars disagree. Indeed, too many even doubt the actual existence of a historical Abraham. But one does not have to be a literalist or a fundamentalist to agree with Albright. 

I think it's important for Catholics to realize that the teachings of the Catholic Church do not encourage scholars to doubt the historical accuracy of Sacred Scripture. Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation, offers us a clear reflection of the Church's teaching on Sacred Scripture:
"Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" [Dei Verbum, 11].
I've always thought that those who believe that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is littered with fictional characters must not think very highly of the Holy Spirit. After all, in effect they're saying that the Holy Spirit, unable to raise up faithful servants from among His People, instead invented fanciful heroes to carry out God's will in the world.This, of course, assumes that they accept the Holy Spirit's role as the Divine Author of Sacred Scripture. 

K. A. Kitchen
Although my interest in biblical archaeology began with William Albright's book, it was further influenced by the work of K. A. Kitchen. A Professor Emeritus in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, and also an evangelical Christian, Dr. Kitchen wrote two books that I found truly fascinating. In the first, published in 1966 and entitled, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, Kitchen attempted to synthesize the work of two very different and too often independent areas of study: Ancient Near Eastern studies and Old Testament studies. But then in 2003 Kitchen published a comprehensive work, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, in which he argues (I believe, successfully) that the archaeological and textual evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. 

Interestingly, what we're finding as a result of recent archaeological discoveries is that the Bible is a remarkably accurate historical document. I've included stories relating to a few of these discoveries that confirm what the Bible tells us. The links will take you to the online articles.

Shiloh's Destruction. Shiloh is the city in Samaria where the ark of the covenant was kept after Joshua and the Israelites conquered Canaan. Shiloh was later destroyed by the Philistines not long after their victory at Aphek, a battle in which the two sons of Eli, the priest, lost their lives. Although many scholars assumed these event were apocryphal, recent archaeological findings confirm the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh c. 1050 B.C., a date that corresponds closely to what the we find in 1 Samuel. The remains of Shiloh may be found is the exact location described in the Book of Judges (Jgs 21:19).

Shiloh today -- Photo by Abraham Sobkowski OFM 
Siloam Tunnel. This remarkable tunnel zig-zags for over 500 yards beneath the ancient city of Jerusalem. The construction of the tunnel, an underground waterway, is described in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Built during the reign of King Hezekiah (727 - 698 B.C.) to protect the city's water supply in anticipation of an Assyrian siege, the tunnel was recently carbon dated to 700 B.C. confirming the Biblical description of its construction at that time. Once again, the Bible displays its historical accuracy. 
Siloam Tunnel beneath Jerusalem

Pharaoh Shoshenq and Kingdom of Israel. Many scholars have long thought that the Biblical descriptions of the early Jewish kingdoms are complete fiction, and that if David and Solomon actually existed, they were no more than petty chieftains. Increasingly, though, archaeological evidence supports what the Bible tells us. Among many recent discoveries is evidence that the army of an Egyptian pharaoh by the name of Shoshenq I (Shishak in the Bible) raided and sacked the town of Rehov in Israel 3,000 years ago. The event has been dated archaeologically to 925 B.C., just five years after Solomon's death. The Bible describes this military expedition by the Egyptians in 2 Chronicles 12. Here's a part of the narrative:

"Once Rehoboam had established himself as king and was firmly in charge, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and so did all Israel with him. So in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem, for they had acted treacherously toward the LORD. He had twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen, and there was no counting the army that came with him from Egypt — Libyans, Sukkites, and Ethiopians. They captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem" [2 Chr 12:1-4].

Addressing this discovery at Rahov, Professor Lawrence Stager, director of Harvard University's Semitic Museum stated, "There's no question that Rehov and the other cities that Shoshenq conquered were indeed there at the time of Solomon."
Captives with hands raised submitting to Pharaoh Shishak
David, King of Israel. Another related discovery, made in 1993, uncovered a chunk of basalt, dating to the 9th-century B.C., inscribed with words referring to the "House of David" and "King of Israel." To those of us familiar with the Old Testament, this is no great revelation, but archaeologically it represents the first time David's name had been found outside the Bible. The discovery was made at Tel Dan, located in the north of Israel.
The Tel Dan Basalt Stele
Aristotle's Grave. One last item has little to do with Sacred Scripture, but because it was announced only recently and should be of interest to anyone with a classical education, I thought I'd include it. Konstantinos Sismanidis, a Greek archaeologist, is convinced that he has located the tomb of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. For 20 years Sismanidis has been working a site near the village of Stagira, Aristotle's birthplace. The archaeological team have uncovered the tomb and an altar both dating to the time of Aristotle. Other evidence also support Sismanidis' conclusion. The drawing below shows what the tomb would have looked like when it was built. Note the altar and the raised walkway leading to the door.
Artist's conception: Aristotle's Tomb
Today the excavated tomb is not as pristine, but check out the view:
The tomb today -- a room with a view.

And so, for those of you who struggled through the study of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, you can now make a pilgrimage to the philosopher's tomb and perhaps leave a small token of your esteem. 

Until next time...

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