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Sometimes reading about he Ammonites, Moabites, or Edomites in the Bible can seem to modern readers much like reading about people from Gondor, Rohan, or Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. I find it helpful to contextualize the people and places I read about in the Bible by locating them on modern maps. It helps remind me of the historicity of the accounts that are recorded in the pages of Scripture. Unlike Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth, the world of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites in the Bronze Age and Iron Age was very much a real world. Archaeologists have learned much about these ancient peoples from the material remains they left.
So which modern-day country did the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites inhabit?
It all started with a trip my brother took to Saudi Arabia. It set me thinking about what ancient biblical people might have lived in that region, and which ancient places I’d most like to see if I were to go with him. Did any biblical history occur in modern-day Saudi Arabia?
We often read the Bible with little understanding of the geography of the region – modern or ancient. Perhaps this plays a part in the mistaken way many read the Bible more as a story than actual history. In the forward to Andrew E. Steinmann’s excellent book on biblical chronology, From Abraham To Paul, Nicholas Perrin writes about the problem of “make a virtue of keeping biblical history vague, fuzz and hopelessly muddled in our heads.” He writes:
Part of this, I think, has to do with the way in which we have been conditioned to think about te bible: not as history, but more as story. Somehow, somewhere along the line, we became unconsciously convinced the likes of Abraham, David, and Jesus are much closer to the likes of Bilbo Baggins and Luke Skywalker than to, say, Winston Churchill and Osama Bin Laden. Of course, for those of us whose image of the David and Goliath story conjures up memories of Sunday School flannel-graph figures or brightly-colored children’s storybooks, the slip is easy to make.
I believe the same problem exists when it comes to geography: it’s easy to read stories in Scripture as mythical or allegorical rather than about actual people in real places at a certain time in history if we divorce the text from the land in which it is set.
So I’ve decided to become more a more geographically minded student of the Bible. Over the next few blogs, I’ll be exploring biblical people, places and events that occurred in the lands of the Bible. (I use the plural, “lands,” because much of the bible is set outside of the current country of Israel, known to many as the Holy Land). Since my geographical journey was prompted by my brother’s recent trip, I’ll begin my “Biblical Places on Modern Maps” series with the country of Saudi Arabia.
It’s time for my annual look back at the top ten discoveries from the world of biblical archaeology. 2017 did not disappoint as many exciting artifacts were unearthed in the lands of the Bible. My criteria for this list are simple; first, discoveries must be directly related to people, places or events mentioned in Scripture or to the composition of Scripture (as opposed to the many discoveries that are made in Bible lands which teach us much about the different cultures; these discoveries are helpful too, but I’ve chosen to narrow the focus for my list). Secondly, they must be discoveries, as opposed to announcements. In my work for the Associates for Biblical Research writing their weekly Current Events column at biblearchaeology.org, I often note important announcements, such as the recent one to restore the stadium at ancient Laeodica, or that news report that the Temple of Artemis is falling into disrepair. To make this top ten list, it must be an actual archaeological discovery. With this in mind, these are my choices for the most exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology from the past year.
NOTE: Apologist, Dr. Kirk Durston asked me to write a guest blog responding to the Canadian Governor General’s recent mocking of people of faith who believe in divine creation.
Julie Payette, former astronaut and Canadian Governor General recently created a firestorm when she expressed her incredulity that “we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, lo and behold random process.” Coming from a well-educated, former astronaut, her opinion added force to the perception that in 2017, science (often confused with scientism) has settled all debate among surrounding the origin of life.
Her comments, with accompanying eye-roll, were not only an insult to millions of
intelligent people of faith, but to many of her former colleagues in the astronaut corps (including her own shuttle pilot for STS-96, Rick Husband) -people who are as well educated and intelligent as she is. A significant number of astronauts, past and present, are people of faith who believe there was “divine intervention” involved in creation.
It was the New York City of Asia Minor in the New Testament era. Pliny once called it,
lumen Asiae, the light of Asia.1 In the first century, only Rome, Alexandria and Antioch of Syria surpassed Ephesus in importance. It is no wonder that the apostle Paul made it the center of his ministry for three years (Acts 20:31). In fact, outside of the church in Jerusalem, one could argue that the church in Ephesus was the most prominent congregation in the first forty years of church history. From its beginnings in Acts 19 circa 52 AD, to Rev. 2, as late as 90 AD, the church in Ephesus figures prominently in Scripture as the setting for the books of Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and possibly the epistles of John. It also enjoyed some of the greatest Bible teachers of its day, including Paul, Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and John. Given the number of verses written to Ephesus or from Ephesus (ie. 1 Corinthians), we know more about it than almost any other city mentioned in the New Testament.
Today 200 archaeological specialists from over 20 countries spend time excavating at Ephesus. For the past 150 years, the ancient city that Paul, Timothy and John knew has slowly been unearthed. Indeed, Ephesus is one of the most excavated ancient cities with some of the best preserved ruins. This gives us an excellent opportunity to test the reliability of Scripture. When we compare the Ephesus of Scripture with the Ephesus that is being uncovered, we find that the Bible and archaeology tell the same story.2
Imagine you’re sitting at the desk of a renowned biblical archaeologist. In front of you are his field notes and several important artifacts relating to biblical people, places and events. You now have the opportunity to investigate the archaeological evidence for the reliability of the Bible first-hand in a tangible way.
I never set out to have a radio show. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar. Then Ron Hughes, from Hope Stream Radio (HSR) contacted me. He’d heard though a mutual friend of my work for the folks at the Associates for Biblical Research (biblearchaeology.org) and thought it would make an interesting show for HSR. Starting in the fall of 2016 and running through June 2017, I recorded over 25 podcasts (each five-to-ten minutes in length) for HSR.
I remember the frantic call I received in the spring of 2005 from the coordinator of Spring Folly Youth Retreat. “Help me,” he said. “I don’t know how to book a band. Could you book the band?” I had never booked a band either, but I’d always wanted to, so on short notice and a small budget, we booked a great group of young guys from Ottawa called Midday Blackout.1
It’s now a yearly exercise to look for good, Canadian Christian rock bands to play at Spring Folly. We haven’t always booked a Canadian band – we’ve had a few American bands like Rae, This Beautiful Republic, and Stellar Kart – but I’m partial to giving Canadian Christian bands the publicity. There’s some great, Canadian musical talent!
With Spring Folly right around the corner again, I’m in the midst of last minute details with Manafest (who will be live in concert on Sat. April 29th at 8:00 p.m at Central Algoma Secondary School – Tickets are $20 at the door for the public…shameless plug, I know). I also start my annual preliminary search for bands to play next year (although I usually don’t book them until the late summer/early fall).
All of this has given me the idea for this blog: “The 7 Best Canadian Christian Rock Bands.”
For Christians, Easter represents the climactic event in all of human history – the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Critics contend that it is a mythical story, based more on fiction than fact. Some even go so far as to accuse Christianity of stealing the “death-and-resurrection-of-a-god” motif from other religions (although scholars have rightly pointed out that stories of the death and resurrection of other gods, such as Dionysus and Adonis, post-date Christianity, so if anyone did the stealing, it was the pagan religions who “borrowed” the motif from Christianity1).
Archaeology is one field of study that must be considered in determining whether the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the gospel accounts in the Bible, are actual historical events. Over past 150 years, archaeological excavations in Israel have yielded much evidence for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Excavations have confirmed many elements of the Christmas story, his ministry in Galilee and Judea, particularly in the Jewish synagogues, and the fact that the world in which Jesus lived has been so accurately described in the gospels.2 However, nowhere is the evidence so overwhelming as it is when one studies the details of the historical accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is a brief summary of the archaeological evidence for Easter.
When I was a teenager, I received a beautiful, leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible as a prize at church. One of the resources it had at the end, just before the concordance and maps, was an “Archaeological Supplement,” written by Dr. G. Frederick Owens. It was a fascinating, faith-boosting experience to read about the excavation of the very sites I was reading about in the Bible.
Thus began my fascination with the archaeology of the Holy Land. The Indiana Jones movies only fueled this interest.
Now that I’m writing regular updates on current events in the world of biblical archaeology for the Associates For Biblical Research (shameless plug: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/currentevents.aspx), I’m sometimes asked where I find my information. Others have asked if there are any good resources that describe discoveries in archaeology which demonstrate the historical reliability of the Bible. In answer to those questions, I share this blog with some of the resources I’ve found helpful.