Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jesus' Words Backed by Archaeology: The Stones Are Crying Out

Holy Week is an ideal time to post examples of the many historical, archaeological and scientific confirmations of the Biblical witness to the Christian Faith, which itself is part of the Living Tradition of the Orthodox Church. This is especially important when it comes to the challenge posed by Islam, as the Koran claims that Jesus was not crucified:
In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him — they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him. (Sura 4:157)

This patently false assertion in the supposedly divine Koran goes against not only the Gospel accounts, but even the historical witness of first century Roman and Jewish historians, as I note in my book, Facing Islam (p. 57):
...From a purely secular standpoint alone, Jesus the Christ is written of by numerous Roman and Jewish historians from the mid first-century onwards, including Thallus (who wrote circa 52 AD about Jesus’ crucifixion and the darkness over the land), Mara Bar-Serapion (writing ca. 70 AD), the renowned Jewish historian Josephus (ca. 93 AD), the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 110-120 AD), and others.  As Orthodox Christians, we of course rely primarily on the integrity of the Apostolic witness, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Holy Tradition of the Church for our knowledge and understanding of the life, ministry and Person of Jesus Christ.

For an excellent study of the validity of the Gospel accounts, I strongly recommend 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony', by Richard Bauckham. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy and share the below article as we journey with the Lord to His cross and resurrection.

Jesus' Words Backed by Archaeology: The Stones Are Crying Out
by Charles Colson, Charisma News via Pravoslavie
February 7, 2015

A few years ago, people exploring caves outside Jerusalem came across the find of a lifetime: an ancient burial cave containing the remains of a crucified man. This find is only one in a series of finds that overturns a century-old scholarly consensus.

That consensus held that the Gospels are almost entirely proclamation and contain little, if any, real history. The remains belonged to a man who had been executed in the first century A.D., that is, from the time of Jesus.

As Jeffrey Sheler writes in his book Is the Bible True? the skeleton confirms what the evangelists wrote about Jesus' death and burial in several important ways.

First, location—scholars had long doubted the biblical account of Jesus' burial. They believed that crucified criminals were tossed in a mass grave and then devoured by wild animals. But this man, a near contemporary of Jesus, was buried in the same way the Bible says Jesus was buried.

Then there's the physical evidence from the skeleton. The man's shinbones appeared to have been broken. This confirms what John wrote about the practice of Roman executioners. They would break the legs of the crucified to hasten death, something from which Jesus, already dead, was spared.

This point is particularly noteworthy, since scholars have long dismissed the details of John's Passion narrative as theologically motivated embellishments. Another part of John's Gospel that archaeology has recently corroborated is the story of Jesus healing the lame man in John 5.

John describes a five-sided pool just inside the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the sick came to be healed. Since no other document of antiquity—including the rest of the Bible—mentions such a place, skeptics have long argued that John simply invented the place. But as Sheler points out, when archaeologists decided to dig where John said that the pool had been located, they found a five-sided pool. What's more, the pool contained shrines to the Greek gods of healing.

Apparently John didn't make up the pool after all. The dismissal of biblical texts without bothering to dig points to a dirty little secret about a lot of scholarly opinion: Much of the traditional suspicion of the biblical text can only be called a prejudice.

That is, it's a conclusion arrived at before one has the facts. Scholars long assumed that the Bible, like other documents of antiquity, was essentially propaganda, what theologian Rudolf Bultmann called "kerygma" or proclamation.

But this prejudice does an injustice to biblical faith. Central to that faith are history and memory.
Christians believe that God has acted, and continues to act, in history. For us, remembering what God has done is an act of worship—something that brings us closer to God.

Thus, while these discoveries in the desert may come as a surprise to some skeptics, they're no surprise to Christians. While archeology alone cannot bring a person to faith, these finds are an eloquent argument for not dismissing the truth of Scripture before at least examining the evidence, because, as we are learning every day, Jesus meant it when He said, "The very stones will cry out."