Where Science and the Bible intersect

I’m a faith person.  The Bible says I have to be a faith person: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  A lot of my Christian friends have blind faith.  But my constitution demands evidence of the truth or the goodness of something before I throw my support behind it.  Fortunately for people like me, God and His people over the millenniums of time have left a lot of evidence.  I’m always in the research mode and my sensors are set on high for any news report that purports to demonstrate a link between scientific discoveries and Biblical history or prophesy.

This year alone, FoxNews.com has reported on several archaeological excavations that claim to prove a variety of stories from the Bible.  This worries a lot of scholars like Professor Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University who says he’s concerned that archaeologists are simply relying too heavily on the Bible itself as a source of evidence to initiate their digs and to interpret their findings.

He can probably blame 19th century men like Edward Robinson and General Sir Charles Warren.  In 1838, Robinson was the first to investigate the Holy Land, when he and his missionary friend Ali Smith roamed the country and identified some of the most important biblical sites.  And between 1867 and 1870, Warren conducted the first thorough survey of the Temple Mount and its environs.  His finds were meticulously recorded for the benefit of future generations to follow.

But the true renaissance in Israel of archaeologists looking for historical evidence of biblical stories began in 1968, about a year after the Six-Day-War.  And it’s continued in earnest into the 21st century.   The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls two decades earlier, which validated much of the Hebrew Bible, undoubted influenced these archaeologists’ interest in the Holy Land.  The area of the Temple mount specifically has long been the focal point of geographical and historical studies. The Ophel Mound in Jerusalem sits at the heart of Biblical archaeology and the site’s rich research history continues to yield incredible discoveries to this day.

Ophel, by the way, means fortified hill or risen area, similar to the Greek term Acropolis.  The Ophel Mound in the City of David, generally considered to have been the original Jerusalem, is beyond the southern edge of the Temple Mount, with the Tyropoeon Valley on its west, the Hinnom valley to the south, and the Kidron Valley on the east. The valley separating the Ophel from what is currently referred to as the Old City of Jerusalem was once deep, but now lies hidden beneath the debris of centuries.

Anyway, a few days ago, when I saw another one of these stories about a discovery relating to the Ophel Mound, my interest was peaked – and I wanted to share it with others.  www.foxnews.com/science/2013/07/31/3000-year-old-inscription-translated-biblical-history/#ixzz2aid5dssb.  The story focused on the fresh translation of a mysterious language by an ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert named Douglas Petrovich.  Petrovich claims to have cracked the code for inscriptions written on jugs and monuments found across Israel in recent years.  His analysis characterizes the language as the oldest form of written Hebrew.  An earlier interpretation had presumed that the inscriptions were Canaanite in origin.  If Petrovich’s analysis proves true, it would be evidence of the accuracy of Old Testament tales.  If Hebrew as a written language existed in the 10th century (the time of David and Solomon), the ancient Israelites were recording their history in real time as opposed to writing it down several hundred years later.

The key to Petrovich’s translation is an inscription on a 10th century B.C. jug that was discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last year, which has been labeled “the Ophel Inscription.”  However, the same script has parallels from several other sites, including Tel Batash/Timnah, Izbet Zartah, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Tel Fekheriyeh just to name a few.  So there are profound ramifications in this discovery for our understanding of the Bible.

Of course there are many who do not like to mix “the hard facts of science,” with stories from the Bible.  When a similar inscription was found in 2008 at a site many now call one of King David’s palaces, Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein said romantic notions of the Bible shouldn’t cloud scientific methods, and he warned the press against the “revival in the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper.”  Archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel who recently led a ten-year excavation of the possible palace of King David, overlooking the valley where the Hebrew king victoriously smote the giant Goliath, admits that “… there is a revolution in this type of inscription being found.”  But he summarily dismissed it as “like a [cellphone] text.”  In his opinion, the writing on the jug is just a type of shorthand farmers of the 10th century used, and not an official way of communication that was passed on.

I’m always amazed that so-called experts, with similar backgrounds and training, can look at the exact same evidence and come up with conclusions that are 180 degrees opposite to each other.  And that’s the case here.  In Petrovich’s words, “It is just the climate among scholars that they want to attribute as little as possible to the ancient Israelites.”  In my opinion, I think it’s simply a fear throughout the post-modern scientific community and academia of anything that purports to make the Old and New Testaments into historical accounts of real-life events.  And that fear seems to be magnified several degrees in the face of anything that serves to connect the dots between the events described in the Bible and relating to Christian doctrine.

But I ask, what’s wrong with relying on the Bible to initiate archaeological, or any other scientific discoveries?  In the past, it was the norm for Western scientists to look to the Bible to lead them in taking that first step toward better understanding their natural world.  Matthew Maury the 19th century father of oceanography, is a good example.  He noticed the expression “paths of the sea” in Psalm 8:8 written 2,800 years before his time and said, ”If God said there were paths in the sea, I am going to find them.”  He took God at His word and went looking for these paths.  We are indebted to his discovery of the warm and cold continental currents. And other early scientists like Galileo believed that the Bible contains scientific truths and that it is the function of wise interpreters to discover these truths.

If you’re like me, you want to see and touch the evidence that you’re reading about.  With regard to the Ophel inscription, here’s the next best thing: Douglas Petrovich’s analysis of the Ophel inscription www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2013/07/25/New-Find-Jerusalems-Oldest-Hebrew-Inscription.aspx#Article and two videos made by students who assisted the archaeologist working the site where the recent discoveries were made

Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has excavated in ancient Jerusalem for over 30 years.  She directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.  In 2009-2010, Herbert W. Armstrong College students volunteered on the first phase of the Ophel Excavation directed by Dr. Mazar.  The first half of the second phase of the excavation ran from August to December 2012, with over twenty representatives from the college assisting Dr. Mazar.  Watch the excavation in action! http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/video-inside-the-2012-ophel-excavations/

In April 2013, Dr. Mazar reopened the second phase of her Ophel Excavation, uncovering the ruins of King Solomon’s complex near the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This May, the college sent fourteen students to Jerusalem to volunteer on the dig. These digs have centered around a cistern from the Second Temple period as well as some underground caverns and tunnels. The current assumption is that the cistern collected rain water for public use during the time of King Herod.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions that many of the Jews hid in underground caverns and tunnels during the time of the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem around 70AD. It is possible that some of these tunnels that are mentioned in the video are the same ones mentioned by Josephus. http://exploringbiblelands.com/2013/07/03/more-information-on-the-ophel-excavations/

 

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