What is biblical archeology doing now? What interesting things have archaeologists unearthed in the past few years? And what does their discovery have to do with the Bible? About this - in the material of the candidate of theology Sergei Vasilievich Kovach, teacher of the Kiev Theological Academy.
1. Found a secret Christian temple in Laodicea
The ancient city of Laodicea, located in the territory of modern Turkey, is mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 2: 1, 4:16), as well as in the Apocalypse of John the Theologian (Rev. 3:14). However, until relatively recently, there was no archaeological evidence that at the time of the apostolic preaching (that is, in the first years and decades after the Ascension of Jesus Christ, 30-80s of the 1st century A.D.) there could really be a Christian Church there. ... During excavations conducted since 2003 under the leadership of the Turkish archaeologist Professor Jelal Shimsek, among the ruins of a large house, a secret temple of the middle of the 1st century was discovered, which was presumably used by the first Christians.
It should be said that earlier Professor Shimshek had already found a Christian temple in Laodicea, but that one was not built earlier than the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (first half of the 4th century), who put an end to the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. And the temple, now discovered, was located in a large private twenty-room house located next to the Laodicean theater and owned by wealthy people. In fact, it was an impromptu prayer room, which was located in the eastern hall of the house, originally reserved for women (the western hall was intended for men) and, apparently, was secretly used as a temple. Although mass persecutions against Christians at that time had not yet begun, they were already persecuted by the Jews (and their communities were also in Laodicea), and sometimes even pagans.
The fact that the temple was a converted living room also influenced its layout: it was oriented to the north, not to the east.
In addition, Jelal Shimshek discovered in Laodicea a fragment of an antique column depicting a Jewish menorah (seven-branched candlestick) of the late Roman period and with a Christian cross, which was depicted on the column later, in the early Byzantine period. This gave researchers the right to assume that the Laodicean Christian Church originally originated within the walls of the Jewish synagogue. Thus, the events described in the Bible (in particular, the numerous sermons of the Apostle Paul in the synagogues of the cities of Asia Minor), once again received a serious archaeological foundation.
2. Deciphered the earliest known mention of Hebrews
Moab is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible as a state unfriendly to Hebrew, located on the territory of modern Jordan. No one has doubted its historicity since the 19th century, namely, since the now widely known stele of the Moabite king Mesh (IX century BC) was discovered. The Moabites spoke practically the same language as the ancient Hebrews, and the Moabite inscriptions, unfortunately, are extremely rare for archaeologists. However, whenever researchers do find them, the Moabite texts force them to take a special look at the text of the Bible.
The recent deciphering of an inscription on the Moabite altar from the village of Khirbat-Ataruz in Jordan (IX-VIII centuries BC), discovered back in 2010, was no exception. Among other things, the inscription tells about 64 shekels (about 1 kilogram) of bronze, taken by the Moabites from the Hebrew (ibrin) during the conquest of the city of Atarot (Ataruz). The word ibrin, which had a dismissive connotation among the Moabites, can be considered the oldest known non-biblical mention of Jews in general. In the same sense the word “Jews” is used in the Bible by the Philistine Goliath (1 Samuel 17: 8) almost three hundred years before the Ataruz inscription.
In the context of biblical history, this Moabite inscription is remarkable in that it allows tracing a wide range of meanings in which the word "Hebrew" was used at different times, from a dismissive nickname to the ethnonym itself (the name of an ethnic group), which the Hebrews eventually began to apply to themselves ... If the Moabites called the Hebrews “Hebrews” out of hostility, then a contemporary of the Ataruz inscription, the biblical prophet Jonah (IX-VIII centuries BC), first calls himself a Jew (עברי) simply to explain to which people (עם) it belongs (Jonah 1: 8-9). Thus, at the border of the 9th and 8th centuries BC, the word “Hebrew” was used on the territory of the Israelite and Judean kingdoms, as well as bordering states, simultaneously in two senses. And in the end, it completely lost its former disdainful connotation.
3. An end is put on the question of what kind of people the Philistines are
As in the case of the Moabites, the historicity of the Philistines repeatedly mentioned in the Bible in our time is no longer questioned. But there are many theories of the origin of this people, but until recently they all relied only on indirect arguments. For a long time, archaeologists were convinced that the Philistines were not the indigenous people of Palestine, but arrived here during the so-called Bronze Age catastrophe, which was accompanied by the mass migration of the peoples of the Aegean Basin and Asia Minor (XIII-XII centuries BC) ... And just recently, in 2019, scientists were able to sequence (recover) the DNA of the Philistines from their remains, found in a burial on the territory of Ashkelon, one of the cities of the so-called Philistine Pentapolis. The burial dates back to the 12th century BC and fits into the chronological framework of that very migration, which allowed scientists to put an end to the question of the origin of the Philistines.
The analysis showed that the DNA of the remains from the Philistine burials almost completely coincides with the DNA of the populations of Greece, Spain and Sardinia, dating from the Iron Age (from the 9th – 7th centuries BC and ending with the 1st century AD). It is the natives of these territories that are mentioned, among others, in a number of paleographic monuments of Ancient Egypt, reporting on the invasion of the "peoples of the sea" in the XIII-XII centuries. BC It is noteworthy that several centuries later the Philistines completely assimilated with the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan (this was the name of the territory of Palestine before the arrival of the Hebrews there, headed by Joshua - Ed.), and the Philistine burials of this period no longer contain traces of DNA those very "sea peoples".
4. The inscription on the "ring of Pontius Pilate" was read - a new confirmation of his reality as a historical personUntil 1961, there was no solid evidence that Pontius Pilate actually existed, let alone his position as prefect of the Roman province of Judea. Pontius Pilate was mentioned by some ancient historians (in particular, Josephus Flavius, Tacitus and Philo of Alexandria), but modern researchers for the most part were skeptical about their evidence. This skepticism was dispelled only when Italian archaeologists discovered a slab in Palestinian Caesarea with fragments of the Latin words "... S TIBERIÉVM ... PON] TIVSPILATVS ... ECTVSIVDAE ..." - apparently meaning that Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea during the time of Emperor Tiberius, the very one in which Christ was crucified.
However, a year before this discovery, in 1960, a ring of copper alloy was discovered near the ancient fortress of King Herod, which also contained a certain inscription. Due to the strongest corrosion of the metal, the inscription remained unread for almost 60 years, and only in 2019, using the most modern research methods, archaeologists managed to recognize the Greek letters "ΠΙΛΑΤΟ" inscribed on the ring. Most researchers agree that the ring did not belong to Pilate personally (a copper alloy would be too simple a metal for a dignitary of this rank), but to someone from his inner circle - perhaps an assistant or a member of his court. Be that as it may, this find became another archaeological confirmation of the historicity of the Roman prefect, who, unwittingly, condemned the Lord Jesus Christ to death.
5. Found a fragment of a Canaanite idol similar to those described in the Bible
In 2020, Israeli archaeologist Professor Yosef Garfinkel, during excavations in Lachish, said that he had found a bronze rod in a layer of the 13th century BC, which in its shape completely repeats the rod on the small statues of the Canaanite deity El, known by that time. Professor Garfinkel put forward the version that the rod he found was part of an unpreserved "life-size" statue of Al. In addition, the archaeologist suggested that El was not the only deity of the Canaanite pantheon, in whose honor such large statues were erected, and that the very tradition of making them in pagan Canaan at that time was very widespread.
This find and the assumptions made in connection with it fit well with individual episodes of biblical history. So, in the story of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines (the ark in which the great relics of the Israelite people were kept: the tablets received by Moses from God with the commandments inscribed on them, the vessel with heavenly manna and the rod of Aaron. - Ed.), It is reported that, having come in the morning to the Ark of the Covenant, the Philistines first found the idol of the god Dagon standing nearby, lying face down in the ground, and the next day with severed limbs (1 Samuel 5: 1–4). The best fit for this description is an idol in full human growth, part of which was probably discovered by Yosef Garfinkel during the excavations of Lachish.
Postscript: What is the Meaning of All These Discoveries?
As paradoxical as it may sound, perhaps the greatest significance of biblical archeology for the Christian mission is not at all in the "proof" of the historicity of the events described in the Bible. Both in pre-revolutionary and in modern theological schools, biblical archeology helped and helps students not so much to be convinced of the authenticity of the biblical history (after all, real faith does not require one hundred percent proof), but to recreate its general historical and cultural background, get acquainted with traditions, religious and social life ancient Hebrews and the peoples surrounding Israel. Moreover, it would be more correct to speak not about biblical archeology, but about the archeology of the countries of the Middle East, since those auxiliary sciences and scientific methods that are used in our time to study archaeological artifacts make it impossible to consider it strictly in a confessional manner. And that is why all the finds made by archaeologists in Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt and other biblical territories appear before us as an indication that biblical history is an integral part of the history of the Middle East, and through it, of the whole world history.
Source: foma.ru (Russian)
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