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ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES

RECENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES

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Archaeologist Jonathan L. Reed has prepared a personal list of the "top ten" archaeological discoveries in Palestine and Israel that impact on our understanding of the Christian Scriptures and the life of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). 1 The first five objects in his list are of specific objects with direct or indirect links to the Christian Scriptures:

bulletJoseph Caiaphas' (aka Joseph Kaifa's) ossuary: In 1st century CE Palestine, when people died, their bodies were generally laid in a man-made cave, and left to decompose. When this process was completed, the family reburied the bones in a stone container -- an ossuary. In 1990-NOV, the ossuary of the high priest Caiaphas was found. He was aged about 60 at the time of his death. He is mentioned in Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:57-68; Luke 3:2; John 3:2, John 18:13-28; and Acts 4:6. Caiaphas was also mentioned in the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. The Christian Scriptures state that Caiaphas officiated at the trial(s) of Yeshua before the Sanhedrin; Acts mentions his presence at the interrogation of Peter. 2,3
bulletPontius Pilate's inscription: An inscription on a building stone was found at Caesarea Maritima, a sea port in Samaria between Galilee and Judea. It stated that Pilate had "dedicated a Tiberium, a public structure built in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius." 4 It identified Pilate as a prefect. During a renovation of a theatre during the 4th century CE, the stone had been inverted to hide the inscription and used as a ordinary building block. The finding was made in 1962 (one source says 1961) by Italian archaeologists. Pilate is mentioned extensively in the Christian Scriptures: in Mark 15; Matthew 27; Luke 3, 13 and 23; John 19; Acts 3,4 and 13; and 1 Timothy 6. He was recorded as having sentenced Yeshua to death by crucifixion in response to mob pressure, even though he could not find any criminal act that Yeshua committed.
bulletApostle Peter's House: Franciscan archaeologists believe that a simple one-room courtyard house in Capernaum, on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee, once belonged to the Apostle Simon Peter and his wife. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Peter moved to Rome and become the first pope. Other Christian denominations hold conflicting beliefs. The archaeologists excavated the site between 1968 and 1985. In successive layers above the 1st century CE house, they found a 4th century house church, and an octagonal 5th century church. The bottom layer "is presumed to be the 'House of Simon, called Peter' reported by the Spanish pilgrim, the Lady Egeria, who visited the town sometime between 381-384 [CE] during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She described in some detail how the house of 'the prince of Apostles' had been made into a church, with its original walls still standing." 5 If true, then this would be the house mentioned in Mark 1:19.
bulletThe "Jesus Boat:" The ruins of a boat was discovered near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the mid-1980's. It was probably similar to the boat used by the fisherman Peter and Andrew, who later became disciples of Yeshua. It measures about 8 by 26 feet. The boat was removed from the lake and placed in a conservation pool where it was gradually impregnated with a special wax material for almost a decade. It was then transferred to a museum at Kibbutz Ginnosar, where it is currently on display. The boat has been dated to the 1st century CE by the design of pots and lamps that were found within the boat. Carbon-14 dating on the wooden planks confirmed that it was constructed circa 40 BCE. It was probably used throughout much of the 1st century CE, and may have been similar to the boat mentioned in Mark 1:19, 4:37, 5:21; and Matthew 4:21.
bulletThe skeleton of a crucified man: Although many thousands of Jews were crucified by the Roman occupying army during the 1st and 2nd century CE, almost of their bodies were discarded in a dump to be eaten by scavengers. This was a calculated design by the Romans to increase the horror and revulsion associated with crucifixion. But in 1968, the remains of a crucified man were found in a burial cave at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, northeast of Jerusalem. A group of five ossuaries was discovered in the cave. One of them contained the bones of two men and a young child. One of the men, aged from 24 to 28 years, had been crucified during the 1st century CE. A 4.5" (11.4 cm) nail pierced the victim's right heel bone. A small piece of wood had been placed between his heel and the head of the nail, to prevent him from tearing his leg off while hanging on the stake or cross. "His arms had been tied, not nailed..." -- a common technique of the Roman Army at the time. His name was Yehochanan (John in English). 6 In most cases, the soldiers would break the legs of crucifixion victims in order to hasten their death via asphyxiation. Yehochanan's legs were deliberately fractured, apparently when he was still alive, but near death. 7

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More recent discoveries: both apparently forgeries:

bulletJames' ossuary: A remarkable archaeological find surfaced in the antiquities market in the mid 1980's. It may be the earliest hard evidence of the existence of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). Christianity Today reported in its OCT-21 edition and the Bible Archaeological Review (BAR) reported in its NOV-DEC edition that an ossuary (bone box) dating from the 1st century CE has been found with the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." James, Joseph, and Jesus (actually Yeshua) were common names at the time. Experts originally believed that there was a remote possibility exists that the inscription refers to the biblical family of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and their two sons Jesus and James. However, linguistics experts subsequently "provided evidence showing that the inscription was dated centuries after the time of Jesus." 8,9,10,11  More details
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Jehoash inscription: This is a rectangular sandstone tablet, with about a dozen lines  of text in ancient Hebrew. The inscription discusses repairs to King Solomon's temple. If it were authentic, it would have been a unique piece of physical evidence which would have confirmed the accuracy of portions of 2 Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It would also have profound political implications, because it would have verified that the temple of Solomon was located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The tablet is apparently a fake.  More details

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John the Baptist cave: Results of the excavation of a cave were announced on 2004-AUG, approximately at the same time as a book by the head of the expedition was released. The cave is located in a kibbutz to the west of Jerusalem. It was constructed circa 650 BCE and used by Jews for ritual purposes. Some images have been carved into the wall which apparently represent John the Baptist. Some archaeologists believe that John baptized people in the cave. However, there is no evidence that he ever visited the place. More details.

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Reference:

  1. John D. Crossan & Jonathan L. Reed, "Excavating Jesus: Beneath the stones, behind the texts," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "Chapter Two -- Did Jesus and the Apostles Speak Greek?," at: http://www.ntgreek.org/answers/
  3. "Joseph Kaifa [Iosif Kaifa] (aka Caiaphas)," at: http://cweb.middlebury.edu/bulgakov/Kaifa.html
  4. "Fallen Empires: Archeological Discoveries and the Bible -- The Pilate Inscription," at: http://www.bible-history.com/empires/
  5. "Capernaum: The Church of the House of Peter," at: http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0gsi0
  6. K.C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman, "Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Strutures and Social Conflicts," at: http://www.stolaf.edu/people/kchanson
  7. Nicu Haas, "Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv'at ha-Mivtar," Israel Exploration Journal 20, (1970), Pages 38 &39
  8. Gordon Govier, "Stunning New Evidence that Jesus Lived: Scholars link first-century bone box to James, brother of Jesus," Christianity Today, 2002-OCT-21, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  9. Jeordan Legon, "Scholars: Oldest evidence of Jesus?," CNN, 2002-OCT-21, at: http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/
  10. Guy Gugliota, "Archeological link to Jesus found, expert says," Toronto Star, Toronto Canada, 2002-OCT-22, Page A2.
  11. Debbie Berman, "Archaeologists skeptical on authenticity of Temple tablet," IsraelInsider,  2003-JAN-17, at: http://web.israelinsider.com/  

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Copyright © 2001 to  2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-OCT-21
Latest update: 2004-AUG-19
Author: B.A. Robinson.

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