Abraham

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officially announced details Oct. 6 on a major archaeological project in northern Israel south of Haifa near present-day Harish. The inland En Esur site has remains of a town that covered 160 acres, indicating that an estimated 6,000 residents lived there in the Early Bronze Age 5,000 years ago.

This remarkably early date for such a large settlement is an unprecedented find not only within Israel but for the entire region. Without later technological developments, that’s about as big as a municipality could have been. Not only that. The archaeologists found another settlement lying underneath En Esur that dates back 7,000 years. These towns were strategically located along an ancient trade route and with access to fresh-water springs.

The IAA team reports that the Bronze Age settlement demonstrates careful urban planning, with streets, drainage and public spaces that included a notable temple with a sizable basin that contains burned animal bones signaling ritual sacrifices, a town square, storage facilities and a mausoleum. There are many figurines, showing artistic culture and a possible religious purpose. Tools on the site are identified as Egyptian. Huge stone blocks for construction were somehow hauled from a quarry a half-mile away.

The site has long been known, but was only excavated in earnest starting in 2017 by a team led by Itai Elad, Yitzhak Paz and Dina Shalem. Work was funded by Netivei Israel, the transport infrastructure firm that is building a highway interchange at the site. Some 5,000 students volunteered to help with the massive archaeological dig.

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How do conservatives respond to archaeologists’ skepticism about Bible history?

How do conservatives respond to archaeologists’ skepticism about Bible history?

THE QUESTION:

Many archaeologists have raised skeptical questions about the Bible’s historical accounts, especially in the Old Testament. How do conservatives respond?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A September headline in London’s tabloid Daily Express proclaimed a “Bible Bombshell,” with “stunning new evidence that could prove” Joshua’s invasion of the Holy Land following the Exodus from Egypt. However, in the article the archaeologists involved, David Ben-Shlomo of Israel’s Ariel University and Ralph Hawkins of Averett University in Virginia, gave only carefully framed suggestions.

Their site has a stone enclosure for herded animals, and pottery indicating people lived outside the stone compound, presumably nomads living in long-vanished tents. The settlement dates from the early Iron Age, but testing of electrons in soil samples is needed to pinpoint whether it fits the Exodus chronology. And that wouldn’t prove these nomads were Israelites. (See below on Jericho.)

People thrill when a discovery is proclaimed as proof of the Bible, but it takes years if not decades to establish such claims. There can also be sensationalism when skeptics known as “minimalists,” Israelis among them, announce findings said to undermine the Bible. As a journalist, The Guy recommends caution toward assertions from all sides.

The pertinent archaeological maxim is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” That is, a biblical event is not contradicted if archaeologists have not (or not yet) found corroboration from physical remains, non-biblical manuscripts, or inscriptions. There’s vast unexplored terrain in Israel, where only 50 of an estimated 6,000 sites have undergone thorough examination, with limited work at another 300. Surviving evidence from ancient times is necessarily spotty and interpretations can be subjective. Scholars usually end up with circumstantial plausibility, not absolute proof or disproof.

Conservatives energetically answer the minimalists. Their magnum opus is “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” (Eerdmans) by Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool. William Hallo of Yale University said that “after decades of ‘minimalism,’ it is refreshing to have this first systematic refutation” from “a leading authority” on the relevant history.

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Why does the Bible include two different family trees for Jesus of Nazareth?

Why does the Bible include two different family trees for Jesus of Nazareth?

THE QUESTION:

In the accounts of Jesus’ Nativity in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, why are the genealogies so different?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Because there are no Christmas-y questions from readers awaiting answers, The Guy raises this Yuletide classic himself. When Matthew and Luke recount the birth of Jesus they present different genealogies with fascinating intricacies. The following can only sketch a few basics from the immense literature on this.

The Bible provides no roadmap, leaving us to ponder who was included, who was omitted, how the passages were structured, and what all this might mean. Reader comprehension is difficult due to multiple names given the same person, the lack of specific Hebrew and Greek words so that a “son-in-law” was called a “son,” legal adoption, and “levirate marriage” where a widow wed her late husband’s brother to maintain the family line.

Family trees were of keen importance for the Hebrews and carefully preserved. The central purpose in both Gospels was to establish Jesus within King David’s family line, a key qualification for recognition as the promised Messiah.

Matthew starts right off with the genealogy in the first 17 verses of chapter 1. Beginning from the patriarch Abraham, it extends through three sections of 14 generations each, down to the conclusion with “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” The passage then immediately specifies that Joseph was not the biological father because Jesus was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit (1:18-21).

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Was the Bible’s Abraham a real person or only a fictional character?

Was the Bible’s Abraham a real person or only a fictional character?

MARK’S QUESTION:

Liberal biblical scholars say Abraham never lived and was a literary invention of “priestly” writers in exile in Babylon. Since we have no archaeological data on him, how do we know he really lived?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The patriarch Abraham is all-important as the revered founding forefather and exemplar of faith in the one God, this not only for Jews and Christians but Muslims, whose Quran parallels some of the biblical account on him in Genesis 11–25. Islam believes Abraham was a prophet in the line that concluded with Muhammad. He is also Muhammad’s ancestor, just as the New Testament lists Abraham in the genealogy of Jesus.

For Orthodox Judaism, traditional Christianity, and the entirety of Islam, it’s unthinkable that Abraham would have been a fictional character. The stakes are high for the Bible, which presents the Abraham material in extensive narrative history, not obvious mythology. Even scholars who see Genesis 1-10 as mythological may think actual history begins with the patriarchs while, as Mark states, liberal religious and secular scholars question his existence.

In pondering such questions, the archaeologist’s well-worn maxim is that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Yes, no texts about Abraham apart from the Bible survived. The “Aburahana” in Egyptian texts from 1900 BC(E) is thought to be someone else. But that doesn’t prove he never lived. Remains from such a long-ago epoch are necessarily scattershot, even for grand potentates with court scribes much less Abraham, a relatively obscure figure during his lifetime and a semi-nomad who moved among locations.

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Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

JOHN ASKS:

When did circumcision start and how was God involved? How did its use evolve to today’s practice?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision of males (bris) to remove the foreskin of the penis has been a requirement ever since God designated it as a “sign of the covenant” with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). So God has been “involved” for some 4,000 years now.

Anthropologists tell us that circumcision was practiced long before Abraham, across the globe from pharaonic Egypt to aboriginal Australia. It was often a tribal “rite of passage” at puberty, and not the Bible’s sign of commitment to God performed on eight-day-old newborns. The “why” of circumcision prior to biblical times is uncertain. Macmillan’s “Encyclopedia of Religion” says contemporary experts dismiss the theories that it originated to mark captives, attract women, enhance sexual pleasure, aid hygiene, test bravery, or symbolize submission to elders or the cutting of bonds with mothers.

Jewish surgery and ceremonial are commonly the work of a specialist known as a mohel. The operation is traditionally required for adult converts as well as infants born in the faith. Though liberal Reform Judaism dropped that mandate in 1893, some of its rabbis continue the tradition. Note that any male born of a Jewish mother is deemed a Jew, even if he is not circumcised.

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