Friday, September 03, 2010

Archaeological Support for Scripture

This Colson commentary covers some new developments concerning the age of Jerusalem.

I am redating this post because of Paul Tobin's sweeping claim that archaeology, at least since the 1970s, has provided no support for Scripture, and, in particular, his claim that archaeological evidence undermines the Biblical claim that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were substantial.


Randy Olds said...

From the article " historian Paul Johnson says, the confirming evidence for scriptural accuracy is mounting—so much so that the skeptics, not the Christians, must fear the further course of scientific discovery."

While findings such as this are exciting to the believer, I really don't think that the skeptics will be much impressed.

As a believer, findings such as these are akin to discovering the tombstone of a distant ancestor in a faraway land while conducting a genealogical research. You already knew that your great-great-great grandfather so-and-so existed but now you have seen the tombstone with your own eyes. It is exciting and nostalgic at the same time, but not really a revelation.

For the non-believer, a new archeological find supporting the Bible is sort of like viewing the tombstone of someone of whom you have no relation to whatsoever. It's kind of like a 'so what, big deal' sort of thing.

For the mythologists, I really don't think that there is any kind of discovery that will convince them that there is even a kernel of truth to be found in scripture. They will ALWAYS find some means of discrediting the discovery. For the neo-atheist and hardcore mythologist, there is always some loophole that they will find to convince themselves that God isn't real and that the Bible is an elaborate hoax.

It seems to me that there are many who, even if they were to be in a large group witnessing the second return of Christ, would simply chalk it up to a mass hallucination brought on by hysteria.

Nice article though, wish I could go and see the ruins.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Olds,

I am a former non-believer, hard core skeptic and mythologist.

While new archeological evidences didn't "turn" me, they weren't unimportant either. As evidence mounted, I became more and more open. The fewer things there were for me to latch my skepticism onto, the harder it was for me to continue to ignore the "knock at my door".

Doctor Logic said...

It's like discovering that Transylvania really exists, and concluding that Dracula must have been a real vampire.

When you put together a book, you don't generally lie about the mundane stuff. You might be confused or ignorant about some mundane stuff, but you want the story to be as believable as possible. If I sit down to write a story about Sylvia Browne's magical powers, and the psychic miracles she has performed, I'm not going to say that the Empire State Building is in Pittsburgh or that Indiana Jones is the Mayor of New York. Yet, the fact that I claim Bloomberg is the Mayor of New York won't make Browne's "miracles" any more believable 2000 years from now.

It is unclear whether King Arthur was a real person. Some people believe him to be completely mythological. Suppose we unearth evidence that in Wales that King Arthur was a real person. Should this lead us to believe that he pulled a sword from a stone as a child or that he had a magician named Merlin who aged in reverse? Or that he battled monsters or forces from another world? Probably not.

Randy Olds said...


It is refreshing to hear your story. I'm not saying that there is not a place for apologetics, because apologetics is what turned me from an agnostic into a believer in Christ. I was a "softcore" mythologist myself.

I, too heard the 'knock on my door' for a long time and it was authors like C.S. Lewis who steered me to the point where I could finally believe.

I was speaking more to the militant atheists who yell 'flying spaghetti monster' whenever Jesus is named. I get sometimes get weary of hearing them out-of-hand dismiss new evidence that confirms things that we as believers have gone on faith and then have confirmed such as things like this article describes.

Augustine once said that “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

It is sometimes discouraging to see the reward of our faith in a new discovery irreverently trampled by those in the "New Atheist" crowd.

Randy Olds

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

To Doctor Logic,

I am so glad you brought up King Arthur. By chance, Victor and I have been conducting a little side-conversation on this very subject outside of this website. It so happens that I am an amateur expert in the field of the Arthurian legend and its development over time. I also have professional experience as a military historian, working for the defense department. It’s been a hobby of mine for decades now to dig into the historical roots of the Arthurian legend. While living in England, I had the opportunity to visit most of the sites connected with the story.

Arthur was indeed a minor historical figure, living in the Fifth Century. We actually know quite a bit about him nowadays (including the fact that his name was not Arthur!). But what is really interesting is how the story developed through the centuries. Contemporary accounts of his exploits are terse, factual, and quite devoid of myth. As generations pass, and writers with varying political and literary agendas arise, his story begins to absorb details from related figures in history (such as Charlemagne, El Cid, William the Conqueror, and various very real medieval knights and crusaders). Like tree rings, the story expands and expands, all the while losing none of the earlier versions. They just get absorbed into the subsequent interpretations.

But what a different development is seen in early Christianity. The initial eyewitness accounts of the events of Christ’s time on Earth are detailed and comprehensive, and all written down within a very few decades. Multiple attempts to expand on the story (the Gnostic Gospels, etc.) are resisted, and do not have a lasting effect. They are NOT absorbed into the narrative. And then a very curious thing happens. Unlike the Arthurian legend, all such attempts to embellish the story cease almost immediately (historically speaking), and the “canonical” storyline remains unaltered for two millennia.

This is why I have always been mystified by the idea in the popular press that the recent re-discoveries of early manuscripts such as the so-called “Gospel of Judas” somehow cast doubt on the orthodox narrative. Quite the reverse, the existence of these writings testify to how scrupulous the Early Church was in “sticking to the truth”, and avoiding the mythologizing of the Life of Christ.

Tim said...


I find your comment about Dracula baffling. The specific claim of Tobin's that Vic singled out is

that archaeological evidence undermines the Biblical claim that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were substantial.

There is nothing supernatural involved in claiming that their kingdoms were, in fact, substantial. And that is precisely what the discovery of the wall suggests, as the article expressly says:

“If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century B.C.”

That’s a direct contradiction to the views of some scholars who believe, as the AP puts it, “that David’s [and Solomon’s] monarchy was largely mythical and that there was no strong government to speak of in that era.”

Victor Reppert said...

In fairness to Doctor Logic, he wrote his comment when I posted it originally, and before I applied the points in the passage to Tobin. The Tobin application was added today.

Victor Reppert said...

Tobin wrote: The date normally ascribed to King David's reign is 1005-970 BCE. And although no one doubts the existence of King David, there is no archaeological evidence for his kingdom beyond his existence.

Doctor Logic said...


Quite the reverse, the existence of these writings testify to how scrupulous the Early Church was in “sticking to the truth”, and avoiding the mythologizing of the Life of Christ.

Sects have a lot of interests, and truth is never the most important of them. Maintaining control and squelching dissent are far more important. It's not unusual for a sect to despise breakaway sects more than completely foreign ones. For example, in Islam, it's worse to be an ex-Muslim than someone ignorant of Islam.

Don't you agree that when a story is owned and perpetuated by a sect, that sect will resist revisions to the story wherever possible?

Now, this resistance to change can be useful. If the original story is true, then it is useful to contemporary truth-seekers for that story to have been maintained unchanged. However, this tendency of sects to preserve their early documents doesn't help if the original story is false.

Consider the Mormon church. They are extremely reluctant to change their founding story. Imagine, if the LDS accounts were the only significant surviving documents from 19th century America, should we then believe all facets of the LDS story are true?

You seem to be saying that stories are more credible when they are protected by churches with a vested interest in maintaining uniformity and consistency. So, the fact that the Mormon church protects its stories from revision makes those stories more believable. I think that's patently false. The best you could say would be that the present religious text is a well-preserved version of the founding document of the religion, not that the founding document was true.

The story of Noah's ark is another example. This story has been rigorously protected, but it's also obviously false.

What we see in Christianity is that the formation of the church froze the early account, the church subsequently seeking out and destroying all competing texts. But the same would have happened to the Arthur story had there been a Church of the Round Table.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Dr. Logic,

Actually my view is a bit more nuanced than your caricature of it – “You seem to be saying that stories are more credible when they are protected by churches with a vested interest in maintaining uniformity and consistency.” For you see, I actually do believe in the Holy Spirit, and I do believe that He has guided the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church throughout the centuries in protecting and proclaiming the Truth. Although that is not a position appropriate for debating on a website such as Dangerous Idea, it is nonetheless important for me to put my cards on the table before posting to this site. Victor and I agree and disagree on many topics, but our discussions are a lot more profitable (and fun) when we don’t enter them with hidden agendas.

But my point about the Arthurian legend is how radically different its development is from that of the New Testament. They belong to entirely distinct classes of narrative, and I believe it is instructive to examine their diverging histories to see the fundamental differences between the origins of myth and the proclamation of the Gospel. The two story lines have so few points in common that one is forced conclude that they do not belong to the same narrative species. Those arguing that the NT events are mythical are up against an enormous (indeed, insurmountable) difficulty, which is that the fundamental nature of the two narrative categories are completely different. To insist that the NT is myth is like maintaining that there is no essential difference between The Lord of the Rings and Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War.

Walter said...

To insist that the NT is myth is like maintaining that there is no essential difference between The Lord of the Rings and Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War.

Many of us unbelievers do not think the NT is pure myth. I personally tend to think of the gospels as embellished hagiographies that contain some real history.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter, I respect (and disagree with) your point of view. It is one that can be rationally maintained, although I also believe it cannot stand up under sufficient scrutiny. (But that's another topic altogether.)

But the people who have no leg to stand upon whatsoever are the out and out skeptics, such as wearingly repetitive Steven Carr, who can't seem to grasp the distinction between literary types - who indeed have no understanding of the basic definitions within the subject matter.

But once you realize what genus and species the Gospels belong to in the Kingdom of Literature, then you cannot with a shred of intellectual honesty treat them as anything other than historical narratives. I will grant your point that simply by categorizing them as such does not guarantee either accuracy or authorial integrity (for instance, Churchill's WWII books are a good case in point of historical narrative absolutely groaning under the weight of spin and self promotion), but again, that is a subject for an entirely different discussion).

Tim said...

Vic & DL,

My apologies -- I wasn't paying attention to the dates.

Nevertheless, the point remains that one can build a case for an extraordinary event in stages, and not every stage has, as its conclusion, "Therefore, stupendous event E occurred."

And even if a compelling overall case is not forthcoming, the interim steps may be sound.

Doctor Logic said...



Through my discussions with Christians and through the research that I did in conjunction with those discussions, I have been persuaded that Jesus very probably did exist, and that shortly after Jesus's death, his followers became convinced that they saw him risen from the dead.

However, I still think it is orders-of-magnitude more likely that the Resurrection didn't happen. There are more plausible naturalistic scenarios that explain the facts.

There are several Christian claims that I see repeated here at DI that drive me bananas. First, there's the claim that there were independent witnesses to the Resurrection. There weren't. You have essentially one account because the authors were part of the same cabal. The collaborated at every stage.

Second, there's the claim that the authors were average, skeptical Joes, not likely to have been martyrs until after the Resurrection. This is supported by... the authors' self-description!

Third, there's the claim that had the first Christians been lying, their story would have been debunked. Considering that debunking has so little effect in our modern, more-skeptical culture, why should we think it would have been more effective in the first century? Moreover, even if debunking was as effective then as it is now, it would make no difference. The Christian (self-)account is the only one still remaining. If the Mormons wrote the only history books from the 19th century, would it make sense to say that their story must have been true or else it would have been debunked?