BIBLE LAND STUDIES - BLOG
In the past few years, especially since Obama was been elected president, we have heard claims by Liberal Christianity that Jesus was, in fact, a Socialist. One of the main issues they use to support this position is Jesus' attitude toward the rich and poor. They use scriptures such as "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God", (Luke 6:2) and the story of the rich ruler who Jesus instructs to give all of his money to the poor (Luke 18:22) as evidence of Jesus' endorsement of socialism. In their opinion capitalism is an economic system base on greed which allows the rich to get richer and does not allow the poor to improve their economic situation. This leads to their conclusion that a true follower of Jesus Christ could not possibly support our current capitalistic system and would naturally be a supporter of socialism. There are two basic problems with this analysis and conclusion. First, interpreting scripture in the context of our modern society leads to many misconceptions as to the true meaning of the scripture. Second, the idea that socialism is all about taking care of the poor is false. I will deal with these two issues separately.
The New Testament was written 2,000 years ago. The stories take place in a land half way
around the world from the United States and in a first-century Jewish
culture. For us to properly understand
the message of Jesus it is important for us to have knowledge of the historical
and culture context in which he lived. Jesus
was a Jewish man who spoke Hebrew or possibly Aramaic. He lived in first-century Galilee and Judea
under the imperial rule of the Roman Empire.
We cannot interpret the words of Jesus in the context of the 21st
century culture of the United States. We need to listen to Jesus' words not as
modern Christians but as first century Jews.
Socialism is a concept of our modern culture and is not a concept that a
fist-century Jew or Roman citizen would have comprehended. Defining Jesus as a socialist is an
anachronism and not useful for understanding Jesus or His teachings.
The Random House Webster's Collage Dictionary defines
socialism as follows: "A theory or system of social organization in which the
means of production and distribution of goods are owned and controlled
collectively or by the government."
Based on this definition Jesus' ministry would have been about a social
reorganization of first-century Jewish society in eastern Roman Empire. This is simply not the case. Jesus states the
purpose of his ministry very succinctly in Mark 1:14-15 - "Now after John was arrested Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good
news of God, and saying "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come
near, repent, and believe in the good news." Exactly how a first century Jewish person
would have understood what Jesus meant by stating that the Kingdom of God has
come near is still being debated by biblical scholars. In my reading of the literature I have yet to
find that socialist theory in any way helps us to understand this concept. Asking a rich person to give his wealth to
the poor and following Jesus in no way implies that Jesus is advocating that
the social system of first- century eastern Rom Empire be reformed into a
system where all means of production be owned by everyone or by the
government. The fact is that in first-century
Judea and Galilee most the means of production and distribution was owned by
the government (ruling class). This is
good evidence that the government owning the means of production and
distribution does not necessarily improve the plight of the poor. According to Jesus, giving one's wealth to
the poor was a way to build up treasures in Heaven for the person giving the
wealth. This was part of living an
ethical life style and being within the will of God. In Jewish thought of the day "entering the
Kingdom of God" was placing oneself under God's rule, that is, living your live
according to God's will.
Jesus' ministry was about repentance and how to be part of the Kingdom of God and not about reforming first century Judea and Galilee into a socialist society, a concept which no one in His society would have understood. He never taught that one should give their money to the government in order to alleviate poverty or to redistribute income to the poor. Jesus taught that His followers were to be generous givers to the poor and outcast because this is what God commands us to do.
Much has been made of the phrase Galil-of-the-Goyim (Galilee of the Nations) in Mathew 4:15. Mathew quotes Isaiah 8:23-9:1 as a prophecy which was fulfilled by Jesus as he began his ministry in the Galilee proclaiming "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" Based on this scripture many New Testament scholars have viewed the Galilee in Jesus' time as being an area with a predominant gentile population. Thus Jesus' Galilean ministry foreshadows the future ministry of the church to the gentiles. This idea of a gentile Galilee has led to proposals such as a non-Jewish Jesus, Jesus as a social reformer, Jesus as a Mediterranean peasant, and a wondering cynic. Most recently we have claims by the liberal left that Jesus was the first socialist.
So the question becomes: Was the ethnicity of the Galilee during the time of Jesus predominantly gentile or was it Jewish? Over the last 30 years the accumulation of archaeological evidence is giving us a completely different picture of the ethnicity of the Galilee during the early first century CE. The archaeological evidence which has been accumulated at such sites as Capernaum, Bethsaida, Nazareth, Cana, Gamla, Sepphoris, and Tiberias, as well as by several archaeological surveys of the Galilee have provided a wealth of information about the ethnicity of the people of the Galilee in the first century. Archaeologists have identified several ethnic markers which have enabled them to determine which towns and villages throughout Syria-Palestine can be identified as Jewish. These Jewish markers include stone vessels carved from limestone, lack of decorated imported pottery, stepped pools for ritual bathing called miqvaoth, lack of pig bones in the bone profile, and the burial practice of secondary burial with ossuaries in loculi tombs. These artifacts and features which are found together consistently in Judah, Galilee, and the Golan are not found in Samaria, the Decapolis, or the area of Tyre and Sidon. Based on this information provided by archaeology it now appears that the Galilee during the time of Jesus was predominantly Jewish, but was surrounded by gentile areas of the Decapolis, Samaria, Tyre and Sidon, and the Hula Valley. Even the major cities of the Galilee, Tiberias and Sepphoris, were Jewish even though they were built as capital cities by Herod Antipas and certainly much more metropolitan than the rural villages and towns of the Galilee..
Understanding the ethnicity of the Galilee during the time of Jesus helps us to better understand stories of the Gospels. First of all Jesus' ministry in the Galilee was conducted almost entirely in the towns and villages which we now know were certainly of Jewish ethnicity. When Jesus states that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel in Matthew 15:24 we now know this statement was supported by his actions. Although Jesus' travels took him briefly into some of the surrounding gentile areas where he had minimum contact with gentiles, His message and ministry was to the Jewish people to repent and believe in the good news, the Kingdom of God has come near. The ideas such as a non-Jewish Jesus, Jesus as a social reformer, etc. which have been proposed based on a gentile Galilee can no longer be considered valid hypothesizes. Our understanding of Jesus and His ministry must be based on His being a part of the first century Jewish Galilee.
In the early history of Biblical Archaeology there was very little focus on the New Testament period. In the late 19th century when Biblical Archaeology was in its infancy, Biblical Archaeologists were first focused on the geography of the Holy Land and identifying the locations of ancient cities mentioned in the stories of the Hebrew Bible. As Biblical Archaeology developed into the 20th century, it began to excavate sites throughout the Syria-Palestine and was mainly concerned with the historicity of the Hebrew Bible. This almost total focus of Biblical Archaeologists on the historicity of the Hebrew Bible was a response of conservative Christian theologians to Source and Form Criticism of the 18th and 19th century. The wide acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis among liberal scholarship was a serious challenge to the traditional held views of the historicity of the Hebrew Bible. The documentary Hypothesis challenged the Mosaic authorship and the traditional date of the writing of the Torah. According to this hypothesis, the stories of Israel contained in the Torah are myths and non-historical. Conservative theologians viewed Biblical Archaeology as an avenue to prove the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and thus refute the liberal views of the Documentary Hypothesis[i].
Although there have been serious questions about the historicity of the Gospels, almost all scholars accept the premise that Jesus of Nazareth was a person who lived in the Galilee in the early first century CE. Because of this and other reasons, New Testament studies have historically focused on theological issues. New Testament Scholars avoided archaeology because in their opinion it had really nothing to offer to their theological studies. Also, most New Testament scholars were not familiar the field of archaeology and thereby skeptical of its ability to make a contribution to New Testament studies. During the last 50 years archaeology has developed into more of a science and has expanded its scope of inquiry to include such areas of inquiry as ethnicity, economic systems, social systems and political systems. With this broadened scope of inquiry within archaeology, New Testament scholars have begun to see ways that archaeology can be a resource to New Testament studies.
Archaeology has proven to be of special interest in two areas of New Testament studies within the last 30 years. The area of New Testament Studies which have found Biblical Archaeological the most beneficial is termed by James H. Charlesworth as "Jesus Research."[ii] This term is used to describe and area of New Testament study which focuses on understanding the ethnic, social, religious, and economic issues in Syria-Palestine during the second temple period. Jesus Research attracts not only Christian scholars but Jewish experts – like Flusser, Vermes, Gruenwald, Mendels, and Segal – whose interest in Jesus Research is concerned with learning about such things as the ethnicity of a given area, what were the trade patterns, social-economic status, religious practices and economic activity. Archaeology studies can develop excellent information in these areas which gives insight into Jesus' teachings and the development of Early Christianity. With the improved archaeological field methods that have been developed in the last 60 years, archaeology is able to develop information into these areas which are not available in the written historical documents.
The second area of Christianity which has found Biblical Archaeological useful is the Jewish Roots movement sometimes called the Restoration Movement. There is presently a relatively large movement within Christianity which has a strong interest in learning about the Jewish roots of their faith and interpreting the New Testament from a Hebraic perspective. This movement is sometimes known as Hebraic Studies and is also related to the Messianic Jewish movement. These groups also have a strong interest in the culture, social systems and religious practices of the Second Temple period. Even though the objectives of these groups are different than Jesus Research Scholars, they have an interest in the same information which only archaeology can provide. In the last thirty years there has been a large amount of archaeological information produce in both the Galilee and Judea which pertain to the Second Temple period.
Archaeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices have made major contributions to our knowledge of both Early Judaism and Early Christianity. There has also been many archaeological excavation and surveys which have provided a tremendous amount of knowledge about the everyday lives of the people of the Galilee and Judea during this period and provide an excellent resource for New Testament Studies. In the future archaeology will make a major contribution to New Testament studies and our understanding of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and His teachings.
[i] This theory's most pervasive protagonist was Julius Wellhausen. He formulated a theory explaining how four originally independent documents (J, E, D, &P) were combined to form the Torah.
[ii] (James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Research and Archaeology: A New perspective, Jesus and Archaeology, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2006], 11 - 47)
A new archaeological excavation of an Israelite fort located on the border of Judea and Philistia brings new light to the controversy over the Davidic Empire. The name of the site is Khirbet Qeiyafa and it is being excavated by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University with the assistance of Saar Ganor also of Hebrew University. The site is located overlooking the Elah Valley where the Hebrew Bible places the story of David and Goliath. Garfinkel identifies the site as Biblical Shaarayim (1 Samuel 17:52). Shaarayim means gates in Hebrew and this is the only site of the area and period in which two city gates have been found.
This site is somewhat a unique tell in that all of the pottery shreds found are from the same period, Iron Age IIA. This makes the site especially relevant to the debate over the existence of Davidic Empire as this is the period which the Bible places David and Solomon. Although the pottery gives us the period of Iron Age IIA, it does not necessarily fix the date to 1,000 B.C. as there is continued debate as to when this archaeological period began. The traditional dating of this period begins the period in 1,000 B.C. while the minimalist begins the period about 50 years later. Fortunately this problem has been solved by the carbon 14 dating of ancient olive pits found on the site. The carbon 14 dating gives a range for the date of the olive pits at 1,100 to 920 B.C. at the 94% confidence level and 1,050 -970 B.C. at the 50% confidence level. Based on this information the archaeologist has dated the founding of Khirbet Qeiyafa at no later than 1,000 B.C. This information leaves little question that this site was built during the time period which the Hebrew Bible places the empire of King David.
Two additional discoveries at this site give us additional insight into the sophistication of the Davidic Empire. First, this fort was enclosed by a casement fortification wall 700 meters long and 4 meters thick which also contains two four chamber city gates. Some of the ashlars in this fortification weigh up to 5 tons with the total fortification requiring 200,000 tons of stones. In order to build a fortification of this magnitude, it would require a much more organized and complex society than a Tribal Chiefdom. Second, the most fascinating find at this site is a 6 in. X 6 in. ostracon, which contains five lines of proto-Canaanite letters. This lettering was used by ancient Canaanites, Hebrews and Phoenicians. This ostracon is securely dated to the 10th century B.C. based on the context where it was found and is the oldest Hebrew inscription found to date. This ostracon refutes the minimalist position that the Israelite population was not literate during the time of David and Solomon.
In archaeology we rarely make a discovery which proves a hypothesis without further archaeological evidence. Archaeology is a science which relies on cumulative evidence gathered over time and possibly several different sites. In the debate over the Davidic Empire archaeologists are beginning to accumulate substantial evidence which refutes the minimalist position of the Davidic Empire (that it was a small Chiefdom if it existed at all). The House of David inscription discovered at Tell Dan, the work being done by Eilat Mazar in the Ophel in Jerusalem , and this evidence at Khirbet Qeiyafa all go together to provide the cumulative archaeological evidence to support the hypothesis that the Davidic Empire was substantially as represented in the Hebrew Bible.
Information for this Blog was obtained from, Hershel Shanks, "A Fortified City from King David's Time" BAR, January/February 2009. And Hershel Shanks, "Oldest Hebrew Inscription" BAR, March/April, 2010. www.bib-arch.org
The historicity of the Biblical account of the Davidic Empire is currently the most controversial subject within the field of Biblical Archaeology. The debate is between two groups within Biblical Archaeology known as minimalist and maximalist. The minimalist take the position that if David and Solomon existed at all, they were merely tribal chieftains and the empire discribed in the Hebrew Bible was basically fiction. The maximalists, of course, take the opposite position, that the stories of David and Soloman are historically accurate and supported by the archaeological record. Most Biblical archaeologist lean more toward the maximalist position.
The news media is reporting on the discovery of an ancient wall in Jerusalem by Eilat Mazar which may date back 3000 years to the 10th century B.C.E. This archaeological excavation is taking place in the area which lays between the Temple Mount and the City of David known as the Ophel. If Eilat's dating of these structures proves to be correct it will provide substantial evidence for the historicity of the Biblical account of the Davidic Empire.
The city of Jerusalem is currently occupied and has been continually occupied for over 3000 years. Jerusalem has also been destroyed multiple times throughout its history. These facts have resulted in very few artifacts and features of the 10th century B.C.E, the period of David and Solomon, being excavated. Some archaeologist have interpreted the lack of major structures being excavated in Jerusalem dating to the 10th century period to be evidence that Jerusalem was not a capital city of a empire such as described in the Biblical account of David and Solomon.
The recent excavation of this 10th century B.C.E. city wall by Eilat Mazar is a major discovery and provides direct evidence pertaining to the dispute over the historicity of the Davidic Empire. One of the axioms of archaeology is "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." As the Ophel excavation continues we can look forward to a clearer picture of the of 10th century B.C.E. Jerusalem and the nature of the Davidic Empire