How (not) to give an “Archaeology and the Bible” lecture

Lectures to the title “Archaeology and the Bible” and “Archaeology proves the Bible true” are a staple of Christadelphian Sunday evenings. Most of these talks follow a well established pattern. First it’s explained that “Higher Critics” deny the historicity of the Bible. The speaker then lines up some archaeological artefacts and explains how they rebut the Higher Critics’ claims. Finally the speaker usually concludes the talk by explaining that the archaeological evidence demonstrates the historical reliability of the biblical text – “Archaeology does prove the Bible true” – and therefore the Bible is the Word of God.

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Limiting or listening

Through the parables with a Samaritan helper

Jesus taught extensively in parables, so much so that

“he did not speak to them without a parable”

Matt 13:34

According to some commentators, when Jesus speaks in the Synoptic gospels fully one third of the time it is a parable.1 Do we recognize the power of these teachings? When Jesus taught in parables it was polarizing. People wanted to make him king or kill him. Riots started. Crowds marveled at his teaching and authority (Matt 7:27-28). The parables of Jesus were raw and polarizing. They made a significant impact with people – they were not just nice stories for children. It was Bailey who observed that:

The more familiar a parable, the more it cries out to be rescued from the barnacles that have attached themselves to it over the centuries2

There are many reasons why barnacles attach to parables and change the shape of Jesus teaching. Interpretations are layered on past interpretations. Rather than read Jesus teaching, we filter them through our faith traditions preferred understandings. Here’s a few reasons:

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The Bible has a Glass Ceiling

How ancient near-eastern cosmology can change the way we read and understand scripture

Have you ever wondered where all the water came from for Noah’s flood? Or how the tower of Babel’s builders expected to reach into heaven? Or how many rungs there would need to be on Jacob’s ladder?

In this infographic we see how the Bible describes humanity’s place in the universe, and how this unexpected revelation helps us to break free of modern preconceptions that limit our understanding of the Bible’s message. Rather than undermining our faith, this peculiar subject helps us develop a credible and robust approach to scripture.

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The power of reformation

Inspired to action

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Dickens, Charles “A Tale of Two Cities”

So wrote Charles Dickens about the times of Hezekiah. Or if he didn’t, perhaps he should have.

Hezekiah is a towering figure in the Old Testament. In the kingdom of Judah he stands as a first rank reformer, a charismatic and determined leader who from the moment he took power was passionately focussed on restoring the worship of Israel’s God. His life is a triumph of zeal for God. Yet there is more going on.

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Jesus spoke Semitic languages not Greek

We were reading Mark 5 recently and my curiosity was stirred by verse 41 where Mark records the healing of Jarius’ daughter.  In raising her to life, Jesus:

“He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

This expression “Talitha cum” is Aramaic, it is transliterated into Greek.1  Ie the text is neither Greek or Hebrew, but Greek letters spelling out Aramaic words.  This raises several questions.  What language did Jesus speak?  Why are these expressions in the gospels?  What are the implications of these sayings? Continue reading “Jesus spoke Semitic languages not Greek”

Defining “neighbour”

The parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 is well known to us all. The Lord followed the practice of the day using questions to draw out his challenger and set up the point he wished to make. What was the issue? In response to Christ, the lawyer gave the standard response of the Shema from Deut 6:5 but merges it with Lev 19:8 – something the Lord approved. Having a knowledge of the truth requires a response. Loving God means expressing that love to others – otherwise it is not real love 1 John 4:20.

This blunted the lawyer’s challenge, so he seeks to justify himself with the further question “who is my neighbour?Continue reading “Defining “neighbour””

Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk

Not all great explanations hold up

I was listening to a bible podcast recently and heard a discussion around a peculiar law repeated three times in the Torah. The specific law is found in Exod 23:19, 34:26 and Deut 14:21.  In each it simply reads:

You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk

The commandment is a good demonstration of the maxim that the Bible was written for us not too us.  In this case of this particular law, no-one truly knows what it means. Continue reading “Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk”

Ethics in the Law of Moses: slavery

The ethics and legislation relating to servitude and slavery

Servitude in the Ancient Near East

Servitude in the Ancient Near East operated on a spectrum of greater or lesser obligation to another person, and greater or lesser personal protections. Everyone in the Ancient Near East was considered to be the servant of someone, with the key difference being the extent to which you were independent and protected from the imposition of another’s will. Continue reading “Ethics in the Law of Moses: slavery”