New theories on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Some scholars are thinking that the Dead Sea Scrolls, those ancient texts that include some of the oldest copies of the Old Testament, may not have been the property of the Jewish sect known as the Essenes.  They might have come from the Temple itself:

Recent findings by Yuval Peleg, an archaeologist who has excavated Qumran for 16 years, are challenging long-held notions of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Artifacts discovered by Peleg’s team during their excavations suggest Qumran once served as an ancient pottery factory. The supposed baths may have actually been pools to capture and separate clay.

And on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, archaeologists recently discovered and deciphered a two-thousand-year-old cup with the phrase “Lord, I have returned” inscribed on its sides in a cryptic code similar to one used in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

To some experts, the code suggests that religious leaders from Jerusalem authored at least some of the scrolls.

“Priests may have used cryptic texts to encode certain texts from nonpriestly readers,” Cargill told National Geographic News.

According to an emerging theory, the Essenes may have actually been Jerusalem Temple priests who went into self-imposed exile in the second century B.C., after kings unlawfully assumed the role of high priest.

This group of rebel priests may have escaped to Qumran to worship God in their own way. While there, they may have written some of the texts that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Essenes may not have abandoned all of their old ways at Qumran, however, and writing in code may have been one of the practices they preserved.

It’s possible too that some of the scrolls weren’t written at Qumran but were instead spirited away from the Temple for safekeeping, Cargill said.

“I think it dramatically changes our understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls if we see them as documents produced by priests,” he says in the new documentary.

“Gone is the Ark of the Covenant. We’re never going to find Noah’s Ark, the Holy Grail. These things, we’re never going to see,” he added. “But we just may very well have documents from the Temple in Jerusalem. It would be the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple.”

via Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved?.

Earliest portrait of St. Paul

Archaeologists using lasers to clear away centuries of mineral accretions have uncovered in a 4th century Roman catacomb the earliest paintings of Sts. Peter, Paul, Andrew, and John.   Here is the Apostle Paul:

Earliest portrait of St. Paul

Pictured: The ‘sensational’ 1,600-year-old icon of St Paul found in a Roman tomb | Mail Online.

King Herod’s face

Biblical Archaeology Review has published a portrait of one of the king Herods, one of the “tetrarchs,” based on computer enhancement of images on rare coins of the time.  This is not the Herod who slaughtered the innocents–that was Herod the Great.  Nor was it the Herod who killed John the Baptist and who questioned Jesus–that was Herod Antipas.  This was Herod Philip II, who did, however, rule in Galilee when Jesus was there.   So Jesus might well have seen him.  From the article:

Herod Philip II (4 B.C–34 A.D.), one of the sons of Herod the Great and ruler of the eastern Galilee and the Golan during the time of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, was the first Jewish ruler to have his portrait emblazoned upon a coin.

Coins with portraits of Herodian kings are extremely rare because of the Jewish religious prohibition of graven images. Only a handful of Philip’s coins have survived, and even these are well worn with largely indistinct busts.

Biblical coin specialist and researcher Jean-Philippe Fontanille has developed a new technique to recover the original minted impressions of ancient coins. Using the latest in computer imaging technology, Fontanille superimposes digital images of multiple ancient coins from the same issue, adjusting for differences in size and orientation. After keeping the best-preserved parts of each coin image, digitally removing worn or missing areas, and then merging and blending the remaining elements, Fontanille produces an “idealized” composite of the coin as it would have appeared in ancient times.

via Strata: Did Jesus Know This Face? | Biblical Archaeology Review | Bible History Articles.

Herod Philip II

The Prodigal Father

How many times have you read the story of the Prodigal Son?  How many sermons have you heard about it?  Do you think you have seen everything there is to see in that parable?  Well, check out what Pastor Douthwaite did with this text in his sermon to our congregation yesterday.  Go here.

I was struck with the vividness with which he described  the family situation with the two sons  (including that added speculative detail at the very end of the father now looking out, waiting the arrival of the good son); the depth of the application; and, in the biggest surprise for me, the thought that we enact the story of the Prodigal Son every time we come to divine service, in which we confess that we have sinned before heaven and earth and are received back by our Heavenly Father who puts on for  us the Feast of Holy Communion.

Solomon’s wall unearthed in Jerusalem

In more archaeological news, the wall that Solomon built around Jerusalem has been discovered.

“The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering”, [Eliat] Mazar said. The city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slop of the Kidron valley.

“A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.,” said Mazar.

“This is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon’s building in Jerusalem,” she added. “The Bible tells us that Solomon built — with the assistance of the Phoenicians, who were outstanding builders — the Temple and his new palace and surrounded them with a city, most probably connected to the more ancient wall of the City of David.” Mazar specifically cites the third chapter of the First Books of Kings where it refers to “until he (Solomon) had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.

This is especially significant because a whole line of liberal Biblical critics maintains that David and Solomon were mythological. Added to that are Islamic scholars who deny any and all historical claims of Jews to the Holy Land.

HT: Webmonk

Earliest Hebrew writing discovered

According to liberal Bible scholarship, the Bible was not written down until the 6th century B.C., after the Babylonian captivity. Some liberal scholars deny that Israel existed before that, rejecting the historicity even of King David, as well as the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. But now archeologists have discovered Hebrew writing on a piece of pottery from the 10th century B.C., during what would have been the reign of King David. This means scholars will have to redate the Old Testament. See Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests for the details. What gets me, though, is that the text consists of Bible-like moral and religious injunctions, with a reference to the King (the numerals being the line numbers):

1 you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]. 2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an] 3 [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and] 4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king. 5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.