Archaeology and the Bible’s big picture

Eric Metaxas summarizes some recent findings in Middle Eastern archaeology, ones that confirm not just isolated facts in the Bible but the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative:

Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?

The coin was found near the Sorek River, which was the border between the ancient Israelite and Philistine territories 3,100 years ago. Sound vaguely familiar?

The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.

Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.

Bunimovitz and Lederman made another interesting discovery: the Philistine side of the river was littered with pig bones, while there were none on the Israelite side. . . .

The findings at Sorek are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that-surprise!-there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

Some of the discoveries go beyond history and tell us about Israel’s sense of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Sites dating to before the Exile are littered with Canaanite idols, evidence of the apostasy the prophets denounced and warned would lead to disaster.

Yet there has never been a single idol found in sites dating after the Exile. Clearly, the Jews who returned from the Exile had finally, truly learned that “the Lord our God is one.”

via Archaeology and the Bible.

Mitt Romney, when he was a pastor

Mormons do not have ordained clergy, as such, but lay people step into that role in local congregations and church hierarchies.  Mitt Romney shepherded his local flock and was over the other Mormon congregations in the Boston area, serving as “bishop” and “stake president.”

The Washington Post has an interesting and surprisingly sympathetic account of when Romney was, in effect, a pastor.  He comes across as being staunchly orthodox (in the Mormon sense) while also “pastoral,” helping some of his people get around some of the church’s regulations and trying to help the poor.  At the same time, the piece gives us an inside view of the Mormon religion that is rather unsettling from a Christian perspective.

See Mitt Romney, as a leader in Mormon church, became a master of many keys – The Washington Post.

Christian pastors, how much of what this article describes resonates with what you have to do?  What are the differences in how you exercise your office and what Romney did?

Trouble in Obamaland?

Politico is a useful political journalism site that some conservatives think leans to the left and is biased against them.  So when Politico publishes an e-book on the Obama campaign that emphasizes its disarray, there may be something to it.  Read this account:  Obama campaign roiled by conflict – Glenn Thrush –

Here is the e-book, an interesting venture in e-publishing, a bit of  investigative journalism that is longer than an article but shorter than a big book that would lose its currency by the time it would be printed, going for $2.99:  Obama’s Last Stand: POLITICO Playbook 2012 (Kindle Single)


An ancient brain

Manasseh was King of Judah; Athens got rid of its kings and started on the road to democracy; Rome had just been founded.  And a British criminal was executed (or maybe sacrificed), having been both hanged AND beheaded.   We now have his brain.

A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.

The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.

“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”

“The head was then carefully severed from the neck using a small blade, such as a knife,” added O’Connor, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bradford. “This was used to cut through the throat and between the vertebrae and has left a cluster of fine cut marks on the bone.” . .

She and her colleagues suggest that a fortuitous series of events — for the brain and science, not the victim — led to the organ’s preservation. Shortly after the man was killed, his head must have been placed, or fallen into, the waterlogged pit that was free of oxygen. While other soft human body parts may not preserve well under such conditions, the wet environment appears to be perfect for keeping brains “fresh,” “due to the very different chemistry of brain tissue,” O’Connor said.

via Prehistoric Human Brain Found Pickled in Bog : Discovery News.

And thanks to this timeline.

I don’t recommend putting this brain into a body and trying to animate it.  Bronze Age criminals were no doubt pretty formidable.  This would, however, make for a good superhero movie.

Still, this makes ancient history, from Biblical times no less, very tangible and fills us with wonder.



Crucifixions are back

Mobs in Egypt are reportedly crucifying opponents of the new president.  From Michael Carl:

The Arab Spring takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood has run amok, with reports from several different media agencies that the radical Muslims have begun crucifying opponents of newly installed President Mohammed Morsi.

Middle East media confirm that during a recent rampage, Muslim Brotherhood operatives “crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.” . . .

Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Clare Lopez cited chapter and verse from the Quran to explain that crucifixions are not simply normal for Islam, they’re demanded.

“Crucifixion is a hadd punishment, stipulated in the Quran, Sura 5:33, and therefore an obligatory part of Shariah,” Lopez said. “It’s been a traditional punishment within Islam since the beginning, even though it’s not exclusively Islamic. The Romans used it too.

“So, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood haven’t the option to not include crucifixion within their legal code. It’s obligatory to comply with Shariah.

Could this just be another anti-Islamic rumor?  Or not?  If anyone knows more, please post a comment.  This is also reported here and here.

A security guard fulfills his vocation

Joe Carter, who used to work for the Family Research Center, looks at the security guard who stopped the gunman after getting a bullet in the arm, in light of the doctrine of vocation:

The key-card was required to get into the building and to operate the elevator, a security precaution added years earlier when protestors chained themselves together in the lobby. But when I forgot my key—and I was always forgetting my key—he never complained. He never uttered a sarcastic remark or had a passive-aggressive sigh to remind me of my absent-mindedness. He’d just leave the guard-desk and quietly help me out.

I suspect Leo Johnson exhibited the same stoic friendliness today, when a young man in his late 20s—who said he was an intern at Family Research Council—asked to be let in the building. Once inside, the man pulled a gun and fired several shots, hitting Leo in the arm. According to news reports, Leo and others wrestled the man to the ground, disarmed him, and waited for police.

From the latest reports I’ve heard, Leo is in the hospital and in stable condition. While he has been grievously harmed, had he not acted swiftly and courageously, some of my friends at FRC might have lost their lives. “The security guard here is a hero, as far as I’m concerned,” said Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, “He did his job. The person never made it past the front.” Leo is indeed a hero—because he did much more than his job.

When I worked at FRC (2006-2008) I would have happily swapped jobs with almost any other employee—except for Leo. Having manned many a guard post while in the military, I couldn’t imagine having to do such a boring, repetitive, often-thankless job. Leo never complained, though, and never became a clock-punching rent-a-cop. He was frequently awarded for being a loyal and dedicated employee and was admired by everyone. Yet the certificates and “Employee of the Month” plaques were modest tributes to his true character, which few people fully recognized until today.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.” Today, at the point of highest reality, when a dull desk job called for the vocation of a hero, Leo showed he had the form of every virtue. He was willing to lay down his life to protect those he served.

via The FRC Shooting and the Vocation of a Hero | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog.