Possible Physical Evidence of the Prophet Isaiah

King Hezekiah on his sickbed, as described in 2 Kings 20:1-11 (click for credit)

In 2 Kings 18-20, Isaiah 36-39, and 2 Chronicles 29-32, the Bible discusses the reign of King Hezekiah, who had several interactions with the prophet Isaiah. For example, the woodcutting shown above depicts 2 Kings 20:1-11. The king is dying, but the Lord hears his prayer and Isaiah tells him he will be healed. The King asks for a sign, and Isaiah causes a shadow to move in the direction opposite of the direction the sun would make it move.

Several extraBiblical references to King Hezekiah have been found, including a bulla (clay seal impression) bearing the phrase, “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.” However, there are no known extraBiblical references to the prophet Isaiah, at least not until now. While it is by no means certain, there is good archaeological evidence that a bulla from the prophet Isaiah has been found in the same area.

As discussed in Biblical Archaeology Review, Eilat Mazar (who also discovered King Hezekiah’s bulla) reports finding several other bullae in the same excavation. One bulla, found only 10 feet from King Hezekiah’s bulla, might very well belong to the prophet Isaiah. As Mazar writes:

Alongside the bullae of Hezekiah and the Bes family, 22 additional bullae with Hebrew names were found. Among these is the bulla of “Yesha‘yah[u] Nvy[?].” The obvious initial translation, as surprising as it might seem, suggests that this belonged to the prophet Isaiah.

It would make sense to find a bulla from Isaiah in the same excavation as bullae from King Hezekiah, but the conclusion is not ironclad. The name is pretty clear, but the last part, “Nvy[?],” is not. According to Mazar, the last part should signify the word “prophet,” but only if there is an aleph (’) at the end (where she put “[?]”). As she says:

Whether or not the aleph was added at the end of the lower register is speculative, as meticulous examinations of that damaged part of the bulla could not identify any remnants of additional letters.

So this bulla might just belong to a person named Isaiah who was not a prophet. However, given the archaeological context of the find, as well as the damaged nature of the artifact, there is at least a strong possibility that it represents the first extraBiblical evidence for the prophet Isaiah.

More Archaeological Evidence Supporting Scripture

An aerial view of Khirbat Qeiyafa, which is most likely the Biblical city of Shaaraim. (click for credit)
An aerial view of Khirbat Qeiyafa, which is most likely the Biblical city of Shaaraim.
(click for credit)

It has become fashionable among many Biblical scholars to doubt the historical veracity of the Old Testament. In particular, whereas the Old Testament characterizes Israel at the time of King David as a large empire with active trading over long distances, some popular Biblical scholars characterize it as a simple, agrarian society. In addition, while the Old Testament speaks of King David as a civilized king who ruled over an impressive empire, these same scholars claim that he was more of a tribal war chief. National Geographic, for example, describes how Dr. Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, characterizes Israel and its king:

During David’s time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting — not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.”

Like many of today’s scholarly ideas, Finkelstein’s view is completely at odds with the scientific evidence, but that rarely stands in the way of a popular ideas, especially among those who study the Bible!

More than three years ago, I wrote about excavations taking place at a city called Khirbat Qeiyafa. The city has been dated to the 11th-century BC, and in that article, I discuss the fact that it contains a palace that the archaeologists think might have belonged to King David. Whether or not the palace belonged to David, the remains of the city clearly indicate a sophisticated kingdom like the Old Testament describes, and the archaeological evidence found in the excavation indicates that it was most certainly an Israelite city.

New archaeological evidence from that excavation goes further in debunking views like those of Finkelstein and adds even more evidence for the historical veracity of the Old Testament. Interestingly enough, this new evidence was first discovered by an amateur!

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Reflections on the Ark Encounter

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)
A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

Yesterday, I toured the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter with my wife and a friend. I wanted to visit the encounter as soon as it opened, but because of trips to Italy and China, yesterday was the first opportunity we had. I didn’t know what to expect, so I went in with an open mind.

I originally thought the Ark Encounter would be like the Creation Museum, with a parking lot close to the entryway. I was wrong. When we parked and got out of the car, we could see the ark, but it was a long way off. A building in the parking lot served as a “bus terminal,” where we were picked up and taken to the Ark itself.

When we got off the bus, my first thought was, “Wow. That’s big.” I have seen many models of the Ark over the years, and they all attempt to give you an idea of how big it was, usually by having scale models of trucks or elephants beside it. However, there is simply no substitute for seeing the massive structure built to its actual dimensions! Answers in Genesis bills the Ark as the largest timber-framed structure in the world, and I can believe that. *

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Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Is a Fake

The papyrus fragment that is now known as 'The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.' (click for credit)
The papyrus fragment that is now known as ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’ (click for credit)

I am in China right now, and I have been here for almost two weeks. However, internet access is sporadic (at best), which is why I haven’t added any articles recently. Things are a bit better today, though, so I thought I would share my thoughts on a story I recently ran across.

On September 18th, 2012 at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, Dr. Karen L. King announced the existence of an astounding 4-cm by 8-cm papyrus fragment. It contained what she thought was a 4th-century Coptic translation of a gospel that she suggested had probably been written in the late second century AD. While the discovery of any ancient papyrus that has writing on it is interesting, this particular fragment was especially interesting because it contained the following phrase:

Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…”

As a result, this papyrus fragment came to be known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

In a peer-reviewed paper that was later published in the Harvard Theological Review, Dr. King presented the results of several tests that had been done on the papyrus fragment. Those tests led her to conclude that it was from the 8th century AD and was not a forgery. In the same issue of the journal, however, another scholar wrote an article concluding that the papyrus was a forgery. The Vatican weighed in as well, dismissing the fragment as a “clumsy forgery.”

Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about the papyrus fragment, and a website was set up to provide all of the latest information about it. Based on subsequent tests done on the fragment and its ink, Dr. King became so convinced that the fragment is authentic that she told Time:

I’m basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?’

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Going Back to College (Again)

Thermodynamics is the study of  the relationships and conversions between heat and other forms of energy. (click for credit)
Thermodynamics is the study of the relationships and conversions between heat and other forms of energy. (click for credit)

Nearly two years ago, I announced that I was going to teach a one-semester course at Anderson University. It’s one of the few Christian Universities that I am willing to teach at, because it doesn’t have a long list of doctrinal beliefs to which you have to agree. Instead, it seems to understand that the quest for truth is important and cannot be hindered by one specific interpretation of the Scriptures that has been developed by fallible people. Instead, if we are to learn the truth, we must honestly search the Scriptures, honestly study God’s creation, and honestly explore the various ideas that have emerged throughout the history of Christendom.

It was the first time in 19 years that I had taught a complete, semester-long college course, and I posted a few articles about my experience. I had a great time, and I decided that I wanted to do it again at some point in the future. Because I had some book deadlines with which to contend, however, I couldn’t do that right away. Now that my book deadlines have slowed down a bit, I have decided to go back to the college classroom once again.

This fall, I will be teaching thermodynamics at Anderson University. It is an upper-level course, typically taken by juniors. I use some aspects of thermodynamics in my research as a nuclear chemist, and it is actually one of my favorite topics to teach. As a result, I am really looking forward to it!

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Patterns of Evidence: Exodus

patterns_evidence

I don’t watch many documentaries. There are two main reasons. First, I think video is an inefficient way to learn. I can learn more quickly by reading, and I tend to remember what I read better than what I watch. In addition, it is hard to check references and confirm facts while watching a video. It is much easier to do so while reading.

The other reason is that documentaries are often incredibly biased. For example, I enjoyed Ben Stein’s documentary (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed), but it was not objective in any way. It is clear that Stein had made up his mind before he made his film, and the film was shot in such a way as to present his view in the most positive light possible. While written sources of information can be just as biased, the video medium adds more opportunity to slant things because you can manipulate lighting, sound, etc., to make people who disagree with you look bad while at the same time, making the people who agree with you look really good.

Nevertheless, a very dear friend of mine (who is a historian) asked me to watch the documentary Patterns of Evidence: Exodus with her. I agreed, and overall, I am glad that I did. The movie is about director Tim Mahoney’s search for archaeological evidence concerning the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as discussed in the Old Testament. Many archaeologists say that such a search is fruitless, because there is no evidence that anything like the Exodus ever occurred in Egypt. Indeed, as historian Dr. Baruch Halpern says:

The actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn.

However, if the Exodus occurred as discussed in the Bible, one would think there would be archaeological evidence for it. Since the historical accuracy of the Bible is important to Mahoney (and many Christians throughout the world), he decided to see if historians and archaeologists like Dr. Halpern are correct. As a result, he traveled around the world to interview archaeologists and historians to see what they thought and to look at the evidence for himself.

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More Archaeological Evidence That Supports The Bible

This bulla (a clay seal) and five others were found in a 10th-century BC village near what was the border between Judah and the land of the Philistines.  The ruler in the photo is marked off in centimeters.  (click for credit)
This bulla (a clay seal) and five others were found in a 10th-century BC village near what was the border between Judah and the land of the Philistines. The ruler in the photo is marked off in centimeters. (click for credit)

Back in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, it was fashionable among certain archaeologists to claim that Biblical characters such as King David never existed. However, archaeological finds like the Tel Dan Stele forced most of these archaeologists to admit that King David was, indeed, an actual historical figure.

But many of them still wanted to doubt the accuracy of the Biblical text. As a result, they grudgingly admitted that David really existed, but they claimed that the Old Testament “glorified” him. He wasn’t the king of a mighty kingdom, as depicted in the Bible. Instead, he was more of a tribal chieftain who commanded a rag-tag group of rural villagers. National Geographic, for example, describes how Dr. Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, sees it:1

During David’s time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.”

While this might be the fashionable view among certain archaeologists, the actual archaeological evidence speaks strongly against it. As I discussed more than a year ago, the excavations at a large city called Khirbat Qeiyafa have demonstrated that in the late 11th-century BC (David reigned in the early 10th century BC), Judah was already a thriving kingdom. Just recently, more archaeological evidence has surfaced to back up this view of ancient Judah.

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Not Surprisingly, the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Is a Fake

A papyrus fragment that contains the phrase, "Jesus said to them, 'my wife...'."  It and its sister document (a papyrus fragment that contains some of the Gospel of John) are almost certainly forgeries.  (click for credit)
A papyrus fragment that contains the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’.” It and its sister document (a papyrus fragment that contains some of the Gospel of John) are almost certainly forgeries. (click for credit)

In 2012, the media was abuzz with a sensational archaeological find. An ancient scrap of papyrus, a paper-like material made from the papyrus plant, contained the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’.” In addition, the fragment mentions the name “Mary.” An anonymous owner had given the fragment (and another that contains some of the Gospel of John) to Dr. Karen King of Harvard University, who judged it to be from the fourth century AD. This, of course, indicates that at least some early Christians thought Jesus was married, perhaps to Mary Magdalene. As a result, people started calling this scrap of papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

Immediately, there were those who thought the papyrus fragment mentioning Jesus’ wife was not authentic, but in April of this year, the Harvard Theological Review published a series of articles supporting its authenticity. One of the most important pieces of evidence was the radiocarbon dating test, which indicates the papyrus was made between AD 209 and AD 405. The same testing indicates that the other papyrus (which contains some of the Gospel of John) was made between AD 681 and AD 877. Radiocarbon dating has lots of problems associated with it, but when it can be calibrated using tree rings (as is true in this case), it is reasonably reliable. Thus, the papyrus fragments probably were made during those time periods.

Just a few weeks later, Indiana Wesleyan University’s Dr. Christian Askeland posted a blog article that shows the papyrus fragment containing some of the Gospel of John is almost certainly a fake. He compared it to an authentic fragment of the Gospel of John, called the Codex Qau. He found similarities that could not be coincidental. For example, in 17 lines, the breaks in the text are the same between the two documents. In addition, he noted that the dialect used in the papyrus fragment in question fell out of use long before the time when the radiocarbon dating says the papyrus was made.

Based on his analysis, Askeland concludes:

Unless compelling counter-arguments arise, both this fragment and the Gospel of Jesus Wife fragment should now be considered forgeries beyond any doubt.

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The Genesis of Science

During the 2010 Global Atheist Convention, P.Z. Myers (my favorite atheist) said:

Science and religion are incompatible in the same sense that the serious pursuit of knowledge about reality is incompatible with [expletive]…. Religion makes smart people do stupid things, and scientists do not like stupid.

Obviously, Dr. Myers hasn’t studied much of the history of science, since it shows quite the opposite. Indeed, history shows that modern science is a product of Christianity.

Dr. James Hannam recently wrote a book entitled, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, and he makes a very strong case that modern science is specifically a product of medieval Christian thought. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. James Hannam is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge. He earned his physics degree from Oxford, and then he went to Cambridge to earn a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. Thus, he is very qualified to write on this subject. He states his thesis in his introduction:

This book will show how much of the science and technology that we now take for granted has medieval origins. (p. xiii)

The book then goes on to give a wealth of evidence to support that thesis.

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More Evidence That The Church Has Never Been United on Genesis

As I have pointed out previously, the oft-repeated claim that the church has always been united in its interpretation of the creation account is demonstrably false. It sounds reasonable to think that the church always read the creation account as historical narrative with 24-hour days, but then evolution or some other aspect of modern science “forced” theologians to reinterpret the creation account. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Even as early as 225 AD, Origen wrote:1

For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.

So even in very early church, some influential people were interpreting at least parts of the creation account figuratively. It turns out that as church history progressed, a figurative interpretation of Genesis never lost its momentum.

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