Sunday, March 04, 2007

Snakes in the News

Every blog related to Biblical archeology that I read this past week has commented on the new film about some ossuaries naming Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, & Judah Jesusson (to make a up a word).

What's amazing is that nearly all writers/scholars have trashed the possibility that these people were the ones written about in the Gospels. So I'd like to emphasize 2 notable exceptions.

In an article by The Jerusalem Post, Shimon Gibson (who was involved in the original excavation of the artifacts in question), stated:

"I'm willing to accept the possibility," he allowed. "I'm not going to deny there's an interesting set of variables."

I met Dr. Gibson in November of 2005 & enjoyed his lecture, & his work on Avraham Negev's "Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land", but I respect him even more now. But he's a scholar, & I expect as much.

The other notable exception to the crowd of Christian crybabies was the "News to Note" editorial at Answers in Genesis (AiG):

"Apart from the Bible, there is nothing to prove the tomb isn’t that of Christ, just as it is impossible to prove the tomb is that of Christ."

I can understand why most Christians (aside from AiG) are anxious to condemn this interpretation of the ossuaries (I believe it's because their faith lacks a firm, historical foundation), but why is this so hard for most objective scholars to admit (Gibson excepted)?

Someone asked me for my opinion, & they commented that it was "fascinating", so I'll share it here:

"I believe it is possible, & am amused by the vehement denials I've read by all scholars--Christians, Jews, & atheists. Many of these same people believe in evolution, the fundamental tenet of which is, "It is possible, therefore it must've happened..." The odds of evolution occurring through random chance arrangements of molecules into orderly information found in living organisms is beyond astronomical (see p. 166 of "Evolution Science" for realistic estimates), yet these filmmakers claim the odds of the ossuaries being linked to the Biblical family are something on the order of 1 to several hundred (I think the figure I read was 1:600, but tens of thousands of people had these names). I have no interest in watching this movie, & can't anyway because I don't subscribe to cable TV. My faith in a resurrected Jesus is extremely strong based on the overwhelming majority of ancient writings handed down from those who claim to be eyewitnesses. I believe them because of their content, but readily admit that it's possible He never existed, or that these ossuaries contained His family & His own remains."

Regarding the content of the witnesses, I posted a sample on the blog of Scott Adams (published March 03, 2007 at 08:26 AM), who writes the Dilbert cartoon series (I already posted my favorite cartoon of his back in December).

Also new this week is an article in the Mar/Apr 2007 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (vol. 33 #2, pp. 58-63) by editor Hershel Shanks, "The Mystery of the Nechushtan". It includes the same M2U photo by Zev Radovan (ID# 448-1) that was first published in BAR vol. 23 #2, p. 46 (& again in #5, p. 51).

On p. 62, Shanks says that "More than 2,000 of these handles have been found in excavations in Israel." If he had checked the latest statistics available on the Corpus page of the LMLK Research website, he'd see that the current total is still only 1,427. I expect it'll be some decades before the figure exceeds 2k. That's clue #1 that he didn't do his homework for this article.

A more unforgivable mistake in the Internet Age was for him to ignore my letter (presented to him in 3 flavors) refuting Gabriel Barkay's 1993 speculation that Ramat Rahel = MMST (see also LMLK vol. 1 pp. 57, 278, & 309, another publication by me that Hershel Shanks chose to ignore; & yes, he owns a copy). Mr. Shanks cites his recent publication of Gabriel Barkay's article reiterating this speculation back in the Sep/Oct 2006 issue of BAR.

This new article turns out to be his regurgitation of an article in the July 2002 issue of Catholic Biblical Quarterly (vol. 64 #3, pp. 460-9), written by Kristin Swanson (discovered by me too late to be included in LMLKv1).

The basic premise is that the x2x & x4x symbols seen on LMLK seals are Egyptian symbols, & so are images of snakes. Therefore, when King Hezekiah destroyed the serpent-pole made by Moses, he was demonstrating his loyalty to Assyria after having been defeated by Sennacherib. Likewise, when Judah succumbed to Assyria, they discarded the x2x symbol & switched to the rosette.

My initial reaction was how odd of them to associate the x2x symbol exclusively with Egypt, considering that it has been found in excavations all over the ancient Near East; so much so that some scholars have viewed its presence in Judah as an indication of Assyrian submission--the complete opposite of what Shanks & Swanson assert--back when LMLK x2x handles were dated to Manasseh & Josiah's reigns. For example:

"...the similarity between the two-winged symbol and the Assyrian royal emblem cannot be accidental. The change of symbol may therefore be connected with the submission to Assyria in the later days of Hezekiah..."--Yohanan Aharoni in "Excavations at Ramat Rahel: Seasons 1959 & 1960" (LMLKv1 p. 192)

In true, unbiased, scholarly fashion, these people view the Bible as an unreliable record that needs help from them. It bothers them not in the least that 2Kings 18:4 says he destroyed the serpent-pole as part of his religious reformation at the beginning of his reign (18:1-3). That would also coincide with the earliest appearance of LMLK seals with their "Egyptian" symbols. 2Chronicles provides additional details about the reformation, & it's not mentioned a single time by Shanks or Swanson. Scholarship indeed.

This clear attempt to switch black for white came as no surprise to me when I saw Swanson quote from fiction-writer-cum-prize-winning-historian Nadav Na'aman (p. 463):

"Na'aman concluded that the Dtr composed the account of the reform in 2 Kgs 18:4 by combining the Deuteronomic laws reflected in Deut 7:5 and 12:3 with an archival note of the removal of Nehushtan."

Like any political speech by a liberal Democrat, I've found that a good rule of thumb when reading a conclusion by Na'aman is to take the opposite as the truth. Two quick examples are his assertion that the cities built by King Rehoboam in 2Chronicles 11:5-12 were actually built by King Hezekiah (BASOR 261, pp. 5-21; LMLKv1 pp. 259-61); & his more recent assertion in public lectures that Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, built up Judah, & Hezekiah was responsible for its downfall.

But getting back to the other snake, Shanks & Swanson seem confident that the serpent-pole reflected an Egyptian icon like the uraeus seen on the headdresses of pharaohs to protect them.

Actually, the serpent-pole made by Moses never protected anyone--the act of seeking/looking at it healed them after the damage was already done. Many keen & faithful Christian scholars have recognized this serpent-pole as a type of Jesus Christ in His role as our sin-bearer during His crucifixion. Our recognition of His sacrifice allows us to claim physical healing in faith (2Peter 2:24). In Heaven, that faith will be our legal tender (Hebrews 11:6), but I digress...

King Hezekiah destroyed the serpent-pole in response to people who had taken their eyes off the Creator, & had switched to worshipping the creature (see Romans 1:25 for history repeating itself). His actions reminded me of Moses smashing the most incredible artifact that antiquities collectors & autograph collectors could ever hope to find--the 2 tables of stone that God had written the 10 Commandments upon.

I expressed this same anger/frustration on the cover of "Evolution Science" in reaction to what scientists (& scholars) by & large have done to The Holy Bible: persuading people to switch their faith to naturalistic theories & call it alone "science/knowledge".

In chapter 29 (pp. 288-91) I show that at least one seal icon dating to Hezekiah's reign may have had nothing to do with Egyptian symbols, but simply with flying snakes alive & well at the time like other icons depicting normal animals like horses, lions, & roosters.

In the end, none of this is new. Genesis 3 records a snake switching the plain words of God for something slightly different, & we're still faced with a choice. Why are so many scholars afraid to let people make that choice?

Song of the week: "Switch 625" by Def Leppard (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 29-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

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