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Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Archaeology’

Young William Ramsay, along with his bride of just one year, leaned against the rail of their ship. Eagerly they scanned the horizon in order to catch the first possible glimpse of their destination, Smyrna, Turkey, with its whitewashed structures nestled into green hillsides.

 

(Smyrna, 1900)

 

William’s archaeological adventure, funded by a scholarship, was about to begin.

While the ship creaked around him, William daydreamed of the renown he would garner even as a young Oxford professor, when he proved at least one book of the Bible–Acts–was mostly fiction.

Granted, no one could say unequivocally that Peter and Paul had not performed miracles in Jesus’ name. But he could prove that Luke’s record of the apostles’ work was full of errors in the categories of geography and history, thus casting great doubt on the whole.

The inspiration for such an endeavor began with William’s exposure to the Tubingen School of thought. They asserted that only four of the epistles were actually authored by Paul, and the rest of the New Testament was written much later—perhaps two hundred years later.

 

(The School of Theology at Tubingen University today)

 

In an effort to lionize the heroes of the early church, these Tubingen scholars decided Luke had exaggerated the stories and didn’t concern himself with accurate details. But no one had proven these theories until William set out to do so in 1880.

Soon after arrival in Turkey, the Ramsays met Sir Charles Wilson, an experienced explorer. He invited William to accompany him on two lengthy investigations that included Phrygia, Lycaonia, Cappadocia, and Galatia (1).

 

(Ancient limestone cave houses of Cappadocia,

deteriorated into cone-shaped structures due to erosion)

 

Beginning with these excursions and continuing over the next thirty-four years, Ramsay saturated himself with the geography and history of the Graeco-Roman world. He began to uncover facts that refuted the Tubingen theories–information that only a first-century eyewitness like Luke could have known.

For example:

In Acts 14:1-7 Luke reports the escape of Paul and Silas from Iconium, before they were stoned to death. They fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe.

However, later Roman writers including Cicero asserted that fleeing to Lystra and Derbe wouldn’t have saved the men because all three cities were in the same district.

 

(Turkish town of Konia, Paul’s Iconium–1911)

 

But in 1910 Ramsay discovered a telling inscription. In the first century A.D., Iconium was not under the authority of Lycaonia but of Phrygia, from A.D. 37-72—the exact time period when Paul and his companions would have visited the area (2).

Acts 17:1-9 relates the experience of Paul and his companions in Thessalonica. Luke uses the term politarch (translated “city officials” in NIV) in verse 6, a word not found in any other Greek literature. But Ramsay found five inscriptions in Thessalonica that used the title (3).

In Acts 18:12-17 Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. At Delphi, Ramsay and his team discovered an inscription of a letter to the proconsul from Emperior Claudius: “Lucius Junios Gallio, my friend and proconsul of Achaia.”

 

(The ruins at Delphi, Greece)

 

Historians date the inscription to 52 A.D., which corresponds to the time Paul and Silas would have visited the area (4).

In all, Ramsay was able to verify ninety-five geographical details included in the book of Acts, as well as historical facts and the names of people who existed at the time. He found no evidence of errors (5).

 

(Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, 1924)

 

Ramsay authored numerous books that give record of his findings. In one he wrote:

“I began with a mind unfavorable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me . . .but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth . . .

“. . . Luke is a historian of the first rank not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians” (6).

Some say Ramsay’s search for truth brought him to faith in Christ; others argue that he did not embrace Christianity.

But I can’t imagine dedicating decades of my life toward a cause in which I held no personal belief.

What I can imagine is God leading Ramsay from proof to proof while simultaneously working in his heart, bringing him to the point of belief in the Bible and finally in his Son as Savior.

 

 

Notes:

  1. See Acts 18:23, 14:6, and 2:9 for mention of these provinces.
  2. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/historical-accuracy-of-the-bible/question13-is-acts-historically-accurate.cfm
  3. https://highergrounds.live/2017/12/05/sir-william-ramsay-and-the-book-of-acts/
  4. https://christiantrumpetsounding.com/Archaeology/Archaeology%20Bklt/Archaeology%20Verifies%20Bible%20Ch2.htm
  5. http://taoandtawheed.com/TaoTawheed/TabId/108/ArtMID/550/ArticleID/61/Luke-Got-His-Facts-Straight.aspx
  6. William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, 222.

 

Other sources:

  1. https://www.5minutesinchrchhistory.com/sir-william-ramsay/
  2. https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence
  3. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ramsay/ramsay_gasque.pdf

 

Photo credits:  http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.loc.getarchive.net; http://www.pxhere.co

 

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How it might have been:

Edward’s fingers followed the pick-ax marks carved in a left-to-right direction.  He marveled at the skill and perseverance of long-ago workmen to create a tunnel of such length–a tunnel he thought might be the one ordered by King Hezekiah 2,500 years previously.

 

 

Suddenly Edward drew in a sharp breath. The markings abruptly changed direction. Instead of left-to-right blows, they became right-to-left, and an astonishing thought occurred to him.

“Eli,” he called. “Look at this. What do you make of it?”

His explorer-companion came alongside and fingered the wall as Edward had done. “How strange. All of a sudden the pick-ax marks change direction.”

“I’m thinking there must have been two teams of workmen, Eli—each working toward the middle from opposite ends. That would cut in half the time necessary to create such a tunnel.”

Time would have been of the essence to King Hezekiah as the Assyrians threatened to attack Jerusalem. No water source existed within the city walls. So the king ordered the tunnel be constructed in order to redirect the Gihon Spring into the city, and deprive the enemy of water at the same time.

 

 

Edward Robinson and Eli Smith continued sloshing through shallow water along the twisting, two-feet wide tunnel. Could it be that, behind the silt that had built up for centuries, they had indeed rediscovered Hezekiah’s tunnel, referred to in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah? Curiosity kept them going.

In fact it was curiosity that had brought Edward to Palestine in the first place. His Puritan upbringing in the early 1800s had instilled in him a love for scripture, which he studied with a passion, along with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Now age 44, he was finally exploring the beloved land of the Bible, for the purpose of creating the first systematic survey of biblical geography (1). God had provided Edward with a knowledgeable guide and translator, Eli Smith, a missionary of the region.

After a thirty-minute trek through the underground stream, Edward and Eli found the tunnel did lead to the Gihon Spring outside Jerusalem’s walls.

But the Bible says nothing of two teams working from either end. How could such a feat have been achieved, 140 feet below ground at some points, long before the compass had been invented?

In addition, the tunnel twists and turns for 1,738 feet. A straight line from pool to spring would have shortened the distance considerably, to slightly more than 1,000 feet. Why did the foreman of the crew choose a winding route when an Assyrian invasion loomed at any time?

 

 

Edward Robinson’s idea of two teams working toward the middle remained a theory until 1880 when several boys playing in the Siloam Pool (as it came to be known) decided to explore the tunnel for themselves.

About 20 feet from the entrance, one boy spotted an inscription in the wall. The find was reported to authorities, and Professor A. H. Sayce, a resident in the area at the time, was sent to study the ancient writing. He reportedly sat for hours in mud and water, transcribing the inscription by candlelight (2).

 

This is a replica; the original resides

in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

 

The inscription included the following information:

    1. While stone-cutters worked toward each other, and while three cubits of rock remained to tunnel through, a workman’s voice was heard, because of a fissure in the rock.
    2. On the final day of tunneling, each stonecutter struck the stone forcefully in order to meet his co-worker. And then the water began to flow toward the pool.
    3. The full distance of the tunnel: 1200 cubits. The height of the rock above the stone-cutters’ heads: 100 cubits. (3).

After more than forty years, Edward Robinson’s theory was proven correct.

But Hezekiah’s name is not mentioned.  How can we be sure the tunnel dates to the time of the ancient king?

In 2003, archaeologists implemented modern radiometric dating, based on the decay of radioactive elements. They determined the excavation of Hezekiah’s tunnel did occur about 700 years before Christ, the era of the Judean king’s reign (4).

As for the winding route, some speculate that workers followed natural fissures in the rock as well as cracks that already seeped water, making the process easier and faster.

Last, how did workmen meet in the middle so far underground? That is still a mystery and source of wonder. It would seem God himself brought the two teams together.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Robinson completed a three-volume work, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea that laid the groundwork for a new realm of study: biblical archaeology. https://www.vision.org/digging-faith-370
  2. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/101-hezekiahs-tunnel
  3. https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/siloam-inscription-and-hezekiahs-tunnel (translated by Christopher Rollston).
  4. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-09/huoj-dok090903.php

 

Other sources:

  1. Archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan, 2005, p. 564
  2. https://www.hopechannel.com/au/read/siloam-inscription
  3. http://www.land-of-the-bible.com/Hezekiah_Tunnel
  4. http://www.land-of-the-bible.com/node/854

 

Art and photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pickist.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org (2), http://www.canva.com.

 

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