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Monday, July 7, 2008

Jesus and Archaeology

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Early last year a story appeared that purported to prove that, unlike what the New Testament tells us and what billions of Christians have believed since the first century or so, Jesus Christ did no die only to be resurrected and then ascend into heaven. Instead, according to this "new discovery" we learn that like many other ordinary people of his day Jesus was married, died and and buried with his wife and family in the family tomb. You see, the family tomb has been "found". No Resurrection, no religion as we have known it.


On the other hand, in 1961...

The first physical evidence relating to Pilate was discovered..., when a block of
black limestone
[pictured below] was found in the Roman theatre at Caesarea Maritima, the
capital of the province of Iudaea, bearing a damaged dedication by Pilate of a Tiberieum.[9] This dedication states that he was [...]ECTVS IUDA[...] (usually read as praefectus iudaeae), that is, prefect/governor of Iudaea. The early governors of Iudaea were of prefect rank, the later were of procurator rank, beginning with Cuspius Fadus in 44.


The inscription is currently housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where its Inventory number is AE 1963 no. 104. Dated to 26–37, it was discovered in Caesarea (Israel) by a group led by Antonio Frova.























Score one for the the historical story of Jesus.

Now comes this story of a tablet dating back to slightly before the time of Jesus upon which is (supposedly) written evidence to the effect that Jesus' reported "...death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time." As with most such ancient artifacts its authenticity and actual meaning is somewhat in doubt. While it may date to a time before Jesus, because of its poor condition it is difficult to be sure exactly what it is saying: Does it really indicate that there will be a risen (after three days) messiah? Is the messiah it talks about a person named Simon, also mentioned in the text? Is it really talking about Barack Obama, and not Jesus? (Ok, that was a little joke.)

Believers may now move to one corner of the room and non believers to the other and you can start yelling your arguments at each other. The fact is that militant atheists are always eager to latch onto some bit of "evidence" that they believe will somehow negate the truth of "Christianity" (oddly, they never seem to spend much time looking into the archaeological record to see if they can negate any of the Koran). On the other hand Christan believers can sometimes be a little defensive on the subject of the veracity of Jesus' existence and word.

For me, while I find Biblical archaeology fascinating I tend to agree with the Catholic Church's (and maybe Protestant policy on this as well; I'm just not that familiar with it to know for sure) take on this sort of thing. Christianity's truth will not be found in archaeology, or any other science. In modern times, anyway the Church does not seem to fear science as it once did. Faith, by its very definition is beyond science. We can look for many answers to many questions in the universe that God created but we won't find a rationale for why he created the universe created that universe in it. For that we have to look elsewhere, to religion.

I'm always sort of amazed at the way militant atheists are condescending about believers for all the "absurd" things they believe that are so far away from what everyday experience should tell them is nonsense. Yet these same atheists don't find the current scientific explanation about the creation of the universe, the Big Bang theory, wherein all matter in the universe was once contained in a space a trillionth of what it now is and inexplicably exploded, and (briefly, faster than the speed of light) expanded and cooled to become the universe we all know. Now if you want a crazy story...

Personally I have no problem in believing in the Big Bang, evolution etc. and in Jesus' resurrection, too. Christ's message of redemption is so deep and profound that it "feels right". I'm not a great Catholic, probably not a particularly good one but the older I get the more the story of Christ strikes me as "elegant" as the scientists might say and the less worried I am about the revelations of science and the more I see the strength that exists in faith.

So let the archaeologists, the physicists, the mathemeticians, etc. have at it. I'm betting God isn't afraid of them. And if He's not, neither am I.

Oh, as an addendum: The "photo" of Christ at the top of this post comes from a Popular Science story that investigated what an average man of Jesus' time in Israel probably looked like. And the Jesus' tomb story is now generally considered to have been debunked by most archaeologists.

1 comment:

Micha Elyi said...

Many folks are surprised to discover that it was a Catholic priest, Fr. Georges LemaƮtre, who was the cosmologist and mathematician that originated the theory now today as the Big Bang.

Even fewer people today remember that Fred Hoyle coined the phrase "Big Bang" in order to mock the theory that now bears that name. A theory of the origin of the universe that began from nothing and without a past sounded like creationism to Hoyle and other top astronomers of that day and therefore they gave in to the temptation to mock that science. Does that past behavior of the science establishment sound familiar to anyone today?