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Madaba Plains Project





Kenneth Davis



Doug Clark



Wayne Teasdale



Joann Davidson



Lawrence T. Geraty



Jeffrey Sheler

  
Dwight Nelson:

Millions of people around the world have this book. In fact, according to one recent survey, 9 out of 10 Americans own it but fewer than half have ever read it. Where did the Bible come from? Is it from God? Can it be trusted? I'm Dwight Nelson. Let's look at the evidence.

Dwight Nelson:

I think for most of us, the Bible is hard to understand. It's confusing. It seems contradictory at times. To some people, it's even boring. In other words, the Bible perfectly fits Mark Twain's definition of a classic: "A book which people praise and don't read." Today we hope to change that. We start with writer-historian, Dr. Kenneth Davis.

Kenneth Davis:

We use this book, the Bible, all the time when we're debating politics, when we're debating social issues. The whole range of them. But we never really stop and wonder who wrote this thing? What did these things mean 4,000 years ago when they wrote it? What language did they write it in?

Doug Clark:

It's always the case that we move from a different language, culture, and time. So, we have to be sensitive to TLC, to time, language, and culture when we go back to the Biblical world. And then I think we're in a better position to make the application.

Wayne Teasdale:

The writers of the Bible were persons like us. Some were educated, some weren't. They had their own agendas, hidden and conscious and otherwise. And they functioned within a certain economic, geographic, political, and linguistic historical context.

Joann Davidson:

So, therefore, I'm going to try to put each writer in it's historical context. Put him or her in the time they were living and you have to do that first to find out what they were saying first and then you put the different writers together and the different time frames that they come and say this is the picture God wants me to have.

Doug Clark:

When we read the Bible, we are always in the business of interpreting, whether we admit it or not. We are always in the business of interpreting. I did hear someone say one time that children would behave better if we would return to the Bible and do exactly what it says and if a son curses his parents, he should be stoned. And the person…this is on a tap,e and the person said if we were to follow that today we would have a lot less juvenile delinquency. We may have a lot less juveniles if we did that today. What I would rather look for - and here's where archeology helps: If I could get at what those words meant to the people who first heard them, I think I am in a better position to know what they mean to me.

Dan Matthews:

If you were to invite 5 people to come together and bring their Bibles, likely as not, they'd bring 5 different books. There are Jewish Bibles and Roman Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles. And if that weren't enough, there are about 3,500 English versions of the Bible. Of course the best known of all of those is the 1611 King James Version.

Kenneth Davis:

Most English speaking people think that the Bible is the King James version. It's a 300-year old piece of literature that was often poorly translated. We know that they made mistakes in 1611. The English is archaic. God didn't say "thee" and "thou." Nor did Jesus. They spoke certainly…Jesus spoke in Aramaic, a language that is related to Hebrew. The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible was written mostly in an ancient form of Hebrew. It's a very difficult language. There are no vowels in the written form of it. It's only consonants. So there was even a guessing game in some respects.

Joann Davidson:

I admit that there's still some hard parts to understand, but the more we…we study the original languages, the more the different disciplines that feed into to Bible study, like the historians and archeology and scientists and they…they find out more and we fit it together. All the time believing this is God's perspective on history, on humanity, on Himself. And then…then you begin to find the …what some call the full-orbed message of truth. Finding the whole picture.

Dan Matthews:

Finding the whole picture can be difficult when you read some of the ancient laws. For instance, what do laws regarding animal sacrifice and sexual practice and other aspects of tribal life in Biblical times have to do with the 21st century? What about the requirement of an annual goat banishment to cleanse from sin? Can we really be expected to take the Bible seriously?

Doug Clark:

I take the Bible seriously. But I don't always take it literally with some of these laws. I want to understand what they meant to the people who first heard them and what God intended for those laws to do. Another example would be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That meant something in a society with tribal groups. We know this archeologically about tribal groups. And the law was serious. If somebody took a tooth out of your tribal group, you needed to take a tooth out of their group. It was the law to do it, but no more than a tooth. Otherwise you get this Hatfields and McCoys kind of development. So, in a tribal group that meant something. But by the time we get to the New Testament, Jesus talks about, "You have heard an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other cheek." So society had changed. A law that was meant to preserve tribal groups is no longer useful.

Kenneth Davis:

For me that…asking all these questions, pressing all these historical issues, ultimately brought me back to a realization that there are things clearly that I don't understand. But that's what God told Job, that: "You are too small and puny to understand all this. You weren't even around when I created this whole thing." And in a way that's not a satisfying answer, but ultimately I think that's sometimes what we're left with - and that's what faith really is.

 

Joann Davidson:

I found myself addicted to this book, now. I just want to find out more. I just hunger to find out the picture of God that He wants me to have.

Dwight Nelson:

As you can see, the Bible is a controversial book. Marriages have been united by it. Countries have been divided by it. But is it true? Is it historically accurate? What does recent archeological evidence tell us? We'll find out when we come back.

Dwight Nelson

The Madaba Plains project is an archeological site covering a vast area in central Jordan. Three locations within that site have received particular attention. Tel Hisban, Tel Jalu, and Tell el-`Umeiri. For the last 30 years, archeologists Doug Clark and Larry Geraty have led expeditions to this site.

Doug Clark

It began in the late 60's with a man, Dr. Sigfried Horn, who actually was a mentor for a number of us who continue to work there. And it began at a site called Hesbon, shows up in a number of places in the Old Testament. Then, when excavations were completed there after 5 seasons, we moved to a couple of other places. But still in the plains, the Madaba Plains. They are just south of the capital city of Amman, Jordan.

 

Larry Geraty:

At Heshbon, the site we began with, we found a huge reservoir up near the top of the mound that was built in the 10th century BC. And it almost certainly is the pools of Heshbon mentioned in the Song of Solomon in the Bible where he's describing his beloved and he says: "Your eyes are like the pools at Hesbon by the gate of Bariheim." And so if these pools are full of water sparkling in the sunlight, you can see how they would be an apt simile for you know, somebody's eyes.

Kenneth Davis:

In the past 30 years, actually 50 years, but more recently, there have been extraordinary finds in the holy land in particular, of sites, buildings, temples, living places, that have a great deal to do with the events in the Bible.

Dan Matthews:

But not all the archeological evidence we have supports a Biblical story. For example, to date noone has found solid evidence that the wall surrounding the city of Jericho came down just as the Bible describes. And to date, there's a problem with the story that the children of Israel conquered another city shortly after the exodus from Egypt. That city was Heshbon.

Doug Clark:

Heshbon really doesn't date back to when we would date the exodus. There are two dates for the exodus. Some people would suggest the 15th century BC, the 1400's. Others would say the 1200's. Either way you go with that, the town of Heshbon wasn't quite there yet. And so, maybe it was somewhere else. And there was a movement of peoples that ended up planting it where we now find what we find. What I think we have to do is…is recognize that the Biblical stories somehow begin with a historical event. Something happened. These things don't just come out of nowhere.

Kenneth Davis:

In the last 50 years, there have been all kinds of digs that have brought to light things that support the historicity of the Bible. The Dead Sea scrolls being one of the most famous. These were found just after World War II and as a result of those finds, we now have manuscripts for the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, that go back before the time of Jesus even. So, every year, there are finds that are made that are important establishing the Bible as a very historically and accurate book.

Doug Clark:

Very often we have a sense, I think, a lot of people grow up with the idea that the Bible happened in Never Never Land. That it didn't really happen. It's like the Greek myths or the legends of King Arthur. But if you go back and look at history, you find a lot of clear connections and clear parallels between events in the Bible and recorded history.

Dan Matthews:

One thing history makes clear is that life in Bible times was nothing like life in Never Never land. People struggled against the elements. Lice, wild animals, drought, starvation. Life was hard. And death was an ever-present reality.

Doug Clark:

If your children survived until their teen years, you were fortunate. Life expectancy? 35. That's doing well. We don't think in those terms. And when we look back at the Biblical passages, and we say, you know, those people complained a lot, you know. "Moses, why are you taking us out here? You know, we're out of water. We need some food." The truth of the matter is, they were out of food. They were out of water. They were most of the time. It was hard to live. These people died young. They worked hard. They had as many children as they could. That was their labor force. This was a subsistence economy in which I mean that people grew what they could eat. There was not a lot of trading back and forth. So when you know those kinds of things, I think we end up having a bit more sympathy for some of these people in Bible times. And I think we can understand and appreciate the Biblical passages better.

Kenneth Davis:

Of all the questions that I have asked and that people have asked me over the years that I've been working and thinking about this book, nobody has really asked me what the future of the Bible is. But I think it's survived 4,000 years, 2,000 years in the case of the New Testament. So it's future is probably secure.

Dwight Nelson:

When we come back, the Religion editor of U.S. News and World Report explores some of the thorniest aspects of current debates about the Bible. What he says might surprise you.

Music  
Dwight Nelson:

I'm talking to journalist, Jeffery Sheler, Religion Editor of U.S. News and World Report and author of this fascinating book: Is the Bible True? In fact, even more fascinating, the sub-title: "How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of Scriptures." Welcome Jeffrey.

Jeffery Sheler: Thank you.
Dwight Nelson:

Glad to have you on The Evidence.

Jeffery Sheler: Thank you Dwight.
Dwight Nelson:

I want to move right to this title: Is the Bible True? Is this even the question to ask if the Bible is a book of faith and not a book of history?

Jeffery Sheler:

You know, if the…if the Bible's history…

Dwight Nelson: Uh huh.
Jeffery Sheler:

…could be proven to be false, then that would cast a very major shadow over the Bible's theological claims. No, you can't prove the theological claims as a historian. But you can substantiate the history. Therefore, the Bible creates a historical context that is firm and sound that underlies the theological claims.

Dwight Nelson:

So what are some of the ways then that you or somebody sets out to prove the veracity of Biblical history?

Jeffery Sheler:

Well, you do what a good journalist would do. Or a good historian. You ask questions. You examine the sources. Who are the sources? How authoritative are they? How reliable are they? You look for physical evidence. You look for documentary evidence.

Dwight Nelson: Are there pieces…
Jeffery Sheler:

Oh, there's a tremendous amount of evidence of that nature. There's a tremendous amount. Archeologists during this last century have uncovered a tremendous…a wealth of information, inscriptions, artifacts, ruins, architectural ruins, that really do create a good sound picture.

Dwight Nelson:

Do you mean now when you say they have found actual evidence. Are you talking about parallel events to Biblical history or actual verification of events recorded in Scripture?

Jeffery Sheler:

Well both really. We have evidence that certainly under-girds the context, the historical context, of many of the stories of the Bible. Setting those stories then in a real recoverable, provable historical context. But we also, in some cases, have dramatic corroboration of the actual episodes.

Dwight Nelson: What's dramatic?
Jeffery Sheler:

Well one, for example, if you look at the ancient Assyrian inscriptions from the king of Assyria's King Sennacherib. He wrote about his military exploits, his invasion of Judah, talks about invading Judah, laying siege to Jerusalem, laying siege to Lachish, and when you read about this in the annals of Sennacherib, and then you pick up the book of 2 Kings in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, it is…

Dwight Nelson: Same description.
Jeffery Sheler:

Parallel…it's a parallel description. I mean not word for word, but I mean, that clearly they are talking about…

Dwight Nelson: Sure.
Jeffery Sheler:

… the same thing. And they go together. Now that to me is dramatic corroboration of Biblical history.

Dwight Nelson: Ok.
Jeffery Sheler:

Now there is also indirect corroboration that is also dramatic.

Dwight Nelson: Such as…
Jeffery Sheler:

About 7 years ago in upper Galilee, some archeologists discovered a stone that they turn it over and it had inscription on it. This inscription was found in a wall. They determined that this inscription was written by Syrians, not Assyrians, but Syrians…

Dwight Nelson: Ok.
Jeffery Sheler:

During the time of the divided kingdom, kingdom of Judah, kingdom of Israel. In this inscription it mentions two people, two leaders who were defeated by the Syrians. They are the King of Israel…

Dwight Nelson: Yeah.
Jeffery Sheler:

And the House of David. Now that is the…that mention of David was a historical bombshell because that was the first time that the name of David had been discovered outside of the text of the Bible itself. Before that…

Dwight Nelson: Prior that no…
Jeffery Sheler: No mention.
Dwight Nelson:

…verification that David in fact was a historical figure?

Jeffery Sheler:

And skeptics like to jump on that fact to make the argument that David was a legend. That he was made up by priests during the exile to sort of create a noble history for this poor exiled nation. Give them something patriotic around which to rally. Now they could no longer make that argument because here was an inscription written inscribed within a 100 years of the time of David, not by Hebrew scribes or priests but by an enemy of Israel celebrating their victory over Israel and the house of David. That was dramatic corroboration, certainly not of all the stories do David, but certainly that now we know that David was a true historical figure.

Dwight Nelson:

And then the discovery, what 40-50 years ago? Dead Sea scrolls. That actually being, according to your book, a fairly seminal discovery in terms of verifying the authenticity. Why?

Jeffery Sheler:

Well the Dead Sea Scrolls which, of course, were the most dramatic and important archeological discovery of the 20th century, really do two things in regards to the Bible. The Scrolls contained within those 800 or so documents almost half of them, nearly half of them, were Biblical texts.

Dwight Nelson: Straight out of the corpus?
Jeffery Sheler:

They were scrolls that made up the Hebrew Bible. Every book of the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Esther was found within the Dead Sea scrolls.

Dwight Nelson: Is that right?
Jeffery Sheler:

And in many cases there were numerous copies of each book. When scholars were able to examine those Biblical texts they found many things but the most dramatic and important thing that they found was how well-preserved the Hebrew Bible has traveled these last 2,000 years. In other words, while some scholars had made the case that the Bible probably was altered, particularly in the first Christian centuries, now we suddenly had texts that went back to the turn of era, Biblical texts. And when we looked at those texts we see that there were virtually no major changes from that day to this day in the text of the Hebrew Bible. That was an important corroboration of the preservation, of the integrity, of the Hebrew Bible.

 

Dwight Nelson:

So, I walk into a bookstore. You've convinced me, Jeffrey. I need to check this book out. And I'm reading the book. It is possible that if there is a God, I could interface? I could connect somehow through the Book?

Jeffery Sheler:

Well that has been the experience of millions of people for 2,000 years. That is what has made the Bible what it is. The fact that it continues to be a best seller. It is not because of the pictures. It's not because of the snazzy story line. It's because of how it speaks to people, how it resonates to them personally and how it reveals for them the existence of the God of Israel who is active in history, redeeming history, and is communicating. That is what believers have believed the Bible to be.

Dwight Nelson:

Jeffrey Sheeler, fascinating book: Is the Bible True? Delighted to have you on The Evidence. Thank you for coming.

Jeffery Sheler: Thank you.
Dwight Nelson:

So what do you think? What do you think about the Bible? Tell us. Visit our website. You can find us at www.theevidence.org. I'll be back in just a moment with what I think, right after this.

Music  
Dwight Nelson:

Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, Daniel and the fall of Babylon, Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. These are Bible stories that many of us have learned in childhood. And let's face it, these stories often seem less and less credible as we get older. They seem removed from the real world. But remarkably enough, archeologists unearthing clay jars and Assyrian inscriptions and temple pillars have validated those very same stories. They have shown us how Biblical records fit in time and place. They have dug up artifacts that confirm details in those same narratives. In other words, archeology has helped to turn what many critics assume were mere legends, into history. I think that's something unique about the Bible. Some scholars in fact have concluded that no other document intertwines stories of God's intervention, the facts of history, so well. And I find that a wonderfully hopeful phenomenon. Because it suggests to me that God can indeed can be active in my history, in my life. It suggests that God's plans can intertwine with my challenges and problems and longings. After all, isn't that the bottom line? Don't we all hope there's a word, a message, a voice that can guide us now, and here? What archeology has helped to show us is that the Bible is a guide with the greatest of credentials. That's what I think. I'm Dwight Nelson. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.







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