Monday, February 28, 2011

The Jesus Tomb

Dr. David R. ReaganPDFBy Dr. David R. Reagan

In February of 2007 Oscar-winning director, James Cameron (The Titanic), and his counterpart, Emmy award-winning documentary film maker, Simcha Jacobovici, held a press conference in New York to promote a film they had produced for the Discovery Channel entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

Displaying some ossuaries (bone boxes) discovered in Jerusalem, they claimed that the boxes came from "the family tomb" of Jesus and that one of the boxes actually contained the bones of Jesus.

Needless to say, this announcement caused a sensation — not among the general public, but among professional archaeologists. The general public seemed to yawn and dismiss the whole show as nothing but a bunch of Hollywood hype. Archaeologists, on the other hand, reacted in fury. They were outraged that two amateurs who knew little or nothing about archaeology would have the audacity to make such absurd claims.

You see, the discovery was nothing new. The tomb and its contents were discovered in 1980 by some construction workers who were digging a foundation for a new building in Jerusalem. The find was immediately turned over to a team of professional archaeologists headed up by Professor Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

The tomb contained ten limestone ossuaries. Six of the ten had names scratched on them: Jesus the son of Joseph, Matthew, Jofa, Judah the son of Jesus, and two with the name of Mary.

Professor Kloner never made any attempt to associate this find with Jesus of Nazareth. His reasons were quite simple. First, the father of Jesus was a humble carpenter who could not have afforded a luxury crypt for his family. Second, the name of Jesus was so common among Jews in the First Century that it appears on 98 other tombs and 21 other ossuaries.

Professor Kloner responded to the claims of Cameron and Jacobovici by calling them "nonsense." "It makes a great story for a TV film," he said, "but it is impossible." He added:

There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties to Jerusalem. This tomb belonged to a middle-class family... I refute all their claims and efforts to waken a renewed interest in the finding. With all due respect, they are not archaeologists.

There are other factors to be taken into consideration in evaluating the claims of Cameron and Jacobovici. For one thing, there is no historical record of Jesus ever being referred to by His followers as "Jesus, the son of Joseph." To His disciples He was "Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God."

Nor did His family live in Jerusalem. Their residence was 70 miles north in the village of Nazareth, located in the Galilee of Israel. At the time Jesus was killed, He was a pilgrim in Jerusalem — thus the necessity to bury Him in a borrowed tomb, not a family tomb.

Oh yes, there is one more point that should be made. Regardless of where the tomb of Jesus may be, we know for certain from the testimony of many eye-witnesses that it is empty. In short, no one is ever going to find the bones of Jesus.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Kings

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Is there any historical evidence to prove that David and Solomon were real people?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: There is a kind of pottery that is called a two color ware, or bichrome ware, in the hill countries of Judah. There is a debate as to how long it was used then. I don't want to get into all the details of that, but some say that it was used in 1000 BC, while some say not until the 900's BC. If it is in 1000 BC that it was being used, then we have lots of evidence for structures that date to the united monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon. If someone puts the date down to the 900's, it means it's during the divided monarchy. The general tradition more and more archaeologists are supporting is there's evidence in the hill country of Judea starting as early as 1000 BC, which means we have lots of pottery showing sites.

There was an item found at Tel Dan that had the "house of David" written on it. It is from 700 BC. What is interesting with that wording is that every word had a little dot between it, but the word "house" and the word "David" did not have a dot on that inscription. This means Davidic Dynasty, right, and not "house of David." An Assyrian king was boasting that he killed the King of Israel and the house of David in Judea. But, this certainly convinced most archaeologists, as you would expect. A dynasty that lasted 400 years in the Bible without lacking male prodigy, which is very unusual, "house of David" is going to be mentioned by some neighbor at some point. It is great that we have that.

Generally, more and more scholars as you would expect as there are more excavations are feeling there is a lot of evidence for a Davidic ruler there.

There are excavations of the Ancient City of David that might indicate the historicity of both Solomon and David. David had conquered a Jebusite city and renamed it "City of David." It has to do with the dating of that particular kind of pottery, but a major archaeologist working there feels she's even found what may be the actual administrative palace of David. It is at least a large structure with four foot thick walls that seems to be from that period.

The "Stronghold of Zion" is a synonym for David's city. A 45 foot high huge rampart — the tallest structure from the Old Testament period — has been found. That certainly seems to fit with the phrase "Stronghold of Zion."


Where did the Transfiguration of Jesus take place?

Dr. Fleming: The mountain was unnamed. Jesus and the disciples would have withdrawn from Galilee in what scholars call the "withdraw section" to the district of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is not in Galilee. Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas wanted to see Jesus. Do you remember, he'd just finished seeing John killed? He also wants to kill Jesus. Jesus leaves Galilee and he withdraws to Herod Philip's territory. It is further north. Then, a week later, Jesus is at an unnamed mountain in the withdraw section.

A number of mountains have been suggested. Since the mountain is unnamed, I don't think it is Mount Hermon itself. If it was a famous mountain it would be named, but could be one of the high foothills or cinder cones around Mount Hermon which would be an unnamed mountain. The other sites claimed like Mount Meron and Mount Tabor are in Galilee, and if you take the biblical text seriously, remember they've withdrawn from Galilee.

On the top of Mount Tabor there is a beautiful church to remember the Transfiguration, but there was a city there in the time of Jesus. You just don't get the feeling from the text that Jesus was in a city with Peter, James and John during the Transfiguration.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Noahs Ark

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Has Noah's Ark been found?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: Haven't found it yet.

There is a high mountain with the name Mount Ararat on the border between Eastern Turkey and Armenia. Unfortunately, it is a border area with people who haven't had good relations. You can't just easily go and excavate and explore.

The other problem we have is that there was a partial ice age in the late 1500's and the early 1600's AD giving us most of the glaciers we have here in the United States as well. There is a Turkish inn that we know of from 1500 that used to be on a mountain pass there. With the melting of some of the glaciers some wood protrudes from something which is a three story Turkish inn known from sources. You can imagine the religious imagination wanting to prove that is the ark.

The other factor is there is a natural erosion of gullies that make patterns that look sort of pointed on either end in the ground. One of those a producer named Ron Wyatt suggested was Noah's Ark. He wanted it so much to be Noah's Ark that he took a metal detector and walked every foot back and forth. Well, let's say it is pointed. Wyatt walked in straight lines and had a white rope with him and creating parallel lines. Every time there was a beep he put down a rock and he photographed that spot, claiming those were nails from the floor boards of Noah's Ark.


Wyatt's Ark

Now, stop and think about it, if he had walked curlicues with a rope and every time it bleeped he put a rock down, then curlicue is how it would look. The shape was based on the way he walked right? It is just crazy I'm sorry to say.

The Bible says Noah's Ark rested on the mountains of Ararat, not Mount Ararat (Gen. 8:4). Generally, that is uphill from Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It seems to be the correct area.

Does Noah's Ark really have to be preserved, though? We need to be cautious.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Exodus

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Did the Exodus actually happen, since there is supposedly no archaeological evidence?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: In Judaism, when you ask a difficult question, the rabbis would always preface it by saying, "Please tell me while standing on one foot." So, I will give you a one foot answer.

You should not expect The Egyptian Daily News to have an article about Pharaoh and his army being defeated. They only would report victories. And so, it is not surprising that we don't have recordings of defeats. Everything the king says is good and powerful and stuff like that.

There are many evidences, though, that the Hebrews came from a time living in Egypt. The land itself shows a gradual change of pottery from east to west, meaning from the Jordan Valley to Mount Judah to the coastal plain, just as presented in the books of Joshua and Judges. This shows that people did enter from east of the land as the Bible says.


Exodus

More specifically, there are some things that we need to be open to. Could there have been more than one exodus? The Bible records more than one route for the Exodus. In one tradition they are not allowed through Moab and Edom, yet in another text the kings of Moab and Edom let them through. At some sites in the land they worship the Lord at Gilgal, while at Shechem and other sites they battle. Could there have been a number of times the Lord brought people out of Egypt? The largest exodus would have been the Moses/Joshua led exodus and that is what ended up in the Bible. The total number then would be the number that the Lord brought out of Egypt on a number of exodi.

We just have to be careful to say the Bible says for sure there is only one Exodus when there is more than one route in the Bible. If it may have, it still would be an Old Testament miracle of par excellence. God brought the forced labor class from out of Egypt and He started their own nation.

Nathan Jones: I've never before thought of there possibly being more than one Exodus, or considered a number of Hebrew groups merging together at some point under Moses' leadership. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Mount Sinai

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Where is the Mount Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: There is a problem with identifying the location. In remote areas you don't have people living at the same oasis where they can pass on a tradition from parent to son or daughter without break. Most of these areas are places of sojourn that they just go through. Of the more than 30 places in Exodus mentioned with names where the Israelites stopped, only four of them sound like any modern Arabic name, and in the desert those are the largest oasis where people lived.

We have lot of questions. How large was the Sinai Desert at the time? The same question can be posed for the Wilderness of Zin, the Wilderness of Paran, etcetera.

It is true, we just don't have good archaeological evidence for the traditional Mount Sinai — Jabal Musa — the Mountain of Moses.


Mount Sinai

It has also been suggested that a site in Saudi Arabia had a volcanic eruption somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and so we ask if that could be the fire and smoke of that biblical period. The problem is the Saudi's have not permitted any sound archaeological surveys there. To put all your eggs in one basket for a site that hasn't had proper excavation is very iffy archaeology.

The earliest known tradition we have for that mountain is 250 AD. Again, we are talking about the Exodus period happening between 1400 and 1200 BC.

There has been a mountain from the Nabataeans some 200 BC that we have found "x son of y was here," but it doesn't say why he was there. We just don't have enough to go on because it was a place of sojourn.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Tomb of Jesus

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Where was Jesus really buried?

There are two particular sites in Jerusalem that claim the location of the Crucifixion and the temporary resting place of Jesus' body afterwards. The first to make that claim is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is located inside the current walls of the Old City. The second is the Garden Tomb which is located just slightly north of the Damascus Gate of the Old City. There are also some who would argue that the location could have been on the Mount of Olives, though there's not a strong case for this location.

Typically, groups Lamb & Lion Ministries takes on a tour of Israel when they go into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can really become turned off by all of the blatant idolatry and the suffocating darkness of the building. Whereas, the Garden Tomb is bright, airy and peaceful, indicating a more restful garden-like atmosphere. Much emotion is tied to both locations, but getting over the emotion of it all, where strictly from a scientific, archaeological viewpoint was Jesus crucified, buried, and resurrected?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: May I quote one of my favorite sayings as a teacher which the student don't like? "Let me enrich you with a new uncertainty."

You know, I am honored to be an archaeological advisor for the Garden Tomb, and it is one of my favorite places in Jerusalem to go to and reflect and pray. It deserves the sanctity. The Garden Tomb has, of course, a beautiful garden. It has a site that looks like a tomb within the garden.

On the other hand, the Holy Sepulchre houses six different denominations, sometimes having services at the same time and in terrible competition with one another. It is hard to feel the Spirit of Christ there.


Sepulcher Golgotha

Nathan Jones: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the Catholic traditional sites of both the crucifixion and tomb. This spot is where Jesus supposedly was crucified.


Stone Kissers

Nathan Jones: Catholics kissing the stone slab Jesus' body supposedly rested on after being taken down from the cross. While the architecture in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is wonderful, the gross idolatry in the "church" rivals a Hindu shrine. Jerusalem Jews think of this when they think "Christianity."

Dr. Fleming: I once while visiting the Garden Tomb saw an Armenian Orthodox priest who I recognized as working in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and there he was praying. After he finished his prayer, I went up to him and asked, "What's a nice Armenian like you doing at a place like this?" Listen to his answer. I think it reflects the view of many Christians. He said, "We might have the right place at the Holy Sepulchre, but for me this is a nicer place to remember it."

Most evidences for any site's authenticity will fall into three categories: 1) geographical evidence, 2) historical evidence, and 3) archaeological evidence.

The Garden Tomb has excellent geographical evidence. It was outside the walls of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. It is also located along a major road that went both from Jerusalem north to Damascus and from Jerusalem east to the Mount of Olives in Jericho. The Romans liked crucifying on major roads. It has a huge water cistern within it which is too large for a house. It was probably for irrigation that would naturally go with a garden.

The Garden Tomb has near it an Old Testament stone quarry that left a cliff, and most ancient quarries that left cliffs were reused as cemeteries because it is nicer to have a wall entrance to a tomb then a floor entrance to a tomb. A tomb is actually located there. The face of the quarry still looks like a skull. There are three reasons why it can be described as looking like a skull. It is called Golgotha or Skull because it either looks like a skull, it is smooth on top like the top of a cranium, or skull skeletons were found nearby. Looking from the Garden Tomb, at a certain angle the facade of the cliff looks like a skull. Again, it is smooth on top like the top of a skull and nearby are tombs.


Golgotha

The weaknesses of the Garden Tomb being the actual location of the Crucifixion and burial place of Christ are the second two: history and archaeology. By the way, the Garden Tomb staff are always very conscious to end every one of their little talks with the claim that they cannot be sure it is actually the tomb of Jesus, but that it is an empty tomb which reminds us of the importance of the Resurrection. They always say, "Wherever the tomb is, it is empty."

Concerning the other two weaknesses of the Garden tomb, no one suggested the Garden Tomb until the 1880's AD. Many denominations were kicked out of the Holy Sepulchre, so if there was any memory of an alternate site you would think one of them would have gone to the Garden Tomb instead.

Many of the holy sites, like the site of the birth of Jesus, and the site of the death, burial and resurrection were all selected by the mother of Constantine some 300 years after the event. The three main sites she picked were the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Church of the Ascension. Those three fall under the three categories that her churches fall into. One is close, which is the Church of the Nativity. One is mistaken, which is the Church of the Ascension, though it is over a Jewish tomb from the time of Jesus.

One of those churches is probably accurate, and I'll quickly summarize why all Herodian Period archaeologists I know feel that the Holy Sepulchre has good archaeological evidence. It is over a Herodian period tomb, which means it would have been outside of the wall during the Herodian period, though we don't know for sure where exactly that wall was. Now, compared to the Holy Sepulchre Church, we do know the Garden Tomb is indeed outside. If there is a Herodian Period cemetery, which means 37 BC to 70 AD, that would be the exact kind of tomb.

Unfortunately, and it is hard for me to say it because I love the Garden Tomb so much, but it is an Old Testament style tomb in a line of Old Testament style tombs. Did you know that three feet inside the wall of the Garden Tomb is an Old Testament tomb with bones and pottery still in it from the Old Testament period? Remember then that Joseph of Arimathea's tomb was a newly cut tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Now, it is technically true that Mrs. Arimathea could have said, "Listen, Joe, I don't care if everybody else is making these fancy, schmancy Herodian period tombs. If you want me to be buried with you, you'll make them like they were in the Old Testament period." But, you see the point is it is near Old Testament tombs that still have Old Testament pottery in it.

Helena, the mother of Constantine, was not an archaeologist. She was probably not even a historian. She even probably knew little of the Bible. She selected them by writing a letter which we have to her son the Emperor. It went something like, "Dear Consti, you'll be glad to know that the local believers say that they have received from their ancestors an exact tradition for where the burial of Jesus was. It is under the Venus Aphrodite Pagan Temple that the Romans built." Did you know that we have the names of all the bishops of the Jerusalem church from James the relative of Jesus in the book of Acts until Helena?

Until 135 AD the location had a Jewish name because they were Jewish believers in Jesus. But, then the Jews had to leave Jerusalem, then so it went by a Gentile name. If there would be any site parents are going to pass onto their kids, it would be the tomb of the Resurrection for theological reasons. Sure enough, when they tore down the Venus Aphrodite site, they found what we now know is a Herodian period tomb. It is complicated, but it has all the characteristics of tombs in that very restricted period from 37 BC to 70 AD.

The Garden Tomb is still the nicer place to remember Jesus' sacrifice for us. Isn't it great how the Garden Tomb reminds us that a body is missing? An empty tomb points to the deeper theological truth, that the spirit of the raised Christ is alive and well and dwelling in our hearts today.


A False Claim

Nathan Jones: In 2007 there was a whole lot of to do over the supposed discovery of the tomb of the family of Jesus. James Cameron the famous producer and a film maker by the name of Simcha Jacobovici claimed this tomb, called the Talpiot Tomb, was the actual burial tomb of Jesus in their documentary The Jesus Family Tomb. They claimed since Jesus was buried, there could be no Resurrection.

Dr. Fleming: Their claim has a very serious problem. When names are found on bone boxes called ossuaries, and there were ten bone boxes found in that tomb, to say just because there is a Mary or there happens to be a Jesus son of Joseph on one of them, and there was a Matthew and a Martha, that these specific names from the Gospels where very common names. About 75% of the people in the time of Jesus have either the names of biblical characters or have Hasmonean names, which are the Jewish family that drove out the Greeks in the Second Century BC. There were very few first names.

The disciples shared their names with between 10-40% of the population during that period. A whole 7% of people were named Joshua, and more than that named Joseph. Simon is up at 20%! And so, Cameron's claim is just someone getting their exercise by jumping to conclusions in order to make a sensationalist documentary. Serious scholars would say there is no evidence that it could be the family of Jesus. Also, Jesus' family tomb would be in Nazareth, not in Jerusalem.

Also, this tomb was no new discovery. The Israeli's discovered this in the 1980's and they didn't make anything out of it.

What is most tragic is that one of the ossuaries contained a woman named Mary, who Cameron tried to show was Mary Magdalene and who was married to Jesus. One of the bone boxes held Judas son of Jesus, as if it showed Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child. All of this is Da Vinci Code stuff, which this guy believes in the Da Vinci Code still.

So, no, this wasn't a smoking gun after all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: Ark of the Covenant

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Where now is the Ark of the Covenant?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Fleming: This is a very curious question that so many people have. It is interesting. We do know from the Bible in 2 Kings 25 that Nebuchadnezzar burned the house of the Lord, the king's house, and every great man's house he burned with fire. That is our last specific mention of the Ark. As you might have guessed, some people wondered if the Babylonians then destroy it.

What is clear is that Ezra returned and rebuilt the Temple in the early 500's BC. Later, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls and things in the 400's, and then later Herod the Great rebuilt it.

No Jewish source speaks of the Ark, and in fact the opposite. When the Temple in the time of Jesus was described in Jewish memory, it reported the Holy of Holies was an empty room. There was a stone that stood three fingers high above the rest of the floor where the ancient Ark of the Covenant used to be, but behind the veil or the curtain there was an empty room.

Jews were wise enough as they probably learned from the prophets to know that God does not dwell in a box. The Lord could still be in their worship and their hearts. I'd rather have mercy then sacrifice as the Lord said.


Ark of the Covenant

So, no, there is no mention of the Ark of the Covenant. When the Roman's destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, what did they show back in Rome on the victory march? It is the Temple lamp stand, the trumpets, the menorah, and things like that, but no Ark.


Arch of Titus

Dr. Reagan: I have read a lot of Jewish sources who truly believe that the Ark is somewhere beneath the Temple Mount. Their argument is this, that it would have been unthinkable to have the precious Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant in there without some sort of chamber that you could take it to and hide it in the event of a siege of Jerusalem. And so, they argue that surely somewhere underground there is a special chamber where the Ark was put. They argue that the reason it was always empty during the time of the Second Temple was because they were under Roman occupation and they did not think it was appropriate to bring it out and put it in the Holy of Holies as long as they were under occupation. What do you have to say about that?

Dr. Fleming: That's an interesting theory, and none of them are mentioned at the time of the Roman period. These were made later looking back.

There certainly was time for the priests to hide the Ark. It was several weeks from when the Roman's broke in through the northern wall of Jerusalem until when they set the Temple platform on fire that they could have secreted it away. On the other hand, we are told that they thought because it was a Holy Temple that God would protect them. They even brought the women and children up to the Temple Mount just before it was all set on fire. They may have felt that maybe it would not fall and that God would somehow send a miracle and the city would survive.

Dr. Reagan: There are some who think the Ark was raptured and taken to Heaven and that John saw it in Revelation when he saw an Ark in Heaven. What about that?

Dr. Fleming: Again, it is one of those things. Is that a theological statement, or is it man shooting, or is it a historical event?

Nathan Jones: What about Ethiopia? Last year they was a big announcement. A church there was finally going to show the Ark sitting in their church in Ethiopia. Have you been to that church?

Dr. Fleming: Yes, I have. It is at a city named Axum. Every year at the Feast of the Ark of the Covenant it is brought out on a procession from the Miriam Church out to a water source. They tell you that you can look at the reflection of the Ark in the water, but you can't look directly at the Ark. There is a government control over this. Now, every Ethiopian Orthodox church has a replica of the Ark in their own sanctuary of their church. The replica looks nothing like the biblical drawings of it, and so I would be very skeptical.


Saint Mary of Zion Church

The other reason I'm skeptical has to do with the Queen of Sheba and Solomon.

Dr. Reagan: To me that is just absolutely absurd that there was this son born between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who went back and got the Ark and took it down to Ethiopia.

Dr. Fleming: It goes that Solomon gave it to him as a gift!

Dr. Reagan: I think that it just crazy.

In Jeremiah 3:16 it says, "In those days when you are multiplied increase in the land declares the Lord, they shall say no more the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and it shall not come to mind nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again." Does that have to do with the Millennial reign of Christ, or does it have to do with the Temple during the Tribulation?

Dr. Fleming: It seems like for the prophets they were worried about people putting too much emphasis on a particular structure or cultic thing. For them, of course, it was supposed to be about the Lord really wanting mercy. Maybe this passage was about getting some people away from putting too much emphasis on a tangible object of worship.

Dr. Reagan: What about the book of Maccabees which says that Jeremiah took the Ark to what is now modern day Jordan and hid it in Mount Nebo?

Dr. Fleming: It doesn't specifically say that in the Maccabees, but this is a view that is often mentioned. This has made some people look at Mount Nebo. In all, there are 16 places people have guessed where it could be.

Dr. Reagan: So, the bottom line is we just don't know what happened to the Ark of the Covenant.

Dr. Fleming: I hate to say it again, but we cannot be sure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: The Temple Mount

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

Where on the Temple Mount exactly was the Temple?

This question was posed to Dr. James Fleming, one of the most knowledgeable teachers of Biblical Archaeology, on our show Christ in Prophecy. Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Dr. Reagan: Some people have argued that according to ancient manuscripts the priests stood on the steps of the Temple, looked over the Eastern Gate to the pinnacle of the Mount of Olives, and watched the sacrifice of the red heifer. They conclude therefore that the Temple has to be located up to the north and can be built without touching the Dome of the Rock. What do you have to say about all of that?

Dr. Fleming: Alright, good question. Not only is the sacrifice of the red heifer mentioned but also the Day of Anointment with the scapegoat. The priest's assistant takes the goat out the Eastern Gate and goes up to the Mount of Olives to a point where he can look back from the Mount of Olives into the Holy of Holies, meaning the door of the Temple is left open and the back of the curtain in the far west side of the Temple. As he confesses the sins of the people on the head of the goat his eyes are looking to the symbolic presence of God in the Holy of Holies. This made some wonder if that needed to be a straight line from the Temple and the Holy of Holies to the Mount of Olives.

The tractate about this is called Kippurim, meaning a collection of Jewish rules about the Feast. It was oral law codified in the Second Century AD. Kippurim is the plural for Kippur — the Day of Atonement — and it says that the priest was high enough on the Mount of Olives to look over the Eastern Gate. The wall then was relatively low and we see how high is enough. This you understand would not prove or disprove where the Temple was because the priest is not looking through the gate as he is looking over the gate. So, we still have some uncertainty.

What has been found is an excavation in the 1880's by a British explorer named Warren. He dug a well after getting permission from the Turks and came to point up under the cemetery. He found 46 feet out from the eastern wall another wall that then curves in. He followed that wall showing that it was a part of a way of coming up to the Eastern Gate. It was such a steep slope probably having another lower gate. He only excavated a little section though. And so, it seems to have been a retaining wall outside the Temple Wall because it was so steep.

Dr. Reagan: What would this have to do with the location of the Temple?

Dr. Fleming: It has do with the way one got to the Temple. The Mount of Olives was due east of Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the east, plant His feet on the Mount of Olives, and enter Jerusalem. Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east on Palm Sunday. Jews want to be buried on the east side of the city to be near where the Messiah will come.

Many have wondered if Jesus enter through the Eastern Gate. The New Testament doesn't help us with the answer. It says at that point he descended the Mount of Olives and entered the Temple. There were two main entrances to the Temple in the southern wall called the Hulda Gates. The main written sources say they served as the main entrance. The Eastern Gate was used for ceremonial purposes on the Day of Atonement and for the red heifer ceremony as the causeway.

Dr. Reagan: Was the Eastern Gate in front of the Temple?

Dr. Fleming: We don't know. If it was, the Temple may have been further north, but we cannot know for sure.

I think that it was very important for the Romans after they destroyed Jerusalem to show that their Roman god was greater then the Jewish God, so they put the temple they built to honor Jupiter exactly on top of where the Jewish Temple was, and it was. That temple was destroyed by the Christians later and then the site was left to ruin. There is evidence that the Roman temple lasted from 135 AD to the Fourth Century AD and that some of the lines we see up on the Temple Mount do seem to be over where the Dome of the Rock is now.

Dr. Reagan: Your best guess at this point is that the ancient Temple was located where the Dome of the Rock is located?

Dr. Fleming: Ancient wars were not only wars between armies, they were wars between gods. You've got to show that your god is greater than their god.

Dr. Reagan: The problem we have today is that the Muslims really have control of the Temple Mount. It is under Israeli sovereignty, but the Israeli's turned it over to them. When you go up there you have to go through Muslim guards and you have to obey Muslim rules. For example, when you are walking around the Temple Mount, I can't touch my wife's hand. I can't pull out a Bible and read. I can't pray because they will not tolerate it.

So, they will not tolerate archaeological excavations up there?

Dr. Fleming: Correct, we can't dig to find out for sure where the Temple was located. Wouldn't it be great if there was that kind of tolerance that Jesus spoke about, speaking about Isaiah, "My house should be called a house of prayer for all men."

Dr. Reagan: Let me ask you something else. There is a very small cupola on the Temple Mount called the Dome of the Spirit. It has the only outcropping I think of the bedrock right there and it is smoothed off. Many think that may have been the location of the Holy of Holies. What do you think it was?


Dome of the Spirit

Dr. Fleming: It is hard to say. There is bedrock of course exposed inside. Here is the reason that I am cautious. When the Temple is described by Josephus he says it had courtyards on four sides. He said the Eastern Court was the largest, the Southern Court was the next largest, the Northern Court the next, and the Western Court was so small it served no purpose. The cupola is just so far north that it makes many wonder if it still fits being in the third largest court yard. It just seems like it is so out of center to have it that much further north.

Herod added both on the southwest and north when he built the Temple courtyards, but in summary (and I know people don't like that uncertainty) we have to have some caution here. The Romans dug up the very foundation of the Temple, again to make a political and religious statement. In fact, they were probably looting for the gold of the Temple that made the saying of Jesus literally true, that not one stone would be left standing on another (Matt. 24:2; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 21:6). That makes it hard for the archaeologist of 2,000 years later to be able to have stuff to look at.

Dr. Reagan: On the east side of the Temple Mount there can be no excavations because of the Muslim cemetery. In 1967, when the Israeli's regained Jerusalem, one of the first things they started doing was excavating the south end. They found remarkable things there.

One of the most remarkable discovery to me is the huge mikvah. It is a massive thing. On the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people responded and Peter baptized them.

Dr. Fleming: There are three dozen baptistery areas in that one building.

Dr. Reagan: Peter didn't march them down to the Jordan River. No, he could have stepped right down here and baptized them at the mikvah.

Dr. Fleming: Sure, sure.

Dr. Reagan: On one side is what American's call the Wailing Wall or the Western Wall. But, only a portion of it is revealed. Around it are houses that make it difficult to do any excavations?

Dr. Fleming: Yes. Outside the Temple Mount there are buildings. Unfortunately, there have been Muslim excavations in a few places inside the Temple Mount to do with pipes and stuff like that. We found where their dump was, and all the debris from that dump is now being scientifically analyzed by Gabi Barkai, an Israeli archaeologist.


Kidron Valley Bridge

Dr. Reagan: I have another question for you and that is in many, many, many drawings I have seen of the Ancient Temple at the time of Jesus, they show a bridge going across the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives to the Eastern Gate. Is there any archaeological evidence that such a bridge existed?

Dr. Fleming: No. The written sources say that the priest went across the causeway of the scapegoat and the causeway of the red heifer. That is because the Mount of Olives has tombs and the priest did not want to be defiled going by a tomb.

This would have been a wooden boardwalk temporarily constructed for the tomb, and not a formal bridge. Those who made those maps didn't notice the details that said it was temporarily constructed and then taken down.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Biblical Archaeology: The Eastern Gate

Nathan JonesWatch MP3 PDFBy Nathan Jones

How was the ancient Eastern Gate of Jesus' time rediscovered?

The Eastern Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem is the only one of its nine gates that is closed. It is called the Eastern Gate because it faces east. It is also known by other names, like the Golden Gate. It was closed in the 1500's when the current walls were rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent. The Bible indicates that the gate will remain closed until the Messiah returns (Ps. 24:7-10; Isa. 63:1-6; Ezek. 44:1).

Over the years there has been much debate over where the Eastern Gate at the time of Jesus was located along Jerusalem's eastern wall. No excavations could be made because of the Muslim cemetery that is located in front of the gate. But, in 1969, Dr. James Fleming accidentally discovered the location of the First Century gate. On our show Christ in Prophecy, Dr. Fleming shared with us that fascinating story and explain the significance of his discovery.

Dr. Fleming has lived and taught in Israel for the past 37 years at Jerusalem University College and at the Hebrew University. His first claim to fame is that he discovered the ancient Eastern Gate buried beneath the current one. Dr. Fleming has walked or motorcycled about every square mile of Israel, and is so familiar with Israel past and present that Israeli tour guides come to him for training. He now operates the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia, an interactive museum where people here in the U.S. can experience the life and times of Christ.


Archaeology Panel

Nathan Jones: How is it that you came to "accidentally" discover the Eastern Gate?

Dr. Fleming: I hoped you wouldn't notice that part of "accidentally," but yes, I can't take any credit for its discovery. I would like to be able to say after years of study and research I finally found it.

It was a heavy night of rain in the spring of 1969, and at the time I was a student in at Master's level in Archaeology. I thought I'd take some pictures of Jerusalem's city gates. As I was walking through the Muslim cemetery on the east side of the city I got close enough to look. I was taking a picture of the arch and I didn't realize the rain the night before had loosened the limestones at the top of a tomb there. It was a pretty heavy rain, too. But, just as I went "click," the tomb collapsed. So, the actual phrase needs to be instead of "accidental" rather "stumbled upon" discovering the Eastern Gate.

Nathan Jones: You fell into this tomb?

Dr. Fleming: Yes, and those that know me well think I landed on my head! But, no, fortunately enough stones fell in with me that I could stack them up, climb on them, jump up, and chin myself to get out because it was nowhere visited at the time.

Dr. Reagan: How far down did you fall?

Dr. Fleming: It was an eight foot drop. The cavity was actually a mass burial grave. There were 46 skeletons. I didn't count them right away. That was after I found out there was enough stones to get out and there wouldn't be 47 skeletons!

Nathan Jones: There were bones all around you when you were down there?

Dr. Fleming: Probably the cause had been some disease I would guess as there was still some cloth and some cartilage. I would guess it was about 100 years previously that this burial had been put there. There were not records for that particular grave.

Dr. Reagan: Did you realize immediately the opportunity you had?

Dr. Fleming: Well, as my eyes got used to the dark, I could see that beyond the skeletons the back wall of the tomb was an earlier wall. The visible wall on top of the earlier wall continued eight feet below ground. Under that wall was what was amazing — completely preserved stones in nice wedge shape of the top of an earlier gate, meaning that gate was fully preserved!

Dr. Reagan: Do you have an evidence of this? Did you photograph it for example?

Dr. Fleming: Fortunately, not only did I get a picture or two, but they came out.

Because of an uncharacteristic Middle East efficiency, when I brought my archaeology teacher back the next day after class, they had already cemented over the tomb because it is a Muslim cemetery, a sensitive place, so I was glad the picture came out.

My archaeology teacher, Dr. Kohavi, didn't seem that impressed. I think he thought I had landed on my head. Back in those days we had slides and it took awhile to get the picture developed and back. When he finally saw the picture, then he realized that the arch coming up is exactly under the left hand arch today, which means that the present gate preserves what was probably two arches, because it is the first quarter of that semicircle exactly below the first quarter of the semicircle above.


Ancient Eastern Gate

Dr. Reagan: It really wasn't too surprising to find the ancient gate directly below the current one because in most of the excavations in Israel don't archaeologists find that the gates were built right on top of each other?

Dr. Fleming: Gates have good memories. There is a reason for putting a gate where you put a gate. It is usually a road to an important site, like the Joffa Gate or Damascus Gate. They tend to be in relatively the same part of the wall. What is remarkable is that it is exactly under it, and that this earlier gate is well preserved.

Dr. Reagan: How do you end up building gates on top of a gate? Are you talking about debris piling up?

Dr. Fleming: Yes, you tend to have dumps outside the city. The outside of the city walls build up. The closest we get to that in the US is a new layer of asphalt layed in front of a house. But, in ancient times cities got higher because the city was getting higher.

Dr. Reagan: This was particularly true of the Temple Mount, because when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and even when the Babylonians did, too, they pushed debris off the Temple Mount and it piled up and up and up, didn't it?

Dr. Fleming: Picture the Temple on the east side of the city. When the Romans cleared it after the 70 AD destruction to build a temple to Jupiter, they couldn't dump debris north, west, or south because that was still city, but on the east was a steep slope in the Kidron Valley. And so, the eastern side of the city became a dump.


Jesus' Triumphal Entry Gate?

Nathan Jones: Would Jesus have gone through that gate, or anybody in biblical history gone through that gate?

Dr. Fleming: That is another question and we cannot be sure of. Luke's Gospel gives the most details for Palm Sunday, saying Jesus descended the Mount of Olives and entered the Temple. It doesn't say which gate.

What we do have are some excavations by Charles Warren outside the Old City under the cemetery. He got permission to dig by saying he was going to dig a well somewhere else and then turned direction and dug horizontally. He actually found some of the stones from the Temple's collapsed wall. He found one stone which had a warning that a non-Jew should not proceed into the Court of Israel. And so, we should not be surprised that the debris from the Temple ended up being thrown out in the eastern side.

Dr. Reagan: There is tons of debris there and you cannot excavate it because there is a Muslim cemetery?

Dr. Fleming: In Israeli law, cemeteries are considered religious property, so yes, you would have to have permission. In this time of political tension, it is hard to imagine getting it.

Dr. Reagan: Your falling down into that grave was a propitious moment. Do you believe that the gate that you discovered below the current one dates from say the time of Jesus?

Dr. Fleming: It was probably there before His time. It is kind of complicated to get into it all now, but below the present gate there are ruins of two other gates. You can even see them at ground level and you can see them better from the inside.

We do have Christian sources in the Fifth Century AD and one in the Fourth saying that you could still see the threshold and some of the door posts of the Eastern Gate. In the Byzantine period the Eastern Gate was a ruin, which means that the current gate is probably from just after the Byzantine period.