The Recording of God’s Word (Part 1) (The Covenant & the Cross #14)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Psalm 119:9 which reads: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Mark Twain. He said: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.”

Our topic for today is titled: “The Recording of God’s Word (Part 1)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

God’s written Word began to come together on a sun-soaked plain in the Sinai peninsula. After God had brought the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob out of Egypt, He led them to the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses had been commissioned more than a year earlier. There God started the process of making this motley throng of Israelites, Egyptians, and others into a nation. Moses went up on the mountain and received most of the material included in the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus. That was the foundation of God’s written Word.

God could have done it differently. He could have given His revelation to the nation as a whole. When we look at the account in Exodus 19, we find that God had the people prepare themselves so that He might speak to them directly. They cleansed themselves for two days. The anticipation must have been intense as they recollected all that had happened during the past year.

Moses had come out of the desert in a spectacular manner, proclaiming that God, after more than four hundred years of silence, had spoken to him. He presented signs to the elders of Israel, then went to meet Pharaoh, asking for his people’s deliverance. Word quickly spread among all the Israelites in Egypt that there was a major power struggle going on between Moses and Pharaoh. Clearly, the evidence Moses was presenting to show that God was working was hard to hide from both Egyptians and Israelites.

After the introductory signs, such as turning his staff into a snake and then back into a staff, he turned the Nile River to blood. Then things got serious. Over the following months, one plague after another struck at the heart of the Egyptian economy and its pantheon of gods. Even the most jaded Israelites (and many Egyptians) were starting to believe that it was indeed possible that the God of Abraham existed — and that He meant what He said. Then, in the following spring, just three months before the people arrived at Sinai, the cries of mourning pierced the Egyptian night as family after family discovered their firstborn dead.

Pharaoh finally relented and sent the Israelites away, although he later changed his mind and chased after them. Then there came the awesome experience at the Red Sea. After several days of camping and waiting, Israel watched Pharaoh’s army appear over the horizon. That was when God told Moses to stretch out his arm. A strong wind came up out of the northeast. It seemed to bring the aroma of the Promised Land with it, if anyone had the peace of mind to consider it. The next day the nation passed through parted waters, then watched the sea close over the pursuing Egyptian army.

Only three days later, the water supplies were desperately low, and the people cried in bewilderment because the springs at Marah were too bitter to drink. God sweetened the water for them. After a month, the food supplies began to dwindle. Again they grumbled and complained, and God sent — well, something. “What is it?” they asked, and the name stuck — manna. God would provide it on a daily basis (except on the Sabbath) for the rest of the desert period, all the way up to the time they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land.

Following the giving of the manna and several other challenges, the people arrived at Sinai, just three months after the last of the plagues on Egypt. That is where God was going to speak to them directly.

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 8) (The Covenant & the Cross #13)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Psalm 119:105 which reads: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from James McCosh. He said: “The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 8)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s begin by considering History and Writing

Egyptian history is normally thought to have begun a couple of centuries after it did in Sumer. Recently, new discoveries of early writing in Egypt have been made. Some have suggested that this pushes the date of Egyptian writing prior to that of Mesopotamia, but the figures are still subject to review and revision. After writing began in Sumer and Egypt, a new form of writing was developed in Elam (in the Zagros Mountains of what is now Iran) a century or so later. Another new form developed in the In-dus Valley region (modern Pakistan) a couple centuries after that, followed by yet another new form in China, the last “cradle of civilization,” approximately 1,500 years after Sumer.

Each of these new forms apparently started with some type of pic-to-graph that later became more abstract so that the symbols represented sounds. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, the symbols generally resembled syllables. The early Elamite and Indus Valley scripts have yet to be deciphered. In China, the symbols represented words (which in Chinese essentially consist of one syllable). The transition to an alphabet did not occur until about 1800 BC, when writing developed in the region of what is now Israel and Lebanon. Hebrew writing developed out of that. Later this “alphabet” was adopted by the Greeks and subsequently by the Romans, from whom we received it.

Now, as we look ahead, the topics we have surveyed thus far constitute part of what is often called biblical introduction. They lay out some of the issues we deal with as we study the Bible and work with the multitudes of critics. Each of these points could be substantiated in great detail. For our purposes, we must content ourselves with this brief survey, which is a necessary background for our overview of the Bible. Admittedly, this introduction has addressed issues of the Old Testament more than the New Testament. However, the time covered in the Old Testament is much greater and much further removed from us. It is also the foundation for the New Testament, and we will build on that foundation as we proceed.

We will work with the developing canon as we follow the historical events, bringing in data from extra-biblical sources when they touch on the issues at hand. And as we look at the contents of the biblical books, we will evaluate them as historical documents that demand our critical attention.

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 7) (The Covenant & the Cross #12)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is John 1:1 which reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Leonard Ravenhill. He said: “One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Development of Writing

All writing began as pictograms, in which the writer used pictures to convey concepts. As different cultures used different media, these pictures became more abstract. In Mesopotamia, where they used clay as a primary writing material, the pictures became a collection of wedge marks called cuneiform. In Egypt, where they mainly used papyrus, the pictures became stylized drawings that we know as hieroglyphs.

The earliest documents were primarily economic. However, by the middle of the third millennium BC (2700-2400), a few tablets appear containing parts of some of the myths and legends of the time. Some of these are earlier versions of accounts that we have in later form from Babylon and Assyria.

By the time of Sar-gon II (about 2300 BC), who built a large empire around the city of Akkad, we find a number of documents that relate history and mythology as well as the mundane affairs of everyday life. Over the past 150 years, several archives have been discovered in a variety of cities. The most recent major find was in the mid-1970s in modern Syria. The site, Tell Mardikh, contains the remains of an ancient city called Ebla. The library there appears to date from the time of Abraham, covering the period from just before Sar-gon to a few centuries afterward (about 1500 BC).

What does this mean for biblical studies? It suggests two very important things. First, the patriarchs would not only have been familiar with writing, but they also could have been literate. If our dating of Abraham is correct, he lived in approximately 2000 BC. By his time, writing was very common. Moses lived about five hundred years later and most likely was able to read and write. In fact, Moses may well have used three different languages — Egyptian, Akkadian (the lingua franca of the day), and Hebrew.

Second, the early use of writing lends credence to the position that the Old Testament documents are indeed what they claim to be: eyewitness accounts written down by people who observed the events. That does not require that the writer of each book saw all of the events he wrote about. The Bible contains a number of citations of other books — books we no longer have today — that were used as source documents. But this is the same way we write history today.

If the Lord tarries his coming and we live, our next broadcast will be our final episode on “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology.”

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 6) (The Covenant & the Cross #11)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Joshua 1:8 which reads: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from R. C. Sproul. He said: “Here, then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Problem of History.

Even when we have historical documents, we encounter a number of problems. One of the biggest is that what the contemporaries thought was important does not always correlate to what we think is important, for we have knowledge of subsequent events. As a result, the lives of many persons who turned out to have been significant are poorly documented. And for the most part, the figures we read about in the Bible were not the movers and shakers of their day. For example, while Abraham was rich, he was not in charge of a nation nor did he lead large armies. Likewise, Jesus really had a small following and a limited ministry in His lifetime. It was not until after His death that the true significance of His life began to be felt.

I have stated that I intend to take the historical approach. Thus, I need to explain what is meant by “history.” For a working definition, history is the recording of eyewitness accounts of events in written form. History begins with writing, and so any culture that does not record its events in written language is by definition prehistorical, regardless of when the people lived. Thus, we have prehistoric people even today in some of the more remote places of the world.

This principle also gives us our basis for defining civilization. Usually the concept of civilization is predicated on the knowledge of writing. As such, we find that civilization (and history) began no earlier than 3200 – 3100 BC in Sumer at the mouth of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. Virtually all scholars agree on this point.

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5) (The Covenant & the Cross #10)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Romans 12:2 which reads: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Martin Luther. He said: “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Problem of Dating.

Non-written material is very difficult to date. In fact, archaeological dating is often publicly proclaimed with far greater confidence than it deserves. Dates are changed regularly when new information comes to the light or when new theories are developed. Some years ago, for example, an archaeologist modified by 5,000 years the suggested date of a woman’s skeleton found in Texas, and the change resulted simply from challenging and adjusting a single assumption in the interpretation of the original data.

Usually nonhistorical items are dated by comparison with other material of a similar sort or by various dating methods. Both have limitations. The most famous method used in archaeology is called Carbon-14 dating. This method works on organic materials because all living organisms absorb the element until they die, after which the Carbon-14 decays. Scientists measure the amount of Carbon-14 still present to determine the approximate date of death. This dating depends on several assumptions, and its accuracy depends on many factors. Generally speaking, the older the item is, the greater the likelihood of error obtained through this process.

Some dates can be established with great accuracy, but these are based on written documents. For example, we have written references to solar eclipses, which provide very solid chronological anchors. From about 2500 BC on, we have varying bodies of writing giving us bits and pieces of history. Historical material too can be problematic, however, and so the challenge is putting all these pieces together into a coherent whole.

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 4)

(The Covenant & the Cross #9)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Acts 8:30-31 which reads: “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from William P. White. He said: “The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 4)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Problem of Non-written Sources.

Most of the material we recover through excavation is ambiguous. Archaeology provides two types of data: some of the material is in written form, but the vast majority is non-written. Interpreting various artifacts included in the latter category can be quite puzzling. Recently, my family went to Spring Mill State Park in southern Indiana, which contains a restored American frontier village. Within the museum is one exhibit that shows a number of tools used by the pioneers who lived there. Viewers are asked to try to guess what these isolated tools were used for. Some were relatively easy to identify, but we found it impossible to guess the use of others that have been replaced by more sophisticated mechanisms in our more technological society. Many of the tasks that those pioneers performed on a daily basis are now obsolete and forgotten. The disparity is even greater when we are looking at another culture. And while we might recognize a particular item, such as a ceramic pot, deciding how it was used is another question and often opens intense debate.

Even when we can determine what the use of an item was, it tells us little about the person who used it. We can deduce a certain level of technology. We might be able to infer a certain socioeconomic status (such as a comb made out of ivory suggests a rich person as the owner). But beyond this, we know little.

On our next broadcast, we will continue looking at “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology.”

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 3)

(The Covenant & the Cross #8)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Deuteronomy 11:18-19 which reads: “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from A.W. Tozer. He said: “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 3)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Problem of Limited Excavation

Very often after a city was destroyed, a new one would be built on the ruins. Without bulldozers to remove the debris, the people merely leveled the old site and built new buildings. Sometimes they used stone from the previous city. Sometimes they dug through foundations. After a period of years, the cycle would repeat itself, and gradually an artificial hill or mound would rise up.

Today, there are thousands of these mounds (called tels) waiting to be excavated. It is estimated that there are over 450 in modern Israel alone. Politics, weather, funding, and restrictions on the number of people involved serve to limit the number of sites to work on. Then the question arises, Which of these tels are really important? Archaeologists often do not know until they start work.

Archaeologists most often use trench or square methods that effectively reveal only part of the site. Usually, even after years of digging, less than 10 percent of a city has been excavated. While this method is the most practical, archaeologists do risk missing valuable data in the part that is still buried. Thus, the data that they have been able to recover is but a small part of what is there.

On our next broadcast, we will continue looking at “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology.”

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology, Part 2 (The Covenant & the Cross #7)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Acts 17:11 which reads: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from C.S. Lewis. He said: “In most parts of the Bible, everything is implicitly or explicitly introduced with ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ It is not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite — it excludes or repels — the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force… It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long, except to those who go to it for something quite different. I predict that it will in the future be read, as it always has been read, almost exclusively by Christians.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 2)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

First, today, let us consider The Beginnings of Archaeology

The first serious archaeological expedition was the excavation of Nineveh in 1845-1954 by A.H. Layard, only 30 years before Wellhausen’s work was published. While this discovery was important and started a trend, in some respects, archaeology did not begin gaining consideration until after the famous excavation of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann between 1870 and 1890, about the same time Wellhausen was writing.

Another question we must ask is, How Much Has Been Excavated?

One noted scholar estimates that what archaeologists have recovered is but a fraction of what is there — which is in turn a minute fraction of what was produced. In some respects, archaeological work is as if we arrive on the scene of a town hall or library that has burned and are able to pick up a few scraps here and there that survived the destruction. Now, based on this material, we try to reconstruct the entire history of the town. As Yamauchi states, “Far more than our need of these archaeological materials for an understanding of the Bible is our need of the Bible for an understanding of the materials.”

On our next broadcast, we will continue looking at “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology.”

The Value and Limitations of Archaeology, Part 1 (The Covenant & the Cross #6)

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Charles Spurgeon. He said: “Some people like to read many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul a soak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 1)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

As we have noted, one of Wellhausen’s weaknesses was that he did not take archaeology into account as he developed his theories. Archaeology as a science developed in the last half of the 1800s. Since then it has made many contributions to our understanding of the Bible. The key contributions have come from various ancient libraries that have been found. As a result of these discoveries, we are better able to place biblical studies within cultural contexts. We have come to realize that biblical history fits within an overall Ancient Near East historical context, although there is some debate on how the pieces fit in.

However, archaeology has both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, we cannot ignore it, but on the other hand, we must be careful not to expect too much from it. For example, archaeology does not prove the Bible. As part of our groundwork, we need to look at some of the limitations of this discipline.

The Problem of Historical Losses

To put the problem in perspective, we need to think through the process that produces what we now call an archaeological site. Most of the sites we see in the Middle East are the buried ruins of cities that were abandoned after being destroyed by either natural disaster or human conquest. The survivors would take whatever they could with them, and in the case of conquest, the looters would first plunder the city and then usually burn it, destroying everything that was flammable. For the most part, what was left behind was trash and debris no one wanted; anything valuable had been taken.

Over the years, this residue deteriorated. Even stone is subject to erosion. Limestone and marble, two of the most desirable building materials because they are easily worked and give very pleasing results, are quickly eaten away by acidic water. This is a very real problem in modern cities, even where the material is less than a century old. The problem is compounded in ancient cities, even in areas with dry climates.

For historical purposes, the most desirable discoveries are writing materials, but these (aside from engraved stone monuments) are also the ones most prone to destruction: papyrus, parchment, and wood. One exception is found in Mesopotamia. At an early date, the people of Mesopotamia used clay to write on because it was cheap and easy to work with. The most important tablets were baked in kilns; the others were allowed to dry slowly. A fortuitous result of the burning of cities in this area is that many of the clay tablets hardened in the fire, producing a crude type of ceramic. However, even this process was generally incomplete, and many of these tablets have broken and crumbled over the centuries.

On our next broadcast, we will continue looking at “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology.”