An intriguing discovery was recently made that serves as a jumping-off point for some thoughts that I’ve been musing on as I’ve studied Ezekiel’s prophecies of Egypt.
For scholars of faith and history, it is a treasure trove too precious for price.This ancient collection of 70 tiny books, their lead pages bound with wire, could unlock some of the secrets of the earliest days of Christianity.
Academics are divided as to their authenticity but say that if verified, they could prove as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.
On pages not much bigger than a credit card, are images, symbols and words that appear to refer to the Messiah and, possibly even, to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Adding to the intrigue, many of the books are sealed, prompting academics to speculate they are actually the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation.
I seriously doubt that Revelation alludes to these lead books, though I’ll admit that the fact that one of them has seven iron seals–assuming, of course, that the five iron rings on the left are meant as binding–is rather evocative at the least.
It’s interesting that news of this discovery is circulating at the same time as my studies in Ezekiel, which is coming at the same time as the Koinonia Institute course I’m taking on Deuteronomy has posed the question, “Does archaeology play an important role in affirming your faith in the Bible? Why or why not?” It seems like Hashem really wants me to think about archaeology this week.
Short version of the answer to the question: Yes, it has a role, but I’m not sure I’d call it the most important one. This is because a) I find far more affirmation of the Scriptures in its fulfilled prophecies, and b) because of the limits of archaeology.
Let me say up front that archaeology has been extraordinarily consistent in affirming the historicity of the Scriptures. That is, our findings in the Middle-east consistently support that the Bible is an excellent source of recorded history. That does not, however, prove that it is the written Word of God. That’s the role of prophecy: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:9f).
However, we would be deeply suspicious of a book claiming to be from the Eternal if it consistently failed to record history accurately. That’s where archaeology comes in: it allows us to test the record of the Bible. However, while the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive where we have it, we still have to deal with gaps in our knowledge. For example, just a couple of centuries ago, both the Hittites and Nineveh were considered to be myths since we could not find any other ancient sources speaking of the former and could not find the ruins of the latter. Now we have a great deal of information on the Hitties: “Archaeological expeditions have discovered in Hattushash entire sets of royal archives in cuneiform tablets, written either in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time, or in the various dialects of the Hittite confederation” (from Wikipedia). Paul-Émile Botta found the ruins of Nineveh in the mid-19th century.
Similar discoveries have affirmed the basic historicity of the New Covenant Scriptures. Rabbi Derek wrote just the other day about how the Gospel accounts use names common in Judea but very uncommon in the Diaspora, strongly suggesting that those writing them themselves lived in Judea. Sir William M. Ramsay likewise found that archaeological digs in Asia Minor affirmed the book of Acts:
I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations. . . . (St. Paul the Traveller)
The book goes through Ramsay’s investigations which led him to the conclusion that not only was Acts composed in the first century by one who had personal knowledge of many of the events and locations, but that it was indeed composed by one who knew Paul personally.
Since we have seen so many times in the past that apparent absences of evidence supporting the Scriptures in one particular or another have later been filled in when our knowledge became more complete, we can truly hold onto the addage that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” We will see how that plays out in handling Ezekiel’s specific predictions concerning Nebuchadnezzar and Egypt–predictions that we cannot at this time provide specific evidence for, but which the evidence does not disprove either.
Our faith does not lie on the shifting sands of pop-history and “scholarly” peer-pressure that all too often dominate the discussion. It lies rather on a foundation of consistent affirmation of the Scriptures in those areas in which we have any information at all about the period in question outside of the Bible.
For those who want to pursue the matter first, I highly recommend you read this article from Christian Thinktank, which lays out the difficulties facing any scholar wanting multiple accounts of any event in history, Biblical or not.
- The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls? (geneveith.com)
- Lead Codices Silliness (rogueclassicism.com)
- Jordan fights for return of its ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ (calgaryherald.com)
- Jordan vows to recover artefacts ‘as important as Dead Sea Scrolls’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Lead Codices Aren’t … They Just Aren’t (derek4messiah.wordpress.com)