Skeptics will go to almost any length to discredit the Bible. Science News (December 19,2020-January 2, 2021, page 14) published an article titled “Goliath Was Not So Giant After All.” The biblical record says that Goliath was six cubits and a span tall. The Science News article says four cubits and a span and then says, “…but don’t take that measurement literally.” The article misses the message of the David and Goliath story.
Fixed standards precisely define today’s measurement units. The ancient cubit was roughly defined as the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow of an adult. Obviously, not all adults are the same size. So a cubit could vary between 17.5 inches and 21 inches (about 444 to 530 mm). The Science News article says that Goliath would have been 7 feet 10 inches tall. The New Bible Dictionary puts Goliath’s height at 10 feet six inches and says that archaeologists have found skeletons that tall in Goliath’s Philistine region of Gath. (We have not seen evidence for that.)
The Science News article bases their contention that Goliath was not a giant on the basis that Gath, the city from which Goliath came, had walls that were four cubits and a span wide. The author of the article is Jeffrey Chadwick of Brigham Young University, an archaeologist who has been involved in excavations around Gath. Chadwick says his discoveries show that the biblical descriptions of Goliath’s stature are metaphorical and not literal. According to him, 1 Samuel 17:4 is merely saying that Goliath “was as big and strong as his city’s walls.”
Lost in the debate about Goliath’s size is the fact that Goliath’s city of Gath was destroyed about 2850 years ago. That fits the time-frame of David’s defeat of Goliath and the conquest of his army. The bottom line is that the biblical record accurately describes what happened. It tells us that Goliath was a huge warrior and David was a small shepherd boy. The city walls’ size would have no more relevance than saying that the height of the doors of American buildings is the average height of NBA basketball players. We can’t know the exact size of Goliath, but that isn’t the message of the David and Goliath story. Despite the odds, David trusted God, and through him, God brought victory to His people.
This ministry has a museum in York, Nebraska, called The Clayton Museum of Ancient History. It features part of the extensive antiquity collection of Foster Stanback. The museum’s purpose is education, and the state of Nebraska has listed it as an important tourist attraction. In the years since the museum opened, we have received offers from people trying to sell us supposed valuable artifacts. There is always a danger in purchasing artifacts if their origin and authenticity can’t be proven. Recent Dead Sea Scroll frauds have shown that to be true.
Fakery is an ongoing problem. In the last 20 years, there have been 70 pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls offered for sale on the antiquities market. Scientific studies have proven that many recently purchased fragments were frauds. The Museum of the Bible reported that all 16 of its prized fragments were fakes. Azusa Pacific University has concluded that the five fragments it bought for 1.3 million dollars are not authentic.
Dead Sea Scroll frauds and other fake antiquities are on the market because they sell for high prices. They are collectors’ market objects. While they have cash value from that standpoint, they are not being stolen or faked for religious purposes but for profit motives.
Yesterday, we talked about the Clayton Museum of Ancient History in York, Nebraska. To get more background on how that museum came to be, here is a five-minute conversation between John Clayton and Foster Stanback, the benefactor of the museum who assembled the collection of artifacts.
You can see an amazing collection of artifacts from the time of Christ and earlier in the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. That museum, located on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska, displays artifacts collected by Foster Stanback. One of the first questions we asked when this project began was how he secured the relics. The problem is that many collectors buy artifacts from black-market dealers who have either stolen the artifacts or faked them. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum wanted to ensure that items we displayed were secured from government-approved sources and validated by qualified experts.
Biblical Archaeological Review published an article (fall 2020 issue, page 6) about artifacts in the Museum of the Bible collected by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. Green spent massive amounts of money to secure artifacts that were “unprovenanced,” meaning that their origin and authenticity were unverified. In April of 2020, a study commissioned by the museum proved that all of the supposed Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its collection were fakes. Around the same time, the museum announced that 11,500 artifacts in their possession had been stolen from Iraq and Egypt and would be returned. Three years earlier, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency seized thousands of artifacts and fined Steve Green three million dollars for illegally bringing them into the United States. Green released a statement saying that when buying the items, “I have trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers.”
Unprovenanced relics are an issue for scholars and for people who collect artifacts. You may wonder how all of this affects the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. First of all, Stanback’s collections have all been secured from government-approved sources and have been studied by scholars and proven to be authentic. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum are working for educational purposes, not financial interests. In the past two years, the museum has added a children’s interactive section. School groups come in regularly to learn the history of the Roman world at the time Jesus lived and the Church began.
Unfortunately, greed and a desire for fame have invaded the antiquities market. We can be thankful that Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum seek to help people understand the history of the time in which Jesus lived.
One of the exciting clues to the Bible’s credibility is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They consist of thousands of scrolls and fragments found in caves near Qumran on the Dead Sea’s northwest shore. These scrolls have been useful in showing that the Old Testament books in our modern Bibles are credible. Recently scientists have conducted DNA tests on Dead Sea Scrolls.
Many people suggested that the modern Bible is a modified copy of a modified copy of a modified copy, and thus is not trustworthy because of copying errors. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 2000 plus years ago. The fact that they agree with the biblical texts available today is strong evidence that there have not been massive copy problems in bringing us the written word of God.
Molecular biologists at Tel Aviv University have conduced DNA tests on Dead Sea Scrolls. They are using the DNA evidence to tell us more about the origin of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments. They have isolated animal DNA in 26 fragments. Two of the fragments came from cowskin, and 24 came from sheepskin. The DNA evidence supports the idea that the sheepskin scrolls came from scribes at Qumran, although the cowskin scraps came from elsewhere. A few fragments came from Masada some 55 kilometers south of Qumran.
With more and more evidence, we see more credibility for the manuscripts from which our Bibles came. We can trust the Bible and its message. Whatever differences we find in manuscripts are easy to overcome and to understand.
“THE UNIVERSAL RULE OF GRADUATE WORK–MAKE SURE YOUR DATA SUPPORTS YOUR CONCLUSIONS!”
When I was doing research for my master’s degree, that statement was posted on the graduate studies bulletin board at Indiana University. I have no idea who put it there, but I can tell you it got a pretty strong response from the school’s dean. Unfortunately, there is more truth to it than most of us would like to admit, and it is not just graduate students to whom it applies.
One of the problems any scientific researcher has is getting funding for the work, and you don’t get funding unless you produce results. There have been several cases in National Geographic where the magazine reported some incredible find by a researcher they were funding and later discovered that the claimed discovery was a hoax. We have reported on these in the past. (For example HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
One of the disciplines where this problem has been very apparent is in the finds of fossil humans. In 1974 Donald Johanson found pieces of a skeleton in Ethiopia. While they were excavating the fossil, the radio was playing the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Johanson decided to name the specimen “Lucy.” The find was announced at the Nobel Symposium in 1978 and was hailed as the first ape to walk upright, and thus it was a proven link between apes and humans.
The primary evidence that Lucy walked upright was a knee joint, which was clearly from an individual that walked in an upright position. Evidence that the rest of the skeleton was clearly from an ape included a V-shaped mandible, a very small brain, and a humerus and femur that were the same size. Lucy has made the covers of numerous magazines and even toured the United States.
It has now been announced that the researchers found the knee joint, which they used to prove Lucy was walking in an erect position, more than two miles from the rest of the skeleton. It also came from a stratum 200 feet lower than the one where the rest of the skeleton was found. Richard Leakey, the Director of Kenya’s National Museum, said that “the evidence for the alleged transformation from ape to man is extremely unconvincing. It is overwhelmingly likely that Lucy was no more than a variety of pygmy chimpanzee.” Johanson has agreed that Lucy was not related to humans at all.
Why does this kind of thing happen? Researchers tend to accept a theory and then look for evidence to support that theory. They adopt the philosophy “make sure your data supports your conclusions.” The media wants instant gratification, and the result is that front-page stories are frequently not factual. Several books have addressed this problem. The Fossil Chroniclesby Dean Falk is a useful resource. See The Wall Street Journal for October 8, 2011, section C6 for a review by Brian Switek.
The researchers are victims of the system, but atheistic attacks on the Bible that depend on the media stories are obviously vulnerable to this issue. We need to have our brains engaged when we read anything, and that is true of the Bible as well as scientific reports in the media.
The subject of human evolution is an area that continues to change with new techniques and new data, such as the study of a fossil nicknamed Little Foot. This area is of interest to those of us involved in apologetics – the study of evidence for the existence of God. The biblical concept of human creation is that we are created in the “image of God.” That message is clearly not referring to our physical makeup or how we look. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and it is our spiritual makeup, which is in God’s image.
The origin of the races of humans is interesting historically, but especially now with the “black lives matter” movement. Evolutionists at the time of Darwin claimed that black people were early prototypes of humans, but were not fully human and therefore could be treated like animals. For many people, that belief, as absurd as it is, was the justification for slavery. As far as apologetics is concerned, the uniqueness of all humans is rooted in human spiritual abilities. Those include the capacity to worship, the ability to create music and art, the ability to feel spiritual emotions, and our concept of self-awareness.
The assumption that humans evolved from some ancient ape-like animal has been fraught with difficulties and controversy. A skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus found at Sterkfontein in South Africa has added to the discussion. The fossil nicknamed Little Foot has a well-preserved atlas vertebra that sits just beneath the cranium at the top of the spinal column. By studying this vertebra, scientists can determine the flow of blood to the brain.
Little Foot’s blood flow was significantly lower than the flow into human brains, which means that Little Foot’s brain was severely restricted. Scientists classify it as Australopithecus, which refers to a group of apes and monkeys. New data adds to the evidence that science needs to clarify the physical models of change in monkeys, apes, and, most importantly, in humans.
Any attempt to use science to denigrate a race of humans as inferior is unsupported by the evidence. We see human uniqueness in the truth of the simple biblical statement, “God that made the world and all things within it … has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the earth…” (Acts 17:24 and 26).
One of the more trusted sources of science and history is the National Geographic Society. Their popular magazine, books, and TV programs have been used to promote particular viewpoints, and sometimes they have been deceived. Many of our older readers will remember a cover story in the magazine about a Chinese fossil that the magazine ran as proof of a particular evolutionary theory. It later turned out to have been constructed by local people as a means of selling claimed fossils. Now there is an issue with fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The Museum of the Bible collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which the National Geographic has used extensively, are fakes. They consist of 16 fragments claimed to be from authentic Dead Sea Scrolls. The forgers used old pieces of leather, and after writing on them, they treated the documents, so they looked ancient. The museum released a report by Colette Loll on March 13, 2020, explaining that microscopic analysis of the fragments showed cracks in the leather filled with pools of the ink. That means the leather had cracked after a long period of time, and the ink ran into the cracks in modern times. Other evidence also showed that these were fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The message for all of us is to realize that any scientific claim based on historical objects needs careful study. Claims of antiquity should be read with a skeptical eye to the evidence. There is a lot of money involved in ancient artifacts, documents, and writings. Since National Geographic has such acceptance and worldwide circulation, they are particularly vulnerable to forgery attempts.
Many people misunderstand what it means to be created in the image of God. If you think that God is an “old man in the sky,” then you probably believe that God looks like you. I have a whole shelf of children’s books that portray God as a caucasian, male, old white-bearded man in the sky. I have a few that show God as a man of color. I have one that shows Him as an oriental. All of these are dead wrong and can lead a child to misunderstand an essential concept that we are created in the spiritual image of God. God is not any racial, ethnic, sexual, or aged physical being (John 4:24). We know this is true because we see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.
The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 70-73) carried an interesting article by Kateb Wong titled “The First Story.” She begins a report on new archeological discoveries by saying, “Homo sapiens is the only species known to make figurative art, engage in spiritual thinking, and convey fictional tales through imagery.” We suggest that this is true because humans are the only life-form created in the image of God. We see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality. We don’t see this ability developing gradually over a long period of evolutionary change. The article reports on cave paintings discovered by archaeologists on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
What the paintings describe is a hunt. Six hunters using ropes or spears confront a large buffalo. Nearby more hunters are attacking other buffalos and pigs. One of the hunters is a therianthrope, meaning a spiritual leader and similar to the minotaur of Greek mythology. The researchers suggest that the scene shows a communal hunting strategy or game drive in which prey are flushed from cover and driven toward other hunters. These paintings are high up in hard to reach caves, and they appear to be made for cultural and symbolic use.
These are the oldest artworks anthropologists have ever found that depict a story. They show the uniqueness of humans from their earliest days on Earth. When God excluded humans from the “Garden,” they left with no experience, tools, or data. They had to start at the very beginning of the learning curve, but their desire for self-expression artistically and spiritually was in full operation. These ancient drawings display God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.
The “Does God Exist?” ministry is concerned about education. We try to draw on factual evidence and the best scholarship available to inform people who are willing to learn, but we do not claim to know all the answers. Much of the disagreement between atheists and believers is rooted in misunderstandings by both. One misconception involves pyramids and bricks.
We recently heard an atheist rant about the fact that there is no evidence that the Israelites built the pyramids. He claimed that proved the Bible stories about Joseph, Moses, and the exodus were all just silly myths. There are several mistakes in that statement. First of all, it is true that the Israelites did not build the pyramids. The pyramids were built hundreds of years before the time of Abraham. They were made of native stone and were built by native Egyptians who specialized in stone construction. There are even inscriptions on some of the pyramid stones identifying the primary engineer of the structure. Stone was used because it was permanent and not affected by weather or environmental change.
other building material used in Egypt was mudbricks made from Nile
alluvium which contained clay and sand. The amount of clay determined
the properties of the bricks. If the amount of clay was low, the
bricks tended to fall apart. By adding straw, the clay content could
be low, and the bricks would not fall apart as they dried. Making
bricks was a job done by slaves. Slaves were not allowed on the
pyramids because of the significance of the structure, but they made
bricks for use in building storage depots and other logistical
Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built “storage cities” for the Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:7-13, we read of the Israelites being told that straw for the bricks would not be made available to them. There are reliefs found in many places in Egypt that show slaves gathering straw, making bricks, and building temples and houses with them. The evidence indicates what the Bible says about brick-making is correct. We should not confuse stone pyramids and bricks.
Biblical Archaeology Reviewhas published several articles on brick construction and Israelite slavery. See “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in March/April 2014. Also, “Brick by Brick” in the Spring issue 2020 pages 54-57.