The Message of the David and Goliath Story

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Purple Dye and the Bible

Purple Dye and the Bible

The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.

Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.

In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.

Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.

Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Philistine People and DNA

Philistine People and DNA
Ashkelon Archaeology Site

One of the main groups described in the Old Testament is the Philistine people. Genesis 10:14 tells us that the Philistines came from Casluhim, the son of Mizraim, the son of Ham. Abraham and Isaac had dealings with the Philistine king Abimelech and his general Phichol.

The Bible goes on to tell us that when the Israelites left Egypt, the Philistines had settled along the coast between Egypt and Gaza (Exodus 13:17-18). There they prevented the Israelites from moving through the area. There were many Philistine encounters after Israel had moved into the Promised Land. We are all familiar with the story of Samson and the Philistine temptress Delilah. David and the Philistine Goliath is also a familiar story. Skeptics throughout the years have tried to suggest that these are all myths and that such characters and peoples never existed.

Scientists recently found the remains of ten individuals buried at the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon. Archaeogeneticists used the DNA to compile genetic evidence that supports the biblical account. Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute says that the genetic evidence indicates a seafaring population from southern Europe settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast and inhabited Ashkelon between 3400 and 3150 years ago.

The Philistine people certainly existed, and as scientists gather more evidence, their interactions with ancient Israel seem to be without question. Science continues to confirm the Bible in many ways.

Reference: Science News, August 3, 2019, page 16.

Nazca Lines and Birds

Nazca Lines and BirdsOne of the enduring UFO claims has been the massive drawings on Peru’s Nazca desert plateau. As far back as Eric Von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods in 1968, there have been those who claim that people on the Earth could not have made the drawings. They claim that the lines marked out landing strips for alien space crafts. It has been proven that people CAN, in fact, make huge drawings visible from space. However, there have not been good explanations as to what the Nazca drawings represent. Masaki Eda, a zooarchaeologist from Hokkaido University in Japan, seems to have found some clues in his recent study of the Nazca Lines and birds.

The large hummingbird drawing, which has been popularized, is an excellent portrayal of a bird known as the long-tailed hermit. Two other drawings that Eda has identified are a pelican and a guano bird. This doesn’t answer all of the mysteries of the Nazca lines, however, because those birds are rainforest or coastal birds, and the Nazca plateau is a desert. Social anthropologists studying the religions and myths of the people of the area may tell us more. There is still much to be learned about the Nazca lines and birds.

As we have emphasized before, the question of life in space is not a biblical issue and has no bearing on the scientific evidence for the existence of God. It is essential to realize that we live in a world that is as God describes it in the Bible, and He has given us the responsibility to care for it. Aliens are not our creators. The evidence does not support substituting UFOs or alien abduction theories for honoring God and living the life Christ calls us to live.
— John N. Clayton ©

Location of Noah’s Ark

Location of Noahs ArkAs we read the Genesis account of the flood, we find that most of the claims of religious fundamentalists about Noah, the ark, and the flood are derived from denominational traditions, and not from the Bible. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of their beliefs about Genesis 6-9 are wrong. However, when people present traditions instead of Bible facts, errors are possible. One issue where people are often wrong is the location of Noah’s ark.

The Ark Encounter attraction in Kentucky is a major promoter of many of the traditions about the flood. While it gets a lot of press and a great deal of money, it also provides atheists and skeptics with ammunition to attack the faith of believers. The recent case where the Ark Encounter managers sued their insurance company for rain damage is a classic example.

Over the years, we have published numerous articles about attempts to establish the location of Noah’s ark. You can find them with the search engine on doesgodexist.org. One of the points that we have made repeatedly is that the Bible does not say that the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Modern-day Ararat in Armenia is almost certainly not what was called Ararat in Noah’s day.

Genesis 8:4 tells us the ark came to rest in “the mountains of Ararat.” People who know the topography of that area tell us that a continuous belt of peaks called the Kagizman Ridge is known as “the mountains of Ararat.” That ridge is located west of the present Mount Ararat in the country of Turkey. Those who have climbed Ararat and brought back what they claim are pieces of the ark, have credibility problems. They not only have the problem of how wood could survive all that time and the effects of glaciers, but they are almost certainly on the wrong mountain.

The July 2019 issue of Acts and Facts, published by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), carried an interesting article about the ark. It admitted that the ark did not come to rest on present-day Mount Ararat and it discussed the geology of the area. It concluded that saying the ark came to rest on “the mountains of Ararat” was the most accurate way to describe its landing spot.

The ICR is a promoter of the young earth denominationalism that is so popular today, and with which we disagree. But they are endeavoring to be accurate and factual in what they are saying concerning the location of Noah’s ark, and we applaud them for that.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

For more on Noah and the flood, see these previous posts:
Did Noah’s Flood Really Happen?
When Did Noah’s Flood Happen?
How Could All Those Animals Fit in Noah’s Ark?
Where Did the Water Go After Noah’s Flood?
How Extensive Was the Flood of Noah?
Modern Misconceptions About the Flood

What Happened to the Teays River?

What Happened to the Teays River?Yesterday, we talked about the Teays River and how, like other rivers, it brought water into dry areas. (To read yesterday’s post, click HERE.) The map above shows the approximate path of the river and its tributaries. But we didn’t tell you what happened to the Teays River.

As glaciers came southward across North America, they buried the river and its tributaries with massive amounts of sand and gravel. In the process, the river’s flooding and flowing impounded massive quantities of water. The Teays still exists today in water stored underground. I can drill a well 12 feet (3.7 m) in my back yard and hit potable water. The agricultural blessing of the Teays has made the Ohio River Valley fertile and has allowed cities to exist in areas that are not blessed with great surface water. What happened to the Teays River is still affecting our lives today.

In addition to the benefits we mentioned yesterday, the flooding of rivers also spreads diverse plants and the wildlife that feeds on them. The biggest watermelon I have ever eaten I found on an island on the White River near Spencer, Indiana. A friend of mine who enjoyed it with me recognized the species of melon, and we eventually found the patch that it came from some 75 miles upstream. In our trips through the Grand Canyon, we have frequently found plant life not native to Colorado thriving on sand bars in the canyon. When our river here in Michigan flooded in February of 2018, a layer of black soil was laid down in my yard and the woods on the edge of my property. Now there are dozens of plants growing in that soil which are not native to Michigan. Animal life of all kinds eat many of those plants.

Rivers are the cleaners of both the land and the water. One interesting part of living on a river is watching what floats by – a log, a tree, human junk, and all kinds of minerals. When the river dumps its load in a delta or an alluvial fan, the minerals become available for human use. In the Colorado Plateau, an ancient river carried and deposited logs containing uranium. The water moved those logs and impregnated them with uraninite, a mineral used to obtain precious uranium for nuclear materials. In my college studies in geology and mineralogy, we learned how to “read” a river and use that information to locate critical materials for technology.

It is essential that we take care of our rivers. We need to understand rivers and recognize God’s design in creating a planet molded and shaped by flowing water. What happened to the Teays River was caused by ancient glaciers that carved the land and created the Great Lakes. What happens to our rivers today depends on us and our stewardship of what God has given us.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see rivers as critical elements in the story of human existence now and in the future. The most important river of all is described in Revelation 22:1-2: “And He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of the street of the City and on each side of the river was a Tree of Life bearing 12 crops of fruit and the leaves of the tree served as medicine for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but God’s throne and the Lamb shall be in it.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

God’s Toilet Rules

God's Toilet RulesThere are many commandments and teachings of God that people have only come to understand in modern times. Among those are God’s toilet rules for disposal of waste.

In the Roman world, residents used chamber pots. When the pot was full, they emptied it in the streets and alleys. In Pompeii, the sidewalks were raised with high curbs along the streets so that pedestrians could cross on stepping stones and avoid having to walk in human excrement.

Even in America the disposal of waste was an issue. An epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia, which was the nation’s capital at the time, was related to cesspits which eventually contaminated the aquifers that supplied drinking water.

Among the laws of hygiene for ancient Israel were rules for disposal of excrement. In Deuteronomy 23:12-13 we read “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover your excrement.”

We tend to romanticize what life was like in early times without thinking about how complicated it was to take care of waste. The smells in Pompeii and other ancient cities must have been pretty revolting. However, the bigger problem was disease spawned by using the simplest method of getting rid of waste by throwing it out the window. Following God’s toilet rules may have taken time and energy, but it was essential for the health and well being of ancient Israel.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Archaeology Magazine, May/June 2019.

Pontius Pilate’s Ring

 Pontius Pilate's Ring found at Herodium

Archaeological discoveries are becoming public at an astonishing rate. Some of those finds have been around for a long time, but only recently has new technology shown us what they are. An example is Pontius Pilate’s ring.

In 1969 Professor Gideon Foerster found the ring in the Judean Desert fortress known as Herodium (pictured). Now, fifty years later the ring was cleaned and examined by new tools of photographic technology. The scientists discovered that it bore a Greek inscription with the name of Pilate. Skeptics have maintained that the spelling of the Greek text suggests that it was not Pontius Pilate’s ring. Instead, it was the ring of a regional administrator who was collecting taxes for the Romans and wore the ring to stamp items for Pilate.

Historians and archaeologists will debate the actual owner and user of the ring for a long time without coming to a consensus. From an apologetic standpoint, the significance of the ring is huge no matter who wore it. Skeptics claim that the Bible is historically inaccurate. They suggest that the claims about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus are folklore and the product of a vivid imagination. The archaeological discovery of the James burial box a few years ago was wrongly interpreted because of the heavy influence of skeptical bias.

Every time a part of the biblical account is verified by an archaeological find, the skeptics’ arguments are weakened. Doubts about the existence, power, and influence of the man who condemned Jesus to death can be laid to rest with the finding of Pontius Pilate’s ring. That is true whether he wore the ring or if someone who served him wore it.

We know that Herodium was built by Herod the Great and had fallen into disrepair. Pilate restored it to serve as a Roman administrative center. Finding Pilate’s ring there, only confirms the reach of his influence and power.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Biblical Archaeological Review, March/April 2019, page 6.

Hebrew Language Evolved

Hebrew Language Evolved

One thing that confuses both atheists and fundamentalists is understanding the evolution of language. Atheists like to point out “mistakes” in the King James Version, and fundamentalists sometimes say it is the only accurate translation. The English language is continually evolving, and the Hebrew language evolved also.

In the early history of Hebrew, words were not written with the vowels we see today. Over time, vowels were added. That means there are variant spellings in the texts translators use. The word “Jerusalem,” for example, appears 660 times in the Hebrew Bible. Five times the spelling includes an extra vowel (Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 1 Chronicles 3:5,2 Chronicles 25: 1 and 32:9). Those books were written later than other passages where the vowel “yod” is not present. The difference is between the older “Yerushalem” and the later “Yerushalayim.” Today in Israel the city’s name is “Yerushalayim.”

On October 9, 2018, archaeologists at the Israel Museum unveiled a recently discovered stone column with a Hebrew inscription. The inscription is around 2000 years old, and it shows that Jerusalem in Hebrew was spelled and pronounced “Yerushalayim” in the time of Christ. That is the spelling used in those five instances in the Old Testament.

Biblical Archaeological Review reported this discovery in their January/February 2019 issue on page 6. The ancient inscription deals only with the spelling of Jerusalem, but other Hebrew words have changed over the centuries by adding vowels to make reading easier. All of this is of no consequence for you and I casually reading our Bibles. However, when we get into discussions of translations of the Bible and the meaning of words going all of the way back to the Genesis account, we have to dig a little deeper. Just like English, the Hebrew language evolved.

By the way, here is an example of the evolution of English. The “yod” vowel is only a small mark. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 5:18. The King James translators transliterated it into a new English word. We still use that word today to refer to a small mark or something written quickly. The word is “jot.”

–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Bible: Then and Now

Bible: Then and Now

Today’s post is different from our usual news reports or scientific explanations. A member of our congregation recently passed away, and his widow gave us some of his books. One of the books is like none I have never seen before. The book is titled Bible: Then and Now by Jenny Roberts.

In our quarterly printed journal, we have a section where we generally review current books relating to Christian apologetics. While this is not a recent book or a book on apologetics, it helps us understand the geographic world of Jesus’ day and what that same place looks like today.

The book has modern pictures of 14 ancient cities as they are today. Facing each picture on transparencies is an artistic work of what the city would have looked like during biblical times. You can lay the transparency on top of the modern picture to see what is left today and what was there when the biblical events took place. The book describes each city’s history with numerous photographs of the major archaeological discoveries.

I found this to be a fascinating book for learning Bible history. It gives you an understanding of how what you see now reflects what happened in the past and the setting in which it occurred.

Bible: Then and Now was published in 2001. It may be out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon. If you are interested, just go to Amazon.com, select the “books” category and enter this ISBN number 0-7858-1445-0.

–John N. Clayton © 2019