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

Historical Integrity of the Bible and AOL News

Historical Integrity of the Bible - Tel Dan Stele
AOL News for January 5, 2019, carried a list of archaeological finds supporting the historical integrity of the Bible. Skeptics and atheists continually flood the media with claims of supposed contradictions between the Bible and historical evidence. A listing like this with pictures and descriptions is a refreshing change. Unfortunately, there is little documentation of the biblical references or which archaeological teams made the discoveries. The list on AOL News is as follows:

The bones of Mary Magdalene which are in the Church of Saint Maximin have been examined. Scientists confirmed that they do belong to a woman from the area where the Bible says Mary Magdalene lived and from the time she lived.

Solomon’s wall to protect Jerusalem has been found.

A ziggurat (tower) has been found at Etemenanki which is located in the former ancient city of Babylon matching the description of the Tower of Babel in the Bible.

A seal with Jezebel’s name and insignia has been found and dated to the 9th century BCE, so claims that she was a biblical myth do not stand.

The Tel Dan Stele has a reference to the “House of David” refuting atheist claims that David never existed.

The city of Nazareth was discovered in 2001 and matches the biblical description of where Jesus lived as a child.

The Pilate Stone was found in 1971 and his title of “Prefect of Judea” is written on the stone.

Herod’s tomb was discovered in 2007 with the details fitting Josephus’ description of the man who killed the Bethlehem babies described in the Bible.

A seal with Isaiah’s name has been discovered, so claims that he never existed have been debunked. (A seal of Hezekiah has also been discovered, but that is not mentioned in the AOL report.)

The tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was discovered in 1990.

We would like to make clear that this is an AOL production, not a report by an archaeological research group. However, we have seen most of these reports in Biblical Archaeology Review and Archaeology magazine which are both academic productions of professional archaeology groups. There is support for the historical integrity of the Bible.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Abraham Had Camels

Abraham Had Camels
It’s the case of the missing camels. One argument that biblical skeptics keep resurrecting is the claim that there were no camels in ancient Israel. In Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant took ten camels and went to find a wife for his son Isaac. The charge is that there were no camels in the Promised Land at that time so this account is in error. We want to know if it is true that Abraham had camels.

Camels are mentioned 22 times in Genesis and are mentioned again in Exodus 9:3, Leviticus 11:4, 1 Samuel 15:3, 1 Kings 10:2 and 2 Kings 8:9 as well as other passages. In modern times famed archaeologist William F. Albright claimed that there were no camels in the Holy Land until the 10th century B.C. National Geographic repeated that claim claim in 2014.

Dr. Mark Chavalas in the November/December 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review makes it likely that Abraham had camels and the biblical account is not in error. He gives archaeological evidence that there were camels all around the Holy Land as early as the 4th millennium B.C. Here are five of the pieces of evidence Chavalas gives:

1) In the 4th millennium B.C., a bactrian camel (one with two humps) is portrayed in artwork in Eastern Iran.
2) In the 3rd millennium B.C., a dromedary (with one hump) appears on a plaque from modern day Iraq.
3) Camel skeletal remains from the 3rd millennium have been found in Iran.
4) Camel remains from 2400 B.C. were found in the Sumerian city of Shuruppak.
5) A Babylonian document from the 18th century B.C. contains the line “the milk of the camel is sweet.”

Abraham and his family came from Mesopotamia (Genesis 12) and moved to the land God promised to him. Migrating to this new land, Abraham, who was rich in livestock, would have brought his animals with him. (See Genesis 13:2.) So it seems evident that Abraham had camels. The attempts of skeptics to declare the Bible anachronistic is simply a case of letting prejudice override a reasonable search for evidence.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Archaeological Discoveries at Masada

Archaeological Discoveries at Masada
More than 2000 years ago, King Herod built a fortress in the Judean Desert that could house 10,000 soldiers. He equipped it with five palaces and water installations which included three bathhouses and a swimming pool. Masada is a butte with incredibly steep sides making it an easy place to defend. When Rome set out to defeat the Jewish zealots, the rebels sought refuge at Masada where they held out from A.D. 66 to 73. In recent years there have been new archaeological discoveries at Masada.

Archeologists have been exploring the remains of Masada for a very long time. In the past ten years, new technology has revealed a great deal of information about the history of Rome, Palestine, the Jewish community, and the Christian community. Biblical Archaeology Review for September/October 2018 carries an excellent article about what they have learned. The discoveries have strong implications for the credibility of the Bible and help us understand the conditions that existed at the time of Jesus and during the early years of the Church. Here are some of the recent finds:

Masada had an advanced water system, enough to produce extensive agriculture including a winery with 50 fermentation tanks.

Herod had huge gardens with trees and flowers as well as agricultural products.

There was an Essene community at Masada. The Essenes are the Jewish group that left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Jews had animals of burden during the siege by the Romans.

A Christian community had a chapel on Masada by A.D. 400 and a Church which included a monastery on Masada from the fifth to seventh centuries.

Archaeological discoveries at Masada give us new insights into biblical events and beliefs. The interactions of the apostles and Jesus with the Jews and the Romans give us a better understanding of what happened in New Testament times, during the life of Jesus, and for the first 500 years of the Church.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hershel Shanks and the Dead Sea Scrolls
In 2017, Hershel Shanks retired. He was the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review for 42 years. Shanks is important to those of us interested in apologetics because he caused the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls to become available to the general public. He also has been useful in getting material supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God into the hands of the public. A recent example is evidence that David was, in fact, the historical figure the Bible depicts–a belief biblical minimalists have challenged.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, and thousands of fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum which is now called the Rockefeller Museum. A scroll publication team with an editor-in-chief supervised the assembling and reproduction of the scrolls. However, virtually no reproductions had been made available so research on the contents of the scrolls not possible.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were unavailable for study, skeptics attacked the Bible, and the media carried all kinds of claims about what the scrolls contained. One story was that the scrolls said that Jesus was “the great teacher of the Essenes.” Some people made claims that the scrolls showed that apocryphal books should be validated as part of the biblical canon. Shanks began a public campaign to make the scrolls available to researchers, students, and the general public. Hebrew University professor, Emanuel Tov, became the editor-in-chief of the publication team and during his tenure over 100 scholars contributed to the release of the scrolls’ contents.

Hershel Shanks published a preliminary edition of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991, and a landslide of demands for full disclosure of all of the documents followed. Today the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a special building in Jerusalem called “The Shrine of the Book.” They are also available to view in high definition for free on the internet. To see them click here.

The scrolls provide great support for belief in the Bible as the Word of God. You can read many articles that we have published over the years showing archaeological support for the Bible on our journal archives at doesgodexist.org.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April/May/June 2018, Vol. 44, numbers 2 & 3, page 24.

Isaiah’s Signature Found

Isaiah's Signature Found
The prophet Isaiah is often called the “Messianic Prophet.” In his lengthy (66 chapter) book of the Old Testament, he told of the coming Messiah. We have his words, but now we may also have Isaiah’s signature.

In 2015 archaeologists found the royal seal of King Hezekiah stamped in a clay seal at Ophel, the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Written on the seal is a Hebrew inscription which reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah.”

Now in the same location, a new seal has been found. This one appears to belong to the prophet Isaiah. The March-June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (pages 64-73) has pictures and an explanation of the find. Because there is some damage to the seal, or bulla, the final judgment will have to come after scholarly review. If the scholars give their approval, they will make a formal announcement.

For years biblical minimalists and skeptics have attacked the accuracy of the Bible’s historical information. As archaeologists make more discoveries, it becomes increasingly more difficult to refute the accuracy of the Bible. Isaiah’s signature would be one more evidence that we can have confidence in the inspiration of the original manuscripts of the Bible.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Archaeology and the Bible

Archaeology and the BibleArchaeological Excavation of a Synagogue in Israel

The May/June issue of Biblical Archaeological Review carried and article with the inflammatory title “Who Tells the Truth: The Bible or Archaeology” written by Dr. William G. Dever. The title is somewhat misleading, because Dever is actually a historical maximalist when it comes to bringing the archaeology and the Bible together. Dr. Dever is the Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and his proposal is that Biblical texts and archaeological data should be studied separately and then students should look for convergences.

There are two approaches to the relationship of archaeology and the Bible. In addition to the “maximalist” position there are also “minimalists.” Biblical minimalism is the view that assumes that archaeology and the Bible are necessarily in conflict because the biblical account is viewed as a myth. Minimalism is the approach of the “Jesus Seminar” group which says if a statement in the Bible is hard to believe or is a miracle, then it can be discarded. Archaeological minimalists assume that things like David and Goliath, Saul and David, Moses and the Exodus, David’s palace, and Solomon’s riches can’t be true and cannot be supported by archaeology. When a find is made that seems to support some of these biblical stories, that interpretation is automatically discarded.

The problem for biblical minimalists is that there is too much evidence that the Bible is true to reasonably discard it. Hershel Shanks, who is the editor of Biblical Archaeological Review wrote about this. The article he wrote was in the July/August 1997 issue titled “Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers.” Christians do not need to be intimidated by claims made that archaeology discredits the Bible. Christians should follow 1 Peter 3:15 and know how to answer these claims. We would encourage our readers to read an article by Lydia Evdoxiadi Verniory that we published in our May/June 2010 issue page 15. Ms. Verniory is a practicing archaeologist and the article is titled “Noisy Books On The Historicity of the Bible–Take Them With A Grain of Salt.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017