ARCHEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
As we have seen, archaeology has contributed much to our understanding of the customs, cultures, laws, practices, events, persons, and lifestyles mentioned in the Old Testament. In like manner, those who approach the New Testament seriously will find that archaeological fieldwork carried out in ancient biblical lands during the past two centuries has provided historical "color" for modern Bible readers. These contributions are seen in several areas relating to apologetics and New Testament studies.
First-century AD Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world, with a population of possibly up to 500,000. It was known for the worship of the goddess Diana and for its great Temple of Artemis (Diana) and its massive theater. Acts 19:21-41 describes the riot that occurred here because of Paul's preaching and the ensuing mob scene in the theater. (Photo by Norman Herr, PD.)
First, the discovery of cities and landmarks described in the New Testament has firmly secured the historical-geographical reliability and setting for the New Testament narratives, which supports the believability of the doctrines that grow out of them. For as Jesus said to Nicodemus, "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (John 3:12 ESV). If the New Testament had said that Jesus went "up" to the waters of the Dead Sea from Jerusalem, we would not consider the text a credible geographical description, since Jerusalem is nestled in the hill country and the Dead Sea is nearly 1,300 feet below sea level (it is the lowest place on earth). Whenever the Bible mentions mountains, hills, rivers, wilderness, valleys, cities, lakes, and seas, archaeology has in many cases confirmed them. Cities such as Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Athens, and a multitude of others have been excavated sufficiently to offer us corroboration of biblical place names and a glimpse of everyday life in the first century and earlier.
The apostle Paul's first missionary contact on the European continent was at Philippi (Acts 16:11-40), located about ten miles east of the ancient seaport of Neapolis (Acts 16:11; modern-day Kavalla). The sprawling city at Philippi, named after the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II, attests to a thriving Roman colony in the eastern territory of Macedonia. The ruins pictured here boast an amphitheater (in background) that was used during Paul's day and a masonry crypt that is believed, though without support, to be the prison of Paul and Silas.
Second, archaeological data has helped limit the critical theories that dismiss the New Testament as mythological; instead, the data has placed the biblical text squarely within a historical framework. Discoveries such as the Pool of Siloam (John 9) and Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2), the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives; inscriptions of the names of various biblical rulers such as Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Quirinius (Luke 2:2), Gailio (Acts 18:12), Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-7), and Erastus (Romans 16:23); and Emperor Claudius's expulsion of the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2) continue to be facts that keep the New Testament anchored in a historical-geographical setting. No longer can the fertile imaginations and theories of critical scholars run unchecked by the archaeological data.
Third, our understanding of the religious climate immediately prior, during and after the New Testament period has been greatly enhanced by the documentary finds unearthed in the 1940s. These include the Nag Hammadi (Gnostic) texts discovered in Egypt, the Dead Sea Scrolls found in 11 caves at the Dead Sea Settlement of Qumran, and the hundreds of early Greek New Testament texts. The assortment of finds have touched on various areas relating to biblical studies, shedding light on the development of Judaism during the inter-testamen-tal period (that is, the time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Christianity during the first century, and Gnostic beliefs in the second century. These finds have contributed to knowledge of Jewish sectarian belief and messianic expectations prior and during the rime of Christ, early Christian belief and distinct messianic portraits found in the Gospels, and the heretical development of Christian belief in the Gnostic texts. Moreover, the Hebrew and Greek texts of these documents have significantly aided researchers in their linguistic analysis of the Bible texts.
Archaeological research in Bible lands has been very slow to accumulate. Of the nearly 5,500 sites in Israel that are candidates for excavation, only a few hundred have been excavated. Moreover, there are thousands more sites in the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia) that have been considered valuable candidates for archaeological research. However, time, politics, and funds are always key factors that determine where and when (and if) these sites can be examined in any systematic way. Despite these slow advances, the material data unearthed to date has shown a remarkable consistency with the New Testament, corroborating people, places, structures, customs, ruling figures, and their official titles. The remainder of this part will survey numerous finds relating to Jesus and the people of the New Testament.
Taken from the book: THE POPULAR HANDBOOK of ARCHAEOLOGY and the BIBLE by Holden and Geisler
TO BE CONTINUED