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Author's Journal Transcripts for Bill Humble
Bible Archeology - Proofs From the Earth

 


Professor Bill Humble has traveled to the Holy Land numerous times over the past 30 years. He has visited many of the ancient sites that provide evidence of the accuracy of the Bible. He shares his insights with us in the KNLS series,  Bible Archeology—Proofs from the Earth.

 

 


 

 

 The birthplace of Jesus is believed to be a cave, which has its entrance inside this building, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (Caves were often used to board animals, so the caves would contain mangers.) Emperor Justinian built this church in the 6th century.  (Click photo to view a larger image)

Bethlehem

 

The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a little town about five miles south of Jerusalem. A thousand years earlier, David had been born in Bethlehem, so it’s called "the city of David." But do we know where, in Bethlehem, Jesus was born? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you.

There’s an old, old church in Bethlehem. It’s called "The Church of the Nativity," and it’s almost 1500 years old, one of the two or three oldest churches anywhere in the Christian world. There’s a large natural cave under the church, and Jesus was probably born in that cave.

You may say, "A cave? My Bible says that Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn, so that means he was born in a stable, not a cave." But in ancient times, when they built an inn, they had to have a stable. People traveled on donkeys and camels, and they had to have a place for their animals. A large cave would make a good stable, warm and dry, so an ancient inn would often be built over a cave.

As early as the second century, Justin Martyr wrote about the cave in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. In the fourth century, Constantine’s mother, Helena, came to Bethlehem, and when she asked where Jesus was born, the local people showed her a cave. She had a church built over the site, and it was dedicated in the year 339. Two hundred years later, the Christian emperor Justinian had a much larger church built over the cave, and this is the Church of the Nativity that still stands in Bethlehem today. The beautiful mosaic floor of Helen’s church is still in place, under the floor of Justinian’s church. And the red limestone columns in the present church, that were quarried near Bethlehem, may have come from Helena’s fourth century church.

So when we visit the cave beneath the Church of the Nativity, we’re probably standing where Mary gave birth to Jesus. It’s a moving spiritual experience to be there, but even so, where Jesus was born is not important. What is important is that God so loved the world that he sent his son to be born of the virgin, to share our humanity, and then to die for our sins. That’s what really matters!


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These are the ruins of the palace of Ahab and his Phoenician queen Jezebel. The two were notorious for their wickedness. The palace is located in Samaria and was built by Ahab’s father Omri c. 880 B.C.  (Click photo to view a larger image)

Samaria

You’ve probably heard of Ahab and Jezebel, the Old Testament king and queen who are notorious for their wicked lifestyle. But did you know that archaeologists have actually found the palace of Ahab and Jezebel at Samaria? Let me tell you about it.

The time of David and Solomon, about a thousand years before Christ, was a golden age of power and prosperity for the Jewish kingdom, but that ended when Solomon died about 930 B.C. The kingdom divided into Judah in the south and Israel in the north, and Israel and Judah fought a civil war for the next 50 years. Around 880 B.C. Omri was king of Israel. The Bible tells how he bought a hill from a man named Shemer, and atop that hill he built a new capital city, Samaria, and it remained Israel’s capital until it was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 BC.

Ahab was Omri’s son, and he followed his father on the throne. Ahab married a foreign princess from Phoenicia, Jezebel, and she brought an alien culture, and even a pagan god, Baal, to Samaria. Ahab and Jezebel built an elaborate palace that was decorated with ivory, but they were rebuked by Elijah and Amos and Hosea for living in luxury, for oppressing the poor, and for worshipping Baal.

Archaeologists from Harvard University began excavating Samaria in 1908, and the work continued over the next 50 years. I have had a chance to visit the site many times, and it’s one of the most interesting archaeological sites anywhere in Israel. You can see some of the original city walls that were built by Omri in 880 BC, and you can even see the ruins of the great palace of Ahab and Jezebel. The Bible condemns their luxury, their "beds of ivory." The archaeologists found hundreds of ivory carvings that once decorated the palace. The carvings are Phoenician, and they may have been done in Tyre and Sidon, or Jezebel may have brought the artists to Samaria to work on her palace. The Samaria ivories are now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

When you wander through the palace, as I have done, and then see the beautiful ivory carvings in the museum, you step back in history 2800 years and the Bible comes alive. And you know, once again, that the Bible tells about real places and real people, some good people like Moses and David, and some very bad like Ahab and Jezebel.


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 These steps lead up to a broad platform where Herod the Great built a temple to honor Emperor Augustus as a god. It’s located less than 60 kilometers from Jerusalem, where Herod built the Jews’ temple on a grand scale.  (Click photo to view a larger image)

Temple at Samaria

In the Old Testament Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, but did you know that in New Testament times, Samaria had a temple honoring the Roman emperor Augustus as a god. Let me tell you about it.

The Bible has many references to Samaria. The city’s founding can be dated to about 880 B.C. when Omri, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, decided to build a new capital city. He bought a hill from a man named Shemer. It was an ideal location for a fortified city, and there he built Samaria, named after Shemer. Samaria continued as the capital of Israel until 721 BC, when Assyrian armies under Sennacherib destroyed the city and carried many of the people away into captivity in Mesopotamia.

Samaria was rebuilt by Alexander the Great about 330 B.C. He led him armies across modern Turkey and then came into the Holy Land and rebuilt Samaria. When archaeologists excavated Samaria in the early 20th century, they uncovered beautiful round towers and other buildings from the time of Alexander.

Samaria was rebuilt again by Herod the Great. Herod was the king who ruled the Jews for forty years beginning in 37 B.C. and who tried to kill Jesus. Herod was a great builder, and Samaria was one of his massive building projects. I have visited Samaria many times, and I have wandered around Herod’s Roman forum where the columns are still standing. And I have seen a temple that Herod built to honor the emperor Augustus as a god. The temple building itself is no longer there. But broad steps leading up to the platform where the temple stood are still in place.

Doesn’t it seem strange that Herod would build a temple honoring Augustus as a god? Herod was an Idumean (or Edomite) by birth, but he was a Jew. He worshipped the God of the Bible, and he rebuilt the temple of God in Jerusalem. But Herod admired the culture of Rome and Greece, and his throne rested on the good will of the emperors. So Herod showed his loyalty to Augustus by honoring him as a god at Samaria. Two temples—only 35 miles apart—the temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at Jerusalem, and a pagan temple to the emperor at Samaria.

As I wander through Samaria’s ruins, I relive the days of Omri, and then Alexander the Great, and then Herod. I know that my Bible is an honest record of the past, and I know that it can bring me face-to-face with God.


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This is the 2200 year-old tomb of Zechariah, who may or may not be Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. (The tomb would have been built 200 years before that Zechariah’s death; it harbors more than one set of remains.) Regardless of his identity, his tomb contains the oldest known inscription of a New Testament passage. Luke 2:25, which tells about Simeon the prophet, was discovered on this tomb in 2003 after having been overlooked for centuries.  (Click photo to view a larger image)

A Verse on a Monument

 

Did you know that a verse from the gospel of Luke inscribed on an ancient monument was discovered in 2003? Let me tell you about it.

The 2nd chapter of the gospel of Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and about the angels who told the shepherds, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2 also tells us that when Jesus was 40 days old, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem, and they met an old prophet named Simeon. The Lord had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. And as he held the baby Jesus in his arms, he praised God and said that he could now die in peace, because he had seen the salvation that God had prepared for all people.

Luke 2:25 says that Simeon was "righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him." In 2003 that verse was found on an ancient monument in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. The monument is about 60 ft. tall. It has a pyramid-shaped roof and was built about 150 B.C. In the 4th century, when Christians were no longer persecuted by the Roman Empire, pilgrims began to visit the Holy Land. Somehow they came to believe that three Biblical figures had been buried in this tomb, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, the prophet Simeon, and James the brother of Jesus. We have no evidence that they had been buried here, but even so, the monument is known as the Tomb of Zechariah.

Early in 2003, the name Zechariah was found on the tomb. Months later, archaeologists found another inscription with the name Simeon. The inscriptions were carved on the tomb in the fourth century. The Simeon inscription was barely legible, so faint that it had been overlooked for centuries. But when they made a copy of the inscription, they found that it was Luke 2:25 and it describes Simeon as "very just and devout and waiting for the consolation of the people."

The Simeon inscription is important for two reasons. First, inscriptions with the names of Biblical figures are very rare, and this one is about Simeon, who held the baby Jesus in his arms and knew he was holding the Messiah. And second, this is the first discovery of a New Testament verse carved on an ancient monument in the Holy Land.


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