New Testament scholar Ben Witherington reports on the discovery of an 11,500 year old temple complex being excavated in Eastern Turkey. The complex predates the pyramids by 7,000 years and Stonehenge by 6,000 years. In addition,
This temple lies west of the Biblical plain called Haran and is only 20 miles from the Syrian border. . . . This is the world not only of Genesis, but of the great Anatolian civilization of the Hittites (yes those Hittites as in Uriah the Hittite — husband of Bathsheba). In short, if you are wondering if this is important to understand the OT, wonder no longer. It is.
Klaus Schmidt is heading up the dig, and Newsweek describes his views on the site:
Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.
Witherington describes the relevance of the findings for both Christian theology and ancient history.
The importance of this find for Biblical thinking is this — the Bible says that from the outset, human beings were created in God’s image. Human beings were religious creatures from Day One. Archaeologists and sociologists have long dismissed this theory saying organized religion comes much later in the game than the beginning of civilization and city building. As Ian Holder director of Stanford’s prestigious archaeology program says — this is a game changer. Indeed, it changes everything experts in the Neolithic era have been thinking. Schmidt is saying that religion is the cause of civilization, not the result of it. Towns were built to be near the Temple complex. Agriculture was undertaken to feed those living there and supply the temple complex, and so on. The first instincts of humans were to put religion first. Maybe there is more to that Genesis story than some have been willing to think or admit. Maybe human beings are inherently homo religiosis.
This is an older debate, but Quodlibeta offers some good commentary on Spong’s (erroneous) use of the genre of midrash.
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I recently listened to a debate between William Lane Craig and John Shelby Spong on the historical Jesus (this was an actual debate, unlike the presentation and response Craig had with Dennett). You can listen to it here. Craig argued that Spong is so insulated that he doesn’t know what scholars outside of his small circle actually say. He points out that a survey of NT scholarship of the last few decades indicates that three-fourths of the scholars writing on the subject accept the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb, and almost universally accept his post-mortem appearances as historically demonstrable. Moreover, most scholars today recognize that the four gospels are written as historical writing, specifically in the genre of ancient biography — not myth, not legend, not allegory, not midrash (as Spong claims). Spong seems genuinely puzzled by this. It reminds me of something N. T. Wright wrote of Spong in Who Was Jesus?
What is central is that Spong apparently does not know what ‘midrash’ actually is. The ‘genre’ of writing to which he makes such confident appeal is nothing at all like he says it is. There is such a thing as ‘midrash’; scholars have been studying it, discussing it, and analysing it, for years. Spong seems to be unaware of the most basic results of this study. He has grabbed the word out of the air, much as Barbara Thiering grabbed the idea of ‘pesher’ exegesis, and to much the same effect. He misunderstands the method itself, and uses this bent tool to make the gospels mean what he wants instead of what they say.
We may briefly indicate the ways in which genuine ‘midrash’ differs drastically from anything that we find in the gospels.
First, midrash proper consists of a commentary on an actual biblical text. It is not simply a fanciful retelling, but a careful discussion in which the original text itself remains clearly in focus. It is obvious that the gospels do not read in any way like this. (Continue)
Matt at Broadcast Depth has a nice collection of interviews he’s done with Christian scholars, and continues to add to the list. Among those whose interviews you can read are Richard Bauckham, Darrell Bock, David Garland, Thomas Schreiner, and Craig Keener.
The New Testament Gateway is an award-winning web directory of internet resources on the New Testament where you can browse or search annotated links on everything connected with the academic study of the New Testament and Christian Origins.
New material and links are being added all the time, and you can keep up with the latest additions through the NT Gateway blog.
You can also become a fan of the NT Gateway on Facebook and follow new developments there.
“The Veracity Of The New Testament”.
View it here.
(Via Faith Interface)
Fascinating story here by Wired on a new Google-like database that can read ancient documents.
Researchers in Israel say they have developed a computer program that can decipher previously unreadable ancient texts and possibly lead the way to a Google-like search engine for historical documents.
The program uses a pattern recognition algorithm similar to those law enforcement agencies have adopted to identify and compare fingerprints.
But in this case, the program identifies letters, words and even handwriting styles, saving historians and liturgists hours of sitting and studying each manuscript.
By recognizing such patterns, the computer can recreate with high accuracy portions of texts that faded over time or even those written over by later scribes, said Itay Bar-Yosef, one of the researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“The more texts the program analyses, the smarter and more accurate it gets,” Bar-Yosef said. (Continue)
Dr. Michael Bird provides some nice commentary on these opening verses of Romans.
The Apostolic vocation which Paul carries out has as its centrepiece the gospel. Paul was called to be an apostle and set apart for the sake of the “gospel of God”. When Paul mentions the gospel it is most often in association with Jesus Christ as its foci (see 1 Cor 9:12; 15:1-5; 2 Cor 2:12; 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:17; 1 Thess 3:2; 2 Thess 1:8; 2 Tim 2:8). In fact, Paul will very quickly go on to relate the “gospel of God” to the gospel “concerning his son” in 1:3 and the “gospel of his Son” in 1:9 (see Rom 2:16; 16:25). Yet here it is the “gospel of God” (see Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:11). The sense is deliberately open as it might mean a gospel from God or a gospel about God. Most likely, both senses are intended. The gospel is both a revelation from God (Gal 1:12) and is about what God himself has done in the faithfulness, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. To tell the gospel of God is to tell the story of Jesus. And yet the story of Jesus is entirely inexplicable apart from the story of God.
Paul is the quintessential Jesus-freak, but he is not a mono-Jesus adherent. That is because God, Son, and Spirit all figure prominently in his opening narration of the gospel story in Rom 1:1-4. In fact, Romans is the most theocentric letter of the Pauline corpus with the word theos occurring 153 times! John Webster rightly states: “The matter to which Christian theology is commanded to attend, and by which it is directed in all its operations, is the presence of the perfect God as it is announced in the gospel”. As the Apostle sent and set apart by God, Paul sets out before the Roman Christians the story of how God’s plan to repossess the world for himself have now been executed in his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Michael Bird at Euangelion hosts three views on the question, “For whom did Christ die?” by
Paul Helm (Calvinist View)
Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)
Ben Witherington (Arminian View)
Paul Helm goes first, followed by Jensen and Witherington, each writing about 300 words on their respective views.
According to Paul Helm (Highland Theological College):
‘Definite atonement’ is an improvement on ‘Limited atonement’, but neither phrase clearly captures and expresses the idea, which is not exclusively to do with the atonement. The view is that the Triune God ensures the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. He does not merely make possible their salvation, leaving it to the sinner to make up his own mind. Rather, whom he intends to save, he saves, through the distinct but inseparable work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Augustine puts it in his letter to Simplicianus in AD 396, God’s grace is effectual, effective, actually ensuring that those ordained to eternal life believe, secured by the golden chain of Romans 8.
What is at issue is an estimate of divine grace. The biblical basis for the view does not rest upon a single proof verse, or a few of these, (though verses such as John 6.37 and Acts 13.48 and of course Romans 8 28f should be borne in mind). Rather it is founded on the implications of Scripture’s overall witness to God’s powerful love, to the spiritual death of fallen mankind, and to the actual salvation of countless people. (Continue)
If you’re interested in Old and New Testament studies and related areas, you’ll find many of these blogs to be good reading. These are the top 5 by popularity.
1. Jim West
2. The Church of Jesus Christ
3. Punctuated Life
4. Beauty of the Bible